Here is the prompt…
I’m struggling to remember what was on the tv screen. A man with a tie, talking. Images that just appeared to be a haze, with vague hints of human forms in them. Moving about like ghosts. Were they ghosts? Is that why we’re running in a bent-for hell frenzy down the street?
“Where are we…?”
“DON’T YOU DARE LOOK BACK!” she screams, her hair in disarray. This is my third grade teacher. I’m now in fifth grade. She always seemed careful, concerned, calculated. This, I was not sure, was a person I knew.
“But what is…”
“LOOK,” she pants, “I DO NOT have the time to stop or explain anything. I may be saving your life. Just trust me, okay?”
I always trusted her, I guess. As much as you can trust anyone who grades down your math for not doing your work. It’s not my fault the calculations only took me three steps, and everyone else used ten.
My shoes were not meant for running. Tight little sparkly Mary Janes. My mother only let me have them because both of my cousins did, and I assured her of my imminent death if she did not comply in getting them. Now the thin socks I wore with them were sagging below my ankles, and I’m pretty sure a blister was starting to form on the left heel.
But where were we going? My own mid-size town did not look familiar to me as we threaded through its streets. Almost no one was out and about. The man with the tie looked very serious. What was he saying? If only I could hear him through the glass.
And it was getting harder to breathe. There was a thinnish smoke in the air, a haze. A few minutes before Ms. Hansen grabbed my hand, there were sounds like far away fireworks. Was that the problem?
“Here, thank God,” she was still panting, “Here. I’m parked here.” She pushes the button, opens the passenger door, and SHOVES me in, scurrying to the other side.
“Where are we going?” I was finally able to get out, as she banged her door closed and hit the accelerator.
“Up,” she said, “we’re going up. And around.”
This made absolutely no sense to me, but we did indeed start up Thomason Heights, the big hill where most of the rich people lived in town. As we scale the side of the hill, zigzagging back and forth, Ms. Hansen is still careful to take the curves cautiously. I can see from this perspective, just a haze, which is growing thicker, and a color in the distance that looks like the tangerine I had for breakfast this morning.
“What…what is it?”
A pause. As we approach the crest the road smooths out a little. Finally, she says, with difficulty.
“That volcano. Man, I never thought that thing would go in my time.”
I grasp the seriousness of the issue, and the sincerity of Ms. Hansen, but I never thought I’d hear her say “man” like that and I almost giggle. It reminds me of visiting my uncle’s house, when he and the guys are drinking beers on the couch, and saying things like, “Man, that pass wasn’t worth $hit!” I’m not allowed to use that word, of course, but is it so bad if I THINK it?
My uncle. My mom’s brother. Where is my mom? My stepdad? My sister?
I start to ask, and Ms. Hansen shakes her head.
“I don’t know. I don’t know where my family is either. We just have to hope it’s somewhere safe.”