Here in Grain Valley Township, we don’t have paid professional firefighters or emergency rescue crews to rescue us. We rescue ourselves.
My dad has been a volunteer fireman since he was eighteen. Carries his emergency radio everywhere, fastened to the belt of his jeans. At night, his radio sits on his nightstand. When it goes off, he springs out of bed no matter what time it is. It doesn’t happen every night or even every week, but it happens often enough for me to worry about him. Which is too often, I'd say.
Like the time Dad and the other volunteers got called out of our little church on Sunday morning. The preacher was leading us in the Lord's Prayer when beeping radios went off all over the sanctuary. We said an extra prayer for all the men who up and bolted for the door that day.
Being a volunteer firefighter seems exciting and I've thought about becoming one myself next year, when I turn eighteen. I know I could do what they do, if given a chance. But being a fireman is strictly a guy thing around here.
It would be exciting to be one, but at the same time, it's dangerous and stressful to go out on emergency calls. For one thing, you never know what kind of accident you'll be responding to, or how bad someone is hurt. And for another thing, since everybody knows everybody else around here, there’s a good chance that whoever desperately needs your help will be somebody you know.
Now it was just after eleven o'clock on Friday night, June third, almost a year ago, when Dad and Mom and I heard the radio alarm. I was in the bathroom washing my face and getting ready for bed when Dad rushed from the bedroom toward the kitchen and dashed out the back door to his pickup.
The radio screeched, “Two-car crash, cars on fire, three miles east of Grain Valley on 39 Highway,” as the screen door slammed. The engine roared and tires spun on the gravel as he sped away into the night.
When the alarm goes out, whoever gets to the firehouse first opens the big metal doors, and starts one or both of the fire trucks, depending on how serious the call is. The other men show up within two or three minutes, pulling their coats and gloves on, on the run.
Mom came out from the bedroom in her robe, fussing with her short, graying hair. With the radio gone, the house was quiet. We heard sirens wailing through the screen door. Both trucks were on the roll.
“Sounds like a bad one, Maggie,” Mom said, brow furrowed. “Have you heard from Alex and Caleb?”
“Not since before supper,” I said.
“Why don’t you call. See where they're at.”
I hit the speed dial on my cell phone for my brother, Alex, but it went straight to voice mail. “Hey, there’s a wreck on the highway, and Mom wants to hear from you guys.” Then I speed-dialed my boyfriend, Caleb, but got the same result, voice mail.
After that we just sat there at the kitchen table, as the clock ticked, and the refrigerator hummed, and the crickets chirped. We had no way of knowing what Dad would find out there on the highway. We sat there for twenty minutes or so, but nobody called.
Finally, Mom said, “Well, maybe they’re still at the movies.”
I nodded. “Or maybe they're just out of range.” We get lousy cell phone coverage here in rural Kansas.
They say there's a special bond between a sister and her brother, that they always know when the other one is in serious trouble or something's gone terribly wrong. Since I didn't have any bad feelings, I thought Alex and Caleb were fine. I expected them to roll in any minute, laughing and joking around, heading straight for the fridge to eat us out of house and home.
Whoever it was out there in that awful car wreck, I was sure it wasn't them.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
CHAPTER 1 QUESTIONS
1. What do you think Maggie and her parents thought as soon as the
alarm went off?
2. Do you ever get those weird feelings when you know something
just isn’t right?
3. Is that your gut, your heart, or your brain reacting?
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