Sunday, 6 August 2017

A Moment of Triumph

At a meeting of our writer's group someone suggested as a prompt to work from the phrase "A moment of triumph"  This is what that drew from my pen that afternoon...

Lift, reach, hack, and scrape.

Lift, reach, hack, and scrape.

Lift, reach, hack, and scrape.

Mick had settled into the same easy rhythm as his team mates, Sean and Garry.  Over the past hour or so, they had cut a narrow trail of bare earth through the thick leaf litter, angling down from the landing pad on the ridge top, weaving between trees and boulders, to flatter ground.

A hundred metres back up the trail, another team in white overalls scraped and clattered with their rake-hoes, dragging leaves, sticks and pebbles further from the reach of the approaching fire.  Fifty metres further uphill, another trio were working with chainsaws and hoes, trimming branches and saplings away from a winding avenue of bare rock and sand, in preparation for the application of the drip-torch.

Behind the trees on the ridge top, helicopter turbines began to scream their way to full power.  The thrumming of the rotors vibrated in the bones of the workers as the machine powered away from the landing pad, having left another crew safely on the ground.

Mick wondered if the pad was properly cleared yet.  Having to unload crew and fire-fighting gear onto a narrow ledge from a helicopter that was rocking under power, while the machine's  front skids were just balancing on the rocky edge of the ridge had been a new experience for him. It was better than having to come down ropes through the trees, but it would be nice to have a full sized landing pad to leave from.

He looked up to watch it thunder overhead, and saw that  there was more white smoke drifting over from the west than there had been earlier in the afternoon.

"Should be nearly at that old logging track," Sean said, "it'll be easier going then."
"Hope so, that fire's getting close" Garry replied, still scraping and digging.
"Another crew just came in, must be their turn to break trail," Mick replied, stopping work to take a big swig from a water bottle.

Lift, reach, hack, and scrape. The three men went back to work.  Fifteen minutes later, more white overalls appeared from between the trees.  Sean groaned and swore, and the other two looked up.

"I wondered when that bastard'd get here" he said.  Leading the new arrivals was the stout figure of the Senior Field Officer, Tolley.  His white overalls were half hidden by army surplus webbing, spare water bottles, radios, batteries, and, probably, three days supplies of food for a normal person.

"Can't leave you lot unsupervised for a minute, can I?" the SFO snarled, "Can't you do anything properly?  This break needs to be twice as wide if it's going to be any use."

"It will be when the follow-up crews come through," Garry muttered.  Tolley ignored him as he stepped over and snatched the McLeod tool from Mick's hands.  Mick jumped back a few feet – experience had taught him never to be close to Tolley when he had any sort of tool in his hands.  Sean and Garry followed suit, while the two who had come down the trail with the SFO backed away up hill a bit.

Tolley started taking savage swings, sending sand, pebbles, leaves and twigs flying everywhere.  With a dozen violent strokes, he had doubled the width of a short section of the fire break.  With a flourish, and a cry of "this is how it's done" he leapt onto the newly bared earth and began striking at the leaf-litter on the fire-wards side of the track, dragging tangles of it across to the lee side.

"See?" he said, as he turned and began tearing at the next section of the break.  Moments later, he was airborne, screaming.  The rake-hoe flew between Mick and Sean, as Tolley began a wild dance back along the track.  As he leapt, he tore at the buckles of the webbing, and then at the press-studs of his overalls, while the others watched in wonder.

Various items of equipment flew off in different directions, followed by two boots, and finally, the overalls, as Tolley continued to yell and slap at his body and legs.

Mick leaned carefully forward and surveyed the newly cleared ground that Tolley had fled from.  On it, heads high, and pincers wide, a tribe of very large, black bull-ants – meaner and deadlier by far than their better known red cousins – milled around, searching for the offender who had just torn the roof off their cosy nest.

Ten yards up the hill, Tolley, clad now in socks and white undies, was bent over, checking each leg, nook, and cranny, while at the same time keeping a watchful eye on the ground around him.  Sean, often the preferred victim for Tolley's work-place tyrannies, stopped laughing and straightened up.  Putting on a serious, almost concerned face, he called to their boss.

"Hey mate, do you know if you're allergic to insect bites? Just asking, you know, 'cause a couple of years ago, we had to carry a bloke off the fire-ground after some insect bit him. He started to swell up and then he passed out."  Tolley's eyes widened in horror.

"Dunno?" said Sean, " Well then, you'd better start marching, cause it's three hundred yards back to the helicopter, and you're too bloody big for us to carry up that ridge."  Sean grinned as his nemesis grabbed the overalls, boots, and other gear that was being handed to him and took off back towards the top of the ridge.  Peace had returned to the fire-ground.

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