A USUK Fanfiction
Bozeman, Montana: 1867
"Arthur!" a desperate voice called to him. Hands grabbed his arms and gently shook him. "Arthur, dear, please wake up!" It sounded far away, like he was listening through a wall. Forcing his heavy eyelids open, Arthur rolled onto his back to find his mother standing over him.
Right away, Arthur could tell something was wrong. His bedroom was unusually dark and a foul aroma permeated his room. A thin layer of what seemed like dust covered everything. But his jumbled, drowsy mind stopped him from piecing anything together. Blinking did nothing to clear his thoughts.
"Come now, love, this is urgent! We haven't much time," his mother pleaded. Arthur frowned at his mother, trying to make sense of her words through his sleepy haze. What could possibly be so important at this hour?
Now losing patience, Arthur's mother threw the blankets off the ten-year-old boy and swiftly lifted him from his bed, eliciting a yelp from the child. She darted out of the room and into the hallway. "Mum?" Arthur asked in surprise, his sleepiness wearing away. He looked back into his room and finally realized why it was so dark: the moonlight was not shining through his window.
The stairwell and hallway were filled with smoke, causing him to cough. Gazing over his mum's shoulder, he saw something terribly unexpected. Flames darted out of the door leading to their kitchen as Arthur's mother ran past. It was ablaze. Servants and neighbors ran frantically to and fro with buckets containing water, throwing it onto the flames. The howling and crying he heard within were almost louder than the crackling of the fire. He hardly had time gasp before his mother had dashed through the front door and set him down outside, where it seemed the whole town was gathered.
"Honey, I need you to wait here 'til Papa comes, alright?" Arthur's mother said breathlessly, kissing his forehead. Arthur was wide awake now, flustered, stunned, and confused.
"But Mum—!" He grappled for the hem of her nightgown as she rushed towards the house once more. "No, come back!" he cried. He watched helplessly as his mother disappeared through their wooden doors into their wooden house, towards the smoke pouring out the side windows.
What if Mum never comes out again, he thought in despair? What if she gets hurt? Where are Papa and Peter? Is their house going to burn down? Arthur sat back and began to cry as people carrying water buckets ran past him.
However, only a few of them went into his family's house. The rest went next door to his dear friend Alfred's house. Why were they going there? He could not see anything through the crowd of tall adults except for a red glow filling the sky. Everyone was screaming and yelling and some were crying. People constantly ran into him as they raced by, throwing him around on the dirt road. It all frightened Arthur, who was alone in the street.
Just then, his mother burst through the front doors of their home carrying small, vulnerable Peter, closely followed by his father. Never had Arthur experienced such relief, and he ran to them the moment they were off the porch.
Arthur's father knelt down and scooped him into a tight hug. Within his arms, Arthur felt safe, almost as if the commotion around him had disappeared.
"Wipe away those tears, young man," he soothed, running his callused fingers through his son's hair, paying no heed to the tears seeping into his shirt. "We are going to be just fine." Sobbing into his shoulder, Arthur gripped the fabric of his father's nightshirt.
After giving Arthur a quick peck on the cheek and setting him down, his father yelled to his family, "Wait here!" He raced towards the men who were carrying water buckets and grabbed one of his own. The throng of people soon swallowed him up, leaving Arthur, his baby brother Peter, and his mother to fend for themselves. All of the security he felt moments ago completely vanished and reality came crashing down twice as hard.
Arthur tried to run after him, only to be cut short by his mother. "Come now, darling," she pleaded, "We have to be as far away as possible!" Holding him by the wrist, she tugged Arthur away from the red glow that was growing larger by the second.
"But Papa's all alone! We need to help him!" With that, Arthur ripped his hand from his mum's grasp and fled towards the confused horde and ominous glow in the sky. He paid no mind to his mother's shouting behind him.
Pushing through the warm bodies was harder than Arthur thought. Tripping and sliding along the sandy road, he smashed into several hips and elbows. He never seemed to get any closer to the red glow, but the air grew hotter and smokier with every step, making his eyes water.
Out of nowhere, Arthur's bare foot caught on someone's shoe, sending him tumbling to the ground. The impact knocked the breath out of his lungs as he crashed landed. After skidding several feet on his face and hands, he came to halt. For a moment, he struggled to move, for the pain was almost unbearable to his young body. Thankfully, several adults came to his aid, both dusting him off and scolding him for coming so close to the fire.
Fire, Arthur thought? But we're not by my house.
What Arthur saw next was something he had never expected to see. Eyes widening and jaw dropping, he looked up at his friend Alfred's house… which was engulfed in a roaring inferno. The flames seemed to touch the sky they were so tall. Fire seeped out all the broken windows and up the walls, showering sparks over everything near it. The whole building was blackened with soot and smoke.
He stumbled backwards several steps from both the shock of seeing such a sight and the intense heat, covering his face with his arm. Arthur frantically looked around for Alfred and his family. Were they safe, or were they still inside?
"Hey kid, move it!" someone shouted, pushing Arthur aside with his water-filled bucket as he ran by.
"Wait!" Arthur cried to the man, grabbing his sleeve. "Where's Alfred? Where is his family?" Fresh tears pricked the backs of his eyes.
"They're trapped inside and we're tryin' to get 'em out!" the man yelled in reply, yanking his arm out of the boy's grip and running towards the fire. Arthur suddenly felt sick. There was no way they could escape if the fire had already consumed that much of the house. This must be a dream, he told himself desperately. A terrible, terrible dream.
All of the men were trying to extinguish the fire, but to no avail. Mere buckets were not going to do anything. Several men came staggering out of the house, hacking smoke out of their lungs, but none of them was a member of the Jones family. No one dared going into the house now, even though Alfred and his mum and papa were still shut in. Arthur watched in despair as each man, one by one, gave up the rescue mission. They all stood dejectedly watching the house burn.
Without thinking, Arthur ran towards the blazing structure. There was no way he would leave his best friend to die.
"Alfred!" he screamed, "Alfred, can you hear me?" Jumping over flaming shards of wood, he leapt onto the porch. The wood scalded his feet as he pounded on the front door, causing sparks to fly. "Please come out!" he begged.
Before he could reach for the door knob, however, a pair of strong arms seized his waist and dragged him away from the flaming house. Arthur coughed violently and his eyes watered profusely.
"What the hell were you doing?" his father yelled at him once they were at a safe distance. "Do you want to be killed?"
"Let me go!" Arthur shrieked, kicking and thrashing. Tears streamed down his bleeding cheeks as he clawed at his father's arms. "Let me go!" Why was no one trying to save them anymore? Why was everyone leaving them to die?
"There's nothing we can do! The fire is too great," Arthur's father shouted over the roaring of the flames and the mass of people, his voice breaking. He struggled to keep Arthur from escaping his hold. "If we sent anyone else in to retrieve them, they'd die within minutes!"
Arthur only writhed and lashed out stronger. "Please!" he sobbed. "We can't leave them inside!"
A loud crack! sounded from the house suddenly, causing the whole town to come to a stop. Every head turned to look at the building and a deafening silence settled over the crowds.
One by one, vast panels of wood began to fall off, shattering on the ground. The wood splintered noisily, people flinching with each sound. Arthur did not understand why everyone looked so panicked all of a sudden. How could things possibly be worse? It was just a few wooden boards.
Then everyone started to run. "Look out!" someone bellowed. Before he knew what was happening, his father threw himself over Arthur.
An earsplitting crash filled the air, closely followed by flaming debris flying overhead. The ground shuddered. Looking beneath his papa's arm, Arthur watched in horror as Alfred's house caved in on itself, the roof breaking apart and taking everything below with it. He shut his eyes tight as everything came crashing down with a thunderous, flaming explosion.
After a few moments, everything was horribly silent. Arthur's heart was in his throat as his father slowly sat up. Several wooden shards fell from his hair as he moved. Shaking from adrenaline, Arthur stood, gaping at what was left of the house. He took one step towards the smoking rubble, hardly believing what he saw.
Arthur found himself staggering towards the smoldering wreckage, blinded by his tears. No, no, no, he repeated to himself. He fell to his knees at the edge of the remains, and began frantically digging through the broken wood, ignoring the splinters and the searing temperature of the shards. Alfred was still there, he was sure of it. He just needed to look, is all. They would come popping out of the wood at any moment and everything would be fine. It had to be.
Another loud crash came from the former house as the remaining framework broke apart, throwing Arthur onto his back. He felt the hair on his arms singing from the heat, but that did not deter him. He needed to help his best friend; otherwise he'd be trapped forever.
Before he could sit up properly, Arthur felt someone take his arms and haul him away once more. He struggled against his captor, but with much less vigor. Exhaustion finally took its toll on the child. Quickly losing energy, Arthur gave up and let his father lift his limp body into his arms to bring him back to the weeping crowd. He could not bring himself to look at the rubble he left behind, abandoning his one friend for good. Instead, he burrowed his face into his father's shirt, his small shoulders shaking with sobs.
Flakes of ashes floated downwards, settling on every open surface. His eyelids heavy, Arthur watched several small flecks land on the back of his hand. Before long, he could no longer keep his eyes open, and the boy succumbed to restless, weary sleep.
One by one, the townspeople stood and walked dejectedly towards their homes, Arthur's family included. And while everyone's back was turned, the smoke cleared just enough to let the moonlight shine through once more.