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Lake of Fire: Flash Fiction by cam

Updated on January 8, 2020
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Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.


Lake of Fire

Through a window of the Sherpa C23, Craig viewed a panorama of rugged peaks, a twelve-mile canyon, an alpine lake, and a burning forest. Down there, the Ponderosa pines ruled. But the two thousand acre wildfire, centered at the man-made reservoir, threatened that coniferous royalty.

“Get ready.” The jump coordinator stood next to the door and slapped the firefighter on the back. The jumper disappeared, and Craig stepped up to take his place. The same bump of fist to shoulder blade communicated both the urgency of the mission and the camaraderie he felt with this band of smokejumpers.

Craig’s chute deployed and, he trained his eyes on the landing point except for a glance at the lake. This was his favorite hike in the Bitterroots, but on this day, the area around the reservoir was being surrendered to the blaze. For a few seconds, the smoke cleared and he could see the rock peninsula jutting into the lake where countless times he had pitched his tent. He pulled binoculars out and looked, then put them away.


The ground approached fast. He hit, rolled and came up unclipped from the chute. “Josiah.” He waved to the team leader and the other eight men joined them in the center of the clearing.

“Whatcha got, Craig?” Josiah switched on his two-way radio.

“Two hikers over at the lake on the end of the rock.”

“That area's been closed for days,” said Josiah.

“A little fire never stopped you and me when we were younger, did it?” said Craig.

“They probably got there late yesterday and woke up this morning with the lake surrounded by fire,” said Josiah. “I can’t spare two jumpers, but we don’t have a choice.”

“Let me go alone. I won’t be fighting the fire, so technically it’s not a violation of the policy to work in pairs.”

“Let’s hope Air Tactical splits hairs same as you.” Josiah put a hand on Craig’s shoulder. “We’ll send a helicopter ASAP, but right now, it’s just too damned hot over there.

Craig headed west, guided by a compass and the mountain on the far side of the lake. The wind blew into his face, and the smell of smoke grew stronger with each step until the flames came into view.

Pillars of fire drove upward and ignited treetops. He skirted the worst and kept to the left of the lake. The wind changed, and Craig faced a wall of fire sweeping across a meadow of dry grass. He ran parallel to the charging fire-front and shot into the burning timbers just as the grass fire swept past. I shouldn’t be here. My training taught me how to deal with fire, not my own bad judgment. Josiah would never have knowingly put me in this situation.

A horizontal flaming tornado erupted across his path. The fire swirl tipped to vertical and sent flaming debris in every direction. The lake was his only hope, and it peeked at him through the flames.

Slow-motion seemed to be his only speed. One foot went in front of the other with great effort. The lake opened up before him. He burst out of the trees and launched himself, a smoking firebrand, from a thirty-foot cliff.

Alpine Lake in the Bitterroot Mountains

The lakes in the canyons of the Bitterroot Mountains were formed when, in the late 1930s, men went in and dammed the creeks to capture the snowmelt to be used in the Bitterroot valley during the summer dry seasons.
The lakes in the canyons of the Bitterroot Mountains were formed when, in the late 1930s, men went in and dammed the creeks to capture the snowmelt to be used in the Bitterroot valley during the summer dry seasons. | Source

Cool water soothed his blistered skin. His head broke the surface, and he gulped in the heated air. The peninsula reached for him from the blazing backdrop. Two figures huddled on the edge farthest from the fire. Craig swam with one arm and held his pack up with the other.

Hands helped him onto the superheated rock.

"Your names." Craig opened his pack.

"She's Lisa, and I'm Jeff," said a male in his early twenties with a sparse beard and mustache.

“Well, Lisa and Jeff, you should be in the water."

“We can’t swim,” said Lisa. “It drops off right at the edge.”

“Grab a log and use it to keep yourself afloat,” Craig said.

“They’re all burning." Jeff pointed at the fire that came to the rocky peninsula's edge.

Craig’s eyes settled on an object that seemed out of place. “Is that a keg of beer?”

“It was,” said Missy. “We carried it here last weekend on a stretcher with our friends. We were so sick when we left the next morning that we forgot it.”

“We can’t get our deposit back until we return the keg,” said Rex. “So we came back to get it.”

Craig kicked the two-foot-tall tank into the water. It sizzled, and steam rose from beneath. After it cooled, he pulled a length of climbing rope out of his pack, wrapped it around the keg several times and tied it off. He fashioned shorter lengths into looped handles.

They slid into the reservoir with the beer keg float and kicked until they were in the center. News from Josiah was grim. Cool air from the mountain was descending and mixing with the heat from the fire. The combination created dangerous winds for helicopters.

Rex was the first to shiver. Missy and Craig followed.

“We’ve got to go back to shore,” said Craig.

“What’s happening?” said Missy.

“Hypothermia. The water lowered our body temperatures.” They swam to shore and climbed onto the rocks. The heat felt good after being in the cold water for so long, but an hour later, they were back in the lake. They repeated this pattern until they lost count.


Lethargy from cold water and exhaustion overcame them. The water churned. The smell of wet animals mixed with smoke choked them. A herd of elk parted and swam on either side of the three floating humans.

Noise from above drowned out the roar of the fire. They looked up at the underbelly of a helicopter. A metal basket dangled a few feet away just above the surface of the water.

Craig signaled for more line, and the girl climbed in. The basket ascended two hundred feet without ordeal.

"Your next." Craig held the basket for jeff.

"I can't. I'm afraid of heights."

"Which are you more afraid of, death or heights?"

Jeff crawled over the edge of the basket and squeezed his eyes closed as he began to ascend.

Craig was the last to be rescued. Inside the helicopter, he wrapped himself in a blanket and joined Lisa and Jeff. One of the crew approached with the keg.

“This was tied to the basket when we brought you up, Craig. You want to keep it?”

“Damn right. I won’t let this ordeal be for nothing. These two need to get their deposit back.”


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    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      2 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Jennifer, I wrote this story for a flash fiction competition a couple of years ago. I am joining the same competition beginning tonight. We will see if I've gotten any better at writing these very short stories.

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 

      2 years ago from California

      Great tension! I was eager to find out what became of our three adventurers.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Mr.Centaur, welcome to my hub. Thank you for reading. So glad you enjoyed it. Yes, a cheer for the beer, of which, I also no longer partake. If I did, you would not be reading this thank you comment.

    • wingedcentaur profile image

      William Thomas 

      4 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Nicely done, Chris!

      I'm not a drinker, but its good to see that smoke jumper honoring the beer.


    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I love this fast paced story. It is engaging and enjoyable. Well written. I wish you the best of luck in the competition.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Great story, I loved this story.


    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Deb, It definitely moves fast. The "fill in" was the 700 words or 40% of the original 1700 word story I had to cut out. I've been encouraged by others to wait for several weeks before rewriting. I hope that yields a short story that is rich with characterization as well as action. Thanks for reading and for the comment.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This moves a little fast for my liking. However, when you get to fill it is, it will be a wonderful story. Best of luck!

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Shauna, thanks for reading. The NYC Midnight Challenges are lengthy events. This is my story for round one. All 2100 writers participate in rounds one and two. We accumulate points in the first two rounds within our own groups. The top five writers in each group in terms of points will proceed to round three. Then the top five in round three will proceed to the final round. This will last until sometime in December. Round two will begin in mid September. Results from round one will be announced just before the beginning of round two. I hope that gives you a better idea about what is happening.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      They sure went through a lot of trouble just to get their deposit back!

      Great story, Chris. When will the winner be announced?

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Good story -- even shortened.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      The ending made me lol. You took me on an adventure that was full of excitement. I could see the action clearly. I hope you win. I am running late due to my laptop crashing when I attempted to download the new windows 10, why I do not know...Great story!

    • manatita44 profile image


      4 years ago from london

      Sounds good. Pace is crucial to Flash Fiction and so you're right. I say so often that they must flow..must run like a river Tragedy of The Telephone Call is very much like that.

      Yes, that's a nice idea. I like it. Much Love, my Brother.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      manatita, you hit the nail on the head. This story was 1700 words long. I conserve words whenever I write, so there really weren't 700 words of fluff I could throw out. I took out very important parts of this story. This is really only the skeleton of a story. I don't think the prompts gave me any problem. What I really like is the pace it reads at. One year ago, I would not have been able to write this story. Not like it is now. It would have been filled with passive language and "as" and "ing" verbs, all which slow a story down. Now I can do that, and I learned in the forum of the very competition I'm in right now. So, you said the story is missing something. How about Less back story. It will begin with Craig in the forest fire and will end on the plane. There

    • manatita44 profile image


      4 years ago from london

      Nice story. Your prompts are my kind of thing except the reservoir bit. You know I love your work Cam and you have done a great job, but this one feels like something's missing. I have had to reduce some of my work for narrative poetry, which has to be done in 3 mins. Not always easy.

      You speak of constraints...well? Do you think it affected you? Sometimes the theme chosen can be the problem. All the best with the competition.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Larry, the genre has a lot to do with it. Action/adventure, horror, suspense, thriller, all will probably have fast pace most of the time. Romance, drama, even comedy can be done with a slower pace. To hold the readers' attention without action, to me seems very difficult. The writing would have to be very good. Thanks for reading and for your comments.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      I love a fast pace, but I like a slow, traditional pace at times, too. Sometimes I feel like there's no room for traditional pace anymore, and it makes me sad.

      Great read.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Thanks Bill. I'll keep going back. I always win because I learn something new every time.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Becky, thanks. Your thoughts are wanted and anticipated.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Another good one, Chris! Some day soon you'll be winning these competitions.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 

      4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      Truly awesome story. I love how fast it moved. I do not think it suffered from being shortened.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Eldon, I appreciate the encouragement. While this story still needed some work when time ran out, in some key ways it is the best I have submitted in three years to the NYCM flash fiction contest. Passive wording is under control, I don't have a mile long dialogue (like I did last year), and everything seems to be believable. So that takes care of past mistakes. I am hoping for a good showing in this first round.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      John, I appreciate you jumping in and commenting. The story was up for a week with no comments. I finally emailed Ann and asked her to see if she could access it. She could, but finally I just reposted it. Things look better now. This story was about 80% ready for being submitted but time ran out. I would have rewritten the opening and all the dialogue. Much of that is all first draft material. I'm hoping that for the first round I can get some points on the board. We shall see in a few weeks.

    • Eldon Arsenaux profile image

      Eldon Arsenaux 

      4 years ago from Cooley, Texas

      Awesome! All parameters met in a natural way. The action succinct. The beginning pulled me in. It takes talent to create flash fiction. Keeping things concise. This will definitely be a contender in the contest. Keep 'em comin Mistah Chris Mills! :)



    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I love this story, Chris. You met the prompts of Action/Adventure, a reservoir, and keg of beer brilliantly. Good luck in the contest.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Ann, me too. I've never had this kind of experience with a story before. I'm getting a lot of readers from the competition, but they comment over there. We will see how this one works.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Hope you get more comments this time, Chris!

      Ann :)

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      The following comment was left by Hubber, annart, who was helping me when the previous posting of this story did not seem to be visible to my hubber friends. I deleted the original post and reposted here. I didn't want to lose Ann's comment, so I am including it here with this comment....

      By annart: I'm surprised there are no comments yet. I'm late getting to this due to lack of time but your email sent me straight over!

      Great story. I can see the location clearly and the sense of urgency comes through - plenty of action! Love the way you've included the keg!

      Just two things -

      1. 'Craig’s chute deployed and, he trained...' doesn't need a comma.

      2. The last line would have more impact without 'for that keg', in my opinion.

      Maybe something's up with the HP system. I hope not. I'll email to let you know I've left a comment. I've also noticed there is another hubber under the name of Chris Mills (no pseudonym) - I don't suppose there's any interference there, is there? Just a thought.

      Best of luck with the competition, Chris!



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