Frito Pie

Elena scanned the front yard. Tank and Betty, leashed to the fence, Ted the Fish in his bowl, and the folder of important paperwork. No cat. No Frito Pie. Frito Pie always came when Elena called. Always. But not today. Not while the house filled with smoke.

Sirens wailed. Getting closer.

Elena had gotten the pets out then ran back in to cram the girls’ drawings and report cards from the fridge into her backpack. Tacky souvenir magnets, a couple pizza coupons, and a Barnes and Noble gift card came along for the ride. Everything else was going up in smoke.

Smoke reeking of burning plastic seeped out a basement window. Elena peered around the corner. Nothing besides trash cans and the recycling bin. She sprinted to the other side of the house. Frito Pie wasn’t there either.

Frito Pie wasn’t the prettiest cat. Her orange, brown, and white coat muddled together like sour cream and cheddar cheese stirred into a bowl of chili. But she was a sweetheart, and she loved to sit on Elena’s lap while she quilted, the leaves from the oak tree filtering the afternoon sunlight to the green and gold.

The sewing room. Elena looked up. Frito Pie scratched at the window pane, trying to get out. Elena dumped the contents of the pack and sprinted for the front door. Inside, the fire sounded like a monster growling in the basement. Elena pulled her shirt over her nose and pounded up the stairs.

Smoke filled the hallway. Coughing, her eyes tearing, Elena dashed for the sewing room. Frito Pie yowled and scratched at the window pane. Her claws made a keening sound like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Elena reached for her. “Frito Baby, it’s okay, mama’s here.”

The cat jumped down from the window and darted into the quilting closet. She backed into a corner with her hair on end, one paw raised, claws bared.

Elena knelt, the backpack at her side. She coughed into her elbow. “C’mere Pie-Pie.” Frito Pie’s growl faded. She set her paw on the floor.

Elena coughed again and scooted closer. “C’mon Sweetie, we gotta go.”

A series of bangs rattled the house. The fire’s groans grew louder. The monster freeing itself from its basement cage.

Frito Pie bolted. Elena lunged and grabbed her. The cat twisted and sank her teeth into her hand. Elena screamed but held on. She wrestled the panicked cat into the backpack, zipped it shut, and slipped her arms through the straps. She ran for the door, hooked an elbow around the frame, and skidded to a stop.

A mass of flame and smoke blocked the stairway. Elena knelt beneath the billowing smoke and wiped her eyes. Frito Pie writhed and snarled in the backpack.

“It’s okay, Pie, I’ll find a way out.” Elena crawled to the girls’ room. She could make a rope of their bed sheets, tie it to a bed…Elena flashed to making girls’ matching quilts, Frito Pie purring in her lap, the oak leaves dancing outside the window…

Elena grabbed the quilts and dashed across the hall to the sewing room. The smoke forced her to her knees. She crawled to the window, reached up, and shoved. Nothing. The window wouldn’t budge. Elena pounded the frame. Frito Pie, trapped in the backpack, let her bladder go, adding to

the stink of the smoke seeping under the door

Elena took a breath, held it, and stood. She grabbed the handle on the window frame and hauled upward. The window opened with a shriek. Elena gasped, got a lungful of smoke. She fell to her knees, took two quick breaths, and gathered herself. She flung the wadded quilts out the window. Then, praying it would hold their weight, she reached for the oak branch.

Elena pressed her cheek into the oak’s rough bark and clung to the trunk with both arms. A fireman climbed a ladder toward her. Behind him, streams of water arced onto the roof of her house.

“Ma’am, I’m going to help you down.”

“Please hurry. I don’t like heights.”

The fireman smiled. “We’ll take it slow and easy,” he said, “and we’ll get there safe and sound.” He paused. “You know, most of the time, when I climb a tree, it’s to rescue of a cat.”

“I’ve got one in the bag,” Elena said. “When we get to the ground, I’ll let it out.”

Prompted by Patty Mallet (cat, upstairs bedroom, Barnes & Noble gift card)

Photo by Parker Coffman on Unsplash

Leave me a prompt (a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location) and I will write a story and tag you when it’s published.

Jim’s Taco Fund

I don’t need cat litter, but why don’t you chip in for a few tacos or maybe a pulque?