A few years ago my husband Dee and I lived in the country near Sandpoint, Idaho on twenty acres of paradise. Our beloved cat Mojo spent his time hunting, patrolling the property, and staying inside to keep an eye on us. He was a barn kitten, born on a farm in Utah, who joined our family at six weeks old. By the time we moved to northern Idaho Mojo had already used most of his nine lives, including a broken leg and being caught in a skunk trap for two days.
Over the years we had saved Mojo’s life half a dozen times and spent two thousand dollars having his leg surgically repaired.
We adored him, and the feeling was mutual. Little did we know he would save our lives.
It all started one February night in Sandpoint when I added three logs to the wood burning stove in the living room and we retired to our bedroom. Mojo fell asleep between our feet, his usual habit. All was quiet for an hour or two.
At midnight we awakened to a piercing screech inside the room. We snapped awake, wondering what alien creature was in with us. We were halfway accustomed to wildlife in the bedroom, because Mojo had a habit of carrying live prey through the cat door. We had hosted flying squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and a variety of birds and rodents.
But this time the eerie sound came from Mojo himself. He stood beside the bedroom door, yowling and growling in the strangest tone we’d ever heard. Dee climbed out of bed to investigate.
Moments later, he shouted at me, “Sam, get up! The house is on fire!”
I reflexively reached for the bedside lamp, but the power was off. We stumbled around in the dark, putting on shoes without socks and grabbing clothes at random. When we opened the bedroom door acrid smoke billowed over us. The smoke roiled through the upstairs living space, but we couldn’t see where it originated. I looked out a window and saw flames engulfing one side of the house from the first floor to the roof. I grabbed our coats, car keys, and cell phones, and we made a dash for the door, feeling our way in the dark.
We dialed 911 on a cell phone and later discovered the emergency system map showed only a barn at our location—no house. Therefore, the volunteer firemen didn’t hurry too much. While waiting, we backed both the cars out. I hustled the dog out of his bed in the garage and put him inside our Jeep.
Then we turned our attention to the house. Flames had engulfed one side and we could only watch helplessly as they spread. It seemed surreal to stand huddled in the driveway getting soaked from icy needles of sleet, when ten minutes earlier we’d been asleep in our beds. This has to be a bad dream, I told myself.
But even in a dream one has to act, so we quickly made a plan.
Dee would go through a ground floor door and try to rescue our computers from the attached office that housed our business, NorLightsPress. Against Dee’s advice, I was determined to go back inside and look for Mojo, who was still inside the burning house. In our haste to get out and call 911, we had opened the bedroom door and lost track of him. But I wasn’t going to let him perish in the fire.
The smoke was twice as thick when I entered the second floor through a side door. Flames licked at the walls on the other side of the room, making ominous popping sounds. I prayed the ceiling wouldn’t ignite and collapse before I could get out. I inhaled a final gulp of cold air from outside, dropped to my knees and crawled through the dining area, trying not to inhale.
“This is how people die,” said a sensible voice in my head. “Going into a burning house is stupid.”
But I kept crawling, past the dining room table and through the kitchen, to the bathroom. Now I was measuring time by breaths.
At the bathroom sink I grabbed a towel, soaked it in cold water, and wrapped it over my face. A few more steps and I reached the bedroom. No sign of Mojo, and he didn’t answer when I called. I tried to think like a cat. The safest place would be under the bed where the bed-skirt would offer some protection. I crawled around the room calling his name and finally heard a faint meow from the far side of the bed. Thankfully, he came right into my arms. I tucked him beneath my coat and made a run for the back door.
Three breaths took me to the back porch. I sucked in huge amounts of fresh air and checked Mojo. He was subdued, but seemed fine. I circled the house, put Mojo on a blanket inside the, car and rushed to help Dee, who was bringing out computers and printers and laying them in the snow.
We cheered at the sound of sirens coming our way. The firemen made quick work of unrolling their hoses and carrying gear inside the house. After a couple of hours they were able to save the bottom floor of the house and part of the second floor. Shivering and thankful, we watched from the yard.
The volunteer fire chief offered to let us spend the night at his home, but by then friends had arrived from our church and took us to their home at three o’clock in the morning. Our lives, the brave firemen, a safe cat, and two pairs of dry socks were the best gifts we received that night.
The firemen told us the fire must have” flashed over” right after we got out, covering the entire family area with flames. Without Mojo’s early warning we might have died from smoke inhalation or been trapped in the second floor bedroom.
Investigators later determined the fire started because we had the chimney cleaned that day. The chimney sweep removed a layer of creosote that had concealed a small hole in the metal chimney. When I added extra logs for the night, the hole allowed hot coals to drop down the side of our house. The chimney chase caught fire and the flames quickly spread to the wooden house.
We were lucky to survive.
We will always have two questions about that night:
- How did our bedroom door get closed when we always left it open?
- How did Mojo know something was terribly wrong on the other side of that door?
One thing we know for sure: On that February night, a ten-pound tabby cat with a big heart saved our lives, and he will always be our hero. Years later he would die from a brain tumor at the age of ten, and we miss him every day.
We think cats go to Heaven, and if we make it there, Mojo will be waiting for us. Most likely he’ll give us a tour of the grounds and then start bossing us around as only a good cat can do.
Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.
She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.
A recent review for Dialogue for Writers:
Did you know dialogue matters even for poetry? I didn’t, and I am so glad I do now! This small book packs a punch. It easily and accessibly convinced me of just how and why good dialogue matters, why many pieces could use more of it, and when not to use it. The author also helps the reader learn to plainly identify what makes good dialogue good and what does and doesn’t work through the use of a plethora of useful examples. It is also full of different kinds of useful information for writers of all sorts. There are gems in it such as “Usually the best point of view character is the one with most to lose.” (page 83) If your writing could benefit from some good editing, try this book. If your writing could benefit from some new tricks, try this book. It won’t disappoint. I think of it as a course on dialogue in itself and there are exercises at the end of each chapter.
Find the book on Amazon.com: http://dld.bz/dngkg