Collision Course IX

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Beside Tanner, there were a couple other serious injuries.  There was one other with burns, and one with a deep gash on her hand, but mostly it was a lot of coughing from the smoke and some very dry mouths.  Ella refused to leave Tanner’s side, but told Carol where the cups could be found.  Everyone shared in some water, draining most of the two gallons Tanner had brought down.  Ella didn’t mind, she knew he had more and would get it later.

For now, she asked Carol to set aside a glass for when he woke up, then looked around.

“Where is Bo?”  She wanted to ask when they would know if the plan had worked and the fire was out.  The silence was almost as bad as the alarm, now.

“I think he and a few others went up to let people know what’s going on,” Carol said.

Ella noticed there were only two left, now.  The rest had returned to their own apartments, Ella supposed; or perhaps to stay with others they knew.   Most of the first and second floor residents had evacuated to higher floors early on except for those who had stayed to help fight the fire.  These two looked a little lost now.

Ella figured they couldn’t just stand there awkwardly forever.  “You live downstairs?”

The man in his mid-thirties nodded, giving a mirthless laugh.  “Yeah, I moved in just last month.  Great timing.”

“Three months ago, here,” said the woman beside him.  “Apartment 103.  I only knew the old lady who… whose apartment caught fire.  Mrs. Moshenberg.”  She picked at a burnt area on her shirt.  “She was nice.”

It wasn’t until then Ella realized that the apartment hadn’t been empty when the fire happened.  Maybe it had been caused by a lit candle from the power outage?  She squeezed Tanner’s hand.  “So I guess you don’t really know anyone else yet, huh?”

She shook her head, as did he.

“Well, I’m Ella-”

“Carol,” she offered.

“And this is Tanner,” Ella said, holding his hand up briefly.

He introduced himself as Amir, and she gave her name as Mila.  Ella invited them to stay, and they both thanked her, grateful for the hospitality.  Ella jokingly apologized she couldn’t offer them a shower, but she’d get more water later, and they were all welcome to have a bite to eat if they were hungry.

Ella decided that if Tanner was going to be out for any length of time, he might be more comfortable on the bed rather than the floor, so Amir helped to move him into her bedroom.  In doing so, they found poor Sam who was burrowed under the covers, frightened near to death.  Ella let him stay in his burrow, but scooted him just enough so Tanner could fit beside him.

Figuring he would be okay for a moment on his own, she helped her three guests get settled in the living room, lighting the candles again, though they all looked at one another in understanding that these could not be allowed to be unattended for even a moment.  Ella dug out a pack of cards and some chips and left them to a game of poker before she went back to keep an eye on Tanner.

She closed the door, but did not latch it, and sat on the edge of the bed, wondering how bad his injury really was and when he would take up.  Dean gave a pathetic mewl and crept out from under the bed to rub against her.  She pulled him into her arms and nuzzled his head, fighting the tears that were beginning to sting her eyes.

Maybe she couldn’t offer her other guests a bath, but she left to retrieve the bit of tap water from earlier and a cloth.  Then she set to washing away the white powder that covered him head to toe, revealing Tanner’s beautiful black skin beneath.  She avoided his bandages and the burn, but was able to clean much of it away from his eyes and mouth, then wiped down his hands.

When she had cleaned what she could, she looked to her phone to see how much time had passed, but there was no signal and the time was not registering.  It could have been noon or midnight and either seemed just as likely to be true.  She couldn’t even begin to guess at how much time had really passed, only that she was very tired, so she kicked off her shoes and laid on the bed beside him.  Dean snuggled himself between them and Sam curled up against her legs.  A few minutes later, Ella was fast asleep.

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Collision Course VIII

[previous]

They were losing the battle with the fire.  Their efforts were just enough to keep it from raging out of control, but not enough to put it out.   It was growing, and they were running out of extinguishers.  Bo had called a few of them around and were discussing ideas, what options they might have.  Already the volunteers were coughing from smoke, growing dizzy as the air heated and the oxygen burned.

It seemed a ridiculous thought, but all Ella wished for right now was to turn off that damn alarm so she could die in peace.  It was no use, though.  The alarm would continue unless they cut power from the emergency battery it was hard-wired into, and they couldn’t do that, that would cut the life support as well.

“Wait-” Could it be that simple?  “Bo?  Bo!”  Ella got to her feet and ran over, tugging his shirt eagerly.  “The life support!  If we cut the back-up power-” she began.

“The fire might burn itself out before the rest of the building,” he finished as he caught her meaning.  “But do we all suffocate in the attempt?”

He didn’t wait for an answer as he wasn’t really asking her.  He hollered to get everyone back and into the stairwell, and not leave a single soul behind.  It was a fool’s hope, but it was hope.  As the dozen volunteers edged back into the hallway and toward the stairs, there was a great cracking sound from the apartment, a cry following close after, as part of an interior wall collapsed.

A few men rushed back inside, and Ella held back a cry of her own as they emerged again, carrying Tanner between them.  Once everyone was into the stairwell, Bo told them to get up to the second floor at least, there was no telling exactly how this was going to play out.  The fire might be smothered quickly or it might suck all the oxygen out of the lower part of the building before it was out.

As they filed through the doorway and out of the hall, a young man, barely eighteen, came up to Bo.  “Sir?  I’ve worked maintenance in these kinds of buildings before, I know where the battery overrides are-”

“Go,” Bo said, not even waiting for him to finish.

Ella balked at the idea of sending a kid to what was, in all likelihood, his death.  By the look on Bo’s face, he didn’t like it much himself, but it was the death of all of them if it didn’t work.  The kid ran off, and Ella wanted to protest but Bo waved her over and  got a roll of gauze out of the bag of supplies she was still clutching.  Then, with her help, they shut it between the doors in an attempt to seal what they could of the small gap.

“Will it be enough?” Carol asked, looking uncertain.

“It’ll have to be,” Bo said.  “Come on.”

They followed the hot and tired crew as they stumbled up the stairs as fast as they could.  The two men carrying Tanner were at the back, and Ella said to take him back to her apartment, and anyone else who needed medical attention, what little they could offer.  They laid Tanner on the floor and Ella held a flashlight up for Carol as she looked him over.

He had a gash on his head which was bleeding, and his hair and left arm were badly burned.  There were a few spots where his shirt had tried to catch fire but the skin beneath was unharmed, so Carol focused on his head as the major concern.  What Ella noticed most was how the powder from the extinguisher covered his body with a white film and made him look unnatural, like a ghost.

Carol worked quickly to staunch the bleeding with what they had, and it wasn’t long before she had him wrapped up.  She gave Ella a reassuring smile and said he should be fine, then dabbed some of the burn gel on his arm.  Ella held his hand, giving over the flashlight to one of the others as Carol moved on to treat a few more burns and injuries.

When the sound of the alarm faltered and stopped, the silence left in its wake made everyone hold their breath for a moment.  The subtle movement of air from the ventilation system stopped.  Now it was a waiting game; the fire or the people, who would run out of air first?

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Collision Course VII

[previous]

It took very little to discover the fire was below them, the faint odor of smoke detectable once they were into the stair well.  If there had been some doubt, it would not have lasted long as they met a man half way to the second floor who was heading up.  He had a baby wrapped in his arms and he was trying to soothe the crying.  Ella asked him if he knew which floor the fire was on, and he gave a short reply in Spanish.  Ella had never been so grateful for her mother tongue and repeated her request so he’d understand.  The man gave a deep sigh of relief and launched into a full explanation.

Translating for Carol’s sake as he went, Ella relayed that the fire was on the first floor and that he, Mr. Sanches, had already given his extinguisher to someone else but he could not leave his baby to go and help.  He did not know the extent of the fire but as the smoke had become more noticeable, he had to get them further up and away from it.

Ella thanked him for his help and let him continue, though she and Carol exchanged a look that agreed going further up would be of no use if the fire wasn’t put out.  They continued down to the first floor amid the echo of shouts and the sound of running from the flights of stairs above them.

Ella was unprepared for what lay beyond the door out of the stairwell and onto the first floor hallway; the smoke, the heat, the calls from one to another as those fighting organized themselves; the billow of white powder from the extinguishers as one by one they were emptied and another fetched.  Was it the fire roaring, or the pulsing of her own blood in her ears which seemed to muffle all else?  She wasn’t really sure what she had expected to find here, but this wasn’t it; this was a war.

Her mind watched from a distance, unconnected to the battle for the lives of everyone in this building.  As she withdrew from the present, she bumped against a memory from what felt like a lifetime ago.  It welled up and consumed her, and in that moment she was six years old in a slash field, running toward her little brother’s cries.

Then, her blood had also pulsed in her ears, smoke stung her eyes and choked her throat.  A cousin had been left to mind the younger children but fell asleep in the afternoon heat and Rodrigo had wandered into the field that was being burned for next season’s planting.

Surrounded by fire, she faintly recalled hearing voices yelling, unsure which direction they were coming from.  She was being picked up by her father, passed to her mother.  Ella had forgotten until this moment that it had happened at all. She didn’t remember either of them having any injuries, perhaps that’s why she had put it out of her mind so completely.  There was no escape from the memory of it now.

It took the touch of a hand to draw Ella back enough to realize Carol was saying her name.  “What?”

“Over there,” she said, pointing the opposite direction in the hall where it looked as if someone was organizing the fighters.  There were many extinguishers, some empty to one side, others being readied and traded for the empties.  A woman rushed from the stairwell over to the man organizing, handing over three more extinguishers.

“That’s the last from the sixth floor,” she said.

The man nodded, speaking with the clipped style of someone without any seconds to spare.  “That’s all, then.”

Ella stepped closer and cleared her throat.  “Sir?”

His gaze snapped to her.  “What?”

“We brought what we could for first aid.  And water.”  She held up the bag to illustrate.  He nodded and pointed behind him.  “Set it down and get back to the upper floors.”

Carol spoke up this time.  “I have CPR and basic first aid.  I can help, if anyone is injured.”

The man asked for her name, and offered his, Bo, in return.  There was nothing for them to do yet but Bo said they could wait.

Ella and Carol sat down behind him to get the cleanest air.  Either they would be needed soon, or nothing they did would ever matter again, but all Ella cared about right now was she didn’t see Tanner anywhere.  Bile rose in her throat and she tried to pretend the stinging in her eyes was entirely from the smoke.

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Update… again

So I’ve been pretty sick for the last two weeks.  Finally feeling almost 100% again, but that’s why there has been no new installment of Collision Course.

I was working on it tonight but too many other things needed to be done as well, so it’s only half complete.  But on the plus side, that’s half done, and the rest should be finished by tomorrow so I’m hoping to have it up tomorrow evening.

I apologize for making you wait so long, and I beg just a little more patience!

In other news… oh wait, there isn’t any.  Because outside of writing, my life is boring at the moment, and filled mostly with work.  blah.  😉

Hope all is well with all of you!