I awoke to an orange glow and a headache. Sitting up on a makeshift bed of couch cushions, the orange glow in front of me came into focus: fire. I looked behind me: fire. We were in the skybridge in the middle of the two buildings with fire at the entrances to the buildings on either side. As I looked down at my hands, scrapped and singed, snowflakes gently alighted on them melting upon impact. Window panels were knocked out on either side of the skybridge and it was snowing hard now.
Barefoot I approached the windowless void and ran my hands up the slim vertical beams on either side. The gap was just wide enough that I could pass through it effortlessly. I leaned forward over the edge, the fierce wind drawing me out towards the storm. My hair, yanked in every direction, wrapped around my neck.
With one hand I pulled my phone from my blazer pocket. The battery was dead. I ran my thumb over the light scratches on the screen I had memorized. I let it fall. I watched as it quickly disappeared into the churning sea of white and gray that obscured the street below. A violent jerk pulled me backwards onto the rough carpet.
“What are you doing?”
I realized that I hadn’t seen Graham look afraid until that moment. He looked at me like I was insane, like I had breached his trust. He had to trust me, to know me. I needed someone to.
“I…I don’t know.” I stammering. My head was aching more now.
“I broke these so we could get some air in here, some cool air.” He looked to the entrance of the old building where the tips of flames reached over into the skybridge.
“I pulled the carpet back so there is nothing flammable. I got the snacks and some sodas.” He handed me a bag of Lay’s chips from a pile behind him and a Sprite.
“Thanks.” I hugged them close to me. I could not look at him. I knew I would be dead with out him.
“How is your head?” He asked, more gently now.
“It’s alright.” I replied as I fixed my gaze on one of my shoes behind him. The heel had broken off.
“Why didn’t you leave, before all this happened?” His voice was deeper and serious drawing my eyes to his.
“Why didn’t you?” My words came out whiny and defensive, I hated it.
A sinking feeling like my stomach was falling. Every inch of my skin tingled, my stomach seemed to be dropping deeper. We were trapped. Whenever I felt I was in control for a moment, something always pulled me back to remind me how stupid and powerless I was. I couldn’t move. There was nowhere to go. Nothing.
There had to be a way. I could see the fire escape latter that crisscrossed down the the outside of the old building. If only there was a way to get there. I again approached the opening.
“We have to go now.” I said to Graham firmly. “You need to trust me.”
Graham just stared at me, he didn’t move as I stepped forward. Maybe he trusted me or maybe he had given up.
I stepped out backward and slowly shimmied across the ledge on the outside of the skybridge, tightly grasping the vertical beams that lined the windows. The storm was more intense than I had anticipated. I pressed myself flat against the windows as the wind beat against my body. The edge was only a few inches wide. I crunched my toes against the window so I could support my weight on the balls of my feet. I slowly inched along the outside of the skybridge. The frozen windows became slick and then warm and then hot the closer I got to the fiery entrance of the old building. The medal edge singed the balls of my feet and my already burned finger tips but I forced myself closer to the fire. Through the window I could see the “CAUTION” step in flames.
I knew the fire escape was behind me, but I couldn’t reach it with my body pressed against the window. The heat was overpowering, this was the moment. I let go and jumped back.
I hit my back hard against the metal fire escape stairs and dropped down to the platform below. My heart was racing, sharp and dull pain alternated over what seemed like my entire body, but it had worked. I hadn’t noticed before but Graham had been close behind me. He leapt across from the skybridge and grasped the railing. His feet slipped from the edge of the platform, but he hooked his arms around the railing stopping himself from falling. I grabbed his shoulders and pulled him until my muscles felt like they would snap. Together we managed to get him onto the platform.
We slowly descended the narrow stairs to the platforms of the seventh, sixth, and fifth floors. The stairs leading from the fifth floor platform to the fourth floor platform had been knocked down by a fallen pylon that jetted out through a window. It pressed against the edge of the platform. The stairs leaned precariously over the side of the platform.
“We can jump.” I said. I felt invincible.
“Alright.” Graham said reluctantly.
“Ready?” I said calmly as I approached the opening in the platform where the stairs had been. He nodded.
We dropped to the platform below. The impact of our jump coupled with the weight of the pylon was too much for the platform. It creaked as it slowly pulled away from the building. I swung open the fourth floor emergency exit door and we rushed through. The door slammed shut loudly on its own. Standing in the darkened hallway, the muffled crash outside made my heart race.
-TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY- PART 5: GRAYSCALE