Flames burn around me, as they lick the bookshelves, taste the walls, swallow every inch of library. I tilt my head against the wood floor but only see obsidian, floating bits of a hue that is nothing, that is everything. My lungs scream but I find no comfort for them. Oxygen has become my greatest traitor. I cough and roll onto my side.
It had been near closing time, not many people remained in the library. No alarms rang, not a single sound of warning. Everyone on the ground floor had made it out just fine, had little suspected I was trapped upstairs. Alone. Suffocating.
I push beneath me but my arms shiver, shake, give out. It’s no use. There is zero energy left inside this shell of a body.
Then, a figure, a child, walks toward me. The inane thought that she shouldn’t be out so late on a school night fills my head before my chest cracks what could be a laugh. School doesn’t care if you live or if you die.
Covered in soot, yet unnaturally calm, she reaches down to take my hand. I open my mouth to urge her, to yell that she must run, she must get out while she can still walk! But her eyes implore, beg me to comply with her feeble attempt at saving my broken and battered cocoon.
My hand trembles, then relaxes in her grip. Like melted chocolate and s’mores around a campfire. Campfire. Fire.
Get out! I want to yell at her but she insists, tugs, pulls against my resistance.
“Can’t—breathe—” A hollow scratch from my throat. Can she even hear me?
She bends down, places one hand on my chest. Smiles.
A heavenly blessed rush of oxygen consumes my lungs. The spots in my vision fade away.
Once more, she tugs my hand. I comply.
Through the flames we walk, across charred floor, between ash covered shelves, down stairs, impossible stairs that shouldn’t hold my weight but do. Past the inferno. Between that moment of shadows that could be death.
Fresh air assaults my nostrils, fills my core, hammers my body to the ground. My world goes dark, my mind too lazy to bother to stick around any longer.
I open my eyes. How much time has passed? My body is on a gurney, a mask over my face, a man covered in grime hovers over me.
Are you all right? he says.
I glance right, then left. Where is the little girl? No, I say that out loud. I said it to the man. “Where is the little girl?”
His brow pulls together. “What girl? You were the last one out. There were no bodies found inside.” Pause. “Tell me how you did it…how you survived so long? You should’ve suffocated before you made it out.”
I don’t know, I tell him.
But that is a lie.
I do know. I know exactly how I survived.
©Laura L. Zimmerman 2016
Photo Credit Unsplash Sweet Ice Cream Photography