The heat was almost unbearable. All that stopped Tobias from burning alive was the fact that he was somehow so cold. Maybe it was the fear of the situation he found himself in. He wasn’t sure, but trying to put his nerves at rest, Tobias looked up to Danielle, who seemed to know what she was doing, or at least behaved like she did.
‘I’ll just lift you over. You’ll be fine.’
Both Tobias and Danielle were terrified, and neither of them had been in such a terrifying situation before. Even the room seemed safe compared to the outside, with the heat and the flames and the smoke. Tobias didn’t want to die…
His trail of thought was interrupted as he felt something digging into his armpits. It was Danielle, and before he could ask what she was doing, she had lifted him up several inches off the ground.
Trying to make himself a little less nervous, and hoping that Danielle would appreciate it, Tobias tried to make a joke.
‘Wow, you’re strong.’
Danielle stayed silent, then replied.
‘No, you’re just really light.’
She obviously didn’t understand Tobias’ intentions, and so he clamped his mouth shut, hoping that his fear of death wouldn’t put him in another awkward joke situation any time soon.
Tobias was now propped against the banister, his rear perched on the side and his legs dangling over the edge. It wasn’t that far down to the steps which weren’t on fire, but if he tried to jump and didn’t land right, he could miss a step and fall down the stairs, and although they didn’t look that hard, there seemed to be a lot of them, and falling down a spiral staircase didn’t seem any more sensible that being trapped in a burning building.
‘Okay, Tobias? Are you ready?’
Tobias wasn’t ready at all. If he was lowered down, he failed to realise how Danielle would follow him without risking her own safety. Maybe she would have to jump and risk landing awkwardly. She was less likely to get hurt than Tobias, because she was taller and would be closer to the stairs when she dropped, but he still didn’t like the idea of her jumping down. Maybe if he waited nearby he could catch her if she lost her balance…
Danielle was barely audible over the loud crackle of the burning beam next to them, but her shout got through to him.
‘Yeah, yes… Sorry.’
‘I’m going to lower you down now.’
Tobias thought it was best to answer to show that he had heard her this time.
He suddenly, and to both the surprise of Danielle and himself, dropped several inches, and Danielle’s grip switched from Tobias’ armpits to his upper arms, and her grip was so intense and tight that Tobias could already feel her nails digging into his skin through his thin shirt.
‘Sorry! Sorry!’ Danielle apologised, obviously having scared herself and Tobias at the same time. ‘I’ll lower you down slowly. Just lost my grip there.’
Slowly, Tobias watched the peeling wallpaper pass him by as Danielle’s grip was transferred from his upper arms to his forearms, then to his wrists, then his hands. Tobias feet freely dangled over the steps below, a good two feet or so away, and in his opinion, more than enough space to provide a threat, especially as the fire could be burning through the wooden floor, providing a dangerous landing.
Tobias tilted his head back, locking his gaze with that of Danielle’s, who was pushed up against the banister. A bead of sweat rolled from her forehead, and then gently fell of her face, narrowly missing Tobias’ own head. If he was honest with himself, he wouldn’t have noticed. The sweat produced from his own forehead was enough to be dripping off him had it not been hot enough to evaporate before it had even rolled down his face.
‘I can’t go any lower, I’ll have to drop you now!’
Tobias looked from Danielle down to the floor waiting below. It seemed hotter down here on the staircase, but no smokier than it had been upstairs. In fact, the smoke seemed to be minimal. Enough to be able to smell, but Tobias couldn’t feel his eyes watering, and didn’t want to throw up with every inhale.
Before Tobias could utter a response, he heard an ear splitting crack from above, and he felt Danielle’s grip on his hands slip from his grasp, sending him down to the stairs below.
Tobias didn’t find the time to steady himself as his legs connected with the stairs, and his legs crumpled like paper, his entire body falling to the floor, followed by a sharp bang to the head. The entirety of Tobias’ vision seemed to shake and pulsate as the pain from the blow to the head – obviously from the stairs – radiated through his body. Before he could control his body and regain his balance, he fell back, rolling down the stairs below, feeling every inch of his body get pummelled by the ruthless staircase below. The stairs seemed to not want to halt, but as Tobias lost count of the injuries he had sustained, he felt a soft release as his body rolled over the last hard step and onto warm carpet.
Danielle must have lost her grip on Tobias, or maybe the crack had made her jump and she had simply dropped him. His head cleared quickly, however, and the adrenaline and fear running through his veins stopped the worst of the pain from continuing, making everything feel as if it were simply a dull itch.
Half running and half limping back up the stairs to see if Danielle had jumped over the banister yet, he was horrified to see that she was lying in a heap, only just managing to keep her balance on the stairs so as not to fall to the same painful fate as Tobias had.
However, the pain she was in seemed substantially worse than that which Tobias had been feeling. Danielle was shrieking like a banshee, clutching her leg, which was bent awkwardly underneath her body, in a position that Tobias had never seem before. He couldn’t understand whether or not it was bent backwards, or simply twisted round. Either way, Danielle seemed to be in agonising pain.
‘What happened, what happened?!’ Tobias asked eagerly and desperately, wanting to know how bad the damage was, but also anxiously awaiting Danielle to get up, pop her leg back into place, shake it off and for them to continue out of the burning building, which was probably becoming more and more structurally unsound by the second.
Danielle didn’t seem eager to answer. Her screams burst through Tobias’ entire body, overpowering the uncomfortable heat and making him deaf to the crackle of the building around him.
After several long cries of agony, Danielle’s screams subsided and she instead reverted into a simple moan, sustained, but allowing for other noises to coexist.
Tobias tried again to question her. ‘What did you do?’ The way he phrased it reminded him of the way his mother would ask him if he was alright after he had grazed his elbow after falling over, not how somebody would address another person who had just seemingly broken a limb.
‘Fucking banister gave way…’ Tobias barely heard the words in between a stream of groans, moans, and deep inhaling to try and dull the pain, which seemingly did not work.
‘It’s broken, how are we going to move now?’ Tobias, despite the way his question was phrased, did not ask in an accusing way, but in an actual curious tone, seriously wondering how they would escape the building now.
‘Go… Go, and I’ll follow you at my own pace.’
The pain that Danielle was feeling seemed to be becoming customary, as she was no longer groaning, but now taking sharp breaths inwards.
‘I’m not going anywhere without you!’
Trying to be heroic, Tobias approached Danielle, and put his arm around her, intending to support her whilst they escaped the burning building. Danielle didn’t object, and so Tobias thought he was doing the right thing, until he saw her leg flop around, accompanied by a loud scream, louder than any Tobias had heard before.
‘No, no no!’ Danielle screamed again, making Tobias jump, but keep a firm grip on his friend. ‘I can’t, Tobias, it hurts, it hurts…’
‘No, you’re coming with me! The pain is nothing, if you stay here you’ll die!’
‘I can’t do it…’ Danielle moaned. Tobias felt helpless, hopeless, unable to do anything to escape. He didn’t want to leave without Danielle – how else would he get out, and how would she without his help – but he didn’t want to stay here and burn alive.
Tobias stopped dead. Everything stopped. Danielle’s screams – which had built themselves back up once more – were blocked out by fear. All Tobias could hear were his own deep breaths, and those two words that inspired doom inside him.