Tobias felt sick, but dared not stop or steady himself against the crumbling walls, as he knew that any contact would burn his hands, making the final hurdle of his escape and his attempt to save Danielle even harder. The wallpaper, which Tobias guessed had already been in a pretty poor state before the fire, was now little more than peeling paper, either reduced to ashes or getting there steadily.
However, he didn’t stop to take in the scenery. The corridor, which Tobias guessed was not the ground floor, was fairly narrow, but continued straight on as far as he could see. The road ahead was obscured by smoke, but Tobias could bare the idea of stopping, for fear of losing the life of Danielle or his own. Doors were dotted to the left and right, but Tobias didn’t want to complicate his escape by using any routes that weren’t direct, or at least didn’t seem to be. If his guesses – which he tried to rely on – were correct, then another staircase would be at the end of the this corridor, hopefully one that was more accessible.
Clawing his way through the gray smoke that seemed to be getting thicker with every step, Tobias tried to breathe through his mouth to avoid the smell, but was only greeted with a spluttering cough as he half choked and half gagged on the ash billowing through the building.
Tobias couldn’t have taken more than fifteen steps in the same direction since leaving Danielle, but it seemed to be a slow process. Taking each slow step very carefully, Tobias was eager not to step wrongly onto a loose piece of board that seemed to be holding the floor up. It would be a long drop to the lower level – no doubt easier than using the stairs – but who knew what lay beneath, flames or otherwise.
Tobias was now completely blinded by the smoke, and so decided to increase productivity by getting down and lying on his belly. As the smoke became thinner, Tobias let out a sigh of relief, but couldn’t help but feel hotter suddenly. The flames were minimal on this floor, and the only ones Tobias could see from his low level were fairly small, certainly enough to burn him, but certainly not enough to be emitting that kind of intense heat.
That ruled out any flames on this floor, and so Tobias continued to crawl along the floorboards, trying not to let his bare skin remain in contact with the floor for too long, for fear of burning himself and making the road to victory even harder.
Tobias was determined that this road was that of victory. Certainly not death, least not for himself. The Voices had not mentioned Tobias being in any danger, but had spoken of Danielle perishing in the flames. Tobias had ignored such a warning, brushing it to the side in the hope that if he didn’t believe it, didn’t give in to it, the horrible sequence of events would not happen, and Tobias would not remain alone with only the Voices to really understand him.
With every small inch that Tobias covered on his belly, he felt the floorboards below him creak. Obviously not under his weight – which as Danielle had pointed out was very little – but obviously because of the strain of the fire. The heat… It must have been coming from below. The floor below must have been completely shrouded in fire and smoke.
Although a passivist at heart, and even after insisting that he could not kill the Dark man, he hoped that he had perished in the fire that he himself had created. Maybe as he had set it on fire, he had blocked his own exits off. It would be ironic, but it would only be satisfying if Tobias and Danielle escaped. That’s who he had wanted to kill, and unless they escaped, the Dark man would have won this battle.
As the corridor came to an end, Tobias was greeted by a sight for sore eyes – another staircase, which he hoped would be able to lead him to safety, and in turn provide access for a fire officer to rescue Danielle.
Ignoring the smoke, Tobias got to his feet, taking in the surroundings. The house – which Tobias assumed it was – must have been beautiful before the Dark man burnt it down. Tobias doubted it had even belonged to him. The residents had probably been Gifted. Or absent. The Dark man probably wouldn’t have killed any normal people simply for a headquarters for his evil operation.
A large window overlooked the staircase, which was this time not spiralled, but a simple staircase with banisters on either side and what seemed like enough room for an elephant to descend. However, Tobias hope was shattered by the burning temperature floating up from the ground floor, or what he hoped was the ground floor. Descending only the first three steps, Tobias was horrified to see that the entire floor was, as he had feared, completely ablaze, with no room to even attempt to creep through without being burnt to a crisp.
Standing as still as a statue, Tobias suddenly heard a loud snap from underneath, and his right foot fell through the step it was balanced on. Although his right foot was still perched firmly in place, Tobias had to grab hold of the banister on his left to steady himself and prevent himself from falling into the inferno. Pulling his right foot out of the small hole it was wedged in took some strength, but with a little force, it was pulled free, and Tobias quickly stumbles back up the stairs and to the landing once more. The stairs were inaccessible.
Tobias was panicking now, taking in deep breaths and feeling all the oxygen being sucked from the room, into his lungs, then exhaled, becoming useless, only to be replaces by unbreathable smoke. Tobias knew he needed to calm down to stand a chance of survival, but he couldn’t. For some reason, despite staying relatively together for all this time, he now, at the final stop, was unable to control himself. More deep breaths followed as Tobias tried to hold back the tears of a defeated young boy, but the deep breathing was futile as the tears blinded him, mixing with the smoke and making the surroundings invisible.
A door was to Tobias’ right, and as the tears cleared, Tobias’ eyes becoming dry and almost crispy, he looked over to the door, considering it to be an only remaining option for freedom. Taking a lunge over to it, he grasped the door handle, twisting it frantically to either side, in the hope that it was release the door, providing another way out. The feeling of fear, coupled with the desperate shakes that had now overcome Tobias’ previously relaxed appearance made him dull to the burning sensation on his hands. It was not until Tobias gave up with the door and released the handle that he felt the painful burn on his hands and just above his wrists, where he had been clenching a burning door handle, obviously with fire raging on the other side of the door, heating the handle and now burning Tobias’ skin.
Lifting his hand to his face to see it through the smoke which was slowly but surely getting thicker, Tobias saw that it was red as blood, and was already starting to leak a little blood and horrible yellow pus. Ignoring the appearance, he tried to spit on his hand and rub it in, trying to cool the burning, but it just caused the wound to sting more. Tobias was somewhat thankful, as he came to terms with the pain, that the burn had been on his left hand rather than his right – because he used his right hand for everything, and may still have use for it in his escape – and that he had not been able to get the door open, for he would likely have burnt in the process.
Tobias was now completely against the idea of trying one of the other doors that lay scattered in the hallway, but the staircase seemed like an even less safe option.
Swinging his head from side to side in the hope that some answer to the problem would present itself, Tobias found none. Looking back to the stairs, he stared into the flames, trying hard to think of a plan, but instead simply being hypnotised. Maybe he should give up, return to Danielle, allow himself to die at her side. Maybe that would be the best thing to do. Wait for somebody else to rescue them. What could he do?
‘What?’ Tobias actually answered the Voices, surprised to hear them giving him their advice, and almost having forgotten about their presence in his mind. They seemed to not be too keen on talking, except when Tobias really needed it. And right now, it was absolutely required.
The window. Tobias looked at his reflection in the window. It was dark outside, making the reflection even more visible. He looked as pale as a ghost, despite being so hot, and his face was covered in damp patched where he had been crying and sweating.
It was the only option.