Monday, January 14, 2013

Prompt: Alarm Sound

Original prompt (from a new writing group):
“The alarm sounded long and loud. I was terrified, but I knew that someone had to do something and that someone was me.”

Smoke tickles the back of your throat. That’s what woke me—the urge to cough. I blinked and couldn’t see. Well, I couldn’t even see the usual array of charging lights and bedside clocks.  I thought the power had gone out in the barracks at first, then I realized I was surrounded by fog. No, smoke. The thought sent adrenalin surging through me.

I started to sit up in alarm, then common sense kicked in with my full consciousness. I rolled off my cot and crouched on the floor. No sign of movement, no noise. How could everyone still be asleep?

Suddenly, the alarm sounded long and loud. Red lights flashed dimly through the fog—the smoke. I was still crouched by my bunk, trying to stay under the smoke layer hovering over me like a thick blanket. I thought everyone would leap up now. No one moved. What the hell? That’s when I heard the first explosion.

Okay, Jackson. Time to move. I thought. Was this some sort of exercise? I didn’t know what was going on, but this wasn’t time for reflection. I heard two more explosions from outside the barracks. Gas leak? Attack? Get out or get armed?

I shoved on my boots and tucked the laces in the top. No time for regulation dress code. I pulled my jacket on and figured my flannel pajama pants would do under the circumstances. I hesitated over my pistol and rifle. I still didn’t know what the hell was going on. My first priority needed to be getting the other guys moving. I didn’t understand why they weren’t all leaping out of bed. It was still eerily calm, despite the pulsating claxon and the red lights that seemed to flash in time with its demanding beat. I grabbed my pistol and shoved it in my jacket pocket, then slung the rifle over my shoulder. Be prepared. Yeah, right.

I bent low to the ground and took a cautious breath. The smoke hadn’t filled this low space yet, so I took a deep inhale, then stood. I shook my top bunk mate, Jones. I shook him harder and punched his shoulder. He’d been in the smoke longer, so I expected him to be hard to wake. But he didn’t budge. I put my fingers to his throat, feeling for a pulse. Soft, but there.

I kept asking myself what the hell was going on. Why wasn’t anyone else moving? Why weren’t there people moving outside? I should be hearing fire and rescue noises by now. But all I heard was the damn alarm. I flinched at the fourth explosion.

Turning to the neighboring bunk, I did a quick pulse check on Jamison up top and Holder on the bottom. Same as Jones. I didn’t bother shaking them. They were all unconscious, and it seemed like more than the smoke. I’d been in plenty of fires before, seen people trapped, living and dead. Even asleep, their systems fought the smoke invading their lungs. They might not ever wake up, but their bodies sure tried. There was something else going on here, and I didn’t have time to figure it all out.

I was starting to feel pretty damn terrified, but I knew that someone had to do something and that someone was me. I wanted to grab one of the guys and take him with me, but I shook my head, cautioning myself. Be smart, Jackson. What’s outside? I didn’t want to take them from one danger right into another.

Crouching low again, I crabwalked to the nearest door. The metal kickplate was cool to the touch, but the door didn’t budge. Blocked or locked? I took another deep breath and stood to give it a good shoulder shove. Nothing. I figured the same might be true of the opposite door, so I looked around for options as I crouched down again.

I flashed through potential scenarios. Were all the windows shut tight like the doors? I wouldn’t even be able to shoot through the frosted glass if they were. It was a roll of the dice. I scuttled over to the second window on the long wall away from the central courtyard, where I suddenly heard the fifth explosion. I stayed low and lifted my head cautiously to peer out as best I could. I didn’t see any movement, so I pulled the handle and pushed against the window. It slid smoothly open, and I gulped in sweet fresh air. I looked around and still saw no sign of movement, no fire on this side. Right. Get everyone out of here.

I hesitated, then lay my rifle on the floor below the window. I turned around and grabbed the guy on the nearest low bunk. Haring was a short guy, but all muscle. I pulled his arm across my shoulder and heaved him upright. It was only six steps to the open window, then I thought for a minute about how to get him out. Wouldn’t do to break his neck dumping him over the edge. I pushed his chest against the wall and bent to drop his upper body over my shoulder. Sticking his feet through the window, I leaned over the edge and held onto his hands as I lowered him to the ground. I let go when I couldn’t reach out any farther, and his head and arms thumped into the grass. No harm done. If he woke up from all this, that is.

I turned back to the bunks, planning the order of rescue for the rest of my squad. Six doubles, that left ten men. I knew I could lift all but The Shrimp. He was the only guy taller than me, and easily 50 pounds heavier. All muscle, but still dead weight. I didn’t know what I was going to do with him yet. Tops or bottoms first? Guys on top had the most smoke. Get them first. I didn’t want to play favorites, so I crabwalked to the nearest end and pulled Emerson down on top of me. Graceful. Glad no one saw that.

I hauled Emerson up and dragged him to the window. As I tucked his feet out and looked down for Haring, I froze. He was gone. I looked around. No one to be seen. Ice ran down my back, but I figured whatever was going on out there was a better risk than the sure death of smoke inhalation. The clock was ticking. So I lowered Emerson to the ground and dropped him before ducking back in to get Graham.

Dogs in house:

January word count:

1 comment:

  1. When I was about 8 years old, my younger brothers still liked to climb in bed with me if they woke in the middle of the night. Our Mom had been discouraging this, with little success. One night, she woke us all, yelling loudly, and I thought we were in trouble. Then I realized she was telling us there was a fire upstairs and we had to get out of the house.

    As we climbed the stairs, she told us not to look to the right, but to keep low and go to the left and out of the front door. Of *course* I looked right. I'll never forget that sight. My Dad, in his favorite maroon robe, standing in front of a wall of blazing fire. I kind of thought he was a superhero. I kind of still do. But that's another story.

    Anyway, we all got out safe and sound. Our house was eventually restored, and the whole experience faded more or less into family stories, accompanied by some spared, brown-edged photographs and a few other mementos.

    That's why I will always ransack my house for giveaways when someone is collecting for survivors of an apartment or house fire. And why when someone laughingly asked if a colander was really that worthwhile to pass on, I said, "It will be the first time they make pasta."

    Have you ever experienced an out-of-control fire? I'd love to hear your story...