Pretend

When a fire starts in a school, a boy somehow feels it's his responsibility to go back into the school to save an autistic girl's friends

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1. Pretend

 

The bleak smoke rising from the building cast a black veil over the mid-morning sky, and neatly shaped a shadow over the grounds. The sky seemed to travel further and further away from view, leaving everyone below to panic.

Though, he felt no need to be frightened since he was in barely any direct danger.  In fact, he even took pleasure in seeing their terrified, flustered faces as they embraced one another for comfort or support. It was then that his eyes found her behind the chaos on the bench; the girl he’d met in school the other day.  She was the autistic girl in his art lesson, always mumbling while she worked.

He watched as her whole body shook, with her head was lightly perched on top of her bent knees, and her mousy, long her falling in front of her.

Without thinking, he found himself running towards her as a wave of concern passed through him.

She did not acknowledge his presence until he tapped her shoulder and she flinched at his light touch, and slid up the bench.

“Are you ok?” he asked, but she said nothing.

A lot of people at this point may have left but, he had no desire to leave her and sat beside her on the bench.  She didn’t protest.

Around them, teachers tried desperately to get everyone into some sort of order, but the sweat and fear had formed unanticipated hysteria in the pupils that the teachers couldn’t handle. The smoke filling the air made his sight blur, so he decided to focus his attention on her. The grip her hands had on her knees had tightened from the sound of the shrill sirens drawing closer to the school. He crouched down with his eyes fixated on her hair and loosely held her arms in his hands. He could feel the tension rising within them, but she did not resist. He asked again if she was ok, but there was still no response. With a sigh he dropped his gaze but he didn’t remove his hands as he felt he could still not leave her alone. He could still hear pupils being coerced to the furthest point from the building, although no one seemed to notice them.

“My friends are still in there” She rasped. The quiet voice startled him and it took him a moment to realise it was coming from her, let alone notice what she said.

“What?” He asked bewildered.

“I said my friends are still in there.”

Her voice sounded angry, but for that slight moment, he found her eyes in his and he couldn’t see a shred of anger in them. To him, that moment dragged on for hours and the world around him folded into a little box that could only contain them. Her eyes held a silent plea for help and in the light of the fire; they were the richest of greens he’d ever seen.

Her head slipped back down to face the floor and snapped him out of his daze.

The wondrous sight of her eyes had given him a burst of adrenaline and he sprang to his feet, bringing her along with him. He grabbed onto her clammy, shaking hand and forced her to run along with him.

“Where are your friends?”

“The art block” She panted as he took as sharp left towards the art block, away from everyone else and towards the flames.

They slipped through the doors and were surprised as the fire alarms suddenly became louder, and the shrill pitch more intense. The flames radiated the dense air which virtually suffocated them, but they continued to run. It was then that she overtook him and burst into the fifth room down and dashed towards one of the opposite draws.

He realised that apart from them, the room was vacant but that didn’t seem to bother her.

He was just about to question her when she spun round holding a stack of papers in one hand and forcefully grabbed his with the other. They rushed through the door on the opposite end of the building, collapsing in a heap on the ground.  Their chests rose and fell with conflicting rhythms and as he coughed and spluttered, she lay still clutching all the papers to her chest.

They both stay on the ground for a while, trying to regain their breath.

“Are you both all right?”

The voice came from behind them and belonged to a fireman covered soot. He helped to bring them both to their feet and quickly guided them to the ambulance outside the school gates.

*

They were both given oxygen masks and were checked for injuries by separate doctors. He hadn’t been asked many questions about why they were still near the building, but he was told to speak to the headmaster the next day.

  It was only when the fire had been put out and pupils started being collected, that he got a chance to speak to her.

He found her by the far wall; one of the only people left to be taken home, still clutching her papers.

“Can you show me your friends?” He asked as he was approaching her.

She immediately crouched down onto the floor and started spreading out the paper. He was stunned. On each paper there was a colourful painting of a different person; they were beautiful.

“Some of them are people I saw on holidays. The other ones I just made up.”

One was the back of a woman in cream white shorts and a dark blue vest. She had thick, blonde hair loosely held in place with a plait that fell down her pale back. Another was a little boy with dark brown skin and wispy, black hair holding someone’s hand. One near the middle was a girl in a restaurant laughing so much that she’d thrown her head back and the detail was so intricate, you could see tears in her eyes. She followed my gaze to the girl.

“She’s from when we went to America last summer.” She said it as if they were souvenirs.

 “Did you do all of these?” She nodded

She had friends from all around the world.

He gently traced each painting with the tips of his fingers, as if the people would come to life. These were her friends and he wanted them to live for her.

“Can you paint me?”

Her eyebrows furrowed.

“I did but-” She hesitated. “I burnt it, because you’re not pretend.”

 

 

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