The clocks struck midnight, and the chiming was punctuating the rhythmic pounding of Tony’s hands against the kitchen door. He’d given up trying to open it with the handle soon after he’d heard Dave calling for help, so he’d taken to the approach of kicking and punching. The wood still hadn’t given way, despite the fact that it was rotten to the core. Tony could no longer distinguish Dave’s voice from the chorus of alarmed shouts and yells emanating from the kitchen, and even those sounds were growing quieter by the minute. Behind him, Jean was sobbing in distress.
Tony, who was growing weak and dizzy from his efforts, gave the door one last punch and completely missed. His loosely clenched fist connected with the hard corner of the doorframe and he swore in pain as he leaned against the wall, panting. He felt defeated.
“Tony,” Jean whispered through astonished tears. “Look.”
She was pointing to the bottom of the door. From his close proximity, Tony couldn’t see what she could, so he walked backwards from the door and sat down on the bottom step. Now that he shared Jean’s perspective, Tony was able to see a small sliver of what was happening in the kitchen.
The crack below the door and a small section of the floor were harshly illuminated by a livid glow which flickered and shifted between shades of white, yellow and crimson. The light was growing stronger even as the screams from the people trapped inside were growing weaker. Tony realised what was happening just a moment before he smelled the smoke, and the foul stink of it made him so angry that he knew he had to keep trying.
Ignoring Jean’s quiet crying, Tony stood up and launched himself towards the door, realising that there was another way inside even as his shoulder struck the wood again. He just had time to see Jean struggling to her feet before he broke through the front door and out onto the driveway.
Tony ran faster than he’d ever run before as he charged across the ruined patio, each step bringing him closer to the-
Wait. Where was it?
The gaping hole wasn’t there anymore. It was now blocked by a new wall made of rubble from the ruins, and this wall stuck solidly when Tony kicked it with all his strength. Exhausted and exasperated, Tony wanted nothing more than to sit and ponder how this had happened, but he didn’t have time. Remembering the kitchen window, Tony ran back the way he’d come and reached it just in time to see an opaque wall of pale flames stretching vertically from the floor to the ceiling. The fire was obscuring half of the room from view, but the half that he could see contained two unconscious people, one of whom was wearing neon orange.
“Dave! DAVE! Gerry!” Tony screamed, thumping the window with his fists. Suddenly, his arms were grabbed from behind and Tony spun to see Jean standing behind him. Tony noticed she seemed a lot shorter than she’d been earlier, and then he saw that she’d taken off her shoes. When Jean saw the fire inside the kitchen she screamed, letting go of Tony’s arms, and he took the opportunity to turn back and continue trying to break the glass.
“Tony, It’s no use!” wept Jean. “You can’t go in there! You’ll... you’ll die!”
“DAVE!” He thumped the glass harder, not caring that his hands were starting to go numb.
“There’s nothing we can do!”
“DAVE! GERRY! Don’t you DARE be dead!”
“It’s too late,” Jean said through tears. “We’re the only ones left! We have to get out of here before this fire takes over the entire building!”
No. He’s not going to die. He’s not allowed.
Tony’s eyes began to overflow with tears of desperation, and his vision began to blur. Now, all he could see of the inside of the room was a swirl of soft yellow light which looked almost gentle.
Then, the light disappeared to leave only darkness.
Tony rubbed his eyes and saw the last of the pale flames diffusing into the night air like mist, more silently than a whisper. The newly visible half of the room, which was completely blackened to cinders, contained three more bodies. Tony knew one of them, but he didn’t recognise the other two.
Then, one of the dead men moved.
“Gerry! Oh my god, he’s alive! We have to get in there!”
Tony began to smash his fists on the glass again, somewhat hysterically. He knew by now that he couldn’t break through, but he had to keep trying.
You’re the only one who can save them. Aren’t you?
“Out of the way!” Jean said, pushing Tony firmly to one side. She had something in her other hand. Then, she swung one of her enormous shoes into the glass with a huge sharp THUD. She swung it again and again and, as Tony watched, the glass began to crack.
On the fourth or fifth swing, the window exploded inwards.
Jean pushed the rest of the glass out of the frame and tried to climb up onto the sill, but her broken ankle gave way and she fell backwards onto the gravel.
“Bloody hell, those shoes are lethal,” Tony said as Jean pushed herself into a sitting position. He wasn’t making a joke.
Tony scrambled clumsily through the window and teetered at the top for a minute before throwing himself forwards and falling headlong into the room.
Everything was still and silent. Pale grey ashes fluttered through the air like moths, and to Tony’s right a blackened beam fell from the ceiling and exploded into dust upon impact.
Gerry was on the left- hand side of the window, lying in the corner next to the wall. Unbelievably, the left half of the room seemed virtually untouched by the fire whilst the other half was blackened to embers, still glowing with flecks of orange. Tony knew that there was no hope for the two people he saw on his right, but he refused to give up on the two on his left. Those two were Dave and Gerry.
Tony had known Gerry since he’d started working at the studio, and he supposed that when all was said and done, Gerry was one of the few people he trusted, but he wouldn’t count him as a friend. By contrast, Tony had only known Dave for a few weeks but he already felt like Dave was the closest friend he’d ever had. When they’d first started talking, outside the studio after the last briefing, Tony had suspected that Dave just felt sorry for him; now he knew that wasn’t the case. Dave was the only person who had ever made him feel truly relaxed, which was why Tony didn’t mind that he probably wasn’t the most trustworthy person in the world. All Tony cared about now, as he tried to gather his composure following his fall from the kitchen window, was saving the life of the first person to ever make him feel like he wasn’t alone.
Rushing into the corner, Tony crouched down between Dave and Gerry.
“Gerry! Gerry, can you hear me?”
Gerry hadn’t moved since just after the fire had disappeared.
Suddenly, Gerry let loose a groan that turned into a yell as he sat bolt upright, coughing.
“...Melissa...” Gerry managed to say between coughs.
“What? Who?” Tony said. “No, it’s me, Tony. Oh, thank God you’re alive!”
“Oh, ok then.”
“Gerry?” Tony heard Jean’s voice behind him. “Is he ok? How about—”
Jean cut her questions short with a sudden horrified scream.
Jean had looked to her right and recognised one of the bodies in the scorched half of the room as her cameraman. She ducked below the window to disappear from view, and Tony could hear her retching between sobs. Gerry looked over Tony’s shoulder (obviously to see what she’d seen) and gasped in horror, too confused to scream or cry.
Gerry staggered up, using Tony’s shoulder as support, and made for the window, but Tony stopped him.
“Gerry, I need your help with Dave.”
Gerry looked doubtful. “Tony,” he said gently. “Dave passed out first. I think-“
“No. He’s alive.” Tony turned to Dave. He’d obviously fallen hard on his shoulder, but nothing looked broken. Tony managed, in the few seconds he spent staring, to convince himself that Dave had just fainted.
You’re not giving up on him.
“Help me carry him outside, Gerry. Please.”
Something in Tony’s voice stopped Gerry from objecting.
It took five minutes for the three of them to manoeuvre an unconscious Dave out of the kitchen window and onto the ground of the driveway. Once they were back outside, Gerry breathed deeply in relief; only then did Tony realise how choked with smoke the air inside the kitchen had been. He was hoping that once they were out in the fresh air again, Dave might wake up, but when he still didn’t move Tony felt terror beginning to rise up in his throat.
“Dave! Dave, don’t die on me, please!”
“He’s not dead, Tony,” Gerry said.
“I know! I don’t need you to... wait. How do you know?”
Gerry pointed to Dave’s chest, which was rising and falling gently. “He’s breathing.”
“Oh,” said Tony, who secretly felt weak with relief. “Yeah, I knew that too.”
There was a long silence, and Tony could hear Dave breathing now. The breaths were sharp but they were steady and rhythmic, which reassured him slightly.
“He’ll wake up. Just give him time.”
He’s going to live. You were fast enough to save him.
Tony realised that the four of them were down to three and looked around for Jean. He saw her inside the kitchen, standing in the middle of the black half of the floor. She’d taken off her hoodie and when Tony stood on tiptoe to see through the window, he watched as she laid it over poor Kevin and straightened up again. The body didn’t look much more peaceful; the clothes and hair were completely ashen black in colour and Tony could barely distinguish any facial features, but he knew better than to say anything. He willed himself to focus on the two people he’d managed to save, rather than the three he hadn’t.
Tony had expected that Jean would stand and mourn for a while, but as soon as she’d placed her jumper she limped back towards the kitchen window and Tony helped her climb through. Jean’s sobs were ragged and her shoulders were shaking uncontrollably, but her eyes were shining with determination and anger. Tony couldn’t even see any tears on her cheeks.
He was shocked to feel a wave of admiration for Jean; she’d had her heart broken, her leg crippled and her best friend killed all in the space of one afternoon, and she still hadn’t gone to pieces over it. When Tony thought he was going to lose Dave, he’d felt like his life had no purpose anymore and was relatively close to hurling himself from a top-floor window.
He was safe now, though.
The two of them sat down with Gerry and Dave on the driveway, and Tony was surprised to see that the soot on Gerry’s face and neck was streaked with tears. Nobody asked him what was wrong, because any idiot could see that everything was wrong, but Gerry started speaking anyway.
“Not many people knew this, but...um... Travis was one of my oldest friends,” he said. “We went to college together.”
Tony said nothing, but Jean put a hand on Gerry’s and gave him a sad smile.
“Of course, we grew apart after a couple of years working together,” Gerry continued. “I don’t think I’d even spoken to him since we arrived here. I suppose in a couple of hours it’ll sink in that he... that he’s...“
He squeezed his eyes shut and didn’t say anything else. After a few minutes of silence (save for the soft sound of Dave’s breathing) Jean picked up where Gerry had left off.
“I didn’t know Kevin for that long,” Jean said, “but I still felt like he was one of my only genuine friends. We were always put together on location, so he knew a lot of what was going on between me and...Andy.” She spat out the name of her ex-boyfriend like it was poisonous. “Kevin was always there for me when nobody else seemed to care. He was the only person I trusted, and now he’s gone. I got the impression sometimes that he... that he wanted to be more than friends, but he never bothered me with it.”
“That’s why I fell out with Andy,” said Jean. “He thought I was cheating on him. He hated Kevin. It was far too late by the time I realised that Andy was a jerk.”
Tony smiled at her sadly. “Way too late,” he said, watching as Gerry got up and climbed back into the kitchen. When he came back, he didn’t have his jacket on any more, and Tony didn’t need to look inside to know it was with Travis.
Fresh tears glimmered on Gerry’s cheeks, and Jean began crying softly too. Tony wondered if he should be crying too, but for some reason he didn’t feel the need to.
Why? Three people have died in two hours. You should be crying.
Tony thought he must just be too shocked to cry, but inwardly he felt strangely calm. He was sitting less than twenty feet from three dead bodies, and yet he found himself feeling relieved instead of frightened. Even the officious producer hadn’t deserved to get his face exploded, but Tony could think of people who were less deserving than he’d been. Tony was definitely sad that Travis and Kevin were dead, but deep down, he’d rather it was them than Gerry or Dave.
In reality, when Tony had arrived at Lansfield Hall he’d had a list in his head of people he was determined to keep safe, and all of the people on that list were still alive. Real life wasn’t supposed to work in the same way as books and movies (where deaths were perfectly choreographed so as not to interfere with the happy ending) but as of yet, Tony felt that his happy ending could still be salvaged. He found himself feeling shamefully optimistic about the rest of the night; hopefully, after three deaths, the ghosts would leave them alone. Sure, Dave was still unconscious, but he’d wake up soon and all of them would escape with their lives. Tony wanted to be sure of that now. It was the only hope he had left.
He’s safe. You saved him.
Tony watched as Jean and Gerry held each other’s hands and cried for their friends. Jean’s other hand was curled into a fist. Tony still didn’t feel the need to cry, but nonetheless he reached out and took Dave’s hand from where it lay on the ground.
Dave inhaled sharply, and Tony’s heart skipped a beat, but his friend still didn’t wake up.
That was how the four survivors out of eight stayed for a while.
There was no electric lighting in the house, but several of the crew had placed torches before they’d begun working and besides, the moon was huge tonight. Tony could see the stars; the clouds he’d seen at dusk were gone now, and so was the indigo horizon. Everything was black and grey now, but that was fine. Tony felt himself relaxing into acceptance.
It was quiet.
Then, it was silent.
Tony stared at the sky and listened for a while, trying to work out why it suddenly felt quieter than before.
Then he knew.
“Dave! He’s stopped breathing!”
No, he hasn’t.
“What?” Gerry said. He grabbed Dave’s other hand to feel for a pulse, and obviously felt nothing because the next moment his hands were on Dave’s chest, trying to resuscitate him. All of the anger and fear Tony didn’t even realise he was suppressing suddenly caught up with him and he started screaming; Jean, who was too shocked to cry, got up and put a hand on his shoulder to restrain him. Tony clawed at her grasp with his left hand, refusing to let go of Dave with his right, and all the while Gerry was trying and failing to save him.
You didn’t save him.
“DAVE! DAVE! You CAN’T die!”
“Tony...” said Gerry.
“You PROMISED! You PROMISED me he’d be fine!”
You should have saved him.
Jean tightened her grip on Tony, pulling him gently backwards. Dave’s fingers slipped out of his grasp.
You’ve lost him.
“He’s ALIVE! No... NO! NO!”
Twenty minutes later, Tony felt colder than he’d ever felt before. It wasn’t just because he’d had to take his jacket off.
You never deserved him anyway.