The clocks struck midnight, and the chimes punctuated the rhythmic pounding of Tony’s hands against the kitchen door. He’d given up on the handle soon after hearing Dave calling for help and taken to kicking and punching. The wood still hadn’t broken or even dented, 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 raised a trembling hand to point at the bottom of the door. From his close proximity, Tony couldn’t see what she was pointing at, so he backed away from the door and sat down next to her 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 gap directly under the kitchen door was 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 second before he smelled the smoke, and the foul stink of it intensified his anger so much that he only became more determined to break down the door.
Ignoring Jean’s quiet crying, Tony stood up and launched himself towards the kitchen, realising that there was another way inside even as his shoulder struck the wood for the final time. The brief glance over his shoulder, before he tore out onto the driveway, was just long enough for him to see Jean struggling to her feet.
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 in the kitchen wall 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 every furious ounce of his remaining strength. Exhausted and exasperated, Tony wanted nothing more than to stop and wonder what the hell was happening, but he didn’t have the luxury of time. Remembering the kitchen window, Tony flung himself 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.
He’s not dead.
“Dave! DAVE! Gerry!” Tony yelled, thumping the window with his fists. Suddenly, his arms were grabbed from behind and he spun to see Jean standing behind him; the fact that she’d taken off her shoes explained her sudden loss in height. When Jean saw the fire inside the kitchen she screamed, letting go of Tony’s arms, and he took the opportunity to turn his back on her and continue trying to break the glass.
“Tony, It’s no use!” Wept Jean. “You can’t go in there! You’ll... It’ll kill you too!”
“DAVE!” He thumped the glass harder, not caring that his hands were starting to go numb.
“There’s nothing we can do! I think he’s—“
“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. I won’t let him die.
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 the faintest of whispers. The newly visible half of the room, which was completely blackened into cinders, contained three more bodies. Tony had been looking at one of them just twenty minutes earlier, but the other two were indistinguishable.
Then, one of the dead men moved.
“Gerry! Oh my god, he’s alive! They—they’re 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 exclaimed, 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 muttered as Jean pushed herself up into a sitting position. He wasn’t making a joke.
Scrambling clumsily through the window, Tony teetered at the top for a minute before throwing himself forwards and falling headlong into the room.
Everything inside the kitchen 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.
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’d ever made him feel truly relaxed, and he couldn’t have cared less that Dave was even more painfully awkward than he was; in a way, that was a great thing. They’d only known each other for three months, but Tony already felt that Dave was the closest friend he’d ever had.
All he wanted 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 must have 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 gruffly. “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.” Tony secretly felt himself going 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.
“So he’ll wake up soon, right? We just have to give him time?”
He’s going to live. You were fast enough to save him.
Gerry didn’t reply to Tony’s question, but Tony took this as a positive sign.
Tony realised that the four of them were down to three and looked around for Jean. He spotted her standing inside the kitchen, right 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 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. If he’d been in her position, he probably would have hurled himself from the top-floor window by now.
You’re not in her position.
Dave’s going to live.
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 even a complete 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 without making eye contact. She didn’t need to say anything at all.
“Of course, we grew apart after a couple of years working together,” Gerry continued. “I don’t think I’ve 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, apart from 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.”
Tony opened his mouth to ask her a question, but found that no words came out. Perhaps that was a good thing; he never knew when he was about to say the wrong thing.
“That’s why I fell out with Andy,” said Jean. “He was so paranoid that he actually thought I was cheating on him. Andy hated Kevin. It was far too late by the time I realised that Andy was a jerk.”
“Way too late,” Tony 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 have just been too shocked to cry, but inwardly, he felt strangely calm. Even the producer hadn’t deserved to come to such a hideous end, but Tony could think of people who were less deserving than he’d been. He registered a decent amount of sadness at the deaths of Travis and Kevin, but he still couldn’t help feeling relieved that it had been them, rather than Gerry or Dave.
In the books he’d read and the movies he’d watched, as a general rule, deaths were choreographed so as not to interfere with the happy ending. Tony knew that real life wasn’t supposed to work in the same way as it did on the screen, but as of yet, he wanted to be sure that his happy ending could still be salvaged. He found himself feeling shamefully optimistic about the rest of the night.
Sure, Dave’s still unconscious, but he’ll wake up soon and the four of us can escape with our lives.
Tony wanted to be sure of that now. It was the only hope he had left.
He watched as Jean and Gerry held each other’s hands and cried for their friends, noticing that 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.
Is this weird?
I don’t care.
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 grabbed Dave’s other hand to feel for a pulse, and obviously felt nothing because the next moment his clasped hands were pumping at 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.
“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.