A Way Out

May 7, 2008
By Seth Prather, Independence, KS

Grey tendrils slowly escape from the congealed mass of smog. The fingers linger in the insufferable heat. Flames caress my body, eerily like a lover’s warm embrace. Warm is an understatement. Death permeates the air, but the heat rules out the smell thankfully, although heat is no better, just preferable to the stench of burning flesh.

The chaotic passageways of the labyrinth are ready to collapse at any given moment, hopefully none too soon. Life may be taken for granted, but once a person realizes how precious life is, that person does not want to let go. Death is the unknown, and the unknown is a frightening thought to dwell upon. Will there ever be an end to this agonizing maze of death and flame? Alas, the answer is evasive. Hopefully, by some miraculous or divine intervention, an escape route will present itself.

A sudden pain takes the breath out of my body. Hunger has been gnawing my insides for countless hours, causing sharp and painful cramps that sneak upon my person randomly. Time is meaningless in this place. To falter, even for a single moment, is to perish amidst the flames of death. In the near distance, I spot a light. Could this be the way out? I dared to hope. Freedom is within my grasp at last! Upon reaching the spot I had foreseen a few feet back down the dark maw that is named as a hallway, my hopes wither into mere nothingness. The light was nothing but a cruel, grotesque illusion cast by the cursed inferno.

Sleep is now my number one enemy. It threatens to pull my barely conscious state of mind into a never ending sea of darkness. To sleep is to die. To do anything but press forward is to die. My effort is not one borne from strength, but rather it is borne from pure desperation, the want to live. The Fates have control of my destiny at the moment. This infernal distemper could be mercilessly released upon my frail human body at any time they wish it so. For now, I managed to cease my pathetic crawling to rest, even though it may cost me my life. Through the numbness of mind I mist find a way to think more clearly, lest I make a fatal mistake as did my brother, Jonathan. In fact, I seriously doubt that any kin of mine that resided in this shell of a mansion still breathe, but I cling to the hope that at least some escaped the fate of my dear brother.

The incident that lead to my brother’s death was not his fault entirely. A huge oak beam, weakened by fire, fell upon him as he was making his way down the hall. It broke his back and paralyzed him completely. There was nothing I could do but to keep moving. His eyes spoke to keep moving and do not worry about him, lest I share his undesirable fate.

A resounding crash brought me out of my reverie. Looking back upon the path I took to get to my current position, I saw the cause of the raucous noise. The ceiling had fallen not eight feet from where I lay. Even as I watched in numb horror, the ceiling did not stay put for more than a few seconds before falling through the floor and onto the story below. The little episode has now forced me into an uncomfortable position in which I started and shaking even more, which I thought impossible. If the ceiling did not fall upon me, or if I did not fall asleep while in this death trap, then eventually I would die from dehydration. A way must open soon. My strength is quickly ebbing away.

How much time has passed since the inferno first blazed into being I cannot fathom. It feels as if days, even weeks, have passed, yet I know it has been no more than two or three hours. I cautiously round a corner and come upon a stunning sight. A virgin room awaited my entrance, one untouched by flames or smoke. Hastily I start to crawl, but then slow down and take my time incase something goes awry from being too eager to get to the long-awaited haven. As soon as my body was within the tiny room, I stood up and slammed shut the door. Happiness is the only thing I felt. I took a few brief moments to catch my breath before observing the area that I stood upon. It was a closet, without any windows from which to escape. Silent laughter shook my body in little spasms at the absurd thought of escaping out a window on the fourth floor. My last thought was obliterated as sleep overtook me.

I awoke to an odd sensation in my back. I could not place what the feeling was, but it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Yelping with pain I tore my back away for the door. It was extremely hot. The inferno had reached my small haven. I took stock of my surroundings again, but did not notice anything that would be of aid to my escape from death. Sighing with defeat, I slumped to the floor and waited impatiently for my end. On my way down to the cold, unforgiving floor, my shirt snagged on something. I turned around to see what the cause was. Protruding from the wall was a tiny screw. There was a ventilation duct right behind me. At last! A way out. I worked furiously to separate the vent from its prison.

After a few moments of intense struggle, the vent broke free. I wept with joy and laughed like a madman. My hands and knees were already scraped and bruised from my previous battles, but I did not care. Finally there was a way out! The shaft of the duct was rather small, but more than enough for me to crawl in. The silence within was deafening. I heard not any sound from the outside world. The vent was a little warm, and became more so as I pushed on. The only thought that kept me going was the thought of getting out alive and being able to enjoy that in which was bestowed graciously upon me by an unseen hand. In other words, I will never take advantage of life again.

Twelve feet into the ventilation duct brought me to a fork. To the left was dark and cold, to the right there was a small glow and felt like a furnace. I took the left fork of course. I rounded two or three bends before I came to a dead halt. This sight was not pleasant. It was the destruction of all my hopes and dreams. Not four feet in front of me was the end of my journey. The ceiling had fallen in this place, smashing the duct also. I could not see through the wall of tears in my eyes. It was impossible for me to turn around in such a small area, so I started back down the way I came from. Something hot seared my right foot. Dare I turn to look? Alas, I did. A wall of fire was coming up from behind. I had no choice but to remain. “Oh cruel Fates, why must it end this way?” I begged out loud. What twist of fate landed me in this damned position? Finally, the answer came to me. The closet in which I had sought haven in was one well used. It was built into the mansion not ten feet from the main door. The door which would have led me to outside and freedom. I started to laugh maniacally, but in a sudden whooshing sound, the floor beneath me gave way and was consumed in the relentless inferno.

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