Ashes To Ashes
Malls, truly, aren’t the best place to be when an extreme wildfire from Las Posadas roars. It all started when my best friend, Jessica Hinderdael, set her eyes on becoming Prom Queen.
During my four years of high school each year was labeled. Freshman year was lame, Sophomore year was acceptable, Junior year was pleasant and Senior year was the worst of them all.
We were finally Seniors, the rulers, the queen bees of the school until Prom. It was a month away and they were setting out ballots for students to vote for their Prom King and Queen. I had never been interested in showing off, but Jessica loved it.
I had been lectured several times on how she imagined the scene . Each time it escalated in detail until she defined how the light from the gleaming chandelier would highlight her blonde locks as they announced her name. She would also be supporting her boyfriend, Sean, as they would hope to be elected King and Queen together.
We made plans to go dress shopping on Friday after tennis practice. Jessica giggled as we hit the ball back and forth, blabbering about the trip. Coach Linden shushed her and unfortunately, that only made her more excited.
Once practice was over I wiped the sweat from my forehead and hopped into Jessica’s gleaming, red Mustang. We sped away as the wind blew my hair into my face, somewhat blinding me.
As we sauntered into the mall Jessica pulled out her list of costly dress stores. “First on the list is Johnnymari,” she said.
“Can we grab a cinnamon roll first? I’m starving!” I pleadingly asked. “Later” was the only response I received and we continued on through the bustling crowd.
We rushed over to Johnnymari, entering the vacant store. The only noises were our footsteps and the sound of silk material rustling. Searching for the creator of the noise we found a petite woman hanging a silk, blue shimmery gown.
“Hello,” I said in a cheerful voice.
“Hello there, can I help you?” the delightful looking woman said. We nodded and she started showing us dresses. All were disapproved by Jessica until a slim, long red dress was pulled out. Her eyes sparkled as she examined it and smiled with an almost greedy look. “That one please” she said in a bossy tone. The lady set her up in a changing room and I waited outside for her to finish getting into the stunning dress.
When she stepped out of the dressing room, I was blown away with the beauty. “Wow, I..I..I just have no words!” I said staring at her.
“I know, it looks terrible. Let’s just go to a different store” she replied with a melancholy look on her face.
“No, no that's not what I meant. It looks absolutely amazing! I think it's the one!”
“Really? I mean, isn’t the first dress I try on going a little too fast? I mean there might be a better one somewhere else”
“If you don’t buy it I will”
“Fine” she said with a roll of the eyes. She payed and we walked out of the store with smiles on our faces. Then we saw it…
The smoke rose from the other side of the mall like a black thundercloud. Everyone was screaming, horror crept up my spine. I grabbed Jessica’s hand and we ran down the stairs. A security guard was ushering everyone out the emergency exit and we headed over at the highest speed we could muster. “Wait!” Jessica's high voice echoed over the commotion, “My dress!”. I turned to find her running back towards the stairs. I realized I had left the dress in the store!
Confusion overtook me and I paused to think. Did I really want to put myself in danger? I took a deep breath and sprinted after Jessica. We ran up the stairs together, panting in unison. The smoke stung my eyes and breathing was a new labor. We stopped at the entrance to the store to stare. Fire angrily roared, burning the gorgeous dresses. “I’m going in!” Jessica yelled, sounding as if she were either insane, drunk or both. Pulling her shirt over her mouth she dived into the hot mess, and disappeared .
After five minutes I had to go in. I couldn’t just leave her to die. Could I? I took off my sweatshirt and wrapped it around my head, attempting to block the smoke. I dived into the black cloud.
“Jessica? Where are you?” I screamed through the thick air. At first all I heard was crackling and fizzing but then I heard it, a faint whimper. It was coming from in front of me so I leaped forward with my arms outstretched as I had lost all vision. I screamed as a sweaty hand grabbed my shoulder. “Amber is that you?”
“Yeah it’s me! Are you hurt?”
“My leg, it’s stuck under something. It hurts Amber, it hurts really bad.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll get you out of here.”
Trying to squint through the smoke and wave it away failed, so instead I groped around, seeing with my hands, ears and nose. Finally finding the object lying on Jessica’s leg, I attempted to lift it off. This caused a blood curtling scream on Jessica's end, and a cringe on mine. “Sorry, but your gonna have to help me. It’s really heavy” I asked tentatively. “Okay, on the count of three. One..two..three!”. Grunting and screaming we lift up the chunk of cement, probably from the ceiling. Throwing it in a random direction, we sat, trying to catch our breath.
“Okay, can you stand up? We have to get out of here now,” I said panting.
“Yeah, I just need a little help,”
“Lean on me and grab my shoulder and I think we’ll be fine. Did you even find the dress?”
“Yeah, I got it right here. It was stupid to go in here” she said with a sad laugh.
“Indeed.” I replied.
I helped her up and she leaned on me, almost knocking me down. We limped in unison towards where I thought the exit was, crossing our fingers that we would get out. The air started to clear, I could breath better! Finally I could see again. One more step cleared the air completely. Helping Jessica down the stairs, trying to go fast as possible, made hope enter me once more. Maybe we could get out of this fiery prison!
The mall was totally deserted. No sounds except the roar of the fire and the sizzling of burning plastic were noticeable. We stood in the middle of it all, frantically looking around. “There! I see an exit!” Jessica screamed, pointing towards a flashing, red sign that read, “EXIT” in big bold letters. We speed walked over, as Jessica could no longer run. We opened the door to find a lengthy staircase waiting to be walked down. “What am I going to do?” asked Jessica.
After moments of thinking I came up with a plan. Jessica sat on the banister and slid down, while I walked besides her. It worked pretty well, and my hope was growing, until disaster struck.
Flames, and monstrous blocks of cement kept us from moving further any further. I watched as the depression sunk into Jessica’s face, carving a new person I had never met. “Hey, it’s gonna be fine,” I said trying to mask my own fear. “Let’s go back up and see if there is anything there”
“I need to rest first. You go and if you find something come back and get me. If you don’t then just, I don’t know…”
“Okay then. Bye”
“Bye.” She ended the conversation as I started the long journey back up..
Each step sent a shockwave of fear throughout my body. How could this be happening? As a kid I had always imagined how this would go. I would sit crying in a corner with the flames licking my feet. When all seemed lost, a handsome boy would magically appear and get me out without either of us being hurt. Just like a fairytale. Well obviously, reality is much harsher.
Reaching the top of the staircase I escaped from my daydream. A fireman was up on the top of the stairs! Maybe he could help! Then I noticed. He was stuck. “Please! Help me!” he called out, noticing me. I sprinted over, surveying the situation. A large metal pole was laid across him. “Are you hurt?” I asked.
“No, I saw it starting to fall on me and I thought I could catch it, but it was too heavy. Can you help me lift it off?”
“Yeah. I have a friend who is downstairs. She is injured and I can’t carry her up the stairs by myself, do you think you can help?”
“Of course. Let’s lift on three. One, two, THREE!”. We both grunted and lifted the pole. It wasn’t to heavy but it was steaming hot. I winced and bit my lip, looking at the white burn on my hand. “You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah I’m fine. Hey, what’s your name?”
“My name is Charles, what about you?”
“I’m Amber and you’re about to meet Jessica.” I answered as we hopped down the stairs.
I introduced Jessica and we sat, plotting We ended up deciding to search together, for an exit that wasn’t blocked.
As we were looking, I noticed the heat was getting stronger. My T-shirt clung to my back, droplets of sweat dripped down my forehead and my glasses kept sliding because of the humidity. I threw my sweatshirt off and ditched it, it was adding too much to the heat. Jessica limped slightly behind me and Charles, wincing with every step. Charles now walked in only a navy blue shirt and fireman pants. His hair looked like he had stuck his head under water ten seconds ago.
As we continued to walk I noticed a cool breeze on my cheek. I swung my head around and saw an open, large window. “Look! A window! We can climb out.” We ran over, except for Jessica, and attempted to climb out. First Jessica and I lifted up Charles, then Jessica lifted me while Charles pulled me and then we lifted up Jessica.
I could feel them tense as we slowly edged along the wall towards a pole we could slide down. Oh, did I forget to mention that there was fire burning holes in our shoes as we slid across the ledge? As the fire grew I was starting to worry. Would we get there in time? A few more feet, we’re almost there. I heard a shrill scream and whipped my head around. Jessica's dirty hands gripped the edge, squeezing so hard that they were white.
Without me knowing what was happening yet, Charles started pulling up Jessica. I held my breath until she was on the ledge again. He steadied her shaking body and we continued on. The tears made clean, pale streaks in Jessica’s grimy face. I grabbed her hand and squeezed it as we edged along.
One more foot and we would be there. Just one more foot. Finally my hand touched the unexpectedly hot metal, a yelp escaping from my mouth. “Everything alright?” Charles asked.
“Yeah it’s just really hot,” replying while I started to slid down the pole. My feet thudded on the strong, cool ground. Snow slipped into my grey vans, cooling my blisters and burns. Charles and Jessica slid down as well and we stood in a circle, facing out staring around us.
In my mind I had expected to see green trees, iced with white snow. But instead all I saw was a world of smoke and fire. The parking lot was deserted, leaving us the only survivors around. That was when the tears started flowing from my eyes. They spilled onto my lap as I sank to the ground, blurring my vision. Jessica sat next to me, gently running her hands through my brown curls. I looked up and smiled at her.
That was when I realized Charles wasn’t with her. I whipped out of my depressed state and searched frantically for the tanned, chiseled face. Shaking off Jessica I stood up and searched deeper. “Charles where are you?” screamed Jessica, catching on to my hysteria. The landscape still was vacant of him.
“Where could he be?” I asked desperately to her.
“I don’t no! Let’s split up,” she answered.
“Okay, we’ll meet back here again.”
We went our separate ways and I searched through the rubble. The ash sprayed in my eyes as I pushed the grit away. As I pushed the second layer away my hand touched a wet, goopy mess. I lifted it up to see a shaking, red, hand. A scream slipped from my lips, echoing into the wilderness. Jessica came in a flash, painting for the rush. “What’s wrong?” she exclaimed. “I-I, I have blood on my hand. There’s blood,”
“It’s okay, don’t worry. Here let’s see where it's coming from.” From the look on her face I could tell that she was thinking the same thing as me. What if it’s from Charles? We both crossed our fingers mentally as we brushed the dust away. As we went deeper a tan foot started to appear. Half the toenails were ripped off and the ankle was made invisible by the cherry red shade. Starting to work quickly, in seconds we rid the dirt away and uncovered a severed leg. I heard a moan of sadness, and then realized it was mine.
“It’s not Charles leg,” Jessica whispered. I nodded in agreement. I knew he was alive. He wasn’t silent. I could still hear the soft hum of his heart. “I know, it’s not. What do we do now?” I might delete this part of the story
“I don’t know. But I do know we will get through this.”
I turned to look her in the face, we locked eye sight and came to an understanding. Whatever happens, we will always stick together.
A faint call entered my ears. The words grew louder, starting to become more defined. Finally I could hear it clearly, the voice was saying, “Hello? Jessica? Amber?”. It was Charles! Before even thinking me and Jessica sprinted off towards the direction we heard Charles voice. “Charles, it’s us!”
“I’m over here! I fell in a ditch. Can you get me out? I have a rope but I can’t get it to hook on anything. I’ll throw it up to you and then I’ll climb up,”
“Okay!” I called surveying the situation. Charles lay in a pile of wet, snowy leaves. He seemed fine except for his red, cracked hands from the cold. I shivered, realizing the actual temperature for the first time. He tossed up the rope, and I grabbed on tight while Jessica grabbed onto me. “One..Two..Three...PULL!” on the count of three we tugged with all our might and pulled Charles up.
Once we were all settled, we headed towards town hand in hand, drifting into the setting sun. Towards hope.