He stared for a brief moment, confused. A gentle ripple was making its way down the street, the leaves on the branches nodding slowly. Then they were still again. Another came, ever so slightly more pronounced, like the wash of the wave on a beach on a calm day, lapping softly.
He sat forward in his chair, looking down the street for some kind of clue. He couldn’t feel a breeze from here as the thick trees overhead partitioned the street below from the sky above. Still people carried on like nothing was happening.
Roger watched as another ripple tickled its way up the entirety of the street. Slowly, it crept along the sides and top of the branches. The noise of the street below was its usual constant drone of people and engines. He tried to listen for the breeze in the trees, but had no idea what noise to listen for.
The third breath of wind passed.
Roger sat in silence. There hadn’t been wind in as long as he could remember. In the days before they sealed cities and towns, the winds tore shabby houses to pieces. It was a deadly force. It had been years since the trees had moved.
Roger was sitting on a rocking chair out on the porch of the old house. He was an old man, and had lived their for many years.
He was staring at the trees that towered high over this end of the street, trunks mighty and knotted, gnarled branches reaching far out to soak in the light of the sun that burned overhead. The tops of the trees were lost to his sight, blending together so that a thick green ceiling sheltered the people below.
He had sat on this seat every single day since he’d hung up his pistol and his badge for the last time. Now he watched the people carry on with their lives.
No one else seemed to have noticed. Young Miss Cherry was pushing the pram, with her little baby girl in it, along the street in the direction of the town centre, a few streets away from here. As usual, she waved as she walked by. Roger smiled and waved back. Across the street, walking beside the mammoth trunks, marched the postman, bag empty, job done. He stalked past the two dog walkers, chatting as their dogs played.
Nobody noticed the leaves in the trees moving.
He stirred awake, utterly disorientated. All around, enormous men stood, freakishly yellow in the orange heat of the fire. They had his kids, and were taking them to the window. Mark tried to speak, to cry out in fear and anger, but only a groan bubbled from his lips. He watched as, noiselessly, the yellow-suited men handed Suzie first, then Mickey, out of the window into the nothingness beyond.
He tried to stand, but he couldn’t. He wiped his hand across his brow, the sweat and soot stinging his singed flesh. The yellow suited men came for him next. They grabbed him under the armpits and hauled him up to his feet. Even with two yellow suited men, he barely had the strength to keep upright. He could tell they were talking to him, shouting at him even, but no sound penetrated.
They dragged him towards the window. He stared out into the abyss; a sinister, billowing nothingness that was underlit by the blazing fire. He was reminded of a movie, but couldn’t place it.
A third explosion. The building shook for a third time. The floor gave way.
And he was falling.
The two yellow-suited men fell with him.
It was getting harder and harder to breathe, the restrictive pressure on Mark’s lungs was forcing him to breathe more heavily, but as the temperature kept rising, the searing pain of the air in his lungs and throat made it worse. He looked at his two kids. They sat huddled on the smoking carpet. He needed to get them out, to save them from the hellish blaze.
He struggled to the window, trying to see what was happening below. Through the smoke and flames that licked up higher and higher, a neon blue fought through. The fire brigade were here.
He tried to get their attention, but his throat was seared, and hardly a sound could be heard over the blazing fire. He looked for something to throw from the window, anything that would direct the attention of the fire brigade towards his window. He grabbed a side table, tossing it out of the window in a desperate fury. He looked back at his kids, Mickey still out of it, Suzie’s head lolling on her shoulders, spluttering weakly.
Mark fell to his knees a moment, weakened by the utter hopelessness of their situation. Higher and higher crept the flames.
He steeled himself again what was coming next. The stairwell shaft was filling will smoke. It wasn’t long before they caught back up with the others below. By the time they’d reached the fourth floor of the building, the sinister crackling of blazing fires was clearly distinguishable over the din of panic and chaos. Time was running out.
People were filing into the corridor of the fourth floor. Mark’s stomach lurched as he saw why. The stairs were gone. Thei ferocity of the blaze below was starting to destroy the very fabric of the building itself.
“Daddy, what are we going to do?” Suzie’s voice crept into Marks ear.
He squeezed her closer, and said, “It’s ok, baby, we’ll follow these people. We’re getting out of here.”
The crush of bodies in the corridor was unbearable. The sound of hacking, choking, shuddering coughs, the torturous heat, the horrifying scenes beyond the windows – for the first time, Mark didn’t know what to do. He continued to push his way through, making for the open door of one of the flats.
Inside, the living room wallpaper was curling off the walls, smoke belching out from underneath. The carpet was littered with glass.
“MICKEY!” His panicked screams were punctuated by flailing fists and hands grabbing at him from all sides. He wrenched people away, his sweaty, clammy hands slipping as he searched frantically for his son, lost in the mass of bodies, crushed in the panic.
The heat from the fire was building every second, and the people in the stairwell felt themselves being cooked alive. The fear of crushing those fallen seemed to have stayed the tide that had been building; like a dam controls the river, so too the crowd on the stairs below had moved on. Those behind were getting worse.
Mark spotted his son’s little arm poking up through the pile of people to his left. “Mickey! I’m coming, Mickey!” No response. No movement.
He managed to get a couple of people out of the way, and dragged his son to him. He was unconscious, it was impossible to tell if he was breathing. His left arm was clearly broken, bent away at a sickening angle. He grabbed his son close, taking he daughter back into his arms, and started stepping on bodies, desperate to get passed and away to safety. Below, the stairwell cast a terrifying, orange glow.
Immediately, he started shouting, yelling to be heard over the chaos on the stairs. “I’ve got kids here! Two children! Let us through!”
All around, similar cries from panicking parents all churning together, slowly inching down the stairs. More and more people were forcing their way in, crushing tighter together. Suzie began to cry into his shoulder – short, breathless sobs. The light was fading from the stairwell, smoke swirling around the underside of the staircases up and up.
Another massive explosion shook the very core of the building. Mark’s ears were ringing for a second or two, before the screams ramped up. People were beginning to fall apart.
An old man stumbled into Mark, grabbing hold of Mickey’s arm before collapsing to the floor. Mark felt Mickey tumble from his grip with a scream, and disappear into the pile of bodies that fell down the stairs. Suzie screamed. Mark watched the writhing mass of limbs as he pushed his way through, desperate to grab his son. Random hands clambered at his arms as he started punching, smacking people out of the way, all the time shouting his sons name. Others started doing the same, trying hopelessly to pull bodies free.