Red Nights - Shari J. Ryan


WHY AM I SO WARM? And what is that smell? I force my eyes open, but I’m having a hard time focusing. Everything is hazy. Is that—smoke? Oh my God. I struggle to pull the tangled sheets off as I clamber to the floor. Shit. What the hell is going on? I grab my phone and run for the door, and as soon as I yank it open, a rush of smoke consumes me. It’s everywhere. Flames are ripping down one side of the hall, leaving me hardly any room to get by.

Standing here in shock, I feel frozen, like I don’t know what to do. I’ve never smelled a burning house before, but the combination of everything I own burning into specs of dust makes my insides feel like they’re on fire too. It’s seeping through every one of my veins, making my chest ache and my eyes burn. With my shirt over my mouth, I drop to my knees and blindly crawl through the narrowing open space, feeling the heat of the flames licking at my exposed skin. I must look like one of those mice they drop into a maze, desperately searching for a way out. “Can anyone hear me?” I scream, but the smoke swallows my words. “Help!”

I know my shouting is completely useless. Blake isn’t home, and I doubt my neighbors can hear me. Panic is shooting through me like lightning, and I can’t stop shaking. Every time I cough, I inhale more smoke, and it’s filling my lungs now. The flames are rising around me so quickly. Smoke is encasing me, suffocating me. It’s locking me in and taking me as its prisoner.

I have to get out of here. I have to. This can’t be the end. I push through the smoke-filled living room, pulling myself in what I think is a straight line across the room. It’s the only open path left in here. I hit a wall—one that I hope has a window or a door. I feel around until my fingers rub over a crack. Please be a door.

My house is on fire. My world is crumbling around me. What did I do?

It’s not a door. I can’t see the door. I don’t know where I am in my own house.

With my shirt still over my mouth, I pull myself against the baseboard and pound my fist against the wall. “Please, please…I don’t want to die,” I cry out, though I know I’m the only one who can hear me.

Holy shit. My phone. It’s in my pocket. I almost forgot. Please work. I try to reach into the back pocket of my flannel pajama pants, but my muscles ache, and it’s almost like I can’t find my pocket. I yell for help again, but my voice is muffled by the smoke and roaring flames.

I’m in here. Help me.

I’m going to die a slow and miserable death. A phone call won’t even save me now. With the flames closing in on me, engulfing me, I now realize there’s not enough time.

This is it.

I curl into a fetal position as I close my eyes and try to focus on the good parts of my life. There are so many things I still want to do.

It might have only been seconds since I gave up, but it feels like it’s been hours. Is someone out there? The wall shakes and there’s a pounding on the door. “Help!” I yell, though my voice is hardly audible.

I’m still alive in here.

How long can I survive inhaling all of this smoke?

A door swings open, forcing a gush of air into my body. I was so close. I struggle to lift my head, and as I do, arms scoop me up.

Sirens are blaring loudly, lights flashing in my eyes, smoke billowing out around me. The man holding me yells, “Side door. Young female. She needs oxygen, stat.” His voice is shrill and echoes in the smoggy air.

I try to scream from the panic exploding within me, but sound isn’t coming out at all any more. I’m placed down on a stretcher as firemen run past me and into the house. They shouldn’t go in there.

An oxygen mask is fitted around my face, and a blanket is pulled up to my neck. People are talking to me, asking me questions, I think, but I can’t focus on what they’re saying. My attention is focused past them, watching a fireman run from the front door. He comes closer to us,