Dun da da duuuuun! It’s the Flashes grand finale! A bit longer than the others, but hopefully worth it. Enjoy!
The boy rounded the corner and entered a hallway so full of smoke he could barely see. Waving his hand in front of his face in a pointless effort to clear the air, he turned to the right and the left, until he made out a dark figure near the end of the hall. “I’m coming!” he yelled, but the yell turned into a coughing fit. His back was hurting again, but he ran as he could toward the figure, which seemed to turn at the sound of his voice. The hallway seemed much longer than it ever had before, but at last he got close enough to see that the figure was a girl, leaning against a classroom door—a girl with wide, scared-looking eyes—a girl who looked very familiar…
“Jessica’s stuck in here,” she said, hoarse from the smoke. “I think she’s hurt or something—she says she can’t move! And there’s a table in front of the door, and I can’t open it!”
The boy didn’t think he’d be able to make a sound if he tried to reply. Instead, he dropped his backpack on the ground, backed up against the opposite wall, and then threw himself against the classroom door. It shuddered, but didn’t open, and the boy discovered that he still had a voice. “Ow,” he said.
“Are you okay?” asked the girl, almost squealing in surprise. “Are you sure there’s not an easier way—”
But the boy was already taking another running start. This time, he leaped into the air, pulled his legs into a long-practiced tae kwon do position, and gave the door a resounding kick with his whole weight behind it. It shook and splintered, and a great hole opened up right in the middle. A scream came from inside the classroom. “Coming!” the boy barked as he picked himself up off the floor. He reached through the hole and pushed away the table that was blocking the door until he couldn’t reach it anymore. Then he groped around for the door latch, turned it, and pushed the door open. He stepped through feeling like he had just conquered Mount Everest.
A thin girl with wispy red hair was leaning against the far wall. She was holding a crutch, had one leg in a cast, and looked about ready to pass out. The room was, if possible, even more full of smoke than the hallway, and red flames were flickering around the edges of the wall to his left. As soon as she saw the boy, Jessica started hobbling toward him.
“Stay right there,” the boy said. “I’ve got you.” He stepped around the fallen table and put his arm around Jessica to hold her up. But as soon as she started to put her weight on his shoulder—CRACK! It was the last straw for the boy’s back. They both collapsed on the floor.
The other girl—the girl he knew he’d seen before—looked in through the doorway. “What’s going on? Are you okay?” she asked again.
“Little help,” the boy grunted.
And so the girl who loved reading history books, who had never wanted an adventure of any kind, who had no muscles to speak of and hardly ever lifted anything, found herself slowly descending a long flight of stairs with a person about her size leaning heavily on each shoulder. Jessica used her crutch as much as possible for support, but the strange boy, whose face was so sooty that he looked more like a gorilla than anything else, hardly seemed able to keep himself upright. He kept quiet about it, but she could tell he was in serious pain. At the moment she didn’t feel as sympathetic as she should have. “Use a crowbar or something next time,” she grunted at him on the second-floor landing.
“Sorry,” he said in a strained whisper.
After what felt like a week, they finally reached the first floor again. Now that the air wasn’t so smoky, Jessica seemed a bit more herself. She let go of the girl’s shoulder once they were on level ground, and used her crutch to get to the door.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve got a broken ankle from snowboarding, and I couldn’t move fast enough when everybody ran out of the classroom. They all panicked, even the teacher! And then I couldn’t move the table away from the door, and the room started filling up with smoke…it was SO scary!”
Just before they reached the doors, she turned and put her hand gingerly on the boy’s shoulder. “Thank you so much,” she said. “You saved my life!”
Then she giggled. Turning to the girl, she said, “I’ve always wanted to say that!”
When she limped out the double doors, the girl knew she’d be hearing this story many times over the next few weeks. There were some security officers outside, at long last, and several of them ran up to greet Jessica with alarm on their faces. Judging by the sound, a fire truck was just arriving. The girl turned to the boy on her shoulder. “Think you could walk by yourself a bit now?”
The boy shook his head with a grimace. But even as the girl spoke to him, something in the boy’s face triggered her memory; she had seen him before, and not long ago either. “Hey! Weren’t you walking on a tightrope earlier?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. It had just come back to him. “And you were watching from one of the benches!”
“I wasn’t watching,” she said with a frown. She dragged him forward, panting with the effort, through the double doors and out into the rain. Firefighters were climbing a ladder set against the wall of the building, carrying a gigantic hose. A couple of harried-looking security guards rushed up to the two students as they emerged through the doors.
“Are you all right?” they asked. “Is anyone else in there?”
“I don’t think so,” said the girl. “This guy hurt himself breaking down a door, but I’m fine.” She broke into a coughing fit. “Where were you guys?” she asked when she got her breath back. “My friend was stuck in that building…and I looked all over for security, but there was no one around!”
One of the security guards was suddenly busy lifting the boy off the girl’s shoulder; the other one looked embarrassed. “Well, there was a slight holdup,” he said. “When the fire started, most of us were on the other side of campus, dealing with a couple of kids who were hitting each other with skateboards. One of them—I think his name was Blake—kept cussing out the other guy for losing some kind of equipment…anyway, we were so busy over there it took us a few minutes to realize what was going on over here. But the fire department’s here now, so everything should be all right. You kids just get over to the paramedics. They’ll take care of you.”
He pointed to an ambulance next to the fire truck. A few people, including Jessica, were lying on stretchers outside, but most of them seemed more agitated than hurt, and were chatting noisily with each other. The security guards helped the boy and girl over to the ambulance, where a paramedic gave them both an oxygen mask and made the boy lie flat on his stomach, shaking her head gravely.
“I knew I was stretching it,” he said to the girl when the paramedic had left them. “Hurt my back rock climbing last year. I guess it can’t handle all that running and falling anymore. I’ll probably be off the tightrope for months now.”
“Well, maybe this’ll teach you to think before you throw yourself at another door,” said the girl in a lecturing tone. Then, looking at the boy, she softened. “But I’m really glad you came when you did,” she said. “I could never have gotten Jessica out all by myself.”
The boy looked up at the girl. Her face was streaked with soot, and her voice was still hoarse, but her eyes were shining. Funny enough, she looked much more alive, and awake, and happy than she had sitting on the bench just a half hour ago. “What’s your name?” the boy asked.
“Priscilla Fredericks,” she said. “What’s yours?”
“Cayden,” he answered. “Cayden Jones.”
She smiled. “Nice name. I’m very pleased to meet you, Cayden.”
He shifted position uncomfortably on the stretcher. He couldn’t compliment her name, because it was a ridiculous one—who ever heard of Priscilla who wasn’t ninety? He could say “nice to meet you, too,” but that didn’t seem like enough, somehow. So he said the next thing that popped into his head: “Coffee sometime?”
Priscilla looked shocked for a second. Then she said, “All right, sure. Does tomorrow work for you?”
Cayden and Priscilla smiled at each other for a long time, and hardly noticed the paramedics poking and prodding them, or the great clouds of steam rising from the building, or the noise of the crowd that had gathered to watch. Back on the fourth floor of the science building, their forgotten backpacks blazed merrily, side by side in the fire. It would be a whole day before either student remembered them.
The falling sheets of rain hit the pavement around the stretchers with a sound like breathless laughter.