May 3rd, 2038 – Athena
Fire! Athena knew that smell, a distant memory, but none the less, fear gripped her heart and drove her feet into motion. She scrambled out of her bed in the pitch black and stumbled to find the light in a room that she had known her whole life. A room where nothing was hers, but it was all she had. She stumbled a few more steps until her trembling fingers finally found the switch. As the lights slowly brightened, Athena looked frantically around and saw no sign of a fire at all. But that smell, it was undeniably the smell of fire, one that she would never forget as long as she lived.
“What the heck, Thena” screamed Rachel, Athena’s roommate and best friend, indignantly from the other side of the room. “Can’t you go to the bathroom without turning on the lights? Especially when it’s 1 in the morning!”
“Rachel! This is not about the bathroom. Can’t you smell it? The fire?” asked Athena who was slightly panicking and wondering if she had dreamt the whole thing. No, there it was again, that smell, she couldn’t be the only one smelling it.
“You both just need to shut up and go back to bed.” yelled a quite perturbed Tiffany, Athena and Rachel’s other roommate that they tried to forget existed.
“Wait! I smell it now! Where is that coming from? This is bad! None of the smoke detectors are going off!”
What Rachel had just said was true, but until that moment, the thought had not even crossed Athena’s mind. The smoke detectors and the other girls in the building had been out of mind, but now they consumed every inch of Athena’s brain and forced her into motion.
She made a mad dash towards the door, glancing over her right shoulder to see a flash of Rachel’s blonde hair. She flung the door wide open not caring about the dent that she would leave in the wall. The two girls ran side by side down the familiar halls of “Ashley Down’s Girls Orphanage” in Peoria, Illinois. 16-year-old Athena had walked down these halls every single day for the last 14 years and had learned to love this place that had become her home.
There were no lights in the halls to illuminate the light grey walls that lined their path and the only sounds were their echoing footsteps and heavy breathing. Athena wasn’t sure when the hallway had gotten so long, but in their haste to get to the end, it felt as though they were running a marathon. The smell of singed Earth intensified the closer they got to the front of the orphanage. They simultaneously slammed through the large metal doors separating the drab dorms of the girls and the ornate suites of the mistresses.
Neither was sure exactly who to go to, but in an unspoken decision, they turned the corner and headed straight for the one person that they knew would listen. In seconds that felt more like hours, they had reached the door to Mrs. Ashley’s suite and without hesitation burst in.
Mrs. Ashley sat up slowly as though without any concern. She seemed quite unsurprised to see the two girls, as though it was common for them to barge into her room at 1 in the morning. Her calm manner was almost unsettling considering her normally spastic behavior.
“How may I help you ladies this fine morning?” Mrs. Ashley asked in a way that set both Athena and Rachel on edge.
“Mrs. Ashley, don’t you smell that? I mean, the fire and all. It woke me up, and I was worried, because no one else is awake and none of the fire alarms have been set off.” Athena was very cautious with how she worded her statement.
“Now that you mention it, I do, why don’t the three of us go up to the lookout tower and see what is going on.” Mrs. Ashley offered.
The girls shared an unsure glance, but nodded their agreement. It was unspoken that they thought that if anything happened, the two girls could overpower the short lady who was in her late 60s. Silently, all three began their trek towards the tower in the center of the grounds where they would find the gravity of the situation.
They walked in complete silence down the normally vibrantly pink halls that were now turned a dingy shade by the utter darkness. Athena and Rachel’s heavy breathing subsided until the click of Mrs. Ashley’s unreasonably tall heels was the only sound to be heard. The ten-minute walk felt as though they were walking down the green mile to their death. Fear hung over the girls’ heads like a heavy fog which was growing in weight with every step. As they began to ascend the stairs up to the outlook balcony of the tower, Mrs. Ashley seemed to not have a care in the world. On the other hand, the girls felt that they were rising up into the fog of fear and being completely consumed. The fog only lifted when they stepped out onto the balcony and found that the building, which was more like a compound, wasn’t on fire. However, they quickly realized that they still had a problem.
Athena was the first to see the real problem and her heart dropped into her stomach at the sight of it. Without looking away, she reached out and touched Rachel’s arm. Already on edge, Rachel jumped at the light touch on her arm and turned to yell at Athena when she realized what Athena had been looking at. They both stood dumbfounded by what they saw making its way through the forest that surrounded the orphanage on all sides. A wall of fire taller than the trees was rapidly approaching the orphanage from head on.
Athena grasped the edge of the balcony and gave Rachel a look of concern that was returned twofold. Mrs. Ashley however, didn’t seem to feel the same way. She calmly looked at the girls and motioned for them to follow her. They followed her back to the stairs at a pace no faster than the speed that had carried them up.
“Could one of you ladies please close and lock that door behind you? Make sure it is good and locked too. Thank you.” Mrs. Ashley said and began to descend down the stairs.
The girls shared a look, but did as Mrs. Ashley had asked them and followed closely behind her in the stairwell that was now darker than it had ever been. About 15 steps down, Athena had to reach to the wall for guidance. She trailed her fingertips along the smooth, cold brick until they made it to the bottom. Athena had no warning that they had made it to the bottom and went to step down, but instead tripped and fell to her knees. She quickly composed herself as to not get stepped on, and continued to walk down the hall.
She reached down and felt her left knee that was still stinging from taking the majority of her weight as she fell. She had ripped her sweat pants to reveal her bare knee that had a brand new gash about an inch wide, but not too deep. She traced the edge of her new wound and her fingers came away wet. She knew that she was bleeding, but the hall was still to dark to see how badly.
Athena started and almost threw a punch when she heard Rachel’s breathe in her ear.
“Did you fall at the end of the stairs back there?” Rachel questioned.
“Yeah, I cut my knee. Don’t say anything.” Athena warned, but Rachel decided to ignore it.
“Are you okay? Are you bleeding! How bad is it?” Rachel asked without regret.
“What part of don’t say anything did you not understand? I’m fine, it’s just a cut. Yes, its bleeding. Now be quite until we get to where we can see.” Athena responded obviously aggravated.
To Athena’s surprise the two girls walked silently the rest of the way, following the clicking heels of Mrs. Ashley all the way to her office.
The girls knew the office well from all of the projects that they had helped Mrs. Ashley with. They took a seat and awaited her direction. Mrs. Ashley was sitting at her desk, still surprisingly calm, thinking about the best plan of action. The girls had no idea what they would do in a situation like this. Hundreds of lives were at stake; how do you keep a fire that big from killing everyone in the building? Mrs. Ashley soon stood up, she had a plan and the girls were ready to help.
The girls had been told to go to each and every one of the rooms in the back of the building, this was where the orphans’ dorms were, and get everyone to go to the auditorium. The auditorium was a large, concrete room that was in the very center of the building. It was supposedly fireproof and the only room where everyone could gather at one time.
Mrs. Ashley was to get all of the mistresses up and bring them to the auditorium as well as close and lock all of the outside doors.
With a nod, they all set off to complete a task that could mean life or death for everyone in the building. Athena and Rachel made a sharp left and began to run down the long hall that led away from the office and into the dark of the unknown. They slowed only to turn the corner and continue on without a moments pause. Athena took the rooms on the left and Rachel the right.
Athena burst into the first room, flipped on the lights and yelled, “Fire! Everyone to the auditorium. Now!”
To Athena’s surprise, everyone followed her directions without hesitation. Athena and Rachel met back outside the rooms and continued down the hall. They soon had a crowd of other people behind them. The dark halls echoed with every step, filling them with a sound like a thousand running bulls. Their plan was going without a hitch. That was, until Athena made it back to her own room. `
She grasped the handle and went to push it open, but it stood fast. Her momentum slammed her into the door, but it still held. She took a step back, stunned by the shock of the door against her face. She reached out and gently tried the handle again, but like before, it was stuck where it was.
A thought flashed through Athena’s mind; the door must have jammed after she threw it open and it slammed it into the wall. Panic began to set in with the realization that Tiffany was stuck in an outer dorm. There had to be a way to get the door open.
Rachel soon returned to the hall with a new group of girls from the room she had just went into. Athena turned quickly with a look of sheer panic.
“The door is stuck! I think I jammed it when I threw it open earlier! What do we do?”
Rachel glanced around seeing nothing that would help them with the situation at hand. Finally, her eyes landed on a brick in the wall that seemed to have a slightly bigger gap around it. She stepped over to it, hope welling in her chest, and slide her fingers into the thin gap. She wiggled the brick just slightly, relieved that it was loose. She latched onto a small grove with her long nails, getting just enough grip to wiggle it free from the wall. She turned around victoriously and jogged to the door. Knowing that Athena knew what she was planning and was stronger than her, she handed her the brick.
Athena inhaled deeply, knowing that what she needed to do was going to hurt, but she had too and was possibly the only one who could. She adjusted her grip to hold just the edge and lifted it above her head. She brought it down on the doorknob as hard as she could, closing her eyes in fear of what might happen. She felt the brick hit and then keep going. She opened her eyes while the ringing in her ears subsided. She had done it! She stared in amazement at the broken off doorknob as Rachel pushed past her into the room.
“Tiffany, let’s go!” yelled Rachel urgently and without waiting for a response turned and ran down the hall.
Athena followed right on her heels and the two girls continued their advance down the first hall of dorms.
The group grew larger and larger until they were about 150 strong. They turned the corner to the right and wordlessly, all but Athena and Rachel filed into the auditorium. The two girls took another right and continued down the second row of dorms. As they were running side by side, they noticed another set of footsteps, easily distinguished by their cadence. Tiffany took two steps for Rachel and Athena’s one.
“What do you want Tiffany?” Athena snapped, annoyed that she hadn’t went to the auditorium with everyone else.
“I want to help. You guys broke a door down for me, the least I could do is help you get other people to the auditorium”
The girls agreed that they could use some help and told Tiffany to run ahead and get the people out of the rooms in from of them. She gladly did so and the girls were covering rooms almost twice as fast as they had been. In no time, the girls had arrived at the end of the hall and met up with an out of breath Mrs. Ashley and all of the staff.
Mrs. Ashley had her heels in her hand and her normally immaculate grey bun had fallen, revealing thick waves of grey hair down to her shoulders. Her hair framed her face, softening her features and making her look 20 years younger. She ran with the energy of her new found youth, nearly outrunning the three girls. All of the rooms had finally been cleared and the entire group ran as fast as they could back towards the auditorium, which they believed to be their only hope at survival.
As they drifted around the final corner to the auditorium, Athena and Rachel yanked the doors open and held them wide, so that the group that they had been leading could file inside. As the final few students, who had been edged out by the self-preserving staff, entered the room, Athena and Rachel pulled the doors shut and locked them. The turned to see Mrs. Ashley directing everyone to move into the center of the room and away from the walls.
“You must come closer to the middle! This room may be fireproof, but the walls are going to get hot if the fire is just outside. It is going to get hot in here, so take off all extra layers of clothing. We are hopeful that this will pass over quickly, but we cannot be sure. Everyone stay inside and try to stay safe,” yelled Mrs. Ashley who was standing on top of a box located in the middle of the room.
Everyone was quick to obey and did exactly as Mrs. Ashley had said. The group hunkered down in the large auditorium and hoped for the best.