22 September, 2010

Writing Prompt : The Fire Escape

(Image Courtesy : iStockphoto.com via Google)

"The smoke was all around me. It was all over me. The fire had, by then, spread all over the building like an undulating monster, totally unforgiving, consuming everything in its path. The oxygen tanks that were stored in the building were feeding the fire, for, I could hear the loud “boom” as cylinders exploded in various corners of the building. The smoke, thick, white and billowing, seeped into my body through my nostrils, clogging each and every pore in my body. I had never known such terror in my life before.

But, they say, terror is sometimes the greatest of inspirations. A small voice inside my head told me that there was no point in cowering in a corner in fear. The fire was an enemy that knew no fear, it was an enemy that could not be subdued with knives or guns. It knew just one thing and that was to destroy everything and everyone in its path. By the sheer force of nature, I knew that the fire would only leave a trail of ashes, cinders and human bones behind, if it had its way.

With a newfound sense of purpose, I began to look for some source of water around. When I finally found a water faucet which was working, I managed to wet a couple of thick towels, for I had read somewhere once that smoke is the biggest of dangers in the event of a fire. Having covered my mouth and nose with a wet towel, I gingerly inched through the doorway and across the connecting path which led to the part of the building where the inmates were housed.

There were ten of them, at last count. Most of them were delusional. They had wild dreams and fantasies which they believed were absolutely true. Getting them to leave was going to be a huge effort. But I had to try. I simply could not give up on them.

I got them to line up in a single file, pretty much like they do with kids at school. They were all wide eyed and frightened. Taking advantage of that very fear, I told them in absolutely no uncertain terms that they would have to follow my instructions. If they did, we could all get out of this raging inferno alive.

We began to slowly move towards the fire escape. Progress was slow, for some of the inmates had pulled off the towels from around their mouth and nostrils. Time and again, I had to either remind them to replace the towels or had to put it back in place for them. Delusional as they were, they simply did not understand the gravity of the situation.

Tongues of fire were beginning to flick through the doorways now. Just as I led the way, a part of the window sill came crashing down, narrowly missing me. It took me a couple of seconds to breathe deep and try to slow my heart which was, by now, trying to pound its way out of my chest.

We had just three floors to walk but it seemed like a lifetime. The banisters were beginning to get really hot to the touch. Just as we thought we would all make it out of the building, disaster struck on the first floor. So near and yet so far, I thought to myself as one of the door beams splintered and crashed down, trapping me underneath.

Having decided upon me as their saviour, to see me trapped under that beam was the last straw for the inmates. Their delusions completely took over and I guess they were imagining all sorts of scenarios within their minds. I had to do something before the situation got completely out of hand. The fire, on the other hand, was merrily making its way towards us, much faster than we were moving. I could almost sense the glee as those flames leapt towards us, mocking at our helplessness, gloating over what the fire assumed would be its final victory.

I had to talk a couple of the inmates into helping me get that door beam off me. Else, we were all doomed for sure. It was slow going but I got Smith and Wesson to heave on the door beam with all their might, as the two of them were the strongest of the inmates there. By then, Mrs. Woodpecker, who had apparently taken the towel off her face, fainted without a care in the world.

After much heaving, I had enough room to just squirm out from under the door beam. Once again, in a single file, we made our way cautiously down the last flight of stairs. I had to, by now, carry Mrs. Woodpecker as she was unconscious. Why don’t you carry me too, my handsome prince ? screeched Ada, who, delusional as she was, constantly thought she was Rapunzel and that her prince would one day come and rescue her from this mental asylum, which she assumed was the castle where the ogre had kept her trapped.

My head was pounding, my heart was threatening to jump out of my mouth as I crossed my fingers in the hope that the fire had not beaten us to the main exit, through the other hallway.

I only remember depositing Mrs. Woodpecker into the hands of a waiting fireman and then dragging the other inmates out just as the flames crashed into the main hallway through the very same fire escape that we had taken. Phew !! That had been a mighty close shave. I never knew I had such courage in me but it so turns out that I did. Imagine rescuing ten people out of a building with a fire raging within. That too, ten delusional people whose only pastime was to hallucinate and create fantasy images and mirages of their own. Everything they did were just figments of their imagination. Imagine rescuing ten such people. Not many people could have done that. But I did. ”

The other cab drivers in the office of City Cab Services stared at Sam in awe. Sam, was a young cab driver with City Cab. City Cab had just opened its office in this state and all the cabbies there were new. Strong, healthy and handsome, Sam projected quite the hero image as the other cabbies stared at him in awe. All except Bill and Henry, who looked totally skeptical, with cynicism written all over their faces.

“Yeah Yeah” said Sam to the other cab drivers. Bill and Henry never believe me, ever, mates !” he said, as he walked out of the room with a swagger.

“Why don’t you ever believe him ?” asked the other cabbies. Bill and Henry exchanged looks, then a long sigh. They handed the other cabbies the number of the local telephone information service and told the cabbies to go ahead and call and ask for details about the mental asylum, from where Sam claimed to have rescued ten delusional inmates.

“May I help you, Sir ?” came the cool, collected, poised voice over the telephone. “Yep. Could you give me the number of The Solace please. You know, that’s the mental institution out here. I need the number urgently” said Jason, one of the new cabbies.

A long pause later, the voice on the other end now had a tinge of confusion and uncertainty to it. She sounded rather bewildered as she replied “But Sir, The Solace has been closed down for more than 5 years now. It is no longer a functioning unit. No one lives there any more.”

As a perplexed Jason pressed the disconnect button on the phone, he saw Bill take out his cell phone. Jason and the other cab drivers heard Bill say “We’ve finally located him. It took us over a year, but we’ve finally found him. He now goes by the name of Sam and he’s a cab driver. We know where he lives and we are heading there right away. We will get hold of him and have him back in the asylum by today evening.

Turning to the other cab drivers, Bill said “We are not cab drivers.  That was simply our cover.  We have been on his trail for quite some time now. It has been a year since he escaped from the mental asylum in the nearby state. He had been undergoing treatment there since he was very highly delusional.”

"Quite apparently, he still is !!” said Henry, as they got up to head towards Sam’s house.

The Prompt : What if you are going to write a story about self-expression with a cab driver as the main character and a fire escape as the main object. ? Set your story in a mental asylum. 

(OK.  The prompt apparently said "set your story in a funeral home.  But my mind started to race once I'd read the first two sentences and me being me, the last sentence simply did not register.  It was only after I'd finished writing that I went back to the prompt to append it to the blog post and realized that it read "set your story in a funeral home".  But since I'd already set the story in a mental asylum, I decided to post it just the way it was instead of changing the setting to a funeral home.)

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