This story is by Anna Savastano and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Dwight’s cell chirped for the third consecutive time. Someone was desperate to get a hold of him. He pulled his jeep to the curbside to study his messages.
Hans Gunter: Fire at the school. Suspect, Katie and my dad still inside. Firefighters on their way. Can’t stand by, going in.
Ernie Dwight: Be there soon.
The siren cries escorted Dwight through his neighborhood. He lived three blocks away. Tonight, however, the route seemed never-ending. His heart pounded as hard as a scrawny mouse fleeing a giant bundle of hungry cats. The scent of ignited timber engulfed him. Amber flashes lit up the sky. Clouds of dusty smoke ascended into the darkness as he shifted his vehicle onto the jammed avenue. Like fireflies fussing about on a sultry summer evening, charred wood embers glittered around the monstrous campfire that was formerly the Albrecht Gunter School of Martial Arts.
Dwight jogged over to a group of awe-stricken spectators transfixed by the orange livid ball that ate away at what remained of the white two-story colonial home. The outbreak appeared to originate on the first floor inside the school. Hans lived on the second level, with his father, and girlfriend Katie. There were no lights upstairs, which meant, if anyone was inside, they were aligned with the eye of the fire. And time was running out.
Dwight spied Hans and Justin Wilds going into the neighbor’s yard.
Oh, that can’t be safe,” he groaned following them in, avidly avoiding being spotted from the first respondents.
Agony seared through Albrecht Gunter’s blistered fists. Unshed tears breached the flanks of his lower eyelids, while a sparkling tawny inferno snuffed out his home, his business, and his existence. He toppled onto the smoldering parquet floor of his office, gasping for air, his lungs compressed by smoke. He struggled to contain the aggressive flames, as the fiery dragon threatened him from all sides. Albrecht didn’t fear death. He had turned 65. His worry was solely for Katie McFarland, his son Hans’s sweetheart, who lay asleep in the upstairs flat. Did she make it out? Would Hans, endanger his own life to come after them both? Albrecht feared the prospect of losing either Hans or the girl, whom he cherished as a daughter. For the first time, since his wife died twenty years ago, he prayed.
Albrecht’s head sprang up. He had momentarily lost consciousness. His clothes stuck to him drenched in sweat. He listened. He swore something had woken him from his unconsciousness. There it was again, a moan followed by a hacking whoop.
“Son, are you in here?” He shouted.
“No, Mr. Gunter. It’s, Katie,” said a low croaking voice. A cacophony of wheezing shadowed her words, and she moaned once more.
“Katie, get out of here, now? You hear me girl? This is your Sensei talking!”
“I want nothing more, but I’m stuck. And, I won’t leave you!”
“Why!” Albrecht roared, his fury surpassed that of five lions.
“My foot’s pinned under a fallen beam, and no matter how I pull it, it won’t budge. Mr. Gunter, I’m terrified. The staircase has caved in, the flames are getting closer, and I’m finding it hard to breathe.” A cluster of froggy heaves came croaking out of her.
A torturous torrent, flooded Albrecht Gunter. He wanted to appease the girl, but how? The office held him captive. A combustible antagonist exceeding 300 degrees Celsius blocked his path.
“Katie, listen,” he said, pausing for a bark fest of his own. “Remember what I taught you in Karate class. You must never fear your adversary, otherwise the competition’s lost even before it begins.”
Had he neglected those same rules he preached all those years ago? Boy, had he become old. No, wonder his son called him, Pops.
“Katie, think of the fire as an assailant. Observe it. Examine its shortcomings. Then, attack,” he said, as he thrust himself to his feet, his hands, scorched crimson red. They hurt something terrible. From the heart of the room, he searched for a weak point in his aggressor. There was a meager chance he spotted. If he misjudged the situation, and it ended up being a supporting wall, he’d end up killing them both. But, what other alternative did he have? Wait until this conflagration roasted them up for Thanks Giving supper?
“Katie, I’m coming!” He said crashing through the Gyproc panel right before him.
“Can you agree on the direction you want to go?” Dwight told Justin and Hans as he descended onto the cobblestone path where the men haggled.
“There are doors on either side of the building,” Hans said.
“Yeah, on the left, we walk straight into the fire. On the right, we have leeway.”
Your leeway is going to get someone killed.”
“Oh, because walking directly into the blaze, won’t, hey Gunter?”
“The light is in the office, Douchebag. That’s where they are.”
“Guys, we’re wasting time with suppositions. Why don’t we split up and use both doors?” Dwight said, breaking the men up, and ushering Hans away.
Hans’s fingers skated over the piping hot steel doorknob of the school’s east wing. It was too hot. He placed his boot to the doorway and kicked it in. A searing inferno scalded the entrance making it inconceivable for anyone to get in.
“Dad, Katie, you in there?”
No, answers came, except for a low pounding sound. Dwight worried they were too late. Hans’s face turned from blood red to ashen white in a heartbeat.
Firefighters trotted to the place where Hans stood. A firefighter cocked the pistol of the fire hose directly at the coral-hot blaze, burning out of control. Bursts of water shot once, twice and on the third try, Dwight could’ve sworn he overheard the fireman say something about, going ahead and making his day. The big guy bombarded the flames like Rambo, blasting ammo, with a semi-automatic rifle, on his rival.
Albrecht kept kicking at the wood posts that were behind the Gyproc he’d crushed. He hadn’t heard anything from Katie. Albrecht called out. No response. Muffled voices came from outside, but he didn’t quite make out what they were saying. A firefighter needed to find Katie in time, before it was too late.
“Katie, where are you?” A man sputtered, and Albrecht’s heart fell. Was it his son? It sounded nothing like Hans. Still, Katie hadn’t sounded like herself either.
Through the hole in the wall, Albrecht saw a hooded man, stumble through the rubble. He came from the east side. He wasn’t a fireman. No firefighter would be caught dead in here without his gear.
“Hans,” Albrecht called out.
“No Mr. Gunter. It’s Justin Wilds. Remember me?”
“Yeah, I remember you. You were a troublemaker.”
“Well, sir, today we could call it my redemption.”
“Why, because you came into a burning building looking for the girl you’ve loved since you were a teen? Maybe you hope to save her, and she will love you?”
“Ok, Mr. Gunter, I get it. I’m a sleaze. Where’s Katie?”
“She’s near the staircase. A beam fell on her leg.”
“Kitten,” Justin called out.
“She hasn’t answered me in the last five minutes.”
“I found her. She’s unconscious.”
“Is she breathing?” Albrecht asked, holding his breath for an answer.
“Yeah, she is. Just barely, though.”
“Take her out of here, boy.”
“I need to help you first. That fire’s closing in on you.”
“No, get her out. It’s an order!”
“I’m going to but, I need to move this beam off her foot.”
Albrecht watched as Justin picked Katie up, he turned to him his eyes red, his gaze distant and said“ I’m sure somebody’s gonna come for you.”
“Go on hurry!” Albrecht shouted, his heart in his throat. Justin labored off carrying a very inert Katie. No one would come for him and Albrecht knew it. Pain wracked his battered body. A tear slid unbidden down his cheek. His lungs were ready to give out. Before long the fires would be upon him. The angel of death would collect him. At least Katie got out. He hoped she would make it. And his prayers were done. His son would not perish here today.
Albrecht was awakened suddenly. Darkness was all round him. He heard men shouting orders. A current of air wafted around him, making him quiver. He lay wrapped in a blanket. The scent of musky male protruded his nostrils as a giant firefighter kissed him, and another thumped his chest. While his boy Hans stood over them letting them do it. What the hell happened?