Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chapter 8

     The fire blew through the room, from hidden deposits behind the bookcases, showering flaming books onto the floor, and sending sparkling fireflies that had once been words to the ceiling. They fluttered and flew and danced about in pleasure with more life than they had ever had before, but died in their flight, never to be read again. It was beautiful to see, in that first instant, before the second explosion rocked the sitting room next to the study, yet it was a hideous beauty, ravaging and hateful, gleeful in it's destruction. It was Hell.
     And it was walking slowly down the hallway.
     The Black Mask lifted Rose in his arms as the concussion jarred all of the walls of the lavish apartment, causing the hideous ornaments in their glass tombs to dance and cavort as if in pleasure, heads bobbing and twisting in the blue liquid, hair and long-dead, staring eyes moving as if searching for some new horror that would, somehow, be greater than what they had found in the display cases.
     Rose tried not to look, but found herself staring into the eyes of a once-beautiful woman, mouth slightly open in an endless scream,as the head bounced against the glass jar.
     He raced with her in his arms, straight for the door, kicking it savagely so that it tore from both hinge and frame, into the smoke and fire that had already begun to gather majestically in the corridor. Rose coughed, burying her face in the black material of his coat, gasping at the sight of tiny streams of fire that were licking up the beautiful wall-paper and bubbling along the ceiling.
     The smoke rolled along before the flames, hungry hunting hounds in search of prey, and Rose tasted it on her tongue, smelled its harsh, destructive odor as it enveloped them for a moment, but rushed away as the next explosion blasted through the dining room beside the sitting room. All of the air raced away in that blast, and she choked first on the lack of oxygen, and then again on the smoke as it tore back to fill the void.
     He raced to the only exit he had, the elevator, and laying her gently on the ground, the Black Mask, her valiant savior, struggled for an instant, prying at the tiny metal gap until the doors, reluctant on their sliders, could no longer resist his probing fingers, and opened against the pressure.
     He lifted her again, and she coughed harshly in the black smoke.
     “You must hang on to me”, he barked at her, swinging her around to his back, lacing her arms around his neck until she was little more than a child, gripping him as if going on a piggy back ride, arms and legs firmly wrapped around him.
     She closed her eyes as he began the leap that would thrust them into the darkness of the elevator shaft, but the fourth explosion, directly behind them in the kitchen, carried them off the ground with such force that her eyes flew open as they blasted into the darkness.
     She didn't scream when they lifted, but gasped and struggled to hang on as they fell into the black tunnel, debris and fluttering fire spraying around them, smoke dashing up the shaft towards the higher floors.
     For an instant, they seemed suspended in a candlelit haze, floating freely among the fireflies as the embers lit the immediate area around them. Rose could see the shaft, its thick steel cables and it's brown brick walls, a girder that the elevator locked onto when it came to rest on the floor, and then the fireflies were gone and they were falling into the blackness.
     She would have screamed if she could have breathed, but the concussion and the shockwave had torn the breath from her. There was only the blackness and the great huge coat fluttering madly about her as they spun out of control towards the bottom of the shaft many stories below.
     The spinning was by design, though, for the blast had thrown his aim off, and he had been unable to capture the cables in his ready hands. So he bent his body, trapping air within the coat in a mad attempt to slow their descent by even a fraction of a second as he reached out for the cables that were their only hope for survival.
     When he caught one he wrapped his whole body around it, praying that the woman could stand the jolt as they slid along the steel thickness, that her weight didn't pull her from his back and toss her into the abyss below. His boots and gloves found purchase and he held with every muscle burning with exertion to slow the slide, while all the time she clung to him so tightly it felt like a vice clenching around his chest.
     Near the eighth floor, he was able to gain control of the fall, and it was around this time that the final explosion ripped through the fifteenth floor and a blaze of flame poured through the still-open elevator doors above them. He felt her breathe deeply, and whispered to her, “Don't let go. I've got you.”
     The heat and flame from above reached out for them, but he slowly slid further down the cables, careful to stay in control of the descent, to maintain his grip, to get them to safety. The smoke was roiling above them in the shaft, and he knew it would soon fill the entire dark tunnel, cutting off their ability to both see and breathe. He worried that she would not be able to maintain her grip much longer.
     Had Rose not believed that he could do this, she would have been unable to keep her grip the entire long drop, but she did believe in him. He was unstoppable. He had to be. She questioned for a moment if he was even human, so methodical and invulnerable he seemed to be, but she could feel his heartbeat pounding in his chest, the gentle rise and fall of his steady breathing as he moved them down the elevator shaft to what she could only pray was escape, and safety.
     After what seemed an eternity, his boots touched onto the solid foundation of the roof of the elevator car, and he was able to convince her that she could let go of him.
     When she did, she found herself unable to stand, and she collapsed in a heap onto the roof. The exertion he had maintained the entire way down had obviously cost him dearly, for he also was incapable of the strength to continue, falling beside her.
He reached a trembling hand out to her, and she could see that his gloves had nearly been shredded by the cable. He touched her face, and in the same, carefully controlled voice, he asked if she was alright. She could only nod.
     He stood carefully, and walked across the car, until he found what he was looking for.
     It took him four mighty stomps to put enough force on the trapdoor that it swung down, and then he lowered her carefully into the elevator car itself.
     It was in the lobby, but the power had been shut down when the first explosion had torn through the fifteenth floor. The box was dark, and the controls were frozen.
     He slumped against the doors for a moment, and she knew he must be exhausted, as she was herself. She reached a hand out into the darkness, to show her support, that she understood, maybe...maybe just to feel his presence, but her hand touched only the cold metal of the door, just inches below where a fire axe tore through the steel.

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