Chapter 1: Nightmare
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Song: (Secession Studios- The Untold)
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Orange stained skies- it was hell, or at least what I imagined hell would look like.
The building before me is encased with flames, glowing brightly in the mass like a halo of death.
Everything feels like it’s going in slow motion, the screaming, the falling debris, the speckles of ash, and the chaos... so, much, chaos-
I don’t even realize I’ve moved forward until long fingers latch onto my forearm, sinking deep.
“No.” He says.
Just one word.
Thomas doesn’t have to say anything else.
I just know.
The line that stretches between us is thinning out like a fraying rope, inevitable and impossible to stop.
“I can get her out,” My shock is still unreal and the adrenaline in my system numbs the overall surprise. Somehow the words still come out, chalk-filled with grief. “I can get her out-”
“You can’t,” He speaks into my ear, leaning down so both his arms are around me, securing my body to his chest. The action is not to comfort, it is meant to put me in place.
“Let me...” I struggle to speak. “Let me help her, I have to help Hailey.”
“Stop,” He commands, tightening his grip further to the point that I feel my arms lock up. “I need you to stop and listen to me.”
My nails dig into his arms, forming indentations.
“If you go in there,” He breathes, the curve of his brows narrowed with wavering patience. “You die, do you understand?”
Thomas grasps my face and forces me to look into his blazing eyes. “You, die.”
I can feel my heart as it thudded in my chest and the logic that is my sensibility wavers between listening to him and running into that damn fire.
“She’s in there...” Is all I managed.
“I know, I know she’s in there,” He nods rapidly, squeezing my cheeks. “But you can’t save her.”
I can’t save her...?
“The fire will kill you, if it’s not that, the smoke will.” Each word is punctuated with facts and logical conclusions.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say. “You don’t know anything, we haven’t even tried, we haven’t even-”
“Ginger,” Thomas inhales sharply and grapples to take control of the descending turmoil despite the hush to his tone. “I need you to focus on what I’m trying to tell you.”
It didn’t matter if he was trying to put my mind at ease because the voice inside my head is growing louder and louder, to the point where I can’t hear anything, but it.
“Hailey... is in there.”
No, I cannot understand what he’s trying to tell me. I want to ignore it, I want to block off everything he’s saying because deep down inside I know he’s right.
He’s right and I don’t want it to be true.
“You can’t go,” He mutters vehemently, almost in pain. “-whoever blew up the penthouse did it for a reason-”
"Don’t ask me to abandon her, Thomas Moore!”
A secondary explosion.
It shook the ground, made the world tilt and heave.
Thomas grabs my arm and pulls me to his chest, forcing us to duck low as a rain of hot ash sears the air. “Fuck!” He curses.
Through his arms, my eyes can hardly focus on falling debris as it hit the crowd filled with reporters and civilians. Innocents, go down with barely any time to react, disappearing into the cloud of red and orange smoke.
“Vanessa!” Thomas lost his grip on me when the civilians swarm all around us, screaming, pushing, running with terror and devastation.
A reporter’s camera slam against the side of my head, startling my frozen form into hunching over, hands over my head.
I don’t know where Thomas went or if he’s safe, my focus is on the shadows I see dancing before the pavement.
They look like clawing streaks descended from hell itself-but there’s no way this much destruction is possible, there’s no way this horror is true.
How could it be?
Bile rises from the back of my throat because through all that noise, through all that confusion, and through all that pressing agony of disbelief... I realize... Hailey may be dead.
Perhaps that is what made me stand back up, perhaps that, is what made me fight against the pushing bodies, perhaps that is what made me run-
Run towards the apartment that is my home.
She has to be. She needs to be.
I’ll drag her back down from the afterlife if I have to.
“Hailey!” My field of vision is a mixture of orange hues and black smoke when I halt in the center of the road.
It’s hazy, the smell is suffocating and the heat feels like it may get me before anything else.
Where is she?
Is she still inside?
Is she safe?
“Put out the fire!”
“Keep people away-”
“Move the dead to the side!”
Commands and order fill the air as a group of Firemen runs past me, hoisting a ladder and a long connecting pipe.
A raspy cough escaped out through my throat as I squint, hoping to get a fix in processing where I was.
I’ve come across a limp body on the ground.
A man, from the looks of his ashy fingers.
Even though a white tarp had been draped over him, I still see the vibrant red blood as it seeps out from beneath his body.
Did he jump off the building to escape the fire?
What if Hailey’s one of them?
“Miss?!” A fireman approaches me from the left, wearing a black oxygen mask and carrying a red luminescent bag. “You can’t be here, this area isn’t safe!”
“H-Have you seen my friend?” My voice shakes, I can barely hear it as I speak, stuttering. It seems like a joke to ask this question. There are so many things going on, how would he know what I was talking about?
“She’s blond... tall, with green eyes...?”
I fought to remember what she wore and realize in agony that I couldn’t remember a single thing about her attire.
“You have to evacuate the premises! We don’t know if the building is rigged for another explosion-”
He pushes me, his large burly hands grasping hold of my arm.
Several policemen are trying to retain order in vain but there is no law here, there is no control, there is only mayhem.
“My friend-” I can barely breathe through the smoke. “Have you seen my friend, did she come out?”
“You have to leave!”
I can’t leave her.
So I fought.
I fought as hard as I could because no one was going to stop me from saving my best friend.
“Miss, please!” The fireman begs as my struggle succeeds and I’ve gotten away. “You can’t be here-”
He reaches out but I’m already stumbling blindly into the smoke, coughing and gasping for air, not a damn given.
“Miss, come back! You have to come back!”
I hear his shouts echoing.
Ashes are falling all across the ground, embedding in my hair, turning the red strands a mucky brown.
My eyes hurt when I spot the entrance of the apartment. The glass doors are shattered and the lobby is completely upturned and destroyed.
How am I suppose to get in there?
How am I suppose to save her?
“Hailey-” I take a quivering step-only to be thrown back when a piece of concrete from above fell and shattered right before me.
The blowback is intense, I feel every part of my limbs ache with fresh bruises, giving way to the suffocation in my lungs.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I used my forearms and turned on my front, hoisting myself in a half-crawling and half-dragging way.
I can’t give up now.
My body fails despite my determination.
I can’t give up.
The tips of my fingers cease movement.
A garbled sound erupts from my throat. It’s a sound of frustration and resentment.
I know I’m not a superhero, I know I’m not some invincible being, I’m fragile, I’m human, I’m weak, but all of that doesn’t matter because I have to save her.
I have to save Hailey.
“You always treat yourself like some sort of tool, you always see yourself as someone that can just disappear and no one will care, but guess what, I care! Everyone in this room cares! You’re not Red Devil or the Queen to us, you’re Vanessa Vail, my friend! My best friend!”
Why did I hear Hailey in the moments when I couldn’t get to her?
The burning at the back of my throat makes me gasp. I clutch at it, surprise that I can no longer swallow.
This is not the way I’d imagine myself choking.
The buzzing in my ears is unbearable and by the time I realize what is happening around me, I feel strong arms wrap around my waist to curl over my abdomen.
I’m lifted over their shoulder with great effort.
I think I passed out for a moment because I can’t remember what happens after.
Only a voice.
A muttering tone, angry and frustrated, filled with anger.
“Goddamn, idiot-” That deep voice reverberated out through his back, pulsing by my ear as I loll weakly over his back.
He trips on rubble, nearly falling both of us over in his haste to escape. A grunt escapes his lips, his whole body trembling in exertion.
I don’t know how he found me.
But he did, despite knowing the risk of death.
“Stupid,” I rasp.
“You’re one to talk,” He huffs, panting for air, only to receive mouthfuls of smoke. “I swear if we die, I’m dragging your ass to hell with me.”
“I’m the one t-that should be saying that-”
“Over here!” The same Fireman I ignored earlier has interrupted our unneeded banter. He rushed to our sides and places an arm around Thomas, shouting something I cannot hear, not with how loud the roaring of the fire has become.
The heir of Graymoore responds with something equally heated, however, my focus is askew.
“W-Wait,” I cringe at the hoarseness of my vocal cords. “We need to find Hailey.”
“What was I thinking? You’ve never cared about what I said before, so why would you hear me now?”
“We can’t leave her,” I watch helplessly as I’m drawn farther and farther away from the inescapable flames, flames that boil deep at me with regret. “She needs us, Hailey needs us, please-”
“I’m heading home,”
Stabbing pain is hitting my heart over and over again.
“Do whatever you want, Vanessa.”
The icy numbness flowering through my veins feels indescribable. It’s the type of numbness you can’t put to words.
Was it possible to feel the proverbial crack in one’s heart?
Was it possible to feel grief despite not knowing if you have anything left of your soul to give?
The strain of my body as my adrenaline depletes marks the beginning of exhaustion. I’m going to pass out when my best friend needs me the most.
What a joke.
This is truly, so very cruel.
“Give me that thing-”
My world tilts for a minute when I’m put down on the ground and Thomas’s shadow encompasses my frozen figure. He’s moving behind me, reaching for something.
I look up only for a medical band to be put over my face.
“Put this on,” He commands, not letting me protest before the thing is around my mouth and nose, forcing clean air to rush straight into my lungs.
I gasp as though I’m drowning.
Thomas puts a hand over the back of my head, his fingers running through the strands firm enough in reminding me to breathe slowly but normally.
My vision is returning.
The first thing I see is Thomas’s blue-green eyes encase with blatant aggravation.
“You’re out of your mind,” He says first, breathing heavily. The side of his face is smeared with soot and his navy blue suit, once clean-cut is missing a jacket and a tie. “Did you think you’d have made it?”
I can’t think.
The wash of calm that spreads throughout my veins from the oxygen mask is only temporary.
When the horror has set in and terror has reached its limit, all hell will break loose and I will be right there, watching as it happens, experiencing it step by step like some sick slasher film.
I start to shake.
Because this is too incredible, this is too unfathomable, this is too much, this isn’t happening- “She went home.”
The burning at the back of my throat, the soreness of my lungs, couple it together and you have a broken-pitch record resounding at the back of your head, repeating over and over like someone’s screaming.
“She said she was going home, she’s home, she’s up there, she’s-” I must look psychotic, demented, unorderly in every sense of the word.
“This isn’t real, I need to wake up from this fucked up dream, I need to wake up.”
“You’re not dreaming,” Thomas squats beside me and reaches for my ash-covered fingers. “This is real and you have to hold on until we understand what’s happening.”
Why should I?
If this isn’t a dream if this isn’t some twisted thing my mind conjured up and all this is real, what’s going to happen next?
“If you don’t control yourself now...” He squeezes my hand tight and I feel the absolution in his next sentence. “You’re going to regret it.”
I regret a lot of things.
I regret not being there for Ethan. I regret falling into Jonas’s arms. I regret being so selfish, so self-absorbed, so stupid into thinking I could control it all.
All that talk about change, all that talk about being powerful, about being in command, about ruling as Queen, I was so naive.
Then that coiling darkness within me that’s always there, always waiting to drag me back to its depths abruptly fizzled out and evaporated.
There was nothing.
I didn’t know which was worse.
“You’re right, this isn’t a dream.” I look up at the building that was once my home, falling deadly silent.
The trails of fire that furls at the edges of the windows in the penthouse look like coiling snakes as a single glass pane broke free from its sill.
I watch it fall, hitting the pavement, cracking the glass, and finally shattering into a million pieces.
“It’s a goddamn nightmare.”
And I can’t wake up from it.