Chapter 2: Save
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Song: (Secession Studios- Poetry of Madness) & (Sam Tinnesz- Far From Home)
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I’m not a religious person.
However, I do believe there is a God out there, somewhere in the wide expanse of the universe.
If there wasn’t then I had no idea how I’ve survived this life. All those close calls and all those hardships, one after another...
People say to pray when you’re grateful but they also mention to pray if you ever need help.
Well, I pray.
I pray with every ounce of my being, I pray with every shred of emotion, every ache in my limbs, every tear I’m holding back, I pray.
I pray that Hailey walks out of that building right now, safe and sound.
“You have to be alive,” My mumblings are lost within the roaring of the flames, within the entrance doors, flourishing in unmistakable heat. “Please, Hailey... you have to be.”
Yet nothing is certain.
The fire started from the penthouse.
What if she’s in there right now? Dead, charred, beyond recognition?
Will there even be a body I can bury?
I grip my head in between my hands and squeezed my eyes shut.
I can’t bear to look, I can’t bear to see.
The uncertainty is lingering in the air, pressing hard in my lungs and making it harder to breathe.
You have to live.
You have to.
“Sir, please you have to remain calm!”
“My wife’s in there and you’re telling me to stay calm?!”
A commotion garners my interest.
In a distance away, the makeshift tent that the authorities have set up for the injured is involved in an altercation. There’s a man wearing office-wear arguing with the people in the front of the tent.
“What do you mean you haven’t found her, she’s on the 8th floor!”
“We haven’t gotten the rescue team that far yet, they’re still sweeping the 5th floor-”
“Tell them to check on my wife! She’s not on the recovery list, so she’s still up there!”
Grimly, I realize that this man’s loved one, like many others, is stuck in the perpetual nightmare that is the unknown, but no matter how much he argues and how much he yells there is no point.
There’s only so much the rescue team can do and miracles don’t happen so easily.
I blink once, spotting Thomas at the makeshift tent, his gaze locked onto several checklists, breezing through them for a name.
When he lifts his gaze to make eye contact with me and shakes his head, my heart sinks deeper into my cavity. It’s the fifth time he’s checked that list, that list that housed all the names of the people living in Mazereen Apartments.
Dead, missing, or found, that checklist would have all the information.
But he hasn’t gotten anything.
Which meant Hailey was still missing, or dead.
The blanket around my shoulders is starting to feel heavy. I took it off and fold it on my arms, hoping the simple task would distract me from the impending fear threatening to swallow me whole.
“I want my Mommy!” A girl shrieks as a fireman carried her towards the nearby ambulance.
They’re close-by that I hear every cry and yell she makes when the fireman puts her down, telling her he had to go and that he’ll be back soon.
When she’s left alone, she bursts into tears and sobs uncontrollably.
The piercing noise makes me grit my teeth. I’ve become all too aware of this frustrating predicament but maybe more so angry that I am rendered beyond useless.
My best friend was missing, my home is on fire, everything is not making sense yet I can’t just sit here and wallow in regret, I can’t just sit here and do absolutely nothing.
What type of person would I be, if I just sat on the sidelines, watching the world go by as though there was nothing I could do to help it, as though I can’t be kind?
Was this really the time to be selfish?
Thomas hadn’t done that.
That’s why he was over there, by the makeshift tent, helping.
His intention had only been to garner information about Hailey, but after realizing how large scale the destruction was, he’s taken to help the injured, doing everything to the best of his abilities to soothe their concerns and give them the inkling of light everyone needs right now.
How could he not?
There were just so many people, so much pain, so much blood, and broken bones, how could you not help them?
How could you turn away from so much death?
Thomas couldn’t ignore it.
How could I?
It’s my own basic right as a human being not to.
So get up.
I use my right hand to force my body up, taking longer than usual as my legs struggle to adjust.
The heaviness is suffocating and even though a part of me wants to run away and cower, I force it back, gripping the last of my self-restraint to do something useful for once.
When I was sure I would not fall over, I took a deep breath and narrows my attention towards the child sitting alone by herself in the open ambulance.
She’s covered her eyes with her hands, leaving her skinned knees and elbows expose to the hot air. She must have fallen when she ran.
I began my approach, hoping my appearance wasn’t so terrible. I didn’t want to scare an innocent child.
“Hey,” My voice reaches her first.
She glances up at my greeting, hiccuping lightly. She doesn’t look any older than 10.
Holding up the blanket, I offer it to her with a small smile. “I found this magic blanket laying on the floor, something told me it belongs to you.”
I sound normal. Good.
“I-It’s not mine.” She sniffles and covers her face once more, breathing rather erratically.
Right, time to kick it up a notch.
Standing closer, I squatted so I was eye level with her and gently held her shoulder. She doesn’t even flinch when I do this, too focused on her own panic and sadness.
“I could have sworn this was yours are you sure you didn’t drop it?”
“It’s n-not my blankie,” Her trembling form makes me sigh with concern. I have to calm her down.
Unfolding the blanket, I let it unfurl around her shoulders, tucking the edges in so she’s fully covered. She freezes at the action and glances up at me, confused.
“What are you doing?”
“I told you it was a magic blanket remember?” I fake a mysterious tone, keeping it playful. “You won’t believe this, but it has the power to stop you from being sad.”
“Yeah,” Nodding, I lift a finger and run it through her dirty blond locks. She must have been so scared trapped in that building.
“But I don’t feel anything.” She mutters beneath her breath, still at a loss.
“Really?” I raise an eyebrow and poke her forehead. “But you’ve stopped crying.”
At that, she gasps and cupped her cheeks. “It is a magic blanket!”
I laugh, unable to believe that an action so simple would make the world feel a little less bleak. “Now that you know it’s a magic blanket are you sure it’s not yours?”
“It’s mine!” As a point, she furiously grabs at the blanket and clutches it tighter to her small form.
A spark of contentment flooded my veins, momentarily icing the heated resentment I held deep inside.
She’s smiling, worries forgotten.
Perhaps this is the start of something I could do, no this is something I can do.
I can help.
Glancing around my surroundings, I find that there are no shortages of unfortunate people that barely escaped the fire.
They are all huddled in different corners of the street and road, some too shock to move and some unable to move at all.
“You think you’ll be okay by yourself?” I ask her, silently ruffling those blond strands. “I have to go now.”
She nods timidly, nose buried into the soft material.
Standing, I reach over her small form and into the ambulance to retrieve bandages. “Stay put. That fireman says he’ll come back to get you, so just follow what he says, alright?”
“You’ll be fine.” There are other people that need my help and I have an obligation to do so. A moral obligation.
Once I was satisfied she’ll be okay on her own, I made my way towards the makeshift tent and to Thomas.
He’s in the middle of wrapping a bandage around a person’s leg when he notices my approach. “Ginger?”
“I...” I stare at him as straightly as I could, hoping the shaking in my fingers would cease. “...I’m going to gather who else is left.”
“You barely made it out earlier,” Thomas ties the bandage and stands from his squatted position, facing me head-on. “-and you’re shaking,” He points out.
Damn it. “I’m not going into the building, I’m just going to help those on the street.”
“There’s no point diving headfirst into danger if you’re only going to become a victim.” He barks.
I am startled by his harsh statement.
Startled, but not surprised.
The man that stands before me, looking down from that lofty height, is not the Thomas who saved me earlier, no, this was authoritative Thomas.
He’s put aside his feelings in order to focus on the bigger picture, that is, the current situation now.
Because that’s what mattered.
Not our complicated relationship, not our troublesome feelings, not our differences.
Saving others is what matters, nothing else.
The heir of Graymoore steps into my personal space and blankly stares, pressing all the buttons within my soul. “Are you sure you can do this?”
The pressure in my chest threatens to burst at his question. I want to scream and yell and point fingers but I kept it in, I kept it all in.
“I have to do something, Thomas.”
We stare at each other as my honest confession stands in the air between us.
“So yes... I can do this.”
I do not know what’s running through his head nor did I want to know. I just wanted to help.
Thomas exhales loudly and surprises me when he abruptly glances over to a figure on his left.
“We have a volunteer,” He tells the woman apparently leading the clean-up operation. “She wants to help.”
The woman looks at me up and down in a hurry, scanning my form with exhausted eyes.
She bents down to retrieve a bright neon tag from beneath the table. “What’s your name?”
“Take this, wrap it around your arm so people know you’re not a civilian. Find any of the injured that’s been spread around here, it’s too much for us to handle.”
I took the tag she gave and did as I was told, securing the bright tag around my arm and letting it reflect.
“The air is too thick so you’ll need to wear the mask, grab a couple more just in case you find someone.” Stuffing the bandages into the inside of my jacket, I took the oxygen masks she offered and shifted my weight so it wouldn’t drag.
“Remember, only save who you can, if it becomes too much get the hell out, understood?” There is no room for argument.
I either save victims or be one of them.
So I nod.
It’s funny that in the darkest times human beings would come together to help. It didn’t matter who they were, what color they are, what differences they have.
You help because you have to and because you can.
I can do this.
Turning on my heel, I am about to exit the tent when a firm hand wraps around my wrist.
“Be careful,” Thomas tells me, those two words holding all the emotion in the world.
Staring at his blue-green eyes, muddled with fatigue and determination, I attempt a weak smile. “I will.”
Just like that, he lets go, allowing me the freedom to make my own choices instead of preventing me from going any further.
That meant more than what anyone has ever done for me.
Taking a deep breath, I scan down the street and walk in the direction of the smoke, knowing most injured would still be trapped somewhere in all that haze.
Just to be safe, I wrap an oxygen mask around my face and trek into the masses, quickly finding civilians strewn around the outer area.
They weren’t too deep into the haze which made it easier to get them out.
I just had to direct them out of the haze and into the open ground. The civilians who sustain minor injuries however were a bit more tricky.
I was only one person.
Although it took a bit more effort and coaxing, I managed to get them on their feet and onto the outskirts of the haze where other rescue officials were waiting.
So far there hadn’t been any other difficulties.
Mostly those that were just lost and trying to find a way out.
But I knew I shouldn’t speak so carelessly. I was only patrolling the outer area of the haze. If there were already dozens of civilians just sitting here, who’s to say that there aren’t any, deeper in?
“Come on Vanessa,” Readjusting my packs, I breathe out through my nose, momentarily fogging the oxygen mask. “We’re not finished yet.”
I’m heading towards the inner ring of the haze, knowing the deeper I go, the more likely things are despicably worse.
Jogging at a steady past, I feel the heat considerably rise around me as heavy ash set across the ground. Several rescue officials and volunteers are going back and forth in between posts.
“Hey,” I stop a volunteer who wore the same tag as I did. “You just came from there, can you tell me what's happening?”
“Firefighters are in the process of putting out the fire and getting civilians out.” He tells me, rubbing at his oxygen mask to clear the fog. “They’re overwhelmed, we might have to evacuate and wait for the helitanker to come and dump the water.”
That can’t be the right decision. “What about the civilians that are still lost in the haze? They’ll suffocate.”
“Then we save who we can.” A glimmer of pain crossed his gaze. “I have to go... good luck.”
He retreats, just as quickly as I’ve stopped him. I watch his back disappear in the density of the fog, marking an ominous point of no return.
Turning to the forefront, I kept track of my surroundings and squinted for any signs of life.
There were one or two figures that I found trapped in the rubble, but when I checked their pulse and found no heartbeat I simply moved on.
I had to force myself to repeat the mantra over in my head.
Only save who we can.
Just as I am about to enter another area in the haze, I quickly stopped upon noticing an older gentleman huddled beneath a bench, breathing.
He’s covered in ash and dust from the fire with the side of his head scratched. It wasn’t bleeding too heavily, so I took it as a good sign.
“Sir, are you alright? Can you move?” I grasp hold of his face and peer at the wound, deducing it was shallow and not life-threatening.
“You’ll need to put this oxygen mask on.” Even when I speak he’s not listening. His eyes are staring blankly, blinking slowly.
Taking one of the oxygen packs, I secured it around his face before holding his hand, feeling his pulse alter to a more suitable pace.
“Okay, I gotta get you out of here, one step at a time and we’ll make it-” The bandage came in handy apparently as I took it out of my jacket and patted the injury on his temple.
He doesn’t even flinch.
“Sir?” I shake him, hoping to spark a reaction. “Did you understand what I’ve told you?”
And I’m not an idiot. Something in his eyes told me just how much pain he had to witness for it to go so dull. “We have to get out here-”
“We were so close to the exit...”
I am swiftly silenced when his voice comes through, huddled and grim.
“My daughter was holding my hand and then she just... pushed me away-”
Confusion prick at my side. “Pushed you?”
The edges of his red eyes brim with tears. “The floor collapsed, swallowed her whole and I couldn’t-see her anymore.”
Those dull eyes peer at me and pierced straight through my soul, revealing a man broken beyond repair.
“Why did I ask her to visit me today? I knew she had work, I knew she was busy, I knew she had better things to do, why did she listen to me?” Sobs racked across his body, muffled by the oxygen mask. “Why?”
Tears are running down his face, his arms are wrapped around him as though to anchor his form into this reality.
I don’t know what to say.
I don’t know what to say to the man that sits before me, riddled with grief beyond comprehension. Words of comfort are useless, words of optimism even more so.
I cannot lie and say his daughter made it out, that she’s unscathed and alive.
No, she was most probably dead.
Just like so many people are.
Ignoring how my heart stings, I wrap my arms around his neck and pulled him close to my embrace, feeling his sadness and pain roll through me like a crashing wave.
He’s crying out so loudly, sobbing so earnestly that I can’t do anything but hold him.
“You need to get up,” I tell him as his tears wetted my shoulder.
The only answer I got was a tightened grip, as though if he were to let go, he’d simply fall right through the floor.
“Listen to me-” Palming at his neck, I force him to level his gaze with mine, our masks so close I can see my reflection stare back. “What was the point of her death if you didn’t at least try to live?”
He sniffled, dark eyes amassed with heavy emotions, all too heavy for one person to keep. “I-I can’t do it-”
“Try,” I nodded slowly, supportively. “You just need to try.”
Because that’s all any of us can do, to make up for the mistakes and the ones we’ve lost.
Distant voices call out to me just meters away. I turn my head, recognizing those silhouettes.
“Vanessa, where are you?!”
“Evan?” I spoke out loud, startled.
Raising my hand, I frantically waved it back and forth, yelling loudly to the colluded air. “I’m here, follow my voice!”
The haze is terrible, I can’t see anything except orange firelight. “Evan?! Evan, I’m over here!”
When nobody responds, I am afraid something may have happened and felt my heart leaped in my throat.
Then, through the haze, they were there.
All of them.
Panting and breathless, attires out of place with their oxygen masks haphazardly thrown on, they were as real as they could be.
Zanthus spots me first. “Guys, over there!” He rushes over, practically tripping on his own two feet.
Several more figures appear right behind him. Each one of them is as familiar to me as I am to them.
“Thank god,” Evan burst out, bending down with his hands on his knees. “When Thomas told us you were in the haze, I nearly had a heart attack-”
“What are you doing here?” Elios cuts in. “It’s dangerous we have to leave.”
Before he could continue any further, he stops himself, realizing I’m in the midst of comforting a stranger.
A stranger that’s now gone quiet, quietly sobbing into my arms.
They didn’t have to ask.
The situation said it all, the equipment I held, gave them the answer they were looking for, the reason why I’m here.
I was here to help.
Forcing myself to be blank, I remain indifferent, feeling the overwhelming emotions creep up on me. “Can you help me take him to the tent? He’s injured so we need to get him help.”
Matthew frowns and I know he’s confused. “Vanessa, what are you-”
“My friends are going to get you to help alright? You’ll be okay.” I tell the elderly man, hoping he understood what I’m saying.
Gently, I push the elderly man’s arms off of me and tried to get him to stand. “Jared, come help me.”
The pressure is lifted instantly as Jared cuts in my view, taking my place so he could hoist the injured man to his feet.
He doesn’t say a word, just stares at me expectantly.
No words are needed.
I gesture in the direction of the makeshift tent. “Get him back to the tent and tell Thomas that the outskirts are clear so I’m going further in.”
Jared doesn’t hesitate. He leaves with the elderly man, doing as I asked without comment.
The others simply stayed where they are, waiting for my next move with heavy thoughts. Their grim stares are more than enough for me to deduce what they’re feeling.
Anxiety, fear, and doubt.
“Vanessa,” Evan’s voice trails off as I feel his gaze penetrate my back. “Is, Hailey...?”
My whole body instantly locked up.
Tears threatened to flow. I can’t answer his question.
I can’t, not because I don’t want to, I can’t because I just don’t know.
“I’m not going to force any of you to do anything you don’t want to.” I turn around, facing the others with an expression of bitter pain.
They exchange glances with one another, saying nothing.
“-but if you’re willing... stay and help me.”
I cannot convince them to do something they didn’t want. This is a matter between one’s soul and I won’t get into that.
Expecting the worse I prepare to go on ahead, alone.
“What do you need me to do?” Victor steps forward and I pause, startled by his demand. His arms are folded, dark eyes colorless under that oxygen mask.
My mouth slips open. “You’ll help?”
He nods, a simple and direct answer.
Unable to conceal the relief that flooded my veins, I let it show and exhaled. “Sweep this area downwards. Find survivors and get them out. If they’re tenants of Mazereen Apartments, let the authorities know. They could do with some help in narrowing the number of names.”
Victor glances in the direction of the street gravely, knowing there was a lot he had to do.
Matthew clasps Victor’s shoulder upon noticing his distress. His silver-hair is tainted with soot. “I’ll go with him, we’ll meet back with you later.”
“Thank you,” I breathe out. “-and please, stay safe.”
That leaves Zanthus, Elios, and Evan.
“Vanessa, are you sure about this?” Elios rubs his hands together, presumably to ease his discomfort.
Shaking my head, I wrung my arms. “Elios if you back out, I won’t stop you. Just go back to Thomas and try to help there-”
“That’s not what he means,” Evan halts my fidgeting, brown eyes flickering with warmth. “We’re asking if you’re okay with this.”
“You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to,” Zanthus added, his words bringing about a new type of intensity. “Let the authorities handle the situation no one would blame you.”
No, no one would blame me.
“I can’t ignore it,” I say, finally. “So if you’re willing...”
I waited for an objection, for someone to walk away, but they don’t object, they don’t move.
They simply nod.
“Alright, what’s the plan?” Evan raises both brows and slips his hands into his pockets.
Zanthus zips up his jacket and gathers the collars up to block his neck. “Pull up your coats or the heat will get to you first.”
“Shit, this is going to get hot,” Elios complains beneath his breath but did as he was advised to.
I stare at the three of them, feeling nothing but indebted.
All of us have experienced so much, we’ve learned, grow, and mature to be individuals that each of us are proud to represent.
We all have different opinions, personalities, and judgments but it doesn’t change the fact that we have the one thing, most don’t.
We have trust and right now, they trust me.
“The four of us will be split into two groups,” I instruct, offering oxygen masks to them so that each of us carried two packs of equipment. “Elios with me, we take the right. Zanthus with Evan, you guys take the left. ”
“We’ll be heading closer to the fire to gather as much of the injured as we can, but if things escalate, don’t do anything rash. Only save who we can. We’re in an unpredictable situation that will only get worse if you decide to play the hero.”
“Got it.” Zanthus rubs at his mask and blinks blearily. “Double back and meet up at the center later?”
“So as long as your section is clear,” I nod.
Grabbing hold of the oxygen packs, I tightened my grip and felt Elios flank beside me as we ready ourselves to split from here on out.
Just ahead of us, the looming shadow of Mazereen Apartments is burning and burning.
Only save who we can.
The mantra is clear.
And I know I can try to help others today, I can try my absolute hardest to distract myself from the death, from the fire, from the absolute madness around me but the fact still remains...
My best friend is missing, my home is destroyed and I’m trying, trying-so hard to hope and hope, some more.
Because everything about this was wrong.
So for my sake and everybody else’s, I am the one that made the first step forward, and then another, until I’m walking straight into the ruins with no intentions to stop.
Because, yes... if everything about this was wrong, if everything about this just didn’t make sense... then I have to be one of the ones that will make it right.
When Elios fell in step with me and his hand gently graze my fingertips as assurance, I know he feels the same.
We have to make it right.
We have to.