‘Where Dylan been?’
Already tense, Dylan closed his eyes and counted to ten.
‘Where Dylan been?’
Damn. It didn’t go away.
‘I went out. With Will.’
‘Bathroom.’ Dylan turned to his bed and started rooting under his pillow for his pyjamas. ‘Go away now, please.’
‘What the hell do you know?’
‘Puzzle know Dylan. Puzzle know you.’
* * *
‘I cannot believe last night, mate! Of all the bars in Bridgeport, we had to go into the one where out of four other people there, one of them was your bitch ex. What are the chances!’ Dylan bristled as Will clattered his plate of toast onto the table next to him, irritatingly bright eyed and bushy tailed.
Dylan had a headache. Dylan felt a little bit sick.
‘I know, right.’ Wincing a little, he took a mouthful of cereal and forced it down. Maybe that winning streak hadn’t been such a good idea after all.
‘Still, we’ll have to do it again sometime. Well, on a busier night!’ Chuckling, Will took a bite of toast as Alan strolled in.
‘Now then, lads! Did you both have a good weekend? I hope you’re both in a fit state for duty!’
‘Ready and willing, sir!’ Will beamed. Dylan smiled weakly.
‘That’s what we like to see here! Though I’d prefer it if you had your boots on, Dylan,’ Alan said sternly as he clocked Dylan’s bare feet under the table. Dylan groaned inwardly.
‘Sorry, sir. I’ll go and get them.’ Glad to be pushing his cereal away, he tried to hold his head high as he walked from the kitchen and up to the dormitory. Sighing, he sat down on his bed and began to pull his boots on, before jumping out of his skin as the alarms went off. The category B alarm.
‘For gnomes sake! Not right now, please!’ Kicking a book across the room, Dylan ran out onto the landing and went to slide down the pole.
The shrill shrieking caught Dylan by surprise; he lost his grip and fell backwards from half way down.
‘Dylan? Puzzle scared!’
‘Not now!’ Picking himself up, Dylan went to run through to put his kit on, but was pulled back by a sharp tug on his arm.
‘No! No go, Dylan!’
‘Is scary! Too scary! Dylan going to be in danger!’
‘No I’m not! I know what I’m doing!’
‘Dylan just fell!’
‘That was your fault!’ Angrily, Dylan wrenched himself away from Puzzle’s grip. ‘I’m fine!’
‘Dylan need Puzzle! Puzzle scared!’
‘I don’t need you!’
Throwing one last infuriated look in Puzzle’s direction, Dylan turned on his heels and ran through the door away from him, the sound of his peculiar companion’s wailing echoing in his ears.
Dylan and the rest of the firecrew saw the smoke billowing from the property several tense minutes before actually reaching the house. It was one of the small houses on the edge of Bridgeport, the street of detached properties a far cry from the built up skyscrapers of the city centre. As the fire appliance pulled up outside, Alan ran out to the shaking woman who was stood dangerously close to the building.
‘Is this your house, madam?’
She nodded frantically. ‘Yes! My boy, my little boy! He’s still inside, he’s upstairs! He couldn’t get out!’
As Alan tried to calm the distraught mother, Clara quickly briefed her charges. ‘Right, Alan and I will go in first, try and fight back the flames so you two can get upstairs. The primary objective is to get that boy out safely! Alan! Let’s go!’
Will and Dylan watched as their superiors ran through the front door brandishing their extinguishers, waiting on tenterhooks for the signal for them to head inside too.
‘Good luck, Dyl.’ Will flashed a nervous look at his colleague. Dylan gulped.
‘Cheers. You too mate.’ Neither would say what they were thinking. This was the most ferocious blaze the two young men had ever seen.
‘Move, move, move!’ Clara’s bellowing voice raged over the crackling flames. Will ran in first, clearly resisting the urge to turn from the wall of heat that hit him as he sprinted through the door.
Dylan didn’t move as fast. He felt as if his feet were stuck to the path, as if his legs were suddenly lead weights.
‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’ A familiar voice rang in his ears. Dylan shook his head trying to clear it, crying out ‘no!’ before dragging himself into the house; the shrill voice inside his head dissolved into a childish wailing.
‘Dylan! Get upstairs! We’ve cleared a path!’ Clara yelled as Dylan entered the burning room. Scanning the area, Dylan saw that he didn’t have much time; the fire was already catching on the wall paper above where the burnt carpet was too wet to carry the flames. Taking one last look at Clara as she turned back to battle with the fire, he turned and fled upstairs onto the landing, the already oppressive heat worsening as he rose with it.
Jumping, Dylan looked around for the source of the noise. To his horror, he realised that the carpet around him was starting to catch fire. The lights on the ceiling had exploded with the heat radiating from downstairs.
Running through the door the voice was behind, Dylan slammed it shut behind him and turned to see Will and the hysterical child. ‘You found him!’
‘Did the lights go? Did I just hear the lights go?! Oh, gnomes! Dylan, we’re in trouble!’
‘It’s fine, Will! If we’re quick we can get the fire out and get out of here; if we keep the boy between us -‘
‘No, Dylan! You don’t understand! My bloody fire extinguisher isn’t working!’
Dylan’s mouth gaped open at his friend’s confession. ‘Will, are you kidding?!’
Shaking his head, Will started to pace the small bedroom frantically. ‘I must’ve picked up a dead one without realising. I didn’t check it!’
‘Bloody hell, Will!’
‘I know! I know, Dylan, you do not need to lecture me! For gnomes sake, what the hell are we going to do?!’
Frowning, Dylan tried to think of a plan, his thoughts invaded by the sound of the little boy sobbing and the raging fires.
‘Right. I’ll go out onto the landing and try and clear the fires there, then call down to Alan or Clara to come and help clear the stairs. The wallpaper was starting to go when I came up, gnomes knows what sort of a state it’s in now. When I give the all clear, you can guide the boy out down the stairs and out the house, get him to the ambulance if it’s here, then get one of the back up extinguishers from the appliance and get back in to help us. Okay?’
Shaken, Will nodded dumbly. Adjusting his helmet, Dylan prepared his extinguisher and walked over to the door. ‘Right. Here I go. Remember, don’t open the window, it’ll pull the fire towards the door. Wish me luck…’
Before Will or the screeching child could say anything, Dylan burst through the door and turned his extinguisher to the flames.
The fire had advanced considerably in the old house; not built to the same standards as modern structures the owner had not been able to afford improvements to slow the spread of fire, resulting in the small flames that had landed on the carpet less than five minutes previously erupting into the fierce pyre Dylan was now confronted with. Sweat poured down his face as Dylan fought valiantly to quell the flames, his face contorted with effort.
‘Dylan! Dylan, what’s going on out there? Are you through?’
‘Not yet, Will, give me chance! For gnomes’ sake, let me get on with this!’
‘Dylan, the fire’s too strong! Come back in here, we’ll go out the window!’
‘We can’t! The fire’ll get drawn to the fresh oxygen, you idiot! Have you forgotten that as well as how to check your equipment! Let me get on with it!’ Furiously, Dylan turned back to his losing battle with the flames, his vision blurring a little.
‘Dylan, go back!’
‘Not you! Not now!’
‘I have to do this! I have to save them!’
‘You don’t! You need help!’
‘Well I haven’t got any! I have to do this by myself!’
‘What the hell can you do to help?!’
Dylan’s head began to swim, the heat truly closing in around him. Every breath was a struggle. ‘No! You can’t… I have…’
Taking a step backwards from the odd creature, Dylan dimly realised that he was walking towards the fire. Stumbling, he tried to pull his weight forwards to head back to the door. ‘Will!’
‘Will no help! Will the reason you’re here! Alone! Dylan alone!’
Puzzle seemed to diffuse into the flames as Dylan tried to focus his vision; his orange body and yellow arms blending into the approaching blaze. Dylan shook his head. The sight before him was fading… The orange, the yellow, the reds, all fading…
‘Dylan!’ Vaguely aware of a hammering from behind the door, Dylan grasped futilely for the doorknob and missed, falling backwards, his head crashing to the floor. ‘Will…’ His voice was hoarse, nothing but a dim croaking, the arid smoke parching his throat as soon as he opened his mouth.
‘Dylan!’ That call was closer, he was sure of it. This side of the door. Fading… Everything was fading, going white…
‘Dylan! Dylan!! Help!! HELP!!’ Again from this side of the wall… A terrified screeching pervaded Dylan’s woozy brain, the pained screams bounding through his mind. Trying to open his eyes, he was vaguely aware of a writhing figure stood by his feet, flames seeming to dance through the air…
He could do nothing. He was powerless.