She couldn’t see.
Amara’s legs were weak with the exhaustion of trying to find an exit; she stumbled blindly along the corridors of the apartment complex. The air was filled with thick smoke that wrapped around her throat with a deadly grip. Heat from the floor licked up her legs and she swore that never again would she use anything that required heat.
After all, this was all her fault.
She’d left the stove on, went to take a bath, and came back to her worst nightmare. Even before the smoke was evident, she couldn’t breathe--her heart felt like it could burst out of her chest. Her eyes had gone wide with sheer terror. Everything she’d ever learned about what to do in this situation fell out of her mind like a toppling Jenga tower. Amara was rooted to the spot until the claustrophobic warmth made her move.
And then she bolted.
She heard voices calling from somewhere outside, but she didn’t know where outside was; she couldn’t find a wall, let alone a window. Amara was running in circles, running out of time, running out of air. So she picked a direction to go toward and dragged herself there. Her legs, limp with the lasting effects of an adrenaline aftermath, dragged behind her. The fleeting thought that she must look like a zombie almost made her laugh, but she was afraid to open her mouth, for fear of the smoke that hung above her head choking her lungs with its poisonous fingers. She felt carpet beneath her fingertips as she clawed her way to what she hoped was a wall, then wood, then she couldn’t go forward anymore.
Amara had found a window at last. She heard the voices from outside, agitated and loud, like caged animals. Survivors and rescuers. They were trying to find her. She struggled to undo the fastening that held the window shut and finally opened it with brute force. The night air hit her face like a slap of ice, but it was a welcomed slap, a relieving slap. She leaned out of the window and tried to get the attention of someone, anyone, in the sea of people. Her raw throat let out a piercing scream and they finally looked up. She could see them yelling at one another to get the net, “which net?”
“Any net at all, there’s a girl up there!”
She was weightless for a moment; there was nothing but her own ragged breathing and the bright, glowing stars in the inky sky.
But then she hit the earth and everything came back to reality; she was being smothered with blankets, questions, food, water, anything that she could possibly think of. She found herself unable to answer any questions they had or accept anything they shoved in her face. She couldn’t speak. All she could do was stare blankly at the apartment building, tinted yellow, red, and orange.
All she could see were the burning remains of her home.
The home claimed by her fears.