David Brook opened his eyes. He was lying on a wooden floor and he could smell burning. Pushing himself up on one arm he noticed that there was a sticky blotch on the floor where his head had been and then, with a wince he realised his head was cut above his left eye. In a fit of pique he wiped at the mark on the floor with his shirt sleeve and then stopped suddenly, not wanting to get his school shirt covered in blood and have to explain to his mother how it got there when he got home.
Suddenly, sound returned to him like hitting a brick wall. He could hear the fire now, roaring in his ears, the crackle of wooden beams, the sharp tang of burning paint and varnish. Looking around he saw that he was in the middle of Gym A in Upper School and couldn't remember why he was there. This was his free lesson, he was usually in the common room now trying to pluck up the courage to speak to Michelle Goldman. Curvy and good looking, funny as hell and to top it off, massive boobs. All the lads had a soft spot for Michelle, or maybe a hard one. A falling plank of wood snapped David from his reverie of funny Jewish girls with tremendous cleavages. How did he get here?
Looking across the gym he could see that the apparatus bars were ablaze with hot red and yellow fire, black smoke rushing up to the roof which had caught too. The paint on the wooden slide out bleachers blistered and popped in the heat. As he looked, part of the roof started to groan and crashed to the floor in front of the double doors that led out of the gym. Now he had no way out and it was getting very, very hot.
He remembered that standing up when there was a fire was a bad idea, something to do with hot oxygen and stayed crawling on the floor. He could see a place in the corner of the gym by the equipment cupboard a space where the fire hadn't spread. Knowing that was his only option now he crawled as fast as he could to it and made himself small as he could. He sat on his backside looking out at the fiery gym in front of him through his knees. There were windows around the top of the gymnasium about twenty feet up. Where the fire was at its fiercest, they had smashed or shattered, but he would be burnt to a cinder if he tried climbing the apparatus bars over there. The bars here hadn't yet caught though and he thought he would try his luck. It was either that or a very dark and fatal skin tan.
As he stood up, he saw out of the corner of his eye the door of the cupboard crack open and heard a girls panic stricken voice.
"David! David Brook!"
David turned and saw the face of Kirsty James in the crack of the cupboard door. Behind her Jane Beazer hovered over the shoulder of her best friend. Jane and Kirsty were never seen apart. Best mates since nursery school and very popular girls at Newey. Part of the cool crowd that David orbited like one of Jupiter's minor moons.
"David! Get in here!" shouted Kirsty.
He crawled as fast as he could across the floor into the relative cool safety of the cupboard. The equipment cupboard was a room built into the back of the gym with no windows. There were a couple of vent bricks higher up in the wall which was about 10 feet in height. The vent bricks provided a little light from the bright spring morning outside, but most importantly fresh, cooler air. They all stood up. In there were mats, baskets of balls, bats, pommel horses, vault boxes and all sorts of other sports equipment. A germ of an idea started to take life in his head when Kirsty slammed the door shut and hissed desperately:
"How are we going to get out of here?"
Jane, face blanched white in fear and panic, groaned "Are we going to die?"
David was momentarily surprised. They were actually looking to him for some answers.
Kirsty looked at him with tears in her eyes. "David, what are we going to do?"
The aforementioned idea kick started in his head and kicked out all sense of fear. He could hear his father in his head saying "Sometimes son, you have to be the person everyone else looks to. Even if you don't want to be that person." David used to think his Dad was full of a lot of old toot most of the time. He resolved to listen to him more at the dinner table.
"Right." said David. "Right then."
Kirsty and Jane looked at him expectantly.
"Ok, this is what we have to do. I need to find one of those big climbing ropes that we hang on the ceiling by a hook and a cricket bat. A heavy one. I'm going to climb up the bars and tie the rope to the top by the window. I'll smash the window and then help you two climb up and jump out onto the grass outside. Then I'll go last. We have to do it as quick as we can because of the super heated oxygen. It's really dangerous up high. You'll have to take a deep breath at the bottom and go for it. It's really risky, but its that or maybe die in here. Alright?"
The girls nodded. Jane already clutching the rope and Kirsty the bat.
"You know lots about fire." said Jane
"My old man is a fire officer in his factory. He goes on about it all the time." David shrugged.
Throwing the rope over his shoulder and grabbing the bat, David opened the door of the cupboard and ran for the bars. The heat was fierce in the gym now and he sensed they didn't have much time. Gulping air near to the floor he climbed the bars as fast as he was able. The rope was thick but he was desperate and managed to knot it tight. Threading his leg around the apparatus bar, he swung at the window. The bat made a crack in the glass and seeing this David swung again harder. The third time the pane gave and smashed outwards. He could feel cool air and hear the distant sound of sirens.
Rushing back down he realised the fire was creeping closer to their end of the gym and knew time was running out for them. Most of the ceiling had given out at the other end of the gym and through the smoke he could see blue sky. Shouting to the girls he ushered them out of the cupboard and onto the apparatus.
"Hold the rope! Pull yourself up! Quickly!" he shouted.
The girls were terrified. Kirsty reached the top first and swung herself onto the window ledge.
"It's too far down!" She was weeping now. "I'm scared!"
"You have to jump! Bend your knees when you land! You can do it!"
She looked back once then pushed off and was gone from view. Jane was next, she got to the sill and needed no encouragement to jump as another piece of the roof crashed to the ground. He was halfway up and noticed that his cut was bleeding into his eye. He felt weaker and weaker with every rung he went up and was coughing now, but he dragged himself to a sitting position on the sill to see Jane and Kirsty on the grass outside the gym calling to him.
"Jump Dave! Jump now!"
He was about twenty feet up from the grass. His vision was beginning to blur and his head was heavy. He pushed off the sill and felt his ankle crack as he landed. He tried to sit up and saw in the distance people running to where they were. There were teachers and two ambulance crew. Firemen running with a ladder. A bit bloody late now, he thought.
Kirsty saw his ankle and said "You better not move. I think you have broken it."
"What were you doing in the cupboard?"
Kirsty put a finger to her lips and flashed a packet of ten Silk Cut in her inside blazer pocket. "What were you doing in there?"
"I don't know." David still had no idea how he got into the gym.
"I think you are very brave Dave." Jane laughed nervously. "Brave Dave! Ha ha!"
Then the people were upon them asking questions and making room for a stretcher. That's when David passed out.
David Brook opened his eyes. He was on a stretcher being carried to the ambulance. The head teacher Mr Jones was jogging by one side with Kirsty and Jane on the other. Kirsty and Jane were talking nineteen to the dozen.
"... he is so brave Mr Jones. We'd be dead if it wasn't for him... shot up those bars like a rat up a drainpipe..." Kirsty wasn't stopping for breath.
"...knows all about fire safety and everything..." chirruped Jane
"What's going on?" David's head felt muzzy.
"Hello Mr Brook." this was Mr Jones, he called all the pupils Mr or Miss. "You are quite the hero you know. I have called your parents and they are on the way to the hospital. You have taken quite a bad fall and the paramedics think you have broken your ankle. You get yourself all sorted out and I'll call by your house to talk to you when you are feeling better. Maybe in a week or so. The police will want to take a statement from you at some point too. I'll speak to your parents about that."
Mr Jones smiled. "You have had a trying day Mr Brook. Go and get better."
As the stretcher was pushed into the ambulance he saw Mrs Benjamin, the Biology teacher running across the yard. She stopped by a bench and was calling to Mr Jones. It looked like she was crying. They stopped in conversation and Mrs Benjamin pointed to the entrance of the gymnasium, around the front of the building. Two police officers were walking over to them over with grave looks on their faces. Mr Jones went white as a sheet and sat down hard on the school bench, hand shaking over his mouth. David heard but couldn't see Mrs Benjamin say "...she's dead Martin! Elaine Jarvis is dead!"
The ambulance doors shut with a slam.