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Here is a short sample from the book:
I smelled smoke.
My initial reaction was to roll over and simply fall back asleep—to return to the post-haze of dream during which time I had been running out of a burning building—but when the fire alarm went off, causing the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck to rise, I knew something was wrong.
“FIRE!” I heard my parrot screech from the living room. “FIRE!”
It couldn’t be—not here, not in this apartment.
But all the smoke—
It took only a fraction of a second for me to bolt from the bed and make my way into the other room—where Scottie, the Amazon red-crowned parrot, was screeching up a storm.
“Fire! Fire! Fire!” the bird screamed, frantically flapping his wings inside the cage as if the currently nonexistent flames would consume him at any moment.
“I know,” I replied, trying my hardest to keep calm while my parrot continued to scream bloody murder. “Everything’s going to be all right. Everything—”
The parrot was reduced to hysterics in but a moment, his screams piercing the near-quiet of the night and causing my ears to ring. Panic pumped through my bloodstream—both at the sound of my pet’s distress and because I could not find the source of the fire—and as such caused me to lose track of time. Moments seemed like minutes, minutes like hours. Desperation took hold as I fumbled for the latch that opened his cage, then as I reached in to grab him.
“NO NO NO NO NO!” the bird screeched. “NO NO NO NO NO!”
“It’s okay, Scottie,” I said, taking hold of the parrot and pulling him close to my chest as I made my way toward the apartment’s front door. “Everything’s going to be fine. Everything—”
I recoiled as a plume of smoke belched from underneath the front door.
Outside the door.
How were we supposed to escape if we couldn’t even get out the front door?
I swallowed a lump in my throat as I turned to the nearby window. The fire escape was there, tempting me with its unholy passage, its trembling heights. I knew little of its condition or how well maintained it had been over the past few years of my residency, but regardless, I couldn’t bother to wait.
After tightening my hold on Scottie, I made my way to the window, wrenched it open, and set the bird on the balcony outside. “Stay,” I urged.
“Fire!” the bird screamed.
“The fire’s not gonna get you out here,” I replied, trying my hardest to remain calm. “I have to grab one more thing. Okay?”
I tried to contain the blossoming panic in my chest as I turned and made my way to the nearby dining room table, whereupon my laptop—complete with all the writing I had ever written—sat. I instantly grabbed it and made my way toward the window—where Scottie, desperate as ever, flapped his wings and instantly stepped up onto my finger before frantically crawling up my T-shirt and onto my shoulder.
“Go!” the bird said.
“I’m going,” I replied, looking down at the stairs below me.
I couldn’t believe it—could absolutely, one-hundred-percent not believe it. I was on top of the fourth-story fire escape and was expected to crawl down with both my parrot on my shoulder and my laptop under my arm? How was I going to do this?
Rather than debate on how I would accomplish the goal, I decided to take the incentive and began to make my way down the metal stairs. Barefoot and only in my pajamas, Scottie on my shoulder and my gleaming white laptop under my arm, I shivered as a quick gale came up and stirred the white-blonde hair atop my head.
Though I could not see where exactly the fire had started, I deduced it had occurred somewhere on the fourth floor, as the further down I went, the clearer the air became. An enormous relief lifted from my chest as I realized we were out of immediate danger, but the further down we went, the more I began to dread potentially falling off the fire escape.
The stairs—they were rocking.
The frame—it was shaking.
The metal beneath my feet, rusted as it was, looked ready to burst at any—
I had just pressed my foot down onto the next step when the next section of the fire escape gave out below me.
“Shit!” the parrot screamed. “Shit!”
“Scottie!” I cried, more out of habit of disciplining him for swearing than anything. I stumbled back and landed with enough force to jar my tailbone and stir tears from my eyes.
The bird continued to chorus No no no no no! as above us the fire continued to burn, as the flames quickly consuming the fourth floor began to encroach upon my apartment.
All my clothes, I thought. All my stuff.
I shook my head.
I couldn’t start worrying about material possessions now. Besides—they were mostly books. Lots of books. Thousands of dollars worth of books that I’d collected over the course of the past ten years, books signed by authors who were dead or retired or otherwise indisposed.
I shook my head, then, as the sound of approaching sirens began to draw near. “Hear that?” I asked Scottie, cupping my free hand to my ear as I adjusted the laptop in my grasp. “That’s the firemen. They’re going to come and save us.”
“Now!” the bird cried.
I hope, I thought to add, but didn’t, less I terrify both myself and the bird.
Below, the dilapidated fire escape continued to shift, groan, bend as the corroded metal morphed and snapped. Then it fell—hard—to the alleyway below, creating a cacophony of sound that caused people watching from across the street to turn their heads.
“Help!” Scottie cried.
“Are you all right?” a woman in a winter coat called.
“We’re trapped up here!” I called back. “We can’t get down!”
“No no no no, no no no no!”
I cupped my hand to Scottie’s body and drew him close to my neck in an effort to both calm and warm him. Eventually, his screams faded, turned to whines, then sobs resembling that of a toddler. I couldn’t help but shed a nervous tear myself over the predicament we were in.
If the fire continued to spread—if it jumped floors and started to burn through the third and second passages—then there would be absolutely nothing we could do.
The sound of the approaching fire truck was enough to stir me from my thoughts. I watched the massive red vehicle as it made its way down the road and toward the apartment complex—hoping, to God, that they would hurry and save us before it was too late.
“See the fire truck?” I asked, pointing toward the vehicle. “They’re coming to get us!”
“Now?” the bird replied.
“Now,” I said. I stood and raised an arm, waving my hand about the air as the men and women inside the vehicle began to disembark. “Help!” I cried, to which Scottie added a Help! of his own. “We’re trapped up here!”
“Wait one moment sir!” a man called back. “We’re coming!”
A pair of men came forward, dragging a ladder alongside them.
I watched in feverish anticipation, sweating both from nerves and the sweltering heat slowly descending upon us, as one of the men began to scale the ladder and make his way toward us.
“Sir!” the gentleman called as he approached, his features mostly obscured beneath the helmet and mask he wore. “You’re going to have to pass your belongings to me.”
“I don’t know if I can reach you,” I said.
“Try,” the man urged.
I extended an arm, laptop firmly in hand, across the space separating us, and sighed as the man’s hand locked around my computer. He passed it to another individual below him and then extended an arm out to me.
“Take my bird first!” I cried.
“Sir,” the fireman said. “We can’t afford to wait.”
The fire escape shifted as part of the brickwork wall began to collapse.
“NOW!” he commanded.
With as much caution as I could manage, I slid one leg over the railing, set my foot down on the opposite side, then slid my other leg over before extending my hand to him.
He grabbed my arm.
He tugged me forward.
The ladder below us shifted as our combined weights weighed it down.
“Hold on!” the man cried, so close to my ear that I thought for a moment he would deafen me.
The parrot bobbed his head and began to dance upon my shoulder as the fireman helped me begin to descend.
It wasn’t long after we started down that the fire escape began to tremble.
“It’s gonna break!” the female firefighter below said.
“Move the ladder!” the fireman holding me in place cried, tightening his hold around my abdomen and pulling me against his hard and muscled body.
Scottie screamed as the metal above groaned from the efforts of years of neglect, then cried out as the rolling ladder began to shift to the left.
The metal holding the fire escape snapped and then collapsed the structure a moment later.
“NO!” Scottie screamed. “NO NO NO!”
“We’re fine!” I cried. “We’re—”
The ladder bowed to one side.
The firefighter pressed me to his chest, our bodies melding almost perfectly together. “Start descending,” he said. “Now.”
I did—slowly, cautiously, with the intent of a sloth moving through the rain forest. It seemed like it took the pair of us forever to descend—he in his thick boots, I in my bare feet. My toes were frozen and the bottoms of my feet felt as though they would slip at any moment, such was the precipitation developing along the ladder’s rungs. I somehow managed to maintain my grip—assisted by the fireman’s strong arm and gentle, reassuring hand—and continued to scale the ladder as calmly as I possibly could.
Soon, we were on the ground—cold, shivering, and desperate for warmth in the frigid chill of the night.
“Thank you,” I said as I turned to face the fireman.
He pulled his helmet off.
His face was revealed.
Dark green eyes met me beneath a pair of thick black brows. “You don’t have to thank me,” he said, his teeth appearing from a mass of well-trimmed facial hair. “All in a day’s work.”
“How can I repay you?” I asked.
“No need,” the fireman replied.
“At least tell me your name.”
“It’s Dylan,” he said.