I strip my shirt, trousers and socks and leave them in a pile at the foot of the bed. It’s already a state in here so what difference does one more outfit make? I close my bedroom door and hear the click that tells me it has closed properly. I’ve always slept with my door shut. Although I live alone now I’ve always made sure the door is closed. I guess it’s a comfort thing; a coping mechanism maybe? Almost like closing that door indicates to the world that I am closed for business.
I fumble for the light switch, and the room is plunged to darkness. My walk to the bed is only a few paces, but I always take those steps cautiously, as if I’m walking an untrodden path. I feel the warmth of today’s clothes around my feet as I trudge to my bed. Eventually I walk into the mattress, and feel it against my knees. I clamber in, and pull the cover to one side. I never sleep under the cover. I sleep on my front with my left arm hanging out of the bed, touching the floor.
As I nuzzle my face into the pillow I can feel myself drifting off. The thoughts of the day fade from my mind as I begin to doze. It takes a few attempts before I fall asleep properly. I do that thing where I feel like I’m falling and wake with a start, you know that feeling? I get that most nights, and the sensation never feels better. But after a little while, I fall asleep.
A sound startles me awake.
I roll across the bed to my alarm, but it’s not that. I check the time in robotic lettering: 03:16. I’m not due up for another 3 hours or so. What was that sound? Maybe it was outside. I decide to leave it and go back to sleep.
But there it is again. A crack; a bang. Has something fallen? Or worse: is there someone in my house? I begin to feel panic rising in my stomach. Am I being burgled? What if they attack me? Should I hide in here? Should I confront them? What if they take my things?
Suddenly I notice a glowing under my bedroom door. I wouldn’t have left the light on. Would I? I don’t remember switching it off… but I always switch it off. There must be someone there. I decide to approach the door silently and peek out onto the landing to catch the intruder in the act. I weightlessly walk across the bedroom and reach the door. I stop and take a deep breath. Am I really going to do this? I take a moment to convince myself, and I’m ready.
I grab the door handle, hard. I recoil instantly, my hand stinging from the heat. I look at my hand and see that the skin has already started to burn and peel away. I’m watching my flesh melt before my eyes. Why is it so hot?
I touch the centre of the door, and I can feel heat through it. I lay on the ground with my cheek to the floor, and I spy through the crack under the door. That’s when I realise. I can smell the smoke billowing in the hallway. “Shit”, I think silently. I look around the room for something to protect myself. I end up grabbing my trousers from the day before, and I wrap them around my hand like a bandage.
I go back to the door, and I use my bandaged hand to pull the door handle gently. I can feel the heat of the door on my face. I really don’t want to do this. But this is the only way out. My house is a two story building above a supermarket. Jumping from the window is not an option. Falling four stories to the concrete of a carpark below is just as terrifying as tackling this fire. I pull the door open slowly, and regret it instantly. The flames are licking the walls. The carpet has lit up, the picture frames are smashing. I see the picture of my wife explode in front of me, the corners curl and her face disappears in the orange waves.
I slam the door shut.
My only choice is to call someone. I run to the side of my bed, where I keep my phone. I grab the device and open my phone book. She is the first contact I see, but I can’t call her. Not even now. I keep scrolling. Names upon names roll across the screen. So many friends and family, but none of them can help me.
I catch myself after a minute and realise what I’m doing. Obviously I should be calling the fire service. I pride myself on my ability to keep a cool head, usually. I never panic. I never react. She used to hate that. I would be calm in all situations. My face would remain unmoved regardless of the news I’d received. “I love you”, blank face. “I do”, blank face. “I’m leaving”, blank face.
I fumble for the call button, and hastily dial for help. Just as I raise the phone to my ear, I hear that annoying little jingle it makes when it dies. Of course I’ve got no battery now. I go to grab my charger, but it’s downstairs. I close my eyes and try to think. There are no options here. My choices are rapidly disappearing.
I run to the window and bang on the glass. I used to hear the youths in the carpark all night, but last winter I had the glass reinforced to block out the sound. I’d slept marvellously since then, and didn’t regret spending the money to make the change, until tonight. I scream for help, and bang hard on the glass. I can see the teens sitting I their cars below me. But none of them look up. None of them can see what’s happening.
I turn back to face the room. It’s filling rapidly with thick, grey smoke. I need to protect my face. Breathing too much will surely be my demise. I just need some thinking time. I wrap a shirt around my mouth to protect me, and instantly feel better. I’ve bought some time. I don’t have long, but I have longer than I did a moment ago.
Suddenly I have a eureka moment. I took my phone charger to work with me. It will be in my work bag. I rush to my wardrobe, grab my bag and empty the contents on the floor. Sure enough, there it is. I’m ecstatic. I could kiss myself. The only plugs in my room are by the head of the bed, where my alarm is plugged in. I dart across the room and put my phone on charge.
The seconds it takes for the blasted thing to light up feel like days. The longest moments of my life. The room is thick with black smoke now. I realise my shirt is no longer protecting my lungs from the poisonous air. I get into bed, and pull the covers over my head. I find myself thinking of the happiest times in my life. Playing in the garden with my younger brother; riding my bike with no hands for the first time; laughing so hard I began to cry with my friends; meeting my wife; our wedding day. I am giddy with the memories. I feel light headed.
I pull the covers tighter over my head. I can feel my eyelids drifting shut. I can feel my mind slowing down. My memories sto