When he couldn’t cry anymore, Chike sat up. He felt an odd clarity now, like he’d cried everything out; his fears, his worries.
She’d said he wouldn’t get out, right?
Well, she wouldn’t get out either.
Slowly but methodically, Chike searched the kitchen with his eyes. They settled on two large cylinders in the corner, close to the door. He wiped his face as best as he could, then pushed himself off the floor and slowly made his way towards it. On a counter on his left, he saw a lighter. He stopped, stared at it, sighed heavily, and picked it up. He put it in his pocket. He felt like an old man. He continued walking till he stopped in front of the cylinders. His mind felt empty and full at the same time, light and heavy.
One after the other, he dragged the cylinders out. They were heavy. He unlocked the kitchen door and then walked out into the restaurant. It had stopped snowing. Snow covered the tables and chairs in small drifts, but it didn’t go beyond the counter. The little girl was still there. So was the darkness. But Samuel’s face was no longer there. Chike was a bit relieved. He looked outside. Nothing had changed. Then he saw two students walk past, towards the library. He smiled regretfully, then turned to look at the girl again. He nodded and went back into the kitchen. Dragged the two cylinders out and dropped them behind the counter, facing them outward, towards the restaurant, the girl. Went back into the kitchen. Searched. Found a steel rod. Took it with him and went back to the cylinders. After three hits, the top of the first cylinder came off. The second one needed four. He dropped the rod into the growing pool of gas, then jumped onto the counter and rolled over to the other side. Came down. Checked that he’d not spilled any gas on himself.
Then he walked forward.
The snow crunched beneath his feet, but Chike didn’t think about anything. He just continued walking until he stood a couple of feet away from her, then he stopped.
“What’s your name?” he asked the little girl. He looked down; his phone was barely sticking out of the snow.
“Lily,” she said.
He looked back at her. Nodded. “Okay. Lily. You said I won’t leave here. I don’t dispute that. You have turned my world inside out.” Chike sighed. He thought of a Pilgrim, felt like one. He felt like a Pilgrim with a heavy bag o his shoulders. “You trapped me in here. But you also did something you shouldn’t have done.
“You defiled the memory of my friend.”
Chike stretched out his hand. Lily put her hand in his, and he held it. She felt very cold, and very dead. Chike nodded again.
“What do you want to do?” Lily asked. She sounded coldly amused.
Chike turned, saw the spreading damp as the snow melted in the liquid gas. Turned to her. Took out the lighter. Flicked it on. The flame danced in his eyes and he stared at it, as though in a trance.
“Nothing you do now will make any difference, you know. You are coming with me.”
Chike nodded. He was doing a lot of that now, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything anymore. “I know. But I’m also going to make sure you don’t come back here.”
Faces swam in his mind; his parents, his two younger sisters and his only brother who was going to be 12 in a month. He stepped back, still holding onto Lily. She followed, the look of cold amusement still on her face. He stopped when he turned and saw that he was just a couple of feet away from the dampness in the snow.
His father, waiting for him back home.
“So sorry guys,” Chike said, sorrow breaking his heart. “I’m gonna miss you.”
Chike threw the lighter behind him, then gripped Lily by her shoulders with all the strength he had left. She just smiled.
The WHUMP! of the flames startled Chike, but he didn’t dare look back. He just held on with all the strength he could summon. Even when the heat got closer and his neck began to feel warm, he held on.
The fire alarm went off.
The glass exploded.
The fire reached Chike.
He held on.
The water sprinklers activated, and the flames only got bigger.
Chike screamed. But he held on.
Lily’s amusement turned to confusion, then panic, then fear, as she looked down and felt her skin getting hotter.
Chike fell to his knees. Was it possible that someone could feel this much pain?
He held on.
Lily tried to pull away.
Chike hugged her, like a long lost sister.
She screamed, and their screams rose in a crescendo of agony; the screams of lost dreams, of pain revisited. The screams of the dearly departing.
They both fell into the sea of flames…
“Yeah, they found him holding what looked like a burnt child’s dress.” The two guys were sorting through the burnt rubble, fully covered in protective gear. The fire of the previous day had claimed the life of one student. He’d been too late in the end, and the building was not going to be used for a very long time.
“I still don’t understand,” Jim, the second guy, said.
“Yeah me too,” said Thomas, the first guy.
The fire-fighters had not been able to save the burning boy, and this did not sit well with the school, as well as the International Student Community.
“One of the fire-fighters I was talking to,” Thomas said, “told me that he was sure he’d seen two people in the flames. The second person had looked smaller, like a little child. Hell, they’d even found the boy with what looked like pieces of a burnt dress. A little girl’s dress.”
Jim looked at Thomas, unsure of what to say, shrugged, then went back to work.
A whisper in Jim’s ears. “I told him he wouldn’t get out.” He looked up sharply, eyes darting about. “Did you hear that?” he asked Thomas.
And then, the childish laughter…