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Friday, January 25, 2008

Fiction Fridays: Until the Fever Breaks (part 3)

continued from part 2

A loud crash echoed through the mall as Susie followed her father across an open concourse. A few shoppers near her shrieked in response, and she heard other shrieks from further away, muffled by the building's clever acoustics. Her father looked around, and then reached behind him to grab his young daughter's hand -- only it wasn't there.

Almost before the crash was heard, Susie had rushed over to the nearest railing. Looking down on the lower levels, her button nose squashed against the glass guardwall as she searched eagerly for the source of the excitement. By the time her father felt the first twinges of panic, realizing she was not where he expected her to be, Susie was already running down the escalator, her tiny voice piping up with "Excuse me! Excuse me!" as she pushed past the other riders.

As he moved, the heat returned. Each pounding step stoked the furnace under his skin. With no way for it to escape past the layer that encrusted him, it continued to build. Rohit wasn't sure how much more of the stifling heat he could stand, but a deeper fear told him not to stop moving. Better to burn up, consumed from within, than to be bound forever, aware but unmoving. He opened his mouth, feeling the crust crumble at the edges, and gulped at cooler air. It made little difference, with the heat inside him overwhelming the relief before the breath ever reached the depths of his lungs.

Frustrated, he roared, a wild and unfocused sound that he barely heard over the pounding of his feet and his heart. With the release of air, though, came a release of the smothering heat. Astonished, he slowed almost to a stop. A bigger breath, whistling through his nostrils, filled him up. Then he pushed, driving the searing air from his chest, past his quivering vocal chords, and out to the world. The focused yell tore away some of the burning inside him, keeping his internal conflagration from blazing out of control.

Susie heard the second yell as she stumbled to a halt at the bottom of her third escalator. While others on the floor were running, screaming, panicking in the face of that massive noise, to Susie it sounded like a cry for help. It reminded her of the lion in that story from the Bible, the one with the thorn in its paw.

She'd made it down to the right level, but the mall was a long range from end to end. She was already winded from her rush down three flights, pushing and squeezing her way past a forest of legs and bums. Now she could see that she'd be going the wrong way from everyone else, as the frightened mob raced to escape the source of the craziness.

A momentary break in the flow got her to a bench in the middle of the concourse. Climbing up, she saw that the row of benches went all the way along. At the end, she saw a quick flash of rusty orange over the heads of the crowd. She'd got her breath back, and now she knew where she was going. With the kind of stubborness that made her mother smile and frown at the same time, she pushed ahead, holding onto the benches and garbage bins for support and protection.

Once his head cleared a little, Rohit's fear of seizing up forever pushed to the fore, and he picked up his pace. A moment later, he was stopped in his tracks, driving head-first into the most solid thing he'd ever encountered. Around him, he heard a faint rumbling, but the fog of his vision made out only a towering darkness. He turned, fearing that this stop might be forever, and kicked hard at the ground beneath him. For a moment he was airborne, then he landed, leaden feet stumbling beneath him as he fought to forge ahead. He heard the scream of shattering glass, sharp and biting in his ears, but felt nothing of the shards that surely must have pelted his skin.

Susie made it to the last bench. Panting, she climbed up onto the seat, and stared. At a distance no bigger than her front yard, a huge lump of crusty, dried out plasticine, orange and red and brown all squished together, slammed into a giant steel beam. Black, glossy paint nearly hid the rivets in the angular pole that rose four stories up to the roof of the mall, far above. She felt the whole building shake, and chunks of concrete fell from the ceiling, smashing into the space in front of her.

Beside the beam, the orange lump, which she realized now was shaped a lot like a person, had stopped. She watched it curiously, squinting against the rising dust. It seemed to look around, and then up at the dark pole, and then down at its feet. Then it jumped, away from what had stopped it, crashing through a glass store front as it landed. Susie turned, following the lump's progress, pulling absently at the front of her shirt.

continued in part 4


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