Holding a cloth to her face, Elena crossed from the room to her father’s office, her silk nightgown too heavy for the temperature. The smoke caught at her throat and caused her eyes to tear up. It was hard to breathe… She tried not to panic; it wouldn’t help. She just needed to find her way down. But everything was so hot, she wasn’t sure where to go.
She called for help, her voice muffled by the cloth and smoke. She approached one of the windows: maybe someone would see her. She tried to grab the latch. And screamed. The iron was burning hot leaving a scar on her hand. Still she didn’t let go. Despite the unbearable pain, she pulled and opened the window. And fell. The air breathed in more fire. She screamed. She called.
“Please! Help me!”
Was she going to die? She didn’t want to die. Where was her father? Why wasn’t he here? She wasn’t supposed to leave the house… She was too sick and father had been clear. But none of the servants responded.
The fire had spread throughout the city, the canals not enough to contain the fire to one of the sections. The entire town was burning and most of the inhabitants had taken refuge on the small boats; all the Council members and their families had been whisked away onto the island further down the laguna. Jaime watched as all their city history disappeared in the conflagration. That was when he heard the screams. From one of the merchants’ houses, a window opened. He could hear a female voice calling for help.
It must have been crazy but he rowed towards the house. He couldn’t moor at the main door, so he paddled towards the side door, which thankfully was accessible. He pushed it open and penetrated the hot furnace. It was stupid. He didn’t know her. He might be too late. But he couldn’t let her die without trying. He found the stairs: by some miracles they hadn’t collapsed yet. He took hold of the ramp and walked up calling for the woman who’d begged for help.
“Senorina, where are you?”
He heard a rasp… A few meters farther, he found her lying down, nursing her hand, breathing with difficulty. Her bracelet caught his eyes for it gleamed in the night. Silver. He pulled her up: such a frail creature. She couldn’t be more than 10 years old. Gently but surely, he led her to the stairs. To be pushed back. The fire had done its work; it was no longer safe. What would he do? Was he going to die? Were they?
“Back Seniorina, back.”
She didn’t fight him, holding to him. He stepped back towards the window. Now it was opened, the fire had receded around it. It was the only way.
“Can you swim?”
She shook her head.
“Hold onto me then.”
She laced her arms around his neck; she really was small. He stood on the ledge and jumped. She screamed in his ear, a deafening sound. The water was a welcome coolness but he knew not to linger. One could catch an ague if they spent too much time in the dirty waters of the canal.
He swam back up. No! The girl had let go. He turned and turned. Despite the red lights of the fire in the night, he couldn’t see her.
“Seniorina” He called.
“Help.” The sound was drowned by the slapping sound she made with her arms, trying to stay above the water.
He grabbed her and swam back to the boat. He pushed her in and then pulled himself up. She was shivering, her clothes soaked with dirty water. It wasn’t long before she started trembling violently.
He rowed away from the houses and once they were a little further on the laguna, he moved closer to her. She was burning but trembling. He tried to take her hand but she wouldn’t let him. She must have burned it when she opened the window. Her eyes looked feverish. She was struggling to breathe, the smoke in her lungs too thick and toxic. He knew what that meant. And she knew too from his gaze.
“I will die won’t I?”
She was too young… He should lie. And yet, he’d always hated it when his parents lied to him because they thought he couldn’t understand. He nodded.
To her credit she didn’t cry, which made it hard for him not to. She only asked him to hold her and sing her to sleep like her mama used to. So he did… He grabbed the small cover at the back of the boat and wrapped her in it. And he sang. The world collapsed around him but all he could do was watch as she faded away. When her breathing slowed to a stop he cried.
This little girl’s father wouldn’t know what happened to his daughter. Unless…
He took her hand; it was burned raw indeed. But the silver bracelet at her wrist looked different from anything he’d ever seen. It looked a little like the clock watches some of his patrons possessed only it was set on a bracelet. What a curious contraption. Maybe, just maybe, he might be able to reunite this little girl with her family, or at least tell them what had happened to her.
In response to the Daily Post writing prompt Frail