Dragons roared, and the skies were filled with fire. Below, thousands screamed as the fire stole from them, and dancers with foreign writing on their arms and legs put out the fires slowly, but they were few in number, and could not work quickly. The one that tried was burnt alive.
People and animals fled wildly before the dragons. The dragons landed and continued to set fire to the land and its people. Some people, they instead ate in great gulps.
A girl with writing on her arms suddenly rushed forward to try to stop a dragon from swallowing a family.
With a gasp, a young man woke from the strange dream. He was covered in sweat. His alarm clock was making an annoyingly obnoxious buzzing at him. He panted as he looked around. He was in his bedroom. He pulled his blankets back over himself and reflected. It was the same dream he had every Monday morning. With a sigh of aggravation, he threw his blankets back off and began to yank some skinny jeans and a tight shirt onto his skinny, still-sweaty body. To cover the stink, he spritzed himself with Febreeze. His job was just to pick up heavy things and put them down elsewhere. It was his job to avoid the public eye.
He wrote a few details from his dream into an open journal before he pulled a hat and jacket on and left his single-room apartment. Time for work.
As he trotted down the stairs, he tried to recall which area he was assigned today. He paused at the apartment complex door and looked out. It was bright out there.
It was four in the morning.
He squinted and stared for several long moments before he realized why. Most of the buildings were on fire.
His pupils constricted, and he clenched his fist. He looked back into the building. He hoped it wasn’t burning. He dashed up the stairs. “Wake up!” he roared with a voice hoarse from panic and underuse. “Wake up!” he pounded at every door, and as he came to a fire alarm, he yanked it.
He stood still for a few long moments. No alarm. The system was cut. He ran to his room and grabbed the leftover air horns from a friend’s party a month back. He grabbed as many as he could and ran to the upper floors. He shouted as loud as he could and blared the horns. He could smell smoke now.
His fists slammed into every door, and those that didn’t get a reaction, he kicked repeatedly, or tried the knob. As people emerged, he explained that the entire neighborhood was on fire, and handed out air horns as he continued to bang doors and shout until his voice was hoarse. The people he saved made a cacophony of noise, and soon enough, only the young man in his skinny jeans was left on the top floor. He paused as he heard crying. Someone wasn’t up. He quickly searched for the door and began to ram into it with his shoulder. The crying became louder. It was someone’s brat. “Wake up! Kid! Wake up your parents!” He shouted. “There’s a fire! Find your safe point!”
The child cried more. Eventually, the door gave out, and he was met by a wall of heat. This apartment was covered in flames. Next to the door, a little girl sobbed in her footie pajamas. She was singed and dirty. He picked her up and began to cough as the smoke hit him. “Where are your parents?” he demanded. She pointed into the flames. It would be a lost cause, to dash in. “I can’t save them. I’m sorry, kid. There’s too much fire.” He dashed down the stairs with her and soon found the lower floors empty. Only when he found all of the floors empty, did he leave the building. Outside, he saw a crowd of charred corpses. He stopped short and waited inside. He gripped the child tightly. Going out would be a death trap. Staying in meant burning to a crisp. He tried to look out, to see what kind of bombs were dropping.
Instead of bombs, he saw a spray of fire. He caught his breath and shielded the child’s eyes. Whoever was out there was watching the front door. He looked around. The fire hadn’t yet spread to the ground floor. He was thankful for that much. If he could find a spot where fire and smoke couldn’t reach, he’d be happy to just wait until a rescue arrived, but he didn’t really know where such a place was. Finally, he covered the child’s mouth. “Shh, can you be calm right now?” he asked the distraught child. “It’ll be ok.” he lied. “We’ll get somewhere safe, but I need you to be quiet so I can listen. Can you do that?”
He wasn’t going to tell her that her crying could get them killed.
He wasn’t going to tell her there was only the slimmest chance they’d get out alive.
The little girl quieted. “Mister…” she murmured as she clung to his neck.
“Just call me Jack.” He forced a smile. She had a sweet little voice and trusting eyes. Jack had a strange feeling that even if he didn’t make it, she had to. “What’s your name?”
“Emily.” she answered. “Emily Analise Norman.” She smiled brightly, proud of herself.
His smile became genuine. “Well, I’m Jack Arnold Harris.” He set her down and pulled a broad-tipped sharpie from his pocket. “And I’m going to put a mark on you that my friends outside will know, and they’ll be able to keep you safe, but you can’t show the mark to anyone, unless they show the mark to you, first, or I tell you to show them, ok?”
The little girl nodded. Little Emily looked confused as he unzipped her booted onesie and drew a symbol on her chest. It would eventually wash off. He showed her the tattoo on his own chest, and she smiled.
“It means we’re close like family.” he explained as he zipped her pajamas back up and pocketed his marker. Finally, he picked her back up. A crack resounded overhead, and he ran into the kitchen. He had only a moment to look out the door before the floor behind him collapsed. It was now or never. He dashed into the back alley and leaned over Emily.
The docks weren’t far. He dashed for the water. They could hide under the docks, at least for now. He began running in that direction, then turned suddenly as the flaming docks came into view. There was only one choice now. He ran in the shadows of buildings, near flames, until he came to a stretch of open beach that ended in a cave opening. Tide was in. The opening was covered in water. He looked upward. Nothing. He dashed forward. As he approached the water, he spoke again. “Take a deep breath!”
Almost on cue, Jack heard a roar behind. He looked, and regretted it.
She took a deep breath, and he covered her mouth and dove into the water. There! The cave! The water just above them heated horribly and quickly. He swam in clumsily and struggled. There was a high point, safe from the chaotic tides, just inside.
Jack emerged and shoved Emily onto the dry ground. She began to cough and shake. She was cold, and her pajamas were soaked. He pulled himself from the water next to her and stripped her pajamas off. He removed his shirt and hugged her to try to warm her. She held on tightly and sobbed helplessly in his arms.
Now, all they could do was wait.
He could have sworn he saw a massive dragon when he looked back. Was his mind playing tricks on him?