“Get up. Please. It won’t hurt. Much.”
Groggily I opened my eyes and felt pain surge through my leg. Wincing, and the memories flooded back.
“Where is she?” I asked. It couldn’t be real.
“She’s dead, Noah. Stand.”
Feelings piled up inside, like a massive car collision. You can imagine, but they all came to a halt with regret. I let my best friend save me. We should both be alive right now. No. The fire should have never happened. No one would want us dead. At least no sane person.
“Did they find who started the fire?”
“No. No one started it, boy. It was a natural forest fire, and there’s no reason to think anyone would want either of you dead. If you want to blame anyone, blame God, which doesn’t sound like a good option.”
Oh right, like those are reassuring words, nurse.
Three raps on the door. The nurse walked over and swung open the hospital room’s door, revealing a woman in a black suit, decorated with necklaces and super tall heels. She had a clipboard and laptop tucked under her arm.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Pregler. A moment?” Formal. Ugh, can I just try to remember my friend who i’ll never see again, please?
I talked for a while about what Maddie was like, and how the fire happened. I tried to convince her i saw someone else while we were out there. But she didn’t believe me.
“Noah, I know this can be hard for you to understand. You want to blame someone. Any teenager would want to. But you can’t. It was natural, from what the investigators say. Now how’s your leg?”
“It’s burned. It’s fine.”
“Alright. I’ll be off. Maddison’s funeral is tomorrow. I’d be glad to take you, if you’d like.”
“Thanks for the offer, I’ll think about it.”
She got up and left, thank god. Except I’m angry at him, so I thanked the devil instead.
I didn’t eat anything that night. I couldn’t. All my thoughts were on Maddie and how much I botched up. Sleeping was hard, but eventually this restless state gave way to dozing off.
“Noah. Noah I can’t reach you but wake, please!”
“What?” I groaned, but it came out more as a “mhuuu?”
Turning over I found myself in a void. That jolted me awake.
“Where am I? Who are you?”
The place was definitely not what I imagined a never-ending vortex would look like. It wasn’t time- and spaceless. In fact, it seemed like all time was in this spot. It was pulsing with energy and I was reminded of many memories from many times. Four years ago, when I won the Lego building championship, all the way back to fifteen years ago, when it was my first birthday. Everything in life was crystal clear again.
But the place itself was just a school hallway, complete with off white linoleum floors, and lockers that used to be white. Light brown doors flanked every fifteen lockers. Through the windows on the doors I couldn’t see squat. They were all clouded inside.
The hall went down pretty far, ending with some, what appeared to be abandoned, construction equipment. A fire extinguisher sat next to me in a glass box. At the very end I saw three glass doors, the light shining through, brightening the corridor. It was so bright I couldn’t see outside.
I leaped off my bed, surprised. Then I realized I was walking through a school in a hospital gown, which might not be the best idea. I turned back to grab a blanket, but the bed was gone.
“Noah! Look up, the lights. You’ll be able to see me there.”
I glanced up, confused. But there, suck in a light panel, was Maddie.
“What?! Maddie! How’d you get in there?”
“You’re trying forget me. I ended up here after . . . Look, this isn’t the best time to explain, but you’ve got to get me out!”
I looked around. How was I supposed to reach a fifteen foot tall light?
The construction site.
I raced to the end of the hallway, which took longer than expected. It didn’t seem very long, but then again, I was dreading the plank walk in a hospital dress. Luckily, no one saw me.
There was a ladder. It cold and metallic to the touch, but it would get Maddie down from the lights. How the hell did she even get up there?