Page 65 of Starlit Skies

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Then Mic’s screams reached his ears, and he’d rushed around to the other side of the car. He froze, the terrible scenebefore him too dreadful to process. Precious seconds wasted as his friend burned.

Nash had tried. He’d reached in and undone Mic’s seatbelt and then, when the flames had got too bad, he’d ripped off his T-shirt to protect his arms and tried again. But he hadn’t been strong enough to rescue Mic. The only reason he’d survived was because the constable had pulled him out.

The heat from the flames devouring the shed were like a brand to his skin. The scars on his arms and legs throbbed in sympathy.

He couldn’t do this. He hadn’t been strong enough back then, and he’d failed his friend. And he wasn’t strong enough now, either. He took a step backward, away from the flames.

But there was no one else. Nash was alone. If he didn’t rescue Skylar, then no one would. He couldn’t let her die. If she died, he wouldn’t survive the aftermath. Part of him would die, too.

He forced his mind to think, forced his logical cop brain into action, pushing the frightened teenager to the back of his thoughts.

The door wasn’t an option. There was a small window in the back. He ran around the building. The flames hadn’t reached the back wall yet. The window was at head height, and possibly big enough for him to crawl through. But how would he get Skylar back through if she were unconscious? He kicked at the metal wall in frustration, but his foot hardly made a dent. That’s when he noticed a seam, where two sheets of steel were joined, right below the window frame. A weakness. Could that be exploited?

He looked around for something he could use; the flames cast more than enough light for him to see by. There were pieces of old, rusted machinery scattered everywhere among the ruins. An old car sat amongst the acacia shrubs, slowly falling to pieces fifty meters away. He ran over to inspect it. The car was so old it even had a metal bumper, which was lying on the ground infront of the wreck. Nash scooped it up, and using it much like a battering ram, he ran at the back wall of the shed. His first hit shattered the glass in the window, and plumes of smoke billowed outward. His second hit caused the corrugated sheeting to crack and fold inward near the window frame. He continued to batter the same spot repeatedly, ignoring the rusty metal slicing into his skin until his palms became slippery with blood. The window frame cracked and collapsed inward, widening the opening.

“I’m coming, Skylar,” he shouted. Could she hear him? The roar and crackle of the flames was becoming so loud he could hardly hear himself think.

With one final, almighty thrust, the bumper broke through the wall, with Nash crashing in after it. Nash expected the flames to light his way once he was inside the shed, but the air was filled with dark, choking smoke, making him cough raggedly. Roiling and black, so that he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. But he didn’t need to see, he remembered exactly where the bed was; to his right against the side wall. He felt his way along in dark. It was like the pits of hell in here, so hot the sweat dried straight off his skin.Please let her still be on the bed.He was coughing uncontrollably.

His feet hit something on the floor, and he tumbled forward.

Skylar. She must’ve rolled off the bed. He felt around her body with his hands. She was still bound and gagged. But there was no time, he needed to get her out. Using the fireman’s lift, he hoisted her limp body over his shoulder.

Up until now, he’d been ignoring the pain in his thigh, but Skylar’s weight almost buckled his leg with the strain. With a roar of rage, he used every ounce of strength he had to take one step and then another, maneuvering out through the gap in the busted wall.

They were free. His breath was rasping in his throat, and he sucked in great lungfuls of clean air, still coughing.

Moving as far away from the burning shed as his leg would allow, he gently lay Skylar on the ground and sat back on his haunches.

“You’re safe now,” he rasped, carefully removing the tape from her mouth.

But Skylar didn’t respond. Her eyes remained shut, her body limp.

She wasn’t breathing.

No time to think. He fumbled with the rope around her hands, taking too long to undo the knots. Then he rolled her onto her back and tilted her head back and commenced CPR.

Thirty chest compressions. Two quick breaths. Repeat. The training had been drilled into him. He’d had to use CPR just the other day on an old man who’d collapsed in the middle of Dimbulah’s main street from a heart attack. But this was different. This was the woman he loved.

“Come back to me, baby,” he chanted between the pumping motion of his hands.

After five cycles, he stopped to check for signs of life. Resting his fingers on her neck, he felt for a pulse and listened for breathing over her mouth.

Nothing. A sob escaped his lips.

He started the cycles again. “Come back to me. I love you,” he chanted over and over.

There was an infinitesimal movement of Skylar’s eyelids.

He lifted his hand from her chest and watched for signs. Was her chest moving?

She coughed; a sound so slight he might’ve missed it if he hadn’t been watching for it.

“That’s right, baby,” he encouraged.

She coughed again, and her eyelids fluttered. She was coming back to him.

He cradled her head in his hands and stared down at her face as her eyes slowly opened. “It’s okay,” he crooned. “I’ve got you. We’re safe.”