|The bright morning light shined through the apartment window, causing the kitchen area to light up as if the angels themselves were about to soar in from the sky. Tony Marston didn’t like the blinding light of the sun this early in the morning, especially when his head felt like it was going to split in half from an overpowering migraine. He rolled himself away from the dining table, careful not to back into anything breakable with his wheelchair. The muscles in his arms ached from sleeping awkwardly on his side, and he was having trouble turning the wheels without sending a sharp bolt of pain from his shoulder to his forearm.
He positioned himself along the window and pulled the curtains in front of the glass, ending the torturous sight of the sun’s rays. “Now I know why doctors say the sun is bad for your eyes.” He was used to talking to himself. He didn’t have any kids, or a wife to keep him company. He was a crippled forty-year-old man who couldn’t get around the house without knocking over a lamp or flowerpot that his chair would collide with.
Ever since the accident, he’s had to sit in his chair all day. Luckily the apartment building had an elevator so he could go out and enjoy the city every now and then, but as for raising a family, that was pretty much over for him. He hadn’t had a date in three years. Not since the accident that ruined his life, and made him useless and pitiful in the sight of others.
The nightmares never seemed to end. That night, smoke and debris covering his face and making him gag and suffocate; the fire spreading through the three-story building. He tried desperately to find that little boy’s mother; he tried everything he could. The whole third floor was falling in, collapsing from the fire and his weight on the scorched floorboards. He had no choice; either both of them would die or just one. He jumped from the nearest window, through the glass, and landed hard on the concrete street below. He woke up in the hospital the next morning; his legs felt as if they were missing. He had been paralyzed from his waist to the tips of his toes.
He shook the thought out of his mind and rolled himself to the bedroom, stopping by the mirror to see how he looked--not that it mattered he thought. His light brown hair was in a frizz, as if he replaced a balloon for a towel last night after showering. He hadn’t shaved today, his five o’clock shadow already visible on his condensed cheekbones. He decided not to bother with the shaving; it wasn’t like he was showing off his looks or anything.
He cruised over to his closet and got out his clothes for the day. Nothing dressy as usual: an ACDC t-shirt, blue jeans, and denim jacket. Getting the jeans on was the hardest part of getting ready, but he always managed with a little patience. After another quick look in the mirror, he grabbed his Tennessee Titans cap and started for the door.
Once in the hallway, he headed down the corridor to the elevator. After a few seconds of waiting, the doors finally opened. However, before he could get in, he was instead being led back by a punk rock-looking teenage boy. There was a grim look in the kid’s eyes, almost as if he was about to do something reckless. Unfortunately for Tony, that’s what was happening.
“Go back to your room.” His voice was low but demanding, deadly. His eyes became more menacing as he spoke. “Turn around and go back to your room, quietly.”
Tony obeyed, not wanting to risk what the guy wanted to do. As he was rolling back to his room, the kid followed like a snake stalking a mouse. He had to be at least nineteen, maybe twenty at the most, and he looked like he hadn’t changed his clothes in over a week. As he was pulling his keys out of his jacket and unlocking the door, Tony was trying to think of any kind of object or weapon he had in his room, something he could defend himself with. The only thing that came to mind was his baseball bat, but it was prompted in his closet in the bedroom. He would be stopped before he could roll halfway through the kitchen.
Once the door was open, the kid shoved Tony as hard as he could into the room. The wheelchair hit the kitchen table, sending dishes and pots crashing to the ground, his hat along with them.
“Please, I don’t want any trouble,” Tony begged. His voice sounded weak. He was too scared of what was about to happen. “Whatever you want, you can have it. I don’t care, just take what you want and leave.”
Tony had a clear view of his kidnapper now. Long black hair that hung close to his shoulders; it looked as if he just got done bathing in oil. His chin was covered in dark curly fuzz, with a ring piercing above his left eyebrow. He still possessed that crazed look in his eyes, those dark brown eyes, as if his mind was telling him he’s gotten this far and there’s no turning back--time to finish the deed.
“Give me the damn drugs,” the attacker demanded, his eyes burning with desire.
Tony stared at him for what seemed like an hour before replying to the kid’s request. “That’s what you are holding me hostage for? You’re kidnapping a crippled man for some fucking painkillers?”
“Spare me your pity, I know you have some.” He started towards the cabinets, looking for Tony’s medicine stash. “People who spend all day in wheelchairs have to have some kind of strong muscle relaxers or something.”
Tony replied with anger in his throat. “Well in case you didn’t do your research, I’m not in pain, I’m paralyzed, so if it’s some drugs you’re wanting to get high off of, then I’m afraid you’re robbing the wrong cripple, shithead. If you wanted to get high, then go jump off a building.”
The kid turned then, eyes blazing. He walked over and grabbed Tony by his throat, his fingernails burying deep inside his skin. Tony clasped onto the attacker’s wrists; trying to pry them off, he could feel his face turning red. His vision started to blur, and he felt he would blackout any second. The kid gritted his teeth together, all thought of reasoning with him gone, his intention was to kill Tony, and he was succeeding.
It was now or never, Tony let go of one of the kid’s wrists and dealt three powerful blows to his kidneys. The kid gasped for breath and let go of Tony to hold onto his side. Once Tony was free, he grabbed one of his kitchen stools and brought it down on his attacker’s back. The stool split in half and the kid collapsed on the floor, moaning in pain.
Tony rolled towards his bedroom and grabbed the baseball bat he had won during his college years. As he was rolling back to the kitchen, he felt his throat throbbing from the gashes the kid left from choking him. Aside from that he was ok, but he wasn’t so sure about the kid once he was done with him.
When he got back, the kid was back on his feet, clutching his side and breathing hard. His eyes were watering and he looked like he was going to pass out. His hair was stuck to the side of his face, which made him look even dirtier and beaten up.
He looked over at Tony, his face sunken in agony. Then, without warning, he puked up his bodily fluids all over the floor. After a few more seconds, the kid started regaining his posture and cautiously stood erect, careful not to get sick again.
Tony stared at him with pity now, despite the fate that this random stranger tried to choke him out for some pills. “What’s your name, kid?”
The boy looked up, surprised that he was asking, and even more surprised at himself for answering. “David.” His voice was shaky and weak. He sounded like he was about to break down in tears.
Tony put down the bat and rolled over to David, holding onto his body and leading him over to a chair. David bent over in the chair, still holding his side while keeping his head down. This was the first time since the incident at the elevator that Tony felt safe and in control.
“How did you know where to find me?” Tony had never seen this kid, and it was weird how he had known where and when to find him.
David looked up at him, his eyes blood-red and answered, “I’ve seen you at the park before. I followed you home a couple of times and only now decided to go through with it.” He looked down again, feeling sick.
Tony wasn’t mad. He should’ve been, but he felt sorry for this kid. He patted him on the back, an act of forgiveness. “It’s ok, David. I’m not going to press charges, but I do need to know that this is over and we can move on?”
David didn’t look up. “Yeah, it’s over.” He slowly lifted himself up, careful not to go too fast. “What’s your name?”
“Tony,” he answered.
David looked at him for a while. “I’m so sorry about what I did to you. I wasn’t thinking. It was the pills.”
“It’s alright, don’t worry about it.” Suddenly, there was something in the air, something thick and suffocating. Something Tony recognized all too well. Smoke.
“Oh my God,” Tony muttered. His chest contracted and he felt his hands shake and sweat. He looked around, trying to find the source of the flame. “David, do you smell that?”
David raised his head and smelt the air. “Smells like smoke. You got a cigarette lying around?”
“No.” He continued looking around.
He realized it wasn’t coming from his apartment, but out in the hallway, in another room. The air was getting thick and the smell was more intense. One of the rooms was on fire, and it was spreading fast. Screams could be heard in the hall. The sound of people running and falling, trying to get to the exit filled the corridor. Fear took hold all over the building.
Tony clutched his wheels, his heart racing, the fear kicking in as the nightmare slowly crawled into reality. He had to get out. He had to escape this nightmare.
“David, we have to get out of here!” He rolled over to the door and grabbed the knob. He withdrew his hand as soon as he gripped it. It was blazing hot and smoke was coming in underneath the door.
“Stand back!” David kicked open the door, the embers of the fire poured in around them.
The heat was burning Tony’s skin. He could feel the sweat sliding across his face as the fire danced in circles in the hall. The corridor to the elevator was deserted of people; they had made it out in time. Everyone except for Tony and David had been able to make it out.
The elevator was covered in flames. There was no way of getting down to the lowest floor. The fire had already consumed most of the hall and several of the rooms. They had to get out; they were running out of time.
“Tony, what are we going to do? This place is coming apart.” David was just as scared as Tony was. The heat was getting more intense. Tony could feel his eyebrows searing.
Then, across the hall, in one of the burning rooms, Tony could hear a cry. It was faint, but despite the crackling wood from the flames, he could hear someone calling for help. “Wheel me over to room 203.”
David gripped the handles of the wheelchair and raced toward the indicated room, dodging debris and clouds of smoke. Once they were at the door that read: Room 203, David rammed into it, causing the door to crack into several shards of burnt wood and sparks of fire. They entered the volcanic room, looking desperately for the noise that was heard crying for help. The ceiling was covered in burning holes, and the furniture was being eaten away by the flames.
Just when they had given up hope, they heard a low mumbling under the bed of the apartment room. David got on his knees, lifted up the smoked sheets, and found a small little girl. He grabbed her arms and pulled her out; tears were falling down her face, mixing with the smoke and dirt that covered her cheeks.
“I found her!” cried David. He took off his coat and wrapped it around her, shielding her from the flames. “We’re going to get you out of here, ok? Just stay close to me.”
The entrance to the room was taken over by the fire. Black smoke was floating in the air, suffocating them, slowly filling up their lungs with death. They had to get out; they had to find a way.
Tony looked over to the window. The nightmare coming back, clouding his vision, corrupting his mind, and there was nothing he could do. It was happening again; they were going to die. He looked at David, his eyes wide with fear, all while holding the little girl close to his chest.
“We have to jump!” David yelled, his voice hoarse from smoke.
Tony stared wide-eyed and answered, “We’ll die from the fall. She’ll die with us.”
“That’s a risk we have to take. If we stay here, we’re all dead anyway.”
Tony looked at the little girl. Her face filled with pure terror. He had to save her. She wasn’t going to die here. “Give her to me.”
David positioned her in Tony’s lap, keeping the coat covered over her face and body. “Are you ready?”
Tony looked at the window. It was now or never. “Get behind me and push.”
The fire was getting closer. David gripped the handles of the chair again. He could feel the heat scorch his back. He ran full speed towards the window, counting down the seconds. Tony held the child in a death-grip. “One, two, three!”
The wheelchair hit the window, shattering it into tiny sharp fragments. The next thing Tony remembered was landing again on the hard concrete of the street, the little girl still clinging to his body. His breathing slowed and his vision dimmed. Blood covered the pavement--his blood. He passed out not long after.
Tony opened his eyes. He was lying in a bed--a hospital bed. Light shined in the room, fresh air was around him. He almost forgot what air smelt like. His head was sore and his arm was wrapped up. He looked over to the bed next to him. David was looking at him, smiling. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail, his skin looked healthier. Suddenly, Tony realized what had brought them here. He leaned up too quickly with anticipation, sending a sickening pain through his whole body.
“What happened? Where’s the little girl?” Tony’s eyes were wide as marbles, waiting for the answer.
David continued smiling. “She’s fine. She’s in another room. You saved her life, man.”
Tony leaned back, relief filling his body, and tears filling his eyes. “Thank God.” He smiled too. He had ended the nightmares. He saved the girl and himself from the fire.
He looked back at David. “How are you? Are you ok?”
David gave a faint smile and pulled back the covers, showing his legs. “I can’t feel them.”
Tony’s heart sunk. “David … I’m so sorry.”
David’s smile appeared again. “No. Don’t be sorry. This is a gift.”
Tony stared, bewildered at what David had just said. He had lost the use of his legs and he’s grateful? “But you’ve lost your legs. How is that good?”
David’s eyes glistened in the light. His eyes were kind and gentle, different from when he first saw him. “It’s good, because now I’m a hero like you.”
Tears poured down Tony’s cheek. He sunk his head down and cried more than he had ever cried before.
David continued talking in a low, caring voice. “You saved that little girl from a fire, when no one else could. You, a man in a wheelchair, saved that girl’s life.” He too began to cry. “You are a hero, Tony. And now, I am too. I’m a hero just like you.” He flashed a handsome grin. “I guess it’s a good thing you suggested jumping out of a building after all.”
They both stared at each other, smiling through tears. They were both heroes; the most pathetic excuses of heroes in the world. They did what no other person could’ve done that day. As the sun shined through the window, it looked like angels were pouring in. The light surrounded them and Tony noticed that his head was no longer hurting. The angels had set him free of the nightmares. The light shined down on his numb legs, the warmth of the sun comforting him as the angels guided him into a dreamless sleep.