Written by: roseyn
Stella couldn’t breathe.
Something strong and pungent scorched her aching lungs. She coughed, rasped, struggled for air that wouldn’t come.
Immediately recognised the horrifying stench of smoke.
Instincts rolled her off the bed and down low on the rough, timber flooring. A hungry succession of short gasps followed. Her eyes stung.
Closing them? Little relief.
Opening them? Just more blinding smoke.
With her skin unbearably hot, her stomach bilious, Stella crawled forward, mapping her way to the door. There, crackling flames flicked and licked the darkening doorjamb.
Her mind screamed.
And in the distance came their cries, long, bloodcurdling cries.
Stella lurched up with an enormous gasp, her eyes stretched wide, her pjs drenched, her body quivering.
But was it? She could still taste the smoke; still sense her skin burn hot and her chest felt as if a giant clamp was strangling it. She instantly leapt from her bed, tripped on a crooked rug. She swore, used the bed’s edge to right herself and stumbled directly to the tiny, serviceable kitchen.
All appeared as normal.
Even so, Stella fell headlong into her compulsive ‘checking’. The stove, the oven, and all six power points ensuring nothing suggested the early birth of fire. Once satisfied, she scoured the remaining rooms in a similar fashion, her own bedroom always left until last.
Exhausted, she slumped on her bed, avoided the ugly, twisted scars on her arms and wept.
The shower was warm and soothing, better than expected, better than she deserved. It loosened her stiff muscles, helped dampen the dull throb in her head. Even the sweet smell of her new orange body wash was surprisingly uplifting. She stayed immersed beneath the powerful jets, until her fingers wrinkled, until she felt strong enough to face the next step in her life.
Once dried and dressed, she pocketed her mobile phone into her stonewashed jeans, grabbed her wallet and car keys. She did one last compulsive check and left the apartment.
The bridge loomed large as it always did, the tip of its steeply arched structure semi-hidden by the hazy, early morning skyline. Even the tall, contemporary buildings scraping the nearby distance couldn’t compete with the bridge’s striking, antiquated exterior, its cold grey steel rich with the warmth and colour of history.
Stella could hear it calling to her.
She hurried across two minor roads and down a long, winding path towards it.
The icy southerlies nipped her reddened cheeks and a glance at the hovering black clouds made her pull her denim jacket tighter around her. Nondescript vehicles filtered in and out of her peripheral vision, their noxious fumes strong, destructive.
Stella found Betina huddled under her usual grubby blankets, coddling a half-empty bottle of sherry. Unfriendly smells drifted from her. Nearby, something small scurried beneath torn, crumpled newspapers. “I need… to… talk… to you… please.”
Betina wrinkled her stubby nose and grunted. “Aint ya got some’a else?”
Stella swallowed. “No,” she mumbled. “I haven’t got anyone….