Yesterday’s Writing.com October NaNo Prep Challenge was actually a contest entry requiring a back story of my NaNoWriMo novel’s protagonist, which in this case is David Corbin from my Expired Reality series. He is the central character in my NaNo novel, The LZR Project, and the backstory I picked to write about him involves the clocktower that collapsed on an orphan girl years before the books take place.
Here’s the scene that I wrote and entered in the contest. It’s called Burning Time. Enjoy!
Amidst the smells of burning wood and ancient dust in the shaft of the burning clock tower, David thought – however brief the thought was – that he also sniffed jasmine. It was a silly thing for one to smell jasmine while escaping a crumbling twenty-story clock tower, but it was a scent he knew from his past, because it was a scent his mother used to walk in when he was younger.
The brief scent of jasmine did nothing to stall his feet though, which raced down the zig-zag flights, creaking and splintered, down toward the main lobby of the tower, Veronica and Carrie taking the lead in front of him.
Dark hands made of thick smoke grasped at him, like the bony appendages of the dead attempting to pull him into the Depths. He refused to slow down, stop, or give up, knowing that there were only a few more stories to get down and then they would be free of this towering prison.
“We’re not going to…cough…make…make it!” Carrie shouted.
Veronica grabbed her friend’s arm and forced Carrie to move faster down the steps, careful not to step wrong on the weakening wood. “We’ll make it.”
David had his doubts, but he kept them to himself. Above them in the top of the tower, only minutes earlier, he had saved Veronica’s life. Tabitha Rose had attempted to kill Veronica and Carrie in an act of revenge against David. He wasn’t about to let his own rescue attempts be in vain, and would die three times over to give his friends a chance to live another day, even if it meant crumpling to his doom under this burning debris.
The smoke moved faster, as if it was being blown by demon’s breath down the shaft. David felt the heat tickle his neck, and rip the sweat from his body, but he refused to slow down. When they reached the bottom step, he gave Veronica and Carrie a shove out the door, as if a few feet of distance would matter in his rescue attempt.
As soon as David escaped into the dirt lot, he sucked in a gasp of fresh night air and kept running. When they were finally far enough away to be considered relatively safe from imminent death, David dropped to his knees and took a trilogy of deep breathes, exhaling each slowly, willing himself not to pass out. His lungs burned like the rotting wood of the clock tower, and his muscles were beginning to scream at him for what he had just put them through.
Veronica took hold of his shoulder. “You saved us, David. I owe you my life. You know that, right?”
He said nothing.
By the time he realized there had been an explosion, he was already on his back in the dirt, particles of sand and dust filling in the cracks of his eyes, nose, and mouth. When he opened his eyes, the dizziness kicked in. He heard Veronica’s muffled tone ask if Carrie and David were okay. When his vision cleared, he realized Veronica had bleeding scratches across her face, and Carrie’s hair was jumbled atop her head, splinters of wood littering her brown strands.
David looked out at the clock tower and watched as the whole crippled citadel toppled to the ground in a massive cloud of dust and smoke.
“Tabitha was up there,” Carrie said in a low tone.
David waited for the dust and smoke to reach them before putting his shirt up over his mouth. He closed his eyes and waited for it to pass them. When things cleared, he stood up and began walking toward the pile of rubble, afraid that he might find Tabitha’s dead body buried beneath the debris.
“She had it rigged the whole time, didn’t she?” Carrie asked as she and Veronica came up behind him.
Veronica nodded. “She had to have. We didn’t put a bomb in there. “
David approached the spread of wreckage and began stepping over broken beams, fire embers still peering out of their wooden surfaces. Various iron pieces protruded from the debris, no doubt pieces of the clock itself asking for help to be put back together again. David could offer none. He was on a mission to find Tabitha’s body, dead or alive, so he could put his mind at peace.
He stepped over a particularly rotten piece of beam and almost twisted his ankle retreating from stepping on a small hand he found coming out from under a large scorched gear. David bent down and grabbed a piece of the gear that wasn’t sharp, and quickly stumbled backwards once the metal burned his palms.
Veronica and Carrie rushed over and helped him carefully remove the large piece of metal with a few pieces of unburned timber. When the gear was to the side and out of the way, David buried his scorched hands in his shirt in an attempt to extinguish the pain, and looked down where the clock gear had once sat.
The little girl’s face had been burned beyond recognition. In fact, her little hand was the only limb that wasn’t blackened by the burning hot gear.
Carrie turned away and began dry heaving off to the side. David turned to Veronica, who simply stood, arms crossed, staring at the burned corpse as if it was a tabletop puzzle missing a few pieces. “The ring on her good hand?” Veronica asked.
David quickly glanced down to the little girl’s hand and noticed the bright yellow ring on her middle finger. “What about it?”
“She was a homeless. Maybe a runaway, but more than likely an orphan. Some of the homeless around here wear those yellow rings. They say the rings remind them that they are worth gold, and it helps get them through the tough days.”
David turned and walked away from the destruction, no destination in mind. He knew he had to get away, had to put as much distance between himself and the sorrow that had already begun to wrack his spirit. Sirens rang out through the city. He had saved two lives, only to lose one who was worth more than all of them combined.