The crackle was the first thing he sensed. Like a pile of papers being crushed into a ball. Then came the heat. Like a warm breeze on a early summer evening. The light came last. A seeming hallucination haunting the edge of his peripheral vision and slowing growing into a gentle orange glow. Yet they did not stop. The crackle turned into a roar, the summer breeze into a furnace, and the gentle glow into a blinding brilliance. Then came the smoke. It was when he coughed on the smoke that he realized he had a chest, the force of his lungs trying to evacuate themselves of the dense black smoke hurting just as it began to claw at his eyes and obscure the blinding brilliance of the light.
He wanted to clear his eyes of the smoke. That was when he realized he had arms and hands, and he clawed at his face to try and rid it of the smoke which clawed at him. It was when he moved his arms closer to his torso that he realized he had legs. He pushed himself up from the ground, hands covering his face. He could feel the heat of the blaze before him, and so he turned his body away from it. He began walking, one foot in front of the other. He walked quickly, outpacing the fire and its smoke vanguard. He let his hands fall to his side, and they flapped uselessly about. He looked around as he walked. The walls were dull grey concrete, raw and unpolished. A single thick line of dark grey paint ran across either wall, a single long fluorescent light was affixed to the ceiling at regular intervals. Every 40 of his steps, to be precise.
His cloths hung limply from him, large holes burnt in them and much the rest of the fabric charred. His chest was bare, only a handful of fabric stands hung off— stuck into the nearly as badly damaged waist of his pants. His skin was marked by dirt and grime, black streaks from ash and asphalt. His hair was greasy, long and clumped together. A brilliant blonde poked through in a scarce few spots that were not covered in as much if not more grime than his skin. His feet were bare and dirty, yet he had no callouses. His pants were very near a figment of one’s imagination, the left leg simply gone, and the right hanging on by a singular strong hold. They seemed to have been soaked in dirt, so thoroughly were they soiled. Yet for all the burns to his clothes he remained unburned. Unharmed. Only soiled before the harsh florescent light of the long grey concrete hallway.
He walked for a solid length of time. The fire and smoke following like a hunter waiting for its prey to collapse from exhaustion. Everything before him was pristine, antiseptic, and functional. All that which was behind him was consumed by the fire, slowly but surely consumed by the heat to fuel it even further. He had at this point passed several sets of stairs and doorways, but he had not bothered counting. They all felt like the wrong choice, and so he continued. Continued walking.
The hallway was different now, he felt it. Every fifth light had a letter and a number. They were painted in the same thick stroke as the grey line. Yet, they were not grey. They were a silver, and the one after it gold. On and on they alternated. They reflected the harsh light like a metal, yet they were mere paint he knew. Starting at A1 and then A2 and then A3 and so on. He had reached Z8. So much walking. The fire continued its dogged pursuit. He continued his dogged walk.
There was another door. He had just past ZZZZ9. This was the door. He stopped walking, but for a moment, to glance back at the fire he had not looked at all this time but had felt on the hair of his neck. It inched closer, doggedly pursing. Louder. Hotter. Brighter. He turned to the door. He walked to it, pulling it open in a single swift motion, his hand punching in a four-digit code to the keypad that awaited inside an antechamber on the other side. The far-wall fell downward, another hallway.
He continued walking. This hallway was different. The fire remained, but it was further. He now felt it solely upon the tip of the hair upon the back of his neck. The gentle warmth from fire became a chilly pressure of an industrial air conditioner. He shivered. The walls were a dull shining white from a thick coat of paint. He could still feel the texture of the concrete under the paint though. The lights were affixed to the walls and not the ceiling. Before him he could see a set of stairs. Now he could rest. So he sat. He had walked so far.
His butt touched the ground, half isolated by his jeans half fully feeling the coldness trapped in the concrete. His arms, having uselessly hung at his side while he walked, braced himself upright as sat. Head falling gently upon the wall. He took a deep breath. He blinked slowly. The fire was back. This time pressing forward faster than before. It appeared out of seemingly nowhere, only where he had walked before. The heat was greater. The intensity was greater. The roar was greater.
He leapt upward; he did not walk. He ran. He ran down the hall, hearing his feet hit the ground with a soft plop. Hearing his heart pound in his ear. Hearing his blood rush through his veins. The stairs looked as though they were only getting further away. He closed his eyes. He felt the stairs growing near. So he continued running.
The stairs felt close; he kept his eyes shut. He felt the stairs on his feet, as he continued to run— lifting his feet higher so that they could catch the next step upwards. He let himself follow his faith blindly, feeling the progress. Up and up. Up and Up. Up and uP. Up. Up. Up. Up.
He hit a wall. His eyes flew open, and he glanced downward to observe the grand staircase he had ascended, the flames licking at the base as they began to slowly climb. He observed the door and he pushed it open. Light flooded forth. The sun cast brilliant blinding golden rays down into the dark stairwell, illuminating it from the light of the surface. He walked out, the door slamming shut behind him— the light retreating from the darkness of below. The ground below him was soft, well cared for green grass. The green grass surrounded a grand glass structure which belched smoke and orange fire. The fire cast a pale red glow upon the green grass. People looked on, enchanted by the horror they saw in the hospital ablaze. He kept walking, slower now. He could hear shouts. Shouts of pain. Shouts for help. Shouts of joy as loved ones saw another. Shouts of firemen organizing. Shouts of hospital workers working without a hospital. A man shouted to him. He kept walking. He did not feel this was where he was to stop.
But he wanted to stop. He had walked so much. Then he had run, run down that hall and ran up the steps. Ran up every step in that path, never pausing. He wanted to stop, but this was not it. He crossed the street, slowing his pace to a crawl, he was so very tired. A man shouted out to him, but this time he listened.
“You are very tired my child.” The man said, his voice carrying clearly from many steps back in this alley, yet clear as a whisper directly into his ear. He wore a suit, a very dark black suit. A mourning suit. “I am Ogma. Let me show you where you may rest finally.” The man said, and he walked closer. The man was not particularly special looking. His features nondescript, almost shifting before his eyes. Yet, he felt like a guardian. He had a golden lapel with a black border, but it was not in the shape of a phoenix— instead it was a pen. He glanced back at the mans face and back to his lapel. It was now a brilliant golden book outlined in black neatly pinned to his lapel. Yet, it felt comforting.
The man pointed to a nondescript door on the side of the building only a step away, painted a brilliant green with a polished bronze handle and a matching knocker. Its frame was a deep red, almost like blood but more so like a pit of a cherry. Or perhaps the border was an orchid orange. Or a dirty beige. The door looked like everything and nothing. Yet, it felt like home. He opened the door, a soft green glow falling out onto the ground like the gentle flow of the tide against the shore. He walked in. The man walked in and closed the green door, with its red or maybe cherry or maybe orchid orange or maybe dirty beige frame, behind him.
A door which, if any other person at the scene of that burning hospital that day or any local on any other day before or after, when asked about would yield no answer as to where it went. In fact, any question about the door would likely yield a response of “what green door”, as nobody could see the door nor felt it in them. Nobody except the Man and him.