A sound blasts in the distance and I lay the pillow over my head. As I wallow in the place between sleep and consciousness, I curse the neighbor who selfishly uses an alarm at such an unbearable volume.
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"Shut it off," I command while squeezing the pillow tighter to my ears.
But it still rings.
I toss and turn within my cocoon of blankets and realize that they are unnecessary. My anger continues to rise and it seems to make my room unnaturally warm.
I envision myself stalking the halls of my apartment building to angrily trace the sound. I see myself pounding on a door and punching the inconsiderate slob who answers the door, but this fantasy offers me no real comfort.
Could it be? Is the alarm really getting louder and is my room becoming hotter?
A distant scream causes me to sit up straight in my bed and I hear the far-off murmur of frightened voices. I leap from my bed and hurriedly pull on my jeans. Then I slip my sock-less feet into my beaten white sneakers. As I race from my room, I wiggle into my T-shirt that stinks of stale cigarettes and sweat, but it is quickly overwhelmed by the scent of burning wood.
I stare at my apartment's door and I am horrified to see thin waifs of gray smoke that are wiggling into my room.
"My baby. My baby!" A woman pleads above the sirens and the steady rumble of fire burning unabated.
I tap at my doorknob to check its temperature and gratefully, it is cool. Then, I rip the door open and step into a cloudy hall. I look to my left and see a wall of flames, but to my right, the way was clear...
I turn away from the encroaching fire, realizing that the stairwell was already engulfed and impassible. Before I can take my first step towards safety, I hear the woman again, "My baby! Someone help me!"
Torn between saving my own neck and living with the thought that I could have helped someone but didn't, I look back in indecision. I had to try. I couldn't live with myself otherwise.
I cautiously approached the blaze, bent low to where the air was more breathable. The heat was oppressive. The woman's frantic voice appeared to originate from within the fire itself. The flames have advanced almost to the apartment that adjoined mine, old man Jenkins apartment. He was in Springfield visiting his daughter for the weekend and I am taking care of 'Rat', his pet cat. Oh my god! His cat! He'd be devastated!
After several attempts, and a bruised shoulder for my troubles, I manage to break down Jenkins's door. Rat tore out of the apartment in a flash of fur and disappeared down the hall. As I was about to go after him, I hear the woman again, more distraught than ever. I can tell she is in the next apartment though I can't reach her door, the flames were already devouring it. I am running out of time.
I ran through Jenkins's broken door and into his living room. I can clearly hear the woman through the wall, begging for help. My only chance is to try to break through the wall.
I moved a couch out of the way and started kicking at the plaster. It couldn't have been much harder if it were cement. The wall began to yield to my vicious attack and the plaster began to crumble. The wood lath behind splintered and I am through the first side.
I hope my foot will stand up to the punishment of breaking through the second side. Fortunately, the plaster gave way much easier kicking it out away from the wall framing instead of into it. I rapidly had a hole big enough to squeeze through and enter the woman's apartment.
She heard me breaking through and is standing there to help me to my feet.
"Thank god someone came! You have to help me," she cries. "I can't find my baby!"
I star at her in confusion. "How can you not find your baby? What kind of mother..."
She cut me off. "She was crawling around on the floor! We have to find her! Please help!"
It's utter chaos. The woman is frantically searching for her daughter. I can see the flames sprouting underneath her door and smoke bellows from around the frame. I help look for the child, thinking she had been overcome by the smoke and lay unconscious somewhere. I hear the woman yell from the other room...
"I found her!"
I follow the sound of the woman's voice. She is in the bedroom and reaching under the bed. Knowing there is little time to waste, I grab the bed by the side, and flip it up and over, out of the way... and there lay the biggest snake I have ever seen in my life!
"Gah!" I yell and jump back.
"My baby!" she exclaims and reaches for the huge reptile.
Unfortunately, her 'baby' is as terrified as we are and it took off, slithering out the bedroom door in a blur with the woman close behind. I stand there, dumbfounded. I am terrified of snakes!
With trembling knees, I peak around the door frame only to see the woman scrambling after the fanged beast as it disappears through the hole I had kicked in her apartment wall. She crawls through the opening in hot pursuit. I hurriedly follow.
By this time, several other apartment dwellers were scrambling around in confusion in the hallway. With the woman and her 'baby' out of sight, my thoughts return to Jenkins's cat. I then realize I am as worried about the cat as the woman is about her snake.
As I wildly look around, I hear a commotion coming from my open apartment door. I hurry inside only to find the woman, pulling on her snakes tail, trying to drag it from underneath my couch. Finally, she succees, and there in the mouth of her 'baby', was Rat!
"Oh my god! She's eating Rat!" I bellow in horror.
Struggling to hang on to her snakes tail, she looks strangely at me. "Looks like a cat to me!"
"It is, it's old man Jenkins's cat! We have to save him!" I didn't know what to do.
"Here, hold onto 'Baby's' tail!" And before I can refuse, she shoves the snakes tail into my hands. I was repulsed by the slithering creature, but hung on just the same. She bent down and pries the snakes mouth open, pulling the cat to freedom. The snake, having it's prey rudely taken from her, responds by wrapping herself around my body.
"Argh!" I scream in total panic, "Get it off!"
"We don't have time!" She replies. "We have to get out of here now!"
And with that, she ran out the door clutching her Jenkins's cat. I stumble along behind, with Baby twisting and coiling around me. She leads the way to an apartment at the end of the hall where the fire department has a rescue ladder raised up to a window. We crawl out the window and down the ladder to safety.
The woman immediately peals the squirming reptile from my body and we exchange 'pets'. She graciously thanks me for the help and I walk a safe distance away from the burning building.
I approach a group of my fellow neighbors and one of them hands me his cell phone saying it is Jenkins, and he's been trying to reach me.
"Hello? Yes, yes, he's just fine, I have him right here in my arms. Looks like the apartment building will be a total loss from the fire though. Oh, and your neighbors baby tried to eat Rat, but he's ok."
As I spoke those last words I got the strangest looks from the gathering crowd...