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From the corner of my eye, I see Camelia swim deeper. A spinning silver blade slashes down into the water between us. I recognize it as a wingtip when it slows down and sinks, trailed by a cloud of bubbles. More larger and smaller objects strike the surface of the water. I hug the bottom of the pool, surrounded by red swirls that might be blood. The clear liquid has become a muddled mess of water, metal, and glass, seasoned with whatever our feathered friends did to the roof. I hold my breath, and wonder why I'm thinking about bird poop. Above me, on the surface of the water, something's burning.

I stay down as long as I can, swimming away from the flames, but I have to surface. I hold on to a metal beam that sticks at an angle out of the water and cough my lungs out. The pool is filled with pieces of wall, roof, and airplane. The air is filled with dust, panicked cries, and the smell of burning fuel . Burning fuel... that floats on water. I scramble for the edge and climb out. Next to the pool I stand, panting, trying to see through the smoke and dust. A corner of the building is missing. Part of the wall has fallen inwards, towards and into the pool, dragging a section of the roof with it. Torn metal has been thrown in every direction. Strips of roofing hang down, some of it floats on the water like dead black leaves. Jagged steel fingers jut out from the surface, surrounded by a floating island of fire. Somewhere in that mess is the wreckage of a small airplane. I spot a broken propeller, some instruments, and a piece of wing marked with the number fifty-two. A pair of goggles floats by.

There are people. Running.

There are people. Alive. Some don't look so well.

I stare and realize how lucky I've been.

The male half of the elderly couple lies on the ground, receiving CPR. What might be his granddaughter holds the old woman's hand. Next to them lies a pool staffer, a metal rod piercing his calf. Two men are taking care of him, doing whatever they can. Beyond those, I spot Lug trying to lift a beam from the rubble. Someone is stuck there, caught under the fallen roof. That someone is screaming.

The screaming makes way for a whimper, and then slowly dies. When it loses its animalistic intensity I recognize the voice as David's.

Shit.

A girl with blonde hair stands in my way, muttering something incomprehensible. It's the Elsa, holding one of her braids which smolders. I tell the girl to move. She doesn't. Her eyes are large, unfocused. She blinks when I slap her in the face.

"Get out, now!" I yell at her, and thwack her once more before she starts to run.

David's partially buried under the rubble, a metal beam covering his torso and legs. He stares at Lug with big eyes full of disbelief. Lug tries to lift the beam but fails. The part of the roof still up groans… another section is about to come down. Cathy McKinnon is nowhere to be seen, but I have no time for her. Sharp things cut into my feet as I walk up to Lug, and grab David under his armpits.

I look at Lug. "Ready?"

He nods and tries again. The beam moves but David is still stuck. On the other side of the pool a large machine, maybe a part of the ventilation system, crashes on the tiled floor and topples into the pool. David's eyes are open but I doubt he's seeing anything. Lug looks at me in despair.

Another body pushes in between Lug and me. It's Camelia, dripping water. Her ponytail has come undone. Blood from a wound on the side of her head soaks her blonde hair. Her surf top has been torn open, showing cuts and flesh and half a breast. "Together," she growls at Lug. She grips the beam and starts counting. "At three. One… two…"

Three. The beam goes up so quickly that I fall backward, dragging David with me. His legs look like a bloody pulp. Camelia and Lug drop the beam, then Camelia walks over to me and David. She throws a glance at what's left of the roof, then picks up David and carries him away. Behind Camelia's back Lug and I exchange a glance. How strong is that girl?

 

Lug and I offer our help to the others, but we're waved off and so we follow Camelia through the nearest emergency doors. Inside is pandemonium, outside merely chaos. Missiles of metal and concrete have struck the parking lot. Horns honk and lights flash as car alarms express their outrage. More machinery landed on top of a light blue Porsche. A woman, the owner perhaps, stares at the wreckage before she kicks the remains. Her shoulders shake. There's no way to tell if she's laughing or crying. More people wander around like zombies.

Camelia carries David. He lost consciousness. His head lolls, his arms dangle. His legs… I look the other way.

A trail of bloodied footsteps leads from the emergency escape to Cathy McKinnon, who beckons us. She's leaning against the yellow school bus, keeping her right foot off the ground, still holding on to that damned clipboard of hers. She nods at Camelia who lowers David onto the pavement. When McKinnon tries to say something only a rasping sound comes out. She needs to clear her throat twice before I can understand the words.

"Stay with him," she rasps at Camelia, then looks at Lug and me. "You two okay?"

"Nothing serious," I tell her. A couple of shallow cuts and a bit overcooked perhaps, but that's it. I've been through worse. A few hours ago people were still shooting at me.

Lug shrugs. He looks at Camelia who's holding David's crumpled form in her arms. The corner of Lug's mouth trembles, but he says nothing.

"Hank? Lug? Lug!" McKinnon waves a hand in front of his face. When he finally pays attention she asks, "How many left?"

"I--Ah... Five... maybe six?"

"Seven I could see," I correct him. "Old man, heart attack. His wife and a girl, I think she's not a student, there was some family resemblance. Four men, one hurt badly, re-bar through his left thigh, just below the kidney. Should make it with some proper care."

McKinnon eyes me strangely before her gaze travels back to the building. "That roof is not going to last, we have to get them out…" Her voice trails off, and she hesitates for a moment before continuing. "Go. Tell them. Help them."

"But they--"

"Tell them to get out. Tell them I said so. Hurry!"

Lug doesn't ask a second time. He turns and starts running back to the wrecked building. I'm about to follow him when McKinnon grabs my arm. "Not you. Here." She yanks at the whistle cord around her neck until it breaks and puts the whistle in my hand. "Gather them and count. Twenty-seven students, me, and two other tutors."

She's right, we need to know how many people were inside. I count. "One driver, old couple, another girl, five kids, that's thirty-nine, an unknown number of staff... There could also be people in the changing rooms unaccounted for. There were six cars in the parking lot when we arrived. One left, so did the owner of the Porsche."

She gives me another one of those strange looks before she nods. "Three staff that I know of. Those in the changing rooms... I don't know. Forty-two. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." McKinnon bends over and throws up. When she recovers she picks up that damned clipboard of hers and hands it over to me. There's vomit on the edge, there's blood on the ground, and there are tears in her eyes.

And so I blow my whistle and yell and scream and wave McKinnon's smelly, broken clipboard at the survivors. I gather those that can walk and talk, tell them to sit down and wait, because, well, help is on its way. I'm sure it is.

And I count. I count and count again. I keep counting and blowing that damned whistle.

 

But I never reach forty-two.

 

***

 

Author's note:

That completes the first part of Kind's Kiss. We're roughly halfway in, and I hope you enjoyed the story thus far. If you do, tell others, if you don't, tell me. I like votes, comments, reviews, but even more than that I like feedback, so feel free to drop me a line, either on this platform or through my website.

Thanks for staying with me thus far. In the next part we'll be leaving the lovely little town of Hellhole, and we'll be visiting The City by the Bay. Cue up your Otis Redding, Zombies and Mama & Papa's vinyls, because we're going to San Francisco!

 

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About the author

The Real Angel Jay

Bio: I write bad fiction. In poor English. In all other aspects I'm just like a normal person. Please note that I'm a not a native English speaker (so any help is welcome).

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