Chapter Four

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This has only been through a rough edit. It's 11:30 and I'm about to go to bed. I'll look over it more thoroughly tomorrow.

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            It took ten minutes for the firefighters to arrive, pulling up on the field with their blaring sirens and hoses at the ready, by which point the tent had almost burned to the ground. Its striped material had been disintegrated by the flames, crumbling into a blackened mess of ash that now littered the pitch. Though its supports had, on the whole, been left standing, they were only in a marginally better state, and the tarnished metal no longer looked capable of holding anything up. Everything we owned – everything we were – had been burned to the ground, in the most frighteningly literal sense.

            I’d managed to escape, albeit by the skin of my teeth. My desperate dash for an exit resulted in me being swallowed up by the crowd, whose collective pressure from all sides appeared to have carried me in the right direction: right through the open flaps of the tent. The first gulp of clean air had tasted something like candy, and soon after stumbling into the nearest clear space on the grass, I’d found myself heaving huge breaths like my life depended on it. Maybe it did. I couldn’t be sure.

            The chaos left me overshadowed; nobody seemed to notice me, hunched over the ground several meters away. If they did, they didn’t care. The sheer volume of people, all morphing into one mass that moved with uncaring ferocity, made it impossible to spot a single person amongst it all. I had no idea where anybody was – not Silver, Kendra, Aunt Shelby, even Rhona – and it seemed likely that the same stood true on their end.

            In that moment, while the fire blazed behind me, tearing through our entire livelihood as if it were a sheet of paper, I was alone.

            It was only when the firefighters had extinguished the last of the flames, some twenty minutes later, that the extent of the damage began to reveal itself. Not limited to the consumption of the entire big top, leaving only unrecognizable remains, the fire had also spread to several of the nearby trailers, though I wasn’t sure whom they belonged to.

            Though it was impossible to process, the obvious continued to stare us in the face: in the space of thirty minutes, almost everything we’d ever known had been destroyed.

            Gone. Just like that.

            I was found eventually, hauled from the ground by Dave’s strong arms, which swept my feet off the floor completely. The aftermath of the incident seemed to have robbed me of emotions other than horror and sheer exhaustion; I didn’t even have it in me to be disappointed. In a situation so terrifyingly stark against everything I’d come to know, I was willing to cling to even the tiniest thread of familiarity and hold on for dear life.

            Even if it did happen to be Dave.

            I swung either side of consciousness as he carried me away, my head too foggy to really comprehend what was going on. The noise of the commotion had dulled into one continuous roar that continued even after I’d been piled into the back of an ambulance, of which there were an entire fleet. It was white; that was pretty much all I noticed as I was lowered onto a stiff seat, my arms still circling Dave’s neck. The thought of releasing him was too much to bear; I didn’t like to think about what else would disappear if I didn’t hold it closely enough.

            We were both checked over when we got to the hospital, but apart from being forced to sit around with an oxygen mask for a couple of hours, discovered we had escaped relatively unscathed. I was bruised all over – a result of the fall I’d taken – but the physical effects were less severe than expected. Dave and I were discharged quickly, ushered out of the E.D. to free up space for the hordes of people still requiring attention.

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