A surreal, twentieth-century parody of hell

 

Cover: The Eighteenth of November

An extract from Chaper 6 - The Eighteenth of November

The escalator levelled out. People pressed forward. Fabriel was shoved hard against the girl; the back of her neck was soaked in sweat. He put his arms out to protect her, suddenly conscious of the wet on his own shirt and under his arms. His feet were burning. He looked down; flames were licking round his ankles in a surreal, twentieth-century parody of hell. Then a noise like a high wind. Something that looked like a jet of flame. People screaming. A pall of oily black smoke engulfed him.

They fell together, the girl underneath him banging her head on the hard floor; the baby was sandwiched between them. It didn’t cry. Something crashed down, right by his head; heat seared his face and throat. He ducked; the girl wasn’t moving but he felt the baby stir. Fabriel pulled his jumper up so it covered his mouth and nose then, keeping as close to the floor as he could, bundled the baby under one arm and with the other grabbed at the girls coat and tried to pull her along. He made slow progress for he hadn’t got much purchase and, although she was slight, she was a dead weight. The baby under his arm started wriggling and whimpering. His face was practically on the floor but every breath he took was like breathing in fire. His eyes were streaming. He couldn’t see in the oily darkness.

The sensible thing would be to get the baby out and come back for the girl but he knew he’d never find her again, even if she survived the flames. His head throbbed. A great wave of tiredness engulfed him. He was vaguely aware of the baby, still wriggling, but his grip on it was weakening. ‘Hang on in there.’ Fabriel snapped into consciousness. Another face an inch from his. Fabriel tried to speak, heard only cries and screaming. Made a gesture towards the girl. His rescuer got the message. The man grabbed the girl beneath her shoulders and crawled backwards, pulling her behind him. Fabriel followed as best he could, sliding on his stomach and elbows commando-style, the baby wedged between one arm and his chest. It had stopped wriggling.

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