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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Irritated (11/08/12)

TITLE: One Step Too Far
By Jack Taylor


One Step Too Far

Darkness fell like a ten ton girder dropped from a crane. The two dozen figures scrambling on their knees under the blazing inferno with billowing smoke around them felt it. Apart from the sparking of live severed high power cables thrashing around like wounded vipers and the luminescence of the towering flames the lights were gone.

The steel and concrete structure threatening to buckle was transforming into a crematorium quicker than any firefighter could hope to combat. The piercing sirens continued as more first responders left the safety of their beds and halls to rescue the perishing.

Alexander watched it all from the safety of his idling Honda half a block from the scene of the factory now being engulfed. He saw the nine hook and ladders hovering as close as they dared. He watched the men and women in their masks and outerware unleashing hoses and extending ladders and scrambling to probe the openings of the building where the screams were escaping.

As a trio of police cars rocketed up to the scene with lights flashing the observer shut his driver’s window and increased the volume on Beethoven’s fifth. He was glad to have invested in this stereo system to calm him when he couldn’t handle the pressures of life anymore.

The paramedics were already hoisting victims of the blast into their waiting chariots and other burn patients were cloistered on the ground
as life saving measures were administered with calm yet quick professionalism. It was fascinating what one act of terror could accomplish in a sleepy suburb.

The music lifted Alexander’s spirits and opened up his mind to review the day that was almost passed.

There had been that little girl he had almost run down in the school cross-walk at first light. He’d been so distracted with his thoughts of revenge against the boss that had fired him the day before that he had almost hurt someone who reminded him of the daughter who had died of leukemia just last year. For a moment he actually thought it really was Ireana and he was out of his car and on his knees with arms extended before the screams and honking behind him roused him back to the reality of his loss.

There had been the incident in Starbucks where that college student with the laptop had budged in close and started playing all that religious music. Music he couldn’t get out of his head. Music about waves of grace and the unending love of an awesome God. Music that probed his soul and his conscience until he burst inside and knocked over his pumpkin spice latte onto the floor. He had run out without even trying to clean it up.

There had been that magazine at the doctor’s waiting room. That one story about how an atheist with prostate cancer had found hope in God and changed his life to become an evangelist sharing the good news about Jesus. Some hope. Alexander’s dad had died of prostate cancer and not once mentioned God showing up. Now Alexander was facing the same issue.

The music stopped and Alexander opened his eyes to take in the scene again. More ambulances, more police cars, more fire trucks. The feeling of satisfaction from revenge wasn’t there like he expected. Instead a cold python of dread and guilt squeezed hard on his soul. He stepped out of the car.

A little girl stood hand in hand with her dad. The same little girl from the cross-walk this morning. Tears streamed down her face as she screamed out, “Jesus, save my mommy.”

Alexander felt a powerful energy push him toward the fire and he was sprinting by the time he reached the first line of hoses flowing toward the building. No one even seemed to notice as he skirted the small gaggle of reporters and onlookers herded together by the police.

A side door caught his attention and he raced to it and bounded up the stairs without hesitation. He’d worked here long enough to see the family resemblance between mother and daughter. He crawled as quickly as he could. Sure enough, Isabella was curled up under her desk, overcome by smoke.

Alexander dragged the unconscious woman out and put her on his back as he rushed back through the smoke to the stairs. “Jesus, help me!”

A fireman appeared and grabbed Isabella. “Take my sister! I need the police and a pastor. I’ve taken one step too far.”

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Member Comments
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Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 11/15/12
This is a powerful story. You had a great opening full of danger and suspense.

I wonder if the title might have given the ending away, though I don't usually read titles before a story and still sensed that the MC was the fire starter but wonder if it might have shown others the ending too soon. I also wonder why he used the term sister. I'm assuming it was more of a term of endearment than relationship.

You captured the topic in a creative and tense way. Every time there is a huge tragedy or act of hate on the news we scratch our heads and ask why--what could force a person to take such a drastic step. You showed the why with such great details. You had me at the edge of my seat. At the end I found empathy for the MC. It takes talent to allow the reader empathy for the Lillian and you did that quite expertly.

Beth LaBuff 11/20/12
You have some wonderful descriptive phrases in your story, like "Darkness fell like a ten ton girder dropped from a crane." and "The steel and concrete structure threatening to buckle was transforming into a crematorium…" You put me right in the action.