Seconds Away Page 29

I was surrounded by walls of flame.

I remembered a tip from a fire safety talk when I was in fourth grade: Stay low and crawl. I did that, but I wasn\'t sure it was going to do much good. The flames were everywhere, the heat unbearable. The smoke was starting to choke me. My path back to the bedroom had been swallowed up by the flames the same with the path forward to the staircase.

With the flames creeping closer, I saw an opening on my right.

A doorway.

I rolled into what I guessed was a spare bedroom. I couldn\'t see much I was still keeping low and the smoke was thick but I could see that unlike the rest of the house, this one was brightly painted in red, yellow, and blue. My eyes started watering from the smoke. I tried to hold my breath and crawled some more. My hand hit something . . . squishy maybe? Rubbery? I heard a squeak and looked down.

It was a rubber duck. The floor was covered with toys.

I had no time to even register confusion. The fire roared into the room as though it were following me. I rolled onto my back and kicked away as the flames hungrily licked at my feet. My back hit a wall.

I was trapped.

In seconds, the flames would swallow me whole. I wish that I could tell you what I thought about at that moment, with death surrounding me. I don\'t think my life flashed before my eyes. I don\'t even think that I pictured my mother in rehab or my father at the accident or any of that. Fear pure fear pushed out all thoughts but one.

I had to find a way out of there.

I managed to open my watery eyes. The flames were moving closer. I looked up, and through the thickening smoke, I saw a window.

I read somewhere that no computer can compete with the human brain for speed of certain calculations. So what happened next took maybe a tenth of a second, probably less. My brain flashed to the front of the Bat Lady\'s house the street view, if you will and it quickly figured out the placement of the second-floor windows. I realized where I was, how high, and that if I got out that window, I\'d be on the porch roof over the front door.

With the flames almost upon me, I jumped to the window and pulled it up.

It didn\'t move.

I could see there was no lock on it. The window was stuck.

No time to think or try anything else. I leaned hard with my back into the glass. I could feel the window shatter and give way as I fell outside. The oxygen fed the fire, but I kept myself flat on the roof. The flames shot over me.

The roof was pitched and I started to slide down it. Using my hands to find the edge, I let myself go with gravity. As I started to fall, I twisted my body so that my feet were beneath me. I landed hard on the front yard and tucked into a roll. I stood up and looked back at the house.

It was completely engulfed in flames.

In the distance I heard sirens. I had no idea what to do here. I turned to my left, saw nothing, turned to my right, and there, staring up at the flames, was the Butcher.

For a moment I just stared at him, unable to move. I was okay, physically. There may have been a scrape or minor burn, but I knew that I\'d be fine. Maybe I was catching my breath. Maybe I was simply too stunned. But I stood there, no more than fifty feet from the man who had taken my father away and just tried to kill me, and I didn\'t move.

The sirens sounded again, and just like that, the Butcher turned and ran away.

That snapped me out of my haze. Again I thought: Uh-uh, no way. No way was he getting away from me. The Butcher may be fast, but I was faster and I had desire on my side. There was no way he was getting away with this.

I thought the Butcher would head for the woods, but instead he headed for the neighbor\'s backyard. There was no hesitation on my part. Not anymore. I sprinted with everything I had toward him. We ran through one backyard, then another, then a third.

I was closing the gap.

Behind me I heard voices. Someone yelled, ’’Stop!’’ I didn\'t. I figured that I\'d obey when the Butcher did. He leapt over a hedge. I leapt it too.

Only ten feet separated us when he finally veered into the woods. It wouldn\'t do him any good. I was there. I was going to catch up to him and take him down and . . .

I went down hard.

Someone had tackled me. He was straddling me.

’’Stop! Police!’’

I looked up into the face of Chief Taylor!

’’Don\'t move!’’ he shouted.

’’Let me go! You gotta go after him!’’

But Chief Taylor wouldn\'t listen to me. ’’I said, \'Don\'t move.\' Lie flat on the ground and put your hands on your head.’’

’’He\'s getting away!’’

’’Now!’’

Taylor started to flip me onto my stomach. I let him roll me and just kept going with it, throwing him off me. I jumped back to my feet.

’’We can\'t let him go!’’ I shouted, turning back toward the woods.

But by now another officer was there. And another. One went for my legs, the other hit me high. I fell back to the ground. Taylor stood over me, his face red with rage. He reared back his foot as if to kick me, and then I heard another voice shout, ’’Get away from him, Ed!’’

It was Uncle Myron.

Taylor turned to the voice. I tried to get up, tried to keep running after the Butcher, because there was no time to explain, not really, and I figured that they\'d follow me and I could explain later. I actually managed to shrug him off, but when I looked back at the woods, there was no one, not a sound. I hesitated, looking for him, giving the cops a fresh chance to grab me.

There was no point in struggling anymore.

The night fell silent. The Bat Lady\'s house burned down to the ground. And the Butcher was gone.

Chapter 24

I told anyone I could about the blond guy, but they weren\'t listening. Still red-faced, Chief Ed Taylor took out his handcuffs.

’’You\'re under arrest,’’ he said to me. ’’Turn around and put your hands behind your back.’’

He reached for my arm, but Uncle Myron stepped between us. ’’What\'s the charge?’’

’’You\'re kidding, right? How about arson, for starters?’’

’’You saw him start that fire?’’

’’No,’’ Taylor said, ’’but he was running away.’’

’’Maybe because, oh, I don\'t know, the fire could have burned him?’’ Myron snapped. ’’What did you want him to do put it out?’’

Taylor\'s hands tightened into fists. ’’Well, Bolitar, how about the rest of it resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer ’’

’’You jumped him in the dark,’’ Myron said. ’’And all he did was roll you off him. He never hit you. If you\'re embarrassed that a teenager got the better of you . . .’’


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