Turns out fireworks didn’t do much in an industrial incinerator.
“I thought they’d like, explode it!” Jack said, kicking the hulking steel shape protruding from the floor. “Stupid thing.”
“Well, there’s probably far more energy being produced by whatever heats them than those tiny rockets. Look how thick the door is.” When I saw the size of the incinerators I hadn’t expected much to happen. They weren’t trivial machines, all three of them together took up almost all of the space in the basement room we were in. It was mostly ducting for the flue and what I assumed to be air supply. The guts of the machines were set into the floor below. It left the three square door-like hatches only a step or so up from the ground. Behind them, a diagonal chute a good five feet long into whatever chamber held the junk they were designed to destroy.
“Aw man, that totally sucked. Why didn’t you say? We could have used them for something else. They put a window in it or something? Then at least we could have seen them go off.”
I laughed, “I did tell you. You ignored me.”
“Well, you should have persuaded me.” I tried to give him a light punch in the arm but he darted out of my reach.
“Well, at least Sam and Dan didn’t miss much.” Tom said. The two, who’d I’d worked out were brothers, had declined the invitation. Tom and Jack decided they couldn’t wait for them to change their minds so there were just the three of us. Tom flipped his bag around and peered inside, “I’ve got a few more. We could light them outside their window or-”
“Shush,” Jack interrupted, suddenly serious. His focus was on the stairwell we’d come in by, the disappointment forgotten. “Did you hear something?”
Everyone froze, listening for the slightest sounds over the dull rumble of the single working incinerator.
“Jack, who owns this place?” I whispered to him. A thought struck me that gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. “I thought you said it wasn’t used anymore.”
“It isn’t! No one ever comes here.” His eyes shined with fear. The fear of getting caught somewhere you shouldn’t be. One of the worst things he could imagine no doubt. I could imagine only one thing, and it was something we really didn’t want to interrupt.
I could hear it too now, muffled voices distorted by the stairwell. An argument perhaps, deep and harsh. I couldn’t make out the words.
“Why is it on?” I said, echoing the thoughts that were circling in my head. I started to look around for another exit but I saw none. It was a basement, of course there wasn’t another exit. “Why waste money keeping an incinerator on all the time?” Hopefully there would be a reasonable explanation. Maybe it was still in use, and these people were just here to use it for its intended purpose. Maybe they were caretakers, checking everything was ok.
“It’s normally off, that’s why it was so important to do it today.” Given the complexities of the ducting, there was little opportunity to hide, everything was either too small or inaccessible. Close to the ground there was just the large square hatches. The one open in front of us was burning with white heat, the others dark pits… A place to hide?
“Come on!” I hissed and started towards one of the cold units.
“Where?” Jack said, eyes still watching the stairs.
“Where do you think? In here!” I jumped up to the hatch, twisted the handle and threw it open. They were narrow enough to brace yourself against the sides. You could climb back up with a bit of effort.
“No way! Getting caught isn’t that bad.” I don’t think he understood who might be using a basement incinerator, late at night, in the middle of the Island.
“Listen to me Jack, you don’t want to get caught by these guys,” I said.
“You are totally freaking out Alex. Why-”
“Listen to me Jack.” I physically shook him. I had no time for this. “Don’t make me force you.”
“Fine. Jesus, no need to get your panties all twisted up.” He climbed in the opening, far too slowly, and I heard the squeal of bare palms on stainless steel, then a thump as he fell into the fire-chamber.
The argument had stopped. I physically lifted a confused Tom up and nearly threw him down. At least he didn’t shout out, there was just the echoing thud as he landed in the hollow belly of the chamber with Jack. Now for-
“Hey, what was that?” Crap, they heard. I couldn’t hide now. Hiding when someone isn’t looking is hell of a lot easier than hiding when someone knows you’re there. It would take them two seconds to find us.
No, I couldn’t hide. But they could. I slammed the door shut. In a moment of pure stupidity I swung down the handle to make it look like the others incinerators, it didn’t cross my mind that there would be no way to open it from the inside until it was too late.
I span around to face the entrance as it was blocked by a bemused figure. In the dim glow of the basement lights I saw three diagonal stripes tattooed over his left eyebrow.
* * *
He stepped forwards, unsure of how to react I guessed. I just wanted to get out of there, there was no point in fighting if I didn’t have to. I ran directly for him, skipping to the side at the last minute. His fingers brushed me but closed on a handful of empty air.
I sprinted as fast as I could, ignoring the shooting pain every time I pushed forwards with my ankle. I reached the doorway. Concentrating on getting my first foothold right on the stairs, charged head-first into an unexpected barrier.
I fell backwards onto my ass. My way was blocked by a plastic wrapped column, bent awkwardly in the middle. It was clasped by a pair of bristly arms and filled the narrow opening edge-to-edge.
“What the fuck was that?” A muffled voice said from behind it. I should have known there’d be two, one guy can’t have an argument.
My hair was grabbed from behind and I was dragged backwards into the room trying helplessly to ease the pain by pushing back with my legs.
“Some brat decided to come see what was going on down here, Gib. Not a good day for him. Her. Whatever,” the guy who’d grabbed my hair replied and threw me against the wall. I felt the half-healed wound on my stomach tear and I collapsed onto the floor.
I never get a break, do I?
The man I’d charged into entered and threw what he had been carrying to the floor in front of the incinerator, kicking the door to the basement closed with his heel. “Who would have thought this bitch would weigh so much. You better have turned this thing on yesterday Dan.”
Dan, turned away from where he’d left me against the wall to peer at some controls on the incinerator. Checking the temperature? Jack and Tom were trapped, if I didn’t survive this no one would care, but they didn’t deserve to die thinking I’d forgotten to let them out…
It might be best for me to stay quiet, there was a small chance they’d let me go.
Dan seemed satisfied with the incinerator and turned his attention back to me. “Well, well, well. What the hell is this?” He walked towards me. He was short, and you could even say good looking, in a grizzled way. High cheekbones, wide jaw. Quite the contrast to his leering friend. “You’ve seen quite a bit, little girl.”
“Girl?” The other’s head snapped around to me. A trace of… uncertainty in his voice.
“You scared of a little girl, Gib? No fucking wonder they threw you out of guard duty.” He took another step towards me, and a cruel laugh slid from his lips.
Grabbing me again by the hair, he dragged me into the light. I stayed limp, letting him control me. He shoved me at the Gib. The dim light caught his face and in that moment I recognised him. Those leering eyes were disturbingly familiar. The guard I’d kicked in the face when I’d ‘rescued’ Mike. Demoted to clean-up, evidently. Had he seen me? I’d worn a scarf over most of my face…
“Be careful.” He took a step backwards as the one with a firm grip on my head pushed me towards him. He was scared. Just a little.
“Gib, you fucktard, you believe those stories?” Stories?
“Look, I’m telling you there was some little girl and she fucked everyone up. Ask anyone who was there! This might not be her but… ” Not your lucky day, Gib.
This guy was scared of me. Not me, but the idea of me…
Could I use that? Did I want to, here? I just wanted to get out alive so I could come back and free Jack and Tom. I looked him in the eye. Back down, let me go.
“No. It’s her, I’m telling you.” He took another step back. “Her eyes man.”
His friend just laughed. “Well, good for fucking us! We caught the bitch.” With his free hand he grabbed at the hatch to the incinerator and flung it open.
The blast of heat hit me full in the face. The film of moisture on my eyes started to dry, blinking felt gritty. I kept them closed against the bright white glow and the scorching heat, filtered to a deep red through the blood of my eyelids.
“We can be the ones to finish this embarrassing little shit.” I could hear the joy in his voice. Bloodlust. I kind of knew the feeling.
Holding someone by their hair was a good way to control them, but it loses its effectiveness when they get desperate enough. It relies on pain to control. If what faces you is worse than any kind of pain, breaking free just takes willpower.
There is nothing like showing someone the face of hell to motivate them.
I twisted myself around to face him, gritting my teeth as I tore a chunk of my own hair out. I stamped at his shin, all I could really reach with any power. He reacted by pushing me forwards into the chute. I threw my arms out to stop myself. My skin burned as I braced against the edges of the hatch.
I pushed myself forwards and away from the heat as the smell of my own burnt flesh met my nose. I was close, too close to really punch, but within the circle of his arms.
I jumped upwards and slammed the top of my head into his face. He staggered back enough for me to get a quick strike to the most convenient place. I connected with his sternum and he wheezed a cough.
But I couldn’t stop.
I grabbed his shirt and pulled him as hard as I could. He was heavy, nothing like one of the kids. But with all my strength and the help of my hip as a pivot, I threw him. It was just like I’d done earlier. Except there was no soft landing here. He went head-first down the chute. The scream didn’t last long.
I fell into a crouch, ready for the next guy – but he’d already run.