Cars roared below the narrow ledge Niall McCormack was standing upon. Planes growled above him. It was all endless noise for the forty year old sales executive. For five years he had worked on the twenty-second floor of the Exeter building-a tower block of offices in central London. The sandy haired Bristollian looked across the city he called home. A billion lights glimmered in the darkness; some isolated, like a lonely lighthouse. Some were huddled together in groups for warmth. For protection. This no longer mattered. In a few minutes it would be all over for Niall. Soon he would jump. He turned his head and looked through the window, behind him. Orange fire reflected in his eyes.
Who knew where the blaze had broken out? Who knew how it had exploded out of control? Who knew if anybody was coming to help him? Fire engines, ambulances, police officers had all been called out. However, they were travelling across London in rush hour. For now Niall was all by himself. Surrounded by flame and bodies.
He knew it would be a shame to end everything, in this way. His life hadn’t been impressive or glamorous, but it belonged to him. He thought of his wife: his gorgeous Rose waiting at home, for her husband. Praying. In silence. Niall hoped she wasn’t watching the TV. He didn’t want her to see his splattered remains across the cold, concrete ground. He hoped that the cameras wouldn’t broadcast his blood and bones scattered across the pavement below.
Something crackled behind Niall and he immediately swung his head round. He couldn’t see anything. It must have been his imagination. The room had completely filled with an impenetrable cloud of smoke, as black as hell. Was there anybody still alive in there? Could someone be struggling to breathe?
If anyone was still there, they would have suffocated long ago. He was the last one left. Niall remembered when everybody else made their decisions. Who knew how long ago this was? Up on this window ledge, a second lasted as long as an eternity. Some of Niall’s colleagues decided that the only way to escape this chaos was to jump. One by one, each office worker stepped off the window ledge to meet their sudden, sharp deaths.
Were they brave?
Niall knew this to be true. They possessed a great deal more courage than he could ever hope to muster.
Were they stupid?
The stupid were the ones who believed that somebody was coming to rescue them. They were the ones who stayed behind. They were the ones who died slowly. Painfully. Agonisingly. He couldn’t stay there any longer. Niall gently lifted one foot off the ledge into the empty air. He was about to shift all of his weight forward, when his mobile phone screamed into life.
The glaring ringtone rang out in the quiet darkness. It suddenly reminded Niall of where he was and what he was about to do. He instinctively pulled his body away from the desolate void before him and against the brick wall behind him. He flinched, when he felt how searingly hot the wall had become. Niall shivered, as the fire’s yellow tongue licked his back. His phone was still chiming incessantly away. Niall held it up to his ear and pressed the answer button.
“Oh my gosh! Niall! You’re alive. I don’t believe it!” Screamed the hysterical voice of Niall’s wife: Rose.
“I’m the last one left, sweetheart. I don’t have much time. I’m sorry.”
Rose tried to make sense of her husband’s words. With a gasp, she realised what he was about to do.
“Don’t do it, Niall. Please, don’t jump! Don’t leave me. Stay where you are. The fire brigade are only two floors beneath you. They’ll keep you safe. You’ll be fine.”
“They’re too late. Too late to save me.” The smoke had started to seep through the window and Niall was finding it difficult to breathe. He didn’t have time for an emotional good-bye.
“Please don’t do it. Wait a little longer.”
“I’m sorry. Don’t look, Rose…
With that last word, Niall disconnected the call and slipped the mobile into his shirt pocket. He took one final glance at the office, he had worked in for the past five years. It was now completely hidden, behind a barrier of thick, toxic smoke.
Summoning the last of his courage, Niall took a deep breath and followed in the footsteps of his courageous colleagues before him.
Somewhat inspired from 9/11 and how many people jumped out of the building to suffer a fast death, as opposed to being slowly burned to death. This was written for the contest prompt of my protagonist is on a ledge, ready to jump, when their mobile phone rings. What happens next? This was also my first piece of writing to be published.