Smoke. Everything smells like smoke. It invades your senses, clogging your nostrils and burning your throat. You cough in your sleep and roll over. No need to get up, it’s probably your imagination; you usually dream of explosions and gunpowder and fire. This is nothing new. Subconsciously, you roll over again. Don’t think about that now, it’s haunting enough as it. Leave it alone, let the smell leave your nostrils (it always does in the end) and go back to sleep.
Time passes; you can’t tell how much. It’s one of those nights where a minute feels like an hour and you wish you could just knock yourself out and wait for morning. But the smell is too empowering and you start kicking off the covers. When did it get so hot in here, you think. Hot flashes? You can’t be that old, can you? You cough again (the dreams are getting bad, they’re actually suffocating you) and you try to fall back to sleep.
Then you hear something a crash.
You know something’s wrong.
Sit up in bed. Come on, sit up. You’re a soldier, it should be easy. But why is it so hard? Everything seems fuzzy; it’s like you’re underwater, feeling around the bottom of a pool. Pool; another image you’d prefer not to think about (when they said post-traumatic stress, they meant it). Everything is melting together in the heat of your room, reality and dreamscape becoming one in the same. Now you’re really confused and your eyes refuse to open. Is this a dream, or are you finally going mad?
More sounds come from outside your door, but your body refuses to function. For some reason your limbs are lead weights but your head is as light as a balloon. Why can’t you get up and move? This is bloody ridiculous! But the only thing you can do is curl up on your side in defenselessness. Now you’re scared; you don’t know what’s a dream and what’s reality and you feel like crying but you can’t.
Soldiers don’t cry.
The sounds get louder and more alarming. This is the worst dream of your life. There’s smoke and heat and blackness; you rather be in the war. But now the sounds are close. They form your name, over and over and over again. It scares you. They echo into a voice, vibrating in your ear.
Your name: a one syllable mantra in the night.
Your name: the only thing your deafened ears can hear.
Your name: a deep hum in the noise of a nightmare.
Your name: on fire.
The rest happens so quickly, a minute feels like a minute again. Something grabs you; it’s thin and cold and feels like brittle bone. You would scream if you could, but your body isn’t listening to you tonight, is it? Then everything is suddenly in motion: you’re moving a hundred kilometers an hour even though you’re limp.
Lifted from bed, down the stairs, quick, quick, be careful now. Hit the carpet, it smells like smoke. Everything smells like smoke. It’s going to envelop you. But you are grabbed again by the cool body and it feels good against the burn of the smoke. You’re up and moving again somehow, flying down the steps.
Everything is cold and you go numb (as if you weren’t already). But suddenly you can breathe again and it’s a surprise: you didn’t know you couldn’t breathe in the first place. Open your eyes now. Come on, it’s the least you can do. You shiver. Damn, it’s bloody cold! When did this happen? Something warm is draped over you, wrapped around your neck. Open your eyes, you’ll be rewarded.
You’ll be surprised with what you see.
Blue. Not what you expected, but better than your inner eyelids. Blue fabric draped over you. You raise your hand to try and move it, but a gloved hand catches yours. The fabric is moved from your face. White now (better than black) and wet. Snow. It’s snowing. You’re outside lying in the snow on a London sidewalk. Maybe this really is a dream.
But it's different.
Your favorite shade.
Your favorite thing in the world to see.
Your flatmate’s clear blue eyes stare at you like you’re the only person on the planet. They are concerned, frightened; but hard and focused as always. And, per usual, they stare right through you to read your brain and understand your heart; you don’t need to speak, his eyes see everything.
The mantra returns, your name, but it’s not fire now. It’s a breath of ice that somehow warms you in the winter night.
“John, John, it’s all right now. Everything’s going to be all right. There was an electrical outburst in the flat above your room, a fire. It eventually moved to our flat, but the smoke managed to seep into your room through the walls. You’re currently suffering from smoke inhalation and an extreme lack of oxygen. But everything’s going to be all right; you’ll be all right, John. Help’s coming. Do you understand me, John? Please be all right.”
You nod (your first action of the night, good for you) and believe every word spoken from his mouth. Sherlock Holmes is never wrong, even when he guesses.
You find yourself falling asleep on the sidewalk. Finally, you think, took long enough. But this is more comfortable than your bed. Take a breath, lean in. You’re propped up against your flatmate, his gloved hand holding yours, wearing his coat and scarf while your home burns to the ground.
And everything is perfectly all right.