At first, he didn't even know he was running.
He started when he hit the ground - legs struggling to support himself up after the impact of the fall. The steps he'd rushed down was farther from the ground than he thought, and he’d forgotten about the treacherous ice at the bottom, betraying his step and losing his footing, sending him crashing briefly to his side. Trembling, he managed to make his legs peddle him up and forward, straight into the distance, where the hellfire and chaos of people emerging from their homes and leaning out windows to watch growing more and more as he made his way down the street.
He’d observed the burning squat home for a span of a few seconds before a sound caught his attention. He escaped the hands of many that had gone to hold him back and away -- begging him to stay and wait for help.
Help would be too late -- he knew.
He was sure of it.
It didn’t take long to find the source of that gut curdling sound, the choked cries of a child, scared, breathless in the smoke. To the right, off the opening of the foyer, was a daycrib, something to let said child catch the gentle rays of the sun in the day and offer a place to nap while her mother read at night.
Now there was no sign of her and, cast in intense orange light, the man didn’t hesitate to grab tight of that singed blanket, wrenching it free from underneath a burning, haphazard plank, and holding the wailing child inside it close to his chest. He turned to the front door again, only for a half-cry to escape his mouth as something hit him from above, another loosened plank, his body collapsing in a heap the ground.
The cold of fresh fallen snow and sludge from the heat of the flames roused him awake, a pair of hands on his arms, the other on his legs. With hazy blue eyes, he searched for the small bundle he’d snatched, and saw a woman, face pale and smudged with soot, hovering behind the two men that carried him out and leaned him against the picket fence, far enough from the flames. He felt the soft caress of a rose on his left ear, thorns of said vine digging into the exposed skin of his arms, poking, biting, sharp.
There was a hand on his shoulder, his head fell back, staring up at the three people standing before him.
“Where -- ?”
The woman, wrapped tight in a nightgown and her husbands' robe, pressed the bundle in his resting, but open, arms. It was probably not the smartest thing they could’ve done in that given moment -- but it seemed like the right thing to do.
His fingers fumbled with the cloth around the child’s face, but he managed to get it lose to check. A soundless wail met his face, the baby girl’s face scrunched in a cry, upset, frightened, terrified but alive!
He sighed aloud, staring at the dark haired child, the small burn on her cheek, before realizing she made no noise aloud. He stared up at the three, one of the men, his neighbor, crouched in front of him, shaking a shoulder, mouth moving, asking questions. Nothing came out of his mouth either, and, only when Uhl opened his mouth to respond in a slurred voice, did he realize he couldn’t hear anything at all -- the roar of his heartbeat the only sound in his ears, words of his neighbors filtering through like he had been plunged under icy water.
He felt his face drain of his color, as lights drew up beside them, just as he felt a gush of furiously hot air rush up behind him as the roof beams fell in, hanging, like the bone of a broken femur.
Uhl, holding that dark-haired child close, let his eyes wander as the third man kept him upright, watching the scarlet that dripped from his ears speckle on the rose, the edges flickering in the orange cinders of the raging inferno behind the barrier of the gate.
He blocked the child’s vision from seeing any more of the destruction, glancing back one last time as the creeping vines of roses and flowers climbing up the side of the home burnt to a charred black crisp through the slats of the gate.
And, for a moment, watching the downfall of a quiet house on the end of the block, Florus Uhl felt like he was watching the Garden of Eden burn...