The explosion was loud. A deafening silence followed, drowned out only by a ringing in her ears. Charlie gasped loudly as she sat bolt upright in bed, frantically looking around Nora's room for the source of the boom. Was it a dream? It wouldn't be the first time. Dreams, nightmares really, so vivid that they haunted her, clear as day. The panicked feeling in her gut was so familiar. Hadn't she already been through this once? How could it possibly be happening again?
She threw off the covers and flipped on the bedside lamp. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the brightness and she blinked a few times as if that would help wash the bleariness away. Charlie took a deep breath and paused. Was that...smoke? No. Not again. How could this be happening? She closed her eyes, wondering if she should be fearing the worst despite already knowing the answer.
Her ears were still ringing. She leapt out of bed and quickly slipped into a pair of jeans lying on the floor. The smell of smoke was only getting stronger and she knew they didn't have much time to get out of there. In an instant, she was standing in Iris' room, shaking her roommate awake and shouting words that were unintelligible to Charlie herself and she could only hope that she was getting the message across to Iris.
As Iris got her wits about her, Charlie looked around again, wondering where the sound had come from and how much time they had to flee. She approached the bedroom door and felt the doorknob. That it was cool meant that she could hope that they had a few minutes to get to safety. But wasn't hope one of the most dangerous things in a dire situation?
She swung the door open and was grateful that she didn't see any flames in front of her, at least not just yet. Billowy black clouds were filling the house and Charlie ‘ported back to her room to grab a few things. Nora's wallet, her phone, her laptop. She threw everything into the overstuffed backpack that her counterpart usually carried around for work and threw on a pair of sandals. A beeping sound echoed throughout the house and she suddenly realized that she could hear again. Gingerly, she touched the doorknob on Nora's door with her fingertips to check that it was also cool before carefully opening the door. She stepped into the hallway and tried her best not to breathe in too much smoke.
"Charlie! Bounce out!"
She froze. The voice was distant but familiar. Was it Iris? Or was it her mother? The words echoed in her head over and over again, reverberating and suffocating her just like in her awful, horrible, recurring nightmare. Their modest Metropolis apartment was lit up in various hues of reds and oranges and yellows as it was devoured by fire. Her mom stood in the kitchen with her baby brother in her arms, clinging to him desperately as she shouted instructions at Charlie, demanding that she get herself to safety while she still could. And so she did, begrudgingly so, helpless and heartbroken as she watched the building burn from the outside while the only family she had ever known was trapped within its crumbling walls. She would never forget the feeling of the oppressive heat as she scrambled to get to safety and the loneliness and hurt and anger that followed. The frustration and sense of injustice at how the landlord was let off with barely a slap on the wrist while others had paid dearly with their lives. Six months, time served. It wasn't fair.
She heard someone shout her name again and she snapped back to reality, remembering where she was again and the fight that she was about to face. There was more smoke than there was clean air and Charlie knew she had to get out of there ASAP. Backpack on her shoulders, no Iris to be seen or heard, she hoped that her roommate had been able to get herself to safety and bounced out, disappearing from the hallway and reappearing on the sidewalk across the street. The sound of sirens blared somewhere in the near vicinity, their wails growing louder as they approached the scene. Charlie breathed a sigh of relief as she saw Iris leaving the house safely and waved at her frantically, knowing that they had to get as far away as they could, just in case.
And then she remembered it: a lockbox, stashed safely in Nora's desk, holding key documents that would make dealing with this mess that much easier. She could hear Nora shouting at her and telling her not to go back in, that there was nothing left in there that couldn't be replaced, that the only thing that mattered was that she and Iris and the dog were safe and sound. But that wasn't enough for Charlie, who didn't want to stand around feeling helpless as she watched her home burn down again when she could very well be doing something to help.
And though she knew better, she shrugged off the backpack, left it on the sidewalk, and teleported back into Nora's room, pulling books off of the shelf to get to the metal box. It was getting harder and harder to breathe and she felt the heat of the flames as they worked their way through the second floor. She felt the cold, metal corners on the tips of her fingers and she knew that was all that she needed. It took all of her effort and concentration, but she bounced out again and returned to safety on the sidewalk. Neighbors and other curious bystanders were forming a crowd in the distance, all too enthralled by the house in flames to notice a young woman disappearing and reappearing in a matter of seconds. Though she was coughing and sputtering and struggling to take deep breaths, she felt better the moment her feet hit the pavement, and it was only a matter of moments before her lungs clear, her throat no longer sore. Her brow furrowed at the sudden realization of what it all meant, but she couldn't afford to give it much thought. She watched on as the rest of the house was engulfed in flames, feeling just as helpless and hopeless as before.
But this time, she wasn't alone.