Something had disturbed Carrie. She felt hot and sweaty. She tossed her duvet off, put her head under the pillow and tried to ignore whatever it was. But she couldn’t; something was wrong, she was burning up. She opened one eye, determined not to give in to whatever had woken her from her dream which had featured a particularly good looking bloke who she wanted to get back to!

Lying there in the soft light of dawn the room looked hazy; hazier than normal at this unearthly hour.  Something caught in the back of her throat making her cough. It was then that she became aware of the acrid smell of smoke hanging heavy in the air. She turned over and could see a bright orange glow underneath her bedroom door.

 ‘Oh my god, oh my god, OH MY GOD!’

Panic rose in her voice as she leapt out of bed, bounded over to the bedroom door and put the flat of her hand on it; red hot. She remembered seeing a training video at work – don’t open the door. Running to the window she threw back the curtains and flung it open.  Dawn was just breaking, the sun appearing like a giant tangerine over the rooftops.  Carrie could see lights on in some of the houses up and down the road; a milk float whining its way through the empty streets below.

‘HELP! HELP!’ she screamed.

The world outside was silent, someone had to hear her.

‘HELP, someone please HELP!’ 

The bedroom was beginning to fill with thick black smoke like a blanket descending and loud cracking sounds echoed as the plaster began to give way to flames licking up the walls. 

‘Oh, my god, OH MY GOD!’ 

She tried to clamber up onto the window sill but it was too high, or she was too short. Fear raced through her body making her shake uncontrollably and she thought she was going to pass out. Grabbing the bedside table she pushed it over to the window. The smoke making her cough; rasping in her throat. Tears streaming down her cheeks; her eyes stinging from the pungent air.  Grabbing a blue silk scarf from the back of the chair she wrapped it around her mouth and nose and held it there, breathing in the familiar smell of her perfume, light relief from the stench of smoke.  Carrie levered herself up onto the bedside table and as she put her weight on it she felt it move and crash apart beneath her – typical IKEA!

Perching precariously on the window sill, she looked down at the lean to roof below her first floor apartment. To her right was a downpipe, she tried to grab it, hoping that she could hang on to it and slide down to the roof below, but it was out of her reach and she almost lost her balance and fell.

‘Jump for Christ’s sake, whatcha waiting for?!’ shouted a voice from below.

 ‘I ccan’t. I’m sscared!’

  ‘I don’t think you’ve got a whole lot of choice there mate! Come on jump!’

Through her tears Carrie could see a man’s head protruding over the top edge of the lean-to roof.

 ‘Come on, if you jump down you can slide to the edge and I’ll grab you’.

‘I can’t! I can’t let go, I’m scared!’ 

An explosion and the sound of breaking glass from inside the apartment was all the persuasion she needed to leap from the window sill. Sliding down the vertical pitch of the roof, she ended up with her legs straddled either side of the man’s face. Not a terribly dignified introduction, but Carrie wasn’t in a position to worry about that right now, nevertheless she was thankful that her Hello Kitty PJs covered her virtue!

‘Ok, I’m going back down the ladder, I want you to turn round and come down after me, right?’ 

Carrie followed his instructions, her legs like jelly, sweaty hands gripping the sides of the ladder. As she reached the bottom she collapsed onto the gravel, her chest heaving, gasping for breath.

Looking up she saw a pair of piercing blue eyes set into a tanned complexion. 

‘G’day, I’m Tom.’

She’d seen him in the lobby when she was collecting her mail, but had never had the nerve to speak to him for some reason.

‘Hi, I’m Carrie.’

Carrie could hear sirens.  Tom took both her hands and hauled her to her feet, but her legs felt so shaky she couldn’t stand. He picked her up cradling the back of her knees and shoulders in his arms and carried her out to the street where the emergency services were in full swing.  Onlookers had gathered on the other side of the road. Smoke and flames had engulfed the entire top half of the apartment building.  Tom laid Carrie gently on a stretcher just before she passed out. 

When she woke she was lying in a hospital bed, fluorescent strip lights overhead, the sound of voices in the distance. She was cold and her throat was sore, her mouth dry; she coughed.

‘Hi, welcome back,’ said an Australian voice from the chair next to her bed.

 ‘You came with me?’

 ‘Course, here have a drink.’

She sipped the ice cold water and could feel it slipping down the back of her throat easing the dry soreness.  She could smell the rancid stench of smoke on her clothes, in her hair. She began to cry; deep irrepressible sobs took over her entire body.

‘Aw, come on mate.’ Tom put his arms around her and held her tightly. ‘It’s alright. You’re safe now. I’ve got you, everything’s gonna be OK.’

Something had disturbed Carrie. She felt hot and sweaty. She tossed her duvet off, put her head under the pillow and tried to ignore whatever it was, desperate to go back to sleep. It was too early, no need to get up yet, it’s Saturday. Suddenly she sat bolt upright.

 ‘Oh my god, the fire!’

Rubbing her eyes she looked around her. Everything looked OK. She sniffed deeply, no smell of smoke; no orange glow from beneath her bedroom door, no cracking sounds.  She jumped out of bed and ran to the door, putting the back of her hand on the smooth cool wood.  Opening the bedroom curtains she looked out into the street. Dawn was breaking; a few houses up and down the street had lights on, a milk float passed by outside.  She was confused.  She sat down on the edge of her bed and put the bedside light on; its warm glow slowly bringing her round and taking away the fear. 

‘Wow, that was some dream; it all seemed so real.’ 

She pulled her dressing gown on over her ‘Hello Kitty’ PJs, went out to the kitchen and flicked on the kettle.  The kitchen worktop looked like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmare. One empty wine bottle and another with barely a glassful left in it. An empty Philadelphia tub, a Boursin wrapper and a small piece of cheddar, hard from being left unwrapped all night. 

Taking her coffee through to the lounge she picked up the CD lying on top of the stereo; Carus Thompson, Creature of Habit.  The events of the previous evening slowly started to come back to her. 

She’d got back from work about 8.30, the tube journey had been horrendous, people packed into the carriages like sardines. An incident at Chalk Farm station had meant the tube was diverted to Swiss Cottage.  Too tired to cook, she’d opened a bottle of wine and binged on cheese and a French loaf while listening to the CD.  She’d just split up with her boyfriend after 2 years and was feeling pretty sorry for herself.  She’d lit lots of tea light candles; they always made you feel better, gave you a warm, cosy glow.  She’d played one of the tracks, “Burn” over and over again, thinking about the breakup, drinking more and more wine and feeling generally miserable. The words of the track came back into her mind:

‘My head is a house

and your fire destroyed so many rooms

everything smelled of smoke

And you can burn

burn everything that is me.’

What with all that cheese, the wine, the candles and the words of that song inscribed in her mind it was no wonder she’d had a bad dream. But it was so scary and it felt so real. Then she remembered the man in the dream.

‘Mmm, pity he wasn’t for real!’

Showered and dressed, Carrie grabbed her apartment keys, pulled on her coat, wrapped a blue silk scarf around her neck and headed out the door. The smell of perfume on the scarf taking her aback – even that seemed so real in her dream.  She stopped in the lobby to check her mailbox.

 ‘G’day I’m Tom,’ said an Australian voice from behind her.

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up; turning round she was met by a pair of piercing blue eyes set in a tanned complexion, a man of about 6’2’ stood smiling back at her.  It was HIM!  Carrie leant back against the wall to stop herself from falling over.  

‘Hey, you OK mate? ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’

‘No, I’m fffine, rreally.’

 ‘Well you don’t look it; you’ve gone a funny shade of green. Here come and sit down for a minute.’

Taking her gently but firmly by the arm Tom led Carrie to the foot of the stairs.

‘Here, park yourself there for a mo. Strewth I didn’t mean to scare you. I’ve seen you around for a while, thought it’s about time I introduced myself that’s all.’

‘I’m fine really, just a bit tired..... and hung-over.’ 

‘Didn’t sleep too well huh? Me neither, did ya hear the sirens? Kept me awake half the night. Fire up at Chalk Farm station apparently, quite a bit of damage according to the news.’

At that point Carrie passed out. 

When she woke up she was lying on a black leather sofa, a cushion under her head, looking up at twinkling spotlights in the ceiling, the smell of coffee wafting through the air.

 ‘Welcome back, had me worried there for a minute mate; thought you were gonna throw up on me.’

‘Sorry. Hope I didn’t, throw up I mean?’ said Carrie.

‘No worries mate, here drink this.’


Tom passed Carrie a glass of water, taking a sip she propped herself up on her elbows taking in the surroundings. Tom walked over to the kitchen area and poured coffee into two mugs. He was singing along to a song playing in the background.

 ‘.......and you can burn, burn everything that is me, turn on me, from the ashes I will rise.’