IN THIS EPISODE: …The twins find themselves trapped in the burning Chamber of Horrors…
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CHAPTER 42 – Doomed
Topaz Cushing – The Chamber of Horrors
The First Night of the Full Moon
“Opal!” Topaz screamed as her sister fell to the floor.
The burning beam crashed down next to her, and it was only by the Grace of God that Opal wasn’t crushed.
Topaz knelt and pulled her sister away from the blazing timber. A four-inch gash creased Opal’s forehead. The wound had soot around the edges, but it didn’t look too deep, and Opal appeared to be breathing—though the smoke in the air couldn’t have been doing her any good.
“I’m sorry!” Topaz gasped between the tears. “We shouldn’t have come back in! I’m sorry!”
But she knew her sister couldn’t hear her.
Another beam came down, taking with it the framed “Pelt of the Beast of Gevaudan.” The display’s wooden frame was burning, and the class enclosing the pelt had smashed to slivers, but—ironically—the fake fur piece itself appeared unharmed.
Some lies are hard to get rid of, Topaz thought ruefully as another coughing fit seized her.
She seized her sister under the arms and, despite the coughing, managed to haul Opal to her feet.
She tried to head for the back exit, but fire seemed to be everywhere now. Topaz knew the Chamber of Horrors as well as she knew her sister’s face, but with all the smoke and flames and confusion, she wasn’t even sure where the exit lay anymore.
Peering through the scorching gloom, she spotted the corner of the Ice Man exhibit.
The bulkhead’s that way!
Half dragging, half carrying Opal, she staggered around the burning beams toward it.
A burst of fire rushed past, sucking all the oxygen out of the air.
Topaz gasped… staggered… and fell, taking Opal down with her.
“I’m sorry…!” Topaz muttered, weeping. “I’m sorry!”
She attempted to stand, but her legs felt like rubber.
She tried to take a deep breath, to gain some strength, but despite her makeshift scarf, only heat and ash filled her lungs.
Flames crackled all around her, and the world spun out of focus.
Topaz closed her eyes.
Blackness swirled in.
Suddenly, she was flying…
No, not flying…
Someone had picked her up.
She felt strong arms supporting her, and soft, warm fur over her face. She could even breathe a little.
I’m not dead!
“My sister!” she managed to gasp. “Save…!” but then coughing took her breath away.
“She’s safe,” a deep voice rumbled. “I’ve got her. I’ve got you both.”
Topaz had the sensation of motion, as if the person carrying her and her sister were running—though she couldn’t imagine how that was possible.
Something smashed down around them, and a rush of clean, cool air hit her fur-shrouded face.
She pulled the fur away from her mouth and nose and gulped down great lung-filling breaths.
The person carrying Topaz laid her down on the grass by the edge of Olde Kennington Park, next to her father’s possessions. To her great relief, she saw Opal lying beside her as well; her sister coughed and moaned softly. But what was this furry blanket covering them…?
Topaz felt the coarse, red-black fur between her fingers.
The Pelt of the Beast…?
The fur wasn’t scorched; it wasn’t even warm.
“Are you all right?” the deep voice asked.
Topaz peered up at the huge figure looming over her. The burning building behind the huge man cast his face into shadow, but his greenish eyes seemed to glow in the darkness.
Was it a fireman, or…?
Topaz reached up and touched his face. The man felt cold… very cold.
A chill ran through her, and not from that touch.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s me.”
“But…” she began, “but how…?”
The man shook his shaggy head. “I can’t explain. Not now. But I’m glad you’re all right. I’m sure your sister will recover, too.”
He stood and gazed at the burning mansion. In the distance, fire alarms sounded.
Topaz tried to stand, as well, but her legs still felt like rubber.
“I have to go,” the man said, still gazing at the blazing ruins.
She managed to grab hold of his hand, a giant hand almost twice as large as her own.
“Wait,” she said.
He gazed down at her, and now his eyes looked golden in the firelight.
“Before you go… at least tell me your name.”
“Ash,” he said softly. “All I’ve ever been is Ash. But for you, it can be… Ash Milton.”
Then he slipped his hands out of hers, and in three big strides, the Ice Man vanished into the darkness of Olde Kennington Park.
TO BE CONTINUED…!
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