A Tuesday like every other; one that would pass soundlessly and monotonously. A day where Chief Executive Young would go to her office, sign papers and attend meetings all day, then return home to eat and fall asleep.
That's what it was supposed to be, anyway.
A groan escaped dry, pink lips as a high-pitched alarm pierced the quiet, stirring the sleeping woman from her slumber. She sat up in the bed, taking a moment to yawn and stretch her arms before leaning tiredly over her nightstand. Romy winced when she looked down at the cellphone screen, her eyes sensitive to the intensity of the bright light after having only just opened them. She slid her thumb along the notification to stop the repeated assault on her ears, and let out a breathy sigh of relief as silence inhabited the space once again.
In Romy's penthouse room, the east-facing wall was composed solely of glass, which made a stunning, wide window that allowed her to observe sunrise over the metropolis. The view of the city from there was beautiful; constantly lit, and always full of rushing cars and bustling and people, even through what would usually be peaceful hours of night. It was this very scenery that gave the businesswoman enough motivation to do her best throughout her exhausting, laborious work-hours.
It was around five in the morning, and the shining form of the sun had only just begun to rise above the tops of the buildings, thinly veiled by a layer of clouds. It cast a dusty orange light into the bedroom that indicated the official start of her long day.
She reluctantly left the warmth of her bed and stepped into the slippers laid by her bedside, thus beginning her morning routine. Romy started her favorite lavender tea and, while it was heating up, wandered with light steps into her closet to carefully select her ensemble. Though, really, there wasn't much of a decision to be made – her wardrobe consisted mostly of crimson button-ups and black slacks… so one could easily deduce what the woman ended up wearing.
Romy stopped in front of her bathroom mirror on the way back to the kitchen. She washed her face quickly with water, then straightened her posture; from this position, she wrapped slender fingers around the wavy, black hair that was tumbling over her shoulders, and skillfully tied it all up into a simple bun. Her hair's natural curls cradled the pointed features of her face, and with a dash of blood-red lipstick at the end, the look was finished.
She didn't care much for appearances but, upon entering the business field as a young girl, found that when she looked fierce, she was treated as such by her peers. The tall woman's slim, dark eyes traced the lines of her body in the reflection to ensure nothing was out of place, and the action was immediately followed by a quick double-check for wrinkles in fabric or anything of the like she may have missed.
Once positive that there were no flaws in her presentation, Romy poured the steaming-hot floral tea into her thermos and was ready to begin her commute. It was a short and painless trip, especially with a paid driver, and the tall and elegant structure came into view after only a few minutes of driving. She exited the vehicle and walked toward the entrance, stopping to observe the exterior of 'Riversand Applications' for a moment before proceeding the rest of the way inside.
From that point, everything went as expected; meetings were had, papers were signed, investors were called, and interviews were planned. It was as always, nothing extraordinary or strange to be reported at the end of the near-12 hour work-day.
Though it was all the usual, CEO Young found herself mentally-fatigued by the time she was finished with all of her tasks. It was already dark again, approaching 9pm, and the ambient sounds of the city were only slightly softer than they were throughout the day. She left through the front doors of her office building, then made way to the sidewalk where her driver collected her each day. The fancy, red sports car was parked exactly where it always was, and though Romy would typically have hopped in without pause, for a reason unknown to even herself, she hesitated once she reached the car door.
"Miss Young, are you alright?" Her driver rolled down the window to ask, voice riddled with concern.
"Ah," she stammered, shaking her head to collect herself, "I'm fine, thank you Driver Jones. I… I think I will walk home tonight. It's nice out, and I could really use the fresh air."
"Are you sure, Miss?"
"I'm positive," Romy reiterated with a tone of finality, "thank you for your hard work. I'll see you in the morning at the usual time."
Driver Jones frowned, brows furrowed in disapproval, but he didn't try to object any further. He rolled up the window and set the vehicle in motion and the brilliant red tail-lights faded into the night, and out from the woman's vision, when he turned onto the main street.
It wasn't the first evening that she had walked home from 'Riversand', in fact, a brisk walk had previously been her favorite means of getting to and from work before she became CEO. There had been over a year of break since the last time she had returned by foot, though, so Romy couldn't help but feel somewhat odd as she started her trek. She walked uncharacteristically slowly, as if dragging a great weight behind her; and her pointed dress shoes made it far more uncomfortable to traverse long distances than it used to be as a young intern.
Despite her discomfort and the feeling that she was somewhere she didn't belong, muscle memory carried her down all of the right paths in the direction of her apartment. It was fortunate that her legs were moving on their own, as Romy's mind was swimming with all of the projects, ideas, and financial endeavors for the company that she needed to work on the next day.
Her head started to throb after only a couple blocks, which led to her decision to take a rest on one of the benches, but the young woman hadn't even touched the metal seat when she heard a child's wailing coming from nearby. Romy scanned the area frantically in search of what made the noise, and after a moment she laid eyes on a small figure crossing the street toward her. Though difficult to make out in detail under the dim lighting of the street lamps, she could tell that it was a young girl in a yellow raincoat.
It wasn't until after she had discerned as much as possible about the figure that the businesswoman realized the crossing light was red. Simply seeing the glowing scarlet 'no walking' symbol in her peripheral struck fear deep into her chest, and she felt the entire weight of the situation settle in her stomach at once. The part of the city they were in was full of bars, and therefore drunks, and the fact a child was alone in the streets obviously didn't sit well with Romy.
As if on cue, a pair of headlights rounded the corner a block down, turning their direction… and started to accelerate toward them quickly. With only a split-second to make a decision, Romy burst into a powerful sprint in the child's direction, calling out quietly to the girl with a strained happy voice in hopes of relaxing her.
"Hi little one," she greeted with a pinched smile, "You should get to the sidewalk to avoid an accident, silly!"
A shake of the head between her sobs was the only answer Romy received. She had nearly reached the young girl, who was now stumbling directly toward the middle of the street – but the oncoming car was traveling far over the speed-limit… and was much closer than Romy had originally anticipated.
"Daisy?! Are you there?!"
'Ah, how cute. Her name's Daisy,' Romy thought, a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
It only took hearing the unfamiliar voice beckoning the little girl and seeing the outline of a woman with an umbrella standing on the sidewalk before her for Romy to know what she had to do. Without delay, she outstretched her hands and shoved the girl away, toward the stranger and–
Her own soft whimpering was the last thing that Romy could hear as the world instantly turned to black. It all happened so quickly that she hardly felt anything at all; nothing but the jarring sensation of being forcibly ejected from the flesh and bone confines of mortality.
'I guess I was, by definition, a successful person' her consciousness considered, 'but there was still so much I desired to do. Things I wanted to accomplish...'
It was an emotionally destructive train of thought, one she decided would be better not to pursue. But wait–
'Why am I still able to… think? Do I really have to be sentient for eternity in the afterlife?
That sounds terrible. There's no way that's the case…
Yeah… that's not right.
Everything about this feels strange.
Wait – I can still hear something. What is that sound?'
Silence ensued this revelation, and after only a few moments of waiting the mysterious noise she heard repeated itself. Muffled sobbing could be heard in the distance, and it was accompanied by desperate cries for help.
'Am I… still alive? Is the girl okay?! I could have sworn I got her out of the way… why is she still crying out?'
Romy mustered as much strength as she could to will herself awake, and though she was successful… she almost found herself wishing she hadn't been. Fierce pain was pulsating from multiple places on her skull, though the worst thing she felt would have to be her left eye. She couldn't force it open even slightly , and each time she tried to do so it only served to exacerbate the problem. The vision from her right eye was blurred and tinted with a red filter, which gave her great difficulty trying to see where she was. The one thing that she knew for certain was that the ground she sat upon didn't feel like asphalt, meaning she wasn't lying in the street, which only confused her further.
"Mom? Dad?" The voice cried, "Sister?"
After hearing the frail voice again, she inhaled in preparation to call back to whoever it was – only to be met with smoke invading her lungs. It burned all the way down her throat and brought tears to her eyes. She was unable to formulate words, but the water streaming down her cheek did clear her vision enough for her to observe her surroundings.
She was enclosed by walls made of logs… all of which were on fire. The scared sobs seemed to be coming from the room adjacent, and she knew that at the very least she must at least try to rescue whoever was burning with her.
'A burning building?! But how did I get here?' Romy thought helplessly.
The woman rose shakily to her feet and made way as quickly as possible out of the burning doorway. She took an anxious glance down the hall in hopes of determining a reliable means of escape; and fortunately enough, she spotted a window at the end of the narrow hallway. Evidently she was on the second floor, because there was a stairway nearby as well… but it was far too charred and unstable to use, so the window remained her best bet.
As she entered the room opposite, where the crying had come from, she witnessed a terrible scene. A hooded figure was looming over a small boy who couldn't be any older than 9; the assailant had his hand raised over the child's head with a knife pointed directly at the young man's left eye, and seemed as though he were about to bring his fist down with great force.
"What the hell are you doing?" Romy shouted with anger, her voice hoarse and shrill from breathing such thick smoke. To her surprise, the mysterious figure startled at the sound, and actually turned to face her. Once his masked glare met hers, he let out a yelp of fear. From what little she could make out of his eyes from beneath the hood, they seemed to widen and dilate as if he'd just seen a ghost, and he began to hurriedly scan the room for an exit.
His eyes settled on an already-burning window in the room and, despite the hungry flames, threw himself out of the opening without hesitation. She was enraged by this figure's belligerence and wanted nothing more than to chase him down, but decided to prioritize the child's safety first. She rushed to him and wrapped one arm beneath his knees and lifted the other to support his back. After securing him, she jumped to her feet again and immediately turned to leave with haste.
She ran with all her might in spite of her lungs' screams of protest, leaping over the embers with salty liquid still-pooling in her eye, and slipping down her right cheek.
To her astonishment, a small, soot-covered hand came upwards and gently wiped the tears from her smoke-stung skin. Romy spared a glance down at the boy in her arms and met his widened, tearful gaze. His eyes, though pink and irritated, were a beautiful, warm shade of golden-brown; round, full of fear and innocence. Messy blond hair fell into his eyes slightly and shrouded his stare. Even through the curtain of hair, Romy could unmistakably see that he was staring up at her with a genuine sense of love, appreciation and familiarity so gentle that it nearly melted her heart on the spot.
Romy felt her chest swell and she hugged the boy tighter, her resolve then completely solidified as they arrived at the windowsill. She gripped him with every ounce of power left in her tired, injured body, and with her back facing the outside, launched herself through the window. The sound of glass shattering against her spine sang through the dark of night, and several people that were standing worriedly outside the building let out gasps of shock at the sight.
Though she had never expected to save two kids, especially not consecutively in one evening, she couldn't help but feel fulfilled by her selfless actions.
The smoky air that had been trapped within her lungs was knocked free as her back made contact with the wet, grassy earth. People she didn't recognize rushed over, and though she was still clinging to consciousness, she couldn't find the words or the will to try and speak to any of them.
"Princess Calluna, Prince Lukas! You're alright!" One woman cried, her voice soft with relief.
"The King and Queen… did they not make it?" A man queried.
"Oh, my god! Are the monarchs dead?" Another wailed.
'Who the hell is Princess Calluna? And Lukas? King and Queen?! We haven't had monarchs in our country for centuries,' Romy refuted their statements in her head. Despite her irritation with the group of strangers, she loosened her arms around the young boy to free him from her grip.
It was only a small action she had made without much thought, but the boy began to sob loudly as she released him. He moved off from on top of her and instead knelt at her side, big tears welling in his eyes and dripping onto her motionless arm. She wanted to comfort him, to tell him that he was safe. But… in the end, she hadn't an ounce of energy left to spare. The last thing she remembered as she fell unconscious once more was the heat radiating from the young boy's arms that had fastened around her neck, and a tired, frail voice calling out to her.
"Sister, please wake up!"
I hope you enjoy!:) I'll pe posting the next chapter tonight most likely. I am so excited to share this story and participate in this contest, I hope you'll all stay for the ride too