As prom started, both DeShawn and Pete watched the first dance. Pete wistfully pined after the huge football superjock Connor, fondly remembering their sneaky trysts. DeShawn watched Bobbi Jo just as lustily, covertly eyeing her spectacular curves and towering Amazonian body. She looked splendid in a slinky red gown that showed plenty of her deep cleavage and hugged her perfect round bottom.
"Well this blows," Pete said.
"Yup. Pretty much the prom from hell." Rumors had gotten around that Pete was gay, and he'd finally shamefully admitted it to his friends, who were very supportive. DeShawn punched Pete lightly on the shoulder. "There will be plenty of jocks in California," DeShawn reassured him.
"Yeah," Pete said wistfully. He turned to DeShawn. "Is it true what they say about black guys?"
DeShawn laughed. "You can't suck my dick, Pete!"
Pete's eyes twinkled with good humor. "You don't know what you're missing!"
"Be careful what you wish for. It's true; once you go black you can't go back!"
Pete turned to the dance floor and eyed Ning, dancing with his face solidly planted in Tanya's borderline-obscene deep brown cleavage. "Certainly seems true for Ning," he observed.
"Hey man, we can't all peak in high school," DeShawn said. "We'll be alright."
"I'll miss you guys," Pete said sadly. The two sat in silence and somberly watched the happy dancers.
As the prom king and queen announcements were readied, Ning finally pulled himself out of Tanya's cleavage and returned to the nerd table. "Hey, guys. What'd I miss?" he asked as he plopped down, cheeks red, a giant smile plastered on his face. Pete made a disgusted face and DeShawn rolled his eyes.
"Having fun?" DeShawn asked.
Before Ning could reply came a shout of "Fire!" and the ballroom erupted into pandemonium.
By New England standards, the hotel was old and elegant. The ballroom was large, with a wooden dance floor and plenty of space for performers. At the opposite end of the room from the performers was a banquet and seating area. Above the banquet a balcony overlooked the dance floor and held more tables and chairs. Staircases gracefully curved down on either end of the balcony. Discreet doors connected the ballroom to the rest of the hotel; the suites, kitchens, old servant quarters and so on. Ornately carved antique shelves lined the room, holding trinkets and knickknacks of older eras.
Smoke tendrils curled into the ballroom from the hotel proper. "Fire!" someone yelled again, the call quickly taken up. Within moments a panicked stampede towards the exits began.
DeShawn, Pete, and Ning sat shocked as the reality settled in. "I have to find Tanya!" Ning suddenly shouted.
DeShawn looked at the increasing chaos and panic around him and quickly took charge. "Ning, go get Tanya. Pete, you're with me. We have to get some of the football players to clear a path to the exits and get these people moving fast."
Pete nodded, his face frightened and pale, but his courage bolstered by DeShawn's confidence.
Sheldon and Dena burst into the ballroom. They looked disheveled and more than a little guilty. Sheldon saw his friends and immediately bee-lined to the nerd table, while Dena took off in search of Bobbi Jo.
"Sheldon! We've got to evacuate everyone!" DeShawn said urgently.
Sheldon nodded. "What's the plan, Rogue Leader?"
They moved fast to recruit the biggest athletes they could find into evacuation duty. DeShawn found Connor first, who instantly grasped the situation once he shook off his shock. "With me!" Connor barked to his team. He ordered half the athletes around him to follow DeShawn. The team players were used to following directions and keeping cool under pressure. They made excellent impromptu fire marshals.
With the big jocks guiding the scared teenagers toward the exits, the crowd's panic subsided and some semblance of normalcy returned. Chaperoning teachers joined the football players and marshaled the stragglers with ingrained authority.
Sheldon and Ning found Dena, Bobbi Jo, and Tanya. Everyone hurried towards the exits as the rapidly accelerating fire started to consume the ground floor.
Suddenly, Dena stopped, horrified, and grabbed Sheldon. "The balcony!" she pointed. Students and teachers who had been too slow to leave were blocked by flames licking at one of the staircases. They started to stampede towards the other staircase. The fire leaped towards that escape as well, blocking all egress and trapping a dozen people. The fire seemed to follow the crowd with greedy malevolence as it roared along lines of combustibles and air currents.
Sheldon looked around. "Bookshelf!" he shouted, pointing at one of the solid, heavy shelves.
Dena kicked off her heels and ran barefoot over to the giant shelf. She heaved the solid, heavy wood into the air with astonishing brute strength. Trinkets and pottery jostled off the shelves and smashed to the floor as she ran. She slammed the shelf down on the ballroom floor, then leaped on top and hurled herself to the balcony. Her huge muscles easily powered her up. Dena's long body stretched out with her hands clutching the edge of the balcony railing and her outstretched toes braced on top of the solid display rack. Bobbi Jo and Tanya grabbed another heavy shelf and raced it over to support the first. "Go help the evacuation!" Bobbi Jo ordered Tanya, who nodded and ran to coordinate with Connor.
"Climb on," Dena yelled to the nearest student on the balcony. The small girl stared blankly, terrified and on the verge of panic. "Climb on me!" Dena ordered urgently. "Use me like a ladder! Tell everyone!"
The girl stared at Dena, looked over at the smoke pouring up either staircase, then looked back at Dena. She hesitantly edged over to the balcony railing and looked down Dena's long muscular frame and saw the shelf below. Understanding dawned on her face. "Hey, people! People! Follow me!" she turned and shouted at the trapped promgoers.
She turned back to Dena and slung one leg over the railing. "Are you sure about this?" she asked nervously.
"Yes! Come on!" Dena said. The girl nodded and awkwardly slid over the railing, no easy feat in her billowing prom dress. She wrapped her legs around Dena's muscular torso like she was mounting a horse. She clambered down Dena's long body and Bobbi Jo helped the girl down off the bookshelves.
"Run!" Bobbi Jo commanded. The girl ran.
Dena looked around and saw Sheldon wheeling a disabled student out of the building. She grinned with fierce pride and then turned back to the balcony. She adjusted her grip and told the next person to climb on.
Student after student, teacher after teacher climbed down Dena's immensely powerful body and were helped to the ground by Bobbi Jo. Not all of them were as light or limber as the first girl, and by the time the balcony was clear Dena's expensive dress was in tatters. Under any other circumstances she would have felt exposed and embarrassed, but there was no time for that now.
Bobbi Jo ran out with the last student. Dena did a pull-up on the railing and scanned the balcony to double-check one final time that it was empty. Just as she was satisfied, a door burst open across the ballroom. Mr. Melnik, the immensely fat, jolly, and beloved math teacher, rushed in. "Dena!" he called, spying her on top of the shelf. "Thank goodness I found you. This way!" He disappeared back the way he'd come.
Dena vaulted down from the shelf after the teacher and hit the ground running. The door led to an elegant old staircase once used by servants. Dena heard Mr. Melnik puffing up the stairs and gave chase, bursting onto the third floor.
The fire was racing through the building in uneven spurts, hungrily chasing fuel and oxygen. On the third floor the corridor was rapidly filling with smoke that stung Dena's eyes and lungs. Mr. Melnik collapsed and Dena ran over to him. "In there," he gasped, gesturing. Dena hauled his bulk along the corridor. He was coughing up smoke in horrible hacking spasms.
With an explosive rush, fire raced up the staircase they'd just left and cut off their escape. Dena felt the door the math teacher indicated. The handle was still cool but the door was locked. Dena backed up and with one powerful kick of her long thickly-muscled leg she shattered the heavy wooden door.
Dena found herself in one of the hotel's guest rooms. She heard a whimpering coming from the closet just inside the hall door, next to the room's small bathroom. The rest of the hotel room opened up beyond there. Dena immediately opened the louvered doors to the closet. Two small children, a boy and a girl, cowered inside; they held each other tight and stared at Dena with huge terrified eyes. They were petrified with fright.
"I heard them crying from the corridor, but they wouldn't open the door," Mr. Melnik gasped. He tore his white formal dress shirt off, ripped it in pieces, soaked them in the room's sink, and handed them out to breathe through.
Dena looked down the corridor, which was rapidly filling with smoke and heat and flame. She ran into the room and threw open the window, which overlooked a deserted courtyard.
"Go!" Mr. Melnik yelled, his face a mask of terror as he watched the approaching fire. "Take the kids and get out of here!"
"I'll come back for you," Dena said.
The math teacher shook his head. He was pale with fear and looked like he might be sick. "There's no time," he rasped. "Dena, save them! Get out of here!"
Dena shook her head. "I will come back!" she promised. She turned to the kids. "I need you to climb onto my back and hang on tight, okay?"
Though they were terrified, the children nodded and climbed onto the giant Amazon, clinging to her bulging sweat-slicked neck and shoulders. Dena looked down the side of the building, calculating her route. She swung out of the window, clinging to the edge. The children on her back gasped in surprise. Quickly and methodically, Dena climbed down the building. Her muscles were sore and exhausted; her adrenaline surge sustained the incredible power she was exerting, but it wouldn't last forever. She made it safely to the ground with the children and they slid off her back. "Go!" Dena shouted. "Find a grown-up!"
She turned back to the building and looked up. Smoke billowed out of the open window she had left. Dena set her mouth in a grim, determined line. Mr. Melnik didn't have much time left.
Dena ran at the building. Just as she hurled herself up the side, a superheated steam pocket exploded inside the building, shooting a hail of wood and nails through a ground floor window. Shrapnel ripped through Dena's hip, tearing through skin, muscle, nerves, and bone.
Dena slammed into the side of the building and clung tight, sick with pain. She struggled to lift her legs but they wouldn't move. She couldn't feel anything below her waist.
Tears leaked out of Dena's smoke-stung eyes. She looked up. Fighting through a red and gray haze of agonizing pain, she moved one arm up, then the other. She began to climb.
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