Upstairs, with the smoke and fire, Kimberly was wheezing and choking through her improvised filter. She'd almost given up there for a moment, had almost just sat in that bathroom to burn to death. It'd have been easier. Everything since arriving here had been so fucking hard, and she'd known since the very first day that she was totally fucked, and now she didn't have anything left to even defend herself with. The entire sum of her worldly possessions amounted to the clothes on her back and the hook on her belt. Meanwhile, it sounded like everyone else was lighting each other up with machine guns and shit. Reiko had one, right? That would be the fucking perfect way to die, stumbling out of the flames with half her skin burned off only to get popped in the back of the head. It'd almost be better to breathe the smoke until she passed out, to just get burned up nice and quietly.
Kimberly had never been any good at giving up. She let go of things, sure, but only because it was another way to keep control of the situation. If she threw her gun away, she could say she'd chosen to lose. She'd known this for days. She was done with that bullshit. Choosing to give up was still losing control. The only difference between that and getting beaten honestly was that if she let herself get burned she'd also be dying as a coward.
Kimberly forced herself to her feet and ran out of the bathroom. Things were getting worse by the second. The smoke was thicker, stronger. She could see the orange glow of nearby flames. Not much time now. She certainly wouldn't get the chance to go back down the stairs. That was the epicenter of this madness, and she was still soaked in gasoline. There was only one other way down, and Kimberly did not relish the thought of taking it.
It still beat dying. She retreated to the bedroom, relying on memory to help her find her way with her vision impaired and forcing herself not to panic. Her eyes were stinging and tearing up, but only from the smoke. Only the smoke. She was fine. She found a window, right about where she'd figured it'd be. She wanted to hesitate a moment longer, to work herself up for this, but there really wasn't time. The window began at about waist height. It took some doing, but Kimberly positioned her right leg for a kick. Better to use her right; it was already fucked up with that cut from who-knew-what.
She kicked the window. Kimberly didn't have any idea how to kick something, but she sort of just assumed that it would be like in the movies, that the thing would shatter and she'd break the remaining glass out with her heel or something. What actually happened was that the window didn't give at all, and Kimberly was thrown off balance. She flailed her good arm for a second and almost managed to remain standing. In the end, she fell to her knees, but it was a slow, controlled fall, one that didn't hurt. It still wasted time, time she didn't have. Fuck. Okay, this was bad. She tried to take a deep, calming breath. It was a mistake, since in her attempt to stay upright she'd taken the cloth away from her mouth. She coughed again, hating that she had ever found anything even remotely romantic about the idea of fire.
She was crying for real now, not even bothering to pretend that she wasn't terrified. She was going to die. All this, and she was still going to die.
Kimberly stood and stepped forwards once more, planning to try again, ready to throw herself against the window again and again until the last bit of strength left her body, when, while feeling along the side of the window for cracks or something to prove that her last effort hadn't been a complete fucking waste, she noticed something that caused her to laugh along with her tears. Hinges. The window had fucking hinges, and one of those stupid little crank handles to open it up. It also had those locks along the unhinged side. It took a few seconds, but she unfastened them, then started cranking the window open. The smoke was bad, but she was holding her breath now. In under half a minute, Kimberly had the window open and was leaning out, blinking the tears out of her eyes and breathing as deeply as she could. If these were going to be her last breaths, fuck, she was gonna enjoy them.
Of course, she wasn't in the clear yet. She could breathe again, so some of the urgency had passed, but she was still on the second story of a burning building. She thought she could hear gunshots somewhere below her, but maybe it was just things popping from the heat. Kimberly really hoped the terrorists had done a good job disabling the utilities in the house. She wasn't at all prepared to deal with a sudden gas explosion if there was residual fuel in the pipes behind the stove or some shit like that.
She looked down to the ground. It probably wasn't more than twenty feet. Fuck, it was probably less. Didn't matter. The fact of it was, it'd have been a really good time to have a grappling hook with some rope on it. Too bad Kimberly had finally decided the rope was fucking useless and thrown it away. That had been a pretty damn poor use of resources. It was just another mistake in an endless line, stretching all the way back to deciding that, oh, no way would the senior class at Bayview ever play this game, that was for those other freak schools.
There wasn't time to worry. Kimberly leaned out the window, looking for other options.
She didn't much like what she found. There was a little ornamental space of roof separating the floors, but it was maybe eight inches wide and heavily slanted, ending in one of those thin metal gutters. Still, it beat standing in a bedroom, surrounded by billows of smoke. She grabbed hold of the window frame and hoisted herself outside, clinging tightly as she sought stable footing.
She nearly fell right away. The shingles looked rough, but the traction on her boots was shit after two weeks of constant wear after three or four years of frequent use. She slid, but her grip, fueled by adrenaline, was enough to keep her upright.
The problem was, there weren't really many places left to go except down. Kimberly figured she could edge around to the front of the building, but she'd still have to drop to the ground. Nobody would be there to help her; if anything, anyone who saw her would shoot her while she was distracted. Maybe Reiko would give her a fair chance, if she was still alive. Ivan certainly wouldn't.
Best, she thought, to get it all over with. Slowly, Kimberly let go of the window frame and knelt down, figuring she'd turn herself around, grab hold of the edge with her good arm, let herself hang for a second, then drop. It wasn't like she'd never jumped off a roof before. Her grandparents had a nice home in Saint Paul, two stories, and Kimberly's room was on the upper floor. She'd never been afraid of heights. She'd done this exact thing a dozen times during her childhood. The only difference was that now she was tired and sick and malnourished and dehydrated and only able to use one arm. It wouldn't be so bad. Not impossible, at least.
Further stalling was rendered impossible when Kimberly shifted her weight, causing her boots to slip again. Her arm shot out, seeking purchase, but the window was too far away. She managed to catch onto the edge of the roof, her fingers hooking the edge of the storm gutter, but that slowed her momentum for mere moments. Then, the gutter, never constructed to hold a person's weight, was peeling away from the roof.
Kimberly screamed. She was sure of it. She screamed and she closed her eyes and she figured she'd die, but she didn't. She hit the ground hard, but she must've hit it at a pretty good angle, because while her right ankle was flaring up with pain and her shoulders both felt like someone had been tugging them in opposite directions she was pretty sure she wasn't bleeding from anywhere new and she was able, after a few seconds, to hoist herself to her feet again, using the nearby wall of the house as support.
Smoke was still pouring from the window above, lit by a glow that seemed to grow ever brighter. The stars and moon still provided illumination, though Kimberly's eyes were not adjusted to the dark again yet so she couldn't really make much of her surroundings out.
She hobbled away from the house, trying to figure out what to do next. Really, though, there was nothing. She was unarmed. Rushing into the fight now would get her killed. She didn't have the stomach to go after whoever was left and try to kill them with her hook. Absently, she pulled it off her belt and let it fall to the ground. She figured she wouldn't need it, not anymore, not ever again.
She didn't go back to the center of it all, to the statue and the fountain and the flowers and the grave whose occupant she still could not identify. Instead, she moved to the house opposite the burning one and lowered herself into a squatting position. She hadn't been quiet. For all she knew, someone was coming to kill her now. For all she knew, she was already dying, past the point of no return. It didn't matter. What was important was that, from here, she could look up at the sky and could see the stars and could enjoy it, just for a little bit longer.