December 14th, 1997. The night was like any other James Murray had experienced while living in Queens: dark, cold, betraying. James was a well built man of 38, with short brown hair he slicked back in a pompadour. His chin was decorated with a small patch of short, stubbly hair that stuck out like tiny quills, threatening to scratch you if you got too close. As a long running firefighter, he'd seen his fair share of tragedies, one including his own family a few years back. God, he'd never forget that fateful night when he lost everything. Christmas Night, 1992. Cheryl, his wife, had over-cooked the roast, something she did all to often. Being the caring man he was, he offered to run up to the store to pick up a pre-cooked one. While he was gone, the house caught on fire, and burned down. Nobody made it out alive. Since that day James had been devoting his life to helping others survive the menacing force of nature that had taken his family, and changed his life forever. This night was no different than any other winter night in his neighborhood: the snow on the ground brightening the darkened sky an unusual amount, the harsh winds biting at your nose. A short wave of snow fell softly over the broken neighborhood like powdered sugar that stung the tongue upon contact, rather than rewarding it with sweet delight it so craved. Sitting in his favorite coffee shop, James sipped his coffee silently as he watched an old couple snuggle in front of him. Sure, he should be happy for them, but he couldn't help but feel remorse for himself. Why couldn't he have that life? Why couldn't he be with the one he loved on Christmas? Was it such a crime to think such a thing? James didn't think so. "Papa Bear, we got definite backdraft in your area." The ever so familiar voice of his favorite operator Rosanne came blaring through his walkie, snapping him back to his own sick reality. "Where to?" James asked. "313 Walker Avenue." Rosanne replied. "Apartment complex, the whole thing's ablaze." "I'm on it." Gathering his supplies, James exited the coffee shop, throwing down a crappy tip for the snooty waitress. Dashing to the truck, he activated the sirens, and drove off as his colleagues hopped on board. James and Rosanne had a history ever since James' wife died. Rosanne had been there for James since the very beginning, calming him down, and keeping him in check. Though James had been too shy and scared to admit it, he loved Rosanne, and was going to ask her to marry him in a few hours, but it didn't seem like his plan was going to commence any time soon. Pulling the truck to the blazing apartment, he stepped out in shock and awe. He'd seen some pretty bad blazes in his time, but not like this. Not just one apartment complex was on fire, the entire block of buildings was ablaze, flames shooting out the windows like fiery demons beckoning him inside. A vision of hell on earth was the only thing he could imagine. "Can you put out the blaze from here?" James asked Derek, the man in charge of the hose. Derek shook his head. "It's too strong. We'll do what we can." James nodded his understanding. Stepping forward, his world slowed, a normal experience for him for putting out fires. At any moment anything could go wrong. This could be the last night sky he ever saw. His breath appeared in front of him, and disappeared into the night air. Orange lights flashed across his face as the ambulances pulled up. Noticing his colleagues rushing into the building, he followed, axe at the ready. Stepping inside the burning, he was blasted with a wave of heat, his pupils dilating immediately. Ahead of him he could just barely make out his comrades bursting down the doors in their frantic attempt for survivors. "Whadda we got?" James managed to choke into his walkie. "We got reports of one little girl on the third floor. Looks like she's all yours." Rosanne answered. Waving to Henry, the old man who'd been on the force for 50 years, he started forward up the staircase. "What're we looking for?" Henry asked through his mask. "Little girl." James replied, his voice barely audible over the roar. "If anything happens James, just know, I don't regret spending my last moments with you." Henry smiled through his mask. James smiled back, and nodded. Moving further up the steps to the fourth floor, he heard a terrible groaning noise, and his face filled with a look of terror as he came to the sick realization of what was happening: the stairs were collapsing. Turning behind him, he had just enough time to see Henry's horrified look as the stairs beneath him gave way. Henry fell, and was lost to the blackness below, a pile of burning rubble trailing behind him. "HENRY!" James cried with all his might, as if screaming would bring him back from the dead. Falling to his knees at the foot of the stairs, he wept. He and Henry had been friends since his first day on the force. Memories of the past flickered before his eyes, fueling his anger and rage. What use was there to go on? Then he found it. The thing that gave him the courage and determination to stand up and fight: the distant, barely audible cries of a little girl. "Hold on! I'm coming!" James shouted, his voice cracking. Hoisting himself to his feet, he rushed forward, chopping at the door with his axe, bursting through. A wall of flames flew at him, burning his exposed hair. Maneuvering his way through the skeletal remains of the burning furniture, he pressed forward, towards the bloodcurdling cries of help. Then he saw her: a small girl, long black hair draped over a blue dress that was blackened by the blaze, weeping in the corner. "It's gonna be okay, I'm gonna get you out of here." James said as he picked the little girl up. Moving to the window, he noticed the street filled with flashing lights from ambulances and police cars alike. Rushing back the way he came, James searched frantically for a way out. "Give her to me!" James turned to meet the body who matched the voice. On what remained of the landing below stood one of his fellow firefighters. "Close your eyes." James whispered in the little girl's ear. Stepping forward, he tossed the girl forward, into the arms of his colleague. The firefighter ran down the steps with the little girl, and out of sight. Just as they disappeared from view, a massive chunk of the building fell in front of James' view, destroying what was left of the landing. Looking around for a way out, he started forward. A sick realization of the real world flashed across his brain as he looked down. The floor he was standing on was cracking, giving way. Rushing forward in an attempt to avoid his fate, he pushed down on the weakened floor, and fell through. The fall through space seemed to last forever. Above him the moon shone beautifully through the absent roof, illuminating everything in the building with a soft blue tone. The world came back into focus as James hit the ground. Pain washed over him like a tidal wave, covering every inch of his body. He emitted a pathetic cry of pain as he realized his legs were broken, and a large, sharp piece of wood stuck out of his ribcage. He felt dizzy as he realized his head felt wet from the blood that was seeping out. Reaching weakly toward his walkie, he talked into it as best he could. "Rosanne, I need you." He managed to say. "Copy that, Papa Bear. What do you need?" Rosanne said cheerfully, not knowing what was happening. "I'm not gonna make it." James said. He didn't mean to, but he started to cry, convulsing softly from the tears. "No, don't say that, Papa Bear, we're gonna get you help. Where are you?" Rosanne said, her voice faltering only once. "I just want you to know I love you." James said, and let go of his walkie. "Don't you say that, James, we're gonna get you out!" Rosanne's faltering voice cried, though no voice answered her. With his last few seconds on earth, James stared up into the brilliant moon that shone above him, the soft, frozen powdered sugar falling through the hole, hitting his face, giving him a quick relief from the heat that scorched it. As his world grew blurrier, he started to lose focus of what was what. Despite his condition, he still convulsed quietly from the sobs that pained him to come out. With his last breath, he choked out one last word: "Cheryl", and fell still. Roseanne's voice screamed through the walkie to a person who could not hear her. James Murray lay silently at the bottom of the building. Despite all the pain he had experienced in his last few moments, the expression on his face was one of happiness and completion. As the delicate white snow fell around him, James body was engulfed by the flames. It's hard to describe what James saw next. A bright light gave way to the one thing he'd been waiting to see his entire life: the smiling face of his wife, Cheryl. So yes, James Murray's death was tragic, but he died doing what he knew was right, and he died a free man, free of the pain that had tortured him his entire life. And even though his sacrifice was hard to bear, it was all in a day's work for James Murray. Alright, so it's not that good, but I tried. Hope you liked it.