The Curious Incident of Jill Wheatley

Cycling

Jill turned to the Professor, and as soon as she set her eyes upon his aged face, she knew exactly what she had to do. The storm bunker was about 50 feet from their current location, and the tornado 350, and closing in fast, but they could make it. Without thinking about it too much, Jill grabbed Professor Wheatley, threw him over her shoulders fireman-style, the same way she had done hundreds of times before, and began walking steadily towards the bunker.

She could see the door just up ahead, and although they weren’t making remarkable speed, they were covering the ground they needed to at a decent pace. As a firefighter, Jill knew that at any second, the storm could change course, veering off its original track, or speed up, and envelop them both within seconds. As she persevered, the brave firefighter tried her best to keep thoughts of doom and demise out of her head. The Professor’s head bobbed ever so slightly with each step, accompanied by a soft grunt and sigh combination. Jill felt terrible, but this was the only way.

With just under 30 feet to go, Jill put the professor down for a second, never letting go of him, as his grunting and sighing became grunting and wheezing. As she looked into the eye of the storm, only 150 or 200 feet in front of her, that one day, the fateful day that would enslave her at night, and accompany her throughout her days, took over her mind like a fog in a marsh. She tried to shake her head free, but to no avail. Finally, she got down on her hands on knees and allowed herself momentary respite.

The day was two years ago next month, and it was a call just like any other. Her and Frank were the first on the engine, seeing as how the broom closet was closest to the trucks. Their secret relationship had been ongoing for over a year now, but if Lucy ever found out, she would take everything Frank had in the divorce and possibly even break his heart, the cruel witch. Oh, how Jill hated her. Couldn’t she see that Frank’s feelings for her had all but evaporated? What was she still doing with him anyways? Besides for his rugged good looks and his dad’s old IWC watch, the guys had nothing to his name. In fact, that was one of Jill’s favorite things about the guy, one of the most overlooked aspects of most guys. But that day, the day the bell went off when the two of them were getting passionate in the broom closet, was the day that ended her affair de coeur.

At the sound of the bell, the two of them quickly righted themselves, rushed out of the closet and down the pole to the nearest fire engine. As they got onto the engine, the tension was so thick that any of the other firefighters could cut it with a knife. The call came in just 4 minutes earlier, but the call came from the commissioner’s house. This was no ordinary rescue – as important as the rest were, the importance of this particular save was multiplied tenfold. As they pulled up to the house, everyone’s focus was honed in to its maximum capacity and then some. The ladder was set up in a record breaking time, and they were pumping water before the last engine even arrived.

As Jill worked the hose, Frank made his way into the flames in search of the commissioner’s wife with his fully flame-retardant suit. Jill yelled something at him before he disappeared behind the modest house’s front door, but her voice was swallowed up by the roar of the monstrous flames which were now less than 10 feet behind him. Frank was inside for less than seven minutes (6”42’ to be exact) but to Jill, just like every other time, it seemed like an eternity without her love. Then, as unceremoniously as his entrance, came Frank’s exit. He suddenly appeared just beyond the doorway with the commissioner’s wife unconscious in his arms. Jill could feel her entire face lift as she stood there holding the hose, until out of nowhere, the doorway collapsed, trapping Frank and the poor, helpless woman inside.

Jill handed off the hose and began to run towards the house, until there was a minor explosion which knocked her backwards and off her feet. The explosion was subsequently followed by a loud creaking sound which marked the expiration of the charred house. Frank was gone. The commissioner’s wife was gone. No one from the fire department would ever speak to either one of the two again.

It took Jill months to get over Frank’s tragic passing, and the image still haunted her two years later, but now was no time to dwell on the past. As she looked up, Jill realized that the Professor’s hand was on her shoulder, silently beseeching her to help. He was imploring her to see reason, and she knew she needed to muster together the strength to go on. It was now or never. She summoned everything she had left, gathering every bit of willpower left in her brain, and fought off her demons. The twister was close now. It was way too close for comfort.

Jill had no time to think. She grabbed the Professor, and, once more, flung him over her shoulder. There would be no time to walk, so she started out in a trot, progressed to a gallop, then pushed herself onward into a full-on sprint. She ignored the curious noises coming out of Professor Wheatley’s mouth and simply focused on making sure that one leg landed before the other leg and pushed her off with adequate propulsion.

As soon as they reached the bunker, she flung open the door, placed the professor down softly, and took one last look at the vicious cyclone as it made its way closer, closer still. Always closer, threatening their very lives. The professor made his way down the stairs rather hurriedly for a man in his critical state of health, and Jill scurried down the stairs behind him.

Once safely inside the bunker with the door sealed, the Professor turned to Jill and asked, “Was it about Jake again?” What was she going to do, lie to her old man? He knew her better than anyone. He knew the secrets that held her together and he knew the nightmares that tore her apart. “Yeah,” she responded regretfully. “One day, he’s going to get me killed.” And with that, she put her head on his shoulder and she cried. She cried until she couldn’t cry any more. She cried until her eyes were as dry as fallen leaves on a winter’s day. And then, when all the tears were finally gone, she looked up at her aging father, who looked back at her. And that moment stuck with her for the rest of her life. The moment she knew that as long as he was alive, he would always be there for her.

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