There’s another noise. It’s another type of alarm.
And… sprinklers! Oh, the sudden sound of sizzling showers of water makes the world feel like a better place.
Just ahead of me is Head Porter, on his hands and knees making his way back towards me and the door. I crawl towards him, clumsily extending my arm in a rather pathetic gesture of encouragement. Beneath the thickening layer of smoke, our flailing hands meet awkwardly and together we shuffle our way back to the door.
While hardly a comfortable environment, the sudden and very welcome arrival of gushing arcs of water has improved morale, if nothing else. Head Porter and I adopt positions somewhere between a crouch and a huddle and hold hands.
“It’s getting a bit warm in here, Deputy Head Porter” Head Porter points out, once again displaying his talent for spotting the obvious. “Do you think we should take our hats off?”
Had I enough breath in my body to laugh, I would have. A crackly snort comes out instead.
“Oh, come on Head Porter” I reply. “Things aren’t quite that bad.”
“Just out of interest, at what point do things get bad enough to take our hats off?”
“Things can never be bad enough to take your hat off,” I say with some certainty “I’m not taking my hat off. You can bury me in this hat.”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”
A strange and rapid sensation of heavy shunting comes over me. Bewildered, Head Porter and I topple forward onto the ground. Oh, God, this isn’t how it ends, is it? Am I literally being shoved off the mortal coil?
But it is not death that approaches. It is something somehow far more terrifying. It is The Dean.
“Bloody hell!” he says (well, that’s not actually what he says but I am not prepared to repeat his exact phrasing).
The door bangs against my leg as it is flung back. Instinctively, I scramble towards the opening as The Dean is battered back by an unexpected face full of smoke. Head Porter is right behind me as I crawl into the hallway, just as Head Of Maintenance comes careering around the corner at the far end.
“What happened?” asks The Dean
“Checking fire alarm. Got locked in” I splutter, the sudden influx of cleaner air evidently a shock to my system.
“But.. how…” The Dean is momentarily lost for words. That is even more memorable than being trapped in a burning room.
“The Fire Brigade is on the way,” Head Of Maintenance comes to a breathless stop beside us “What the hell happened?!”
“Someone locked them inside, look” The Dean points towards the set of keys hanging in the lock.
“Wait, grab that set of keys!” I croak. Head Of Maintenance hushes me and places my arm around his shoulder.
“Never mind that, we should get you two out of here…”
“I’ll get the keys,” says Head Porter, lurching towards the door. “Bugger, they’re really hot!”
“Come on,” says The Dean “You need to get to see Nurse”
“Whose keys are they, Head Porter?” I ask, ignoring The Dean. Head Porter is fumbling the smouldering keys on his jacket cuff.
“I’m not sure, I’ll have to wait until they’ve cooled down.”
“You two to the medical bay immediately!” The Dean has run out of patience. “Bring the blasted keys with you, if you must.”
The sequence of events that follow are somewhat hazy and something of a blur. But clear in my mind is the one thought that shines like a beacon in my mind.
These keys are going to do more than unlock doors.