Chapter 7: Midnight Plus 1 Hourwritten by fallingwthstyle - illustrated by Hausinge and Sifl-senpai
"Shit!" Kenny screamed. "Shit!" He grabbed Butters' arms. "I should have made you wait outside!"
"I wouldn't want to be out there by myself!" Butters shouted. He threw his arms around Kenny. "I—I wouldn't have known what happened to you if I was outside! Kenny...I would have found a way back in if you'd left me there!"
Kenny nodded grimly, already looking around for another way to get outside. "All right." The fire in the hallway they'd just passed through was growing bigger, feeding on everything it could find around it. "We have to find another way out."
"We could go up a deck!" Kyle said, pointing toward the upside down staircase down the hall in the other direction. "Where the casino is? Go up there and try again."
"Okay." Kenny nodded. It seemed like the only other idea at the moment, and at least the way to the grand staircase was still clear. The seven of them made their careful way along the corridor, toward the center of the ship. Even from a distance, they could see getting up an upside-down set of stairs would be a challenge.
They gathered at the bottom of the grand staircase and looked at each other helplessly. The stairs were a shocking, incongruous sight: polished mahogany handrails and carpeted steps that they had once taken for granted were now upside down, rendering them useless. The steps themselves were now on the underside of a ramp that rose at a steep angle to the deck above them.
"Let's figure out a way to get up this," Kenny said, eyeing the upside down stairs and the steep ramp they'd have to climb. "If we can tie a rope or something at the top of that, we can pull ourselves up."
"I can get up there!" Tweek announced. "I think I know where there's something we can use too."
Kenny looked at him, surprised. "Okay..."
Tweek took a few steps back from the ramp of the upside down stairs, then ran toward it, pistoning his legs hard and leaning forward as he ran up the ramp. When he was two-thirds of the way up, he threw himself forward, grabbed onto the mahagony railing underneath the ramp, and managed to pull himself the rest of the way up and squeeze through the narrow gap at the top of the ramp onto the ceiling of the deck above.
"All right Tweek!" Stan shouted as they watched Tweek's shoes disappear into the near darkness overhead. A moment later, they heard him scream.
"Tweek!" Kenny shouted. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, Jesus!" Tweek screamed. "There's dead people up here!" They could hear him gasping. "Yeah, I'm all right...oh, Jesus!" A moment later they heard the sound of breaking glass.
Kenny was about to attempt to get up there the same way Tweek had when Tweek reappeared in the gap at the top of the stairs. He pushed something thin and gray through the gap and called down, "Here!" It was a flat gray emergency fire hose; he threw one end of it down the ramp and tied the other end to the railing. "Pull yourselves up with this!"
"Shit, Tweek, this'll work!" Kenny said, picking up the hose and tugging on it. The knot Tweek had tied above them held easily.
"I'm going up next," Cartman said, brusquely stepping forward and grabbing the fire hose from Kenny.
"Yeah, that sounds fair Cartman," Wendy sneered.
Cartman ignored her as he easily pulled his way up the ramp, ducking into the same narrow space that Tweek had moments ago. "Screw you guys," he said as his shoes disappeared into the gap next to where Tweek knelt.
The five still below looked at each other in frustration. "Okay Wendy, you're next," Kenny said, handing her the hose.
"Kenny, can you come up next?" Tweek called down. "So you can help me get everyone else up?"
"Well, where the fuck is Cartman?" Kyle shouted. "Let him help you!"
"He..." Tweek looked as angry as Kyle felt. "He took off! Come on Kenny!" He grabbed the hose and shook it. "I need someone else up here!"
"He fucking left?" Kenny shouted irritably. "God damn it..." He grabbed onto the hose and walked up the ramp, pulling himself up hand over hand, and dragged himself with Tweek's help onto the ceiling of the next deck. He looked around. It was much darker on this level, there were several obviously dead people nearby...and there was no sign of Cartman. "Jesus Christ...Wendy, you come up next," he called down.
Tweek grabbed his arm. "I know where he went," he said quietly. "How about you help them up while I go get him?" He stood up and turned toward the casino on the opposite side of the gloomy hallway.
"What the hell, Tweek?" Kenny asked.
"I'll be back in a minute," Tweek replied and walked off.
Kenny looked down. Wendy was already pulling herself up the ramp, and Kenny helped her onto the ceiling. In another minute, the rest of them were once again together.
Tweek made his way through the near darkness toward the casino in the same direction he'd watched Cartman walk a minute ago. The enormous stained glass wall had shattered when the ship capsized, covering the ceiling with broken shards of multicolored glass. Tweek picked his way through this, kicking aside larger pieces of broken glass with the toes of his black dress shoes. He stepped into the casino and spotted Cartman immediately, crouching next to one of the overturned gambling machines and stuffing money that had spilled from it into his pockets. There were several more bodies near him. When Cartman saw Tweek, he raised his arms triumphantly, both hands stuffed with money.
"Oh, yeah! Yeah! I got my money back!" He let a shower of bills drop from his hands to float to the ground by his knees.
"You fucking artard!" Tweek closed the gap between them in two steps, grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket, and roughly pulled him to his feet.
"Ey! I'll share!" He held two one hundred dollar bills out to Tweek. "There's plenty here for everyone--!"
Tweek smacked the money out of his hands. "You idiot!" He grabbed Cartman and pulled him close until their faces were inches apart. He was furious at having to waste time on this. "The ship could sink any second! We have to get out of here!" Tweek pushed him away. Cartman looked shocked, then angry, then made as if to start throwing punches. Tweek shoved him back and raised his fists. "I'm not fighting you, Eric! Now let's go!" He grabbed Cartman by one of his raised arms and started dragging him toward the door.
"Let go of me you faggot!" Cartman pulled his arm free and threw a punch which widely missed, and Tweek countered by punching him in the gut. Cartman doubled over and fell, landing between two wrecked keno machines, gasping for air.
"Knock it off, Eric." Tweek stood over him with his fists raised, threatening to send one into Cartman's face. "We have to get off this ship, don't you get that?"
"What the fuck is going on?" Stan came into the casino followed closely by Kenny.
Tweek turned to them and said angrily. "He's in here stealing money."
Kenny looked at Cartman with disgust. "What an asshole you are." Cartman still couldn't draw a breath to answer. "You can stay here, for all I give a shit." He looked back at Tweek. "We have a problem. We can't find a way out of here."
Stan asked a question that made no sense to Tweek. "How much do you think one of these keno machines weigh?" He gave one an experimental shove with his foot, and the overturned machine barely moved.
"A couple hundred pounds maybe?" Kenny replied. "Too much to try to carry. But there's lots of tables and chairs in here we can use."
"Do you mind," Cartman gasped, slowly standing up again. "Telling me what you're talking about?"
Kenny picked up two well-padded swiveling saloon chairs and shoved them roughly toward Cartman. "Here. Take these and carry them back." He turned his back on Cartman and addressed Tweek. "There's no way to get to the outside of the ship on this deck, so we're going up another one. Grab a couple more of these barstools and come back to the stairs and we'll show you what's going on." He and Stan each picked up two chairs, and the four of them made their way from the casino back to the upside down grand staircase.
"I—I see the problem!" Tweek said as he looked up toward the top of the reversed stairs. This deck had been designed with retail and restaurant space in mind, and was a full two decks in height so individual establishments could be two stories high. These stairs were reversed like the previous ones, but rose into darkness at a steeper angle a full fourteen or sixteen feet. There would be no sprinting up this.
"Unless you guys know another way up, this is it." Kenny took the chairs that he had carried and set them against the ramp on top of an ornate brass and wood bench and a jewelry display class he had put there three minutes ago. "Wendy said there's another set of stairs like this one about five hundred feet away. Oh, and some elevators in between, and we obviously can't use those."
Kenny took the chairs Stan had brought and added them to the pile. Wendy had found a set of freestanding shelves from one of the taverns and added it to the growing pile at the bottom of the ramp. "I figure we start stacking up a bunch of crap here, until one of us can get up to the next deck with a rope. Call it a...ladder to heaven, I guess. Guys," he looked around at everyone. "I...really don't have any other ideas here."
"Kenny, you're doing great," Kyle said. "Hell, if I was in charge, we'd still be one deck below."
Kenny nodded. "Thanks, Kyle. Look...let's start finding whatever we can use to add to this, and start looking for anything else we might need. We could use a better rope, and we might want to keep an eye out for some flashlights; Tweek was right about these lights probably going out again, and we don't want to be caught in the dark."
Stan took Kyle's hand. "Hey...there's a lot more of those chairs and some tables and stuff in the casino. Let's start there, okay?" Kyle nodded and they went off in that direction together.
Kyle went inside first. As soon as he'd stepped into the dark and overturned casino, he felt Stan's hand grabbing his shoulder. He turned, and Stan wrapped his arms around him in a tight hug. Kyle grabbed him and they clung to each other.
"Kyle..." Stan breathed against his neck. "I don't know if we're going to get out of this or not, but in case we don't, I wanted to make sure you know that having you for my best friend for pretty much my entire life...is the second best thing that ever happened to me."
Kyle stared into Stan's eyes wordlessly and nodded as Stan continued. "The best thing was figuring out that we loved each other when we were seventeen. Being with you for the last six years has been the most incredible thing anyone could ever ask for. I've had a wonderful life Kyle, thanks to you"
"We're going to make it out of here, Stan," Kyle replied. "Help's on its way, we're still floating, and we're doing something to try to save ourselves. If we just find a way outside this ship, we'll be okay." He smiled and reached up to stroke Stan's cheek with his fingertips. "You're not getting out of giving me that ass pounding this easily. It's just going to be a couple days late."
Stan laughed, but it was sad and forced. "I hope so, Kyle. I can't stop thinking...if Kenny and Butters had stayed in that hallway one more minute, we would have lost them both."
"I know, Stan." Kyle closed his eyes, shuddering at the memory of that explosion. "Maybe somebody was watching out for them, like they're watching out for us."
Stan nodded. "Let's get some of these chairs out of here." They each picked up two more of the chairs and carried them back to the grand staircase. There was smoke rising from the fire on the deck below them now, and they both hoped it didn't get any worse. There was a fire on this deck as well, but it was much smaller and farther down the hall.
"We need more stuff at the bottom," Kenny was saying to Butters as Stan and Kyle set their four chairs in front of him. "You know, to make the base wider." With the addition of two more benches and a dented sunglasses display case, the pile was now nearly four feet tall. Butters was standing on top of it, leaning his back against the ramp and reaching down to take a chair that Tweek handed up to him and adding it to the pile.
Stan looked admiringly at what they'd already accomplished. "Shit, this is going great! We'll keep bring you stuff; that's a good idea, putting Butters up there."
"He's the lightest," Kenny replied. "If we can get about twelve feet of stuff under him, he should be able to tie that hose off up there and we can all climb up." He lowered his voice and leaned closer to Stan and Kyle to whisper: "And I wanted to give him something to do, you know?"
"This is going to work, Kenny," Kyle said. "Come on, let's keep this moving."
They went back to the casino again, and this time Kyle went deeper inside. The bar had been located all the way against the back wall, facing the door. It was now suspended twelve feet over their heads; dozens of liquor bottles had fallen from the shelves behind it to shatter against the ceiling. He kicked the toe of his dress shoe through the piles of fragrant broken glass and suddenly saw something that made him grin.
"Holy shit, Stan! Look what I found!" He knelt down and carefully pulled a heavy duty aluminum Maglite flashlight from the debris. He clicked it on and a bright beam of light illuminated the carpeted floor overhead. There were three more of these flashlights there, and he retrieved them all, testing each one.
"Awesome, dude! Let's get these and some more chairs back." Kyle tucked the four flashlights under his arm, picked up two more chairs and followed Stan back into the hallway.
"Look what we found Kenny!" Kyle said a minute later as they approached him, turning one of the flashlights on and shining it at the ceiling between them.
"Awesome! Why don't you guys take one of them and keep working together, and the rest of us need to make sure no one is alone without one." Kyle handed Kenny one of the lights and another one to Tweek who was returning with another one of the benches as well as a coil of white nylon rope he had found. He gave the last one to Wendy, who was redressing the bandage on Cartman's head.
They kept at it, and half an hour later, they had managed to build an eight-foot tall pile. Butters was still balancing on top of it, leaning against the ramp. They needed to get at least another four feet underneath him before he had a shot at being able to tie the rope to something.
"This is going way too slow," Kenny said, climbing on top of a display case to hand Butters another chair. As if to punctuate this, there was a deep rumbling from above them, and a brilliant flash of orange fire a long way down the corridor. The ship rocked violently with the force of the second explosion. Butters screamed as he felt the platform slipping dangerously beneath him, and even though the pile shifted somewhat, he managed to hold on.
"Are you all right Butters?" Kenny shouted up to him once the rumbling of the explosion had died down.
"Y—Yeah, Kenny, I'm okay." He looked around himself. "Let's just keep going!"
They continued working and half an hour later as Stan and Kyle were both carrying a large table from the casino, the emergency lights along the ceiling suddenly flickered once and then went out, and they were once again in darkness.
They heard Tweek scream. Stan and Kyle dropped the table they were carrying. Stan pulled one of the flashlights from his coat pocket and shined it toward Kenny, who was shining another one toward Butters. Tweek and Wendy made their way out of the darkness toward them, and they all looked around at each other helplessly.