MY EYES FLEW OPEN as I choked on thick, black smoke pouring in through my open window. I thrashed in my bed, desperately tangled in my sheets, finally crashing to the floor, my legs released from their sheeted prison. Adrenalized from both a gasp of fresh air and the ultimate peril, I sprang from the hard ground and cast myself at the door, fumbling for the latch keeping me from escape. My head caught up with me.
Click. Out the door and running. Crack! Flat on the floor, a broken board above me. Head pounding. Hot blood racing down my cheek. Have to race now. For my life. Can’t stop. Not now. Not now.
Thick, stinging smoke. Couldn’t see, eyes burning. Crawl to the front door. Reach, reach for it. The handle. Pull it back.
Flames lick greedily up the stair from below. People running, falling, screaming. Everywhere. Toxic smoke cloaks them. Me. Everything. Cloaked in death. Parents, children, old, young, strong, weak—all cloaked. All going. All gone. My heart shrieked with horror. Where are mine?
Mom was gone, I already knew. Dad? Probably, he would’ve been one of the first there. The hummers would’ve felt it coming and fled, maybe dead. Ash? Ash! Ashlee was with me! I turned from the blinding horror and clambered across the floor, choking and coughing. Stood up, flew at her door. Head pounding, fist pounding on the door. As if hearing myself from far away, I screamed “Ashlee! Ash! Open up!
Now!” I didn’t wait for an answer. My right heel would have a bruise for weeks if I lived.
The floor liked my face tonight. I cursed at the pain, “Troll-snot-owl-pellet-fingernail!” I struggled to stand. Was it me or the ground? One kept moving. I clawed at the wall for balance. Everything was too slow. I fought to keep consciousness as Ashlee’s small frame slid out from under the bed and grabbed my waist. We started down the hall. There was only one window large enough to get us out of the master bedroom.
Nobody home. I knew that. The flames called our names as they slunk closer, trying to tempt us away from our shattered lives. Ashlee countered my weight as I grabbed the stool by the desk and hurled it with what strength I had at the window. Glass shards showered like the rain outside, and we followed them, the massive Temple tree groaning the sound of smoky death as it fell away from us. The flames howled at our escape, left without their final prize. We fell.
The tree gave itself to the river, its life source and only companion in death. We fell as the smoke tried to claim us. We fell. I couldn’t breathe. Even the fresh air was naught more than poison. We fell as the air tried to wrap us in a cocoon of un-life, being the breath we had to have without giving us the ability to take it. We fell. I was drowning in smoky sleep, too exhausted to try to live. We fell. I heard voices calling. Hands were catching. Catching us.
The freezing, wet ground met my burning back. I gasped in pain and shock and then coughed and choked and gasped all over again uncontrollably. The hissing of a horrid, evil serpent filled my ears, then I felt it rumble through every fiber of my being as the tree collapsed into the river, spent of life save that of the fire viciously devouring it like a ravenous wild beast.
There was nothing but smoke. All was smoke. The ground. The sky. The people. All was smoke…all was smoke…allwassmokeallwassmoke.
Ashlee was smoke. Everyone was smoke. I was smoke. I was ash. Ash was falling. Everywhere. Falling like a demon’s snowstorm. Everybody was there and nobody was there. All was smoke and ash. All was silent. Silent death. I wasn’t dead yet. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know.
I strained to open my eyes to see what was left.
From the starless, dead sky, stared two evil, blood red eyes, cursing at my tiny, choking soul, watching me die, wishing I was dead already. I thought I saw my rescuer, my mother, coming for us, to save us from the evil above, guarding us with her angelically beautiful silhouette, as the darkness closed about me, like a cool, wet cloth on a sweaty summer night. I passed out of knowledge and time.
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