I stood at the edge of our land and looked out over the woods below. The wind whipped my hair around my face, and it stuck in my mouth and the corners of my eyes. From a distance, the bright red color must have looked like a flame. The idea left me craving a fire.
The temperature was in the single digits and I wore a thin tank top with a pair of jeans. My mother had shouted about a jacket when I’d run out the door, but I hadn’t thought about listening. I’d had more pressing matters on my mind in that moment and all I’d wanted was to get away.
But now I was cold, and shivering and it hadn’t changed what I’d done. Not one bit.
Something strange was happening around me. I was calling things into reality without meaning too. Two days ago, I’d had a headache and just wanted quiet, and the next thing I knew, the whole world had gone silent. I’d witnessed a boy running out into the street and yelled for the truck barreling down the road to stop and it had just… frozen in place.
And now today, my mother had yelled at me for being late and I’d wished for it all to stop for a minute… and my family had become statues. Even the water from the sink had stopped in its tracks. Until my shock knocked me off my concentration and they started up again. And then I had to get out of there before they realized I was freaking out and asked questions I couldn’t answer.
The wind now brought something new to me. The smell of smoke. I’d been so wrapped up in my own thoughts I hadn’t noticed it before. But now I turned back to my house and let out a scream.
My house was on fire. Had I done that too?
I broke into a run and tried to concentrate. If I could start a fire, I could put it out too. Rain, it just needed to start raining. I focused on the thought and felt drops of moisture hit my skin. But with the temperature so low, it would turn to snow before long and snow wouldn’t help the fire.
The flames whipped around my house the way my hair had done around my face and I wanted to cry. But I could hear sirens approaching now. And surely my family had gotten out before the fire was too much.
I ran closer to my house, but the heat from the flames pushed me back. I rounded a corner and collided with a firefighter. He grabbed my arms and pulled me towards the street and an ambulance.
“Find out what happened,” he barked at the EMT and then he charged back towards the house.
The EMT, a young woman with short black hair, wrapped a warm blanket around me and examined my face. “What’s your name?”
“Jillian Pruitt.” My teeth chattered and the words barely made it out.
“Do you live here, Jillian?”
I nodded. I wanted so badly to stop shivering. With the thought, my skin tingled, and I felt myself warming up. I was getting good at this. But I didn’t linger on the thought.
“How many people are still inside?”
“Four. My parents, my brother, and my grandmother. She’s in the attic bedroom.” This idea flooded me with panic. She wouldn’t have gotten down the stairs alone.
“How did you get out?” She shined a light into my eyes and pressed my chin to get my mouth open.
“I was already outside,” I said after she’d examined my throat.
“Where’s your jacket?”
I shrugged. I didn’t feel like explaining that I’d been too overwhelmed to be worried about my own well-being. That I hadn’t thought I wouldn’t be going back into the house a few minutes later. I’d only wanted some fresh air and a moment to relax.
She patted my head, pulled the blanket tighter, and walked away. I watched the house and waited for the firemen to bring my family around to the front. I didn’t understand what was taking them so long. My parents and brother had been in the kitchen, right near a door. What could have kept them inside once the fire started? Had they gone upstairs to get Me-maw? But even then… my mother and Joe would be out here now. My father would have insisted they get outside.
A ladder slammed into the front of the house and a fireman climbed up towards the attic window. The EMT stood nearby; she must have told them what I’d said. Maybe he’d find my father up there as well.
He emerged a moment later with my grandmother’s body slung over his shoulder. Back on the ground, he placed her on a stretche near the EMT and then went back towards the front door. My gaze lingered on my grandmother’s soot-covered face for a moment, but her eyes were closed. The EMT examined her like she’d examined me, but then shook her head. Tears jumped into my eyes as she covered Me-Maw’s face with a sheet and pushed her away from the firetruck.
I forced myself to look back at the house and watch the flames until they’d all been put out. Where was everyone else? This couldn’t be real.
The firefighters rolled their hoses back towards their trucks and no one looked at me. An eternity later, three stretchers with sheet covered bodies were wheeled around the house. If I hadn’t already been sitting down, I would have fallen. I couldn’t feel my legs.
A young police officer approached me with sad eyes. I hadn’t even noticed the police cars arriving.
“Miss Pruitt, I’m officer Scott.” He twisted his hands together. “I’m sorry to have to tell you that none of your family made it out of the house in time. We’ll take you down to the station until we can contact social services…”
I didn’t hear the rest of his words. I felt light-headed and my eyes felt hot with tears I wouldn’t cry. I’d already known this from one glance at the defeated expressions on the firemen’s faces. Before they’d even brought the stretchers around…
Officer Scott touched my shoulder, but I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t look at anything anymore. I closed my eyes and wished for nothing. The last thing I remembered was how wet the ground was under my cheek.