I stood outside the burning wreckage, the heat from the fire, making me feel insufferably hot.
Sirens wailed loudly, disturbing the usually quiet environment.
They put the fire out, leaving only a burnt frame.
As they left, they took three bags and brought me as well.
After that, I don't remember what happened.
The doors hissed open, and I stepped out onto the platform. It's been a long time since I've seen this sort of scenery in person. Trees lined the road, colorful and luscious, the hills were green waves in the distance, and the air smelled fresh and pollution-free. The sky was usually dull or gray in the city, but here it was clear and bright.
"Beautiful," I sighed, staring out into the rural area. I glanced over at Jesse, who was looking pale and nauseated from the long train ride. "You look slightly less beautiful. You okay?"
Jesse rolled his eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm fine," he grumbled, his grumpy attitude making me laugh again.
"Sorry, sorry. But lighten up! This is so much better than the city, isn't it?" I skipped into the station, twirling around the empty space. Jesse followed with a lot less enthusiasm but smiled upon seeing my excitement.
"Yeah, it is. Empty, too." He glanced at the only other person there, a woman behind the counter, but she only seemed to care about her romance novels.
The bus driver was out front, smoking a blunt while leaning against the wall. He stubbed it against his pants when he saw us and flicked it to the side. "Heading into town?" he asked, sounding like he'd been eating sandpaper. His breath smelled terribly of smoke and coffee.
Forcing myself to smile, I nodded. At least the guy had mild manners.
"All right, then." Pulling some keys out of his back pocket, he went into the bus and started it up. Jesse and I gave each other a look before entering the bus.
Jesse looked around the rickety vehicle before slouching slightly in his seat. "This is gonna be hell," he muttered.
"Don't worry," I assured him, not really knowing what to say afterward. He had a right to worry, the bus seemed to be centuries old, with the windows browned around the edges, rust poking out from the metal, and barely cushioned seats. The road was made of dirt and rocks, leaving only a bumpy path. And the driver was puffing smoke everywhere with no way to open a window. "It won't take too long."
He ended up falling asleep, which I feel was the best option. I stared out the dirty window, watching trees, fields, and farms fly by in a blur.
I miss living here, but every night would be restless and without sleep. It looks like a beautiful and tranquil place to stay, and it was for half of my life. The other half was a different story, which is why I live in the city now. The memories still come back to haunt me sometimes, despite being in the complete polar opposite of the countryside.
I would've never been able to come back without another person. I'm glad Jesse agreed to go with me, but I'm still unsure if I want to see it, or if it's even still there. I'd just have to wait and see.
An hour or so later, the bus jerked to a stop in front of a small isolated town. I woke Jesse up, and we checked into an inn. Since the sun had set at that point, we cleaned up and collapsed onto separate beds.
Just as I began to close my eyes, it was interrupted by the sound of a keyboard clacking. I looked over at the other. "Do you seriously have to work? I thought you were on break."
He shrugged. "I have deadlines, despite being on a mini-vacation. Why? Is it really that loud?"
I looked back up at the ceiling and closed my eyes. "No, I was just wondering."
Eventually, the repetitive sound became white noise and faded out as I fell into a deep sleep.
I could smell the smoke from deep inside the forest, but I thought nothing of it until I saw the black smoke plumes rising into the sky. And it was originating from my home. I dropped the pinecones previously resting in my arms and sprinted, praying silently that nothing terrible was happening.
By the time I arrived, my house was engulfed in white-hot flames, catching on the grass and spreading.
I wanted to run away, but my body brought me into the building. "Ma!" I screamed, breathing in a thick cloud of smoke. I coughed and buried half of my face in the crook of my arm. "Dad! Laura-!"
Above me, the support beams cracked and split, blocking my path and sending a piece of burning wood onto my back. With adrenaline rushing through my veins, I didn't even notice the burns. My hands scalded as I pushed myself back up and tried to go further.
My neighbor, who had seen my frantic rush into the building, had pulled me out. Shouting was no use with lungs full of smoke, and I had barely any strength to run away. But I refused to go any further than a few meters away and stared as the fire was eventually put out by professionals. Upon seeing my condition, they took me away, but I saw no signs of anyone else.
I wish I stayed in the forest. Then I wouldn't have these stupid scars.
I woke up while the sky was pitch black. The only thing illuminating the room was the blue light from the laptop, resting sideways on the other bed. Jesse himself was fast asleep.
I wasn't going to get another wink of sleep, so I slid out of bed, pulled my shoes on, and headed out.
The town was quiet and empty, save for a few stragglers and the open pub. It was a moonless night, with nothing but the stars lighting up the sky. They were actually shown quite clearly. It's one of the many things I miss about living here, tracing the constellations when I couldn't sleep.
I've gotten so used to the constant sound of cars, people, and factories that I've forgotten what pleasant noise sounds like. The sounds of happy people chatting quietly, the cheers of bartenders and customers, and the wind's quiet whistling.
I followed a path down to a dreary looking building with a house. A rusty metal fence surrounded the nearby graveyard, which someone was just locking up. I recognized the young face underneath the security cap, so I walked up to them. "Mind keeping it open for a little longer, Oswald?" I asked. They jumped in surprise and turned to me.
"Aimee!" he said, his face brightening up as he hugged me tightly. "When did you come back? It's been so long! Where have you been?"
I made an 'oof' sound and laughed. "I'm just here for a little while, so be glad you got to see me while I'm here. I moved, remember?"
He pouted. "Yeah, but you never told me where."
Oswald was an old friend. His parents ran the funeral home and the graveyard for the town. I'd always see him running around every time we went into town, and he kept me entertained while my parents did shopping. I'm guessing he and his twin sister Ophelia now own it.
I laughed again. Nothing changed, Ozzie was still the childish soul he always was. "This time, I'll be sure to stay in contact with you. Maybe you could visit one day."
His mood shifted again, and he smiled. "I'd love to! But I'm assuming that's not why you're here." Oswald put his keys back in the holster and opened the gate, dramatically holding it open for me. I rolled my eyes and bowed to play along, stepping inside daintily.
However, my good mood was immediately soured upon seeing the plethora of tombstones scattered around the dirt. It was quite large, so there was a lot. The older ones were towards the back, which is where I headed. Oswald was quick to follow.
Eventually, I found who I was looking for. A broken tombstone with two names on it, and a gravestone near it. "Laura, Mom, and Dad," I mumbled, staring down at the engravings. Missed memories came flooding back, both good and bad. I stared down at my hands, which will forever have lumpy and pink marks.
Ozzie grimaced but stayed quiet. When he finally decided to speak up, he asked, "Do you still miss them?"
I made a noise and forced a smile. Smiling always made me feel better, even fake ones. "Yeah. The memories stick hard."
Last time I was staring at these stone pieces, my vision was too blurry with tears to read anything. Now, I can see that the graves had no quotes, no last words. Probably because they never expected anything wrong to happen on that day. Or many days, for that matter.
"Then why'd you come back? I thought you were gone for good."
When I first left, I wanted to never come back because there were too many bad memories. But at the same time, "There were too many good memories to leave behind."