by: Amethyst P
[CW: death, implied murder, burning/fire]
It wasn’t my fault this time.
The stifling silence around the table, the judgmental gazes from four sets of eyes, he stood and slid his chilled food away before turning and walking out of the room. If he imagined hard enough he could almost hear his mother calling for him to return.
Return to what? To continue the argument was worse than, what did his grandfather used to say, ‘beating a dead horse’. His grandfather would have sided with him.
The hallways were dim, shadowed by the dying gaze of fluorescent bulbs. It was his turn to clean the light shades, but who would make him?
A faint smell teased his nostrils, but, whenever he tried to put a name to it, his mind flittered away onto some other thoughts. His anger, mainly; it was difficult to focus on anything else when heat bubbled underneath his skin.
Every room he walked through he turned and left the lights on, to be petty, of course, but also because he felt like he was walking through a haze. Were all their lights failing? It was not his job to change the bulbs; his father always took care of it, but the old man was lazy.
In the living room, he shoved aside the grate to the fireplace, crouching down to toss some wood inside and start up a little, cozy blaze. Had he not done this already today? The house was too big, and the wood stove in the basement felt useless.
Sneezing, he stood and left to go find his sweater. The smell was becoming stronger, dancing at the edges of his memory. Something felt wrong.
“Did you catch any mice today, Ms Bow?” He questioned as a cat ran past him up the stairs. Her sandy brown back was all that greeted him in response as she ignored him, disappearing into an open room. Everyone hated him in this house, even the cat. Stupid cat, stupid name; his little sister had come up with it and she was stupid too.
Maybe he was being dramatic; his parents would say it was his age, the crazy teenage years. Well, his feelings mattered too!
Anger was tiring; upon entering his room, he put a sweater on and slid under his blankets. His body felt stiff and numb at the same time, products of stress he presumed; sleep and some warmth would fix him right up. At least, while he slept, there would be no fighting.
A sharp smell woke him hours later, leaving him panicked, heart racing. He knew that smell; he knew it…what was it?
No movement in the house was to be heard, or seen, as he headed downstairs to find the source. Judging by the darkness outside the windows it was late, and everyone else must have already gone to bed as well.
Dishes were still on the table, food left untouched and cold, as he moved through the dining room and into the kitchen. His nose was following the scent, growing stronger faster as he neared the door to the basement.
Opening the door, a sudden wave of heat and unease overtook him. Something bad awaited him, and his mind was racing; somehow he felt he knew what he would find, even if he did not know how.
The basement was a cluttered mess; a true fire hazard, as his mother always said, filled with unfinished projects of his father’s, packed up old objects and clothes, stuffed full of things they did not need anymore nor could find the will to be rid of. Nothing but old memories none of them wished to dredge up. An old wood stove was tucked away in the back, with the littlest amount of space they could provide it free of debris.
The source of the smell was coming from the back, near the stove, and he approached cautiously, his blood pounding in his ears.
A charred, groaning body was curled up on the cement floor in front of the open stove. As its small bony arm stretched for him, he backed away, fear upon his face.
Right, that was right. The smell was the burning scent of…
His body started shaking, not from fear, but from a chill that had settled upon him. The ‘past come back to haunt’, as people would say, but he told himself it had been an accident.
Closing his eyes, he slowly counted down from twenty until his breathing slowed. Calm restored, he could not shake off the freezing numbness that had settled upon his toes, his fingers, and he knew there was more. Something else he was forgetting, but knew soon he would recall.
Quickly, in hopes this was all a hellish nightmare threatening to ruin a few good years of therapy, he turned from the figure and headed back upstairs. Beyond the basement door a heat was growing, and, when he opened it to step into the kitchen, he was assaulted by a cloud of heavy smoke. Coughing, he dropped to the floor and crawled out into the dining room, where, oddly, there was nothing.
Standing, confused, he glanced back into the kitchen, just in time for the door to slam shut in his face as a scream whistled past his ear on the wind behind him. The dining room windows, which he knew had been shut only moments ago, were now all open, lace curtains covered in black stains and charred at the ends.
The entire dining room now looked bleak, ashy and destroyed, including the leftover food upon the used dinnerware. This was not where the fire started, however; he remembered now, but the heavy gazes he felt blamed him all the same. Each chair at the table, except for his, was filled with a pile of ashy remains.
This was where they had been.
The dusty light shades in the hallway were shattered now, melted in pieces upon the carpet. In the living room, he found the shoved aside grate and the log which had rolled out upon the hearth and onto shagged carpet.
He had not done it on purpose.
No one could blame it on him either! For all they knew, he could have been outside when the fire started. Except, he had not been outside, and, as he quickly went through the rest of the house, he realized there was no way he could have survived the blaze himself either.
His own bedroom was a blackened mess, a stark difference to how it had appeared upon him waking from slumber. There was no sign of any bodily remains to be had.
Torn from his confused mutterings, the sound of Ms. Bow faintly from down the hall drew his attention. The cat had survived?
He ran to find her, hoping to come out of this with at least one other survivor. The howling grew louder as he reached his little sister’s bedroom, to which he entered by stepping over the remains of her soft pink door.
There was no cat, however, in sight, only destruction and an open window. The familiar sense of trepidation returned as he gazed towards it and felt compelled to approach. Heavy, cold air blew in as he looked out and down onto the grounds below, his eardrums near bursting from the sound of shrill howling on the wind.
No cat, no cat, but there was something down below, huddled in the snow. Ah, not something, but someone.
He waved up to himself from below, a crooked grin upon a darkened face. It was time to go, he mouthed through blue tinted lips; they both knew what had happened.
The fall, the splintering, the cold and damp settling in as wood crackled and flame roared above them; and now he remembered it all.
“It wasn’t my fault…” he protested down to his other self, his heart sinking from an undeclared truth, “it wasn’t, not this time.”
The he down below laughed, gurgling with contempt, disappointment. “It never was, was it, not the first time, nor the second? Your talent for rewriting your memories astounds me. It is awfully cold down here…next time get it right.”
Get it right? Get what right?
Smoke was building behind him and he realized, with horror, so were flames. There was nowhere else for him to go, besides out the window.
He had to jump, but he would land upon the he down below…himself…
The grate…had he really forgotten to move it back on the fireplace? He had been quite angry, and it was not the first time he had caused a fire in the house on purpose resulting in disastrous consequences.
Ceiling was coming down now behind him and he had to make a decision. The jump was high, but not high enough it would be fatal, possibly, though the other he below must have expected the same result. His seconds to decide were soon up; the smoke and flame pushed him to make the leap.
Get it right next time?
The pain upon landing was excruciating. It was only him now, bent and broken, huddled in snow; having misjudged the angle he would fall at and the proximity of the garden wall. As the snow’s chill settled into his bones, he could faintly make out the face of someone looking down at him before his eyes started to close.
It wasn’t my fault this time.
The stifling silence around the table, the judgmental gazes from four sets of eyes, he stood and slid his chilled food away before turning and walking out of the room. If he imagined hard enough he could almost hear his mother calling for him to return…
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I think Stephen King and Clive Barker have a new rival. Excellent work (I am a devoted horror fan, as you can tell)! ;)
Thank you! I definitely have always hoped to be as great as them one day, or at least close to it. Their work is hard to beat!
You have a gift for horror! I'm very interested to see what stories you will write in the future, thank you for sharing.
Thank you so much!! I hope to make more time for writing this year, so Im glad to have found this website's prompts!