This is what Hell is like, my father warns, stirring the embers inside our wood stove. Lined up like dolls before him, my two older sisters and I wait for whatever comes next, afraid to take our eyes from the fire. The rising heat stings my baby-soft skin. I am still a baby, basically; small and wobbly on my feet, my hair is wispy and blonde, my cheeks are round and chubby, my world is the little red house we call home. Somehow, I grow up after all of this, tall and thin just like him. The son he always wanted, or so he thought.
This can’t be happening. I feel the colors draining from my body, leaving nothing behind but the outline of what might have been. I can’t feel my heart, I can’t find my next breath. I’m lost in a world burning bright. All I can see are the flames eating my house.
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Mother pushes us out the door and across the porch, yelling for us to hurry up, like it’s a race to see who gets there first. The sound of her keys jingling around worries me, making me wonder what would happen if she dropped them down between the slats of wood beneath our feet. My sister freezes in place, tears in her eyes even as she tries to hold them back – and I realize she’s holding us back. Her feet are bare like mine, but I’ve already made it to the car while hers are stuck in place; our black cat walks over and rubs up against her leg, unaware that this is an emergency.
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