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“Get out of me!” I growl, scratching at the burning sensation in my chest. My fingers clutch the buttoned edges of my collared shirt. I fling it open. I feel relief, but only for a second. The burning continues.
“No! I'm not ready!” the voice barks back.
My body flings itself against the wall opposite the mirror. No more than a thud cushions the impact. My head goes drunk for a second. It takes a moment, but I regain my bearings. I can feel my blood curdling in my veins. My body feels heavy, pushed down by a force even more sinful than gravity. The burning in my chest is reaching a point that is unbearable.
My nails tear open a layer of skin on my chest. I scream. My lips sting as they stretch open. The sound that comes from my mouth is one I never want to hear again: the sound of pain, of torture. “Ready for what?”
“Ready to live on my own!”
I fall to my knees. The maroon carpet stabs at my skin. My hands are shaking. Now my head. I begin convulsing on the ground. Falling. I kick my legs out. My knees lock. I'm shaking still. My chest burns with such ferocity. My neck whips to the left, then right. My jaw slams open. Locks. I feel warm tears running down my cheeks. I can't do anything about them. They cool into a watery crust. I continue shaking. I flail my arms. My fingers drum on the ground. I can't control my own body.
“Stop fighting me!”
I roll onto my stomach. My left leg twists out of its hip socket. I scream. I hear my right leg click out of its socket too. My legs have lost feeling. I struggle to turn my neck. My legs look like limp spaghetti, still as a gravestone. A spider-crawling sensation creeps up my back. I wince.
What happens next isn't a mystery. I tighten my back as I hear a series of pops and clicks. Even though I try to scream, my jaw slams shut. I feel my back twisting and coiling. My ears fill with the sound of snapping bones. It sounds like tumblers repeatedly popping in and out of the lock. My arms rise off the ground and slam back down. I watch as my fingers begin to roll and bend backward like they're made of rubber.
“Stop it,” I manage to say in a raspy whisper.
“Stop fighting me and the pain will be over sooner.”
I grit my teeth. I will never give in to this demon.
I feel my chin tucking into my neck. My legs begin lifting off the ground. My whole body is rising. My head, however, stays grounded. I feel my neck straining. I can almost feel the soft thuds of my veins popping out against the side of my neck. I am dizzy again. I'm doing a headstand. My feet are directly above me now. I know this is going to hurt.
My neck gives out, cracks.
My whole body falls onto my back. How am I still alive? Why don't I feel anything anymore? What just happened?
I lie in silence, unable to move, unable to call for help. I think about moving any part of my body. I just need a little reassurance that I'm not paralyzed. If I can only move my hand, not even my hand, a finger. A pinky. I just need a sign that I'm going to be all right.
“Almost done, no thanks to you.”
Suddenly, my whole body snaps back together. With a jolt, I can feel again. Nothing hurts. It tingles, but no pain. I stand up.
I stop talking. I don't know why, but I stop. It's like I'm forced to, not of my own will, but someone else's. I feel different. Somehow I feel like I'm not alone. It's like my privacy was shoved into the spotlight, nude and tormented. I've been invaded.
My body walks over to the mirror and looks at itself. It sounds weird, but my eyes are shrouded in the shadows of my eyebrows. They're more inset, leaving a deeper cavity. I look at my chest. The scrapes from my nails are still there, though they're slowly disappearing. My bad posture is suddenly gone too. I turn and look at my back. A ripple of bones shudders down my spine like a disturbance in a still pond. That's strange.
“You look,” the voice pauses, “better.”
“Jack?” As soon as I hear the voice calling from downstairs my heart drowns in terror. “Are you here?” It's Scottie.
“What is that brat doing here?”
“I didn't tell him!”
“Of course you didn't! I was with you the whole time,” the voice snaps.
“Jack? Mom wants you to come home,” Scottie says. His voice is getting louder. He is getting closer. “She told me to come get you. Hello? Are you here?”
“Scottie!” I hear it come from my mouth, but I don't say it. A smirk plays on my lips. What's happening?
“Jack!” He sounds excited. I hear his thunderous footsteps as he plods up the stairs. I don't have to see him to know what he looks like. He has that doofus grin drawn from ear to ear, those rosebush-red cheeks that people have the constant urge to squeeze, that raised-eyebrow look that he gets when he sees his Christmas presents.
It kills me to know that I'm the reason. I shouldn't be the reason. Any second now he's going to come running through that door and God knows what I'm going to do to him.
“I'm still weak,” the voice whispers. “This will sure help.” I look over at the maple dresser. The lit candlestick flickers as I stare at it. It's inviting. Too inviting.
“What are you going to do?” I ask.
“This is for us,” the voice says. Our body, my body, walks over to the candle. I can hear Scottie's footsteps getting closer. I smile. I knock over the candle.
At first the flame just flicks on the dresser. It dances for a moment. Then, the dresser is swallowed in orange and red.
The door swings open. Scottie stands there, surprised. His face glows in the light from the fire. He looks at me. “Jack?” The falsetto of his prepubescent voice slams into me with such emotional force that it's like I'm standing in the way of a cannon ball. I keel over. “Let's go, Jack! The room's on fire!” he squeals.
“No,” I say. I don't want to say it, but I'm forced too.
“No?” the sense of urgency in his voice only makes him seem more childish. “We have to go!” Spit catches in his throat as he speaks.
“Scottie, run!” I yell as I fall to the floor. The fire hops around me, avoiding the pathway to the door.
“Scottie, save me! Run! Save me! Run!”
“Jack, I'm scared. Let's go! Get up!” He runs to my side. I can see fear in his eyes. He looks at me and then at the flames. He pulls at my arms. I want to go with him, I want to leave this house forever. I want to go. I want to go!
“Scottie, get out of here now!” I hope he understands the desperation in my voice. He can't stay. I won't let him.
He nestles his head on my chest, “I'm not leaving without you!”
“You're not a dog! Get off of me!”
He lifts his head and looks into my eyes. I can tell he notices the difference, the pain that is now ingrained into me. His eyes dart upward. I can tell the flames are getting closer. “We have to go! Why aren't you moving?”
“I can't get up! I won't get up!”
Scottie tilts his head. That moment of confusion is all I need. I grab his arm and yank him to the ground. Using the momentum, I fling myself up. My feet feel like ribbons in the wind, but I keep moving. I don't know why, but I keep moving.
“Jack!” I hear behind me.
“We're going,” the voice orders me.
I reach the door and turn to see Scottie. He's on the ground, still trying to figure out how he got there. The fire is closing in on him, inching its way to the bottom of his jeans. He looks up at me. His glassy blue eyes tell me everything I need to know and everything I don't want to know. I want to yell, but I can't. I want to warn Scottie to move. I want to go get him. But I don't. Instead I turn and run out of the room. Out of the corner of my eye I see the fire catching up with Scottie just as he scrambles to get off the ground.
I run down the hallway and down the stairs. I run through the foyer, being careful not to slide on the tile. I throw open the oak doors just as I hear a yelp from upstairs. “Help me! Jack, come back!”
Out of the house I run. I stop when I get outside. I turn around. The fire is big enough that I can see it from out here. It looks as if it has encompassed the whole top floor of the house.
“Help me! Help me!” Scottie's desperate squeal can barely be heard over the roaring fire. I think about going back in or getting help or calling the fire department.
But I don't.
Instead, I walk away.