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Burned

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It’s been two days, and I’m still in a trance. I still don’t know what to do with myself. I sit in the cold black chair in disbelief, staring at the blank wall that reminds me of my life.
Empty.
Outside, the sun is shining. The sky is a bright blue and soft little white clouds provide moments of my much desired shade. It’s the perfect summer day, with hot air but just enough breeze to make up for it.
Outside, everything is great.
But not in here.
Call it karma. Call it punishment. Call it whatever you want. I don’t really care. All I know is I call it cruel.
The memory that has been pressing against my memory, begging it to let it in, reappears. I try as hard as I can to shove it out of the way, but it’s much harder this time.
I’ve been told that sometimes when you’re going through a hard time, it’s best to talk or about it or think about it.
So I close my eyes, lean my head back against the chair, and allow the thought to flood into my memory.
I like it at night best, when no one’s there to watch me. I like it when I’m all on my own and I can just think without being disturbed. That’s what I’m doing now. I’m lying on the brown couch in my family’s living room.
As I toss my football into the air, I let my mind wander to distant worlds. Imagining things is my forte. It’s what I do. I have an imagination as big as the blue sky and as endless as the ocean. Fingering the leather of my football helps me think. Don’t ask me why because I have no idea. Some people chew their lip or bite their nails when they need to think about something. But I just hold my football, running my fingers down the white laces. I throw it in the air again.
BANG! I sit up fast, my football coming down and hitting me in the head.
“Ouch!” I mutter and rub the tender spot where my football hit me. What was that noise? I get off the couch to investigate. I soon find my answer. The white cover of the fire alarm is lying at my feet. I roll my eyes and bend down to pick it up.
“Great. Just great.” I mutter, standing on the couch and leaning over. I shove the cover back on, but it won’t go on right! I twist it to the left, then to the right. But when I move my hand away, it falls to the floor again. Agitated, I jump off the couch, landing on the floor with a thud. I kick the cover under the couch, not wanting to get busted for throwing my football in the house again. I can practically hear my mother’s voice.
Noah! I told you one day you were going to break something!
I head upstairs, deciding that I’ve done more than enough thinking for one night. Everyone is sleeping. The house is eerily silent. I creep past my parent’s room, where their TV is softly flickering, casting a green light on the wall.
Next, I pass Ty’s room. Being a typical 17 year old boy, his room is a disaster. You can barely even make out the floor. And the smells…don’t even get me started! I only went in there once, and that was three years ago. I’m surprised I even lived to tell about it!
Then I pass Jeffy’s room, my little 6 year old brother. Sure, he’s annoying, like every little brother on the planet. But for a kid brother, he’s not so bad.
I reach my room, which is at the end of the hallway. Since I’m the only girl in this family, my parents took pity on me and let me have the biggest room. Not that it really makes a difference. I have so much junk in there that it seems way smaller than my brothers’ rooms.
I enter my room. Shoving aside random things strewn across my floor, I make my way to my bed. Climbing onto the top bunk, I pull the warm covers over my head. Before long, I’m drifting off to sleep…
Suddenly, I sit up. I smell something weird. At first, I think it’s my overactive imagination. But then, I see thick plumes of black smoke creeping under the crack in my door.
My heart literally stops.
I go rigid with fear. My hands are drenched in seconds. My hands shake as I lift the covers away from me and I stand up. I rush to my light switch and turn it on. The hazy smoke is already covering my room. I cough and cover my mouth. I lean against the door in horror.
I have never felt so afraid in my life. My brain can’t even think. I’m frozen. I’m not responding to the voice screaming inside my head. Get out! Get out! Get out of here before it’s too late!
I lean my head back and shut my eyes, trying to clear my mind. What’s happening to me? I need to get a grip!
The window! The window! My brain screams to me. I respond by rushing to the window and throwing it open. I smack the screen out and watch it fall into the darkness.
I stand there for a second, just staring at the broken screen lying on the ground. It’s a long way down… I gulp and push that thought out of my mind.
This is a matter of life and death.
Before I can check myself, I climb out the window. I firmly set my fingers on the window and swing my legs over the side. I dangle from the window for a millisecond before forcing my hands off the window. For a moment, I free fall through the blackness before hitting the ground with a smack.
A sharp pain shoots through my legs. I lie on the ground for a minute, clenching my teeth, trying to keep screams of pain from emerging through my lips.
That’s when the thought occurs to me. Where is the rest of my family?! Why didn’t they get out when they heard the…
Oh God! There was no fire alarm! The beeping noise should have been projecting through the house, warning my family to get out.
But I broke the fire alarm just before I went to bed…!
My mind goes completely numb. This thought begins to creep into my mind slowly. It’s a terrible twisted thought that begins to overtake my brain. I try so desperately to push it out, but I soon have to surrender. It’s like a thousand soldiers armed with cannons and guns fighting me, who’s completely unarmed.
The thought pierces through my weak barrier and soon, it’s all I can do to keep from falling apart.
If my family doesn’t make it out, it’ll be my fault. I’ll be the one who is responsible for their deaths.
I’ll be a murderer.
I force myself to stand up. The pain in my legs is so bad, my knees buckle and I fall to the ground again. I don’t care. I have to find my family. I have to tell them about the fire because there’s no other way they’ll find out!
I have to get to the front yard! I have to find my family! I replay those two thoughts over and over in my mind as I drag myself toward the front yard, where I convince myself my family will be standing, relieved to know I made it out alive. I know it’s a long shot, but hey, if we don’t have hope, what do we have? I keep dragging myself farther and farther until I round the corner and…
Nothing. Not a soul. My heart drops to my feet. What I do see is flames leaping out of the front of my house. My parent’s room is engulfed in flames. Ty’s room is in flames as well. I can’t even move. It’s like I’m in a trance. My mind is telling me there’s no way my parents and Ty are alive. It’s impossible. But my heart is telling me otherwise. They’re still alive! They have to be!
Hesitantly, I turn my eyes toward Jeffy’s room. I know that if I see it in flames too, I’ll completely lose my mind.
I catch my breath when I see a face in the window.
“Jeffy!” I scream desperately. I need to save my baby brother! “Open the window!” Jeff looks down at me with scared eyes. I make a motion for him to open the window, but when he tries, it’s too heavy for him. I go into complete panic mode, leaping to my feet faster than lightening, ignoring the intense pain in my legs.
“Jeffy! Hold on!” I yell, too scared to cry. Jeff looks absolutely terrified. The smoke in his room is so thick I can barely see him. I frantically search my mind.
All I want to do right now is to be my brother’s hero. But how can I save him? Running into the house would be suicide and it wouldn’t do either of us any good. There’s no way I can climb up the side of the house to open Jeff’s window. Even if I could scale the house, the only way to open the window is from the inside.
Let me tell you right now. There is no greater pain than the pain of knowing someone you love is going to die and you can’t do anything to stop it.
Jeffy’s sweet face is pressed against the window. Tears streak down his face as he locks eyes with me. He reaches out a hand to me. I reach my hand out too, wanting to badly to feel his small in mine. Slowly, Jeffy turns his head to look at his door, which I can’t see from here. When he turns around, his face has terror written all over it. My heart starts to pound even harder now. Jeffy pounds his hands against the window frantically.
It is now that I see flames start to kick up around him.
“JEFFY!” I scream. I can barely make a sound. My throat feels like it’s shutting. I can see Jeff’s lips moving.
“Noah!” I hear faintly.
“JEFFY!” I scream again. There’s no way to describe the fear that shoots through my body right now. It rips through my soul, leaving a scattered wake of dreams in its path. It destroys my heart in one sweeping motion.
I move my eyes from the window for a fraction of a second, just to give myself a break from the nightmare unfolding before me.
When I look up to check on Jeffy again, he’s not there.
Instead, flames are crackling in front of the window, roaring and spitting sparks at me like they’re furious with me.
I see something, a figure, collapse to the floor, completely engulfed in flames.
Completely beyond saving.
And when I look harder, I see the tiny handprints of a six year old on the glass, a last memory of my little brother.
The tears want to come so badly, but I won’t let them. If I could go back two days, I think. Just two days! There would be a million things I would change!
But all I have is the present and the present has nothing.
My neighbor calls the firemen when she sees the smoke. They come about 10 minutes after Jeff disappeared. They find me sobbing on the ground in anguish.
“I found someone!” one yells, kneeling down beside me. “What’s your name kid?” I look up. I can barely make out the face of the fireman through my tears.
“Noah.” I choke.
“Are you hurt?” he presses. I shake my head.
“Okay. Good. Now, where is the rest of your family?” he asks, sounding like he’s talking to a little kid. “Did they make it out?”
Slowly, I point my finger at Jeff’s window. I move my finger to Ty’s room, then my parents.
“Christ!” he mutters, yelling to the rest of the crew to come over.
“Search the house!” he says, but I know he’s just saying it for me. I know he knows they’re not going to find anything. “Send in fighters to top front left, top middle left, and top middle right!” Two men charge into the house bravely.
“Don’t you worry sweetie.” He says softly. “You’re okay.”
“But they’re not.” I sob. The fireman doesn’t say anything.
“Come with me.” He says, helping me to my feet. I collapse against him in tears. He pats my back awkwardly.
“It’s okay…” he soothes.
It’s not.
The tears pour out of my eyes before I can stop them. I cover my face and finally give in. The questions that have been swarming around in my mind for the past two days are still present. But this time, a new one pops into my head.
Why couldn’t it have been me?

I have never known the meaning of the word “regret” until now. It’s one of those things you have to experience to really know about.
For me, the regret of not trying harder to fix that fire alarm, not telling someone about it as soon as I could, eats away at me. It’s devastating.
My family may have died from fire, but right now, I’m being burned too.
They find Jeff, Ty, Mom, and Dad’s bodies in their rooms, all badly burned. They asked if I wanted to see them. I said no. Nothing matters to me anymore. Now that they’re gone, life is pointless.
But what makes it even worse is that I’m the one who caused this. I’m the one who was stupid enough to disobey my mom’s rule and break the thing that could have saved them. I can’t even be sorry for myself, because I’m the one who did it.
At least I wasn’t the one who started the fire. They found out that someone left a candle in the kitchen and a window was left open. Wind blew the candle over and that was it.
In one swift motion, everything that ever mattered to me was gone.
“Noah?” I hear my name being called. I get up slowly, wipe my eyes, and shove a strand of my brown hair out of my eyes. I walk over to the lady with a smile and a clipboard. Her blue eyes remind me of mine, the way they stare right through a person like they can see what people are thinking.
That’s what my mom used to say mine looked like.
“Welcome to the South Denver Orphanage!” the lady says. I don’t say anything.
“I think you’re really going to love it here!” she continues, ignoring my lack of enthusiasm.
“It’s not my house.” I say plainly. The lady’s smile softens and she looks at me with sympathy. She puts her arm around me.
“It is now sweetheart.” She says softly. I shake my head, beginning to get choked up again. The lady takes my hand.
“Listen to me honey. I know what you’re going through.” She says. I begin to shake my head again, because there’s no way. “Don’t tell me I don’t! I lost both my parents when I was 8 years old. That’s why I started this orphanage, to help kids who go through the same thing I went through. I want you to know that I will always be there for you. I know it’s hard to let go. Right now, you’re hanging on to your family with a tight grip. But over time, it’ll loosen. You’ll find happiness again. I promise. I did!” She pauses as the tears start to run down my face again. She squeezes my hand.
“This can be your new family.” She says softly. “I’m not asking you to forget your family! That’s the last thing I want you to do! But just know that they’re always going to be inside of you. I know, I know. That’s totally cliché. But take it from me, it’s true. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my parents. I wish they were here with me. But they’re not. And there’s nothing I can do about it. So I do the next best thing.” She takes a deep breath before continuing.
“I am them.” She says softly, but with the confidence of a superhero. “I bring them back to life by being them, doing the things they would do, saying the things they would say. In every way, I am them. You could be your family too sweetheart. I know you can.”
For the first time in days, a smile tugs at my face. She smiles too.
“See? There you go!” she says, letting my hand go. As she turns to lead me down the hallway, I pause for a minute and close my eyes. I concentrate real hard, and I feel something. I feel four souls, pressing at my heart, smiling from ear to ear. As I start to take a step forward, I hear them whisper in unison.
“Bring us back.” I smile for real this time and make a promise I know I will never break.
“I will.”



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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

mama said...
Jul. 6, 2011 at 8:39 pm
What a tragic story!  But a glimpse that all will be okay for Noah even though the road won't be easy.  Death doesn't destroy memories.  Great work!
 
paigeforemanThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 6, 2011 at 11:36 am

Wow. I love this because it's so powerful, especially when you talk about regret and bringing the family back inside of Noah. This is very well done and deserving of the five stars I'm going to give you.

Also, do you mind checking out and rating my song, "Lunar Eclipse?" It'll be much appreciated! :-) Again, great job.

 
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