By: Annie Barry

Embers in my hair, black dust getting to my lungs. Red, yellow, purple, blue fire in front of me, behind me, beside me. Above and below me. Within me.

Hand in sweaty hand; we all make it through the front door. My family collapses on the lawn. Their chests pumping and coughs catapulting them into each other’s embrace.

But still, alive as I am, it doesn’t feel right. I wasn’t supposed to make it, not in that way. And without hesitation, I ran with it. Rather, I ran from it. I barely get my seared skin off of the grass before I’m running back into the house. I feel them chasing me; reaching for my arms, my shirt, anything graspable. I hear their screams, I do. I account for them, but they’re being muted with the rest of my thoughts.

I can’t see through the fire but I go for the back door by memory. I run. I run. I run. I run. I run with breath I didn’t know I could muster in this moment. I go for the woods, past the backyard. The fire’s gotten some of me, but given me more. The crunching leaves feel like my skin and I couldn’t feel more free. Strings knotted from my bedpost to my rib cage ripping like two big men playing tug of war with a single spaghetti noodle as my feet kept spitting forward. Joggers. A ripped, whiskey-stained, white t-shirt. My newest sneakers. No socks, no time for socks.

When I could no longer hear the sirens, I decided I’m far enough, for now. A clothing donation dumpster for the needy would supply me coverage from any camera, anyone looking for a possible house fire survivor. Gas station bathroom wetted paper towels and sink splashes washed ash and charred life off of my skin. An old, seafoam green, leather stool holds me to my diner burger, breaking news on the corner television, middle of the night meal.

BREAKING NEWS: Tragic; one victim to a family’s house fire. What did she go in to save? What could she have possibly left in that house that could be worth going back for? What was she saving?