It was a strange thing, this fire. It waved across the ceiling, and embraced carpets and furniture, and roared at her, as if it knew it was being watched. It had came out of nowhere; she had woken up on the floor, and the fire had been all around her. The smoke filled up her lungs, and Andrea found it hard to think.
Andrea rolled over onto her stomach, and crawled, hands and feet and knees, towards the open door. Her vision came and went, and every breath she took she held as deeply as she could, for as long as she could, so that she would not have to breathe the smoke any longer. She reached the door, and crawled through. She grabbed the knob and pulled herself to her feet, and it was only after she felt the skin stick did she realize her hand had been burnt.
She paid it no mind.
She walked down the hazy hallway, towards where the stairs were, before they had burned and broken into splinters. She stopped there, at the top of the stairs, and stared dumbly into the screaming flames. There was a whisper, tickling her, then prodding her, then beseeching her: jump, jump, jump. But she wandered on.
There was a crash, and the ceiling where she had stood had come crashing down. Andrea did not look back, but looked forward; towards a hallway window, towards a twenty foot drop, towards cool air, and freedom. The smoke overcame her, and she put her burnt hand over her mouth.
There was the window. She was so close.
She was so tired, and so confused. Her house was on fire, and her brain was mush, and she knew why, but couldn’t keep it in her mind. It was like she was watching water; as if the events were playing out over a lake or pound, but every time she would get a clear view, the water would ripple, and break apart. She had seen something; knew something. Andrea passed her brothers room, where smoke and flames leaked out underneath the closed, melting door. He had been in there, and he was dead, hopefully, mercifully dead, and it was her fault.
She was at the window. She wiped away the soot, and looked outside. She could see people pointing, and shielding their eyes. But she saw no firefighters; no water hoses, or buckets, or even a Dalmatian. She had hoped for a Dalmatian. She had hoped there would be someone there.
It was a twenty foot drop. She would break her legs, or maybe her back; she might even die. But she would not burn alive, or suffocate. A boy, long ago, had put his hand over her mouth to quiet her; he tried to keep her from talking, from breathing, from getting out from underneath the bleachers. But she had pried his fingers away, and beat him senseless; she did not want to be breathless ever again.
Andrea unlocked the window, and put her hands underneath the sill, and pushed with all her might. But the window did not move. She tried again, but the window did not move. There was a CRACK, and her brothers door collapsed, and the smoke and flames poured out, searching for new kindling. It crept closer to her, slowly, but without obstacle, and she put her hands under the sill, and tried again. But it did not move.
The smoke was thickening, and she could barely breathe, and barely see. She searched the windowsill, searched the base of the window, and her hand touched metal. Four nails, driven into the window frame, kept the window closed. She could not move those nails. She banged her fists against the glass, but she was too tired; she was too muddled.
Andrea turned to run, but the heat was too great. She sank to her knees, and fell over sideways. She watched the flames creep closer. She was so tired. She was ready to sleep. She closed her eyes, and the vision across the water danced out in front of her, and she could see it clearly. She watched the man raise his hand, and a woman run. She saw the man turn, and his face grew and grew and grew until it became the only thing she could see.
Who are you, she wondered. Who are you, she wondered.
Who are you?