Blaze walked around the charred remains of his old home in a daze, recalling each and every room. He walked through the living room, kitchen, Arissa’s office, and finally stopped in Vanessa’s room.
He stood still in the charred remains, staring at the one metal post that was a remainder of the slide he had built for her with blank eyes and crushed her old bear to his chest. “Vanessa, I am so sorry for what I did. If I could take back giving you that serum and leaving you, I would without hesitation. Then you would’ve known what it would be like to be a normal teenage girl, and you wouldn’t have had to become Ash,” he said as tears formed in his eyes. “I’m so sorry that I killed you, Vanessa, but I’m glad we were reunited, even though you now have a different name. I miss you so much, though. I don’t even know if you and Will made it out alive. I hope you did, and I hope that somehow you can forgive me for what I did.”
A crow in a nearby tree regarded the ragged appearance of the old man with silver hair and gave in indignant caw, as if in protest that he was still alive.
A ghost of a smile flittered on Blaze’s lips momentarily. “If you had been a day earlier, my mangy feathered friend, then you would’ve had a meal,” Blaze said, referring to the previous day when he had been dead from a bullet wound, but was miraculously healed by means he didn’t know.
The crow squawked again and flew away, its ragged black form against the bare trees like a dark cloud of smoke against the stark grey-blue sky.
Blaze sighed and looked down at the ground again. “Vanessa, I promise I’ll find out how to reverse what I did to you, and even if you didn’t escape, I still hope that you can find a way to try and forgive me for what I’ve done.”
With those words, the aged scientist turned around, and still clutching his daughter’s mangy teddy bear to his chest, he turned and walked back to his lab. His lab was a low building that was set apart from the house, one of Arissa’s, his late wife’s, rules for him being allowed to have a lab at home, and had survived The Fire with only a large scorch mark on the wall facing the house.
Blaze pulled out a rusted key from his pocket and wiped away the cobwebs and dirt that had collected on the keyhole. With some difficulty, for both the key and keyhole were rusted from years of disuse, he managed to fit the key in the lock. The door refused to move at first, but eventually Blaze was able to push it open, and with a loud, protesting creak of rusted hinges, the door opened and he was able to view his lab for the first time in twelve years.
The long tables still looked the same, but were now graced with cobwebs and dust instead of papers and the occasional toy from his daughter. Blaze took a step forward, his feet kicking up thick dust that choked the air before reluctantly settling back down on the steel floor. Windows were cracked, and test tubes and papers were blown everywhere, and a carpet of broken glass and ruins of Blaze’s work covered the floor of the back half of the lab. An ancient glass-covered calendar hung on one of the walls. Blaze wiped the dust off the cracked glass and read the date, April, 1998. He smiled, remembering that he and his family had recently celebrated Vanessa’s fourth birthday on April 26, three days before The Fire.
His old lab coat was still hanging on a rusty hook protruding awkwardly from the wall. Though the coat was moth-worn and full of holes, Blaze took it off the hook and slipped it over his bony frame. He smiled, he was back in his element and could work to fix what he’d done to his daughter.