It was night then. I remember the town I grew up in had 100 houses, surrounded by forests and hidden meadows. I was the only girl of 7 children, so I got the attic room all to myself. My brothers were all too big to climb the ladder up to my room, but somehow every night Mother made it up to sing me a lullaby. I was all bundled up, for it was winter, with layers of hand-sewn blankets and furs while Mother settled herself on the floor next to my straw palette. I remember her gentle hands smoothing my hair, the way the candlelight flickered across the familiar lines of her face, eyes always calm and strong, never a hint of fear. She sang to me every night:
“Hush, darling girl
The day is over.
All your troubles fade away.
Put your worries far behind you,
Tomorrow is a brand new day.
Hush, my sweet girl
You’re almost there now.
Fall into the land of dreams.
Here the Gods will all watch over,
Making sure your dreams are sweet.
Hush, little girl
You’re falling fast now.
Don’t be afraid of what comes next-”
Shouts echoed down the alleys, cries snaked in through the cracks in the walls. Mother’s eyes became confused, her song faltered. I blinked sleepy 6-year-old eyes, surprised that the song had ended so suddenly.
“Sharna Tarren you stay right here until I call you, you understand?” I understood. That was the no-nonsense mother voice. I nodded. I watched her shimmy back down the ladder, taking the candle with her. The darkness of the attic had never seemed so terrifying until that night. I could hear hurried footsteps, some soft, some pounding, identifying both my parents and my oldest brothers. The shouts were coming closer, flowing around the house like smoke.
“Sharna Tarren you get down here this instant!”
I scrambled out from my blankets, scurrying down to the safety of a parent as fast as I could. I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t understand the fear in my parents eyes, couldn’t understand the instinctive panic I felt rising up inside of me.
My brothers’ eyes were wide with fright as Mother herded us out the door into the street, dirt churned to mud from melting snow and running feet. The usually silent corridor was bursting with noise, frightened animals fleeing from equally frightened masters. I could hear a roar coming from the center of town, heat beginning to sear my cheeks. My oldest brother, Greggan, swept my small frame up into his arms, knowing that if we had to run I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Mother started counting heads, muttering names under her breath. She nodded, sure that we were all there, then grabbed hold of the child closest to her and began to run.
We hadn’t run very far when Greggan made us stop. “Where’s Paiter, Mother? He’s not here.”
“Paiter! Paiter!” Everyone started calling his name with varying degrees of panic, my own shrill voice the loudest of all. His silhouette appeared in the doorway of our house, the roof covered with tongues of flame. Mother scrambled back to the house, and I was desperate to follow but Greggan’s grip was too tight. Only a year apart, Paiter and I were very close, almost as close as the twins.
Fire roared over their heads, smoke billowing in the non-existent wind, ashes mixing with the falling snow. Mother had reached as far as the heat would allow, hands cupped around her mouth calling for him. He didn’t move, except to turn his head to look into the house, curious to see what was becoming of our home. A startling groan filled the air as we watched the roof begin to sag.
Mother darted forward, reaching through the scorching heat to grab Paiter and haul him out of the way, but not in time. By grabbing him and shoving him in our direction, she had propelled herself into the burning doorway. Another loud groan and a shriek ripped into our hearts as we watched our house cave in on itself, burying Mother inside.
My childhood screams still tore through my memories, raw with unrelenting pain.