This a short piece of narrative fiction inspired by a real-life interview. It concerns a house fire that struck the house of a family one Christmas Eve.
Have you ever experienced near death? You come so close to something so final, that even survival has a profound effect on you. Coming within touching distance of the flames of hell causes your skin to bubble. It smoulders and sears into your flesh leaving a mark, a scar upon your soul. A mark so unforgettable that you will carry it for the rest of your life; a mark that governs your every moment from its conception, forcing you to live in the shadow of the memory that put it there.
As I sit, I stare, unblinking, at the wall. Above me I can make out the sound of my younger brother’s doleful strums on his bass guitar. I can tell that once again he isn’t using a pick, instead allowing his fingertips to rub against the strings, tearing into his flesh, spraying glistening, crimson blood across each serrated string. He says that pain adds to the feel of his sound, makes it somehow darker, only now do I understand that. As the guitar gently weeps I listen to its doloroso sounds. The wall before me blurs with tears that sting and obscure my vision, paintwork and floral patterned wall coverings drip from the wall. I break slowly from within as I listen. The melody torments me, it envelopes me up within itself with its subtle dolces and striking pesantes. The sound slithers down the stairs toward me. It reminds me, it shakes me, it makes me shudder and it sends me back with vicious intent to the night before this one, with its scorching flames and choking smoke. The sounds echo my torment and mock my pain. My memory. My burning agony.
I had lain awake for what seemed like an eternity, oblivious to the events about to unfold, slowly stirred by the violent alarm. It screamed at me and desperately shook me awake like a banshee alighted beside me, calling me forth to perdition, straight into the hellhound’s lair. I had woken from my conscious slumber, to find the alarm no longer alone; it was collaborating with another, joined by the smell of smoke. Together they worked against me, terrifying me, warning me of my impending doom. The alarm; my damning death knell, the smoke; Dante’s greeting to my helpless heart.
The smoke rose around me, its antiluminescence seeping into the soul beneath my breast, poisoning it with a darkness blacker than I could ever comprehend. Its very intent to turn me, its very directive to harm me, its very purpose to destroy me.
The air was a cacophony of unknown sound, yet all I really heard as I walked were the frantic sobs of my desperate children, calling my name from within the smoke filled air. Never before had simple things seemed so hard, even putting one foot before the other was a vicious struggle. I was broken, I was burning from within, adrenaline pumping through me, hollowing me out, into nothing, an emptiness, a shell.
I am pulled from the recollection of my former torment, my memories momentarily obscured by the dull, mournful events of the present. The sounds coming from above summarise my pain once more. The interruption is both welcome and unwanted, I am glad to be free of my flashback but the calm harmonic interlude that has stirred me seems to play out my misery, begging me to join it in moving onto a startling crescendo. The music follows me with each individual tear, copying me, like a badly written parody played just to hurt me.
As the music moves on again it sends me back to my traumatic reconstruction. The fire was getting worse, the flames were white hot and they licked against the walls that stood in the way of their advance. The blackening walls a slowly crumbling fortress, holding back against an advancing army of scorching hellfire. I knew the danger I was in. I knew that if I stayed I would face certain death but I wanted nothing more than to stay in my home. I didn’t want to leave it, I didn’t want to stand outside in the cold and watch my home burn to the ground, watch my memories crumble into fragile dust. But I couldn’t stay; I resisted temptation and pushed through the pain. I could never leave my children, not like that. What would they do without me?
As I made my move to leave the house I caught sight of the devastation that I was leaving behind, I could barely focus on what I was looking at. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a Hollywood movie. My life was burning up around me; the beautiful Christmas tree I had decorated with my four wonderful children became a pillar of flame brushing against the ceiling of my living room. A single severed head stared at me from between the dancing flames. Its body burnt away. Its face scorched and blackened. The face of what would have been a precious Christmas toy, somehow reminding me of what could have been. I couldn’t make myself look any longer; my dream home was in ruins, the home I had worked my whole life to afford was no more. A heartbreak I could never have imagined, one I had seen in countless made-for-TV movies, was now my own.
The music finally comes to an end. The visions that had before been the cause of my torment slowly fade away with the music, ready to re-emerge whenever I dare try to sleep. I slowly gaze around the room I am sitting in, it is decorated with things my sister and I have made as children, family portraits hang on the wall, childhood ornaments litter the shelves; memories of a distant, but happy childhood. My home is gone, I have lost a lot but all I have lost is material; I still have my boys, I still have my husband and I still have my memories. The fire has taken my home, but I will rebuild it.