Ash opened her eyes, confused. Where was she? She looked around the clean room. The walls were pale blue, like ocean spray. Large bay windows were open, and white curtains danced in the cool breeze that drifted through. Across from Ash, there was a large fireplace, in which a red fire happily crackled and snapped. Her leather jacket hung on a hook on the mantle. Ash sat up. The world started spinning, and her brain threatened to shut down.
"Lay down, you've got a nasty bump on your head."
A strong hand on her shoulder pulled her back down. A person walked around Ash and moved into her line of vision. The woman was tall and solidly built, with thick red hair swept back into a loose bun.
"Who are you?" Ash asked, her voice hoarse and barely above a whisper.
"I'm Renée McSworthy, and you are?"
Ash closed her eyes. "V…Ash."
Renée smiled. "V…Ash, very interesting name."
"Well, I have a name that starts with a 'v,' but I can't remember what it was.”
Renee tucked the blanket around Ash again. ”Well based on the size of the knot on your head, I’m guessing you hit your head on a rock in the river. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll remember everything soon enough, Ash.”
Ash leaned back and closed her eyes. “I remember parts of it. I was with this boy, and he made a staircase out of water, and we were walking through the river, then I slipped and got washed away. I hit my head on a big rock, and then I woke up here.”
Renee laughed nervously. “A staircase out of water? You must have hit your head really hard. That’s not possible.”
Ash opened her eyes and watched Renee. “Yes it is. You know it is. You can control water, too.”
Renee turned her back to Ash. “No, I can’t. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Ash propped herself up on one arm. “Yes, you do. You control water. Will told me.”
Renee whirled around. “Will? You talked to my son?”
Ash nodded. “I did more than just talk to him. Will and I escaped together, and we…”
Ash shook her head. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter.”
Renee walked closer to Ash. “Ash, I don’t know who you are, but if you can tell me anything about Will, anything at all, please do. It’s been almost two years since he was taken. Please, tell me anything you know.”
“I’ll try to remember, but it’s still a little fuzzy.” Ash closed her eyes and tried to remember. “Will and I met in this facility, and he was the first one to explain all of this to me, why I can control fire.”
“Will and I spent a lot of time together, planning an escape. We met…someone else…I can’t remember who he was, but I know he was important. He was going to help us escape at night, but then something went wrong, an alarm went off somehow, and we had to leave then. The man that helped us escape was killed by a guard. Will and I were running away from them through the woods, then we came to a river.”
“And that’s where he made the staircase out of water and then you slipped and were taken away?”
Ash nodded. “That’s as much as I can remember.”
“Mama, who’s she?”
Ash and Renee turned to look at a small child standing in the doorway. She had pale skin, pale blue eyes, and long, black hair.
“Taiga, this is Ash. She’s one of Will’s friends.”
Taiga nodded. “Where’s Will?”
Ash shrugged. “I don’t know. We were in the river, and then we got separated. I’m not sure where he is now.”
“I want my brother back!” Taiga screamed and ran out of the room in tears.
Renee stood up. “I’ll go comfort her. Make yourself at home, Ash.” Renee ran after the crying girl and left Ash alone.
Ash looked around the warm room. Cheerful pictures hung on the walls, making the room feel more like a home, giving Ash a sense of home that she had never known. Slowly and carefully, she sat up. When she didn’t feel dizzy, she slowly stood, using the couch for support. Ash let go of the couch and found she could stand on her own. She carefully walked to the fireplace and moved her jacket. A photo behind the jacket caught her eye. Ash set her jacket down and grabbed the blue picture frame. It was a picture of Will, a young Will. He looked like he was five or six. There was a girl standing next to him, holding his hand. The girl looked to be maybe four or five, and had long, curly black hair and charcoal eyes. The girl looked familiar. Ash traced the smiling girl’s form. Who was she? A voice behind Ash made her jump.
“That’s Vanessa Merlot. She was Will’s best friend. The Merlots used to live next door, but then there was a horrible fire that started in Vanessa’s room. The house burned down, the whole family was killed. Vanessa was only five, and her mother had just had a little baby, a boy,” Renee said.
Visions of a house consumed in flames took over Ash’s mind. It was just a house, but it wasn’t. It was…had been…her house.