I walked home alone from school, my binder clutched possessively to my chest. My head was down as I peeked at the wet stain on my shirt. I closed my eyes and shut them tight as I kept the tears imprisoned. I heard the screaming immediately, taunting whispers.
Gasping, I looked around at the fences and bushes. The houses were small and the street deserted on the warm spring day. It was quiet as the wind rushed quickly past, tugging at my hair. I huffed, holding the binder quickly as I quickened my steps towards home.
I opened the door, slamming it closed behind me. I threw off the back pack and rushed to the sink trying to rid the stain.
“That won’t work honey.” I glanced over at a tall woman with curly blonde hair. She untied her apron and hung it over the chair as she wandered over. She kneeled and gently rubbed my shirt in the water as the stain started to disappear.
I smiled softly, the first I had all day. “Thanks Annie.” She smiled at me and ruffled my hair.
Annie took my bag as we started upstairs. We opened my door and a boy my age lay on the bed, trying to file his nails. I covered my mouth from giggling as I rushed over and gave him a hug. He hugged me back chuckling, blowing my hair from his face.
“Heyo Kiddo!” I rolled my eyes as he scooted over. “How was school?”
I shrugged, avoiding their eyes. I could feel his hand on mine as he smiled sympathetically.
“Hang in there, only a little longer.” I nodded and stood up, smiling.
“Let’s go gardening? You promised Annie! And you too, Simon!” They giggled along with me as they each took my hand as we walked outside.
The backyard was small with a barren patch of dirt with a shovel in the ground. I pulled it out and started to dig a hole as Annie plucked a flower from the neighbors and Simon talked on and on about how hot it was. We planted the small, white petal flower as I stuck the shovel back in the ground.
“Doesn’t that look beautiful?” I smiled proudly at it as Annie gave me a soft hug.
“It’s wondrous.” Annie and Simon said at the same time.
I followed them back inside as I wandered into the living room. Bottles littered the table as I frowned softly. I jumped onto the couch, Simon plopping beside me as we watched cartoons. Annie rolled her eyes and cleaned up the garbage, throwing it all in the sink.
“Bitch, is that you?” We all froze looking up the stairs. They creaked under someone’s weight as they moved closer. A hand appeared with a bottle, soon the body limping after. I stood still as I could on the couch. “When I ask you a question, I expect an answer!”
I got up quickly, kicking the table slightly, the candle wobbling. I glanced up the stairs as the woman’s face glared at me like I was the devil.
“Where in hell are my bottles?”I didn’t answer as Simon stood beside me and Annie by the door. None of us made a sound.
That made her furious. She roared and lunged at me as dived to the other couch. She screamed, kicking the table to the side and running for me. I screamed as I moved away, jumping for the stairs. Simon followed quickly behind as Annie whistled loudly.
“Hey bitch, come over here!” The woman hesitated and ran to the kitchen, her head thrown into the sink. She wailed over her precious bottles as Annie ushered them upstairs.
We ran to my room, closing the door quickly. Annie opened the closet as Simon checked under the bed. “You have to hide.” They spoke in unison again as they frantically searched the room. I panicked as I dove into the closet. I watched as Simon hid under the bed and Annie beside me.
Moments later there was thuds coming up the stairs as they moved down the hallway. The door creaked open on its hinges, as feet marched inside. Annie’s hand hovered over my mouth as she placed her finger by her lips, motioning me to be still.
The woman wandered to the bed, muttering curses like a nun would whisper prayers. She threw off the covers as Simon stayed still. The woman saw no one as she angrily threw out the shelving and ripped posters from the wall. She opened the closet door and Annie pushed me out, yelling for me to move to the door.
“Annie! Simon!” I cried as they yelled for me to run. I ran down the stairs and stopped, my nose burning. I moved farther down and screamed seeing the entire room was engulfed in flames. I looked behind me and saw Annie follow behind me as she took my hand.
We ran to the kitchen, looking around in panic. More thudding came from the stairs. I watched as Annie opened the basement door, it started to fill with smoke. The woman came in and started yelling and screaming, I didn’t know what to do. I watched as Annie mustered her strength and pushed her into the dark basement.
I cheered as I jumped up and down with relief. “Go outside, go by the garden!” Annie’s voice was filled with worry as the flames licked the walls and continued on. I ran outside, expecting her to be behind me but she wasn’t.
Firemen lined the street as I peeked at them shyly. One caught my eye and rushed over, yelling at the other men. I screamed as they pulled me away from the house. I clawed at the ground; I needed to be by the garden. “Annie said to go to the garden! Let me go!”
“Little girl, is there anyone else inside?” I hesitated.
“My friends Annie and Simon...” They nodded and rushed inside as another covered me in a blankets and moved me to the truck. They doused the house and searched, no one spoke to me for hours.
A man in a white coat and circle glasses walked over to me, moving his hat to show his fading black hair. “Miss,...?”
He nodded and sat beside me. “How many were in the house with you?”
I heard a snap and opened my eyes. I blinked, looking around the room, dark blue walls and light, white curtains draped the windows. I glanced at the room, a mirror to my left. I saw my reflection, an older woman with short blonde hair. I had blue streaks and heavy eyes, wearing a simple sweater and jeans.
“Miss Penner, you said there was only one with you that day?”
I hesitated, looking at the older man. His hair thinning and the lenses had gotten thicker over the years. “Just my mother. She had fallen down the stairs, trying to protect her alcohol.”
He nodded. “This lesson is over, you’ve made marvelous progress. Just remember, they aren’t real.”
I gave him a short nod and left, moving out onto the streets. I wandered in the dark, slowing down at the house. It was my property now; I hadn’t bothered to fix the house. I moved to the back, looking at the garden, a single white flower grew in the dirt patch.
“Is that... Is it you?” I looked over, squinting at the door. I peeked into the kitchen and saw Annie, her apron on as she looked for some food in the cupboard. I looked up and saw Simon, waving from my bedroom window.
I fell to my knees and started to cry. The smell of apple pie and cooking oil faded away, it was always a dream. Through my tears I saw Annie wave to me good bye. I looked up and Simon was looking out at the world as I often had. He blew me a kiss and moved away, shredded curtains in the wind.
I looked at the flower and hid my face. It was always a dream, I had always been alone and now I would be alone forever. They called it a cure, I called it heartbreak. My only family pried away, memories fading away. They called it progress; I called it an open wound. They told me to forget them, I told them already had. I wanted so badly for it to be a lie.