The Truth Behind the Flames. - *Movella of the Year 2016*

Before you judge me and tell me that it was all worth it in the end, ask yourself one question, one question only before you read on: what was it all for?

They say that we are judged by the choices we make. They are what define us and on June the 25th, 2414, I chose wrong.

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3. The First Fire.

One moment, I was lost in the realm of sleep and the next; my eyes flickered open to see my world on fire.

Almost instantly, I shot upright with my eyes widening and my heart racing away into the night. The heat was clawing at my skin but only one thought filled my mind – I had to get out before the flames consumed me. I had no time to spare stalling; my survival instincts began to take over as the panic began to rush through my blood.

I had to get out.

I threw the covers onto the floor as I slid into my trainers and watched as the fire tore its way through the edges of my room – only increasing in speed and in size. I didn’t have time to think about anything else; my escape was all that mattered. Everything else could wait.

Scratching at the metal that blocked my window, I quickly realised that I would need another way out. The panels used to keep out the damage were no sealing me in with the force of destruction. Even in my situation, the irony didn’t escape me.

I snatched a blanket off my bed and wrapped it around my shoulders before covering my mouth with a corner of the fabric in an attempt to keep out the smoke. It was becoming harder and harder to see, but I didn’t care – I had to get out before it was too late.

Taking in a final breath of air, I watched as the fire swallowed my bookcase in a single gulp – consuming it whole and sparing nothing.

This was my nightmare. This was my nightmare scenario and I was trapped with nowhere left to run.

The destruction seemed to originate from the centre of my house, near my workshop and my parent's room. With adrenaline coursing through my veins, I used the image of my parents in danger to launch myself forwards and around the cluster of ever-growing flames. 

Walking over a sea of discarded sketches, I didn’t care about the hours of effort and work I was losing, only my life and the lives of my family mattered.  Everything else was simply irrelevant.

As I placed a hand on the metal door handle, I hissed in pain as roaring heat burned the flesh of my palm – imprinting a curve along the centre of my hand. Withdrawing, I wrapped my hand in the blanket before trying again – this time successful.

Behind the sheet of wood lay nothing but destruction.

Rubble lay scattered along the floor as furniture lit up with the poisoned touch of fire.

But I had to continue.

As each moment ticked past, it was becoming harder and harder to breathe as the air around me filled with smoke and fumes. My leg felt weak beneath the weight of my body as the wreckage continued to blaze around me.

‘Oxygen deprivation.’ My brain screamed out. ‘Think.’

And I did.

Dropping to my knees, I began to crawl towards the exit with the air cooler and clearer in my lower position. For a moment, the haze in my mind seemed to clear as the door caught my sight. As my gaze trailed up to the ceiling, the world around me began to spin as realisation hit me. Half of the ceiling was missing and the floor was covered in rubble

And then I saw the worst part of this nightmare.

I saw my parents.

For a moment, I could almost pretend that they were okay and for a moment, I could almost convince myself that everything would be alright.

But that was all it was – a moment.

And then I came crashing back to reality.

Forcing myself to my feet, I ignored the blazing inferno and stumbled over to where they lay with little care for the exit that was within my reach. With the house still collapsing around me, the bomb which detonated into a cloud of flames had left its trail of destruction through my life and its scars across my mind.

I had heard the jets, soaring over the horizon and had assumed that they were on their way over to the battlefield. Such an occurrence wasn’t unusual but then there was nothing but flames. I didn’t know how or why my home was a target but I didn’t care either. Maybe it was an air raid, maybe it was a weapons test or an accident but I didn’t care. What did that matter?

Everything I loved hung in the balance as I fell to my knees and let my life burn around me.

 “Mum,” I whispered, gently shaking her shoulder in a feeble attempt to wake her up. It was useless and I knew it but yet I refused to believe the truth even as the evidence was displayed before my eyes. She was pinned down beneath a slab of rock and was covered in a sea of crimson blood.

“Please, Dad,” I pleaded, my voice breaking and my fear bleeding into my broken words. He did not respond and I knew that he never would again.

They were gone. My parents were gone. They were now just hollow shells; they were now just names on an ever expanding list of casualties. We had never asked for this; we had never wanted this.

My life was caught up in a meaningless war between two sides and now they had taken everything from me.

Letting the tears slowly run down my cheeks, I didn’t make an effort to move; I just wanted to lie down next to them and let the world crumble around me.  With fire licking and burning the edges of my skin, I laced my hands through my parent’s fingers and waited for the inevitable to come. Everything that mattered to me was gone. What place did I have in a world without my family?

None. None at all.

 

Bang.

 

There was someone at the door. My life was falling into the flames and someone was trying to save me.

It all boiled down to one question: did I want to survive this?

The answer was no but they would have wanted me to. I had to survive this for my parents. Using all of my strength to force myself to crawl across the floor, I let myself shuffle across the sea of debris as l felt my hands bleeding beneath my weight. My head felt light as ringing filled my ears.

 

Bang.

 

Blood rushed through my veins as the thought of reaching the outside powered my instincts as they began to take over my actions. Although my body was weak, my brain seemed determined to survive – against the odds and against all reason. I had to escape, I had to live; only one thing mattered in my mind: getting out alive.

 

Bang.

 

“Is there anyone in here?” A voice yelled through the wreckage.

Taking one last look as the fire engulfed my family, I gathered up my fading strength and cried out into the endless oblivion with only one goal in mind. Even under the crackling of flames and the rhythm of my heartbeat, I knew that I had been heard.

“I’m here!”

My voice screamed out in protest as the smoke began to scratch at the back of my throat. But it was done and rescue was on its way.

There was a pause; only the crackling of flames filled my ears as I waited for a reply. Hoping and begging, I refused to believe that I was going to die. If there was someone there then I would fight until my last breath to reach them.

And that was getting more likely by the second.

After what felt like an eternity of silence, I all but gave up hope. Forcing myself to move over to the source of the words I had heard, finally, my saviour responded.

“I’m going to get you out of here,” the figure yelled, “Just hold on!”

Relief flooded through my system although I knew I wasn’t out of the danger yet. Despair drove me forwards as I forced my legs to drag me across the rubble and towards my freedom and safety.

I watched as the silhouette of a boy travelled over the rubble and emerged from beneath the blanket of thick, grey smoke. I had hit the four-minute mark and was struggling to stay conscious but even the slightest glimmer of freedom kept me fighting - fuelling my body and forcing me to keep going.

 My way out was somehow closer than before and the determination just to take another breath pushed me forwards.  I was doing this in my parent's name; I was doing this for them.

After an endless few moments, the boy appeared by my side. I had no energy left to resist as he placed his hand on my waist and pulled me upright. Barely clinging on, I let my head droop to the side as time seemed to distort around me. One second, I was burning and the next, a rush of cool air washed over me- allowing me to breathe.

Once we had reached a safe distance, I felt myself being lowered to the floor. Facing face the ruin of my burning home, I forced back tears as deafening numbness washed over me. That was my home in flames; that was my life and my world.

And for what?

 Nothing. Nothing at all. They were gone, but I wasn’t and my flame would never go out so long as the men and women who had done this were alive. As the pain began to set in, I closed my eyes and whispered my final farewells into the night.

“Goodbye…”

For fourteen years, I had a family but in an instant, they were taken from me leaving behind nothing but ashes.

“Why? Why damn it?,” I said out loud, barely registering that I was, in fact, yelling at the building as it crumbled before my eyes. Breaths short and shallow, I could feel my heart shattering in my chest as I looked on – helpless and broken. Never again would we watch the stars together. Never again would we talk or eat together like a family should - even during rationings and war.

I was alone now in a world of much bigger challenges.

Feeling a hand rest supportively on my shoulder, I finally gazed up at my saviour. Looking at the boy, he had soot streaked across his face and dried blood spread across his arm. He wore a black uniform like a soldier and carried himself in much the same way. He couldn’t have been much older than me, but in that moment, I was merely a child – shaking and sobbing uncontrollably.

Choking back a sob, I accepted the hand held out for me and let him help me to my feet.

Because they were gone and nothing else mattered.

The flames were spreading and now I had to get away whilst I still could. It was as if everything inside me had broken and now I was forced to continue without the support that I relied on. It was as if my life line had been cut and now I was simply drifting away into the unknown and into the darkness.

The flames were dancing – laughing in the darkness of the night.

But to me that barely mattered; they were gone.

MY life. My home. My family.

All gone within the space of an evening.

“I’m here to help you.” He said, and with no other options and nowhere else to go, I let him lead me further into the forest’s grasp.

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