“Tammy you’re so slow!” Chamberly sang, snatching for my hand. I smiled, allowing her to take my hand and pull me along with her. Her pink backpack was slung over one arm- it was starting to slip. With a careful, steady hand, I quickly caught it, pushing it back up her shoulder. I didn’t really need to do that- she was 10, and responsible for herself- but I was still the big brother, no matter what. I had to look out for her.
“Slow down, Chim-Cham,” I replied, grinning. “We’re not in any rush.”
“But still!” she said cheerfully. “I can’t sit still. Please can we run?”
I sighed. Chamberly had been cooped up in the house for the past few days, sick. And now she could barely sit still.
I nearly said no. Even now, I still wonder what would have happened if I had turned down her simple request. But at that time, I only saw it as a matter of making her smile.
“Fine,” I gave in, watching that beautiful smile cross her face. We were close to the school building anyways. “I’ll race you.”
She perked up instantly, and bolted. I laughed, running after her. Being cooped up for so long didn’t seem to slow her down in the least- in fact, it only made her faster. She bolted ahead of me, weaving around fire hydrants, giggling, arms spread out to the wind. I followed after her- if not a little slower.
Chamberly laughed ahead of me. I smiled. I loved her laugh. It was such a pure, sweet, gentle sound. It was beautiful. It told me that this world still had good in it. If Chamberly could keep laughing, then there was still hope for everything.
She got out of sight. I should have been worried. I should have sped up to catch up to her. But I didn’t. What was there to be scared of?
Then the screaming started.
At first I couldn’t comprehend what was going on. Then I realized who was screaming. Chamberly. My little sweet Chamberly was in danger.
I ran, my arms and legs pumping desperately. What had happened? What could have gone wrong? Why would anybody want to hurt my sweet, gentle little sister?
Rounding the corner, I was exposed to the awful truth. Two men in black had a grip on Chamberly. One held her by the hair, the other had her arm. Chamberly was screaming, fighting to escape. Her blue eyes, fractured with panic, met mine.
I opened my mouth, maybe to scream her name. Suddenly, Chamberly threw her head back. She glowed like the sun- and then a supernova of light burst off of her.
I was blinded. I felt myself hit the ground, and then roll. I came to a rest in a dark spot- beneath a nearby dumpster. The air smelled metallic, like the smell before a storm. I tried to sit up, but the dumpster prevented me from moving very far. I could barely muster the energy to poke my head out from beneath the dumpster. What I saw nearly made me scream.
Chamberly was being loaded onto a bus by the two men in black. Each of them held guns, trained on Chamberly- my Chamberly’s head. Their eyes were narrowed, and their fingers tight on the triggers, as if they were worried that she might explode a second time.
She looked back, searching for me. One of the soldiers hit her, and she started to cry. She stumbled onto the bus. The doors slammed behind her, and she was gone.
I’m not sure how long I lay there. Eventually, I managed to pull myself, bruised and bleeding, out from under the dumpster. I took a deep breath, trying to collect myself. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t. Chamberly was gone. She’d been taken away, and I didn’t understand why. Why would anyone want to hurt Chamberly? What had she done? What had happened? How could my life have been destroyed so quickly and easily?
I screamed then. I screamed and screamed and screamed until my voice was raw. I sobbed until there were no more tears inside of me. I screamed at the men, screamed at them to bring my sister back. But they wouldn’t hear. They were long gone. And so was Chamberly.
And that was when the world lit on fire. Everything around me exploded into flames, and I screamed as it burned. Not in pain, or in fear, but in anguish and hatred. Anguish for my sister. Hatred for the men that had taken her away. And the fires burned on.
Finally, I came to my senses. I was lying in the middle of a burnt circle of pavement. Whatever I’d done, it was too much. Too much for me to ignore. Too much to pass off as a lie. Whatever it was, it was something that I had done. I stumbled to my feet, looking around me. Fire trucks. There were fire trucks. Putting out fires. Fires that I had started.
“Are you okay?”
I looked up to see a man watching me with a concerned expression. He reached down, helping me to my feet. He must have been a firefighter. His black uniform stood out clearly against the blue sky.
“It’s a miracle that you weren’t hurt,” he continued. “That fire was very dangerous.”
“I’m… I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“Why are you sorry?” he asked.
I made a mistake then. A terrible, horrible mistake. A mistake that I’d regret for the next few miserable years of my life.
“I… I did this,” I whispered. “I don’t know how. But… it just… the fires… they… they just happened… my sister… my sister… she’s gone.” An overwhelming tide of grief swept over me, and I curled into a ball, sobbing all over again. Chamberly was gone, I’d done something terrible that I couldn’t explain, and my entire world had been turned upside-down.
“Easy,” the firefighter muttered. “We’ll take you to the police station, and call your parents, okay?”
“O-okay,” I stammered. I let him help me to my feet.
We started to head away. Just for a moment, I looked back. What I saw made me freeze.
It was a small, floppy red hat. Chamberly’s. Lying forgotten on the ground. I turned back, running for it. The man reached out to stop me, but I ducked his hand. In seconds, I was scooping it up, and pressing it to my face. It smelled like smoke. But it was hers. I clutched it to my chest- though I’m not sure why. To give it back to her when I saw her again? If I ever saw her again…
The man caught up to me, pulling me away from the burned circle.
“Come on,” his voice was no longer gentle. “It’s dangerous here. Let’s get to the police station.”
“My sister…” I muttered numbly, “Chamberly. This… this is hers… Need to give it back…”
He nodded distractedly. “Come on, kid.” He tugged a little harder at my arm.
I looked up at him, wondering why he was so urgent. Everything seemed so unreal. The sky was so bright. Why was it bright? Why wasn’t it raining? Wasn’t it supposed to rain when people lost things?
And then there was the man… the firefighter. He was in front of the sun. Blocking it. So black… he was scowling too. What was wrong?
His uniform… it’s so black. Why would a firefighter wear a black uniform?
And suddenly, I realized. The black uniforms. Chamberly. Two of them taking her away. A gun at her head. Hitting her. She’d started to cry. She was scared. She was gone.
Panic flared inside of me. He’s one of them.
“Hey!” he yelled. He turned to grab at me, but I was already gone, sprinting as fast as I could. Either out of sheer luck, or maybe desperation, I made it away from him. And now, I was truly alone. And the sun stayed shining above me, like a mockery. I let the tears out and sobbed, as my world came to end.