by Chelsea Eccleston
The smoke stung my eyes, making them water uncontrollably. It burned my lungs, making me cough and unable to breathe. I crawled along the floor unable to tell where the door was. Was it in front of me? Behind? I was running out of time. I choked down another lungful of the noxious, black cloud so close around me I was beginning to feel claustrophobic. I told myself to remain calm, breathe, everything would be fine once you find the door. But finding the door was impossible. I began to give up hope of ever making out of this inferno alive. As I lay on my stomach, eyes watering, lungs burning, clinging to the last bit of hope that someone would see the fire and call 911, I began to hear voices. Not the voices of help on the way, but the voices of memories of long ago. I heard my sister calling out to me to come play Barbie with her. I heard my mother as she comforted me after a nightmare, telling me to just breathe: everything would be all right. I heard my boyfriend as he screamed at me that I was an idiot who couldn’t do anything right. I felt the ghost of the sting of his hand across my face and felt the shock as I realized what type of man he really was. I felt the hope as he apologized later, tears streaming down his face, promising never to hit me again. I felt the disappointment as I was being punched over and over, only to know that I would take him back when he begged me. I felt the air leave my lungs for the last time as I lay on the floor bleeding, dying from a broken rib that had punctured my lung. I remember hoping someone would find me then, as now. Even as I lay dying face down in a pool of my own blood, I remember wanting to fight. I wanted to live. I wanted to do all the things and go all the places I told myself I would when I was a girl. I vowed to go to England, Ireland, Scotland, Russia, a warm, sunny island somewhere where the beach was white and the water was the most perfect shade of blue. I remember waking up in the hospital. My sister found me after I wouldn’t return her calls. Like most twins, she knew something was wrong with her other half. Twin telepathy, they call it. There are debates in the scientific as well as religious communities whether it is real. I can tell you from personal experience that it is. She found me and she called 911. I woke in the hospital 17 days later, tubes in my lungs, my neck in a brace, unable to move or speak. My twin was there. It was our birthday. It was the best birthday I’d had in years. Now, as I lay on the floor of the burning building, I realized I could get out. I would have to fight again and it would be as painful now as it was then, but I could do it. I could live through this. I lay motionless, thinking. Thinking of the movements I had made up till now to try to get an idea of where the door or window may be. I took a small breath, trying not to breathe in too much smoke unsuccessfully. By now, the smoke was so thick that I couldn’t open my eyes, it stung so bad. Even the smallest inhalation made me choke and vomit black phlegm that had been building up in my chest. I knew I had to get out of there fast. I had to rely on touch to guide me. I picked a direction and started crawling. I felt my head press against something soft and bouncy. The bed? I reached up and felt the familiar sheets I had been sleeping on. The bed! Excitement and relief washed through me as I pulled myself on my knees to figure out what side of the bed I was on. The right side had a nightstand and a window on the far wall, but the left side was closest to the door. I hoped with all the energy I could summon that I was on the left side. I slowly crawled upright on my knees, feeling my way along the bed to the headboard. My hand hit the nightstand. Disappointment and a brief flash of self-pity washed over me. I climbed on top of the bed to take the shortcut to the door. The smoke was thicker up here, even though the bed couldn’t have been more than two feet off the ground. I couldn’t breathe. I heard a phone ringing in the distance and knew it was my twin. I knew she would come save me again. I knew she would be there when I awoke in the hospital. I knew I was safe.
I awoke to my phone ringing. Groggily, I answered. I hated taking sleeping pills because they made me so groggy, but it was the only way I could get any rest lately. It was my mom, asking where I was. She sounded angry. I couldn’t understand why. Were we supposed to go to the nail salon today? I knew from her tone I was missing something important, but I was still so out of it from the sleeping pill that I couldn’t figure out what it was. “You missed your sister’s funeral today,” she said and hung up. My eyes popped open. My sister’s funeral. My twin. The one person I was closest to in this world died. The one person who understood me the best and loved me at my worst, no questions asked. And I missed my chance to say goodbye. I rolled over on my side, pulled the covers over my head and sobbed. The misery I felt at having to let go of the only person who ever really knew me, the only person who I ever really knew, my twin, my soulmate: she was gone. I didn’t get to say goodbye because I was having trouble sleeping last night so I decided to take a sleeping pill. I told myself that even though it was late, the pills didn’t always work and I would still hear my alarm clock going off. I knew that even if I didn’t hear my alarm, my mom would call me to make sure I was on the way if it got too late in the day. I rolled over and picked my phone up off my nightstand: 17 missed calls. I shut my eyes and cried some more.
I stood at my sister’s grave, staring at the freshly packed dirt covering her coffin. My eyes scanned the headstone. “Here lies Emma Patterson, beloved daughter and sister. Born: April 17, 1984. Died: April 15, 2016.” I stared at the dates, marveling that she died two days before our birthday. As I was thinking how unfair the whole situation was that she should be dead, how it should have been me (I was the reckless, selfish one after all), my mind wandered back to my dream. How vivid and terrifying it was! To die in a fire like th- Emma died in a fire. Her apartment complex caught on fire 2 days ago, and she died in that fire. My heart raced. My palms started sweating. I was shaking uncontrollably. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized I witnessed my sister’s death in my dream last night. I felt everything she felt, every thought of hers in those last moments were mine, I felt the pain and the hopeless of each breath as her body tried to stay alive. And I felt that last bit of hope as she heard her phone ringing, knowing it was me panicking to know if she made it out of the building. I had seen a few minutes before on the news that a building in her complex had caught fire and it was spreading quicker than the firemen could put it out. She must have been asleep and not smelled the smoke until it was too late. I wonder if she had taken a sleeping pill to help her sleep. She was normally such a light sleeper that when I was told she was dead, I thought it was impossible: she would have woken at the first smell of smoke or the first blast of the fire alarm. Sleeping pills were the only way she wouldn’t have woken. I don’t blame her for taking them. After what she went through with her ex-boyfriend, I know she had trouble sleeping. The man beat her almost to death and left her for dead. I felt like something was wrong that whole day and tried calling her. When I didn’t hear back from her by late afternoon, I went to check on her. By then, her boyfriend was gone and she was gravely injured, lying face down in her own blood. The paramedics said she was lucky to be alive. The fact that he had just beaten her only a few moments before I arrived is likely the only thing that saved her life. That was 8 years ago. Emma never fully recovered. She had trouble catching her breath, and taking a big lungful of air was impossible for her. She had PTSD from her relationship with that man, but she was working through it with her therapist. She was the best person I knew. And she was dead. My phone buzzed and I pulled it out of my pocket to look at it. Unknown number, attachment said the lock screen. I unlocked it, opened the messaging app, and froze. “Happy birthday, bitch!” it read, with a picture of a masked man holding a gas can and a book of matches in his hand. It was Emma’s ex.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student