The first time Ashley conjured fire, she was three years old.
She barely remembered the day, but she could recall enough. Tiny, slightly scrawny little Ashley was on the living room carpet, playing with those little stereotypical ABC blocks. Her then foster mother was in the kitchen nearby. Ashley couldn't see her, but she could hear her humming something above the sizzling of eggs on the stove.
Ashley hadn't felt any emotion, like anger, or sadness, or happiness. She had been completely calm, she remembered. She had simply stretched out her hands and clasped a wooden block between them, staring at it. And then she had thought (and Ashley remembered this very distinctly), How do I make something sizzle like an egg?
She had been concentrating so hard on that thought, pondering it and whirling it around in her head, that she didn't even notice the block getting smaller or the smoke rising into the air. In a few moments, the smoke alarm went off. Her mother, contently cooking in the kitchen, ran over to her foster daughter to check on her and gaped in horror.
Ashley didn't realize it then, but as she looked over the memory in her mind, she realized that her hands, her arms and probably the floor around her were all on fire. The alphabet block in her hand was just a stub of charcoal, crumbling away. Ashley could still hear her mother's scream: ear-shattering, utterly horrified. And Ashley had just smiled back at her, like everything was fine. Because Ashley, looking back, didn't mind the fire that much. Somehow, she had barely noticed it.
Her foster mother had put out the fire; that part of the whole affair hadn't been a big deal. But when her mother had carried Ashley to safety and examined her in the bathroom for burns, she found nothing. No burns, no scratches. Absolutely nothing that implicated that her child had been on fire not moments ago. And that, Ashley remembered, was when her foster mother had really gotten nervous.
Later that night, when her foster dad come home, her mother had shown Ashley to him and told him the entire story. He hadn't believed her story. When she begged him to believe her, to see that their daughter was "a demon child," he called the hospital. Not for Ashley, but for her mother.
That was the last time Ashley saw that foster mother again.
She wasn't exactly sure why she got kicked out of that home. Maybe she conjured fire again and that sent the father to the loony bin, too. Or maybe he just couldn't support her as a single parent. She couldn't remember.
Either way, she found herself back in an orphanage, waiting for the next young, unassuming couple to come and adopt her.
Over the years, she went through quite a few of them. A newly married couple wanting kids but not ready to go through with child labor would come to the children's home and see the cute little girl with curly ginger hair and beaming golden eyes, and they would just have to take her. And thus Ashley would go to a new home, a new neighborhood, a new environment--and then a few years later she would mess up, or spark a flame, or hurt someone, and she would be back exactly where she started.
It wasn't like she meant to. It wasn't like she asked to be able to create fire on a whim. In fact, Ashley hated herself for it. She would be in a nice home, live with loving parents, and maybe even have friends... and then her life, once beautiful and gleaming, would begin drowning in flames, one way or the other. And when her foster parents (if they were able to talk after what she did), who once looked at her with love, looked at her with fear, like she was possessed, a monster--
Ashley would gladly give up any special abilities if she could never see that look again.
Now, she was thirteen, once again locked up in a home for estranged, homeless children. Her orange hair was shoulder-length and wavy. Her eyes were as bright as the sun. And Ashley's constant mood was as dark as thunderclouds.