I sit up in my bed, startled by the loud sound just near the foot of my bed. It sounded like something hit the window, but I could easily be wrong. Out of habit, my eyes attempt to focus on the illuminated numbers on my clock. 1:03
Too early for a bird, maybe a bat?
A deep-throated groan escapes me and I pull myself from the warmth of my bedsheets, only to peek through the curtains. Squinting in the darkness, I can just make out the trees in the distance and the sheet of rain falling from the sky. The dark sky and water droplets covering the glass is making it hard to see anything at all. I don't even notice the small, circular object until it hits the window where my face is pressed against it.
A small cry comes out from my mouth as the window shakes violently. I pull back my face gripping my aching nose. Now I know what hit my window.
I pull open the window and duck my head out, effectively drenching my hair and sending cold torrents of water into my eyes and mouth.
"Arris! Is that you? What are you doing?"
I finally see her dim figure when she waves her hands to grab my attention. She starts shouting at me, but I can't quite make out her words. Eventually, she gets that the rain is drowning out her voice and indicates to my front door.
She wants me to let her in? Now?
My parents would not be happy if they found out I let someone from the opposite gender into my room in the middle of the night, despite whatever valid reasons I have, so I'm a little leery on the idea. But then again, Arris is my friend, and she wouldn't be here if it wasn't important.
I pick up the shirt from the day before and pull it on to complete the jeans I slept in. On my way downstairs, I check to make sure my parents' door is shut nice and tight. They're heavy sleepers, but who knows? Maybe Mom will get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I'm hoping their squeaky door will serve as enough warning.
When I carefully open the front door, I'm shocked to see Arris in pajamas, protected only by a thin scarf limply hanging from her neck.
"Felix," she tells me, her voice surprisingly weak, "I didn't know who to go to. You're going to think I'm crazy."
Eyes wide, I begin to notice her more clearly. Her usually smooth brown hair is mangy and wet and her bright eyes are bloodshot, wide with fear with wild, dark bags draped under them. She's quivering and taking in breaths too suddenly. And her bare feet are practically blue. Something's very wrong.
"Come in, but be quiet. You can tell me what's going on when we get to my room."
"I c-can't c-come in..."
"Arris, it's raining. You need to get inside."
My voice is thick and emotionless from sleep, but inside I'm terrified. She protests, but they're hardly above a whisper. Eventually, she slips inside, sighing at the warmth.
I offer to lead her to up my room, but she won't let me even touch her shoulder. I wonder if she's been hurt. Possibly kidnapped? The wild look in her eyes, fringed with red, has me thinking she's been drugged.
"Should I get my parents?"
She stiffens at the words and grabs my arm. Her hands, which should be freezing, are almost too hot on my skin.
I nod, trying to seem like I understand. "Look, just- let's go up to my room."
She bobs her head and slouches, practically dragging her feet up the familiar path to my room.
When I give her a spot on my bed and a towel, she explains, or at least tries to.
"My hands, they've been hurting, blistering. Around twelve... it... finally happened."
"They caught fire."
I squint at her. What's that supposed to mean?
"Did you... burn yourself?"
"No. I-I don't know how to explain it. They just... lit up."
My eyes travel to her hands tucked between her thighs. Timidly, she shows me them, free of any burns.
"You said they were blistering?"
Drugs seem to be the obvious answer, but we're fourteen, and she's an honor student. Why would she do something like that?
"I know! It's just so hard to explain. It felt like they were on fire... and then they were."
"Arris, I need to get my parents. You need to get to a hospital."
I reach for her wrists but she flinches back, disgust and horror present on her face. "Don't touch me! I'm fine!"
"No, you're not."
"No," the words are barely a whisper, "They'll find out."
"Find out what?"
"I burnt my house down."
I let out a small breath. Speechless, I step back and try to pass it off as stress. I don't think she believes it.
"But... you love your family?"
"I did, I mean- I do! I don't think they made it out." She bites her lip and a few tears slip out of her eyes. "You don't believe it was an accident, do you? You think I'm crazy."
I shake my head. "No... no. Why- why did you burn your house down?"
"Fine," she stands up, barely holding her weight, "You don't understand and you never will. I'll leave so you're not associated with me."
I grip her forearm, wincing at the strange heat from it. "Don't go. Explain, or try to. What's wrong with your hands?"
She lets out a tense breath and glances at my closed door. "Alright. You can't interfere, I don't want you to get hurt."
I nod and step away from her. What is she trying to say? That she really can light her hands on fire? I consider making a noise loud enough to wake my parents. Sure, they'll be angry with me, but at least Arris will get help. I wonder if her parents know she's gone.
Arris raises her hand and cups them together. Concentrating I watch her grit her teeth. Out of curiosity, I creep forward and peer into them.
That's what is forming in her hands.
They drift around the room like fireflies, disappearing as quickly as they were lit. One bobs around my head and a part of me wonders what would happen if I reached out for it. Suddenly, it, and the others, wink out in unison.
At the center of her hands, a small blossom of fire grows. It sways to a nonexistent wind and glows with an unusual intensity. She's controlling it certainly, as if it is responding to words only they can hear. She clasps her hands together and the flame is suffocated. Small tendrils of smoke drift up from her fingers, proof I wasn't imagining it.
"I've never lied, and I never will." She promises me, her eyes staring into mine with a blazing intensity.
She collapses onto my bed, careful to keep her hands from any of its very flammable fabric. "Honestly? I don't know."
I rub my eyes. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know."
I pause, considering the plan forming in my head. A small smile climbs up the side of my face.
"Why are you grinning?"
I grab her wrists, which are almost too painful to bear. "Let's run away."
"What? No way!" She easily pulls her wrists from my grip.
"Why not? You're a freak, and I'm your friend. They'll come after me too!"
She glares at me. "No one saw me set the house on fire."
"You don't know that. What if one of your neighbors saw an uninjured girl walking away from the scene of fire? You certainly didn't call the police."
Arris flops backward onto the bed. "Fine. Let's say we ran away. Where to go?"
"You know that building? The one everyone at school claims homeless people live? We'll go there. I'm sure they'll want someone who can make fire!"
She nods, considering the idea. A playful smile spreads out onto her face. "Yeah... let's do it. What do we have to lose?"
I nod, reaching for my backpack. "Until we can get you more clothes, I've got some you can use. We can leave tonight."
"I agree. Besides, the rain makes my hands feel better."
We spend some time gathering a few necessities and perfecting the details of our plan. By the end, I'm shivering with excitement.
We silently make our way down the stairs and to the front door. I reach for the doorknob.
We freeze. I hear Arris' sharp inhales and face her. Her fearful eyes perfectly mirror mine. I look to the dark stairway, expecting a figure to see us. To stop us.
"Was that the house settling?" Arris ventures.
"I don't know..."
We wait for any sound, straining our ears for something we don't know exists. I hear a small cry.
"It's... my baby sister."
Arris relaxes and a cocky smile spreads across her face. "We're good then, let's go."
I don't make an effort to move my hand.
"Did you hear me? We're safe."
I shake my head. This is wrong. "Do you miss your family?"
Her face scrunches up in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"Do you even care that they might be dead because of you?"
"Of course I do. Can we talk about this later?"
"My family... my baby sister... it would break their hearts if I left. I didn't even leave a note."
"So? We'll find a way to let them know you're fine soon."
I shake my head. "Don't you get it? I don't think I can go. I'm... I'm sorry."
She's speechless. I slide the backpack off my shoulders and hand it to her. "Take it, you need it more than I do."
"Look, Arris, I'm-"
"No," her eyes are blazing, "No, you have to come with me. I can't survive on my own. This was your idea!"
I finally open the door with my free hand. "I'm sorry! Really! But I can't go."
She takes the backpack from my hand and I watch as small fires race up it from where her vice-like grip on it is. She doesn't even notice.
"You'd let me die... for them?"
I shake my head. "You're sick, Arris, you need help."
"No, I'm not. I'm the hero in this story."
"Hero? What are you even talking about?"
"You're the villain." The fire engulfs the backpack completely and a spark hits the doorframe. A new fire is born.
"Stop it! You need to stop! My house!"
"I don't care. You don't care, so I won't. Come with me, and you'll see. We'll be heroes."
"Heroes? You're crazy! Stop!"
I look up, watching the fire grow. I couch as a thick cloud of smoke swirls around my head. The heat is getting too hot but I can't seem to move my feet. Why isn't the fire alarm going off? Why aren't my parents coming?
Through a thick cloud of smoke, I see the figure of her. Her eyes are like an inferno. She stretches a hand out to my, alight with flames.
"Take my hand, I don't want to be alone."
My head swirls and I lose my balance. My skin is burning. Blistering. Melting.
"Felix! I don't want want to be alone! Please!"
I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe.
"Please, take my hand!"
I'm going to die.
"Take my hand!"
I'm going to die.
"Kid, take my hand!"
I'm going to die.
Someone lifts me from the ashes and carries me from my prison.
Am I going to die?
Red lights swirl around my vision. I'm in someone's arms, and they swaying motion is making me sick. The rain splatters over me, washing the ash from my eyes. A mask is strapped around my mouth. Cool, sweet, oxygen is forced into my lungs. A hand, my mother's hand wraps around my own. It's cool, much too cool, on my painful skin.
"Baby? Felix? Can you hear me?"
I moan, and she cries in relief.
"Felix, you're safe. Your father and sister are in another ambulance, we're on the way to the hospital. You're, we're, going to be okay."
"Mom?" My voice is raspy, my throat burns with the effort.
"Hush, don't speak."
"Arris?" She's confused. "What are you talking about?"