Last month I entered a short story competition but, alas, my story was not shortlisted. This is often the way it goes for writers and you learn not to become too disheartened by it. Writing is subjective, think about all the books there are, some of them you like, some you’ll hate and it will be the complete opposite for the person sitting next to you. You will never get a room full of people to all agree on loving one book (unless said room is holding a gathering for fans of a particular book and that’s just cheating). Don’t ignore the fact that you didn’t win, take it on board, revisit the story, by all means hear any advice you are given but don’t take it to mean your writing isn’t good. And look on the bright side, for me, not getting shortlisted means I can share my story will all of you. I hope you enjoy it 🙂
The mirror was two-way. I was sure of it, because I could see through it. I stood in the centre of the box room, mimicking the stance of the woman on the other side of the glass. Caramel coloured hair fell down to her shoulders. Black suit trousers clung to her legs whilst a loose polka dot blouse flowed over her torso. Official but sexy. I doubted she knew I could see her yet she was determined not to break the stare. Her eyes were nothing special, a common grey-blue, but the intensity of her gaze scared me more than I cared to admit. I cursed. Her eyebrows shot up. I broke eye contact and let the mirror come back into view. And there I was, staring back at myself with the same intensity the woman had. She was older than me by about ten years. My hair was darker, more like burnt caramel, and I was shorter. But if it wasn’t for the scar we could have been mistaken for each other. My hand fluttered to my chest. Not now Violet. Keep it together.
I flinched as a key rattled in the lock of the door. The sound of scraping metal pierced through my ears. I grimaced and drew into myself. I focused on my breathing, letting the sound of my breath run through my head, muting the scream of metal on metal.
“Miss Sprite.” The words were dull, as if caught in a thick fog.
“Miss Sprite.” The voice was too deep to be the woman’s.
“Violet!” The shout shattered my protections.
“What!” I spun around, angry that my control had been broken.
The man was dressed in a black suit, only he’d left his jacket behind and rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt. I smelled washing power, it mixed with the smoke that lingered on my clothes. He held a dark green paper folder in one hand, with the other he pointed at a collapsable plastic chair that now sat in the centre of the room. Huh, when did that get there?
“Take a seat.”
I walked around from behind the chair and sat down. The man towered above me but right then I didn’t care. I’d been on my feet for ten hours and I had to hold back a groan as the tension ran out of my legs. I shoved my fingers in the pockets of my jeans and stretched out my legs, I was still wearing my work shirt over the top of a black tank top. It was short sleeved, designed to keep you cool in the climbing centre. It turned summer three weeks ago and the temperature skyrocketed. Except in here, with the air conditioning on full blast, my skin was chilled and my hairs stood on end. I resisted the urge to hug myself.
The man leant against the mirror. He opened the file in his hand then spoke.
“My name is Agent Scarborough, are you ready to talk yet?”
“I was ready to talk four hours ago. Now I just want to sleep.”
Agent Scarborough raised an eyebrow, “Your entire family just died and you want to sleep?”
I ground my teeth together, “Gee, thanks for reminding me.”
Agent Scarborough turned back to his file, “What were you doing this morning?”
He didn’t ask if anyone could verify that. He knew I was telling the truth, they’d had four hours to check my whereabouts.
“Where did you go after that?”
“I walked home.” My voice cracked on the word home. Agent Scarborough lowered the file.
“What time did you get home?”
“Why did it take you ten minutes longer than usual to walk home?”
I sighed, I’d known they would ask this. “I stopped to feed the ducks, I gave them the leftovers from my sandwich.”
“Why? Why only today, why not every day?”
I couldn’t help myself – I snorted. So much for my plan to tell the truth. I’d stopped to feed the ducks because I wanted a few more minutes of peace before my entire family died. I felt the tears gather in my eyes. I stared up at Scarborough.
“They looked hungry.” I stated.
Agent Scarborough sighed. “What did you do when you got home?”
I swallowed, “I called 999.”
“Why?” Agent Scarborough’s voice was cold and I hated him for it. I felt my palms heating up.
“Because my house was on fire.” I squirmed as the images flooded my mind. The fire climbing the walls of the brick house. Everything I had, everyone I loved, engulfed in flames. The amber light burned my eyes. I forced them open and stared at Agent Scarborough. Something flickered in his eye. There was a knock on the door.
“Come on in.” Scarborough’s voice was loud. The words slammed against my head. The door opened and the woman from behind the glass walked in. She had gathered her hair up in a clip at the back of her head.
“Violet,” Scarborough addressed me, “This is Agent Venetti.”
Venetti didn’t bother with niceties. She strode over to me and rested her hands on the arms of the chair. She leaned forward till her face was inches from mine. I felt her breath, thick against my skin. I flexed my hands trying to disperse the heat.
“How did you start the fire Violet?” She asked, her eyes boring into me.
“I didn’t.” I glared back.
Venetti pushed against the chair, the plastic creaked under her weight.
“We know you did it Violet, the fire was started in the basement, you were the only one who had access.”
My breath caught in my chest. The basement. My heart beat faster. The basement had been turned into a play room for me and my sisters years ago. The only one who used it anymore was Sophie. She was six. She loved the den we had built under the stairs. She never left. I tried to focus on my breathing again but I felt my body heating up. Whoever had done this had started the fire in the same room as a six-year-old child. A scream boiled at the base of my throat. I breathed in through my nose. Not now Violet, you can’t lose control, not here.
“I couldn’t have caused the fire,” I stated, “I was walking home from work when it started.” Venetti let go of the chair and straightened up. She walked across the room.
“See, now that’s what I don’t understand. You should have been home. We have witnesses that swear you arrive home at twenty past one every day. So why not today?”
I stayed silent. Venetti continued.
“How did you know Violet? If you didn’t start the fire then how did you know to stay away?”
I sighed. I was tired, every bone in my body ached and the angrier I got the harder it was getting to control myself. I felt my skin tingling. I closed my eyes and instantly regretted it. I watched them scream. My mother’s body racked with coughs as she stumbled through the smoke, trying to reach my sisters. My dad was passed out on the floor, an empty bottle next to him. My mother tripped over his body as she staggered for the door. She fell hard then reached up to grab the door handle. Her skin sizzled as it touched the metal. She screamed. The smell of burnt flesh filled my nostrils. I remembered my eyes snapping open. I remembered running to the bathroom. I remembered throwing up over and over again until there was nothing left to get rid of and still that smell lingered in the back of my throat. Even here. Even now.
I gazed into my lap. “I didn’t know. If I had I would have gone back sooner. I would have called for help sooner.”
Agent Scarborough pushed himself away from the wall.
“Violet,” his voice was gentle, “we have enough evidence to charge you. Talking to us will only make things better.” He stepped towards me. “How did you start the fire Violet?”
I shook my head and blew my fringe out of my face, “Don’t you have people who can figure that out?”
I looked up in time to catch the look Scarborough and Venetti shared. Neither of them said a word.
“Look this isn’t going to end well for you,” Venetti turned on me, “you have no alibi, easy access and” – she pointed at my chest – “a pretty damning motive.”
I felt the scar that ran from the top left of my neck down to my right collar bone and under my shirt. I scowled at her, feeling the cool of the glass mix with the burning heat of pain as it slashed my skin all over again. I gritted my teeth as my whole body burned from anger. The metal joints in the chair started to heat up in my hands. I yanked my arms away, pressing my hands under my armpits.
“Why can’t they find what started the fire?” I asked.
Venetti looked back at Scarborough. Scarborough looked at me. “They can’t find the cause of the fire because there is nothing to find. There was no accelerant, no spark, nothing.”
Venetti butted in, “So how the hell did you do it?”
I didn’t look at her. I was stuck in my own head. I knew then how the fire was started but it wasn’t possible. I wasn’t there.
“What were you arguing about before the fire?”
I don’t know who asked the question, my mind was too busy to register the voice, only the words.
“What?” I asked.
“Neighbours heard shouting from the basement.”
The basement, there it was again. I never went in the basement. It was Sophie’s space. It was hers… No. It wasn’t possible. I would have known.
“You would have know what?” Scarborough’s voice was curious. Shit, did I say that out loud? I looked Scarborough in the eyes, hoping I was wrong. “How many bodies did they find?”
He hesitated. It sent shivers through my body. No, no, no, no, no.
“It’s not important” Scarborough muttered, “what’s important is that there were bodies. Bodies Violet! Whether you meant to or not you killed four people.”
My heart picked up. My blood pumped faster. My skin got hotter. No, no, no.
“Four, are you sure? They found four bodies?”
“Maybe not yet but they will, there’s no way she could have survived that.”
Except there was. Maybe. I would have known. But maybe…
“Who’s body haven’t they found Agent?”
Nobody spoke. I stood up, pushing the chair away behind me. It slammed against the wall.
“Who’s body?” I shouted.
It was Venetti who answered. She looked right at me, “Sophie’s”
“Shit.” I started pacing, trying to cool my body. “I need to go, I need to go now.”
“You’re not going anywhere. Now sit back down.” Scarborough’s voice was hard. It hurt my head and I couldn’t stop it right now. I couldn’t block the pain. So I used it.
“I did it okay,” I turned on Scarborough, “I started the fire.”
Venetti stepped towards me, “how?” she asked.
I took a step back. “Like this,” I said. Then I let go. I dropped all of my protections, every single one of them and I was on fire. Flames licked my skin. I felt the heat but more than that I felt relief. All of my pain, all of my anger fuelled the flames. Oh Sophie. She was hurting, she was mad and I wasn’t there. How did I not know? I kicked back my head and screamed. The flames roared. The window shattered. I heard curses and forced myself to pull the flames back. No one else was going to get hurt. I climbed onto the window frame, extinguished the flames and jumped.
I’m coming Sophie. I’m coming.