"Never ever talk, never ever smile,
Knowing that my life won't be the same.
Never ever touch, never ever feel.
I will never hear you call my name again.
"In my dreams I see, see you come to me,
A memory of times of old.
Waking up, I realize Hell's as cool as ice
And the touch of sin did get me in.
Nothing burns like the cold."
The children. My children. My poor, beautiful, kind-smart-important preschool children.
I swore I wouldn't abandon them. I knew they could be in danger. They were before, they could be again. Losing three was too many, I couldn't bear it if I was responsible for more.
But it wasn't like last time.
This time they found the bodies.
Lots and lots of bodies.
I... I still remember that cape. That little children's sized capelet in royal blue, spangled with stars. Marianne wore that cape when she was pretending to be the fairy god-wizard assisting Kimberly, the magic princess, as the two of them quested to slay the dragon and rescue Anthony, the captive prince under a spell to sleep for nineteen bajillion years. I don't think I've ever been more proud of my children's imaginations, that day. But it wasn't blue anymore. It was black. And nearly in two pieces, with tattered ends and a ripped hem. Tainted with smoke and ash.
And the people. I knew some of them. Kimberly's parents didn't speak a word of English, but their grief and hopelessness didn't need words. I can still picture Nathaniel running into his father's open arms every day after school, but today the man just looked shocked and lost, like he was certain this was only a bad dream. And Asaiya's mother... I never thought that woman could get off her cell phone long enough to even notice her child, let alone scream her grief and rage to a helpless police officer who could do nothing to console her. She kept fighting to get past, desperate to reach her baby girl because she knew, with all the certainty of denial, that she could find her if the stupid guard would just let her pass...
But the building was ash. Smoke and ash, with a few charred walls still holding up a shell of the building that was. I remember choking on the dust and stench, coughing violently and falling to my knees. And I remember the teachers, every one of their faces, now burned, mutilated, and unrecognizable. They tried to breathe life back into one of them, only to cover her with a cloth and move on to the next. Ms. Noemi was her name. I don't think anyone but me knew that.
I knew the teachers wouldn't be able to take it, to understand. I knew they wouldn't be enough. I swore I wouldn't leave them alone, wouldn't leave the kids unprotected. But I forgot. I got complacent. I got selfish.
And now they're all dead. Every last one of them.
Smoke and ash.
I'm at Nick's apartment. I came here on autopilot, I think. But it wasn't until I knocked on the door and was surprised to see Green Man answering it that I realized Nick wasn't there anymore. He's off somewhere. Doing brave, heroic, important, selfless things.
Michelle isn't here either. We both heard the news on the radio that the school had burned; it's how I knew I had to come back. Read it there if you want to know. I had to see, I had to get confirmation. So she's going back home without me. I made her go. I didn't want to leave her alone, and she very nearly refused to leave me, but she's only got one shot at getting her past back, and I'm not going to keep her from that.
Obviously Kay can't be here. But I've stopped calling her house; the answer is always the same. It's selfish, but I can't keep this up. I need to...
...I don't know what I need. I don't know what I'm doing.
Just... please, I need everyone to understand that. I don't know what I'm doing. It's true that I came here for a reason, but it wasn't this. Oh god it was never supposed to be this.
I don't know what I need, I don't know what I'm doing, and I don't know what to think. Everything always leads to something else somehow, and I can't find the connection, I can't break the loop. I try to copy down the endless faces sweeping behind my eyes, faces of the dead and worse than dead, but everything just turns into doodles of operator symbols and iconography and one rather graphic image that I recognized, and stopped before it got too far. It was the one from the song again, but combined with the branches, they're on every side now, so near and yet never making contact. Unable to touch. The abyss has eyes, but she doesn't anymore, they were taken from her. The abyss promises that her mouth, her voice, will be next.
I almost wish I had accidentally sliced my hand with the pen somehow. Drawn blood. That would have been appropriate.
...That shouldn't be there. That shouldn't be there at all why did I think that whydidI