I force my feet to keep walking. I know if I stop, I wont be able to do what I have to. Tears sting at the corner of my eyes, bitter, sad tears. Thirty-six more steps now. I can feel the pull at my heart stretching to its breaking point. Ten more steps. I wipe away the tears angrily with the back of my hand. Five more steps. Three more. Fibers of my heart string snap. Two steps. One. The wind blows past my ears like a gasp, and I freeze, unable to take the last step. I want to turn around.
I can never go back. After what I did, I don’t deserve to.
I take the last step and snap — the string breaks. I run now, my hair and clothes snagging on branches like tiny arms, reaching out to stop me.
The book, a lighter. Agonized screams. I tear through the trees.
Don’t think about it. Don’t think.
Flames licking the roof. The door blocked. Me, upstairs. Pages crinkling in the fire. Me, coughing from the smoke.
As if my lungs just remembered, I start coughing now, more like hacking, really. The dark smell of smoke fills me as if I’m still there. A pitiful cry comes from my throat as one particularly large branch catches my hair and tugs me to a stop.
The bell had rung. I thought everyone had left.
One class, staying after the bell as punishment. They didn’t know that was the least of their punishment.
I didn’t know.
A voice takes hold in my mind and forces me to listen: maybe you just didn’t care. I scream to drown the voice out and yank my hair from the branch, ripping most of it. I keep running.
Sirens in the distance. Me, upstairs. Me, with the book. Me with the flames.
I’m sobbing now as I run. They’ll catch me. They’ll lock me up. The jury will decide capital punishment, I’m sure of it. I’ll be on death row for years, festering in my own guilt. It’s what I deserve. What I can’t bear will be seeing all the forlorn faces of those whom I took their children away.
I trip on a root and find myself sprawled across the ground. There’s a large gash on my arm, and crimson blood pools there as I watch through eyes blurred by tears. I get back up and keep going. They’ll find me. I can’t face them.
I let my arm bleed. Thick drops of blood trail down and escape from my elbow. No one wants to be associated with me anymore, not even my own life force. It’s what I deserve.
Me with the flames. Screaming from downstairs. Them with the flames. Me with the only way out.
Don’t think about it! My head is roaring. My lungs clench, not getting enough oxygen. I cough again, and this time, blood splatters up from my throat. My head is spinning, or is it the world that’s spinning? I can’t tell. I collapse to the ground, my lungs unable, or unwilling, to sustain me any longer.
They’ll find me here — my eyes glazed over, some forest animals gnawing away at my flesh. It’s what I deserve.
Me, upstairs with the only way out. Me breaking the glass and climbing down the old oak tree by the window. Them, downstairs with the flames. Them screaming. Them trapped.
I shut my eyes. It’s over now. My heart thu-thumps in my chest like it thinks I’m still running. I can’t run anymore. I can’t go back.
The fire eating the book, eating everything.
I didn’t mean to kill them. Really I didn’t.