Firefly Mountain

By: Christine DePetrillo

Chapter One


Surely Hell couldn’t be hotter than this. A wall of orange flames surrounded him, dared him to approach. The roar of the fire pounded between his ears as thick, black smoke strangled any attempts at taking a deep breath.

This is what death is, Patrick thought. It’s going to take us. Raina, Julianne. Mom, Dad. Me.

Still, he pushed through the angry blaze. Let it jab at his exposed skin as his sisters’ screams rose above the fire’s thunder. Getting to them was all he could think of, all that mattered. Twice, he had to pat out flames that jumped to his sweatpants and caught them on fire. He shielded his face with his bare arm and slammed his shoulder into the door of his sisters’ bedroom. Inside, they were cowered in the corner. Julianne held the quilt from her bed over Raina and was about to get under it herself when her gaze connected with her brother’s over the line of fire dividing the room.

“Get us out of here!” she screamed.

He didn’t see any way to get to them, but knew he couldn’t leave them. He grabbed Raina’s sweatshirt from the chair at her desk and wrapped it around his face. Before he could think about what he was doing, he ran into the inferno. Pain, instant and knife-sharp, tore through his skin, but he made it to Raina and Julianne. Broke the window above their hiding bodies. Boosted Raina out. Moved on to Julianne.

The explosion behind them knocked his body and Julianne’s into the wall beside the window. The last thing he heard was Julianne’s gurgled scream and the crumbling roof as the monster of heat swallowed them whole.

****

Patrick Barre woke with a choking gasp. “Shit.”

He wiped the sweat from his forehead and stretched out his long limbs. He stopped when the flesh on the left side of his chest and down to his thigh tightened. Its elasticity was gone, taken twenty years ago. He ran a finger over the jagged folds of skin as he exhaled a slow, even breath.

Man, he hated that dream. Made it seem as if it all happened just yesterday. The heat was right there. The pain. His sisters’ terror. His parents’ charred bodies. How was a guy supposed to forget when it could be relived whenever he closed his eyes?

Maybe he’d give up sleeping. Stay up around the clock. That’d do wonders for his attitude.

The phone beside the mattresses he was using as a bed rang into the silence as Midas, Patrick’s all black German Shepherd, jumped up next to him. Patrick pushed to sitting, gave Midas a vigorous scratching between the ears, and let the sheets cover the scars on his left thigh. The ones on his chest stared back at him in the mirror on the wall opposite the makeshift bed. He’d told his sister, Raina, it was a stupid spot for a mirror. He’d have to move it. Couldn’t wake up every morning looking at the mess he had become.

The phone rang two more times before Midas barked. Patrick reached over and picked it up.

“What took you so long?” Raina didn’t wait for him to speak. “First night in a new old house go all right?”

“I guess.” Patrick yawned and finger-combed his short, brown hair, scratched at the scant beard framing his jaw and lips.

“Were you sleeping?”

“That is what people do at this hour on a Sunday, Raina.”

“People who want to waste the day maybe, but not me and not you.”

“Why not me?” Patrick stretched out his legs again and considered staying in bed for the rest of his life. Only thoughts of the dream had him peeling back the sheets and rising from the mattresses. Midas hopped down and waited at the bedroom door, his long black tail swishing along the floor.

“Because you have a few boxes to unpack and a willing volunteer to help you,” Raina said. “I’m heading over with coffee and muffins so get your ass up.”

“My ass is up.”

“It wouldn’t have been if I didn’t call you.”

“Don’t be annoying.”

“I think what you mean to say is, ‘Thank you, all loving and perfect sister.’ Right?”

“Sure.”

Patrick pressed his feet to the cool wood floor and stood. He walked to the window in the bedroom he was using until he finished remodeling the master bedroom. Yawning, he peered out to the sprawling woods around the house. Lush and green from basking in the August sun, the trees offered a barrier between Patrick and the small Vermont town of Burnam. This fifty-acre plot of land was his sanctuary, and he had tons of ideas on how to make it his own version of Eden.

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