THE DAYS OF RENDING
Rylund Faraday’s life had ended at that very moment, that very spot. At least, life as he knew it.
Once again, he was locked, frozen in fear on the third step from the bedroom landing. Stephanie Faraday, clad only in her Elephant Andie pajama top and matching polka dotted socks, also stood motionless, standing before a massive 100-gallon saltwater aquarium. Her eyes mesmerized by its dancing water which churned with large, frothy bubbles. Flames wavered in long rows along the wooden kitchen island and along the open archway behind the fish tank. The whole house had become an inferno. Heat rolled out over both of them, baking their skin and reddening his sister’s pale cheeks. Heavy clouds of smoke clustered along the ceiling as light ash flurried about them. Rylund’s view of the rest of the house was shielded by towering columns of flame, walls of fire and falling debris.
He knew what was coming next but unlike in reality, he couldn’t move, couldn’t jump and scoop her up into his protection. The heated water reached its boil and the glass shattered out in a brilliant, white flash. A blanket of fire, smothering steam and scalding water washed over her body. She fell instinctively to the floor, curling into a fetal position and hugged her limbs tight to her as death consumed her.
His screams filled the night, and his sightless eyes were wide when Stephanie rushed in and went to Rylund’s side. The sheets were soaked and his face glistened with beads.
“It’s okay now. It’s all over,” she cooed as she swept back his hair from his brow, trying to calm him from his nightmare.
He nodded but could not respond as he choked down large gulps of air, hyperventilating. He trembled as a light breeze blew in from a partially open window on the left of his bed. With a corner of his sheet he moped his brow and sat up on his elbows.
“Sorry. Did I wake you again?” His voice was gravely and horse.
“Well, yeah. At first, I thought it was the TV, a horror movie or something. Uncle Max is passed out in front of it again.” She shrugged then fell into an awkward silence. They held hands in the dark and his breathing returned to a normal rhythm.
Stephanie was tall for her age at 9, but her curly brown hair hung down passed her shoulders to the middle of her back. She always seemed to have a mischievous smile in her eyes and on her thin red lips. Rylund was lanky at 13, with a shock of black hair and a spatter of freckles on his cheeks. Some burn scars were mixed in with his adolescent acne pockmarks.
Although they lived with their uncle, since the fire, she was his main caregiver. Their love and sibling connection can only be described as a fierce bond.
“Same nightmare?” she finally asked aloud.
“Yes. I always have to relive it. Every night. Like a penance or something.”
“Did you tell Doctor Bradwell?”
He answered in a falsetto voice, “’Your subconscious is holding onto it as you are. It’s only reflecting what your mind is keeping as unfinished business. Until you and your mind move on, your dreams may not as well. Only time will tell.’” Rylund finished the mocking impression by patting the top of his head. “Time’s up! Next patient please, Nurse Cora.”
They giggled together.
“He’s not that bad,” she said.
“No, he’s not. He really did help with accepting that mom and dad are gone.”
More awkward silence with a couple of sniffles.
“It’s weird you can still see in your dreams. What do you think you are holding on to?”
“The dream is always the same but it’s also different from what happened.” He paused and sat up fully and crossed his legs Indian style. They continued to hold hands to support each other. “I remember waking up that night to ashes falling on me. When I opened my eyes, at first, I thought at first it was snowing in my room! Only then I could hear the muffled smoke alarm chirps coming from down the hall. I heard shouting above me. I think it was Dad. I jumped up and ran out. Smoke had just started flowing down the stairs. When I got to the top though, everything was covered in flames.”
His voice hitched and caught in his throat as his emotions got the best of him. “It was Granddad Chester’s grandfather clock that had fallen onto the hall desk and blocked their doorway.”
“Really? You never told me that before.”
“Yes. I could only see a few feet into the room, most of the ceiling had caved in by that time I think.” Tears welled and leaked down his cheeks. The fire had begun in the house’s attic somehow. It took the upper portion of the house easily and without warning.
In a whisper he said, “I heard their screams, Steph. How does anyone forget that? How can you ‘let go’ of or ‘unhear’ the sound of your parents’ screams?”
She squeezed his hand tighter. Tears welled in her eyes as well.
“When they stopped, I realized I had been standing there far too long. One of my sleeves had even caught fire. My mind was roaring around one thought: I wanted to get to you and had to get you out! But when I found you, you were standing at mom’s tank. The fish had all floated to the top, the boiling water was filled with bubbles.”
“Yes. I’d never seen anything like that. It was almost beautiful.”
“I knew it was going to explode! I leaped right off the third step. That is where my dream is different.”
“I didn’t do it. I can’t. I was paralyzed in terror. I didn’t reach you. You… die in the fire too.”
“Why? You saved me in real life.”
“I know!” he said breathless. “It makes no sense, and it fills me with such pain, and being so helpless! It’s so horrible.”
“You don’t regret it, do you? Is that why you dream it differently? So, you wouldn’t have had to lose…”
“NO! NEVER! Sure. Of course, I hate losing my sight but losing you would’ve been so much worse. Stephanie, I will never wish anything different. I’d do it the same way every time. I love—”
“But you lost so much,” her voice now low in whisper. “Losing Mommy and Dad was so hard, but if I had to handle the surgeries and blindness on top of it – I know I am not strong enough.” She shook her head and sobbed softly.
“Yes, you are. Look how you’ve done so much for me. Grown up so fast to help me. You are my rock.”
He stopped and poked his chin at where they had the set the clock on his nightstand. “What time is it?”
“The dream always comes at this time of night. How weird is that?”
“Is that the time the fire had started in the attic? Or maybe when the lightning had hit?” her voice tightened by the scary idea.
“Okay, now you are just being weird, Stephanie! I think Uncle Max has let you watch too many of those paranormal shows. Time to go back to sleep!” He chided and teased her.
“You’re good then?”
He made a shooing wave. “Maybe go check on Uncle Max. Move any open bottles away. Oh, and clear out any ash trays.”
“Good night, Rylund. Try to sleep, we have a big day, remember?”
“Hmmm, right. Baseball game,” he answered and shrugged non-committed to the idea. “Fun.”
As she closed his bedroom door, he stretched and made a silent prayer for the rest of the night to be dreamless and peaceful for both of their sakes.