I hated the ashes, almost as much as I hated the crimson scars that bubbled over every inch of my flesh. They were the ashes of everything my family once owned and seeing them reminded me there was nothing that could return them to the big farm house they once were. Maybe not even the bottle of sparkling red liquid that I buried in them.
I dug into the pile of ashes in the spot where I thought I’d left it. The back of my hands were wet with tears I’d brushed away, which only made the black ash stick to them faster. I couldn’t find the bottle, so I moved a little to the left and started shifting through the ash there. Only days ago, I’d hid the bottle here, but it was tiny and I was in an excited rush when I dug the hole.
I was deep in the forest that day, letting the creek water run over my bare feet. It didn’t hesitate to touch me, not caring that a nine-year-old girl had wrinkles on her feet and legs. The water trickling over the rocks and the birds twittering in the branches were the only sounds I needed. I could go on forever without the sounds of people. They whispered as I walked by. They laughed at the way the skin grafts left me looking like a shriveled raisin. Besides, why should I listen to the sounds others made when they couldn’t listen to mine? The smoke damaged my throat. Talking was something I only did in my dreams.
A voice joined the song of the forest. A human voice. I jumped and spun to find an old woman standing on the bank. She put something in my hand, closed my fingers around it, and told me to pour it on anything that needed to be made new. I opened my hand and resting on my palm was a tiny bottle of red liquid. I looked up. She was gone.
When my sister came to get me for dinner, I slipped the bottle from my pocket. She grabbed at it saying it could contain a curse or spell. I couldn’t tell her that it was a good spell, so I ran for the one place I knew she would never think to find me. The place of my nightmares. I hadn’t been to the mound of ashes that was once our home since the fire.
It was my fault. I was playing with my ball in the house, even though I wasn’t allowed. The ball floated slowly as it went toward the lantern but once it hit, everything thing exploded into supper speed. The flames that melted the sturdy log walls along with my skin danced in my dreams night after night. I couldn’t look at my red splotchy burns without smoke flooding my nostrils and smothering my breath.
That would change with a few drops from the bottle. I would lead my parents to its ashy hiding place, then I would fix what I’d done while they watched, beaming smiles at me like the hadn’t done since the fire.
I went back to our one room shack, thinking that I’d never have to see it again, and wrote everything that had happened on my slate. Once I dusted the chalk of my fingers, I gave it to my parents. I waited for the light to come back to their dull eyes. I watched for their smiles, but their mouths sagged downward.
Da asked if I gave the woman money for the phony spell. Ma told me that it was time I stop living in my imagination. Making up stories wouldn’t heal my scars.
Ma was right. I would always be wrapped in scar tissue. I would always be trapped inside with no one but myself to listen to me. It was impossible that a bit of red liquid could fix what I’d done.
I planned to leave the bottle there, but the flames in my dreams were replaced by cool drops of red liquid that eased my burning skin and made me smile.
After a group of children gathered around me chanting “scar face,” I ran to the remains of our home. I dropped down beside the chimney standing alone in the rubble and wiped the tears away so I could look for the bottle.
My fingers brushed something hard. I found it. The liquid was the color of a rose in full bloom. Something that color couldn’t be an evil spell, but even if it was, what could it do to ashes? I popped the cork from the mouth and tipped it. One shimmering drop hit the ashes. Nothing happened.
I frowned and let a little more of the liquid out of the bottle. Nothing. I put the bottle over my arm. The drops that fell didn’t feel any different than water from the creek I played in. I put drops all over me until the bottle was empty, but it didn’t do anything. I lifted my hand to fling the bottle against the blackened chimney.
The chimney wasn’t black. It’s bricks were as clean as the day they were laid. The air began to vibrate. Walls with shiny windows appeared along the perimeter of the house. I jumped back as a wall rose in front of me. More walls came forming a room. Ma’s rocking chair appeared and beside it, a basket filled with yarn. A stack of books rested on the mantle place beside the clock. Everything was just as it was before the fire.
I couldn’t move for a solid minute. I looked at the emptied bottle. My skin! The skin on my arm was smooth. I ran my hand over it, surprised that it felt as smooth as it looked. I moved my fingers to my face. The wrinkly scars were gone. There wasn’t a mark on my body.
No one would call me names now. No one would whisper my story as I passed by. I clasped the bottle and my vocal cords vibrated.
“It’s a new life.”