GENRE: YA (Fantasy)
I’d give anything on earth to be twelve again. Or thirteen. Even fourteen. But fifteen?
“Why not?” she asked, elbows pressing into the table. A bulb swayed above us, casting her face in shadows as the weak light reflected off her badge. A second Officer stood against the wall with his arms crossed, watching in silence.
I had no answer. Never did, never would. What use were words when no one believed anything I said?
In the darkened mirror across from me, darker shadows passed. My reflection was warped, the glass not quite right. Dark hair, cut close along the sides and back, hanging loose over blue eyes still wet with tears. The more I stared at my face, the less familiar I seemed. Was there something wrong with the mirror or with me? If I closed my eyes, would I remember what I looked like?
I took a deep breath and started at the beginning again.
Summer vacation began seven hours, thirty-one minutes ago. It took twenty-seven minutes to walk home.
Seven hours, four minutes until now; until this singular, terrible moment.
My mother left to run errands, leaving me to watch my sister, Holly.
“Did that bother you?” Long fingers drummed; metallic echoes filled the room as her fingernails struck the table.
Six hours, fourteen minutes ago. After a snack, I sat down at my computer, Holly playing on the floor next to me as always. Five hours, fifty-six minutes.
Holly went to the bathroom. Five hours, fifty-three minutes. I went to the bathroom. Five hours, fifty-one minutes.
“You left her alone?”
Is there any way to stop time? Is it possible to regret something so deeply that time reverses? I never should have left her. Never taken my eyes off her. She was on the living room floor, playing with our dog, Autumn, in front of the unused fireplace. Khaki shorts and a blue polo shirt, her school uniform she loved so much she even wore it on weekends. Dark hair, darker even than mine, tied up with the pink bow my mother always forced on her. Brown eyes. Three feet, eight inches tall. Forty-one pounds. Six and a half years old today, June 25th. Our Christmas miracle, the baby sister I’d never wanted.
Old pipes sometimes scream, high-pitched, when tight handles are first turned, the water pressure releasing. Our bathroom always did, the metal knobs coated with white enamel. I reached to turn the water on, anticipating the scream, but I hadn’t touched the handle yet.
Five hours, fifty-one minutes. High-pitched scream, louder, longer, scarier than plumbing.
Frantic, I pushed the door open, rushing into the living room. Autumn was barking to wake the dead, deep guttural growls as she tried to protect my sister. Holly’s screams ran around the room, echoing off the wood floor and paneled walls.
I jumped over the couch to reach her in time. Flames licked out, almost touching Holly and the three men dragging her by her feet towards the fire. Autumn tried to bite the man closest to her but the heat drove her back, singeing her fur. Smoke poured into the room, stinging my eyes. Still, I fought against the flames, trying to save her.
Five hours, fifty minutes.
“Chris!” Holly screamed my name as I reached for her. For a moment, our hands touched before she was pulled out of my grasp.
I coughed from the smoke, blindly fighting my way to her. I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe.
Five-hours, fifty minutes.
I had her in my hands and let her slip away.
The police released me to my parents after the doctors examined me, searching for signs of smoke inhalation, or burns, or, perhaps, insanity. No one believed me. I could only imagine what they thought. There were no fingerprints, no clues, no ransom note and no trace of a fire.
There was only me.
One beautiful summer day, the sister I’d never wanted disappeared, stolen out of my grasp by three men; none over four feet tall, with long dark hair and eyes the color of deep woods, brown and ancient.
And very pointed ears.
The days that followed passed in a blur, constant motion and movement, accomplishing nothing. My parents didn’t speak. Not to me, not to the police, not to each other. They sat, staring at the phone, attached to recording equipment, waiting for it to ring. Friends and family came from far and wide, plastering the town in posters and flyers. Police at all hours, searching the house for clues, repeating the same questions over and over, leading search dogs through the woods.
There never was a dog that Christmas. I had told Santa, and anyone else who would listen, what I wanted, my list consisting of one word. I tore open every present until only one remained but there were no pet supplies, no puppy.
“Did you fight a lot?” Even standing in the doorway to my room, her eyes taking in every detail as her shadow fell across me where I sat at my desk, her finger nails drummed, striking against the door. Still, the questions never ended.
I was almost ten years old the year without a puppy. In the snow, falling Christmas day, my best friend Jack walked up to our house with his sister Mary. Younger, by a minute or so, she followed him everywhere. They rang the doorbell as my father placed the last present in front of me. I peeled off the first piece of wrapping paper as they unwrapped themselves, shaking off the snow.
“A dog?” she asked, the words soft, friendly. The eyes, hard, flicking from place to place in my room, taking in the papers on my desk, the posters on my walls, the clothes on my floor. Missing nothing.