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Probably NSFW

The wind was strong. That's why Therese had decided to do it, to carry all the laundry out to the yard despite the drizzle. It was Casey's turn, really, but she was sweating out a fever in bed, and it wasn't like Casey had ever really done it when it was her turn. It took Therese four tries to get Genie to start his homework, but he finally was.

The laundry was almost dry and the rain had stopped, and Therese was digging through the wood pile. The flask was still buried right where she left it, and she stepped behind the flapping sheets, sat down and took a swig. Mama was away in Wilmington with that guy, with Bobby or Billy or Benny or something else stupid like that. He refused to come to the house anymore, he said there was something wrong with them, "wrong with the damn kids", and Therese had smiled as she listened to all of it.



She didn't like the way he looked at her little sister, and that was all she cared to know about him. That was okay, too, because all he cared to know about her was the screw he said she'd put through his hand, pinning him to the dinner table. As if, she'd thought to herself at the time, He really believes I can't see him moving closer to her.

Eugene shrank away at all the blood everywhere while Bobby (or Billy or Benny) screamed, and Therese took her good time to examine the wound while her mama frantically called 911. Casey backed away from the table slowly, a little dip of gravy on the side of her mouth. "Dear," Therese said sweetly, motioning to the corner of her own mouth. Casey's tongue darted out and got the gravy. Mama's date was still screaming.

"Stop pulling," Therese told him firmly, and she leaned over the accident. There was, indeed, a lot of blood. Therese looked up, up at the ceiling, and saw the splinters of tiny wood flared outward from one of the chandelier fixings. She looked over at Casey, and Casey smiled, and Therese smiled back. "What a freak accident," she said calmly, gripping Bobby's shoulder in a tight grasp. Her nails dug into his shoulder. "We have a power drill in the basement."

"NO!" he screamed and tugged and screamed louder.

"To get it out," Therese said matter-of-factly. "To unscrew it, like--"

"Get away! Get away!" mama screamed, shooing them all up the stairs. And so they went upstairs and laughed amongst themselves when the paramedics came and unhooked poor Mr. Bobby-Billy-Benny from the table. When Therese asked if Casey was okay, she smiled and nodded, and said he wouldn't be back. Therese was okay with that then, and she still was, and that was six days ago. To top it off, it was quiet because mama was gone, and maybe she wouldn't bring men in the house anymore or come home at all.

She was thinking about all this when the car pulled up. She couldn't see it but she could hear it, then one last swig from the bottle and she put it back in its hiding place. Better to have a little in you whenever mama returns, because there's always something. The last something was pretty big and maybe Bobby-Billy-Benny had decided to press charges. On who, Therese really wasn't sure, because how could you prove someone unscrewed a chandelier fixing without ever touching it and pinned your hand to a table? There was motive for all three of them, really, because Casey had the most reason, but Casey was mostly harmless. Therese was the real power, though, and she didn't like it when forty year old men tried to get a feel of her little sister.

Therese stepped around the sheets and dropped the basket she'd picked up on her way. It wasn't mama, or Billy-Bobby-Benny, or the Denni boy who came calling for Therese occasionally and liked to hike his hand up her skirt when she'd had too much to drink, or even Mrs. Martinene from the school district who visited them some Tuesdays to make sure they were eating and clothed and didn't pay much attention to the bruises. Stepping out of the black sedan in a new suit and looking not a day older was papa. He buttoned his jacket and didn't even see her there until she made a very loud, shrill noise. Then he looked at her and smiled and walked over to her like he'd just been held up at the office for the past three years.

He got close and she punched him, because that's all she could think to do. He grabbed her fists and pushed her back and she kicked. She almost fell over, and made the shrill noise again, and he told her firmly to “be quiet”, so she was. They stared at each other for the longest minute of her life. She started crying and he just smiled, using the back of his hand to wipe her face. "You've gotten noisy," he said, and hugged her. Therese let out a little sob and hugged him back, and everything was going to be okay.

"Mmm-mm," was all she could work out when he pulled away, and her arms stayed there in the air wanting to hold onto him.

He didn't swat her hand away when she tugged on his jacket. His hand was on her head, brushing through her hair and he was very stiff when she hugged him again. "Things are going to be different now, Roary. Papa's home now." He tilted her head up, and smiled at her. "I'm sorry, baby. Remember when we talked about making things... different? For all of us, forever?"

She nodded numbly.

"I'm going to do it, princess. We're going to do it. I had to go away and find out how, but we're going to be okay now." He smiled, and she ached at the motion because this couldn't be real.

Mama said he was dead, and he was never coming back. No more piano lessons or magic lessons or sauteed onions and potatos for breakfast. Therese had come to deal with that, to accept it; first papa, then Angie, then Trice, then Louie, and soon she'd be leaving. Right? That's what everyone else had done, and soon it would be time for her to do it, too. Soon she'd be eighteen and she could get away from mama, for good, for real. Louis had money hidden somewhere for her. He told her to send him a message, and he'd have her flown to where he was in Augsberg. He said there were people there who knew magic, really powerful magic, and they all wanted to meet her and she'd find a family there because they were all just like her and she liked that idea.

"We're going to Prague," he finally said, pulling her to her feet.

She looked up at him quizzically, and she felt very wobbly, but his hands were on her shoulders. "But Louie's in Germany."

"We aren't going to Louie," he said in a tone chiding a small child. "And we can't bring Genie or Casey. I'm sorry, baby. We'll be back for them, I promise." He kissed her forehead, like he used to when she was a little girl. "There's a cast in Prague. I've talked about you, Roary. You're very important to us. When we're all done, you can have anything you want. Anything in the world, princess. It'll all be yours." His grip turned a little hard, then, and a hand moved to grab her by the chin and turn her face up. "It's very important that you trust me, Therese. There are people who don't want you to get to Prague. People like your mother. People that will want to hurt you, or kill you, and stop us. We can't let them, okay?"

And she made a little "mmm" noise this time because her jaw was hurting and his grip was tight, and she was suddenly not very happy with all this.

"Good girl," he said. She stretched her mouth open at the disappearance of his hand around her jaw. This all felt very surreal. She didn't like it, but she kept walking, her hand in his and him leading her along. He looked like he was in a hurry, and she couldn't form words right now to say that she really didn't want to go to Prague. It was almost as if her brain was very cloudy. And then she realized she wasn't doing much at all, not even really walking, and her arm felt very suddenly sore and heavy.

Papa looked down at her with those blue eyes, except they were all wrong and dark and boring holes into her. "It's okay, baby, shhh," he cooed as he slipped the syringe back into his pocket. She hadn't even seen where it had come from, and her vision split, then blurred, then pushed back together. She was barely limping. He had an arm around her waist and was moving her towards the car. Her head lulled sideways, and she tried to open her mouth and she could feel herself screaming but there was no sound.

Then consciousness started to blur outwards, slipping underneath her already unsure eyesight. She saw the blue car come up the driveway, and then skid to a halt as mama got out of the car. She was screaming incoherently. It was the last thing Therese saw.

*

Under Phillip's arm, Therese hung limp like a rag doll. She was incredibly light, but he paused in his steps to his car anyway. His bitch of a wife could cross the distance as fast as him, if not faster. He had his time and his plans for her, but not today. He'd kill her right in this driveway if he had to, but he didn't want to. It was crucial that she understood that if she wanted to walk away from this. "I'm not here for you, Lill," he called. "Go in the house and you'll never have to see me again."

Lillian stood absolutely still at the hidden threat. He wasn't here for her, but he could be, if she gave him reason. He'd gone away and gotten the fuck out of her life, and she was beginning to show some signs of having a life, if the little fucking monsters didn't blow it all for her.

She glanced at the distance between her 'husband' and herself, then the distance between herself and the house. She was afraid, and she looked it. 'Good,' Phillip thought. Fear was a healthy thing to have, in his opinion. He readjusted Therese is his arms, preparing to heft her-- gently-- to the car.

Lillian stood and watched, the edge of her vision catching the flapping laundry her daughter had hung. Nothing Phillip planned for the girl could be good, but Lillian had endured enough torture over the years that she couldn't bring herself to care. At least Phillip wasn't taking Eugene or Cassandra.

But what if he came back? The last time she thought he was gone for good, too. She'd given him up for good and been happy that way. Now the bastard was back. She wandered cautiously past him, out to the side yard, and he watched her for a few moments, suspicious of her movements. The dazed, glassy look she wore was reminiscent of the face she'd get before she went for the bottle. 'I hope you choke to death in your own vomit', he cursed silently in her direction before casting the thought of her aside.

Phillip had what he came here for. It was simply a matter of getting out and being sure never to come back... until he was ready to reclaim his house and land. It was sitting on a leyline, after all, and it wasn't as if he was about to leave it to his fuck-up of an eldest son, Louis. He shifted, careful not to drop his daughter as he freed a hand to open the car door. For now she was subdued and even a minute amount of magic in his task might wake the thing within, and it simply wasn't time for that yet.

Confident that her husband was leaving, Lillian carried herself limply over to the laundry and sat down amongst the discarded basket and the dusty woodpile. There was no reason to alert the other children of her husband's presence. What would she say about Therese? It wasn't like the little bitch cared about this family anymore, she showed that a long time ago, so why should Lillian have to explain anything? The little witch could've gone off to magical studies like the three children before her.

There was a chance to save Eugene and Cassandra, though. She had to focus on that, her other children whose lives and fate weren't forfeit yet. She took a swig from the flask she left there, swishing about the contents in its container afterwards. Rese had been stealing alcohol again. Truly, Phillip was taking a problem off of her hands. 'Let some ritual fire kill the aberration...' she thought. 'Or make it a weapon to come back for you-- for Eugene and Cassandra.' Lillian sat up a little straighter, throwing back another swig.

'No, he's going to leave,' she assured herself. 'He's going to go.' Out of her life forever, and there were still two of her children left. Nothing could be done for the others; she hadn't realized until too late what a vile thing Phillip was. She'd have to answer to her maker for the wasted wreck their childhoods were, one day, but penance started with taking the last two away from the Kenton hell.

'Any moment now the engine will start,' she thought, and she'd hear it kick dust and dirt up as it proceeded toward the main road. 'Any moment... Any moment...'

Across the yard, Phillip's task was mostly done. Therese was placed carefully in the backseat, the safety belt over her. It looked as if she was sleeping pleasantly. A small smile crept across Phillip's face at that. Even if he hadn't known until a few weeks ago exactly what she was carrying, he'd always known she was special. There was something smarter in her head than her sweet face let on. He'd been an idiot all these years to not look deep enough himself, to doubt, to waste all this time...

Phillip closed the back door. Over the top of the car, he could see his wife's hair among the piles of wood. Her head tilted back in that familiar motion he knew so well, and Phillip scoffed to himself. Then he remembered he should get the archway piece from the mantle before he left. He'd need it later. Ignoring Lillian's panicked binge, he headed toward the house.

Lillian looked back over her shoulder, propping up slightly to see around the woodpile. Phillip wasn't at the car, and then her eyes caught him walking out of sight towards the house. 'NO!' The panic burst in her, an explosion of fear, confusion and tears. Why wasn't he leaving? Why wasn't he just taking what he came here for and going? "You were leaving!" she cried across the yard, stumbling to her feet.

"I lied," he called back. He wasn't sure if she could hear him or not, but it didn't much matter. He crossed the last distance to the porch, went up the stairs, and paused at the screen door. "I forgot something. Go back to your bottle." The door slammed in his wake.

The slamming door barely startled Eugene from his homework. He tiredly looked up, expecting to see mama, drunk again, and off to scream at Rese for whatever the hell her problem was today. Eugene usually tried not to get involved when Mama was drunk. Nothing good ever came of it, and besides, Rese usually had it coming somehow or another anyway...

"Dad?" he asked, his jaw hanging open.

Phillip stopped in the hallway, glancing toward the table to look at his son. Standing there in the hall, Phillip looked slightly lost, but then he shook his head and walked off to the den. "Finish your homework," he said dismissively.

Eugene was out of his chair and in the doorway, calling after the father he hadn't seen since he was eleven. "Dad?" he called down the hallway, answered only by the silence. "Dad? Are you back now?" His spirits fell as his father still declined to answer. 'Yeah, that's dad, all right.' He quietly sat back down at the table and picked up his pencil, but there wasn't much more that he could do than stare at his open book. How could he concentrate? 'Mama said Dad was dead, never coming back, headstone and all,' he thought bitterly to himself. 'Is that why he won't answer me? The old man's back to get some things, then gone like he was never here?'

The seconds, maybe even the minutes, ticked slowly by. From upstairs, the sound of Casey turning in bed was heard. There was a soft padding as Kinsey tipped down the stairs, eyes wide and alert. The cat sniffed the air before turning and running back upstairs. The screen door creaked softly open and then closed again. Slow footsteps moved up the hall, and Lillian stopped just shy of the doorway to the parlor. Her breathing was steady, her stare determined and facing forward.

In her right hand she held the woodaxe, tipped down toward the floor.

Eugene shocked to his feet. The sight of Mama with the axe was all the more terrifying by the fact that he could smell the whiskey on her even with the distance between them. Once it was obvious that she wasn't after him, Gene skirted past her and up the stairs, simply wanting to get away from whatever was about to happen. Once he was upstairs, he ran into Casey's room and slammed the door behind him.

"Shhhh...." he said, locking it before telling his younger sister to hide in the closet.

*

Phillip was annoyed with himself. It didn't happen often. He stood in front of the fireplace, examining how thick the cement putty was that was holding the top stone on the mantle. He'd gotten the right side free easily, but now his body was turned to try and loosen the left. What the hell was he thinking putting it here? If he'd had any forethought at all, he'd have taken it with him the first time. What if Lillian removed the fireplace in his absence? What would he have done then? He'd never passed on the information of the archway to any of his children.

Angela would have tried to find some way to get money out of it, or else bartered it to settle some debt. Patrice was utterly incapable of anything independently imagined and would likely destroy the keystone. Louis would've put it to petty use, squandering its real potential. The other children were too close to Lillian all these years, and Phillip certainly couldn't risk her knowing what it was. No use focusing on failures of the past. With some telekinetic help, the stone seemed to be slowly working free.

Pain suddenly exploded in the back of Phillip's head, blackening his eyesight. For a moment, he believed he'd been shot. He screamed, but there was no sound. No bang, no pop, no boom, only a mild crunching sound echoing in his head. He felt himself falling backward against the fireplace, vision tumbling, and for one terrible second, he thought-- 'Therese' – before another blow hit his chest.

Eventually, the sound of Lillian's own screaming stopped her. She suddenly heard herself and pulled her latest swing. The weight of the axe thudded out of her hands as she stumbled backwards a few steps, drawing breath hard and fast. She stared at the body until the rise of her chest slowed. It only felt like a few seconds, and she was looking down at the blood covering her. Most of it wasn't hers. Phillip was dead. He was really, really dead.

"Oh God."

She paced out into the hall and then back into the room, wrenching her hands at what was left on the parlor hardwood. 'The barn.' She looked out the window to the front yard, debating the difference in distance between the front door and the back door. That's when she saw the car and remembered.

*

Cassandra listened to her own breathing in the closet. Through the light coming in under the door, she could see the shadow of her brother's form and dust sparkling like glitter on the air. There was screaming for a while, a voice Casey didn't recognize briefly, and then mama, but Eugene wouldn't tell her who was in the house or what was going on. It's not like any of them ever did; they put her in the closet whenever the screaming started. Over the years, Casey'd actually grown to hate this place quite a bit. It wasn't as if the closet was some secret soundproof nether-reality of safety. Someone could simply open the door and there she'd be, so how was it ever really helping?

This day was different. Casey covered her ears at the worst, trying to ignore whatever was happening downstairs. It could've been a fight-- that happened when mama was drunk-- but it didn't sound like a fight. Maybe Therese and mama finally had one tiff too many. It'd been quiet too long. She turned the knob slowly, careful to keep the door from creaking as she peeked the top of her head out to look. "Genie?" she whispered. "Is it safe now? I think it's over." She paused. "It sounds over."

"It might be," Eugene answered her, still sitting in the corner with his knees tucked up into his chest. "I don't know." 'So what if Mama had an axe?' he reasoned. 'She was out by the wood pile.... besides, she's waved knives around before. It's not like she'd ever really use it or anything.' He quietly made his way over to the door, opening it a crack and listening intently. Mama wasn't screaming anymore. Perhaps his father left.

The idea of being fatherless again saddened him. Dad had just come back, he couldn't be gone already. He should've at least stayed for dinner, whatever he thought of Mama. Besides, Louie left a while ago, so why wouldn't dad stay? "Better stay here a bit longer," he said, closing the bedroom door as carefully as he had opened it. "I think Mama's having another three-bottle-night."

"Hey," Casey protested, maybe a little louder than she should've. "Don't say stuff like that. You know she’s sick." She climbed out of the closet, reopening her bedroom door and looking into the hallway. She pushed the door closed a little and whispered back into the room. "Maybe we should go. Y'know, get out of the house."

"I don't think that's such a good idea, Case," Eugene noted as he closed the bedroom door, locking it this time. It was always tempting to come out of hiding right when it got quiet, but quiet didn't mean it was over. "I don't think it's safe yet."

Ignoring him, Casey went to her bedroom side window, then the back one, but everything was still. She paused at the next side window, something catching her eye outside. She squinted. Suddenly, her eyes widened and she ran to the back window. After a moment, she whirled away from the glass, tumbling backwards into the wall. "Gene! GENE!"

"What is it?" Eugene exclaimed, starting for the window. "What's wrong?"

Tears were already rolling down Casey's face, and she huddled herself closer to the wall as she pointed frantically at the window. "Gene-- mom-- it's-- I DON'T KNOW! LOOK! GO LOOK!" She put her arms over her head, burying her face in her knees as she sank to the floor. In between sobs, she was trying to get something else out. "I think it's-- Gene, I th-I think someone's-- someone's dead--"

Eugene was stunned silent, his expression frozen while his mind raced. This couldn't be happening. He ran to the window. There was Mama. His father he didn't see... but it looked like blood and human arms in a pile in the wheelbarrow. "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Where's Rese?" Casey screamed, terrified and finally tired of her brother's incompetence. Her eleven-year-old mind reeled at the thought that what she saw mama moving could be her older sister. What will she do, then, if it's only she and Eugene? He certainly wouldn't get them out of this alive if mama had finally lost her mind! "I'm leaving." She stood, her eyes still wide and face pale. "And if you want to come with me, whatever, but I'm not staying here!"

He didn't react at first beyond just looking at her. He was taking it all in faster than he was processing it, and Casey was already out the door before he ran to catch up. "Are you stupid?" he demanded as he chased behind her.

She stopped at the top of the stairs, turning and giving her brother a nasty look. "'Oh, mama's just sick! She ain't right in her heart sometimes but she wouldn't really hurt us!'" she mimicked him. "Well what if that was Rese? You're wrong, Gene! And if you stay here-- if you stay here--" She bunched up her face, crisscrossing her arms over her chest, and squeezed her shoulders in tight fingers. She had to get out of here. At least she needed to know if Rese was all right, and if she wasn't... "I'll hit her," she mumbled as she went down the stairs. "If she hurt Rese I'll hit her, Gene, and I won't stop until she stops breathing!"

Eugene stopped following at the top of the stairs, partially because he was stunned, but mostly because he just couldn't bring himself to go down. Cassandra continued on to the bottom landing of the stairs and stopped. This couldn't be home. This couldn't be happening. She didn't spare a lot of time to continue gawking at the blood-mess from the parlor to the back door. Instead she followed it, careful not to step in it, all the while with a climbing nausea in her stomach.

The yard was empty, from what she could see. The left barn door was open, and after a few seconds of listening for sounds that didn't come, she peered inside. Her hands were shaking and the back of her neck was wet with cold sweat. Whatever mama brought in was dumped just inside the door. One last cautious look around, and Casey slipped inside the barn.

*

'It's over,' Lillian thought as she approached the barn for a second time. Therese was draped half in her mother's arms and half over her shoulder. The girl was light, but how tall and bony she was made her awkward to carry. Lillian would've simply put her in the wheel-barrel like Phillip, but she didn't think it was a very intelligent idea. It wasn't that some maternal instinct was giving her guilt, either. The sight of her daughter was devoid of any emotion, and that wasn't an unusual place for the two of them to be at. No, it was more that Lillian knew her knowledge of the situation was limited. She didn't want to put Phillip's blood near the girl, lest it should activate something, or wake her in some strange eldritch manner. The girl would come to the defense of her father over Lillian, she always had.

'But it's finally over.' She still remembered the way it all started. Lillian’s own family had never liked Phillip, but by the time they were married, her father was calling Phillip 'cultured and dignified.' Back then, maybe he still was. Maybe he was being deceptive, like he was in all things. She could never really decide. Before the children, though, it had been different. They spent all their time together, nearly every waking moment. He still looked at her with love, then. When he talked to her, she got distracted by those blue, blue eyes. The rest of the world and whatever stupid little thoughts were in it didn't matter.

'But it's over.' It all fell apart with the children. At first, it was a man's normal desire to have a family. She hadn't much wanted a baby, especially a girl, but seeing how happy Phillip was with Angela made it worth it. It made her say 'okay' to Patrice, but just as with Angela, Phillip eventually lost interest. Then Louis was born, the first boy, and maybe that's all her husband needed; a boy to father and guide. The magic started, though, more frequent then it had even been back in the days when Phillip opened the door for her telekinetically every time. His obsession with the children started, with having more, with testing them against her and each other. It was all for whatever Therese was. Therese was what brought Phillip back to the farm; his obsession for whatever it was hiding under her pretty little skin. The obsession that turned Lillian's sweet, sweet husband into that bastard she killed. The obsession that began this whole damn ordeal so many years ago on Louis’s 13th birthday.

'It's all over now. Well, almost.' There was still whatever Therese was that Phillip came back for... Lillian felt for the reassurance of Phillip's cold revolver in her pocket before continuing across the yard with her daughter.

Casey had gotten her father's body about twenty feet from the barn when Lillian returned carrying Rese. Dumbfounded to see her mother there, the girl dropped the body, standing perfectly still as they stared at each other for a moment. Her urge was to run. She wasn't going to let mama do-- well, whatever more she was going to do to poor papa in that barn! Papa deserved better than some shallow grave under the barn, anybody would!

"What is wrong with you?" Casey finally screamed, limbs feeling too heavy to run. The sudden sobs felt like they were going to break her frame, and she tried to control herself enough to breathe and scream more. "What are you doing to Rese? Why couldn't we go with him? Did he come back for us?"

She looked to the barn, then back to her sister's unconscious body. Mama was going to do the same thing to Therese that she did to papa. She ran at her mother, intent on putting an end to whatever Lillian's intentions were.

"You don't understand, Casey!" Lillian cried, trying to put her other unconscious daughter between them. "Go back in the house!" Had the other little rebel ever listened? No! Lillian made a futile attempt to dodge again, but this time Casey made contact, and the three women hit the ground in a pile. Lillian struggled under both Therese and Casey's weight, trying to get away from the feeble punches Casey was trying to land on her mother's face.

Once Lillian was suitably on the defensive, Therese was upheaved from her mother's body. As quick as she could, Casey started dragging her sister away from their mother and the barn. "Eugene! GENE, HELP ME!"

It was only a few strides to catch up with Casey, after Lillian had a second to orient herself again. She fought Therese out of Casey’s grasp then shoved the younger girl back to put distance between the two sisters. Lillian stood directly in that path, blood, dirt, and sweat covering her face as she huffed. She looked at Therese lying there in the dust, some cuts and bruises on the girl's face. Through the slits of Therese's partially-open lids, Lillian could see her eyes were moving in a dreaming pattern. "Cassanda. Please, baby. I can explain it all, I promise, but we don't have time now!"

The voices flooded. Not the voices here, but the voices of others, far away. They tell Therese it isn't time for them yet, but there will be protectors when necessary. Her siblings could die before then.

wake up

The screen door slammed against the side of the house as Eugene darted through, bee-lining for his little sister. He screamed for everyone to stop on his way. Thank Gods the wheelbarrow was nowhere in sight, but there was mama, and Rese motionless on the ground. 'What's Mama done?' was the only thought he could form as words completely escaped him now that he had a good look at his mother's bloodied clothing.

"She killed papa!" Casey screamed, darting forward to throw herself on her sister's unconscious body. "And she was going to kill Therese!"

"You don't understand what's going on here!" Mama insisted. "Your sister isn't your sister, she's a thing, a-- a demon or something, and you can thank your father for that."

"So you killed him?" Eugene asked with trembling insides.

"You don't understand," mama hissed.

"I do," Therese's voice but not said from the ground, and she was smiling up at her mother. Lillian had the revolver out and aimed before Therese could move, but it was Casey who caught the shot in the shoulder. She fell back on her elder sister with a scream, and Eugene took the opportunity to race in and attempt to struggle the gun away from his mother.

For his efforts, he got the end of the revolver across his face and went down in a crumple. The only one left was Therese, too slow and buried under her sister to avoid the steel shaft of the gun herself.

*

wake up
wake up


Therese woke with coughing and spasms. She couldn't see. There was crackling and popping, smoke and a terrible smell, and something moving on top of her left arm. She wiggled it only to hear a gasp and feel something grip her in smoky blackness.

"Rese!" Eugene's voice. She felt around for him, getting a leg, his upper body, then his shoulders, which she gripped to try and bring him to her. He clawed and grasped his way over to her, both of them hacking and coughing as they tried to get to their knees together. Eugene's legs collapsed under his coughing fits, and Therese pulled him up again and urged him forward.

"Crawl! Come on, Gene, crawl! You can!" she gasped out. Her lungs and chest felt tight, like a balloon was swelling inside her and keeping her from breathing. She fought the heaviness in her limbs and gripped Eugene tighter, then moved slowly forward with him.

"Where's... Case?" he managed to squeak out between coughs, and Rese looked in all directions. Flames behind them, nothing but smoke in all directions otherwise. The left side of the structure was starting to go up, and from what Therese could tell from the floor, they were in the barn. They had to get out fast, but she wasn't sure how much further she could pull Gene.

"We have to go..." Therese strained out. "Please, help me, Gene! I need you to walk!"

"I can't!"

In a few seconds, they both collapsed into a coughing heap. Therese could see a wall... they were so close to escape if she could only make it to the wall. Her legs wouldn't move anymore, though. Her head felt heavy. She lulled downward until she was almost kissing the floor.

Though Therese's body refused to respond, her mind screamed with alertness and panic. She didn't want to die here. Summoning all her strength, distracted and choking, she incanted in an attempt to siphon away the heat of the fire, but there was too much. She wasn't fast enough or strong enough.

Head lulling and fighting unconsciousness, she propped herself up for one last incantation; Gene. She grabbed hold of her brother with all the magic of the leylines, forced him to his feet, fought through the hazy, choking panic in his mind to pull her own body to her feet. Unable to see and barely conscious, she wrapped his arm around her and willed him forward, pushing him through the fire, pain, disorientation until the world gave out around them.

*

Everything was very quiet. There were sirens in the distance. How long had she been here? Not sure. She stood, staring down at her father's mutilated face. He looked almost like a gaping fish she realized with some horror, and she pulled his shirt up to cover his face. The barn fire had died, but the house was alight, a tremendous blaze coming from every corner and seeming to converge on the center. Someone inside was screaming. Eugene was a few feet away from her, face-down in the grass, the scattered and singed hair on his head showing his burns even now. He was still breathing but shallowly. Casey was nowhere in sight, but Therese knew already that whatever was left of her sister was in the barn.

There were people walking towards her: Jake, the volunteer firefighter from the hill, and Peter Denni. They both stared at the house, at the busting windows and the popping and creaking wood, listened helplessly as the screams from inside died to silence. Then the roof came down in a puff of smoke and ash and red, and Corrine found herself smiling even as the two neighbors reeled back. Jake and Officer Paits and the Denni boy stood there, dumbfounded, as the fire begins died out minutes later. For the first time, Therese realized how much pain she was in. She couldn't feel her arm. The air wasn't coming. Something was pressing down around her skull, squeezing it like a vice, pressing on every ounce of her being…

"...two-- no, make that three..."

"What the fuck happened here?"

"I don't know. Hey, the girl's moving!"

"Sweetheart, can you hear me? Don't try to move. You've been burned. We're here to help."

Therese's eyes rolled around in her sockets, and above her blue sky and gray smoke danced. The tops of bare trees waved against the evening skies, and a face lingered to her left. It was talking to her. "Don't try to move," it said again.

She nodded, weakly, then rolled her head sideways to look about. Eugene was beside her on a stretcher, being tended to by several EMTs. She could only barely see his face and for a moment she had a strange thought that his face was gone. There were two body bags far to her right, and people were carrying a covered stretcher from the remains of the house. Pain hammered in Therese's skull and she looked away, gasping for air suddenly.

"Don't worry, sweetheart," the voice said. "Everything's all right now." And she laughed, because somehow she knew he was right.

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Corrine Bertrand

October 2009

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