[identity profile] lslaw.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] writing_shadows
Posted with permission from [livejournal.com profile] mistress_fran.

Confusion: it's as though I've just woken and there's smoke and flames all around me. The air is scorching, but something on my skin protects me; it's like a layer of ash, half an inch thick, but it's flaking off fast and the heat is staring to reach me.

I start forward - as good away as any - and realise that I'm not alone. A small form, crumpled at my feet. A boy, very young. I lift him and stumble on, choking on the fumes, the protecting ash falling away in handfuls. It's hard to walk; my lungs are burning, my eyes are watering; the boy is like lead in my arms and my clothes... why are my clothes so damned big.

I throw my weight against a door and stagger back. I expected it to burst like matchwood, but of course it didn't. I lose my footing and fall to one knee, and I'm not sure if I can rise.

The door bursts open. There's a woman in a dark uniform, a cloth tied around her face against the smoke. She takes the child, drags me up and out, into the cool, night air.

Men come and take the child; the woman leads me to the back of an ambulance and sits me down so that she can lecture me on why what I did was stupid. There's a note of approval in her eyes, however, and I wish I could remember what I did, let alone remember doing it.

Someone calls for help and I start to rise; it's instinctive, despite the burning in my limbs. She claps a hand on my shoulder and pushes me back down; I could fight the pressure, but she's amost as strong as I am and I am exhausted.

"You've done enough," she tells me. "Sit there; I'll get you something to drink. Tea?"

I nod, still a little confused, answer automatically when she asks me how I take it. She leaves me and I look around, catching sight of something from the corner of my eye. I turn to look and for a moment I see a girl in an eye-bleaching dress looking back at me, standing with a tall man. There's a crowd gathered to watch the burning building, but they stand on their own, others instinctively leaving a space around them. They look sad, but not sad, and I only see them for a moment. Then someone moves between us and they're gone; the crowd fill the hole without ever noticing that it was there. Behind the human crowd, birds have gathered in the trees, perching and watching with their dark eyes.

I check my pockets, empty, and note my other belongings. A watch, broken now by the heat; a cloth bag on my belt, holding an assortment of bits and pieces - a lion carved from some kind of stone, a guitar pick, a tiny clay model of a bird and a piece of sea glass among others - with no obvious connection; a silver chain around my wrist, with a blue-green stone hanging from it. I have no idea what any of it means; I have no idea who I am.

I brush off the last of the ash, shaking a little of it out of my sleeves. On my hand it catches in a row of pale, puckered marks like surgical scars. Without it, everything I'm wearing seems even bigger, and I wonder how it is that this ash is under my clothes.

"What was that?"

I look up at the police woman and take the proffered tea. "I don't know," I admit.

She smiles kindly and the skin in the corner of her eyes wrinkles oddly, like an old suture scar; like the one on my hand. Behind her, something startles the birds and a small group of them fly up; six of them. Magpies, I think.

"What's your name?"

I shrug helplessly. "I don't know."

"It happens," she assures me. "I'll get you sorted out.

I smile back at her and sip my tea. It's white and sweet, but not with sugar.


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