The sound was ferocious, the air dense with smoke. Sophie stirred, where was she? How had she arrived here? That, she couldn’t remember. Flames engulfed her surroundings and it became hard to see. Then suddenly, it all made sense; she knew she had one opportunity to save him. She threw the door open; he was nowhere to be seen. The door handle melted before her eyes. Dad…. She had to enter the chaos, be brave; he was the only thought on her mind. She shouted loudly,
“Dad! I can’t see you. Dad! Shout so I can find you.” There was nothing but silence. Then she heard a shout. Was it him?
“Dad! I’m coming. Where are you? Shout again.”
Hearing the voice again, she followed the sound through the long corridor. As she ran, pieces of ceiling fell around her; she pushed her way through them not feeling any pain. Ignoring the heat, Sophie ran through the blazing flames. The faster she ran, the further the corridor extended, growing longer and longer. How far did she have to run?
“Help me.” The voice called again; more desperate this time, yet still sounding so far away. She could now see the door at the end of the corridor. Sophie ran fast, one last big effort, using all the energy she had left. The walls had distorted, everything looked misshapen. The flames danced all around her, under her feet, above her head. Then suddenly they vanished as if they were spilling out through cracks in the walls. She was left fumbling in silent darkness, alone. The still, suffocating darkness enveloped her. Fear overcame her body, her legs felt weak; she looked around, nothing but solitary darkness.
She called out, “Dad.”
The darkness was replaced by the light of the moon as the clouds dispersed, the little window at the top of the stairs allowed the smallest amount of light to come through. She could now see; she had made it to the blue door. Shaking with fear, beads of sweat ran down her brow as she placed her hand on the door and turned the knob. Behind the door a room, a bedroom,“Dad?”
Where was he? She had heard him calling or had she? Sophie walked over to the window; on the grass was a caravan. She had to get out, that’s where he was. In a flash it too was engulfed in flames. She watched helplessly as she heard the piercing screams; after a moment the yells of excruciating pain ended abruptly. Sophie immediately turned and ran but in an instant the door slammed closed. She grappled vigorously at the handle but it would not open. She pulled hard again but again the door would not budge. Realising she was too late, Sophie fell to the floor in despair, held her head in her hands and sobbed like she’d never sobbed before. Heartbroken tears of grief fell in abundance from her eyes, uncontrollable and desperate. She had lost, again.
What was that? Where was it coming from? Sophie stood up and walked over to the window. The caravan was gone; wiping the tears from her eyes she stared at the vacant space, the garden. Nothing but grass.
A muffled weeping came from the corner of the room. The moon was once again partially covered by cloud and she could barely see. What or who was sharing the room with her? Sophie turned around, she could make out movement; something was moving. As she tried to catch a glimpse of the figure she began to tremble. Fear rose within her, she swallowed hard. She backed away towards the door and tried the handle in the hope that it would free. It didn’t move. She tried the handle faster, more frantic. She stopped as the shadow in the corner moved, then the weeping stopped. Sophie held her breath hoping that whatever it was would not hear her.
The shadow spoke, “Help me.”
The clouds dispersed once again allowing the moon’s light to enter the room; it revealed the ghostly outline of a little boy, a crying little boy. The boy stood and walked towards her.
Bang! Bang! Sophie flinched with fright.
The banging become louder, the little boy cried silently and sat back in the corner. He was scared, she had to help him. Sophie slowly approached the dark corner and the little boy spoke.
The boy stood up again and then immediately flames engulfed him and within a second – he turned into a pile of ash. Sophie screamed loudly but she knew there was no one around to save her and no one left for her to save. Which was worse? She did not know. This was the end.
The alarm went off, ringing fiercely. Sophie jolted up in a state of confusion. She had slept. The last time she remembered seeing was five thirty, an hour and a half that is all she’d slept for. She jumped up onto her feet panicking, her heart thumped louder and louder. How could she have let herself fall asleep? Holding her breath she darted out of her bedroom, into the lounge and there she was, snoring gently on the sofa. Nothing had happened to her as she had feared it might. Sophie exhaled with relief; she hadn’t meant to fall asleep.
She looked at her mother, so grown up yet so helpless and picked up the blanket that she had kicked off during the night. Sophie pulled it snugly over her mother’s shoulders. Janet murmured under her breath, Sophie turned her head away from the stale smell. It was obvious that her mother’s drinking binge had not worn off from the night before, but Janet was safe now. Sophie could go to school knowing that she would be alright for the day.
Walking back into her bedroom, she opened her curtains. The sun’s rays shone through her window reminding her of happier days. The warm colours brought back memories of when she was little, when life had been better. Like the times her mother would take her to the park and push her on the roundabout. Sophie would shout “faster, faster,” she would spin and spin until she was dizzy with delight. The bit she liked best was when she would get off the roundabout, when she’d nearly fallen over and her mother would be there to catch her. Wrapping her little girl in her arms and hugging her with such love.
Suddenly there was a loud thud. Sophie’s happy memories were broken. There was no need to check, Janet had just fallen off the sofa and would now be waking up. That loving mum at the park was so long gone. Sophie knew the routine that would follow all too well. Janet would now spend the next hour showering, trying to wake up. The pain killers would come out and she would cross back and forth to the bathroom retching. The living room curtains however would remain shut, sunshine was one of life’s evils that her mother could not tolerate. Only one question was at the front of Sophie’s mind. Would Janet make it into work today? If she had too many more days off, she would finally have no job to go to. That would leave both of them with nowhere to go; her mother had reminded her of that too often.
The sunny sky was suddenly tainted by grey. Even that small pleasure had been taken away. Sophie was beginning to wonder what pleasures life really did hold.
One term is how long she had been at Wrenbrook High and to date she still had no new friends and a mother that still couldn’t care less whether she was around or not. What delight would yet another day hold? Sophie pulled on her school shirt, slipped into her long black skirt, put on her chained boots and lastly, slipped over her thick black hoodie. A detention was inevitable for committing the crime of ‘not adhering to the uniform code,’ of which she had been reminded so many times by Mrs Allbut. Then again, she quite liked detention, it was better than coming home and Janet never cared if she brought detention letters home.
Brushing her dyed black hair and spraying up her fringe, Sophie liked to be different. She had no intention of dressing like Barbie to impress the boys and took great pride in being an individual. She then had a quick wash, brushed her teeth and pasted on some black eyeliner. This morning the eyeliner made her look really washed out. She gazed at her reflection. It was pale and ghostly like someone who badly needed sleep and then she reminded herself, she did badly need sleep. The bags under her eyes were starting to resemble suitcases. She did one last mirror check, ‘it was this face or nothing as it was the only one she had,’ her Grandmother had often said all those years ago. Sophie was now prepared to face all the events a school day could bring.
Whilst grabbing her school bag off the back of the chair she heard her mum jolt up making a run for the bathroom.
“Are you alright?” Sophie shouted.
She could hear Janet retching and running the tap. She always ran the tap; by doing this she thought Sophie would not hear her heaving. Then she heard the loo flush.
“Yes. Just feel a bit sick.”
“Was probably all that drink you had, again, last night.”
Janet thrust her head through the gap she had left in the door, her mousy hair all matted, her eyeliner and eye shadow smudged. She shouted with contempt, “How dare you judge me. You don’t know how hard things have been and I don’t need your permission to go out!”
“I never said-”
“I know what you were saying! I’ll get over my problems in my own way, when I’m ready.” She interrupted.
Sophie stared, not knowing what to say. These problems were hers too; couldn’t Janet understand that all this was upsetting for both of them, that they needed each other to get through all the bad things that had happened? Not wanting to antagonise her mother, knowing this small altercation could lead to Sophie spending the day at School holding back tears. The girl looked down at her feet and gave her comeback. “They’re my problems too Janet”
A moments silence was exchanged; her mother looked across at her, guilt, sorrow and unhappiness oozed from her stare. Sophie stood there willing herself not to cry; she bit her bottom lip and looked up at the ceiling in an attempt to suck in the small tears that were beginning to form in the corners of her eyes. She then broke the silence, “I’m off to school; it’d be great if you were around for tea.” Turning her back to leave she felt the overwhelming emotion begin to build up. She needed to escape the situation, to start thinking about maths, yes maths, or anything for that matter – but not her dad.
“Wait!” Her mother called.
“I’m going to school,” replied Sophie still facing away.
“Please wait.” Janet said.
Sophie stood still waiting to hear what her mother had to say. Janet hesitated, struggling to get the next sentence out. This hesitation led to an uncomfortable pause. Sophie looked down at her feet; once again she felt tears welling up in her eyes. Janet eventually broke the silence,
“I’m sorry,” she blurted out.
Sophie wept and turned around to look at her mother; she looked into the eyes of the sad broken woman and quietly said, “I know you are Janet. You’re sorry every time. But he was my dad. You lost your husband, but I lost my dad or have you forgotten that bit? And it hurts; it hurts me every day, all day, and the way you are, that hurts me every day all day…” Sophie broke down and sat on the floor curling her knees up to her chin.
Janet slowly walked across to her daughter, stroked the girl’s hair and knelt down beside her. “I will change, I’ll try really hard to change, I’m so, so sorry.” Janet began to shake and wept.
Sophie could not answer, every time she tried she sobbed and took in air which caused her to hyperventilate and become dizzy. These feelings had been suppressed for so long that she couldn’t control them, tears fell and her nose blocked heavily; a rift had come between her and her mother, one that made her uncomfortable in this situation.
This woman who she had become so detached from was making her feel awkward; she didn’t want to be embraced or comforted. She realised then, that she had been rejecting her mother through this sadness, that she had distanced herself. Maybe Janet had noticed and the rift was causing her to drink. Regardless of any answers Sophie could give, she could not do the emotion thing with her mother. Not now.
Wiping the tears from her eyes, she stood up leaving her mother weeping on the floor. She was in control now. Sophie took a tissue out of her bag and blew her nose. Her eyes were all puffed up but at least she had the walk to school to clear up the redness before lessons.
Sophie would be at school at least half an hour early. She liked it that way, especially after episodes like this one; it gave her time to reflect on the things that had happened and to compose herself for lessons. Her mother just stayed where she was, on the floor, absorbing all the self blame that was lingering in the air. Sophie went to leave and looked back, “I’d like it if you were home for tea, hope works goes alright.” Just one little demand. If her mother was sorry enough she would come home after work and they could have tea together like proper families did.
As she locked the door, she heard Janet wail loudly and hit the floor. Sophie walked slowly in thought dabbing her eyes with a tissue as she headed down the stone stairs, all four flights of them. Her footsteps echoed all around the staircase, each step felt like a blow to the head. She hoped that the cold grey stairs were a prelude to a nice sunny day. The day that was promised when she first opened her curtains, but she knew better. The sun was tainted with cloud. Maybe just one ray of sunshine, maybe her mother would be around for tea.
Check out the rest……
Flame by Carla Kovach.
Suitable for young adults and adults who enjoy young adult literature.
Fifteen year old Sophie is a lonely girl whose father died. A lonely girl whose mother cares more about drinking than she does about Sophie. Tormented by dreams of her Father Ben’s tragic death, a ghostly boy and a blue door; she dreams of another world residing behind that blue door. At a new school, where she’s not popular with the teachers or the other pupils, Sophie meets Leila who suffers the taunts of the school bullies. Together they develop a close friendship, bonded by their unpopularity and unhappy home lives.
Spending time walking across Mill Fields to avoid going back to their miserable homes, Sophie leads Leila to an old derelict house ‘Sunflower Cottage.’ The house inspires much curiosity in the girls and promises to be a safe haven from their everyday lives. After a bad few days at home the girls decide to return to the house, not as curious visitors but as runaways. To Sophie’s surprise they find the blue door which draws them into a dangerous world with no obvious way of return; where danger resides in the house’s very foundations.