Below the Flames by Jessica Zimmerman

This story is one of the January Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.


The flames continued, falling like bombs from the sky. The explosions were deafening. Abbi sprinted up the stairs, the smell of her burnt hair making her nauseous. The books. She had to get the books. They held her only hope for being triumphant. She could not let them burn. Somehow, she managed to reach the top of the staircase without tripping. She couldn’t breathe from smoke and running, but her legs continued to move, her feet continued to pound, carrying her over the shiny wood floors and old expensive rugs. With a crash, another section of ceiling fell to the floor behind her. Debris rained down, scraping her exposed skin, and purple flames danced, threatening to envelope her should she slow her pace for even a heartbeat. Two months ago, tears would have been pouring down at what faced her now. Each room she tore past held more precious treasures that had to be left to the flames. Her beloved house was burning, and with it went everything her father had entrusted her with. Smoke and ash stung her eyes, but tears would not come. She felt only burning hatred, almost as hot as the enchanted flames through which she raced. She channeled it all into running, barely daring to hope that she could reach the library before it was too late.

She was almost to the end of the hall, ready to brave the next staircase, when the ghost appeared. Abbi was met by an invisible barrier, forcing her to an abrupt halt. The heat of the flames was blistering, but she had nowhere to go. The only possible way was forward. This option was now blocked. Abbi’s breath came in raspy bursts. The ghost had not shown itself for three years. Abbi had searched long and hard for it. It had chosen the most inconvenient time to make itself known. Abbi’s frustration was reaching a dangerous peak. The ghost stared at her serenely from behind its screen of long flowing hair, despite the enveloping chaos. Its pearly-gold transparent figure reflected the deep purple glow of the inferno. Time was almost out; the blaze behind Abbi was drawing continuously nearer. The flames began to lick her legs, so hot they felt almost icy. She let out a cry of defeat…and she was falling. The ghost was directly in front of her, and they fell through the solid wood floor, falling deep into the earth. At last Abbi landed impossibly gently on a cold hard floor in a dark room. Musty air filled her lungs. She could hardly process what was happening. Then the desperate thought: the books! They were far from her reach now.

“Look,” said the ghost. Abbi raised her head in disbelief. For all her time with ghosts, she’d never heard one speak. But she looked. There, illuminated by the pale glow of the ghost, was a map pinned to the wall. Written in her father’s meticulous handwriting was the answer she’d been searching for. The weapon that so many had assured her could not exist was waiting. Her father had a plan after all. The house burned in vain. They could no longer stop her. She reached out to touch the map, but the room spun. She was whisked away, landing a few seconds later on the path behind her burning house. Abbi smiled to herself. It mattered not. She had what she needed. She looked up at the ash falling from the sky like snow. With a final sigh, she turned and walked away, not looking back at what she was leaving behind.



Jessica Zimmerman

Leave a Reply