Editor’s Note: It’s Fiction Friday! Enjoy this excerpt from the prologue of Inheritance of Beauty by Nicole Seitz.
I am seven years old, holding the magician’s wand, cool and silver in my hands. My breath is hot against the canvas bust of Mama’s dressmaker’s dummy. I’m inside of it, hiding.
There is green gingham wrapped around me, around the dummy. My brother, Ash, and I play here sometimes, hide-and-seek. I can feel the metal skirt hoop and smell the musty canvas. I can hear her screaming, begging him to leave us be. There is a thump and a cry at the same time.
Then silence, nothing but the sound of my own breathing.
I don’t know who’s still standing, but I can feel trouble — it fills the room. Someone’s looking my way. Can he hear me breathing? Can he see my feet? Does he know I’m here? I pull my toes in and try hard not to exhale.
I close my eyes. Go away, go away. Footsteps move across the room, and I hear shuffling around. They come closer, painfully slow. I’m about to lose my breath. I’m seeing stars. My knees are shaking.
It’s dark. I’m afraid in the dark.
I hear a sound, a short, quick scratch.
Then another, and another.
Finally, there’s a whoosh and the footsteps are running away. I wait to be sure they’re gone. I wait, I wait, but I’m get- ting hot. I might pass out. I open my eyes and look down at my bare feet. Orange fire is on the hem of the green gingham dress. There’s fire, and all I can think is I’ve got to get out of here. I stand up straight and hit my head on the metal. The dummy falls over with me in it.
I wake up, looking into my brother’s eyes with the blue sky and white smoke above us. He’s saying to me, whimpering, “Please, Maggie, talk to me!”
I try but the words won’t come.
The fire dances, a great orange jack-o’-lantern high above the trees, well into the night. Every man in town is here, buckets of water in hand, sweat on their brows. The heat is nothing I’ve ever felt and nothing I ever hope to feel again.
The watering hole must be empty by now. I think of the fish. I think if they’re frying on the burning embers of the house. I think there might not be any more fish to catch and worry how to restock Togoodoo Creek. Funny what the mind goes to at a time like this. I should be thinking about more serious matters. About the stranger and if he’s dead in that fire. About her, and if she’ll survive. I should be thinking these things, but my mind is not able to work it out. Instead, I will think about fish. There are enough worms to catch a whole mess of them, but now they’re burning in a heap that was once a home. A happy home.
The fish swim up to the night sky in swirls of orange-white smoke, and I wish I could climb the swirls like Jack up the beanstalk, up and away from here. I have never seen a fire this big. Fires should not get this big. Maybe it’ll swallow Levy.
I wish I could go back to before. Please, God, let me go back to before I ever met him. Before the train came to town. Let the fire burn up all the time and seconds and let’s just go back to before I ever heard her cry. I pray it… I pray it… I pray it… Amen.
I open my eyes but the fire rages. Will she forgive me? Will she ever forget?
Excerpted with permission from Inheritance of Beauty by Nicole Seitz, copyright Nicole Seitz.
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