Writers (in order): Eman Hussain, Cherice, Langston Wu, Jade Stone, Claire Bing, Aditi Varia, Joyce Lee, Yuika Sun, Ash Mehta, Irene Tsen, Ava Cheng, Eileen Hung, Andrea Esparza

Editor: Irene Tsen

I am so stupid. God, I am so stupid. This is all my fault. Oh my god, what have I done? I can’t breathe. Red flames race towards me, as if they want to get rid of me too. And of course, I wouldn’t blame them. It was my fault the curtains caught on fire anyway. And then it was me who proceeded to attempt to put the fire out. The curtains somehow ended up falling, and so very conveniently blocking the door.

I groan into my hands. How are we going to get out?

“Who on earth designed this place?” I spit out as I search the room for something—anything—to extinguish the fire. Just as the fire targets me, I decide the room design will serve a good scapegoat to my tragedy. Certainly, I had been taught to stop, drop, and roll, but that advice was a complete fallacy; my curtains had also stopped, dropped, and rolled, and the fire was  spreading to the wall to eat up the cute portrait my late aunt had gifted me twenty-some years ago.

More and more smoke begins to cloud my senses. I have to resort to inhaling through my already sweaty shirt as my eyes begin to tear up. I hear the shattering of my portrait crashing facedown on the floor and the crackling of flames snaking through the grass of my antique rug.

My head is aching and my body is scrambling to find anything to defend myself with. My brain registers everything as a blur.

Another frame goes flying. The wood smashes onto the ground. Please… move…

“Mmmm… what a good nap.”

I am lying in the hallway, making out with the red carpet. As I push myself up, my elbows feel janky, faltering as I lift my head. I see my portrait crumple up, leaving nothing but ash. I look back at the room I had leapt out of and the fire flies from the doorframe.

“OH SH—”

To my right, the house is folding like a deck of cards.

“You better run.”

A fire incarnation now stands in the bright doorway, holding a candle.

“Or else…”

I can feel its hellish grin, even though the thing has no mouth. All of a sudden, the candle blows out.

The entrance to the glazed tan stairs dims out. Sliding through the paint-puddled, junkyard basement is impossible. Slamming my forehead on the door frame, I squeeze my shoulders through the entrance to a closet with a ladder. The thin iron bars hold strong enough for frantic climbing, but they are hot as if they are being tempered by the tempestuous blaze. A seam hisses, a wall cracks like lightning. I think my skin is melting off until I burst into the chilled night air. Looking at the silent stars, I thank whatever is keeping me from dying. Turning my eyes to the dark pool, my legs launch me out of my home of more than twenty years, the hateful smoke from my past lies, and years of parental neglect that I still don’t understand.

I hit the freezing water of the swimming pool with a jolt. I feel my heartbeat start to slow as I sink into my watery refuge from the flames. I float towards the bottom of the pool, feeling an odd peacefulness for the first time since I got myself into this mess. It really is all my fault.

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