Right on Schedule

Lena sat up gasping and reflexively covering her heart with one hand. She swallowed bitter bile, and with it her temporary confusion. It had only been a dream. No. Not only a dream—she was slipping into lucidity—a terrible memory from a lifetime ago.

She had been twelve. Her smile was crooked and her bangs were regrettable. Saturday, mid-October. Her family was out buying pumpkins for carving. The pumpkin farm had a handful of attractions: a small petting zoo, and a picnic area to enjoy the ciders and pies they sold. And a maze, made of stacked hay bales; ten-foot-tall walls covering the better part of an acre. That’s where they were; Lena, her parents, and her two younger brothers—twins.

They were all in the maze when it caught fire.

Lena’s parents had each taken one of the boys. She was the oldest child—twelve going on seen-it-all—and she was alone. Lost among the panicked screams of strangers and sour black clouds, somehow she emerged from the maze, tearful and hacking. And alive. But also alone, suddenly, in a way previously unfathomable but now permanent.

In her bed she scooted to the empty side where the sheets were cool. She shivered, but her skin was so warm she thought she might be giving off an amber glow. She tried to go back to sleep, but her heart wasn’t in it. It was just before 3 o’clock in the morning; right on schedule.

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