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Ashes and Dust

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"Seriously mother? Pop Tarts? Again? You don’t even buy the real ones!" she spat indignantly at her mother.

This was the third time this week she had been forced to choke down the chalk-covered fruit paste. The monotony had been broken only once by her mothers' efforts at an omelet, which, luckily for Jordyn, had burnt so thoroughly that its ghost still haunted the ceiling of their two-bedroom apartment's tiny kitchen.

"Take us, we need to be in you," her mother croaked over the drone of the morning news, seemingly mocking the voice of the now burning pop tarts.

"Freak," she thought.

The door screamed as she forced it to shut behind her; the hinges were clearly from the civil war era and she wondered if they even had apartments back in the day. In truth, she knew her sleepy little Florida town was never even in earshot of anything so exciting as a county fair, let alone a major historical event such as a war. There was still a whisper of a summer breeze whistling through the leaves, but like every whisper, it was gone before you were sure to have heard anything at all.

Jordyn started her walk to school down her usual path, down Main St. passed the bakery; left at the Krueg's home (she lovingly called them 'Special K'), slight right to cross Elm and over a three foot fence, if you could call it that. It was a hastily built chicken wire mess if you ask her, but it served every intention of a fence so she allowed it. Past the fence, her path opened to a large field in which sat her school. Milton High.

Everything was very mundane until she noticed a tremble in the way the grass bent to the wind. It was so slight she wondered if she had seen it at all; when again it had appeared, this time to her far right. So far in fact, she had to turn to focus on it. But again… it had vanished more quickly than it had appeared. Needles pierced her skin, sprinting down her spine as a fine layer of sweat threatened to break across her forehead. It was then she noticed the silence.

Nothing. No birds, no children laughing, not even the low rumbles from the highway across from the school. Had she seen any cars this morning? She couldn't remember. She broke into a frantic sprint for the school, the tall grass tearing at her as she ran. Jordyn made it to the doors and flew into them at full speed. They gave way almost instantly, and the force hurled her, falling and gasping for breath, into the dark corridor. Her eyes adjusted to the building as she tried to breathe.

Why was this so difficult? Her mouth tasted faintly of copper, like pennies… and dry. Unforgivably dry, so much so her efforts to swallow were met with violent choking as her throat was tempted to close and seal with the sticky mess that was building at the back of her tongue. She spat hard and where it landed, a small cloud of wispy grey particulate burst into movement and settled again.

"Ash," she said in a puzzled tone, speckled with the beginnings of fear.

She stood and cautiously moved down the corridor, noticing her footprints, alone amongst the grey of the floor. At the end of the hall, a door hung slightly ajar and black as night. She pulled on the handle and it broke away with a sickly crack, taking a large chunk of the door with it. She looked and was startled to find it had the same appearance that the logs in her fireplace have the morning after a fire. She let it fall to the ground by her feet, stirring up a new grey cloud. It danced around her feet and swirled between her legs almost unnaturally. She pried at the door and tore it away piece by piece until she had a gap big enough to fit through. Stepping through she found herself outside once more, only… this couldn’t be right. How could she be outside, in the middle of her school? Her eyes began to focus in the hazy light and to her horror, she began to realize she was standing in the schools' ashes.

The instant her thoughts wondered to her classmates, her foot struck something hard, causing her to lurch forward and tumble into the dust. Slowly, pushing herself up from the pile of debris in which she found herself, her fingers fell to place around one of the pieces. She gasped to scream as she focused on her fingers. A skull, no bigger than a small melon, began to crumble to ashes and stream through her fingers. Jordyn had found her friends… Her gasp had forced her to inhale much of the ash that had plumed up from the pile of bodies where she landed. She tried to cough, to spit them out, mortified at the notion of her classmates surging into her lungs. Even as Jordyn spit, more slipped into her mouth; she tried to scrape it off her tongue but her hands seemed caked with the stuff… them. Mary, James, Sarah…

“Oh God,” she thought.

She scrambled, frantically trying to rid her mouth and her nose of her, now disembodied, friends. The ash seemed to swirl around her… twitchy, trembling motions… like the grass she had seen outside, a place that seemed so far away now. It rose, slowly circling her but thickening while it churned. A wall had formed around her now, circling, ominous, and choking out the light. It closed around her tighter and tighter, whispering as it engulfed her. She fought to pass through it, to run, to breathe at all but it held her, a frozen figure on the floor. She strained to listen for help, her mother, anyone at all. Nothing but the whisper of the ash, now so close it was tracing the lines of her face.

Then she heard it. The whispers now echoing in her ears, "Take us, we need to be in you…".

She tried to scream, but the ash invaded her throat. She tore at it but as the wall closed around her the ash began to push into her skin, piece by piece. It drove into her pores and further into her organs, and the cavities of her lungs. It drilled into her eyelids and through her retina. Jordyn wreathed as the bodies of her closest friends drove through and burst her ear drums, tearing flesh as they entered.

"Take us, we need to be in you… Take us, we need to be in you… Take us, we need to be in you…" came screaming through the pain, echoing inside her thoughts, "Take us, we need to be in you…"

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