Halloween, 2018

That was the moment. When it was trying to decide what to do. Esther watched as her Other Self depressed the button. Part of her still hated what was going to happen, but the rest of her knew that it was necessary. That didn’t stop her from protesting as her Other Self threw the detonator down onto the floor. With a quiet pop, the detonator separated into two halves and fire blossomed in every direction. Flames licked up the table, the cabinets, and the walls, spouting into the air at intervals as it found things to consume.


The creature writhed in a ghostly impression of pain and fear, shooting toward her and the door to the hallway beyond. Her Other Self couldn’t see the fire any more than Esther herself might have, but she could sense its warmth and feel the pain of its scorching tongues biting at her boots and flame-retardant clothing. She wasn’t as hurt by it as the Nightmare creature, or as hurt as a normal human would have been, but that didn’t mean that she was immune. Sweeping up the flames with her staff, she gave it a twirl and smiled with grim satisfaction as the Nightmare’s insubstantial form was repelled by the sudden whirl of flame.


A gasp.


A cry.


Suri was suddenly moving again, dancing away from the flames and toward the door. She went through the Nightmare, which made her cry out again, and then she had the Other Self by the arm.


“We’ve gotta get outta here!”


That was obvious, but neither Esther nor her Other Self were inclined to disagree. Gripping her staff tightly in one hand and holding Suri’s sleeve with the other, she pulled her friend out into the hall, pushing her toward the shattered front door and turning to confront the Nightmare that came screaming out of the flames after them.


“Little girl!” Its voice was like a hurricane through twisted metal. Betrayal and anger were in its sense now, and fear. There was fear. It knew that she would triumph, and it intended to make her suffer while it could. As it surged forward, reaching with insubstantial claws for Suri’s warm, living body, Esther and her Other Self acted as one. There was no thought, no hesitation, and certainly no protest. The staff came up, sweeping through the Nightmare with a tip that still smoked from the fire. As the creature faltered, she reached into her pouch for a second detonator. The halves clicked as she twisted, the button clicked as she pressed it, and the Nightmare shrieked in pain as the detonator released its firestorm directly beneath it.


It struggled to escape the sudden swirl of hot and cold air, trapped in what was turning into a maelstrom of flame and steam. The Other Self turned, confident that the Nightmare would die there, and grasped Suri’s wrist.


“Why did you do that? And where did you get explosives?” Suri was shouting in her ear again. They tumbled through the splintered remains of the front door and onto the lawn. Esther caught her toe on one of the front steps and fell into the grass with a grunt while her Other Self laughed at her from behind the barrier that was quickly separating them. She was just herself again, a blind girl in scorched clothes, sitting on the grass where everything smelled like smoke and sounded like fire.


“There was something in the house. It… it scared me.” That much was true. Even if Suri didn’t understand and couldn’t remember the inhuman invader that had frightened her earlier, it was enough that she was alive.


“No more scary movies for you. And no more fireworks, either!” The rustle of Suri’s clothing as she moved closer was a little crunchier than usual, but she seemed to move easily. Her hands were steady and warm as she patted Esther’s pockets, searching for other explosives.


“No more scary movies,” Esther agreed. “If you call the fire department, then I’ll talk to the insurance company after the fire’s out.”


“Alright.” Suri’s tone held the start of a reluctant smile. “But if anyone asks, the fire started because we forgot the bread in the oven.”

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©2020 by Eleanor Taylor.

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