“Kailee, wake up!”
She shot up awake, gasping for air as the screams of her parents echoed through the house. Scrambling off her bed, she ran to the door and threw it open. Dark smoke curled from the floorboards, a thick cloud covering the stairs.
“In here!” Her father’s voice, cut off with a loud cough.
Spinning around, she pushed into the familiar bedroom. Her mother and father were running around the room, windows pushed open and several piles of fabric in their hands.
“Oh, baby…” Her mother knelt in front of her, brushing a loose strand of hair from her face as she hugged her tight and pressed a kiss to her forehead.
Something in the house cracked, and everyone could hear a crash as the house beneath them began to fall apart, succumbing to the flames which were creating a heat that made the floor a little too warm to touch.
The three of them moved to the bed, clutching to each other. Kailee began to cry, the smell of the heavy smoke and the sound of flames licking up walls to reach them couldn’t be drowned out. Even as her mother tried to sing her a lullaby, and her father continued to wave fresh air into the room.
On the bed sat one of Kailee’s good friends, a large stuffed lion she always referred to as “Leon” and kept with her through her good and bad days. Leon was now sitting on the bed, and Kailee gripped him tight, wrapping him in the biggest hug she could give him.
“Don’t you forget, Mommy and Daddy love you Kailee.”
“I love you too Mommy,” she whispered.
Tears rolled down her mother’s cheeks, and her father had finally given up and was sitting with them on the bed. His arms wrapped around her mother, his chest pressed into Kailee’s back. It was almost too tight for her, she felt squished between her parents. But she didn’t dare to complain.
“Mommy? What’s gonna happen?” Her voice was soft, scared. But her mother always had all the answers, so surely she knew what to do.
“We have to wait until the firemen get here. So stay close to me baby, and if anything happens, just stay close to me.”
The house groaned as the fire continued to roar, eating through the wooden supports of the lower level. Crackling and fizzling neared the room, and smoke began to enter through the cracks under the bedroom door.
“Kailee, you look down into the pillows and don’t look up until a grown up says so, okay?”
She nodded, doing as her mother said. The pillow was soft, but made it harder to breathe. Her parents both coughed around her but she kept her face down like they had said.
Someone was banging down the doors, and Kailee felt water on her back. She squirmed and cried out, but she didn’t lift her face like her mother had asked.
“Little miss? Can you look up for me?”
It sounded like an adult, so she wiped her tears away before sitting up and clutching Leon to her chest. Tall men and women in bright clothes with silly hats on their heads were moving into the room.
“What’s your name?”
“Kailee…” she muttered, looking over to see the men and women picking up her parents from the bed and rushing them outside.
“Well, I’m with the firefighters. We’re here to take you outside, alright?”
She nodded, leaving part of her face buried in Leon’s mane. The soft hairs tickled her nose and would usually make her giggle. She took the big man’s hand, letting him walk her outside where big red trucks were waiting with flashing lights.
The men and women were moving away with her parents, and she reached out to touch her mother’s hand. They pulled her back, and she screamed, running towards the people who were picking her up on a bed and moving her into the back of a strange car. It looked like a white box on wheels.
“Kailee…your mommy and daddy are going somewhere safe. Okay? How about we go for a walk and get some fresh air?”
She nodded reluctantly, clinging to one of Leon’s arms as she walked up the road, kicking her feet in the familiar gravel while the big man walked close behind her. Just once, she looked back at the house.
Once it had been white, happy, filled with life. Now it was black, deformed, and death lingered in the air as a white sheet was pulled over her mother in the back of the car. Something bad had happened, and Kailee just wanted to sleep.