Hello, all! It’s been a while. If you’ve been paying attention to my social media, you know I am still busy writing–I’m working on a high fantasy novel and also querying a contemporary fantasy novel. Lately, though, I’ve been experiencing a fair bit of imposter syndrome. I’ve been branding myself as a writer for a long time–on this blog, since 2010 (almost ten years!). I’m embarrassed to admit this, but here goes: I feel a lot of shame about the fact that I’ve been blabbering about being a writer on the internet for so long and still don’t have any fiction you all can purchase or read. For a few months, when I was updating my Patreon, there were short fiction pieces you could read. But those were for fun, written in a single session. They weren’t my novels. My novels are what I pour my whole self into. My novels are what I plan to spend the rest of my life doing, whether they end up published or not.
So I’m sharing a chapter from a novel I queried in 2016. It’s the first novel in the fantasy series I spent ten years writing, though it has changed very much since the original draft I wrote in 2007. I also revised this chapter last night to ensure it met my current standards.
The novel is shelved for now, which is why I feel comfortable posting it. I’m tempted to write a long preamble about this chapter–my feelings about it, my misgivings, etc.–but I’m not gonna do that. I’m just gonna put it out there.
Please note that I am not requesting critique. This is purely for sharing. It has already been critiqued by many trusted readers and revised so many times I lost count.
All right, here goes.
Genre: young adult fantasy
October, 2007. New York City, Earth.
Of all the ways Ama wanted to spend her last day in New York, hanging out with a drug dealer ranked just above cleaning out her ears with a screwdriver. But after Delilah promised nothing terrible would happen for the forty-sixth time, Ama gave in. If Delilah was right, it would only be a small get-together.
Plus, tonight might provide a welcome distraction from the life-changing announcement Ama’s parents had made the previous week.
“He’s only rumored to be a drug dealer.” Delilah punched the fourth-story button in Evan Barasch’s apartment building elevator. Evan had just moved to a new apartment and he wanted all his friends to see it. The fact that one of his favorite people was a drug dealer was, according to Delilah, incidental.
“Except he got arrested last year? Half the school watched him get handcuffed?” The elevator’s low hum drummed against Ama’s ears. Relax, relax, Ama repeated to herself.
“Okay, yeah, but we don’t know what that was for. What are you even worried about? Just because he’s a drug dealer doesn’t mean everyone’s gonna break out the heroin.”
“You sure? It wouldn’t be a huge stretch of the imagination.” Nor was it unbelievable that the drug dealer’s presence might’ve been an incentive for Delilah, rather than a deterrent. Danger always made Delilah’s eyes go bright. “Drug dealers usually find themselves in tough situations, right? What if he’s…violent, or something?”
“Oh my God, Ama. Don’t be dramatic. He’s a normal person.”
Ama sighed. “Why did you invite me to this?”
“Why do you think? It’s better than spending your last night doing nothing in my room and sulking over what’s gonna happen tomorrow. I don’t wanna be a pathetic sad sack.”
Too late for Ama on that front.
The elevator let them off and they knocked on the door. After a few seconds, the door shuddered and groaned but didn’t open. They stared at it. It happened again and again, as if someone was struggling on the other side. Then it swung inward to reveal Evan.
“Hey, sorry about the door,” he said. “It sticks. The deposit was cheap for a reason.”
Ama barely heard him. She’d noticed the beer sloshing around the cup in his free hand. Evan was fifteen, the same age as her and Delilah. His parents had better be home. Mom and Dad would never have okayed this if Delilah hadn’t guaranteed there would be chaperones.
Evan beckoned them inside. The supposed-to-be-calming mantra in Ama’s head morphed into something more like relaxrelaxrelaxrelaxrelax.
A living room with an adjoining kitchen area greeted them. Someone had cleared a space between the couch and the coffee table so Evan’s guests could sit in a circle on the floor. Plastic red cups dotted the furniture like poison oak. No parents in sight.
Ama counted ten people, not including the host. So much for a small get-together.
She gripped the strap of her book bag so her fingers wouldn’t fidget. Spending time with eleven strangers meant she had two options: crack open her shell and try to force herself to enjoy small talk, or keep quiet unless someone spoke to her. Either choice would be exhausting.
She knew some of these faces, though. They made frequent appearances on the senior lawn at school, the one younger students weren’t allowed access to. That meant these people were all seventeen, maybe eighteen. Maybe that was what Evan had meant by chaperones.
That was less than comforting.
“All right, so this is everyone.” Evan began pointing to his guests. “That’s Pat, this is Nathan, that’s Joe…”
Ama forgot each person’s name immediately, with two exceptions. The first was Jake the infamous drug dealer, who wore the same dragon-themed hat and black nose ring every day at school. The second was Max, whose shirt depicted a vintage cover of Orwell’s 1984. Probably one of those literary shirts they sold at the Strand. A book lover, then. Ama’s smile to him was genuine.
Why hadn’t she stopped by the Strand this week, when she might not see it again for years? No, not now. She swatted the thought away. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t think about it.
“I’m Delilah.” Delilah gave the group the wild smile Ama knew so well.
“The girl I was telling you guys about,” Evan said. “The one at the back of my English class with the crazy outfits.”
Ama glanced at Delilah’s thigh-high, multicolored socks and the costume-jewelry bracelets she always wore up to her elbow.
“Ugh, I hate being back there,” Delilah said. “Mr. Holtz pays double attention to you in the back because he knows it’s easier to text from there. That’s what I get for having the last name Yamamoto, I guess.”
“Yamamoto?” a stringy-haired girl in the circle asked. “Does that have a special meaning in Japanese?”
Delilah flashed Ama an all-too-familiar, irritated look, but smothered it quickly. “Uh, something to do with mountains? My dad would probably know the actual translation, but I wouldn’t ask him if I were you. He’s got a giant stick up his ass.”
“But Delilah isn’t Japanese, is it?”
“No. My mom’s a Japan native. I don’t know why she went with Delilah. I guess she liked the name?”
“Japan? That’s sick! Why’d she move you guys out here?”
Knowing Delilah would want to avoid this question, Ama said, “Sorry to interrupt, but where’s the bathroom? I don’t need it now, but I had an iced tea before I got here, so, you know, I’ll need it soon.”
Her face burned, and her eyes dropped to the floor. She’d introduced herself to a pack of seniors by talking about pee.
“Aw, shit, I forgot to introduce you,” Evan said. “Sorry about that. Bathroom’s down the hall, first door you see. You’re Ah-ma, right? You sit at the front with me.”
“It’s Ama,” she corrected him. “Like, rhymes with Alabama?”
“Gotcha. Well, looking forward to getting to know you this year.”
She didn’t have the heart to set him straight. One of the guests jumped up from the circle and jostled Ama on her way to the kitchen, but she hardly registered it. Her chest felt heavy out of nowhere.
She needed to get out of this stupid apartment. She wanted to be home. But not even that would be hers for much longer.
“You joined us just in time,” said Jake. He gestured to something in the middle of the circle. “We were about to get this started.”
Ama stiffened, prepared to find a stack of…crack-smoking devices? Or whatever?
No, they were playing Spin the Bottle. Ama almost would’ve preferred the drugs. Refusing to participate in something illegal might have gotten her fewer strange looks. She’d have to find a more creative way out of this one.
“Hell yes!” Delilah scooted into the group. “We should play one of those survival-of-the-fittest games, where the person who kisses the most people wins.”
Jake raised his eyebrows. “You’ll be expected to kiss whoever it lands on regardless of gender, you know.”
Delilah grinned. “I think I can handle that.”
For the first time in hours, Ama had to hold back a smile. Delilah’s bisexuality probably gave her an upper hand here. But Delilah hadn’t talked about her sexuality with anyone besides Ama, so she didn’t comment.
“You playing, Ama?” Evan asked.
Before she could think up an excuse, a nauseating smell made her freeze. Cigarette smoke. She coughed until she doubled over. Her book bag slipped off her shoulder and crashed to the floor. Delilah leapt up and clapped Ama on the back.
“Could you take that outside?” Delilah said to someone over Ama’s shoulder. The girl who’d passed Ama on her way to the kitchen must have decided to light up. “She’s really sensitive to smoke.”
The balcony door squeaked open and closed. That didn’t do much for Ama’s coughs, which continued ripping out of her esophagus.
“You okay?” Delilah asked.
“Yeah—just—bathroom,” Ama said. “Start without me.”
Ama skittered out of the living room like a spider in a rainstorm. It hadn’t been the method she would’ve chosen for escaping Spin the Bottle, but she’d take what she could get.
In the bathroom, Ama chugged down some sink water and sat on the toilet seat until the lightheadedness cleared. Or maybe she’d just stay here for the rest of the night. Being alone meant sweet quiet.
Well, almost. Everyone’s muffled shouts filtered through the wall. Someone yelled “This means war!” and the group erupted with laughter.
War. Something Dad had said in his argument with Mom last week, overheard via the crack beneath her parents’ bedroom door, wandered into her mind: “I value our family as much as you do. That’s why we moved away from the war in the first place. But I think we should go back.”
No. She had to find a distraction. She glanced around for her book bag before remembering she’d dropped it in the living room. It contained Richard III, the book she was reading, which she’d brought with her for exactly this situation. Not much she could do about it now.
Her eyes darted from place to place until they arrived at glorious salvation: a Rubik’s cube sitting on a shelf. Perfect. She had to jump to get it, since this high-up shelf seemed to hold something against people who were five feet tall. Then she focused on homogenizing the first side, letting herself settle into a territory she knew and understood.
She tucked her red hair behind her ears to get it out of the way. Maybe it was best she’d left her book bag in the other room. Hauling it in here would’ve looked weird, and bringing only the book would’ve betrayed her plan to lock herself away. Plus, with the possible exception of the literary Max, they might’ve wondered why she was reading Richard III, of all the Shakespeare plays she could’ve chosen. Her older brother, Neo, had accused her of knowing nothing about Shakespeare past Romeo and Juliet, so she’d sought out more obscure titles and settled on one of the histories. No one ever bothered with the histories. She couldn’t wait to see the look on Neo’s face when she slid it into her bookshelf beside R&J.
Except R&J wasn’t in her bookshelf. Nothing was. All her books lay packed and sealed in a cardboard box, ready to board a plane.
C’mon, Ama, she told herself. She’d finished one side of the Rubik’s cube, and next came the top row of the neighboring side…but she couldn’t do this anymore. Everything she’d been suppressing about the last week flooded her mind all the way to the corners.
Tomorrow morning, she would endure six hours of complimentary airline pretzels, postcard images through oval-shaped windows, and snoozing travelers on her way to Sacramento. Last Thursday, her parents broke the news that, though they would be stopping in Sacramento, they were truly moving someplace else. And they wouldn’t learn its location until they reached California.
Obviously, it didn’t go over well. The family meeting’s miserable subject matter was bad enough, but another detail made it more awkward. Ama and her three siblings had eavesdropped on their parents’ conversation the night before—and their parents knew it.
Wind rattled past the bathroom window. Another of New York’s recent storms must have been brewing. She concentrated on positioning all the red squares into this row, even as her mind kept drifting to the move.
It had started last Wednesday evening, hours before they’d listened in on their parents’ argument. Ama had rummaged through Mom’s drawers for a shirt that might have gotten mixed up in her laundry and found a box topped with the insignia T:E. She couldn’t help herself. A collection of strange objects lay within its belly: a glass paperweight shaped like a cube, a music box impossible to pry open, and a photo.
She switched to a new side of the Rubik’s cube, halfway finished. That stupid photo. It was of Mom and Dad’s wedding day. If that had been the only remarkable thing about the picture, Ama might have abandoned it with a smile. But its size was strange, shaped like nothing a twentieth-century camera could’ve produced—more a square than a rectangle. Its surface wasn’t glossy, but like embossed printer paper, almost three-dimensional to the touch. And the sky in the picture was green.
Something about it had made her gut twist. It was wrong, somehow. Off.
She’d found the photo minutes before Mom and Dad arrived home from work. If she’d had more time, maybe she could’ve formulated a plan less idiotic than stomping into the entryway, brandishing the photo, and saying, “Um? What is this?”
She should’ve backpedaled the moment Mom’s eyes widened, or as soon as Dad paused in the middle of setting his bag down. But she hadn’t, because Mom and Dad always told their children the truth. They would, of course, come clean about the sky’s weird color.
Instead, Mom had snatched the photo out of her hand. “Where did you find this?”
Ama stumbled through her explanation and added, “You’ve never shown us your wedding pictures before. Did you guys have a theme? Is that a green backdrop or something?”
A backdrop, she’d suggested, because it was normal. All they had to do was say yes, and it would be normal.
“It’s—that’s—” Dad glared at her. “Don’t go snooping through our things.”
And they’d shuffled into their bedroom and locked the door.
Sure, as Neo later pointed out, Mom and Dad could’ve doctored the photo. When Ama wondered why they’d never mentioned their wedding day before, Neo had said, “Don’t worry about it. Not that many kids know about their parents’ wedding day unless they ask.”
Most kids at least knew about their grandparents. Whenever faced with that question, Mom and Dad muttered that their grandparents died before Neo was born and switched the topic.
Ama flinched when someone knocked on the bathroom door.
“It’s me!” came Delilah’s voice. “Let me in?”
Ama set the completed Rubik’s cube on the counter and did so. Delilah shut the door behind her.
“I came to check on you. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I didn’t expect someone to smoke a cigarette inside, so the shock made it worse than usual.”
“I’m glad you’re physically fine, but I know the Spin the Bottle thing freaked you out, too. We stopped playing, so you can come back. Try to have a little fun while you’re here?”
Ama didn’t move. Delilah’s shoulders slumped. “Please?” Delilah asked. “I’m not asking you to drink or anything.”
“Are you drinking?”
Delilah responded by fumbling with one of her bracelets. Wonderful. Ama should’ve been mad at her for dragging her here. But this was Delilah, and Delilah didn’t like to grieve. For her, the easiest way to spend their last night together was to fill it with unrelated distractions. It wasn’t meant to be insensitive.
“You sure they stopped playing?” Ama asked.
“I’m positive. This damn bracelet!” Delilah removed it and massaged her wrist. The skin was red, as it always was when she wore this particular bracelet for too long.
“If it’s too small for you, you really shouldn’t wear it,” Ama said.
“No,” Delilah said quickly. “It’s not my mom’s fault she had tiny wrists. It’s not like my dad bothered to keep anything else of hers. Oh, thanks for saving me from having to explain the mom thing to that girl, by the way.”
Besides her cause of death being a car accident when Delilah was a baby, Ama knew little about Delilah’s mom. She and Delilah had been connected at the hip since second grade, but she still wasn’t sure how much Delilah knew, either.
Now that they’d hit the subject, Delilah had lapsed into silence. She filled it by whistling and swaying to her own tune, though her movements didn’t match the rhythm. She looked like the mechanical figures in the music box Delilah had given her for her thirteenth birthday. The music box that currently lay in a bundled-up sweatshirt in a cardboard box.
Shoot. Why had Ama let herself think of something sad again?
If she wanted to savor Delilah’s warm presence, she would have to do it before this get-together ended. God, she was gonna miss things like Delilah’s purple lipstick and her denim shorts with the creepy face stitched onto the butt. It might be months, maybe years or longer than that, before Ama could experience Delilah’s creative style choices again, or her laugh, or even her tantrums. And that meant making the best of tonight.
Ama looked her in the eye. “Okay. I’ll go back out there. I’ll stay as long as you do.”
Delilah smiled, visibly searching for the truth behind the promise. Ama grinned back. This Delilah smile, along with the graffiti on Ama’s school lockers, the hot dog stands layered with scents of mustard and relish, and every other minuscule detail comprising the last fifteen years of her life glared at her every day. When walking to school on the blemished pavement this past week, she’d wished her shoe would stick to one of the blackened gum spots and bind her to the New York streets forever.
Delilah led her to the kitchen so Ama could drink water from a cup instead of slurping it out of the bathroom sink. Evan’s guests had scattered to different corners of the front room. Some sat on the barstools overlooking the counter, a few more on the couch, and the rest on the balcony. It provided some much-needed breathing space. Ama sipped slowly in the kitchen while Delilah chatted with people.
Now that Ama wasn’t speaking to anyone, her thoughts couldn’t help returning to the night she’d discovered the photo. Her family had planned to see a movie, and she’d pestered both parents about the photo during the walk there. They’d claimed the photo was out in the sun too long, that its original coloring had faded. The excuse had seemed overdue.
“Then why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?” she’d asked. “Why did you ignore my question until now?”
“The picture isn’t important,” Mom had insisted.
“How would you feel if your mom and I launched an interrogation over every picture you took?” Dad had snapped.
The more they’d dodged her questions, the sharper the prickles in Ama’s chest had become. Ama never caused trouble in the family. Everyone thought of her as the quiet one, the one who, to use Delilah’s phrasing, wouldn’t know an angry feeling if it bit her in the ass. So nobody, least of all Ama, had expected the fury she’d unleashed on Mom and Dad right in front of everyone. A windstorm picked up during her tirade, so Dad had decided they head home. New York City was on tornado watch that evening, but there was no chance their canceled movie night had anything to do with the weather.
Then there was the worst part about finding the photo. Going off how heated her parents’ voices were when she and her siblings had approached the door, they must have heard the tail end of the conversation. All they could figure out was that they were moving to wherever their parents were born, there was a war happening there, and one more thing, something Dad said that Ama couldn’t wring from her memory:
“I think we should go back. And once we get there, Ama should be given the choice.”
Those words had doomed any chance of Ama sleeping that night.
“Oh, I forgot to ask you.”
Delilah’s voice jolted Ama back to the present. The group Delilah was talking to had left. She leaned against the refrigerator in a way that shut out everyone but Ama. Almost conspiratorial. “Why was your mom in my apartment yesterday?”
“What?” Ama stopped picking at the brackets of her braces. “She was in your apartment?”
“Yeah! She and my dad had a conversation in the living room and I wasn’t allowed to listen. I kept trying to hear them, but my dad kept catching me.”
More secrecy. Of course Mom hadn’t mentioned this. Ama added it to the growing list of deceptions Mom and Dad seemed to be building around themselves. “I don’t know anything about that. Did you hear what they said?”
“I think it had something to do with your move. Your mom was using that voice she does when she talks about sensitive subjects.” Delilah let out a frustrated snarl. “Look, I’ve been trying not to talk about it, because I hate that you’re moving, and I know you hate it, too, but this has really been bothering me. Why the hell aren’t your parents telling you where you’re going? Don’t you think you have a right to know that?”
“Yes. I don’t know why they won’t tell us. But it’s not like we can force them to say anything.”
“You sure? There should be some kind of law not letting parents lie to their kids. Can’t you just live with me?”
Ama laughed. “I wish.”
What she didn’t reveal was the other, separate terror Delilah’s complaint brought to mind. Initially, when Mom had mentioned a war during her argument with Dad, Ama had thought of the Middle East. But that didn’t fall into place with the rest of the fight’s details. Her parents had said some grand decision belonged to her and her alone, and it required the moral support of her entire family. What did that mean?
It was too scary to mention out loud. Ama could trust Delilah with this. But articulating it would make it real.
“It’s not something you just fucking spring on your kid.” Delilah grabbed Ama’s empty water cup and flung it into the sink. Good thing it was plastic. “You need to prepare them. They expect you to savor a whole life’s worth of memories in one fucking week?”
“Delilah, can you not use that language please? They said they bought the tickets six months ago and can’t get refunds.”
“Fuck refunds. And don’t tell me I can’t swear. I’m pissed right now. This isn’t fair to you. If they bought them six months ago they should’ve told you six months ago.”
“There’s nothing I can do about it.” Ama meant to be firm, but it came out soft, uncertain. “It’s been driving me crazy all week. But I can’t change it.”
“That’s what makes me hate it.”
Ama spotted something behind Delilah that made her stomach lurch. Max, a.k.a. Mr. George Orwell Shirt, had removed a cigarette from his pocket, slipped it between his teeth, and flipped on a lighter.
Delilah turned around. Ama braced herself—
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Delilah snapped at him.
Every conversation in the room died. Max switched off the flame. “Uh, going outside for a smoke?”
“Bullshit! You were gonna light it in here! You saw what cigarette smoke does to Ama!”
Here we go, Ama thought. Delilah’s accumulated rage had found a ventilation shaft. As much as she appreciated Delilah standing up for her, Ama didn’t want to watch.
“Hey, I’m not an idiot!” Max took a step toward her. “I was gonna take it outside!”
“Then light it outside and don’t make my best friend cough up a lung! The smoke you blow in here won’t follow you out onto the balcony!”
“You really wanna fight me on this, kid? You’re, what, a foot shorter than me?”
Ama’s fists clenched. Was that a threat? She searched the room for an easy escape route, but Max had them cornered in the kitchen. Most of the guests watched openmouthed. Evan looked ready to have a heart attack.
“Max, let’s drop it.” Jake approached from the balcony door, stepping gingerly as if Max were a grenade he might set off. “She’s right. When Pat lit up in here, Ama—”
“That’s not the issue,” Max spat at him. “All she had to do was make a levelheaded request, not turn into this raging bitch!”
Delilah looked like she could’ve breathed fire. “Oh, I’m a bitch, am I? Don’t blame your attitude problem on me!”
“I’m the one with the attitude problem?”
When it looked like Delilah would claw out his eyes and feed them to Manhattan’s pigeons, someone let out a shriek that put Delilah and Max’s screeching to shame. The stringy-haired girl was pointing and screaming at the couch.
Half of it had burst into flame.
At first, no one said a word. No one moved.
Then everyone hurled themselves at the door. Ama’s body buffeted from person to person. She let out hacking coughs. She shouldn’t have come. She should have trusted her gut about this get-together and—
Jake made it to the door and grabbed the doorknob. It didn’t budge. He pushed and pulled, over and over. “Shit, Evan, it’s stuck!”
Oh, God. No, no, no. Multiple people tugged on the door. Nothing worked. A smoke alarm beeped, blared. Flames blocked the balcony and other rooms. What would death by fire be like? By suffocation? Ama thought of third-degree burns, scorched corpses. Screams, cries, and terrified sobs filled the room, some from her, some from those attacking the door.
Ama couldn’t even try helping. Her eyes stung from the smoke. She blinked constantly to get rid of the pain. The mass of bodies blended into one and blinded her. Smoke settled and thickened on her taste buds. She couldn’t breathe. She needed her bedroom and her teddy bear and Mom and anything that wasn’t the horror of impending fire.
“Put it out! Put it out!” someone yelled. Evan.
“With what?” cried one of the others.
Delilah grabbed Ama’s arm. “It’ll be okay!”
Ama couldn’t respond. Her throat ached from coughing. Sweat rolled down her back, her neck. The crackling fire was too loud to exist, so loud it transcended the boundaries of what could possibly be real. Flames rose higher and higher, plunging the apartment into a sinister yellow glow.
A sharp crack tore through the room. Jake had shoved the door forward, off its hinges. Everyone flooded the hall. Ama clung to Delilah’s wrist.
A wall-to-wall crowd clogged the hallway. People screamed, ran, knocked others down—a school of fish fleeing from the bared teeth of a shark. Alarms wailed in the other apartments. The whole building was evacuating.
Delilah yanked her forward. Ama caught a glimpse of a girl stumbling to the floor and gasping when someone stepped on her stomach. Ama tried to yell for help, but coughs got in her way, and she couldn’t find the words.
They snaked around the corner and through a tight-squeeze door. It was like stuffing meat through a funnel.
After emerging from the hell of the compacted stairwell, the wide, open lobby almost made her cry with relief. She didn’t let go of Delilah until they made it through the revolving door and several blocks away from the burning building.
Minutes that could’ve been centuries passed. Fire trucks with howling sirens shot past them, toward the flames. When the firefighters sent sprays of fire retardant up toward the fourth floor, Evan’s guests seemed to release a collective sigh.
Delilah let out a loud whoop. “Guess Evan’s neighbors need a refresher on what a fire escape is, huh? And how to, like, use them?”
Ama didn’t have the energy to ask how she could make light of this. Her knees failed her and she collapsed onto the pavement.
Delilah rubbed her back. “Hey, we’re out alive! We’re fine! Nothing to worry about!”
Ama put her finger to her lips. Evan was saying something to the group.
“How the hell did that happen?” His voice was hoarse. “What the hell do I say to my parents when they get home? Who’s responsible for burning down my goddamn apartment building?”
“Evan, I swear to God, it was nobody’s fault.”
The stringy-haired girl’s face peeked through the assorted guests, coated with soot. Ama, eyes blinking to recover from the ashy apartment air, looked at her own hands. They were covered in smudgy black residue.
“I was looking at the couch when it happened,” said the girl. “One second it was normal, next it was on fire. It just—I don’t know, spontaneously combusted.”
“Oh, sure! That’s a fucking lie! Are you protecting someone?”
Ama’s shoulders heaved. She tried to load her lungs with air and rid them of the fire’s fumes. She didn’t want to theorize about how it happened. It didn’t even matter to her if nobody solved the mystery. She just wanted to go home.
The ominous roar of an airplane rumbled overhead.