Preface:

Blood and Fire

Max

It's like a dream – a worryingly real dream. Tremendous, rolling waves of heat encompass me. The air is stagnant. I'm finally pulled from my sleep at the sound of agonizing screams, which could never pass for a nightmare. No, not even the darkest parts of my brain can conjure up that sound. I open my eyes. I shouldn't.

Fire.

My eyes are wide as I look around my lit bedroom. Fire is everywhere, lapping at my floor and the edges of my bed like a glowing sea. The screams continue, and I look up at the sound of them. My father is burning. He is rolling at my doorway, his face contorted in such a way I have never seen.

"Max!" he calls. He needs help. I can just stare. I'm useless, immobilized by the fear that cripples my worthless spine, leaving me as nothing more than a pair of wide, horror-filled eyes. I feel the fire sliding sickly up my legs. It hurts too much. I gasp out a scream of my own agony, clawing at my bed sheets in pain. The screams from my father come to an abrupt stop as a fireman crashes through my blackened bedroom wall.

"Come with me!" he orders over the loud crackling noise of the fire consuming everything in its path.

I don't hesitate at all to get into his large arms. I am being carried from my room, away from my father. Now I am outside, suddenly overwhelmed with the chill of this horrific night. My mother is standing next to the big red fire truck, covered in ash.

"Maxi!" she screams, tears making skin colored lines down her face. She yanks me from the fireman's arms, cradling my small body to her chest as she cries into my shoulder. "Where is my husband?" she asks the men around us. "Did he make it out safely?"

They are silent, but one finally gains the courage to speak up.

"I'm afraid we weren't there in time."

Tyler

I try to sleep, but I can't. Not even the pillow pressed tightly against the side of my small face can drown out my mother's sobs. I decide to go and comfort her. She is so broken; I don't know what else to do.

"Mom?" I whisper as I slowly enter the dirty living room. Broken wine and beer bottles are scattered across the floor, their shards shining in the bright white light.

"Get away from me," my mother hisses between her heartbroken sobs. She is looking out the window, her back to me. In her hand is a half empty wine bottle. I try to rest a comforting hand on her shoulder, but she makes a hissing sound like a vengeful snake, smacking my hand away from her. I clutch it to my chest as the sting of her strike radiates throughout my hand. "Go. Away," she says in a harder voice.

"But, mom," I beg in my little child's voice. I don't want her to cry anymore. I hate seeing her in this pain. I want to help her, to make her smile. It's been so long since she's smiled. "Let me take you to your mom; you need some rest," I say, reaching for her again. I want to make her happy.

A strangled scream erupts from her throat. She lashes out at me so quickly that there's no time for me to block her. A blinding pain goes through my chin. I fly backwards from the blow. My head clanks against the dirty white wall, another pain shooting through the back of my head. I cry out despite myself. I don't want her to think she hurt me; it's not her fault. It's mine. I should have just let her cry. She just needs time, right? She needs time to heal.

I slowly pull myself up from the floor, my head spinning. I gaze dizzily at her from across the room, my eyes filling with pathetic tears. I'm such a horrible son.

"Now go to your room," she snarls.

I swallow my tears and touch the bleeding spot on the back of my head.