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“Wha-what’s going on!”

The sudden burst of fire caught Lily completely off guard. One minute she had been carrying a rolled-up bath towel beneath her arm, the next she was holding a molten inferno! With a dramatic heave that sent her tumbling backwards onto her butt, she projected the crackling mass across the room where it hit the wall with a quiet thud before collapsing to the floor at the base of the trash basket. The fire wasted no time in spreading there as well, climbing up the curling edges of the plastic bag housed within. Once at the top of the basket, it would easily manage to catch the toilet paper dangling not far above.

On the floor, her backside aching from the fall, Lily sat dumbfounded. Some part of her could consider the most likely scenario set to unfold, but it was like the conscious part of herself had been tossed away with the towel. Her ears were filled with a high-pitched squealing, like an old cathode-ray tube television was on somewhere else in the house. Instinct pushed her scrambling backwards, away from the flame, until she was slumped up against the bathroom door.

It was the heat at her back that brought her back into focus. At first it was imperceptible, an almost pleasant touch on her bare skin. Soon though, in mere seconds, it was an intense wave of pure, dry heat that could not be ignored.

Lily whirled around, eyes widening when she saw the tile beneath her turning a mottled mix of orange and brown. The door, meanwhile, was burnt well beyond that: where Lily sat had become all black, while trembling yellow wisps chased the white paint back and were quickly making their way up the door to the ceiling and frame. If this kept up, it wouldn’t be long before the entire house was a heap of smoldering ash—Lily along with it.

She braced one hand against the wall and clenched the top of the below-sink cabinet door with the other so she could pull herself up.

Put it out. Put it out or get out.

She was repeating the same mantra in her mind again and again.

Put it out or get out. Put it out or get out. Put it out or get out!

The mania was only willing to subside when she took her hand off the wall to find that it had left a scorched shadow in the sheetrock. The cabinet door in her right hand was also now badly burned and, like the bathroom door before it, the victim of a hungry flame. It was at this moment that she began putting two and two together.

“No, no, no…” she moaned.

That couldn’t be true—it didn’t make any sense!

Unbeknownst to Lily, the burning towel had cooked a hole straight through the bottom of the wastebasket, through which greedy little flames rushed for their ultimate reward: dry tissue, cardboard paper rolls, and cotton pads. While Lily had been focused on the blaze climbing the bathroom door and the blackening tiles beneath her feet, the fire had been busy multiplying inside the basket and now it was too large and too hot to be contained. The basket spewed a torrent of hot yellow flame into the air with a savage roar, throwing Lily off once more. Overcome with instinct yet again, she leaped to the side, brushing against the hand-drying towel slung over a rod bolted to the wall. This immediately burst into flame, licking up the bottom of the medicine cabinet mounted above. At the same time, the burst from the trash basket had managed to spread a lively fire to the shower curtain, which couldn’t melt fast enough to keep the flame at bay.

Leave leave leave leave leave leave leave leave leave leave

Like an animal in a forest fire, Lily could think of one thing and one thing only: survival. Whatever was going on here was way beyond her control, and even if it meant she lost every memory stored in her childhood home, she had to flee. Not thinking to come up with much of a plan, not considering how quickly a cheap fiberboard door could be reduced to soot, Lily lunged to the side, twisting on her heels, prepared to sprint through the house, when she was stopped dead in her tracks by a wall of flame. Eyes watering, lost in terror and in awe, Lily took half a step back as her bathroom door transformed itself into the gates of Hell.

“Mom!” she cried out, unaware that her voice was too feeble to be heard above the roar of the fire. “Mom! Mah-mah! Help! Mommy!”

It was to no avail. Her mother wasn’t even home. She knew that. Yet it was the only ounce of self-preservation she could muster. Fight, flight—well, in lieu of either, Lily could only freeze. Even though her end seemed inevitable, she could not will her trembling legs forward. Instead, she took one tepid step back after the other until any further retreat was impeded by the side of the tub.

That was when she remembered something which she for years had hated but now offered her only chance at salvation: there was a window in the shower wall. It was smaller than average, but so was she. With any luck, she might just barely be able to fit through it.

Hurriedly, careless with her footwork, she spun around to make for the window only to find herself leaning face-first into the burning shower curtain.

“N-no! Wuh-wha--”

Molten plastic shade wrapped fast around her as she fell forward. The suspension rod from which it hung fell free of the wall, crashing hard into the back of Lily’s head. Dizzied, from the blow, and too tangled up in the shower curtain to find her footing, Lily went stumbling forward. Bolts of lightning jolted up her legs as her knees crashed into the bottom of the enameled tub. Her face had smacked flat into the wall below the window she had been aiming to leap through. She felt her eye beginning to swell, and the sick, sweet taste of metal ran down the back of her twisted throat. The suspension rod rolled down her back, draping her beneath the shower curtain. As it continued to burn, the curtain shrank in on itself, tightening around her. The impact pressed it flat across her mouth. Melting plastic snapped into her throat when she tried to catch her breath, forming an airtight seal.

Lily’s head was beginning to swim. Her world was turning black.

She had no voice left with which to scream.

And everything around her continued to burn.