Child of Fire
Rob’s room reeked of frankincense and shame, though sometimes he forgot which caused the stabbing pains in his head and which cured them. He slept with the sliding window open, letting the heavy Mississippi moonlight wash over him as it corralled the stagnant, smoke-stained air away toward the trees. As the heavy pounding of his father’s boots drew closer to his room, Rob clinched his eyelids and pulled the comforter under his chin.
Rob curled into a ball as the door thudded to a stop, his father’s forceful hand throwing it sharply against the wall.
“Night,” his father grunted. “And do your work.” The harsh sounds might have made him cringe, but the smell of his father’s breath made him writhe.
Rob’s arm burned as his father’s fingers released it. Hearing the door click shut behind him, he pulled the covers under his arms. In retrospect the encounter had been rather painless. Rob couldn’t hear his father’s steps despite straining his ears, but he didn’t dare move. His parents might be asleep, but he needed everyone else to join them.
The open window ushered in the oversweet smell of the blossoming magnolia in the front yard. As Rob lay on his back, he waited for her voice to enter with it. She might be quiet now, but her stifled screams would slither to his ear before long, and he would be out the door when they arrived.
His heart kicked the inside of his ribcage in anticipation. He couldn’t wait anymore. Reaching underneath his bed, Rob pulled out his jeans and jacket, putting on both simultaneously. He could hear her voice starting to float in from outside, urging him out of the house. Grabbing his boots by the laces, Rob shuffled to the door, his socked feet hardly making a sound as they whisked across the floor.
The mid-May air fluttered across his face as he crept outside, the cool air pricking softly at the corners of his eyes. The stagnant haze of the forest lingered only a hundred yards away, but several houses stood between him and the refuge of the trees. Rob’s fingers whirled as he knotted his shoestrings before darting behind the gnarled magnolia that stood crooked in their front yard. The tendons jutted from the back of his hand as he peered around the corner of the tree. The next house cast a shadow that bled away toward the woods. Thirty hurried strides carried him to the corner of the house, and ducking below the window, which he knew looked out from the Reverend Carter’s master bedroom, he bolted for the trees, only stopping when thoughts of her voice suffocated the soft noises from the houses behind him.