This story is by Terence Reynolds and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s going to be okay, Nuri,” Gram said squeezing my knee in that reassuring way that grandmother’s do.
I wanted to believe her, but one glimpse of my reflection in the rearview mirror and I knew she was fibbing. Bloodshot brown eyes stared back at me. A coat of dark grey ash covered my burnt mahogany skin. A nasty keloidal scar stretched the length of my jawline; souvenirs from the explosion that killed dad. The explosion I caused.
The headline in the Daily Tribune the day after the incident read “Sixteen-year-old bursts into flames killing father after a heated exchange,” If the headline wasn’t bad enough, my creepy neighbor Griffin recorded the whole ordeal with his iPhone. The video currently has four hundred and eighty-seven million views on youtube and counting. Soon the entire world will have witnessed me telling dad how much I hated him for taking a job at the Octavia Butler Preparatory Academy and forcing us to move two thousand miles across the country. All because I didn’t want to leave a boy. A boy who broke up with me by text after he learned I survived the explosion.
Dad told me that the relationship wouldn’t last. He was right. He was always right. It was quite annoying and caused us to butt heads more often than not, but it had never gotten that bad. The angrier I got, the more my insides began to boil. I screamed bloody murder as dad tried desperately to get me to calm down and breathe. It didn’t work. My body erupted into flames killing him and destroying our home. A crime scene tech discovered me among the debris six days later. My body intact and covered in ash. By the next day, every media outlet in the country was calling me the Notorious Ash Girl.
Mom rushed home from her business trip and demanded to know everything that led up to the explosion. I told her as much as I remembered. She started rambling to herself, asked Gram to look after me, and then disappeared from the hospital and my life. Two weeks ago the headmistress of the academy dad was going to work at reached out to Gram and informed her that the school still had a place for me if I wanted to attend. I told Gram, absolutely not, but she would hear none of it. She said going to the school was my one shot at making things right, that I owed dad at least that much. I caved pretty quickly after that, but now that we’re here I’m not so sure.
“I can’t do this,” I told Gram as I stared out the window at a group of reporters that had gathered just outside the school’s entrance.
“You can and you will,” Gram said grabbing ahold of my face with both hands and placing a kiss on my forehead.
“Don’t but, Gram, me. We’ve discussed this ad nauseam, now scoot,” she demanded.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said wiping the ash from her lips and grabbing my duffel bag.
I was barely out of the car before a wave of regret and self-loathing washed over me. If I’d just agreed to come here in the first place dad would still be alive, my mom wouldn’t have abandoned me, and ash wouldn’t cover ninety-eight percent of my body. My pity party came to an end as the group of reporters rushed towards me. I pulled dad’s Morehouse hoodie over my head and tried desperately to fight off the oncoming anxiety attack. I lost. My breathing became frantic, my heart tried to free itself from my chest, and I started sweating profusely, turning my skin into a muddy mess.
“She’s melting,” a reporter shrieked.
“I think I’m going to puke,” said another.
I turned back to where the car had been just in time to see Gram’s taillights pull off the school’s grounds. Why would she leave so quickly? Was she that eager to get rid of me? Not that I blamed her, who wanted the person who killed their child living under their roof? Why was there no one at the gates? They knew I would be arriving today. I shook the questions away and sprinted for the gates, but was cut off.
“How did you do it?” A young blonde reporter asked.
“Do what I?” I demanded as I tried to squeeze through the crowd.
“Get away with murdering your father,” she quickly shot back.
“It was an accident,” I exclaimed feeling my anger began to rise.
“It didn’t look like an accident to me,” said a husky guy to the blonde’s left.
“Are you freaking kidding me? My body exploded. I had no control over what happened,” I stated frankly.
“Is attending the academy a publicity stunt. A way to quell the public vitriol towards you,” said a tall guy towards the back.
“I don’t give a flying fuck what any of you think about me,” I declared as anger surged through my veins again, and the embers of ash on my body turned from dark grey to reddish orange. It was happening again.
“Watch your language, Nuri Elizabeth,” I heard a familiar voice say from the back of the crowd.
I hadn’t seen her in eight months. When she declared that she was going to find dad’s fire and vanished from my hospital room, I feared me killing dad had driven her mad. There hadn’t been so much of a peep from her since, but there she was making her way through the crowd of reporters. Shooting death glares at anyone who dared come near her or me. With just one look at her, my anger subsided and replaced with anguish. I’d taken away her husband, her home, and her sanity. How could I possibly face her?
“Hello dear,” She said as she approached me and pulled me into a hug. She smelled of honey and fire.
“I’m sorry,” I bellowed as I sob into her chest.
“Walk with me, we need to talk away from prying eyes,” she replied.
She led me through the crowd of reporters and the gates of the academy. We walked until we came to a pyramid-shaped building in the middle of the campus. Mom put her hand on it, and the stones rearranged themselves to create an opening. She stepped through, and I followed.
“Nuri, what do you know about The Phoenix?”
“It’s a bird that bursts into flames and is reborn out of the ashes,” I told her as we descended a flight of stairs.
“Did you know that the myth originated in Egypt and that it wasn’t a bird at all, but a diety called Bennu?”
“I killed dad and haven’t seen you in months, and this what you want to talk about?” I asked as we came to a dead end.
“Yes, it is, because you are a Bennu, Nuri. Your Gram, father and I are as well. We are the descendants of the Sun God Ra, the creator, and redeemer of the earth. Children of Ra don’t die. What happened to you that day at the house is called rebirth. It happens to all of us, the rebirth cleanses the soul of impurities and helps us in our quest to maintain balance in the world. Your dad and I thought we had more time to prepare you for this. That’s why he took the job at the academy, people like us run it,” Mom said as she did the trick with the wall again revealing a plexiglass cell. Inside was a man on fire. He had his back to us, but the warmth that came off of him felt familiar.
“Dad,” I whispered.
“Yes, he’s been stuck like this since your rebirth. That’s why I left. I had to track him down. I found him two weeks ago and brought him here. The elders think you can restore him to his human form. The ash that covers your skin contains his essence, and until the two of you reunite he will remain frozen in the fire,” Mom stated as she opened the plexiglass cell and gave me a gentle nudge. “It’s okay Nuri, he won’t hurt you,” She continued.
I was hesitant. None of this made sense, but I couldn’t deny what was right in front of me. Dad turned to look at me. His big brown eyes seemed to be staring into my soul. The heat was unbearable, but the embers of ash on my skin seemed to be pulling me toward the fire. My skin tingled with numbness as the ash jump from my skin into the flame, causing it to quickly die out, leaving me face to face with the man I thought I killed.
“Hey dad,” I said
“Hey, Sweet Pea, he replied.