Killing characters can be incredibly hard (or delightful, depending on who the character is), so when Tessa announced this fest, I jumped at it - I have death scenes aplenty, hard as most of them have been to write.
After much pondering (cue hair-tearing and wailing), I finally settled on a scene from a novel I wrote about three years ago, a dystopian-historical fantasy called NO DREAMS IN WHITESHIRE. While it's been put on the back-burner indefinitely, I still have a soft spot for it and its characters, and there's a scene in the story that always gets to me.
Later, I had no memory of the race to the Cross house. Vague images lingered: the chair falling over as I sprang up—the pity in Trist’s ice-blue eyes because he had already guessed and accepted what we couldn’t face—the streetlamps flickering past, a gold blur, one by one racing by as we ran, footsteps echoing against the pavement, my heart a drum roaring in my ears, too fast to allow logic through, too fast to allow anything but the wild panic and a desperate, frantic denial: no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
The house was on fire when we arrived. There were people standing around, pale faces watching the Cross home burn. Flames shot from the windows, shattering glass. People moved aside when Laila and I ran up.
Frozen in horror, I could only watch the house for what felt like an eternity, long enough for Trist to catch up to us.
I felt his hand on my shoulder, but the instant Laila started running, I broke free and I ran too, ignoring the shouts and cries of protest.
“Jake!” Trist’s voice shouted, but it sounded like I was underwater and he far beyond me with everything else I knew. “Jake, no!”
I followed Laila into the house, ignoring the burning heat that prickled my skin. Indeed, I could feel nothing except the same panic, the same cold denial. No, no, no.
We found them in the burning kitchen. Them.
“No,” I croaked, “No.”
They lay close to one another, as if they had died fighting, died trying to protect each other from a crueller force. The wounds on their bodies told me they’d fought to the bitter end. Blood stained the floor, the smell of it mingling with smoke and fire.
Uncle William had known it was coming, he had expected the attack. I saw it in my mind, what must have happened. He’d waited in the kitchen for death, having sent his daughter and errand boy away to save them. I heard the distant knock on the door.
“Hello, Will,” I heard my father’s voice, haunting, faint, “Fancy a drink?”
And the panic, Uncle William’s panic. I felt it, heard him. “Get out, James. Get out now. I can’t have you here, you can’t be here when they come—”
“You have to get out!”
My father hadn’t expected the attack. He lay facedown, the gash in his back telling its own story. In the swirling flames, I could swear I heard Uncle William’s howl of pain.
I imagined him turning to look into the eyes of his best friend’s killer, his murderer. Lady Death.
Would she have apologized? Was she sorry? He had been her friend, once.
The knife would have slashed. “Sleep soundly, Will.”
And then, silence.
“No,” I howled. “No, no, no!”
But denials were useless. I saw the truth. I saw reality on the floor before me.
They lay there, side by side. William Cross and James Quin. And the agony hit me fiercer than I could have imagined, a wave so crippling I was on my knees, struggling to live, to breathe, before the truth could fully sink in. No, no, no, no, no. Somewhere close by, I could hear Laila’s cries, the pleading of a child.
“Will! Will, wake up, wake up, please wake up! Uncle James!” Her voice broke. “Dad.”
Hers, mine. Gone, gone, both of them gone.
Fire crept through the edges of the kitchen, turning the walls black. Heat crept over my skin, fiery and prickly. The smoke was beginning to touch me, beginning to choke me. I knew, with the last shred of detached reason I possessed, that I would die, that Laila would die too, if we stayed here trying to clutch the fingers of phantoms.
I staggered upright, forcing myself to breathe, forcing the pain down where I could push it away for the time being. “Laila,” I said hoarsely, “Laila, we have to get out.”
She raised her eyes and looked at me, and in them I saw something wither and die and break. William Cross’s eyes. They looked as empty as his did. I knew, with stunning clarity, that if I left her now, if I let her, allowed it, she would stay here and lie with them, disappear to where they would be.
Pain sliced through me again, fiercer and colder and harsher. “No,” I snarled, “No. Not you, too. No! I won’t. I can’t.”
She didn’t move, boneless and lifeless, lying on the floor with her head nuzzling William and her hand clutching his, like a kitten curling up into its mother. Her eyes flickered closed. It had gotten to her already. She’d sucked the smoke in. I coughed, choked on a waft of it. I knew there was very little time left.
I stooped, seized her. She lay limp in my arms, and I lifted her, held her, and staggered, through rage and pain and misery, away from the blood and the last echoes of my family. I took her outside, into the cold air, and there was Trist, his face white with fear for me. I stumbled in the street against him. Laila and I fell to the hard ground. She stirred weakly, face streaked with the soot and tears. I lay very still on the ground, and never wanted to get up again.
Any comments would be lovely!