Sparks Rise Page 1



I DON’T forget faces.

I don’t forget anything my eyes have landed on—not the smallest detail of the white flowering wallpaper in our neighbors’ house, not the cursive letters written on my classroom’s whiteboard, not the numbers that flashed on the screen as the man in the white coat adjusted my position under the machine’s metal halo, the signs on the towering fence as our bus pulled in for the first time. DANGER! HIGH VOLTAGE, AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY, NOT A LOADING ZONE, STAY ALERT.

Its smells and sounds have gone hazy; I think, sometimes, that I can remember what it was like to lay out in the freshly mown grass in our backyard. I think it smelled sweet. I think I can just about remember how silky Scout, our golden retriever, was, lying in a patch of sunshine. There was laughter, too, from the Orfeo kids trying to climb over the wall between our houses, half tumbling into the bushes. What I remember most is the cloudless powder-blue sky. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I haven’t seen one like it since.

This place has reduced my world to gray, black, brown.

Everything gets filed away inside my head, neat and tidy, until I need it. Somehow, without trying, I pull the right card out of the deck each time. I test myself all the time; that same white coat, the one who’d been all freezing fingers and sneered words, told me not to—that using my freak catchall of a memory would somehow overload it, and I’d be as dead and stiff as the kids already buried. They tried that lie on all of us, I’m sure.

For the first two years, I’d catch myself doing it, drawing out those memories, and close my eyes, throat swelling with thick panic. Stop it, you’ll die, you’ll die, Sam—

For the next three, it was like a dare. Each success was a small pop of bright exhilaration to pepper forever sunless days. Every time I did it and nothing happened, I’d get that same feeling I had each time I snuck over to the Orfeos’ house on the Fourth of July, and they’d secretly save me one of their sparklers to run around with before my parents could even realize I was gone. I’d think of Dad preaching from Job, Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

Now...I just don’t care. A few months turned into years and now those years are morphing into forever, and there’s no getting out. It used to be enough to live inside the gray, to accept the things I couldn’t change even if that meant everything. They’ve been holding these warnings about a possible second wave of deaths, like an axe over our heads, as long as I’ve been here. Using our abilities will trigger it. Acting out will trigger it. Speaking or reading or thinking too hard about anything will trigger it. Only, they’ve done such a good job of making this place hell that I wouldn’t be surprised if the real one turned out to be a much nicer place.

Salvation will be found in obedience. Dad’s parting piece of advice when he walked me to the school bus that morning. I’ve dismantled the phrase a thousand times in my head and tried to reassemble it into something I read in the Bible. He spoke in parables and proverbs, and when he realized what I was, he barely spoke at all. Some part of me still thinks he would have loved me more if I’d died, because it’d mean I was saved.

Mom only wanted whatever Dad wanted.

I thought that was what I wanted, too, until I saw my bunkmate actually die in front of me. In this cabin, almost a year ago, as hard as it is to believe now. And it was nothing like those men in suits with the dead-eyed smiles promised—that it’d be as simple as going to sleep and never waking up. But that night, I’d stood over her and watched death come and electrify her from the inside out—I remember thinking, stupid and stunned and exhausted, This can’t be right, because IAAN wasn’t supposed to make your body thrash, wasn’t supposed to make you scream loud enough that not even clenched teeth could contain the sound. I thought it would be quiet, and authoritative—like a steady, warm hand reaching through the darkness to lift you out of this world.

Dad always spoke of God with more fear than reverence—always conscious of how angry He was with us, always disappointed as we fell short of His plan. In Sunday school, every lesson and teaching had been softened for us. He wasn’t an angry God, but a loving God. He was there for us when no one else was. We could lean on Him for strength.

Now I think that Dad was right all along. There’s no mercy, not in life, not even in death.

I’m already awake when the morning alarm starts clanging through the speaker in the far corner of the room. I stay on my back a moment longer, rubbing my hands over my face, before sitting up and sliding over the side of the bunk bed. My bare toes land on the edge of the wooden frame beneath me, and I use it to stretch over my mattress and straighten out my sheets. My shoes and sweatshirt are under the bottom bunk, but the space next to them is empty and has been since they took Ruby away.

No one is talking this morning, but the cabin is filled with small sounds of life. The old bunks creak and groan as the girls sleeping up top jump to the ground. Yawns stretch tired faces wide open. Joints crack as stiffness is worked out. I slip my shoes on, running my fingers along the fading number scrawled there in black permanent marker, 3284, to brush the dirt away. I can’t bring myself to look at the empty bed again, the bare mattress where she used to sleep.

I need to stop obsessing over this, but I can’t help it. Climbing up, climbing down, I can’t avoid the empty space; it sucks the air out of my chest, makes my head ache. I don’t understand how someone I barely knew can bring tears to the surface faster than thinking about my parents, my cousins, the other girls I’ve lived with for the last seven years. It’s like sitting in front of a nearly complete puzzle that’s missing only one piece—but that piece, the one that completes the image, is just...gone. Not in the box.

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