Dusgadh, Essence of Life (Book One of The Awakening Series
My family was everything to me; it still is, I guess. Unfortunately, my family consists of only two people now. The substance of my life was taken from me. Ripped right from under me, like a Band-Aid from a bleeding wound. The burning ﬂesh is still tender, just like the memory. It’s a day I try not to remember, but the shattered remnant of the girl I once was…she won’t let me forget it. The image plays like a scene from a ﬁlm, forcing me to relive the worst day of my life.
The day started out like any other. We got up and got ready for school. My sister and I had separate bathrooms, so we never squabbled over that part of our mornings. Yet there was always the typical sister banter at the breakfast table—my sister rolled her eyes when I talked, and I stuck out my tongue at her in response. That morning Becky had ﬂung a spoonful of her oatmeal at me, staining my favorite white blouse with a purplish blueberry smear. I was about to dump my entire bowl of Cheerios on her head when my mom interrupted in her usual diplomatic way.
“That’s enough, girls. Just eat your breakfast before you’re late for school.” My mom had saved Becky from a cold milk bath. “Go change your blouse, sweetheart, I’ll get the stain out.”
I looked at my sister with disgust and quietly cursed her, Karma, Karma, Karma, Becky. I had a sly smile on my face. She knew I would get her back when Mom wasn’t around to see. How naive I was to think that.
Becky was a senior in high school, and I was in eighth grade. We had no mutual friends and a ﬁve-year gap between us. Needless to say, we were two separate entities once we got on the bus: she would sit with her friends, and I would sit by myself. I preferred solitude over the schoolgirl gossip about cute boys and school dances. We left for school just like every other day—a kiss for Mom, a kiss for Dad, and onto the bus we went. But that day would turn out to be tragically diﬀerent.
I don’t know where my sister was when the call came, but I was in the lunchroom with my best friend, Phoebe. The guidance counselor, Mrs. Freeway, came in and called me over. She looked perplexed but remained silent as she led me back to her oﬃce. My sister stood there with a police oﬃcer. She was nodding to him, but then she started to shake her head as her mouth turned into a grotesque frown. Before I could reach her, she passed out, falling into the oﬃcer’s arms. He caught her before glancing at me. His eyes were full of pity and I knew something bad had happened.
No amount of schooling could ever prepare me for what I had learned next.
Mrs. Freeway took my arm, but I pulled away and went to Becky. We carried her to a couch in Mrs. Freeway’s oﬃce. I took a seat and placed Becky’s head in my lap. Why weren’t they getting Becky help?
“What’s going on?” I asked.
At that moment, a lady I didn’t know appeared in the doorway. There was some hand shaking, head nodding, and quiet talk. I couldn’t understand. My eyes ﬁxated on her ID badge: Human Services. Everything I knew of these people was bad news. I’d heard stories of how they took children from their parents at even the smallest suspicion of abuse. Why is she here? She can’t possibly be here for us.
The lady slowly approached and kneeled down in front of me, taking in the sight of an unconscious Becky. She was here for us, and my mind went wild with the possibilities of her presence. Our parents were awesome. We never lacked for anything, and we were certainly never abused. Why would this woman need to stick her nose into our lives?
“Hi, Ember, my name’s Jessica,” she introduced herself. “I’m from Human Services.” I already knew who she was, and my impatience showed in my expression. I rolled my eyes and let out a long wisp of air, blowing it in her face.
“What? Just tell me!” My head was swirling, and a loud buzzing was taking over my thoughts.
“Okay.” She paused and looked at Mrs. Freeway. “There was a ﬁre…more like an explosion, at your house this morning.”
“Your parents were in the house, Ember,” Mrs. Freeway said gently. “I’m so sorry. Jessica’s here to take you and your sister to a foster home until we sort things out.” Mrs. Freeway’s voice was full of concern, but quickly became muﬄed as my own sense of urgency suppressed it.
“Oh, my God! My mom and dad—are they all right? Where are they?” All at once, panic overtook my body. “Wake up, Becky!” Tears started to roll down my cheeks as I shook my unconscious sister. “Now!”
I went into survival mode. I threw Becky oﬀ me and stood up, pushing Jessica over and out of my way to clear a path for my escape.
“There is no way I am going to a foster home,” I stammered as I darted for the door.
Hands were grasping at my arms, but I can’t recall who tried to stop me, whether it was Mrs. Freeway, the police oﬃcer, or someone else. It didn’t matter, I dodged them all.
“Ember! Wait!” I heard Becky’s weak voice calling me, but my body, my instincts, my fear had taken over. I ran out the door and up the street; I wanted to go home. I needed to see for myself.
I came upon a scene of uniformed people and whirling lights. They were bright, somewhat blinding, even with the sun overhead. Fire trucks, cop cars, ambulances, and people—so many people—scrambled around what used to be my home. Yet it was silent, I heard nothing, and the people seemed to ﬂoat by me as if they were caught in a time warp. When the coroner’s vehicle came into view, and the open door revealed two black, lifeless forms on gurneys, my lungs seized up and I couldn’t breathe. I dropped to my knees as my hearing returned, and the hustle of the people surrounded me as I screamed for my parents.
I was tackled by my puppies, and they covered me with kisses and soot from the rubble. An animal control oﬃcer approached with a cage, and he slowed to set the pen down. I hadn’t thought I could feel any more pain, but the sight of him strangled me. I rocked back, and away from him, all the while clutching my puppies. No, no, no, not them too. My whole world had been ripped apart, and this man was about to take away more. I opened and closed my mouth several times in an attempt to speak, but I couldn’t think of anything to say to him. I slumped down and buried my face in their fur, inhaling deeply. I wanted to remember their smell, sweet jasmine—they smelled like my mom’s perfume.
“Miss, do you have a place to keep them?” I shook my head and started to cry again. Why was this happening?
I hugged them tightly and then wiped my face. The oﬃcer seemed to sympathize with my reluctance to let him take them, as he placed a hand on my shoulder, for comfort I guess. He assured me I could retrieve them as soon as I had a suitable place, but I was terriﬁed I would never see them again. Somehow I had mustered the strength I needed and helped him put Zig and Zag into the cage. Their yelping and whining was tearing at my heart as if pulling a part of me with them.
I had caught something out of the corner of my eye—a cup. I picked it up and examined it; was this all I had left? My parents had gotten it for me just a few days before the ﬁre. It was a simple cup, but it seemed so much more as I looked at the spot where our house used to be. The rest of my possessions charred and melted, were scattered across the black-covered earth that used to be our yard. As I stood there staring at the mess in front of me, I saw something glimmering. I looked around to be sure no one was watching me, and I sneaked over to the edge of the rubble.
I knew what it was the moment I drew close to it. My pendant. I must have forgotten to put it on that morning and it was covered with a thin layer of blackish-brown dust. When I touched it, the surface was cold; that seemed strange at the time since it was so close to the smoldering ﬁre.
As I dusted it oﬀ, I caressed the pendant’s edges and thought of my mom. It was a heavy, thick metal with inlaid stone. I’d never seen another like it; it was truly one of a kind. I clutched the piece to my chest and I thought about the pendant. My thumb brushed the edges of the stone. It was smooth but seemed graded, as if it had been chiseled to create its unusual shape, and it was oddly shaped. The stone itself was split in half like those silly best friend necklaces, except there was no other half.
I remembered the day my mother had given it to me. I’d had this necklace since I was a child. My mom had said it was a family heirloom that had been passed on for generations. I recalled her telling me that the pendant chose its owner. I had jumped up and down, screeching with the excitement of the story. It picked me! I can still hear my young voice rambling on and on about the fairytale my mom revealed. Her face was radiant, with her tender eyes looking upon me as she told its story.
The perfume she wore lingered in the air, I still smelled it when I closed my eyes. She’d said the necklace hadn’t been worn for centuries, but when I was born, its center ﬂashed with life.
She said that was the only sign she needed to understand that the necklace had chosen me. I must have been ﬁve or six when she gave it to me. My eyes surely would have been huge saucers of wonder, I was so excited. The giddiness of that childhood moment was still very much alive. It was the ﬁrst necklace I was ever given, and the most important piece I would ever be entrusted with.
Someone touched my arm and got my attention— Jessica, the social worker, was there. As she spoke, I wondered how long she had been standing in front of me. On the street behind her was a car, and my sister sat in the backseat with her face frozen forward. There was no sense ﬁghting the inevitable, so I closed my mouth and let her take me. Tired and defeated, she placed me in her car and drove us away. Away from our home.
I hardly remember the faces of those ﬁrst caretakers. Becky and I only stayed in their home a few weeks, enough time to handle the legalities. At my parents’ funeral, I was completely numb. I think zombies acted more alive than I did. At the reading of the will, the estate lawyer had a monotone voice, and he kept droning on about things that just didn’t seem to matter. I felt lost. Nothing made sense to me. I don’t know how I would have survived it without Becky by my side.
Being eighteen, and one of the older high school seniors, she was appointed as my legal guardian. It turned out that our parents had left us a healthy sum of money, which was a welcome surprise. Becky and I wanted to put our terrible past behind us and decided to start fresh somewhere else. Having a substantial bankroll allowed us to easily transition into new surroundings.
After looking at a few diﬀerent places, we ﬁnally settled on Veni, Georgia. Becky said the place had character, but I didn’t care what it had, it was purchased with blood money. I bailed the puppies out of animal control and we took them with us. Zig and Zag—silly, but ﬁtting names for our pedigreed rottweilers, since they continually ran in a zigzag formation. How they survived the ﬁre, I don’t know, but I was happy to get them back.
Shortly after the move, the pups just up and vanished one day. I put posters out everywhere, but we never saw them again. I was heartbroken. I searched for months, and I even visited the shelters once a week, but they never turned up. My run of bad luck seemed to have followed me to Veni.
Sometimes I would think about what we left behind when we moved from Fanville to Veni. Fanville was a small village nestled between hills in upstate New York. Farmland stretched as far as the eyes could see. If you stood in the village square, you could tell where the property lines divided the countryside. On hot days, you could smell the distinct scent of country living—fresh manure. I never thought I would miss the smell until I left it.
I especially missed Phoebe. I can picture her now—a tiny tank at ﬁve feet tall and 110 pounds of solid muscle. The small scars on her face showcased her scrappy nature— picking ﬁghts with people just to get things going and then stepping out untouched while a war ensued. She was always so much fun, and she brought out the crazy in me. We used to play ding-dong-ditch all the time—late at night, of course. But Phoebe was never satisﬁed by just ringing a doorbell and running. No, we had to hang around and see the expressions on the faces of people as they opened the door.
Once, we found a couple sitting in the living room in front of a huge picture window. We sat there scratching and tapping on the glass, giggling the whole time. We could see them look toward us and then to each other; after a few times of doing this, they started arguing whether or not anything was really there. All we could do was laugh. I know it wasn’t very nice, but at thirteen, it was hysterical to us.
Now, as I sat in the unfamiliar town of Veni, Georgia, I wondered how I was going to make it without my parents, my dogs, or my best friend.