It only took a day. Just a single day.
In twenty-four hours, everything was gone. In twenty-four short hours, the town had been reduced to a pile of grey concrete and ashes. The tall trees that once surrounded the vibrant green park were nothing more than scorched trunks. The park that was always full of life had been reduced to a pile of melted metal and ashes. The plastic play equipment had vanished; and so had the people. Fragments of dun white bones are the only evidence remaining of the life that once belonged to this wasteland.
He stood before the park, using his right hand to shield his azure eyes against the sun. They were fixated on the bone fragments before him.
Which ones belonged to his little sister?
The thought sent a chill down his spine despite the heat from the rising sun. Evidence of tears stained his dirty face but none came now. His eyes had dried up when he entered the town, trailing a large black suitcase behind him.
He released the handle of that suitcase at the same time as he bent down, reaching before him and picking up one of the fragments. It crumbled before his tired eyes. The soft white dust floated back to the ground and mixed with the ashes. Some particles clung to his fingers, painting the already pale skin white. He stared at them, wondering if a thin layer of dust was all that was left of his beloved sister. He yearned to bring the dead back. He wanted to transform the remains into the human they used to be — to see if she truly was amongst these park casualties; but he knew he couldn’t. Biological alchemy of any kind–even so much as curing the common cold– was forbidden. Always had been, always would be. Even with his skill level, he couldn’t break the laws of nature.
A soft sigh escaped his lips as his eyes closed and the fragments and dust transformed into reminiscent images…
She was standing in the doorway of their home, right in front of her mother. Her two thin arms were raised above her head, waving at him. She wore a flowery pink dress and a bright smile that matched her emerald eyes.
As he pulled open the passenger side door of the taxi parked in front of their house, he felt those two thin arms wrap around his waist. Her head rested against his back.
“You’ll paint me a rainbow when you get back, right?” she asked. Her voice was soft and serious, somber even. With a moment’s hesitation, she added, “You’ll come back, right?”
That question had surprised him. She wasn’t supposed to know about his illness; Mother had asked him not to tell her yet. She was supposed to think he was visiting an art school. So why did she sound so sad? Why did she ask him-
“It’s just…” she continued, interrupting his thoughts, “I had a nightmare last night. You left and never came home…” He heard a soft sniffle behind him.
He clasped his warm hands over her shaking ones, gently reassuring her. “I’ll be home in two days,” he started, and paused before adding, “And when I get back, I’ll paint you that rainbow.” He smiled, even though she couldn’t see him. Each year, around spring-time, she asked him to paint her a rainbow, which she would tape to the window so she saw it every time she gazed at the sky. Each year, he did, even when he was busy. He always made time for her–no matter what.
Her head lifted from his back and he knew she was staring at him. “Promise?” she asked, her voice a little more cheerful.
“Promise.” he reassured her. He saw her relieved smile in the reflection of the taxi’s window…
One day. He had been gone one day. He was supposed to return the next but…
There was nothing to return to.
He didn’t truly understand until he walked into his small hometown and saw the desolate remains of his life. They were right; there is truly nothing to return to.
He looks down at his shaking hand and closes it into a fist. The veins on the back of his hand are black, like the tips of his fingers.
The doctors gave him one week to live.
That was two days ago.
He looks back at the ashes and bits of bones before standing, pushing his crimson hair out of his eyes with his left hand. A few rebel strands remain to block his vision. He plucks them out. The color is the same shade as his sister’s hair. He can’t bear to see it, not now.
Now he needs to get to work.
“Five days…” he whispers to himself. His eyes lift towards the sky. “Five days.” he says a little louder. A cloud slowly moves across the vast blue space. “I’ll be with you in five days, Elyza.”