It's smoky and the air is full of ashes. And I can't breathe.

I hear voices shouting, "Get out of the way!" and "Get as far away from the area as possible!", and I try to listen to them, but I can't move. I try. I honestly try. But I just can't move my legs.

The bright, glowing flames that licked the night sky were producing a choking smoke that was burning my mouth and throat and nearly blinding me. I'm trying to scream, but nothing is coming out of my mouth. I feel it's hopeless. I feel that the flames will soon consume me too.

Then it happens. I feel a hand closing around mine and giving me a tug. I stumble back, trying to shake the unknown hand loose, but it tugs again, and the next thing I know it's dragging me away, pulling me farther and farther from the fire until for what seems like several hours.

But the hand finally lets go, and my vision is back. I quickly swoop around to see whom it was who just saved my life.

But they are gone.

I awoke gasping for air and rubbing my puffy, tired eyes. Once the fear passed and relaxation set it, I lay back down and sighed.

I'd had that dream often. Much too often, actually. It was a memory, really, of the night my parents died three years ago. I was only fourteen-years-old when it happened, but it seems like it was just yesterday.

I'd been coming home from a friend's house. I knew I was late that night and was ready to face a scolding from my parents. But it never came. For when I finally reached my home, I found it engulfed in flames. The terror that surged through me when I saw it was indescribable. And I stood there for what seemed like an hour until I was numb. Until I couldn't move anymore. The fire was reaching me and I was ready to die but someone, I don't know who, saved my sorry ass. And I was never able to thank them.

I got up out of bed and pulled out my long mess of a ponytail, my strawberry blond hair spilling across my shoulders. I rubbed my tired face and yawned. I did not want to go to school that day. Not one bit.

Nevertheless, I didn't really have a legitimate reason to skip, so I began to undress out of my sweat-drenched pajamas and slip on some dry, day clothes. Feeling lazy that Friday morning, I put on my wrinkled, old sweat pants and oversized hoodie over my black tank top. The bags under my eyes were very unpleasant to look at, so I scrawled some make up on over them.

I grabbed my backpack and darted down the stairs, making a beeline for the front door, seeing as I was going to be late…again.

"Claire, hold up."

My hand was just on the bronze-colored doorknob when Miss Laura's shrill voice rang in my ear.

It's not that I didn't like Miss Laura; it's just that she has the type of voice that can make people cringe. Like nails on a chalkboard, you know? But she is a very, very nice woman. She cares for all the kids here in the orphanage.

That's right, you guessed it. I live in The Vasquezville Orphanage for all the abandoned kids from ages zero to eighteen. In fact, next year will be my last year living here before they have to let me go. You see, I've been here since I was fourteen, and you can imagine the sorrow that's come with it. No one wants to adopt a girl in her mid-teen years. They want to adopt a child, who they can watch grow, and blah, blah, blah. Whatever. I already know that I won't have much of a bright and shiny future on the streets.

I turned. "Yes, Miss Laura?"

"You forgot this." She handed me a notebook that I remembered leaving on the table in the study room the night before.

I thanked her kindly, grabbing the notebook and shutting the door behind me.

Miraculously, I made it to school just in time before my first period teacher, Mrs. Penske, started taking attendance. I sighed with relief as I sat in my seat and called out "Here", as she read my name.

"Hey, Santos."

That's my last name, by the way.

I turned to see my friend Sarah, as she poked me multiple times with her mechanical pencil.


"Can I copy your math homework for next period?" she asked, with a guilty smile.

I sighed. This wasn't unusual. In fact, it happens at least twice a week. Sarah's a very forgetful person. She says it's because of her busy schedule, but I know it's just because she's lazy. I reached inside my backpack and pulled out my math notebook, handing it to her. "No guarantee the answers are correct."

"It's cool," she said, beginning to copy. "As long as they're answers."

"I'm just saying." I sighed. "My strong subject is English, not Math."

"I don't think anyone in the eleventh grade has a strong subject in anything besides you." She talked fast while copying at the same time. "And Douglass."

I laughed. "Douglass' strong subject is all of them."

Sarah chuckled as well. "But I'm sure if you work hard enough you can beat him for valedictorian next year."

"As if I'd want to write a valedictory speech," I snorted. It was a lie, though. I wanted to be valedictorian next year more than anything. But my bigger worry was the whole "getting kicked out onto the streets next year" thing.

"All done!" She handed me back my notebook.

"Thanks," I replied, stuffing the already torn up mess into my tornado of a backpack and turning back around.

"So…" Mrs. Penske began. "I'm going to go out on a whim here and say that about half you didn't read what you were supposed to last night."

Some people nodded their heads shamefully while others sat still and solemn.

"That's too bad that you're going to fail this quiz then." Her smirk grew wide and I could hear Sarah groaning behind me. "Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Label the page one through ten and we'll begin."

I could already feel the hell in my day beginning.

I walked through the front door of the orphanage and found Miss Penny, a young woman who had been working there for a few years now, vacuuming the small living room that you walk right into when you go through the front. She looked up at me and I smiled. I've grown quite fond of Miss Penny ever since she started working at the orphanage. Actually, she's kind of like my best friend there.

"Claire!" she exclaimed straightening up and turning off the vacuum. She returned the smile back to me. "I have to talk to you."

I threw my backpack onto the green couch nearby and sat down. "What's up?"

Miss Penny quickly ran into the kitchen and came back with a colorful paper in her hand. "I have good news."

"I like good news."

She sat down next to and shoved the paper under my nose. "Check this out."

I grabbed the paper that read The ECDH Program. "What is it?"

"The Vasquezville Orphanage has decided to take part in the ECDH Program," she replied with a happy smile. "And we really want you to participate."

"ECDH?" I asked. "What does that stand for?"

"Every Child Deserves a Home," she said happily. "It's where people who are thinking of adopting a child are given one to live with them for twelve weeks."

"And you want me to sign up to live with a family for twelve weeks." I studied the paper.

Miss Penny nodded. "You know how much we all really want you to have a real home."

I thought about it. What if I was forced to live with some bum who didn't really give two shits about me?

But, it was worth a try, I decided, and agreed to try it.

Miss Penny squealed with delight. "Excellent! I'll let them know so they can make the preparations."

"Can't wait," I lied.

"Johnny," Dr. England said one day while Johnny was attending his weekly sleep studies appointment. "Have you ever thought of living with someone else?"

Johnny paused, putting a finger to his chin. "Not really," he replied. "Why?"

"I was just thinking," Dr. England huffed. She waved the thought away, as it it were an annoying fly. "Never mind. Forget I said anything."

"Wait," Johnny retorted. "I want to hear what you have to say."

"Well," she replied. "I was thinking that, perhaps, if you had someone to live with you, someone to keep you in balance for a while, then your sleep would be a bit more…" she chewed around her words, searching for the right one, "regulated."

Johnny paused, thinking. "Well, I guess it would depend on what you had in mind."

Dr. England reached under her desk and pulled out a flyer, smoothing it out on her desk. "It's called the ECDH Program. If you sign up, you'll receive an orphan for twelve weeks. I just thought that by having someone live with you for a while, then-"

"I'll do it," Johnny replied happily.

Dr. England was stunned. "A decision so soon? Don't you want to think about it? I mean, it's another human life you're living with for twelve whole weeks."

"Well, like you said, doc, it'll be good for me," Johnny said, standing up. "Plus, it'll be fun. Unless the brat is annoying, in which case," he flashed a most unpleasant smile, "I might have to kill 'em."

Dr. England was still befuddled. "You shouldn't joke about things like that, Johnny!" She straightened her glasses. "But…if you really insist, then I can sign you up."

"Great!" Johnny replied, swinging the door open. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some business to attend to."

And he was gone.

I stood in front of the orphanage, my bags packed and the cool March air blowing on my face. A car was coming to pick me up and take me to the new house I was supposed to live in for twelve weeks. And believe me, I was nervous as hell.

A small black car pulled up, and I stepped forward to load my bags inside it. Miss Penny, who was standing behind me, came over to help.

Everything was loaded on and Miss Penny gave me a hug. "Good luck," she said with a smile.

I returned the smile and stepped inside the car, hoping and praying that wherever I was going, it would be a warm, welcoming place.

Oh, how I was wrong.

The car pulled up in front an old, beaten down house. I winced at the fact that it was slowly falling apart and stepped out to grab my bags.

Hauling them up the front steps, I couldn't help but wonder who would answer the door and greet me. I wondered what kind of person they would be, what kind of job they had. All these questions buzzed around in my head and I could feel a drop of sweat making its way down my forehead. I sucked in a deep breath and rang the door. That was my first unusual experience, ringing the freaking doorbell. I heard a loud scream coming from what seemed like the basement of the house. I thought it was just my imagination, so I watched and waited as the door creaked open.

"Yes?" came a male voice. A face appeared.

I tried my best to look anywhere but at the man. I focused my eyes on the address and read it over in my mind. 777. Wasn't that the number of heaven or something?

"I-I'm Claire," I stuttered. "I-I'm the person that's going to live h-here for t-twelve weeks."

The door swung open entirely. "Well come on in." The voice seemed to become happier, more uplifting.

Shakily, I stepped inside the house and heard the door close behind me. I'm not even joking when I say the place was a dump; papers and litter everywhere, torn up old furniture, and shattered glass on the floor. I turned toward the man, and he smiled back at me.

He was tall. Really tall. And way too skinny to be considered healthy. His skin pasty, and his eyes were dull, like he hadn't slept in weeks. I had a bad feeling about this already.

"Sorry about the mess." He walked passed me. "I tried my best to clean up." He turned back towards me and held out a hand. "I'm Johnny C. by the way. But please call me Nny."

I quickly shook his hand back. "Claire," I replied. "Claire Santos."

"Nice to meet ya, Claire." Johnny grinned. "You can leave your stuff there. We'll get it later."

I nodded, and dropped my bags.

Johnny—sorry, Nny—took me on a tour of his so-called "house". He showed me the kitchen, living room, and even his room, where he told me I would sleep, considering he rarely sleeps anyway (no surprise there). He showed me everything but the basement, which, when I asked, he informed me to never go into.

I agreed, considering the seriousness of his tone, but I couldn't help but ask why.

I thought he'd say something like, "That's none of your business". But instead, he smiled, and said, "It's a huge mess down there, a bigger one than up here, actually. There are also a lot of sharp objects, and I don't want you to get hurt."

'Great', I thought. 'A house with sharp objects and huge messes. This is going to be the worst twelve weeks of my life.'

This story was originally on my old account, UnicornxNinja. But now I'm moving all my FanFiction activity to this new account.

As for updates, I am fairly busy on weekdays, so I'm going to be doing all my writing on the weekends, and will update as soon as I possibly can. As for next month, some of you may know that November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which I participate in every year, so that will most likely be the month with the slowest updates, so apologies in advance for that.

Other than that, I hope you enjoy what's to come and would appreciate reviews! Thanks so much!

~Sweet Effervescence