Falling into Ashes


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Jury Selection

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They used to say that he was a legend in the making, a sun god rising from the ashes.

With his precise pyrokinesis and agile wing speed, he was nicknamed Phoenix Light. He was a famous hero that had reached stellar heights in his career.

One day, as darkness descended upon the city of Fuego, painting the evening sky with midnight blue hues, a bloodcurdling scream pierced the night. Phoenix hadn’t even been on duty when this occurred, he had been taking a leisure flight around the city, but he still swooped into the scene anyway.

The acrid stench of smoke could be captured from a mile away. There were no visible flames seeping through, but with his keen eyesight, he could see orange and red embers radiating from the windows, eating away at the curtains.

While flying into the house in the search of the agonizing wails, he stumbled upon an eerie revelation in the kitchen.

Sitting in the center of a barren kitchen, the source of the screams came from a figure that had been bound to a chair with rope.

Fire had already scaled up the person’s legs, burning away at their fabric ankles. A pair of black button eyes stared back at Phoenix, accompanied by crooked stitch lines for a mouth and limp yarn for hair. The contents of its stomach oozed out stuffing and gave partial view to a blocky object.

It was a recorder.

Before Phoenix could even process what was happening, a chunk of the ceiling crashed right next to him.

He didn’t have much time.

Just as he was rushing back to where he came from, an intense boom resonated from the upper floor. The entire house creaked in agony. More debris came down, more wooden planks shook, and in that moment, Phoenix knew this was a trap.

He was all too familiar with what an explosion sounded like.

Suddenly, a loud thunk dropped from a gap in the ceiling.

With an instinctive flap of his wings, he reeled back, watching as a woman’s body collapsed. She crashed onto the floor in a heap of crooked limbs and mangled hair. Her blank eyes were blown wide open and her mouth was agape, as if she had been screaming before—

He blocked out that last thought.

With his nerves standing on edge, Phoenix zipped past the corpse before making his escape.

In his haste, he decided to bust through a window, his wings deflecting himself from the glass shards.

By the time he had dropped and rolled onto the ground, the echoes of sirens had drowned out the chaos of the flames.

Reinforcements had arrived.

The house fire was soon extinguished and the whole incident was smoothed over after that.

On that same night, Phoenix submitted a report to HQ, stating that he believed the house fire to be suspicious. The president took his word for it and sent out investigators to scour the area.

One day, Phoenix was told to come into HQ as soon as possible.

He had been at a restaurant with his old friend Long Larry, a retired hero and his former mentor, when he received a call. Seeing as though this was an urgent matter, Larry offered to drive Phoenix there.

As soon as Phoenix had stepped inside the building for HQ, a group of guards aimed their tranquilizer guns at him.

One of them had even taken him by surprise with a body slam to the floor.

As the pain traveled down from his chin, the cold sting of metal biting into Phoenix’s wrists triggered an uncomfortable groan from him.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” he exclaimed.

“Phoenix Light,” the guard addressed, “you are officially under arrest for suspicion of manslaughter.”

A gray cloud of smoke hissed from Phoenix’s gritted teeth. As Phoenix thrashed around and tried to fight back, his wings working in a flurry of erratic motions, one of the guards shot him with a tranquilizer to the shoulder.

Phoenix’s vision faded out.

When he yanked his eyes again, he found himself in an interrogation room with the president from HQ.

Outside of the interrogation room, several guards and detectives were watching. His friend Larry was also there and peering through a glass pane, his features creased with concern.

“Phoenix,” the president called out. “On the twenty-first of October, a week before today, you reported to us about an incident. You believed that a third-party culprit was responsible for it.”

“Why am I here?” Phoenix demanded. “What’s going on?”

“Though your claims of there being a dummy and recorder were proven true throughout the investigation, as we looked further into the matter, we found a camera that was still in working condition up in the attic, the place that took the least amount of damage during the fire.”

“How—”

“Before you can make your claims,” the president cut off, “we’re going to show you the contents of the video.”

Phoenix just leaned his back against his chair, waiting.

With a click and flicker, a projector revived to life before showcasing the video.

As soon as the video had flashed on, an image of Phoenix’s face peered through. The camera angle then zoomed out, revealing him with a wicked grin on his ebony complexion. The maniacal glaze in his brown eyes was almost surreal.

This isn’t me, Phoenix wanted to scream, but he bit on his tongue instead.

While still recording, the video then switched its focus onto a woman tied with rope behind Fake Phoenix.

It was the same woman that Phoenix had found dead during the night of the house fire.

“Let me go!” the female resident had screamed, all raspy and hoarse. Traces of mascara had streaked down her cheeks in black rivulets. “Please, I’m begging you!”

From there, the rest of the footage was a blur.

By the time it had ended with an abrupt cut, horror evident in Phoenix’s face. Waves of nausea washed over him and a bitter taste was left in his mouth.

“There’s no way that’s me,” he finally spoke, after a long stretch of silence. “That’s not me! This is all a misunderstanding!”

“We’ll see whether it is in court.” The president crossed her arms. “At the moment, we’ll be holding you here in jail before your trial.”

“No, no!” The last vowel in his plea echoed with a broken sound. “You don’t understand! I would never do such a thing!”

But his protests fell on deaf ears.

“The video evidence suggests otherwise,” the president said, “and until then, you have a right to remain silent.”

With that, the case was put on hold.

But it would only be the beginning of Phoenix Light's downfall.

A couple of weeks motioned by after that. The more the clock ticked forward, the more Phoenix felt like he was descending deeper into a spiral of depression as he rotted in his jail cell.

Then, one day, he received a visit from Larry.

“I know you’ll pull through, just hang in there,” Larry assured. As his fingers wrapped around the cell bars, he leaned closer. “I know you’re an innocent man.”

With his wings folded in, Phoenix just stared back at him with a defeated expression. “I just don’t understand how this could happen. He looked exactly like me.”

Then, all the worry lines in Larry’s features vanished. “Oh Phoenix, I really thought you’d figure it out by now.”

“What?”

“I told you . . .” As he trailed off, Larry’s face transformed, transitioning from a pale-skinned tone to a darker one. His green eyes morphed into a brown color and his flat nose sharpened, shaping itself to be more hooked. “I know you’re an innocent man.”

When he reiterated that last sentence, he captured each word in Phoenix’s early adult voice.

“You . . .”

Phoenix couldn’t say anymore, for he was numb with silence.

Larry had been retired for so long that he almost forgot about his power: the ability to shape shift.

How could he have forgotten?

“Why?” was all Phoenix could utter.

“Because ever since you came along, I was no longer ‘needed’ and had to retire thanks to you. I was no longer relevant!” Larry stepped back, his face quickly changing back to normal. “But it’s game over now, Phoenix Light. It’s time for you to say goodbye to being a hero, just like how I did all those years ago.”

With that, a gleeful laugh erupted from Larry.

The rise of Phoenix Light would soon fall into ashes.
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Image of Victoria LaBarre
Victoria LaBarre · ago
I like the plot twist! It's also really interesting how this is a superhero story! I know judging is over and no matter how the winners turn out but I liked your story and was wondering if you would like to meet the other story authors? I'm trying to set up a meet-and-greet on UTA campus. Would you be interested/ what time are you free on Friday?
Image of JEN .
JEN . · ago
Honestly, this is really interesting. The ending really shook me, in a good way though, because I like that surprise factor. It makes me want to know what happens next.
Image of Helianthus Sorceress
Helianthus Sorceress · ago
Thank you! I’m grateful for the read and for your liking for the little twist there.
Image of Chasidah Fried
Chasidah Fried · ago
Very much the fantasy -magical genre. You should write more and upload to this site. Good Luck.
Image of Helianthus Sorceress