She spent all evenings alone, kept in the dark, all doors and windows barred and boarded over, never understanding why.
There was an endless parade of strangers taking care of her. There must have been feeding her, for she was never hungry, but never remembered what she had eaten last, nor when. They must have been grooming her, for she was never in rags, but never remembered when she had bathed or dressed, nor when she had not. They must have been taken good care of her, but, for the life of her, could not remember a single instance of sharing anything with anyone.
She sensed their disgust. She felt their fear. They loathed her, yet kept her pristine. But alone. There was never a kind word, never a moment of warmth or even kindness. And she could not remember if it had been one night only or a week or a month.
And she was alone, always.
What had she done? Who were her keepers? Why did they provide everything but shared nothing?
She imagined herself the worst person in the world to deserve such isolation. But she rebelled at the thought, sensing in her heart that she was only she, a very young girl alone. And shunned for no reason.
That one night the memory of father and mother and siblings came to her, and the pang of longing was greater than the ocean, more bitter than her loneliness, and she sought to escape.
But her boxed-in room was mighty, and though she tried to pry the bars and loosen the boards, there was nothing in the room that she could use as a tool. She was surprised to notice for the first time that night (that week, that month, that year?) that there was only soft bedding on the empty floor of her room and nothing else. No furniture, not even a chamber pot. She was surprised to find all her efforts in breaking free repaired and reinforced. Had she not just pried a board off a moment ago? Had she not just slightly bent one of the bars? Maybe it had been last night. Or the night before. She could not remember.
Instead, she worked at scratching the floorboards a little at a time, around the nails that secured them. After a night, or after a week, or after a month, she was able to loosen several nails, and then she would carefully place them back, but loosely. And after however long it took her to do so, one night she was able to lift off half of the floorboards and crawled into the night.
She wandered. She did not know any of the places that the night showed her. There was no moon, only strange stars. But finally her errant feet carried her to a familiar park. She remembered a house where mother and father and siblings must be waiting for her, close to that park. She imagined them sick with worry and tears on their face, not knowing where she had been.
When she finally remembered which house at the edge of the park used to be her childhood home, the Sun peeked over the line of roofs, filling the world with red magnificence.
The girl who had been kept in the dark burst into flames.