by Nathan Perrin


Every night Chloe visits me in my dreams.

Flames surround my bed, smoke all around. Her eyes look at me, lifeless. She’s charred and bloodied all over. She floats. She opens her mouth to say something, but nothing ever comes out. She’s the last person I ever saw die in a fire. I was a firefighter—she was trapped in an apartment building.

I was pinned to the ground. I made eye contact with her as she burned up, she never screamed. Her eyes, though. Her eyes always seem to plead with me: Why didn’t you do something?

It’s the same look she gave me as she died. I couldn’t do anything. I was in shock and pinned to the floor. We just stared at each other as the flames consumed her.

Every night, it seems she punishes me for not rescuing her.

Chloe points at me as fire surrounds my bed.

And then I wake up.

I sit in the marriage counselor’s office the next morning. My marriage with Zoe is on the rocks. She doesn’t know how to handle me now—the unexpected anger, the mood changes.

“Until you confront these things head on, you’ll never be free,” says the marriage counselor.

I want to tell the counselor that he’s full of it. He hasn’t seen the things I’ve seen. He doesn’t know what it’s like to watch someone die slowly or to rescue someone. He doesn’t know what it’s like to come home to a silent, empty home with a wife who doesn’t understand him.

Instead, I nod my head—out of respect for Zoe.

“I’m not sure how much longer I can do this,” she wipes away a tear.

I just stare at her, despondent.

I drive to the driftless region of Wisconsin a week later.

I’m using the benefits and backpay from the fire insurance injuries to take a brief vacation.

“I need this,” I told Zoe.

She nodded her head, “You do what you want.”

“I’ll be back,” I touched her hand.

“I know,” she looked away.

As I pull into the rental house’s driveway, I take note of how isolated I am. I love this. In Chicago, it’s so crowded—I can barely hear myself think there. I take my bags inside and stretch out on the couch.

I enjoy the silence in the empty space. Wood paneling, rustic feel. Packers posters on the wall, deer heads. An old shotgun. I chuckle. Cheeseheads will be cheeseheads.

I lay down on the couch and close my eyes, and prayed the usual prayers I do when I’m about to sleep. Learned them from my seminary days when I thought I was going to be a priest.

Chloe visits me again later on, floats above me. This time she’s in the new house. She points towards me this time and lets out a barely audible word. I lean in closer to hear.

Burn,” she says. “Burn.”

I eat some pizza as I watch the television that night. My feet are on the table. I crack open a beer.

I get a text message from Zoe: “How are you holding up?” it reads.

I text back, “Am doing okay. Love you.”

I see her typing for a few moments. There’s a brief pause, and then she sends a heart instead of whatever she wrote.

I smile.


The television shuts off.

I sigh and pick up the remote, trying to turn it on. Nothing.

That’s when I hear something behind me.

Burn,” says a familiar voice.

“Chloe?” I turn around.

There’s no one else in the house.

Burn,” the voice says again.

Auditory hallucinations. I heard about this. My buddy Francis once had ’em. He told me to take earphones and listen to music should it ever happen.

So that’s what I do.

I put in earphones and start walking up to bed.

Chloe has a friend this time in my dreams.

Her friend is a little boy, I think. He’s wearing pajamas and he’s on fire.

Burn,” they both say. “Burn.”

“What do you want?” I ask.

They don’t respond.

“Please… tell me what you want,” I say. “I can help you.”


I wake up in night sweats.

“It isn’t real,” I whisper. “It isn’t real.”

I’m washing the dishes as I listen to podcasts. I’m scared of what will happen if I take out my earbuds. Zoe is going to call soon. Hearing her voice will do me some good, I figure.

I stop the dishes when I smell smoke.

I turn around and start walking through the house, hands trembling. I take out my earphones. Walking from one room to another, I don’t see any fires.

That’s when I hear the whispering again.


I walk into the hallway.


I walk downstairs, the whispering gradually getting louder.

Burn. Burn. Burn.”

I get to the kitchen.


I close my ears and eyes and yell.

The chanting stops.

I open my eyes to see words burnt into the kitchen table: “LET US OUT.”

I sit at the table and trace the words with my finger.

“This can’t be real,” I whisper.

A few hours later, I’m on the phone with Zoe.

“How’s the vacation going?” she asks cheerfully.

“It’s going okay,” I lie.

I keep staring at the burn marks in the table.

“You know… having the same dreams,” I continue.

“You remember what the counselor says. You have to confront this. You can’t let this have power over you.”

I look at the bedroom and remember waking up in night sweats.

“You’re right,” I say.

“Do you remember when you wanted to be a priest?” Zoe continued. “Do you remember one of the things you told me?”

“I don’t remember much these days.”

“You said a true saint knows the night eventually ends, and continues forward anyway. Something about the fire purifying us.”

I pause and inhale deeper, “I sounded good back then.”

Later that night, I drink alcohol and swallow five melatonin.

I have to fight this. I have to figure this out. Chloe wants something from me.

I’m not sure if I believe in God or the church. I do believe in what I’m seeing though. And I need to fight this, whether or not it’s in my head doesn’t matter anymore. I need to be free. I need to release this.

I close my eyes and soon fall asleep.

Chloe visits me again. She offers her hand.

“Show me what you want,” I whisper.

I grab her hand and we start walking downstairs.

The living room isn’t there.

Instead, a group of what looks like settlers are gathered around a group of women and children. They are holding torches. The settlers’ eyes are filled with gleeful rage.

The women and children look up at me.

Let us go,” they whisper.

“How?” I ask. “How do I let you go?”

Burn,” they say. “Burn.”

The settlers throw the torches on the ground, and soon the children and women are caught up in flames.

I scream.

Burn it all down,” Chloe whispers before I wake up.

In the morning, I wake up and walk around the house silently.

There was no history like that in the area. I grew up here. I would know about this story.

But they’re haunting me regardless, whoever they are. The only way to let them go, I figure, is to burn the house down. That’s what they want.

But how do I explain what happened to Zoe and others? How do I explain releasing these ghosts? How do I talk about it with anyone the next day?

I notice the fireplace in the middle of the wall.

I could easily make an argument that a log just fell out as I was sleeping and things caught on fire. I could portray it as me being asleep while it happened. It’s doable, I figure.

Burn,” I hear the whisper again.

“I know,” I reply.

A few hours later, after the fire is going in the fireplace, I walk up to it and push out one of the logs onto the floor.

The carpet soon starts to smoke, catch on fire.

I sit on the couch and start drinking.

I replaced the batteries in all the smoke detectors with dead ones, made sure there was no way they could hold me accountable.

I close my eyes and wait for the smoke and flames to escalate, occasionally adding more wood to the fire.

That’s when I hear a slow creaking.

I look up and notice a beam about to fall.

I jump up and try to run.

I’m too late.

The beam hits my back and I am pinned to the floor after hearing a loud snap.

Chloe is in front of me now, grinning.

Burn,” she says. “Burn.”

It sinks into my heart that Chloe is trying to kill me—that this was a set up.

I grab the staircase mantle and start trying to pull myself. Smoke is everywhere now, flames are catching up. It’s only a matter of time before the flames reach me.

Chloe is laughing.

I’m in the most intense pain of my life as I pull myself out from under the beam.

More pieces of the ceiling start falling.

The women and children are all around me now, chanting.

Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn!

The flames pass me quickly and start burning up the door. I know fire doesn’t move as fast as that. Chloe is here to trap you.

That’s when Zoe’s words come to mind.

You said a true saint knows the night eventually ends, and continues forward anyway. Something about the fire purifying us.”

I remember saying that now, and where it comes from. In some early church theology, fire is used to purify us of our pasts in the afterlife—to free us. I realize I can either die here with Chloe or I can crawl through the fire.

I clench and start crawling through the flames.

They feel cold at first, followed by intense heat and pain. I can smell myself cooking and sizzling as I crawl through. It smells like pork and mushrooms. I keep my eyes and mouth shut. If I breathe in the fire, I am dead. If I open my eyes, I will be blind.

Keep crawling through.

The children and women are laughing at me now.


I feel the door near me. I reach up and touch the handle.

I hear the skin on my hand cook as the most piercing pain I’ve ever felt shoots through my arm.

I clench my jaw tighter and pull my hand away.

Memories of Zoe come to mind.

I can do this.

I reach up, hear the skin on my hand sizzling again, and twist the knob with every bit of strength I have left.

The door barely opens and I push myself through.

I roll off the porch and onto the grass. I roll until I extinguish the flames.

I let out a gasp and start coughing. Steam is still coming off my body.

I open my eyes and look at the house consumed in flames.

The chanting has stopped, and it’s just Chloe at the window, glaring at me.

That’s when it hits me.

There were no settlers.

I realize it was all a trick to kill me, to avenge what the youth and innocence that was taken from me.

I close my eyes and let out a scream to alert someone—anyone, to come get me.

I wake up a few days later in the hospital. Zoe is holding my hand.

“I was afraid I’d lost you,” she whispers.

She leans in, gives me a kiss on the forehead.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” she brushes my hair back.

I try to talk but can’t. I know my voice will come back someday.

Instead, I just raise my hand and touch her face.

I mouth the words: “I love you.”

“I love you too,” she kisses me again.

Chloe still visits me in my dreams sometimes.

Except now I’m on the outside of the house watching everything burn down.

I don’t feel guilty for not going inside.

Chloe glares at me from the window as the flames consume her whole.

Sometimes she screams when she visits.

That’s when I have to turn my back and walk away. There’s nothing I can do.

Then I wake up, and say a prayer for Chloe. I continue with my day as much as I can.

I don’t have to absorb her anger, I’ve decided. I can wish her spirit well and hope she eventually finds peace, but I can’t let her destroy me.

I’ve got too much life left to live. Zoe’s pregnant now. I have to be there for my family.

Whatever forgiveness and redemption needed to happen has happened. The scars and skin graphs tell me that I’ve atoned. I’m lucky to be alive.

All I can do is watch from afar as Chloe stays in the burning house, stays in her anger. She is always full of rage. She used to hide it when she was luring me in. Now I see someone so deeply hurt and wounded that she refuses to embrace peace.

Those screams still haunt me though, even in the daylight.

It’s something in my gut, really.

I know I’ll see her again, one way or another.

About the author

Nathan Perrin

Nathan Perrin (he/him/his) is an emerging writer and Anabaptist pastor in Chicagoland. He holds an MA in Quaker Studies, and is a doctoral student studying Christian Community Development at Northern Seminary. His doctorate work centers on creating a writing program for nonprofits and churches to use to help under-resourced communities process trauma. He is the author of the forthcoming novella Memories of Green Rivers, which will be released by Running Wild Press in 2025. His work has been published in the Dillydoun Review, Bangalore Review, Collateral Journal, and Esoterica Magazine, etc. He is also a screenwriter for an unannounced indie comedy series. For more information, visit www.nathanperrinwriter.com

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