As I emerge through the dense grove of evergreen trees, the sunlight broken, by pine needles, becomes whole and hits my eyes, successfully blinding me. I quickly raise my hand to provide shade for my burning eyes. Once my eyes have adjusted, my vision dances across the large clearing. The ashes that once consumed this place have been claimed by the earth, along with the land's former inhabitants. All that remains now are the memories that haunt me.

I shuffle nervously and glance at the small bouquet of flowers in my hands. Their brilliant colors contrast the stark white of my surroundings. The glistening snow sparkles before me, undisturbed. I realize that no one has probably been here for years. I forge ahead anyway.

I stop at the peak of a small hill and let my gaze wander across the land, allowing the memories to consume me. The flames, the screams, the look of fear in my brothers' eyes; it all comes flooding back. Sinking to the ground, the flowers fall to my lap as I cover my face and sob. "I'm sorry, Mom... Dad... Tyler and Jason... I'm sorry I couldn't save you..." My hands tremble as tears slip down my cheeks and fall to the snow leaving tiny craters.

Get a grip, Julia, I tell myself. But currently I see no reason to follow my own stern command. After all, no one will see me. And they say it is healthy to cry every once in a while.

The land before me transforms into a small town. Lush emerald green grass cushions my knees and fluffy, pale clouds dot the sapphire sky. Before me stands a small, pleasant blue house. It is nothing fancy, but in its own way quite quaint. In the white front doorway stands a golden-haired, sky-eyed young girl of eight.

The little girl bounds down the hill barefoot, looking back momentarily to meet the eyes of a grown man and woman. The man puts his arm around the woman and she waves to the girl, her expression that of a mildly concerned parent. "Julia, make sure to be back before sundown."

"I will, Momma," the little girl promises before focusing her gaze back on her destination. The treeline. And beyond that lays the tree house she has built herself—with a little help from her father.

I squeeze my eyes shut and pull my jacket closer in an attempt to ward off the cold. I briefly wonder whether or not recalling these painful things is a good idea, but it has already begun. The snowball has started its trek downhill, and there is no stopping it now that it has gained speed.

My mind creates the next part of the memory behind my closed eyes. The child glides toward the trees and an even smaller girl joins her, latching onto her hand. I watch as the latter of the two urges the older to the woods, but the blonde waits for two other smaller girls to join them. Once the four have convened, they disappear behind the dense green wall.

I shakily rise to my feet. My eyes blink open rapidly, absorbing the glare of the sun on the small flakes of crystallized water. I scoop up my flowers from the cold ground where they fell.

Approaching the area in front of me with caution, I continue to play my memory. The scene continues to unfold before me just as I recall, but I still find myself unable to comprehend that it really happened. That the nightmare was not a dream.

Little Julia leads the tiny traipsing toddlers to her tree house, and they squeal in delight upon seeing her "fortress". With her help, they clamber up the ladder and their oohs and ahs fill the air. A breathy laugh escapes me. The innocence, though, of the little girls, quickly causes my mood to become solemn again. They did not deserve to lose everything as I had. And yet they are victims as well as I.

The eight year old scrambles down the ladder, a grin playing upon her lips. She produces a small, squished package of marshmallows from her pocket and pops one into her mouth. Suddenly her jaw stops mid-chew, and a puzzled expression dawns upon her face. She places her hand behind her ear and listens.

The girl starts at the high pitched scream that follows. However, her shock is not enough to prevent her feet from flying across the forest floor. She does not—cannot—stop. Not until she reaches the clearing, because it is obvious that she knows something is very wrong.

Once she breaks through the treeline, her eyes widen in horror. I feel my blood go cold. I know what the little girl sees. The horrific sight that she beholds.

Houses in flames. The sky is tainted with smoke, and the clouds tinted red with the fire they reflect. People are cut down like grass by uniformed AHO soldiers.

The man who was previously in my memory fights an unarmed soldier and the woman ushers two boys toward the innocent girl: one of the boys the same age as she, the other about two years older. The woman sternly tells the children that they must run, and with reluctance they obey.

My heart rate increases drastically as I watch the kids flee. They leap over logs, duck under branches, and their speed only multiplies tenfold as pursuers chase after them. The little girl holds tightly to her brothers' hands.

From out of nowhere a soldier plucks up the eldest child. "Run, Julia! Keep running! I'll be okay!" he shouts as the other two youth scramble away.

"Tyler!" the little charcoal-haired boy cries.

"C—Come on, Jason! We have to run!" his sister presses him. She does not voice her thoughts on going back. She knows she must continue on, lest they both be captured as well.

"Sissy!" Jason's grasp is brutally ripped from Julia's as another uniformed man snatches him from the ground. The former is about to lunge at the man, but the conflict in her heart shows through her eyes. She briefly glances in the direction of the tree house where the three little girls await her. The girls who are even more helpless than her young brother.

The little girl then makes a decision that will change her life; she darts away from her captive family and continues to her destination. "Let me go!" she hears her brother scream. Tears fill her eyes.

She sprints past the ominous, looming trees. She hears them howl in the wind, watches them as they reach for her with their long, gnarled arms. Branches scrape her face and draw blood as she weeps, feeling afraid and alone.

I flinch at the memory and pause a moment in my recollection. Dropping to my knees once more, I begin to sift through the snow beneath me. A structure gradually emerges through the powdery substance... that of a brick foundation. I continue digging with fierce determination. "Keep digging, Julia," I tell myself. "Don't stop."

Finally, I have cleared enough snow to reveal three feet of the stone. I smooth the rough edges of the hole I have produced and take a seat. I inhale deeply to calm myself.

Sunset approaches rapidly and the clean white snow turns a bloody crimson. The temperature begins to decrease. I shudder. Heading back soon would probably be best.

I carefully place the delicate blossoms into the clearing I made in front of my house. My gaze rests on the trees behind me for a moment. The journey to my house in the trees, finding the girls and taking them to safety, the realization that everyone I loved had been murdered... all of it haunts me. While I am no longer chased by the ones who wished death upon me, I still feel as though I am stuck in a never-ending nightmare. I may have saved those girls, but I could not save my family. And until today, I could not forgive myself.

"Mom... Dad... If you're watching..." I swallow hard as I stare at the flowers. "... I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I couldn't save you and that I let Tyler and Jason get killed. Ten years I've lived with this guilt, and I never thought that I'd be able to forgive myself for letting you down."

I push myself to my feet and stare at a snowflake. "But I think I've finally realized... that I did the right thing. I never would have survived if I had gone after the boys. And if I hadn't survived, then the girls wouldn't have either. I've been taking care of them, too, you know." A slight smile spreads across my face. "I'm finally seeing that... that I actually did the right thing." Another tear slips, unbidden. "I hope that you and Jason and Tyler can forgive me. I love you all."

I turn and begin to walk away, but stop momentarily. "Oh, and... Merry Christmas, guys..." With that I trudge through the snow and leave the buried remains of my town behind me, looking back once more to see the sun set and my flowers among the glitter of the snow

A/N: If you read this and it murdered your feels, feel free to tell me. I love reading comments! Even on a sad short story like this. ^^' Anyways, yeah. And feel free to PM me! I don't bite. =)