As the sun set over the lake, the sky erupted with beautiful streaks of orange.
I’d pulled up in my silver hatchback with my friend Mia*, to take in the view.
Glancing down, I noticed the space below the CD player and air-con vents was clogged with dust.
Gross, I shuddered.
Reaching behind me, I grabbed a can of air freshener that I kept in the car and gave the dirty spots a spritz.
Soon, the sun had dipped below the horizon and darkness began to descend on the car park.
Spotting a lighter in the side pocket of my car door, I grabbed it and flicked it.
The tiny flicker of flame exploded into an orange ball of fire.
Oh God! I panicked.
The spark must’ve ignited the gas vapours from the air freshener that were still floating around and exploded!
Now, the car, which had the windows rolled up, was filled with scorching blue flames!
Scrunching my eyes shut against the deadly heat, Mia and I began to scream.
Wearing a short denim skirt with stockings and a singlet top, my bare skin was licked by fire and it burned my face.
As quickly as the flames had erupted, they died.
‘I can’t get out!’ Mia yelled.
Flying out of the car, I ran around to her side and wrenched open her door.
Wearing jeans and a hoodie, Mia had escaped the full brunt of the flames, but was still burned on her face and fingers.
I felt so guilty. I’d put her in danger – and the entire saga could’ve been avoided so easily.
My face… I fretted, gently touching the charred, sensitive skin.
Checking my reflection in my phone camera, I could see my raw skin was starting to blister.
My eyebrows had been singed off and my mascara had melted into my eyelashes leaving weird little clumps.
Tufts of my blonde hair were falling out too.
Luckily, I’d kept my eyes slammed shut.
I could’ve been blinded, I thought.
My hands had completely peeled, and, looking down, my stockings had fused to my legs.
‘Ruby, we could’ve died,’ Mia said.
‘All that matters is we’re okay – we’re alive,’ I replied, shakily.
In fact, my whole body was trembling from shock. At least the adrenaline was blocking out most of the pain…
After phoning Mia’s dad, he raced to pick us up, then rushed us to the hospital.
At Emergency, I was immediately put under a cold shower. I was still in there when my shocked mum, Mandy, who I’d called on the way, walked in.
‘Am I looking sexy?’ I teased.
She gasped and laughed at the same time, but I could tell she was relieved I was well enough to joke.
She was disappointed when I told her about my silly mistake, but she didn’t give me a hard time.
‘I’m just glad you’re alive,’ she said.
Given pain meds, I was discharged that night.
‘She doesn’t need surgery, she’ll heal by herself,’ a doctor said.
Waking up the next morning, though, my face had blown up like a balloon to double its size!
My eyes were so swollen, I could barely see.
Bundling me in the car, Mum drove me five hours to a bigger hospital in Sydney with a dedicated burns unit.
‘Why wasn’t she here within hours of the accident?’ a doctor there asked Mum.
I’d suffered second and third degree burns to 20 per cent of my body.
After I was wheeled into theatre, surgeons scrubbed away the dead and damaged skin, replacing it with artificial skin made from pig collagen.
Waking up afterwards, I was shrouded in bandages, like a mummy.
When they were unwrapped, a special mask-like dressing was applied to my face to help it heal.
Looking at old photos of myself, I was scared that I’d never look like me again.
But I quickly decided I wasn’t going to get caught up with negativity.
It sucked, but it had happened – and over time I would get better.
Making fun of myself, I shared videos of my journey on the social
media platform TikTok.
I showed my little sister your TikTok and she ran out of the room crying! someone commented.
Apparently, my face had terrified her!
That’s hilarious! I cracked up.
I even shared a clip comparing myself to Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street.
At the beginning, when I closed my eyes, all I could see was fire.
But I wanted to take back the power and get over my fears, so I made another clip of myself in my hospital gown roasting in flames!
Then, a week or so on, I shaved my head.
‘Mum, can you get me a cute little wig from a party store?’ I asked.
Video-calling me from the shop, she said, ‘Which one do you want?’
‘That one!’ I said, spotting a set of Bob Marley-style dreads.
A fortnight on from the accident, my transformation was incredible.
It just looked like I had really bad sunburn!
‘You’re really lucky,’ the doctor said. ‘You had youth on your side.’
Thankfully, my friend Mia is on the mend too.
Nearly two months on, I wouldn’t change what happened.
It’s completely changed my perspective.
If I stay positive, I can take on the world!