That Which Burns


Collage from Sunday Writing Prompt #240 “Collage Prompt 39” at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie

“She was beautiful, but she was beautiful in the way a forest fire was beautiful: something to be admired from a distance, not up close.” -Terry Pratchett

Tyler Melody Ross sat masked in her padded cell in the sanatorium in upstate New York. In the common room, the first game of the 1954 World Series pitting the New York Giants against the Cleveland Indians was playing on the radio, but Tyler never was taken to the common room. She was kept continually sedated, not unconscious, but groggy enough so she could be handled. In that way, she could be fed, her toilet needs taken care of (and menstrual needs for five days every month), and walked around her cell for twenty minutes to get a bit of exercise. Other than that, she was alone and isolated, and the staff felt all the safer because of it.

The mask was heavily laced with asbestos as were the walls of her cell. There was no window, but a barred panel in her door where the glass could be slid open provided air. Her hands were encased in mittens, not that she really needed them, but if she were to have a lucid moment or two, she would be unable to remove the mask. At all costs the mask must remain on her face for the rest of her life.

No treatment had worked, not drug treatments, not electroshock, not repeated dunkings in ice water, they all failed to cure or even marginally improve Tyler’s condition. So she remained drugged, provided brief company only out of legal and medical necessity, and otherwise was left to ponder whatever dreams she entertained inside her difficult and diseased mind.

Tyler’s parents never visited. They lived a mere forty miles away but they never visited, not on weekends, not for holidays, not on Tyler’s birthday which was November 13th. Their daughter would turn 20 years old this year. Carl and Jean Ross told everyone their daughter had died after a long illness. Everybody in the town knew it was a lie, but they pretended to believe knowing the hell the Ross’s had gone through. There was even a grave with a headstone in the local cemetery. “Here lies Tyler Melody Ross b. Nov. 13 1934 d. Dec. 25, 1953, Beloved daughter and child of God.”

Last February, someone had painted over the word “God” with “Satan,” but the town council quickly had Max Fischer from the Sanitation Department remove the paint and restore the headstone. The incident was never repeated. It was probably just a few bored kids from Fort Drum or Evans Mills up to no good.

The town rebuilt after what the locals called “The Christmas Incident” and like most rural communities, swept the ashes of the past under their floorboards and returned to the slow and regulated patterns of small town life. The Ross’s only child was dead to them, though it would have been better had Tyler’s body actually been interned in her grave.

Melvin Gardner had been assigned as Tyler’s primary physician and psychiatrist two months ago. He had been a student of J.B. Rhine’s at Duke University as an undergrad but was later forced to publicly distance himself from Rhine’s work for the sake of his medical career.

Secretly however, he continued to correspond with Rhine and keep up with his latest research, which however, hardly covered the phenomenon of Tyler Ross. Gardner studied such obscure cases as those of A.W. Underwood and Daniel Dunglas Home, but there was too great a chance that their alleged feats had been mere fakery. But the details contained in Miss Ross’s confidential medical charts and in the few remaining copies of her hometown’s small newspaper dated December 26th through 29th, 1954 (most of those editions had been burned and as far as Dr. Gardner knew, the sanatorium possessed the only remaining copies and only for medical research purposes) could not be explained as such.

Dr. Gardner exchanged letters with Rhine under the strictest confidence, both because the consultation was conducted without the patient’s or her legal guardian’s (in this case the State of New York) consent and because of the highly bizarre and inflammatory nature of his inquiries. Yet his former teacher and mentor was unable to provide any illumination or direction regarding research into Miss Ross’s condition other than to employ the time-honored axiom “let sleeping dogs lie.”

On the one hand, it was impossible to study such a manifestation without direct empirical evidence which meant the ability to observe said-manifestation. On the other hand, to do so would represent a significant risk to the patient, her doctor, the sanatorium staff, and the general vicinity of the sanatorium.

Gardner usually allowed the head nurse (the normal duty nurses being hesitant to even approach Tyler) to administer her medication, but on occasion he took the task onto himself under the guise of relieving the nurses of having to endure the patient’s presence. His true reason was somewhat more obscure, even to himself. If he could look into Tyler’s eyes long enough, would they reveal some remaining spark that might light up his path to knowledge?

Her eyes were just about all that was visible through the mask. They were blue with just a hint of copper, a sort of dull bit of orange applied as flecks among a sea of azure.

“What do you see through those strange eyes, my dear Tyler?” He stroked her dull blond hair to which she responded not at all, at least as far as he could possibly perceive.

Her vision jumped and blurred like the images on the television set she once saw in the display window at Macy’s when Ma and Pa last took her to the city. It was for her eighteenth birthday. Already she was becoming more withdrawn, physically restive but psychologically absent, and the Ross’s hoped that an outing and change of scenery would do her some good.

There had been a fire. All three floors of an apartment building were being consumed in the blaze, the numerous firemen and their trucks and hoses helpless to extinguish the conflagration. Tyler’s parents tried to hurry her along, they were late for their dinner reservations, but the teenager was captivated, enthralled, not by the activity or the emergency, but by the flames themselves.

It was the only time in recent memory they had seen her smile.

She could see the fire now. Tyler could see herself, an unfocused, distorted vision in grey. She could see the mask but the inside of the mask in shifting colors of green, blue, orange, and violet. Then there was the bucket of fish. Pa used to take her with him to the pond when she was little. Tyler loved to put the worms on the hook and then watch them dance before they became food for the fishies. Summer before last, she stared and stared into the bucket of fish caught by Pa (she didn’t like to fish herself anymore) until the water boiled while the fishies were still alive.

They started locking her in the back bedroom when she was “bad”. Tyler could still see the burnt and ruined remains of Pa’s old Olympia typewriter and Ma’s Singer sewing machine. She had trouble controlling her temper.

Then she saw the sanatorium, the way it looked the day she was taken there, all wrapped up in the straight jacket. They’d given her the mask because of her face. It was the old Pastor who suggested it. Eyes weren’t enough, she had to have her whole horrible, beautiful face showing for it to work. The Pastor and later the doctors lied and said it was because she was disfigured, burned, her face didn’t even look like a person’s anymore, more like melted candle wax. The truth was they were afraid of her face and what happened when people looked at it.

Tyler saw the sanatorium all brown like the color of leaves on the ground in December just before the first snow. It was the color paper turned as it was burning, from white, to brown, and then to black as the fire consumed it, devoured it like a cat devours a sparrow, like the flames consumed the apartment in the city. How many people had been burned to death, turned brown to black, screaming until they burned out and died?

Dr. Gardner had taken to examining his patient on a weekly basis in her cell. On those days and sometimes the day before, only he administered Tyler’s medication. There were whispers among the nurses and orderlies about exactly what the doctor was examining, but it was none of their business, and making the rumors about a doctor more public would probably get them all fired. They needed their jobs, such as they were.

However, the truth of the examinations was less tawdry and more hazardous than they could possibly guess. If they could guess, then the doctor be damned and they’d all testify that he was a dangerous quack who ought to be locked up with his patients.

“Let’s just see what’s under the mask, now shall we Tyler?”

Her mask had to be removed periodically. It would have been unsanitary not to and after all, there were laws about the kind of care patients required. However, only one nurse was assigned to this task. She’d been on the ward for nearly thirty years and while it would be unfair to say she feared nothing, she was made of sterner stuff than most and could endure this duty once per month as long as the lights were low, the patient heavily sedated, and she didn’t look directly at the face of this latter-day Medusa.

Tyler’s breathing became noticeably faster as she felt her doctor’s fingers manipulate the clasps at the back of her head that held her mask in place. She could feel it loosening and then the light became brighter as his hands gently lifted the covering away revealing her visage.

“You are such a beautiful young girl, Tyler.” He held the mask in his lap for a moment, and then he put it next to her on the bed. Beside him on a small table was a basin of soapy water, a wash cloth, and a towel. Like a nurturing mother, Melvin cleansed her skin, lightly scrubbing her forehead up to the hairline, down both temples, and around her lids. She blinked as some of the water got in her eyes.

“Oh, I’m sorry, my dear. Let me.” He replaced the wash cloth in the basin and took the dry towel, dabbing it around her eyelids.

Tyler almost smiled. It felt good, not being washed and dried as such but the attention, someone actually caring about her. It had been a long time since even Ma and Pa loved more than they feared her.

The doctor finished washing and drying her. At the end of the exam, he would administer the medication that would once again return his patient to her now usual, stuporous state. However, for the moment, she began to awaken from her long hibernation, like Persephone rising from the darkness of the underworld into the bright and blazing light of day. In fact, Dr. Gardner started thinking of her as his Persephone, a child of darkness and light. It was not lost on the psychiatrist that the symbol of the daughter of Zeus and Demeter was the torch.

“Thank you, Doctor.” She spoke as someone just awakening from a dream, like a child opening her eyes after a nap not quite perceiving the world around her, still half in this plane of existence with the other half remaining in that which is beyond.

“You remember me, Tyler. Yes, it’s Dr. Gardner. How do you feel today?”

“Sleepy.” She giggled as if this were a joke shared between them.

“That’s understandable. The narcotic has lingering effects.” He used his fingers to open the lids of one eye and then the other. Golden bits of flame floated like icebergs reflecting the light of the sun on the surface of an endless ocean.

“Do you know why you’re here, Tyler?”

She looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. “Where am I, Doctor?”

“The sanatorium, Tyler. Do you remember why you are a patient here?”

“Patient? I thought I was a prisoner.”

“Oh no, not at all. You’re my patient, Tyler. I’m your doctor. I want to understand you. I want to help you.”

“Help me?”

“Yes, I want to cure you if I can. But I need to understand your condition first. Do you know why you are here?”

She looked down at her lap, her hands still cozy in their mittens, warm and comfortable, but nonetheless trapped, just as she was, cocooned in canvas.

“I…I did something bad.” Her tone didn’t communicate guilt or remorse and it was difficult for Melvin to determine if he heard fear in her voice or anticipation.

“Do you know what that was?”

“I…I…I don’t want to talk about it.” She pressed her face into her mittens, providing the mask from which Gardner had released her.

“Now, now, Tyler.” He took her wrists and slowly pulled her hands away, once again revealing her beauty, a glory both radiant and menacing. “It’s quite alright. I’m your doctor. You can tell me anything. It’s a secret just between you and me.”

He’d meant to communicate the nature of the doctor-patient relationship though he was aware of the clandestine nature of these meetings. However, she for her part, who had become accustomed to keeping dread secrets, realized she had found in her shadow world a co-conspirator, an ally, or so she hoped, who might free the Phoenix from her ashes.


“Yes, Tyler. Whatever you tell me is just between you and me.” A little white lie because if he could make the breakthrough he hoped in Tyler’s case, publishing the results could make him internationally famous, outshining Rhine, Jung, or even Freud.

“What did you do, Tyler? When was the first time you did it…and how?”

From that day forward, each Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Gardner freed young Tyler from her mask and her slumber and they shared her secrets, a few at first, the kitten that went missing when she was six, the tool shed’s back wall that caught on fire the fall she turned ten, the fishies, the building in the city…the town where she used to live.

He wrote it all down and kept his notes in a private file cabinet in his office apart from her official records. He was the only one who had a key. It was too soon to publish. He dared not even reveal his findings to Rhine for fear of a leak. Tyler was too unique, too precious to be risked in such a fashion. Certainly premature knowledge of his studies of the patient could result in him being stripped of his medical license and she…poor dear she would never again find a soul to comfort her, condemned to an endless night and anonymous oblivion.

At thirty-seven, Melvin Gardner had not yet married. He didn’t think it likely he ever would. His wife and mistress was his career. He could be attending psychiatrist anywhere, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and yet he deliberately chose this little provincial facility because of her, for Tyler afforded him the opportunity of a lifetime.

There had been women of course. He was considered handsome in a Humphrey Bogart sort of way, not a classically manly face, but one that revealed a life lived at the edge of something dangerous. He discovered women were drawn to the forbidden, particularly married women, and many of the wives of his colleagues and occasionally his patients displayed unusual vigor and passion when liberated from the dull routine of their husbands’ lovemaking.

Dr. Gardner didn’t think of himself as a fool. He knew he was taking a risk and he believed every single word of what was written about Tyler in her official files, for those facts almost exactly mirrored what he had written in his private records, the records of his patient’s startling revelations.

He knew what he felt for her was part of the transference process as was her apparent infatuation with him, and though he might indulge in a dalliance with the wife of a patient, he would never violate his sacred trust and involve himself intimately between the open wings of his Lycaena Mariposa, his fiery butterfly.

Though not a fool in his own eyes, he knew that great discoveries were not achieved without breaking boundaries, so he tested Tyler’s limits and his own. Each week, he reduced the amount of medication she received one day and then two days before each examination, studying her increased awareness and looking for even the slightest sign of danger or misadventure, and yet week by week none appeared. Tyler was shy and yet charming in an immature, adolescent sort of way. As she became more comfortable with her Doctor’s visits, she even revealed herself to be coquettish.

She asked favors. Could he bring a small radio with him during the exams? It had been so long since she had heard music. He managed to find a new transistor model, battery-powered that was a little larger than the palm of his hand. It would just fit in his medical bag and being a doctor, no one asked to search his belongings when he entered her cell.

Occasionally he brought magazines, copies of “Life,” even some comic books. She particularly enjoyed “Archie.” It was gratifying to watch her come alive for him, to see her smile, observe her eyes flit back and forth as she read. He did have to caution her not to dance and to keep the music down low so they wouldn’t be heard. She was disappointed but the word “secret” made it all better.

The final favor carried the greatest risk. “I don’t want you to give me my medicine before you leave. Wait until tomorrow. Please? I want to remember our visit for a little while longer.”

The first three times she asked, he said it was too dangerous and he refused. The first time, just for an instant, her eyes flashed that golden copper light she held in blue as if underwater, but then the light faded and she smiled. “I understand, Mel…Doctor.” He secretly liked it when she called him “Melvin” but cautioned her not to do so lest it become a habit.

Tyler knew she had to be patient. When the time was right, Melvin would listen to her. She just needed to become a little less the wife of Pluto and more the daughter of Demeter. Spring would come soon enough and she would finally witness the dawn.

Finally he relented, but only to the point of giving her a half-dose rather than dispensing with it altogether. The trouble with narcotics, and as a doctor he should have been well-versed in this, is that eventually the patient becomes accustomed to a particular dose and its effectiveness wanes.

Christmas Eve, 1954. All but the absolutely necessary staff had been released to their homes for the holiday. There was no tree or lights in Dr. Gardner’s small rented house. He saw no need for them neither being a Christian nor a particularly festive person. For Tyler there was no Christmas either since she was restricted from the general population of patients and their tree was in the common area.

She did get to hear Christmas Caroles on the radio. Melvin had paid her a special visit since neither one had anyplace to go or anyone to share the evening with. He couldn’t give her a present of course, since where could she keep it that the orderlies or nurses wouldn’t find it? But they could spend some quiet time together, the now twenty-year-old’s eyes being bright and flickering.

“Thank you for visiting me, Doctor. I really appreciate it.”

“Not at all, Tyler. In any event, the snow has built up a great deal on the roads so I’m likely to be spending Christmas Eve on the sofa in my office.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to keep you.”

“Not at all, my dear. It’s always a pleasure to spend some time with you.” Earlier, he had shared some unauthorized “Christmas cheer” with the small number of staff who had drawn holiday duty and he was feeling warm, relaxed, and just a bit euphoric. Tyler, for her part, had received no “cheer” at all for the past four days and was as remarkably clearheaded and focused as she was on last Christmas. As she remembered, the vision of the fire brightened in her eyes.

“I wish I had a present for you, Doctor. I know you wouldn’t accept it because I’m a patient, but you have always been so kind to me.”

“I have no present for you either, Tyler. Perhaps this evening is gift enough for both of us.”

“Perhaps…Melvin.” She had been looking down at her lap, but as she spoke his name, she looked up into his eyes.

As typical, she was sitting on the edge of her bed and he in a small, wooden chair painted white. The radio was sitting on the table next to her bed playing “Silent Night.” She glanced at his watch. Just a few minutes until midnight. The “incident” had begun a year ago today almost to the moment. That was when she finally had enough of the judgments, the gossip, the rejection, and being treated like some “cheap sideshow freak,” as Billy Thomas had once called her. She had to stifle a giggle as she remembered the look of astonishment on his face the moment his clothes burst into flames.

The newspaper article enshrined in her official hospital record reported that forty-nine people lost their lives early that Christmas morning in the fire that started at the church where she and her parents were attending Advent services, and then spread throughout most of their quaint and charming downtown. Forty-nine people, fourteen burned to death, twenty-seven perished due to smoke inhalation, five were crushed under fallen debris, old Mr. Taylor had a heart attack, the Reverend Matthews died of a stroke, and little Billy Baker ran across the street in a panic and was struck by a Fire Engine that had just rushed around the corner responding to the alarms.

“You know you shouldn’t call me by my first name, Tyler.”

“Why not, Melvin. You call me by my first name all the time.”

“That’s different, my dear. I’m your doctor and you’re my patient. It’s not the same relationship as if we were friends or…”

“Lovers, Melvin?”

“That will be enough, Tyler.” He began to regret having those drinks earlier. It was difficult to think clearly and if she should become unreasonable, he would find it harder to manage her with is faculties impaired.

“You called me ‘my dear’ before. Am I your ‘dear,’ Melvin?”

“It’s just an expression, Tyler. One designed to put you at ease in my presence and please call me ‘Dr. Mel…uh, Dr. Gardner’.”

“I’m very at ease in your presence, my dear Doctor Melvin. I have been for a long time. You should know that by now. After all, you are my doctor.”

Their faces were very close to each other now. Her eyes and her lips were so inviting and yet her beauty was that of a serpent or a forest fire, something to be admired from a distance but not up close. Over the past three months, Melvin had allowed that distance to gradually erode so that now the barrier between them was all but gone.

“I think I should leave.”

“Not yet. Wait until the song has ended. It’s ‘Silent Night.’ You know. Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin…”

Tyler leaned forward just an inch or so more and their lips touched. He could feel the warmth of her breath and her flesh. For a moment he felt the enjoyment, the slight beginnings of passion. Then he pulled back and sat up in his chair.

“No, Tyler.” He was gentle but the rejection still stung her. “We can’t. It’s not right.”

“You don’t love me because I’m a freak. You only want to study me.” She was pouting, legs drawn up against her chest, lower lip jutted out, but her eyes were brilliantly alive.

“I must leave, Tyler. I’ll check on you in the morning.” He looked down at his medical bag and then back at her. “I should medicate you and replace your mask and mittens.”

“No, Melvin. It’s Christmas morning. You know what that means, don’t you?”

“I’m afraid I…” Then he did know. It was the anniversary of the fire. She did it. He was convinced of it, just as the Pastor, the Sheriff, the doctors, and Tyler’s own parents were sure of it.

Tyler stood up. Sometimes during visits she paced but she couldn’t go near the door and take the chance someone passing by would see her without her mask. Now she was facing Melvin eye-to-eye, her visage radiant, her eyes glowing.

“Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.” Then she laughed as Melvin’s white doctor’s coat, the symbol of his status and power smoldered and then ignited.

He screamed and frantically slapped at the flames with both arms. He kept his keys in the medical bag. Melvin and Tyler had few secrets from each other and she knew just where they were. Taking them, she opened her cell door and stepped outside of her asbestos prison.

Floor by floor the sanitorium exploded in fire as Tyler descended down toward the ground level. By the time she reached the bottom of the first floor stairwell, everyone above her was a living and dying torch and the few nurses and orderlies in between her and the outside were screaming in burning agony. The doctor’s keys included those of his car and the heat of a burning forest would certainly melt whatever snow that might prevent her escape.

She didn’t have much time but as she passed the office with the small brass placard proudly announcing “Melvin J. Gardner, M.D.”, she paused. She unlocked the door and looked into the room, so tidy, so orderly. Suit jacket and winter coat hanging on the coat rack, ashtray emptied, pens, pencils in their proper containers. And then there was the locked metal cabinet and the files which told her whole story.

If she did nothing, the fire would still consume both these and the regular medical files, all of the information and evidence to be used against her. Her lower lip trembled. If only he would have loved her. Then they could have gone away together. She loved Billy Thomas too, but he also thought she was a freak. No one would ever love her. They would only make fun of her or be afraid of her. She would always be alone.

“Fine!” She stared at the file cabinet and it glowed amber and then belched smoke as the paper, folders, and envelopes within ignited like the books in that story by Ray Bradbury she read right before last Christmas.

The screaming had all stopped and it was getting hotter. The fire would burn even her. She had to leave. Tyler spun and ran out the office door and into something falling. Hot. Pain. She was bleeding. From the floor she looked up.

“No, my dear. Not this Christmas.” Melvin Gardner had second degree burns across his chest, arms and lower face but in spite of the pain, he had followed her down. Fire alarms had been pulled by some of the staff before they died, but with the snow outside continuing to fall, it could take hours for emergency crews to arrive. She had to be stopped here, tonight. He raised the scorched two by four above his head preparing one last blow.

“Melvin, no.” Tyler tried to sit up but then her head exploded in agony. She was dizzy and nauseous. He was going to kill her. “Melvin stop. I love you. Please.” She had to buy time, just a few seconds for her head to clear. Why was it so hard to think?

“Good-bye, Tyler.”

The last thing she saw was the makeshift club rushing at her face.

The sanatorium was a loss by the time the first Fire Engines arrived nearly two hours later. Hours past dawn, rescue teams poured through the ashes and rubble but no survivors were found. The bodies were burned so badly that positive identification was almost impossible in most instances, so no one would ever know that Tyler Ross and Melvin Gardner embraced each other in death just outside of his office.

Carl and Jean Ross were presented with a small box of ashes. They weren’t hers of course. The gesture was symbolic. The following spring, Carl Ross planted a new tree in the field behind his house fertilized with the remains of someone they pretended was their sweet, little girl. Her grave would remain vacant but now she finally was given the rest she had never found in life. The fire had gone out and from the ashes something new and green would grow with spring and the length of days.

January 2018

She watched Tondo burn from across the Pasig River and smiled. They all deserved it, her Daddy who was a pimp and her Mommy a drug addict and prostitute. The “uncles” who had molested her since she was three deserved it. The drug dealer deserved it. They all needed to burn.

Mahalia had just turned ten years old. Like most children, she liked to watch the flicking of flames as they consumed paper, cardboard, and wood. She also liked to watch the bodies of people as they writhed. She rejoiced in their screams and even more in the following silence.

Like most children, she liked to watch fire burn. Unlike almost all of them, she could make the flames spark to life, leap, and dance just by staring at things with those beautiful ocean blue eyes, brilliantly decorated with flakes of copper orange.

I wrote this for the Sunday Writing Prompt #240 “Collage Prompt 39” challenge posted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea is to take the image and quote, both found at the top of the page, and use them as the inspiration for crafting a poem, short story, or other creative work.

For some reason, the moment I saw the collage, I thought “Firestarter,” which is also the name of a 1980 novel by Stephen King that I read decades ago and remember almost nothing about. That led me to look up Pyrokinesis and the cases of A.W. Underwood and Daniel Dunglas Home, both supposed firestarters, though both also most likely frauds.

On the same page, I also found this:

In March 2011, a three-year-old girl in Antique Province, Philippines gained media attention for the supposed supernatural power to predict or create fires. The town mayor said he witnessed a pillow ignite after the girl said “fire… pillow.” Others claimed to have witnessed the girl either predicting or causing fire without any physical contact with the objects.

I tried to look up the source but the article is no longer available. I gave that little girl a fictional name and history and inserted her at my story’s end. Today, she’d be about ten years old.

Looking up Parapsychology in general, I revisited Joseph Banks Rhine (J.B. Rhine) who did some early, serious work into the realm of psychic phenomena, first at Duke University, then in the 1960s and going forward at his own Institute for Parapsychology, which later became the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man.

Tyler Ross, Melvin Gardner, and anyone else named in my story are purely fictional although the Fire Butterfly Lycaena dispar batavus is indeed real.

I set my tale in the 1950s because they still had big, ugly-looking sanatoriums where the mentally ill were warehoused and (in my opinion) experimented on, kept in stupors under the influence of heavy doses of tranquilizers or given violent electric shocks. Ethical patient care wasn’t always first and foremost on the minds of the hospital staff, so I don’t doubt that the events I’ve depicted here in terms of patient abuse could really have happened.

I used Tyler’s mask for effect since wearing one all by itself wouldn’t have prevented her from spontaneously starting fires. I hinted that with her face exposed, she had greater “persuasive” powers than most people but obviously even without the drugs, they were limited.

Was Tyler a monster or just a little girl with a dangerous power who had finally been pushed too far and then decided to strike back?

I toyed with the idea of letting her survive the fire but then decided she was too uncontrollable to simply fade away and if not taken down in the sanatorium by Melvin, would have been killed by the authorities for the sake of public safety. I then shifted the menace at the ending to a new little girl in the 21st century. What is she capable of and will there be any one to stop her or pity her this time?

9 thoughts on “That Which Burns

  1. Well James this was a most engaging tale. I often find it amazing what from the past comes back to help us write the tales we do. I didn’t expect Tyler to die and it took me a minute or two to figure out what was happening with her. She reminded me of the characters in X-Men who had similar powers.


  2. Very well-researched piece! I definitely detected the influence early on, though I only saw Firestarter as a small child. The main characters were extremely well-developed and intriguing. I was lulled into thinking Tyler might be redeemable even though psychopathy was indicated in her joy in other’s pain. I think I wanted her to be for my own sake and yet she wasn’t in the end and that was obviously more congruous to her character. I like the references to Medusa as well and the introduction of a new Firestarter at the conclusion. I also like that the doctor didn’t push the relationship to a sexual place because I think sometimes people default to sex and I preferred the focus on the psychological.


    • Thanks. I definitely wanted to create “sexual tension” or a sense of attraction between them. Sigmund Freud’s theories suggested that a “transference” occurred between doctor and patient by which the patient was often attracted to the doctor. He said it wasn’t true attraction but a manifestation of the patient’s dependence on the doctor. Doctors also experience their authority sometimes as a sexual attraction to the patient and I exploited the concept to explain why Melvin could be somewhat careless. I also suggested that Tyler might have a natural “persuasive” quality about her which is why she has to wear the mask.

      Between the apartment building and the town, Tyler had killed well over 50 people so morally she had to pay the price, especially since her escape from the mental hospital would result in even more deaths. At that point, if she would have escaped, the world would have to deal with a rogue firestarter and, not being a very subtle person, she’d have easily been tracked down and killed anyway. However, decades in the future, another of her kind is born, this time into poverty and abuse, so she started taking her revenge earlier. The storyline isn’t meant to go beyond that and some horror tales often end with a sense of menace. I’m glad you liked my tale and that it was thought provoking.

      Liked by 1 person

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