Winter of Wonder: Superhuman: 2021 Edition Features My Story “That Which Burns”


Cover art for the anthology “Winter of Wonder”

If you like my work, buy me a virtual cup of coffee at Ko-Fi.

My short story “That Which Burns” is now available in the Cloaked Press anthology Winter of Wonder: Superhuman: 2021 Edition.

The theme for this new anthology series this year is “superhuman.”

What does it mean to be ‘Superhuman’? Not just super powers or flashy costuming. What lies beneath the surface? What makes the psyche tick? Fourteen authors from the Cloaked Press Family explore this theme in our first Winter of Wonder anthology. Join them as they explore strange alien worlds, yet find some humanity within its monstrous inhabitants. Come along with an assassin long due for retirement, and a bounty hunter pushing his luck far beyond his competitors. Magical weapons and magical tapestries abound, while one incredible man serves a wife he didn’t choose. Meet those who chose not to blindly follow protocol and serve, be that from a teacher, a friend and former lover, or the Queen Goddess herself. Superheroes are sometimes not what they seem, and sometimes allies come from unexpected places.

My story has been around for a while but like many creations, it didn’t sell on the first try or on a few subsequent attempts.

Tyler Melody Ross is a very special young woman, but her being “special” isn’t always considered a good thing to her family, her friends, and her neighbors. We meet her as an inmate of an asylum in update New York in 1954. Normally, she’s kept heavily sedated, masked, and her hands covered in thick mittens. Then she gets a new doctor who says he wants to help her, but unbeknownst to him, that help may well bring disaster.

Here’s a small excerpt from “That Which Burns:”

“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 had received no “cheer” at all for the past four days, and was as remarkably clearheaded and focused, just as she had been 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. 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 facing her 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 Danny Baker ran across the street in a panic, and was struck by a Fire Engine 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 his faculties impaired.

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

“It’s just an expression. 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. 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 as thin as smoke.

“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. Melvin could feel the warmth of her breath and her flesh. For a moment he also felt the enjoyment, and 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. Its Christmas morning. You know what that means, don’t you?”

“I’m afraid I don’t.” And 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.

To read the whole story, get a copy of Winter of Wonder, 2021. Don’t forget to write a review when finished.

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