Autocombustophobia: The Fear of Spontaneous Human Combustion

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"Okay, so spend the time waiting practicing your solo. Most of the other performers here are dancers, so you won't be bothering them. I think there's just one other soloist and then there's a group singing and dancing. They're doing Annie. Anyway, don't be shy to find a little patch of space and practice. You want your chords warmed up."

"Okay!" Rachel grinned and nodded exuberantly.

Mrs. Drake smiled back and took both of Rachel's shoulders in her hands, giving her a firm squeeze.

Nan appeared from the chaos then, darting through the crowds of performers in various states of makeup and warmups. This high school music room was much too crowded for the amount of performers that it held. Rachel wondered why they hadn't put the performers in the gym to wait. This school had a separate gym and auditorium and the gym was much closer to the auditorium than this tiny music hall was.

"Here, Rachel."

Nan handed Rachel her bags of books and Sudoku puzzles.

"It's gonna be a long wait, Captain Video. I told you to leave some homework to do."

Rachel shrugged.

"Mrs. Drake says I need to practice."

Nan smiled at Mrs. Drake then.

"Hello Melody! God Almighty, it is crowded back here. Why do they have these kids stuffed in this tiny room? It looks like there are kids from all over the Tri-State!"

"Yes, they invited children from all the elementary, middle, and high schools in this district and the Seaside Heights and Monmouth districts. Also the smattering of kids from OCC who invited themselves to perform."

Mrs. Drake raised her eyebrows and shook her head, but smiled.

"It's all going to such a good cause though. Those poor injured people!"

Nan nodded and frowned.

"Fire is not a fun injury to deal with. I thank God that Rachel was too young to remember anything. We thought we were gonna lose her. All the hours of surgery and the skin grafts that had to be done. She was a three-year old dealing with extreme smoke inhalation. My husband and I cried for hours when we were finally able to bring her home..."

Rachel began to tiptoe backwards then. It always made her uneasy when Nan talked about the events that led to her coming to live with them.

The fire. Her burns. Her mother vanishing from the hospital. Her mother answering a lawyer's letter agreeing to award Nan and Papa full custody...

Nan said that Rachel didn't remember, but she sometimes had dreams of being on fire. She dreamed of a centipede, wiggling and writhing, and then there was heat tearing through her skin. It was a hot and blinding pain and it was so intense that Rachel couldn't hear herself scream, although she was sure that she must be. She saw nothing and heard nothing. There was nothing in the world save for her, and the pain. Her senses couldn't take in anything except for the tearing heat that peeled the skin from her face.

Rachel had mostly had these dreams when she was very little. For awhile she had them every night. But it seemed like every year that she got older, she dreamed it less. And of course Nan always said that this dream was a fabrication. There was no way that Rachel could remember what happened, and so her mind had created a scenario.

Rachel had always known that when she was a baby she was involved in a fire accident. So Nan said it was a big part of her identity. Nan said this because the psychiatrist that Rachel had seen a handful of times last year had said it. That psychiatrist also said that Rachel's "self-identifying with fire" was the reason for her disorder.

Autocombustophobia. The fear of spontaneously combusting.

And of course, just like Nan, Doctor Beckmann didn't believe that Rachel had spontaneously combusted once already. He said that Rachel was "seeking to explain her past in a way that justified her current anxiety."

Rachel agreed with her Papa who called it all "psycho-mumbo jumbo bullshit" and was the reason why Rachel had finally been allowed to stop seeing him.

Rachel cringed sometimes when she thought everything that she'd shared with this complete stranger. All of the secrets that she didn't even tell to Yasiris.

The way she sometimes thought about how when she died she wouldn't be able to think anymore and whether this would be terrible or wonderful.

The way she sometimes laid down on top of her hands at night, even though Nan had caught her twice and told her it dirty.

The way she loved Yasiris so much that sometimes she just wanted to hold her hands or kiss her cheeks, and how it made her sad that they were too old now to ever do any of those things again.

The way that she sometimes wished that she would just spontaneously combust already and get it over with. Waiting for it to happen was so terrifying and so exhausting. She sometimes felt that her nerves couldn't stand to be stretched any farther. But if it were to just happen, then she could stop being afraid. But if it never happened, then she would never stop being afraid.

It was so strange and it gave a tingling and almost hungry sort of sensation in her gut. 

She was so afraid of spontaneously combusting, that she nearly hoped for it to happen.  

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