It was that night that Rachel asked if she could call Nan. Everyone sat in the living room, finishing off egg rolls and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Rachel took a very long time to summon the courage to ask this.
Then looking at the wall, she made her request loudly
"Hey....Mom, Do you think that maybe I can call Nan?"
The words tumbled out of her mouth, as if they were a crowd of tiny word-people, scrambling over each other, rushing to exit.
This frenzied declaration prompted Octavio jolt awkwardly to his feet. Octavio then left the family and retreated to the bedroom to sit, once more, entranced by the glow of the computer monitor.
Rachel stiffened as he passed and noted that since she'd first gotten into the van with them yesterday, he hadn't said anything to her. He hadn't so much as nodded, or even looked directly at her. Nan always said it was rude not to acknowledge people and speak with them, especially if you were at the same social gathering. Was this a social gathering?
Helene coughed and pulled her fleece blanket tighter around herself. When Star Trek finally evacuated the screen to make way for a Radio Shack commercial, Helene turned her attention to Rachel.
At least, in some degree she did.
With her eyes, still locked on the television she said "I don't think you should call Nan."
The thoughts began then. The bad sort of thoughts. These were the thoughts that Rachel needed Nan for. Nan would sit up with her at night. She would snap at Rachel and tell her she was not being normal, but she would sit up with her, explaining to her why all of her fears were nonsense. Providing sound arguments, attempting to convince Rachel there was nothing to be afraid of.
Rachel wanted so badly to be told that there was nothing to be afraid of.
She felt so sure that she would spontaneously combust tonight. It would happen when everyone else was sleeping. The man on fire would stand at the foot of her bed, as he had on the night of her sleepover with Yasiris. As he had several times before that.
She would be frozen in place, stiff upon her back and unable to even scream, and he would burn in enigmatic white flames that curled away from his body in soft, spooky tendrils. He would take her with him to Hell and Rachel would do nothing but stare at him for all of eternity.
She saw herself in an armchair. Like the one that Mary Reeves had burned to death in. The overstuffed armchair that had been covered in greasy ashes. Human fat melted and resolidified. Like a candle. Like the wick effect that she'd read about.
The man on fire would force her to sit in that same exact armchair. And Mary Reeves would be there. And the screaming, wide-eyed man on fire would stare at her and touch her. She'd have to sit on his lap. The greasy, now-soot human of Mary Reeves would look into her eyes. Empty eye sockets. Her eyeballs would melt as she sat there in terror, feeling her body consume itself.
Rachel wondered if Mary had inhaled herself as she burned. In fires, people always had problems with their lungs after inhaling the smoke. Did Mary inhale her own smoke? Had her lungs become charred with the remains of her own burning body as her spine served as a disgusting pseudo-candle wick?
Rachel ordered herself not to let those kinds of thoughts, but as she directed her thoughts away from spontaneous combustion they quickly settled upon insects. As they so often did.
And Rachel as though her skin were covered in centipedes. She felt she was made of centipedes. She imagined the centipede splitting apart; the one that she'd seen in her nightmares. She imagined she was that centipede. She imagined her entire body ripping itself apart. Not only her outermost layers, but all of her.
YOU ARE READING
***Long-listed for the Watty's 2018***Rachel lives in constant fear that she will burst into flames. She can feel the heat building in her gut. She keeps buckets of water under the bed. She keeps them to fend off the flames that her body may create...