Rachel rounded the corner and quickened her step on the landing. She'd made it halfway down the steps, the break between the two connected sets of stairs, and she was at the point where she couldn't very well turn back. She was closer to the basement than to the abandoned cafeteria. As she descended the last few steps, Rachel kept her eyes fixed on the closet directly across from her. Large double doors, with one partially open revealing a small glimpse into the shadowed darkness beyond.
Her eyes remained fixed on this crack of darkness, feeling with a certainty that the moment she looked away the worst would happen. The man on fire would emerge, ready to wrap her in his charred arms and put the horror of spontaneous combustion inside of her as well.
She inched carefully past this door, refusing to turn as she pressed open the door to her left at the bottom of the steps. She trembled, inching past the door, the door that she knew held all manner of demons, ghosts, and the powdery human remains of the spontaneously combusted. Remnants of humans that had died with no warning.
I'm going to combust. The demon of spontaneous human combustion is coming!
Without a glimmer of forethought, Rachel's legs ripped from the ground and her body flung itself past the door. Her heart pounded in her ears as she urged her body to run faster. It was hardly more than four steps and the length to cross this distance was an eternity. Her body stretched itself in midair, her arms flailing. She could feel that dark closet as she passed it. She could feel everything that might be inside of it, reaching for her.
Rachel hurtled through the double doors. Her feet hit the linoleum with a smack, and she trembled thinking of the darkness that lay just behind her, just beyond the doors. Everything was inside of the dark. Everything she could ever possibly be afraid of. The dark knew her terrors.
With heart still pounding, Rachel crossed dark room adjacent to the empty gymnasium and made her way towards the tiny alcove that was the music room.
Inside, she found Ms. Anceps sitting at her desk, sorting through papers. She chewed the corner of a pair of red reading glasses.
Her heart pounded. She struggled to regain control of her breathing. She hoped Ms. Anceps wouldn't see the panic she'd felt just outside the music room doors. She willed an expression of normalcy onto her face.
"Rachel," she looked up from her papers with a smile that stretched her burgundy lipstick. "Here come have a seat."
Rachel sat in a straight-backed plastic chair next to the desk. She swung her feet back and forth, watching her white tennis shoes rise and fall, waiting for Ms.Anceps to find whatever it was that she was searching for in her briefcase, urging her pattering heart to slow.
"Here," said Ms. Anceps said, placing a newspaper in front of her. "Do you know anything about this?"
Rachel looked down at the front page. There was an article about a terrible fire. It had burned down a great stretch of pine barrens. The picture showed firemen fighting to tame the flames, as smoke poured from the tips of the sap-encrusted trees.
Rachel's stomach did a funny little flip. It felt as if an air bubble may be trapped within her guts.
She met Ms. Ancep's eyes and saw that her teacher was paused in her motions, leaning forward slightly with a grin frozen on her mouth, as she waited for a reaction from Rachel.
"Yeah, I heard about this happening," Rachel mumbled. "My grandpa always reads the paper at breakfast. He was talking about it."
"Okay," Ms. Anceps said, nodding fervently. "And what do you think about it?"
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...