Burning Memories | Jeanette Stampone


BURNING MEMORIES

JEANETTE STAMPONE

THE HATE AND COAT AWARD


I’m in a hypnotist’s office. How weird is that? The adults must be so desperate to fix me. I pull my jacket around my body and sink into the couch, waiting for the inevitable round of questions about my pyromaniac tendencies.

They say fear is connected to how we died in a previous life. I heard it somewhere but I never thought it was real. In fact, I never thought people were reincarnated. I didn’t know what to think. Just that you die, get buried or burnt and that’s it.

Why then, did the thought of cremation make me shudder? My body wouldn’t feel a thing—I knew that. But visions of my corpse being consumed by heat and flames made me want to vomit.

Ever since I can remember, fire has petrified me. Bonfires, gas hobs. Even candles.

Most kids loved to blow out the candles on their birthday cake. Me? Well, as soon as that match was pressed against the box, I would scream. I thought the whole place was going to erupt into flames.

My eleventh birthday was the last time Mum put candles on my cake. She tried every year, probably hoping that I would grow out of my fear. But, of course, I did not. My sister, Sarah took great delight in seeing me freak out. This year, she was especially cruel,

“I’ll light the candles,” she said, snatching the matches from Mum’s hand. She struck a match immediately. I bit my lip in an effort not to shriek. Then, instead of lighting the candles, Sarah waved the match within inches of my face.

“Stop!” I screamed, backing away in terror.

Sarah sniggered. “Jane, Jane. Scared of a flame. Lame Jane.”

“That’s enough!” Mum yelled and blew out the match.

Sarah giggled and flicked her pigtail over her shoulder. “Loser.”

Anger welled up inside me. I grabbed the back of her head and pushed her smug face into the cake. She stopped laughing pretty damn quick.

That was the moment when Mum told me I needed help. I spent the next twelve months meeting all sorts of weird people. It started with the school nurse, then progressed to counsellors, psychologists and shrinks. None of them had a clue.

Then Mum’s hippy friend told her about a hypnotist.

So here I am, lying on a leather couch, pulling my jacket even closer around my body, as if it’s going to protect me.

“Hello, Jane. I’m Harry.”

Harry the hypnotist. Sounds like a cartoon character. I’m not sure what I expected, but he should at least have big staring eyes or something. He looks surprisingly normal. “We’ll begin. Try to clear your mind, as if you’re staring at a blank screen.”

As soon as he tells me to clear my mind, my head fills with useless crap. I know I shouldn’t be thinking of doughnuts and peanut butter sandwiches but I can’t help it. Then a haze drifts over the images, like a heavy mist on a winter’s morning. I feel lost but I know Harry’s there. I can hear his voice. “Jane, what do you see?”

This is ridiculous.

I sit up and try to open my eyes, but it feels like someone’s holding them shut.

“I don’t want to do this,” I say. “It’s not even working.”

Harry’s voice is soothing. “You need to let it take you. You’re resisting.”

Sighing, I rest my head back on the pillow. I’m conscious of my eyeballs flicking around underneath my eyelids, like they want to be free.

“Tell me,” he says. “Why does fire scare you?”

I’ve been asked that dumb question a million times. If I knew that, I wouldn’t be here.

Harry asks more questions but I don’t understand him. His voice is faint, drowned out by other voices. A crowd. They’re chanting. Heat rises up my legs. A red glow surrounds me. It’s flames. They’re getting closer. I can’t get away. The flames lick at my long jacket. The acrid stench of burning flesh fills the air. The chanting intensifies.

“They want me to burn!” I scream. I pull off my jacket and throw it on the floor. Harry’s there. I’m in the hypnotist’s office.

“You’re okay,” he says. “What did you see?”

I clutch the edge of the bed. “I was surrounded by a crowd of people. They hated me. They were saying…”

I can’t bring myself to utter the words which are still spinning around in my head.

“Take a moment. Catch your breath.”

My throat tightens. “They wanted to burn the witch.”

Harry sits beside me on the couch and rubs my back. “That explains the fear. You’re a reincarnated witch.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“I see lots of witches.”

“You do?”

“In many of my clients, fear is connected to the memory of burning. Thousands of witches were killed in the Middle Ages. If the woman was still alive after burning for an hour, she was innocent. An unachievable deadline, of course.”

I take a deep breath as I gather my thoughts.

Harry continues. “People believed that once a witch was burned to death, their spirit was gone forever. There was no chance of an after-life.”

“Well that proves that all this is stupid. Because according to you, I have been reincarnated.”

“It just proves they were wrong.” He shoves a box of matches in my hand.  “Don’t let them win.”

I would have expected to be terrified, but I’m fascinated. I slide open the little drawer and pull out a match. It’s always been other people creating fire, never me. But now I’m in control. I swipe the match against the box and suck in the smell as it ignites. The flame dances at the end of the stick and a sense of power sweeps over me.

I blow out the flame and smile as the smoke spirals from the blackened match.

My sister is about to regret everything.

 


 

 

 

Title Image: Pexels

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