He could remember the feeling of heat against his face and the searing pain on his arm that felt like a blistering net of spider threads.
He thought he would die then.. but he didn’t.
It wasn’t him that would die that night, swallowed up by the flames and falling timber, screaming in horror at something he couldn’t see.
It was a woman’s voice calling his name but it wasn’t the shrill one he remembered from that night that begged and called out to him. It was soothing... deeper. Instead of feeling like fire around him, this voice was a thick haze of smoke that smelled of market spices.
Thomas opened his eyes, staring at the swathing of sheer dark pastel fabrics on the ceiling that dulled out the florescent lights in the office. The spice smell came from the incense sitting on the doctor’s desk. “There you are... where did you go?” Her voice spoke to him off to his right.
The doctor was short woman who leaned in a high back chair covered in velvet with her heels off and her legs crossed. Thomas blinked and remembered where he was: Dr. Lee’s peculiar office.
“I was back home... in the fire. Watching Marcy scream. I felt like my arm was burning all over again.” He said, his hand wavering over to his right forearm that was covered with clean bandages. Even after it healed, he kept it clean but wrapped it up to cover the oddly shaped scar there that looked much like a peacock feather embossed in his skin.
It was having the dreams about the fire that brought him to Dr. Lee’s office to begin with. Every night he woke up with hot sweats and a dry mouth, enough so that it was affecting his work at Le Mauve. Thomas worked as a sous chef and if a cook was afraid of fire well... it tended to make things go terribly wrong in the kitchen.
He had tried other doctors before and all of them seem to put it as a phobia than a rational fear of something abnormal.
Dr. Lee seemed to be the only one that listened.
“That will happen when you’ve been traumatized...what is it that you remember most though?” Dr. Lee inquired, leaning on the arm rest of her chair as she watched him. Her behavior was borderline unprofessional but the stiff coat manners of the other psychologists hadn’t helped. In this small office he felt more at home.
The incense though made him a little uncomfortable since it was smokey and he could see the faint ember on the dying tip.
She hadn’t seen how she had lit it. He heard no flick of a lighter or a scratch of a match... but he answered her question with his hands tightening against the pillow on his chest. “The scream. Then the pain on my right arm.” He said, refocusing on the ceiling.
Dr. Lee moved from her velvet seat, padding around in her stockings over to the side of the lounge couch he stretched out on to sit at his right. “What about the scream?” Dr. Lee probed further. “Was it shrill? Was it a name she screamed?”
Thomas tightened his lips.
“It’s okay...as I said, I work with unusual cases.” She said soothingly, taking his hand and pulling his arm over onto her lap so she could look at it.
Right. Unusual cases.
Rewinding back several hours…
That morning Thomas had been walking by ‘Quack Row’— a part of the city known for businesses that had crazy remedies like fire cups and snake oils. There was a shop that he went by on a weekly basis had an ointment that worked the best on the burn on his arm that also carried coffee.
A crazy, obscure drug store for old world cures and butter coffee. Both seemed to calm him down and calmed down the burn on his arm that seemed to have a life of it’s own.
Maybe he was crazy though. Phobic of fire that was controllable in the right conditions. As a cook, he knew this.
Although... Some days he thought he would see things out of the corner of his eye that seemed inhuman.
Others times it was waking up at night thinking that he was on fire and finding his bedsheets scorched. These things, according to his current psychiatrist, seemed to be all in his head.
Working at a high end french restaurant called Le Mauve on the upper side of town as an assistant to the head chef, fire was his bread and butter. However, since he got back from recovering from the traumatic fire itself, he couldn’t stand the feeling of heat in the kitchen. Every time there was a flare up or he had to flambé something, he was reduced to hiding with the vegetables.
It was not something he wanted to do but something he had to in order to get by mentally.
Thomas had gotten the ointment and the one dollar coffee, walking back to his one bedroom nor far from Quack Row when he stopped at a ladder that had been set up on the sidewalk. Up on top was a stout man hanging up a new sign on an old iron hook.
“What... is a paranormal psychologist?” He asked but the short man just grunted at him as he descended the ladder, folding it up and putting on his shoulder to carry into a dark stairwell.
“Don’t mind Harry, he’s not much of a talker.” A woman’s voice spoke to him, descending down from a flight of stairs down a concrete corridor.
“I am a paranormal psychologist. Dr. Kal Mu Lee.”
Dr. Lee wasn’t a tall woman but when she shook his hand, she had an iron grip under her manicured fingers. She grinned at him, her high-bobbed blonde hair curling around her rounded cheeks. “I’ve just opened up shop here. Come on inside, I’ll give you a tour.” She offered.
Thomas looked down at the coffee in his left hand and felt the jar of ointment in his right coat pocket. What else was he going to do today? “Do you treat ghosts?” He asked jokingly.
He was not expecting that answer.
Thomas sipped his coffee and Dr. Lee’s smile seemed to widen more. “I deal with cases that other psychologists can’t explain. Sometimes hearing voices and bumps in the night can’t be cured with medicine or alcohol.” She said, her eyes falling to his hand in his pocket.
“Or mysterious burns that use magic man medicine.”
“How did you—”Thomas said before he clamped his mouth closed.
“Paranormal psychologist remember? I think you and I have much to discuss.” Dr. Lee said, gesturing for him to follow her.
“Don’t worry, I don’t do exorcisms unless I have to.”
And that’s how he ended up on the lounge staring up at swaths of silk and smelling incense.
Dr. Lee held his hand, turning his arm over but not touching the bandages. “The scream…”She reminded him.
“It was like she saw a monster.” Thomas said, his voice wavering.
“Her eyes weren’t on me. They were above me. I turned around and put my arm up and I was burned. Marcy never screamed like that until then...”
“A monster you say?” Dr. Lee repeated.
Now things were getting interesting. She started to reach to undo the clips that held the bandage in place but a firm hand grabbed her wrist and Thomas sat up looking pale.
“No.” He sternly grumbled.
“I just want to see.” She insisted but Thomas pulled his arm away and cradled it, clipping the bandages back into place.
“What are you? A healer? A medicine woman who will make it go away with some woo-woo magic spell?” Thomas sounded upset, keeping his eyes on her sternly to keep her from grabbing it again.
“In a way yes...but I think that’s enough for today’s session.” Her body moved away from him, giving him space and distanced them by going over to her desk. Kal scratched down a note on a business card, turning back around and holding it out while Thomas put on his coat.
“How do you know that I’m even coming back?” Thomas asked as he shrugged on his worn leather jacket and made sure that the ointment was still there in his right pocket.
“Trust me. Everyone comes by my office for a reason. Call it fate.” Kal smiled, still holding the business card.
“And you want answers to why Marcy died.”
“You know how she died then?” Thomas asked, taking the card cautiously and looking down.
There were the basics. Her name. Business hours. Address... but she had scratched down a time, a day and for some reason, the weather.
“This is two weeks in advance... how do you know it’s going to rain?” He asked.
Dr. Lee just smiled.