Chapter 15

"I was born in 1912. My parents were Charlie and Renee Swan. Charlie was the overseer of a very large farm in southern Virginia. The farm stretched over 200 acres and was separated into smaller plots of land. The plots were farmed by sharecroppers. We lived in a small white house that was sandwiched between a large forest and fields of corn and tobacco.

"Charlie died when I was three years old. The doctor said he died of a heart attack, but I can never be sure. Medical care back then was nothing compared to what it is now. My mother didn't like to talk about him much, but from what I gathered he was tall and thin with a bushy mustache and deep eyes. His kindness was his most memorable feature though. I've heard many stories over the years from desperate men that stumbled onto our land looking for work and a way to support their families. Charlie always gave them a plot of land to farm and didn't take advantage of their work.

"When he died, our close family friend took over ownership of the farm. He let me and my mother stay in our house. We tended to some chickens and did a bit of cleaning for some of the single men, but for the most part we kept to ourselves.

"For as long as I can remember I have had some influence over fire- or it has had some influence over me, I don't know. It was a long time before I realized that it wasn't normal, though. I didn't have any close friends, other than my mother. When I did realize that I was a freak, naturally I kept it to myself. When I was young that was easy to do. I was drawn to the flames, but I never did anything more than let them dance along my skin, which I did in secret. I was so fascinated that the fire never hurt me, as I had seen my mother burn herself on the hot irons and have to nurse the wound for several hours.

"When I passed into my teen years, everything changed. I was a gradual change, but significant nonetheless. I started to feel the fire even when I wasn't near a candle or a lantern or a stove. I started to feel it inside of me. It flowed through my veins and warmed me from the inside out. My mother would feel my hand or my forehead and deep lines of worry would crease her face. It stayed that way for a few years, and eventually she grew to except the fact that her daughter was exceptionally warm.

"During these years, my secret experiments with fire became more intense. I learned to create fire where there previously was none. I learned to make the fire inside of me channel out through my palms and to absorb in into my body the same way.

"The more I played with fire, though, the more unruly it got. It no longer just simmered thought me lightly; it raged. It fought to escape like it had a will of its own. Whenever I was near some flames they would twist and stretch angrily towards me.

"My mother noticed; it would have been impossible to hide it from her. She confronted me, and I showed her what I could do. I coaxed some fire onto my hand from a near by candle and played around with it for a moment, manipulating it to make it grow and then pushing it back onto the wick. She almost fainted. She looked at me warily as if wondering if I was truly her daughter. She didn't speak to me for a long time. But then she did. I don't know what made her change her mind, but suddenly she was accepting me again.

"I didn't realize how much I needed her. I didn't realize how much I craved to have someone know everything about me and still want to stay. Her friendship made all the difference in the world.

"As I approached my late teen years, the fire began reacting to my emotions. It would crackle and rage and fight for control when I was angry or annoyed, it would simmer lightly when I was calm, and it would snuff out completely when I was sad. It was my mom that helped me to control my emotions. She helped me study my mind so I could consciously decide what I wanted the fire to do.

"For a while it was rough going, and at times I was terrified. The fire magnified my emotions so that even the slightest twinge of annoyance made me seethe and the first hints of happiness made me dance. It felt like I didn't have control of my own body, and that scared me more than anything.

"My mother was a very spiritual being. She believed that everyone and everything on the earth was woven together in a tapestry of life. I had always turned a blind eye to her meditation and talk of the grand scheme of things, preferring instead to focus on the here and now. Ironically, meditation turned out to be my saving grace. While my mother meditated to feel her connections to the earth, I meditated to shut out everything until it was just me and the fire. It took me a long time to get good at it, but eventually I mastered it, and it made all the difference in the world.

"The sensation is hard to put into words, but while I was meditating it wasn't like I was in my own little bubble, it was like nothing existed but me and the fire. At first it was just peaceful and calming and a way for me to sooth my anger or frustration. Eventually though, it was how I learned to control my mind.

"Conscious thought is a tiny portion of the brain's capabilities. When we think to ourselves, I want to move my hand, or I want to walk over there, it's not our conscious thought that makes it happen. Normally we walk or we move without having to consciously think about it. While we're having a conversation we don't have to think about how we want the muscles in our mouths to move, our brain takes care of it for us.

"Most people never stop to think about how much we do automatically. People don't even come close to finding the limit of their brain's capabilities. They take for granted that they don't have to think- they can just do. When I meditated, my mind was an open book. I was very calm, and I was able to trace that emotion back to it's origin in my brain. I became so familiar with that part of my brain that controls my emotions that I was eventually able to control it while I wasn't meditating.

"Emotions are unruly and wild, but I became very skilled at putting up walls in my mind that would stop the emotion in its track. Even then, though, it was hard. I would go from being angry one second to peaceful the next. My mind wasn't trained to experience such a whiplash of feelings, and it left me drained. I understood then why people don't have control over their emotions- they wouldn't be able to handle the pressure. I couldn't handle it myself.

"With my mother at my side and meditation as my guide, my life was better than it had been in a very long time. Even with the constant weariness from trying to control my emotions, I was happy.

"And then Phil came into our lives.

"He was a widower at the young age of 35. He stumbled onto our land with nothing to his name but the clothes on his back. The overseer took pity on him and gave him a five acre plot of land right next to ours. He built himself a small house and worked quietly. Renee felt bad for him- or maybe just wanted to spend time with him, so she took to cleaning his house and cooking him meals.

"I paid no attention to her infatuation for a while; it was right about the time when I was still struggling with the onslaught of changing emotions. I was so constantly tired that I didn't even notice us drifting apart.

"Eventually, though, it was impossible to ignore. Renee would be gone for practically the whole day and then bring Phil to our house to giggle at him over dinner. Don't get me wrong, I liked Phil. He was a little young for my mother, but she seemed happy and that was enough for me. I never got close very close to him; I didn't want or need a father figure in my life. I had my mother and that was good enough for me.

"Soon though, it became very apparent that I didn't have my mother any more. When I tried to talk to her about my problems or even just about my day I could see in her eyes that part of her attention was always elsewhere. It frustrated me and made me sad, but I blocked the emotions with a strong wall in my mind. I couldn't be angry with my mother because I didn't have anyone else to turn to. Plus I knew I was being selfish in wanting to keep her to myself.

"Life went on like that for a few months. I constantly added layers to my wall to keep the sadness and anger at bay. I deluded myself into thinking that everything was okay until suddenly I couldn't pretend anymore.

"It was one of the first days of autumn. We hadn't had a heavy rain in a few weeks and everything was dry and crackly. The bottoms of the leaves were just beginning to turn maroon, as if the color was exploding out from the center of the trees. My mom invited Phil to dinner at our house and I was resolved to spend a night with a cheerful mask plastered onto my face to hide my annoyance and discomfort.

"It was just getting dark by the time Phil arrived so I suggested to Renee that we eat outside with the moon as our lamp. She scoffed and mumbled something about how improper that was and then she pulled out all of our candles. Her rejection didn't bother me nearly as much as her actions. We made a point to use the candles only when absolutely necessary, as it was a test of my control to have fire so near by and not interact with it. We only used the fireplace in the dead of winter, and even then we walked around snuggled in blankets for weeks before lighting the fire.

"I tried to shrug off my resentment and told myself I should be proud that she trusts me to stay in control. I put on my mask and helped set the table.

"I tried not to realize that Renee touched Phil fourteen times before we even made it to the main course. I tried not to realize that I hadn't been included in the conversation from the start. I tried not to realize that the pressure behind my wall was building.

"Instead I focused my energy on mundane tasks. I cut my food into perfectly even pieces and chewed each bit exactly twelve times. A small gust of wind snuffed out the flame on one candle and I reached out my hand automatically to relight it. It was a normal thing for me to do, I don't even thing we had matches in the house- why would we? I didn't think twice about it until Renee snatched my hand out of the air in a death grip. I turned towards her, my eyes wide, and watched in disbelief as she shook her head almost imperceptibly.

"Everything was perfectly clear in that moment. Phil didn't know about my fire and Renee didn't plan to tell him. I don't know why I figured that he already knew; I guess I thought that surely Renee would have told him if she planned for him to be part of the family. I was wrong. Renee was embarrassed by me, her anomaly daughter.

"I knew in that moment that if I didn't get away I wouldn't be able to control the hurt that was raging through me. I pushed away from the table so quickly that my chair tipped over backwards and the silverware rattled angrily. I ran into the woods without looking back. I didn't know what Renee would tell Phil, and I didn't care. I curled myself into a ball as if I could physically restrain myself from doing something I would regret.

"I pushed seemingly endless hurt and anger behind the wall in my mind. After a long time I started to feel normal again. I stood up and swayed on my feet. I was exhausted. The only thought in my mind was getting home to my bed.

"When I got home, Phil was gone and the candles were still burning. Renee had waited up for me.

"I don't remember exactly what happened when I walked in the door. I blocked that memory so far back in my mind that I haven't been able to find it again. What I do know is that suddenly we were arguing. Loudly. And sleep was suddenly the furthest thing from my mind.

"I accused Renee of being ashamed of me and she called me a freak. Each word she spat at me was a sucker punch to my gut. Each time she spoke the pressure behind the wall increased exponentially. I wasn't even thinking before I yelled. I asked her if she even remembered that she loved my father. I accused her of cheating on him with Phil.

"I remember the hurt in her eyes when I said that. She backed down for a moment and it was almost enough for me to control myself again. Almost, but not quite. The fire was raging through me, making my temper flare and my emotions surge. All around me I saw the small flames on each of the candles swell and reach angrily towards me. The temperature in our little house rose about twenty degrees. A bead of sweat trickled down my face and dropped off my face. It hit the floor and sizzled.

"My mom was backing slowly into the corner of the room. She held her hands up in surrender. When her back hit the wall she jumped in surprise. He mouth was pressed into a tight line and her eyes swam with both anger and worry.

"She told me that I needed to get in control now. And then said that this was why she was never going to tell Phil about me.

"And then I lost it.

"Every single ounce of anger and hurt and pain that I had bottled up inside my mind crashed through my wall as if it were made of tissue paper. I didn't have even one ounce of control left in my body.

"One second I was glaring at my mom with my fists clenched tightly at my sides. The next second fire was shooting out of every single pore on my body. I couldn't see anything but the raging inferno. The heat and the power of the fire brought me too my knees. Everything I had fought so hard to keep inside of me was bursting out effortlessly. I didn't have anything left. I almost passed out. The corners of my vision turned black and I fought to get air into my lungs.

"An impossibly soft whimper somehow reached my ears. I suddenly remembered my mother, and I hated myself for forgetting. But that one emotion, that one something inside me, gave me enough energy to move through the inferno.

"I crawled on my hands and knees across the wooden floor that was crackling and surrendering to the fire. The temperature was rising every second and it felt amazing.

"I couldn't see but a few inches in front of my face, but somehow I knew where I was going. After a moment my hand brushed heap near the corner of my room. It was impossible for me to know if it was my mother as everything was surrounded completely in flames. I prayed to whoever was out there that it was my mother.

"I needed strength to pull her outside with me. I closed my eyes and focus on the good memories of us; when she accepted me and the fire; just random times when we laughed and had a good time. I pulled some fire into me and let it give me strength.

"I scooped the bundle into my arms, and at once knew it was my mother because of the dead weight of her form. Adrenaline must have been on my side because I was somehow able to stand and walk with her in my arms.

"I thought I knew my house well until I was trying to navigate through it without being able to see. I ran into the table, a few chairs, and what I think was a wall before I finally made it outside.

"The inferno was surprisingly contained inside of our house; once I passed through the doorway only rivers of smoke were blocking my vision. I ran about ten more feet before setting my mother gently on the ground.

"She was still so surrounded in flames that I couldn't see her face. I automatically began pulling them into my body, but with every flame I siphoned away from her, it seemed like ten more grew in its place.

"If not for the energy I got from taking the flames inside me, I would have passed out long before my mother was no longer burning. As it was, the task left me more exhausted than I had been in a long time.

"Even when all the flames were snuffed I kept trying to pull more from her body. It was as if I thought I could take away all the burns.

"Only parts of her pale skin was still visible; the rest was charred black and looked disgustingly like it was about to turn to ash. I was working on autopilot as my hand reached out and gently probed her neck for a pulse. Her heart was beating. It was beating so faintly that at first I thought my brain was playing tricks on me. But it was still beating.

"I whispered softly to her and watched tears I didn't know I was crying fall gently onto her ruined cheeks. Her eyelids fluttered and opened, but her eyes didn't see anything. Her lips moved and formed three delicate words. My fingers that lay resting on her neck ceased to feel her heart beating.

"My pulse thundered through my ears as if it was gaining the strength that my mother's was leaving behind.

"I was numb for quite a long time, though I'm not actually sure how long. After a few hours I stood up and walked into the woods. I walked for a long time, and then I stopped. I sat on a rock but didn't feel the jagged edges pressing into my skin. I looked towards the trees but didn't see the leaves and the trunks.

"I was sitting on the same rock when a vampire found me. Apparently he was drawn to humans who will possess extraordinary talents when they are changed. I didn't care. I didn't care about anything.

"The only thing I could think was that I had killed my mother. I had killed my only friend. I had killed her, and yet her last words were that she loved me.