09 May Dance of Flames
“Dance of Flames”Written by Thomas Anthony Lay Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 17 minutes
You’re probably like me, skeptical of all things unexplained. Never in my life have I believed anything that doesn’t have a logical explanation, even if it means I have to string together the most tenuous logic just to make something reasonable. This is me. Why then, do I sit here by this shimmering lake, desperately scrawling these notes on my last remaining pages with trembling fingers? Something wants me. I cannot seem to escape them, I cannot explain them, and I don’t know why they want me. All I know is that large volumes of water are crucial to my survival.
Despite my skepticism, I used to love sitting up late at night reading creepy stories about things like Slenderman and the Rake. I used to regale freaking myself out with horror films, the creepier the better. For me, ominous creaking and flickering shadows thrilled me far more than hacking and slashing, however, no matter how much thrill I found in a story, I would always sleep soundly at night knowing it was just a story. That was until now, until they began to haunt me. This isn’t some made-up story about being stalked by Slenderman, or about a ghastly haunted child watching me sleep. No. This is far worse. This is no made-up story. This is a very real threat to my life – my sanity – a threat I don’t know how to stop. I am hoping that if I don’t make it, my satchel containing these notes will help someone piece together whatever is going on here. I realize I’m being vague. Please, allow me to start from the beginning.
As I’ve mentioned, I love reading up on creepy things. One story caught my eye in particular. It was the “real-life” story about the curse of the crying boy. If you’re unaware of this story, allow me to quickly explain. In 1985, a house in Yorkshire, England was burned to the ground. The only thing that survived was a painting of a crying boy in near-pristine condition. After this strange event was reported, many others around the world began reporting fires where the only surviving object was this painting. This caused widespread panic resulting in many people in possession of the painting to destroy it as quickly as possible. As I read on, fascinated, I ran across an article on some website detailing the event of a car bursting into flames after a crash. The only surviving thing from the blaze was the license of the driver whose name matched the name of the boy in the paintings. I quickly laughed and shrugged this off as people drawing imaginary links on what was likely just coincidence. The reading of this particular tale marked the beginning of strange occurrences around me.
It was August 20th and that evening my mother and I had planned a bonfire to get rid of the old shed. We had invited the family round for a few drinks and decided to make a social evening of it. During the day we stocked up on plenty of beverages: beers, ciders, and bottles of wine for the adults and fizzy drinks for the youngsters, as well as some “finger food” in case anyone got peckish. Our garden was fairly large so preparations began early, bringing out the garden furniture from the new shed for everyone to sit around as well as some of the chairs from the dining table. Dad was at work so mum and I had to prepare everything ourselves; she yelled instructions to me from across the garden to set up the large fire pit and pile on the old wood whilst she set out the table cloth, plates, and cutlery.
“Tom, make sure the fire pit is secure. We don’t want to burn the house down now, do we?” jested my mother. I laughed with her and commented on how I wasn’t an idiot. Once the large circle of stones had been laid, I proceeded to move the old wood that was propped up against the far fence to the center of the pit. I started with two long planks and set them up in a pyramid structure. I began to place other planks around it, also propped up until I had made what roughly resembled a wigwam. We used to burn all our old sensitive letters too, so I scattered a few around along with some dry twigs and other flammable junk from the garden. After about an hour of setting this up, mum began to lay the food out on the table and the family started to arrive. First to arrive was my dad who had just got home from work, he was eager to see the rest of the family so he promptly headed upstairs for a shower. From about 7 pm until 8 pm, the rest of my family turned up until all seventeen of us had arrived.
I am the oldest of my generation, nineteen at the time. My other eight cousins all ranged from five to sixteen. The younger ones were running around, fueled on fizzy pop while the adults, myself included, had just started on our beers, ciders, and wines. It was about 9 pm now and beginning to get dark so my dad decided it was time to light the fire. The older generation all took a seat ready to absorb the warmth of the flames.
“Who built a bloody Egyptian tomb then?” Shouted my uncle Kevin sat opposite me. I raised my bottle of cider, proudly admitting to my creation and laughed with him. He was the joker of the family and always kept us laughing. By this point, I was very excited as I loved fire. I mean… I used to love fire. There was something soothing about it, perhaps dating back to our more primitive times. Dad drizzled a bit of firelighter fluid around the base of the pyramid and dropped a lit match on it. Instantly, the fluid ignited with small flames, licking their way up the wood. Everyone paused for a moment and smiled, watching the flames climb higher and higher. I distinctly remember the sweet smell of the burning wood filling my nostrils and the crackling of the blaze as the fire grew stronger. Kevin had spotted some of our documents and made a witty remark about hiding evidence, but I wasn’t really listening at that point. I was transfixed on the dancing flames. Within a few short minutes, the fire was burning at about a height of seven feet and the family was lost in laughs and chatter, the kids still screaming and having fun as they played tag around the garden.
It wasn’t until about an hour later I started to notice things. I was on my third cider and feeling slightly buzzed from it. I had been lost in the inferno for about half an hour at this point but I can’t be sure. Intensely staring as each peak of fire whipped itself into the air and transformed to white smoke before drifting off in the cool night breeze. I’m sure you do the same; if a fire is burning you stare at it. There is something so calming, so tranquil… I was completely transfixed. I would imagine dancers inside the fire, swaying about in synonymous movement with the blaze. I could feel myself starting to be pulled in; I leaned forward and felt a rapid increase of heat on my face. The warmth was bliss. Staring harder and deeper into the flames was when I first saw it. A face manifested itself right in front of my eyes. It all happened so briefly but I felt like I had seen it for an eternity. The quivering, lipless snarl, the eyeless sockets, the pointed chin, and the mane of flames. The face that I saw directed its empty sockets deep into every fiber of my being and I felt nothing but pure evil and terror in that hint of a moment. I startled backwards and my family blankly stared at me. I shrugged and told them it was an ember landing on my face. They all began to laugh and a few of my uncles joked about something I didn’t really hear. I tried to find the face in the fire again, but I couldn’t. I was certain I had imagined it, after all, I was drinking and it was getting late. Still, even my skeptical side was difficult to silence. I still felt an incredible uneasiness.
I went to bed that night filled with disturbance from the face in the fire. Although the eyes looked empty, I somehow felt they contained an immeasurable amount of pain. Allowing my mind to wander, I drifted off to sleep. The next morning I awoke with a start after rolling onto my side. Clutching my cheek, I groggily hauled myself to the bathroom and saw in the mirror I had a vertical burn about two inches long down my cheek. How the hell did that get there? I didn’t actually burn myself on the fire last night. Fortunately, the burn wasn’t major and didn’t look like it would blister, but it felt sore enough for me to put some cream on it. I walked downstairs after getting dressed and both my parents were already eating breakfast. Dad asked if I was okay, he said I’d had a lot to drink last night and joked about me having a hangover. I didn’t remember having a lot to drink, however, I didn’t remember much between seeing the face and getting into bed, though I felt okay, if a little restless, when I got into bed. How was I drunk? Mum pointed out the burn and called me silly, then asked if I had put some cream on it. I confirmed I did in a half-attentive way. I was trying to make sense of everything. I asked dad what happened, he said he didn’t know as he was too busy catching up with his two brothers. My brain scrambled to piece together some kind of explanation. I had been drinking which caused me to see the face, make order from chaos as it were. The shock of the hallucination made me drink more. I got drunk and burnt myself with a hot stick or something causing the straight line, and went to bed. That must be it… After all, faces don’t just appear in fires and stare at you. That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?
Later that day, I walked into town to grab some essentials like toothpaste and shampoo. As was normal on a Sunday, the main high-street was lined with half a dozen street performers to entertain the tourists. Among the human statues and jugglers was one young man using fire poi. Normally, I would have walked past them all as I usually do, but I stood to watch this man for a minute. Again, I was transfixed on the flame just as I was last night. I shook my head to try and shake this silly feeling. The man caught my eye and smiled at me. I gave a nervous smile back and turned back towards the shops. I had only taken a few more steps when I heard the crowd scream, I quickly turned to see what was going on and everything was plunged into darkness.
I woke up in a hospital bed what seemed like moments later. My parents were sitting to my right and I could only see out of one eye. I panicked briefly but my mother put her hand on my shoulder and told me to calm down, and that it was all okay. I looked at dad who had the biggest expression of relief on his face. I asked them what happened. Dad took the reins of the question. Apparently, the street performer with the fire poi lost his grip whilst swinging the poi about. The flaming ball hurtled toward my head and hit me square in the eye knocking me unconscious. I adjusted my position in the bed and put my hand on my left eye and felt the soft bandage cloth. Dad assured me the doctor said my eyesight was fine and that I was lucky. I didn’t feel lucky. Two fire incidents in two days? Perhaps this was all a stupid coincidence, but perhaps it wasn’t. I glanced at the clock and saw that I had been unconscious for just over two hours. I was very open with my parents, and I decided now would be a good time to tell them about last night’s events. They both agreed that I was just drunk and today just happened to be one of those accidents, wrong place wrong time type thing. I hesitantly nodded in agreement although I knew something wasn’t right at all. I suddenly grasped the bandaged eye in agony as I felt a wild burning ignite inside my skull. Mum shouted for a nurse in a panic and one came rushing in, she tried to give me painkillers but I was writhing too much to take them in tablet form. She pulled out a small needle and a tiny bottle, filled the syringe with some clear liquid and jabbed it into my arm, injecting every drop. She assured us it was a liquid painkiller, and that the pain I was feeling was the exposed nerve endings and it would soon go. I knew that wasn’t right. I forced the ball of my hand into my socket but nothing helped this intense heat coursing its way into my skull and spreading down to my chest. My mother grabbed my hand, and once again the world turned to black.
My good eye flitted open about an hour later. I had blacked out from the pain. My parents were standing outside the door conversing with a doctor. I was shaking. I saw it again as the pain happened, behind the eye that couldn’t see. I saw it. It was clearer this time. I was absolutely certain it was the same face I saw before. It was truly harrowing, it wasn’t just a face. I saw… It… The entire of whatever ‘it’ was, stood there engulfed in darkness. The Flame Dancer. Its hideous fleshy face was surrounded with a body of fire, humanoid in structure but without hands or feet. Instead, its legs and arms just ended in sharp points of concentrated blaze, burning white-hot. The face looked like a damaged leather mask just hovering there, seemingly immune to the surrounding inferno. A pointed chin, a lipless snarl that trembled with the rage of the fire around it. Seams ran tracks across the face as if it had been stitched together, but worst of all – the most terrifying feature – were its eyes. Two empty indents. Empty, yet fierce. Angry in shape but when directed at me I felt like I was feeling the excruciating fear of a thousand tortured souls, as if I could feel the agony of each poor soul before me. It stared, flames raging around it. Then it lifted an arm and directed that fiery spear of an arm toward my own heart. I felt it as real as anything. I felt the burning fury of the sun scorching my chest. That was the point I had blacked out.
The following few days I wasn’t myself at all. My parents were worried. I was avoiding anything that could be linked with fire as best I could. I couldn’t concentrate all morning at work, and half the staff was on holiday or ill, meaning my workload was increased. However, it was now Friday and I knew the fire alarm tests happen at work on Fridays. The alarm itself wouldn’t have frightened me, but it was to warn of fire, and what if it wasn’t a test this time? I had become certain that the “Flame Dancer” as I had named it, was after me. I watched the clock nervously as the seconds ticked closer to 10:00 am when the bell would sound. I couldn’t relax or focus, I kept trying to tell myself that the whole thing was just a stupid hallucination playing on my mind but it wasn’t that simple. The burning, the glare, and the raw panic I felt were all very real. My boss came over and mentioned that he’d noticed a decline in the last week and asked if everything was alright, I feebly explained to him that it was just the poi incident that had shaken me up a little. He told me to feel better soon and try to focus on work. I glanced back at the clock and noticed it was now 10:01 am. The alarm didn’t sound. Oh God, it was broken, the safety mechanism that warns us of fire was broken. 10:06 am, still nothing. 10:12 am, nothing. I started to sweat. I was losing my mind. At 10:22 am, an official came to the office to inform us that the repairman was on his way. I couldn’t take it. I bolted for the toilets with a lump in my throat. What if they broke it? It’s them, I know it is. I tried my best to compose myself and walked back to my desk.
At the very moment I sat down, I heard someone curse loudly from the kitchen followed by a buzz of electricity. I jumped up and as I glanced toward the kitchen I could see the microwave had malfunctioned and a small fire had started in the kitchen. My worst nightmare had just been realized. I screamed for everyone to get out and raced to the fire exit running full speed into the push bar. It was jammed. I ran full force into it and fell backwards. In the next moment, I awoke with one other work colleague who was desperately trying to haul me onto his shoulder. The flames raged around us, the rest of the staff had escaped through the main entrance, ignoring me in their haste. I staggered to my feet. An orange haze clouded my vision. I coughed violently as I inhaled a large breath of smoke before pulling my shirt up over my mouth and nose. Sam pointed toward the exit and said something which was inaudible over the crackling and roaring of the flames. I followed Sam’s finger and saw that all exits were blocked, there was no way out. The burn on my face was particularly tender when in close proximity to the curling tendrils of fire. It was then that it appeared again. Sam saw it too.
The floating leather mask-face emerged from flames, followed by the body before the two conjoined. Every step it took toward us left a smaller fire in its wake. Sam bellowed at me demanding to know what it was. I told him I had no idea but I’d seen it before. It loomed closer, teasing us with a slow pace and staring intently at us. Two more twisted up from the fiery footsteps either side of it, into magnificent columns of fire, contorting into the humanoid shape, and parting the flames to reveal the leathery face that conjured out of nowhere. Three of them, looming slowly toward us. They raised their pointed limbs slowly as they took each step and we both clutched our chests in burning agony. I grabbed Sam’s collar and dragged him toward a window with a strength I never knew I had. He kept his footing but was crippled due to the pain in his chest. As I began to move, one of the Dancers twisted back into the ground and appeared again behind me. I was hell-bent on survival at that point and continued toward the window. As I approached, I could see the fire engines outside. Sam collapsed behind me and fell unconscious. I picked up a chair and threw it at the window, the Flame Dancers only meters from me now. A powerful jet of water burst its way through the window and hit the Dancer closest to me. It let out a shrill cry and dissolved into a puff of smoke, no sign of the face. I glanced back toward the other two, and the third separated from out of the body of the one at the front. I screamed at them asking what they wanted from me, the snarls turned to disturbing smiles and they all stopped. They turned their gaze to Sam. Realizing there was nothing I could do to save him, I jumped from the ground floor window onto the hard concrete outside. Paramedics scooped me into an ambulance and rushed me to hospital for the second time.
I sat quaking in the hospital bed as the nurse checked me over. I took long inhalations of the oxygen being fed to me through a mask. I turned my head and asked the nurse about Sam. She seemed puzzled and asked who Sam was. I told her he was in there with me, she told me to wait a second and went out of the room. She returned moments later with two police officers who sat down next to me. They wanted a statement from me so I nervously told them everything I knew about the fire. Everything except the Dancers. I knew how insane it sounded and I didn’t want to be carted off to a mental institution. My parents burst into the room at that moment, but held back from pouncing on me in relief due to the officers present. I asked about Sam. They gave me the same puzzled look the nurse did and informed me the building was completely empty of bodies, and nobody was reported injured. At first I thought Sam had made it out, I breathed a brief sigh of relief before an officer began to ask questions about Sam. Although his body wasn’t found inside, he didn’t turn up for the roll call outside. I shrugged gingerly. Looking back, I see how stupid that was. The officers thanked me for my time and walked out. My parents replaced the officers in the two seats by my side and my dad tried to cut the tension by joking about my affinity for fire.
“Three fire-related accidents in two weeks, my son!”
I just gazed emptily at him. My mind rested on Sam. Maybe he just went home out of shock. He saw those things too. But he was unconscious. None of this was making any sense. I finally settled on one conclusion that drained all color from me and turned my skin ice cold. They got him. My mum had that same look of panic on her face I had become accustomed to. Mum asked me what was wrong. I told them I had seen the “Flame Dancers” again and how they have Sam. She didn’t laugh this time. She was an aromatherapist, so she had suggested some treatment when we got home. She was convinced that something was causing me to see these weird creatures. I snapped at her about Sam being missing. She stayed quiet. Dad just looked at me, he had a good front but I could tell he was just as concerned. We all just sat there, motionless in awkward silence until a nurse came in and told me I was fine and could go home. My dad thanked her but neither I nor my mum reacted.
Later that evening, I was furiously racking my brain trying to figure out what to do. I felt lost. There was nothing. My mother’s voice called me from the dining room and I ambled in to see her, still limping on my right leg slightly. As soon as I got close to the room I stopped in my tracks at what I could smell. Scented candles. Mum was going to try aromatherapy. Oh God, candles! I jetted in and blew out the six candles as quickly as physically possible. One didn’t go out properly, so I threw my mum’s tea on it and sighed heavily. Mum didn’t understand and tried to assure me it would help. All I could say was “no fire” over and over. No fire. No fire! I felt my sanity slipping from me. I drearily looked up at mum who I don’t think had been so worried in her life. Her tearful eyes gripped my heart. I hated doing this to her. I walked up to her and hugged her whilst reassuring her that I was just tired and that I should just go to bed. She just nodded and told me she loved me.
That night may have been the worst night yet. I drifted off to sleep fairly easily, but there they were, in my dreams. Six of them, surrounding me. I screamed at them, demanding to know what they wanted from me. One stepped forward and stared me right in the eye. By this point, I was fed up and I could feel the fear escaping me. I wasn’t sure whether they could hurt me in my dreams… If it even was a dream. Nonetheless, I tried to avoid those harrowing eyes but caught a glimpse as one of them moved to my right. I gasped when I saw Sam’s face, contorted in sheer agony, shimmer for a nanosecond in the right socket. Then it spoke. I thought the eyes were horrifying enough. Several voices emitted from it ranging from a high-pitched shriek to a demonic grumble. The words that followed re-ignited the fear that had briefly subsided. In a slow, chilling tone, it spoke.
“You… belong… to us…”
The limb came up, just as before. I had to wake up. I screamed, I pinched and bit myself but nothing worked. I thrashed about but I could not get out of this reality. A raging firestorm built up around my heart and I bellowed as pain engulfed my every sense. Then nothing. They had gone. Was I safe? Were they toying with me?
My eyes opened and my bedroom light was on. I was sweating and panting heavily. Mum was sitting beside me crying. She begged me to go to a doctor. I tried to convince her it was just a bad dream and that I knew how to help myself. She hesitantly nodded and questioned me about it. I needed to go away for a bit, change of scene and clear my head. She didn’t want me to at first but I told her it was the only way and I would be fine.
“We’ll discuss it with your father in the morning.”
I agreed and she left still sobbing. I couldn’t sleep for the rest of that night. My heart was still pounding and still felt hot. The look I saw on Sam’s face as it briefly appeared was more contorted and agonizing than I had ever seen anything before, worse than any horror movie I’d ever watched. I belong to them? What did I do? Was it because I read that tale of the crying boy? Staring into the bonfire? Maybe Sam was collateral as they tried to get to me. I didn’t know what was real anymore. I spent the next few hours trying to formulate a plan. Could I run from them? Hide from them maybe? Would I have to evade them for my whole life? How can I live a life like this? I contemplated suicide, and then dismissed the notion, believing that they would claim my body after death. I would outrun them for as long as I can. Stay smart, stay ahead. I got up and found my old school bag. I stuffed it with rope, pens, a notepad, scissors, money, and various other things I thought I’d need to survive. I would find or build a house next to a lake and live there, shielding myself from fire for as long as possible.
When morning came, I still hadn’t slept. I walked downstairs with my packed bag to meet my parents sitting at the dining table. We discussed the idea of me leaving for what felt like hours, but I had made my mind up. I was going whether they agreed or not. I didn’t want to put them at risk. My dad realized this, and consoled my mum. He glared at me and demanded I call them every day. I promised I would and told them I’d be back before they knew it, just think of it as an adventure. I cried a bit, and hugged them both goodbye, not knowing if I’d ever see them again.
I left the house that morning, almost two years ago now, and have not been back since. I used to phone my parents daily, but my mobile stopped working a while ago. Now I only phone them when I get the chance. It took me about six months to find this little place after I left. A very small abandoned log cabin on the edge of a lake in a clearing in the woods. It was perfect. I disposed of everything that could cause a fire and called it my home. It may sound like I had found peace, but that is far from the truth. I sit here now, by this lake, scrawling my notes in the moonlight. I keep this flame retardant satchel I stole a long time ago with me at all times, I don’t want to lose it. I live every single day wondering if I’ll see them again. I have long since discovered that the dreams only happen if there is a source of fire nearby. I am far from safe though. I’ll never be safe again. I still see the haunting eyes every day in visions and flashbacks. I can feel their sinister presence watching me, just out of sight, waiting for the perfect time to strike. I can almost touch the tendrils of evil that emit from the very thought of the horrors I have endured.
* * * * * *
The notes ended there. After reading them, George looked uneasily at the huge, charred pile of ash he was now standing on. His gaze swept the lake and came to rest on the satchel at his feet. He felt an icy chill trickle down his spine. His breathing stopped and his chest felt warm.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available