This is the second in a series of fire-themed posts about passion, illness, identity, and adventure, in celebration of the forthcoming new adult series, MADDIE AFLAME! from Go Deeper’s BENT imprint. You can find the first post here.
Here is the opening of the first of the Maddie Aflame! books, in which Maddie suffers from Combustion Syndrome, and queerness is illegal. The project is still being written, so this is very much a sneak preview.
This passage contains descriptions of the body on fire, ghosts, sensual kissing, and a homophobic attack:
It was dark in the alley when the flames started prickling. I could feel them kindling in my chest, then shooting down my arms, so I stared at my palms dreading the first sparks. But I couldn’t miss what was happening ahead—the women who were kissing under the bookstore’s awnings. I balled my fists, willing the flames to hold on while the women fell back into the shadows. I could still see the dark-skinned woman with the made-up face curling her fingers into the others’ beach-blonde hair. Their kiss was seamless, mouth-on-mouth, sinking them further into one another. Would I ever be able to know passion like that? My condition made me too worried and shy. But watching these women, my heart was thumping in my ears, and I felt their kiss between my thighs. There, it was a burn, but not the sort that combusts. A gorgeous, simmering music. With the country the way it was right now, and queerness being illegal, I just didn’t want to want girls. But watching these women, I felt alive. You can’t deny that feeling.
I was so lost in the women’s’ hands and mouths that when the first shout came, I didn’t see their reaction.
“Messed up bitches!” growled a male voice.
My heart lurched. I wanted to warn the women, but I was too late—others were congregating angrily along with the attacker, most of them young men, some of them women. All of them began shouting insults at the women, who were now backing into a corner, their eyes large with fear. I felt my blood chill, felt my limbs start to tremble. Was this what was in store for me if I kept on living as queer? To make things worse, the pale form of a waiting spirit was peering from an alley that ran down the side of the bookshop, watching the attack. As was always the case with the ghosts, it was rather like staring at a living person’s reflection in a sheet of dull steel. I could make out a blurry face and even a trim, grey beard, but I couldn’t possibly see his facial expression. Was he scared for the kissing women, or was he supporting the attack? Impossible to tell. I feared the latter.
Did even the ghosts want us dead?
The women weren’t kissing any more. In fact, the blonde was now shouting out her truths, while her partner cowered behind her. The growing mob congregated around them, grunting words like “whores” and “disgusting” and “bitches.” Some of them started to shove at the women, who I now couldn’t even see, and the shoving got worse until all hands were reaching for them, possibly pulling their hair or ripping at their clothes. My heart thumped with terror and my feelings kindled something else—my hand burned suddenly and when I held it up, I noticed the flames had burst into life there. Shit, shit, shit! I tried to ball my fist around them, but the scalding hurt too much—my fingers opened without my say-so, and there, just for a second, was the fire in my palm. I fell onto all fours, pressing my palm into the alley’s dirt. After a moment the flames were stifled and I was on my knees coughing, my palm a blackened mess. Usually, there’d have been someone asking if I was okay, but the mobs were attacking the screaming women, so no one noticed me.
A bottle smashed against something. A car alarm suddenly howled. A boy’s voice yelled, “You’re a pollution!”
A police car arrived, making the street flash blue. But the people the cops eventually arrested were the kissing women with their ripped clothes and bloody faces. Tears stung my eyes. Why arrest the innocents? But that’s what England had now become: ours was the first country to acknowledge ghosts as citizens, yet it also arrested queers and threw us in jail.
I stared down at my throbbing palm. It was a foul, stinking, blackened mess. “To hell with my flames,” I muttered, as the burn throbbed. I felt bad for thinking about myself when I’d just seen those women so cruelly treated, but my illness was getting to me today. Who wants to have stronger skin, if it means going up in flames? Who wants to be resilient when it only brings you pain?
When people told me Combustion Syndrome was cool, I’d ask them what they thought about being burned alive.
Maddie Aflame! will be published in 2016.