Ashes to Ashes - Dust to Dust
|Ashes to Ashes
Half an hour was all it took to convince her dad that she could handle the whale boat in the calm waters off North Point Sound. Half an hour, filled with lots of hugs, a tremendous amount of persuasion; not to mention several promises that she would probably forget within a day or two, and a surprising blessing from Mom.
Lily and her brother Jake had served on the family whale boat since they could barely walk. She remembered sliding around the deck checking each lobster trap and squealing in fright at the monster looking thingies that crawled on the deck around her. She and Jake were twins, thirteen going on twenty-one. They both possessed an abundance of dirty red hair, a sprinkling of light freckles, squinty eyes, and a reckless sense of daring.
Many would call her pretty, others perhaps plain, but most girls swooned over Jake as if he was Prince Forget-me-not. Jake was tall for his age and his physique rippled with sculptured muscles, a deep tan, and a cute lopsided grin. The muscles were a result of working on the whale boat during lobster season and on the High School Football and Basketball Teams during the school year.
It was a few weeks before Thanksgiving and they were eager to see if their grandmother was well enough to be transported across the bay’s choppy waters. Grandma Bella lived on a small island several miles from the mainland along with half a dozen other retired couples, and cell phone service was sporadic at best. Even though Grandpa Bill had passed away two years before, she refused to leave the home they had shared for over fifty years.
Joining them in this sudden excursion were their cousins, John and Lauretta. John was thirteen and Lauretta bragged of being a very grown up fourteen. They lived several blocks down from Lily and Jake and mirrored their lives, especially since both families come from a long unbroken line of lobstermen. Vacationers would probably guess they were all sisters and brothers since their features were so similar.
It was a perfect autumn day. The sky was a clear blue, the ocean waves small with choppy whitecaps, and the salty breeze carried the aroma of fish, fish and, more fish. It took no time at all to cross the bay to the small island. Lily was almost disappointed that it was such a short run. She loved the freedom and power she felt while steering the boat through the swells. Unfortunately, she had promised Jake that he could captain the boat on the return trip.
Grandma Bella’s small place was on the south shore of the small island, located several hundred feet above a small launching dock which their father and uncle had recently repaired. A pathway made of gravel and railroad ties zigzagging its way up to the small deck on the front of the house.
Lily reversed throttle and stopped the boat with care while Jake and John jumped off and tied it to the docking cleats. As soon as she was satisfied that the anchorage was secure, they headed up the steep stairs to the small gray and white house. The paint on the house was weather beaten, as most homes were along the shore, but it was still sturdy and well maintained.
Lily was first to reach the screen door. She was a fast runner and a valuable member of the school track & field team. The front door was open, which was unusual, and an odd and unsavory odor permeated the living room as they entered. It smelled as if something had been burned and left to smolder for ages, that musty burned odor that lingered around old burned home sites.
“Grandma, it’s us!” Lily softly yelled. “You home?”
As soon as they entered the kitchen, they discovered the source of the awful odor. Lying on the floor near the open refrigerator was a pile of dirty gray ashes. The powdery gray ashes were in the form of a burned human body. The arms and head and torso were fully outlined, the legs curled up in the fetal position. Most astonishing of all was that part of one leg from just above the ankle, including the shoe, was untouched by the flames. Also, the right hand lay unburned at the top of the pile of ashes. Attached to the wrist of the hand was Grandma Bella’s bracelet they had given to her last Christmas.
Lily placed her hand over her mouth to prevent a scream from erupting. Her eyes were wide in shock, her shoulders trembling. The others were staring open mouthed with an expression of panic. Lauretta ran from the kitchen to the back stoop. They could hear her vomiting and crying. There was no doubt in their minds that these were the grisly remains of their beloved Grandma Bella.
Always the first to jump into action and make decisions, Jake pointed at Lilly. “Do you think you can go back to the boat and use the radio and tell Mom and Dad what we found?” Lily nodded, her eyes beginning to water over in tears. “Take Lauretta with you and be careful.” He turned to John. “Professor Daniels lives in the second house down from here. I want to see if he will come and help us with this. You want to stay here or go with me?”
“I’m with you,” John croaked. “I can’t stay here by myself.”
They all knew the Professor and his wife. They knew everyone on the small island because it was a small close knit community who often gathered for holiday parties and shared family cookouts. Professor Daniel was retired from a major university and spent most of his time fishing and reading. He was a well-respected physicist with a kind and gentle disposition. He was shocked to see the looks on their faces and immediately knew something had terrified them. He agreed to follow them to Grandma Bella’s house.
The boys stood back as the Professor examined the burned pile and the visible remains. He did not touch anything and advised the boys to stay well clear of the area. He finally backed up with a grim look on his face.
“Spontaneous Human Combustion,” he stated.
Jake and John looked blankly at him.
“Spontaneous Human Combustion is a phenomenon that cannot be explained, but there are dozens of documented cases. What makes these phenomena so peculiar is that the extremities often remain intact, such as the hand and foot you see, although the torso and head are charred beyond recognition. Also, the room around the person shows little or no signs of a fire, aside from a greasy residue that is sometimes left on furniture and walls. This is obviously the only answer I can see.”
“You don’t think someone murdered her and set her on fire?” Jake asked.
“Very doubtful,” Professor Daniels replied. “It takes a very hot flame, around 3,000 degrees to reduce a human body to ash. Crematoriums have special chambers designed for it. However, in almost all combustions, there are no burns in the room around the body, indicating that the person simply stayed in one place. Crematorium specialists have viewed photos of combustion victims and say they cannot duplicate the complete destruction of bones in such a short period of time. They find it even harder to believe that this could happen so completely in ordinary rooms such as living rooms, bathrooms, etc. Plus, there is no lingering smell of gas or any other accelerant having been used.”
“Why our Grandma?” Jake blurted. “She was such a wonderful and loving person.” He burst into tears before he could finish.
Professor Daniels gave him a few moments to recover before answering. “There is no explanation, Jake. The documented cases are of people so varied in life and time that there is no possible connection between them. Scientists have been trying to explain Spontaneous Human Combustion for centuries and cannot come up with an answer. Many scientists believe it doesn’t even exist. However, there seems to be no good person or bad person connection, it just happens.”
“Why don’t we hear more about these combustions?” asked John. “You’d think everyone on earth would know about them, they’re so incredible!”
“Very rare,” replied the Professor. “There are billions of people on earth and few documented cases, it’s like UFO’s, and few people actually believe they exist or things like this actually happen. There’s no need for you linger around here, I’ll make a few phone calls to the authorities then take you back to the mainland in my boat.”
Back at the Professor’s modest home, they sat nervously at the kitchen table while he tried to contact the police. After many tries, he shook his head. “Can’t get a connection,” the Professor stated. “All communication appears to be out.”
The Professor’s wife, Abby turned on the television set in the kitchen nook. Her eyes were red from the tears she had shed over their friend Bella and her hands shook. The news anchors on satellite television were practically screaming into the cameras.
“It’s happening everywhere!” a cutesy blonde anchor yelled. “The cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion are steadily climbing. There are already thousands of cases nationwide and the government has verified many more victims worldwide. These phenomena came out of nowhere and continue to run rampant. Scientists around the globe are dumbfounded and cannot offer any coherent explanation for thousands of people simply bursting into flames. There seems to be no end in sight.”
The Professor slowly glanced around the kitchen, noting the aura of misbelief on their faces. He began to say something when his wife opened her mouth as if to scream, but no sound came forth. Instead, a fiercely burning fire started in her midsection and continued to spread until her entire body was covered with searing flames. Within seconds, all that was left was a pile of ashes on the kitchen floor with the exception of one leg from the knee down which appeared to be completely untouched by the searing flames.
The Professor threw up his hands and started screaming…
Word count: 1706