“Burned Alive” – Excerpt from DEATH MASK (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

Don’t ask me why, but this storyline totally captivates my attention… I think it’s the unusual element of it, even for a paranormal crime… but DEATH MASK is quickly becoming a favorite project…

(WARNING: This excerpt contains graphic information)

DEATH MASK (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow):

“Wait a minute. You’re saying he… set himself on fire?”

She shrugged helplessly, looking up at him from where she crouched by the body. The smell of burned flesh and wood hung in the air, and she didn’t like the undisturbed nature of the scene. This level of trauma, there shouldn’t be a structure still standing. Yet, everything appeared undisturbed. She had nothing else to go on, yet. “There’s no evidence to suggest anyone else was in this cabin with him. The flesh was completely immolated on his right arm, and the burn patterns on the remaining bones suggest he was holding a lit match in a hand doused in accelerant. Other than that, the rest of the burn damage is inconsistent and scattered. At first glance, I’d say he probably died of inhalation trauma. I won’t have anything more definitive until after the autopsy.”

Jonathan loosed a low whistle. “That’s dedication. Who would do something like this in an isolated cabin in the middle of the desert, with no witnesses? I thought self-immolators did this kind of stuff as protest, or to make a public point of some kind.”

She nodded. “That’s consistent with a self-immolation profile, yes. But this victim doesn’t fit that profile. Look around. Everything is neat and orderly, but there’s absolutely no religious iconography, no symbols of any kind of obsession or devotion that typically leads to that kind of behavior. Self-immolators typically have fanatical social or religious ideologies, and they either make a public spectacle of the immolation, or they leave some kind of very deliberate and obvious statement of intent or reason. Look around. There’s no TV, no evidence he received the newspaper, or any heavily politicized or religiously fanatical magazines or literature of any kind. I don’t see any reason for him to do something like this to himself.”

“Maybe it was a suicide.” He sounded doubtful.

“Self-immolation is a very painful and slow way to die, Jonathan. Suicides are typically looking for an escape from pain, not a way to cause more of it. If he just wanted to kill himself, there are a thousand more efficient ways to achieve that.”

“So, you think he was murdered.”

“I can’t say definitively, at this point, but that seems the most logical conclusion, yes.”

“Mac, there’s no one around for miles, and nothing else burned. This place is untouched, except for that.” He pointed toward the body and the darkly charred spot on the unfinished wood floor beneath it.

“I don’t understand it, either,” she shot back in frustration. “Not yet, anyway. I have to get him back to the Ranch. Once I do a proper autopsy, maybe we’ll know more.”

“Or maybe this is just the beginning,” he muttered as he stashed his notebook in his jacket pocket, already headed for the door. His off-hand remark sent a chill through Faith. After all, she had no answers for him. Nothing she could back up with scientific evidence, anyway. And they both knew what that meant.

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