Court Transcript

KREW. Jack Vallis wasn’t the only telepath in the asylum; there were many other psychics, mediums and empaths, all with varying degrees of ability. Of course, the sixth sense is a natural one, and can be developed by perfectly ordinary people. I would hate the court to think that the occult is a mysterious art, practised only by witches with sinister intent. But amongst all the clairvoyants at Sunhill, the only one who could see me was a fireman called Michael Keely. At the time of which I speak, he had been a patient for ten years. He remained acutely psychotic, despite all efforts to cure him. Nevertheless, he was rational within the sphere of his own delusion. That’s him over there, sitting by the window…

Krew is telling it…

‘Good morning Michael.’

‘Oh hello Cyclops.’

‘And how are we today?’

‘Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m freezing. I wasn’t born to dwell in such a cold climate. This is a curséd miserable place, to be sure. It should be razed to the ground.’

‘And you a fireman!’

‘I’m not a fireman, I’m a salamander.’

‘A salamander?’

‘That’s what I said. A salamander. I was born in fire, and fire is my true abode.’

‘But you don’t look like a salamander.’

‘Of course not. I’m in disguise. I have no desire to draw attention to myself. Think about it: if the doctors were to see my true form, they would kill me on the spot. They would kill you too.’

‘This is a faithless age to be sure.’

‘Indeed Cyclops, indeed. Most people are ignorant of the invisible world. Especially the atheists. Although, I must admit, the first time I saw you, I thought it was the demon drink. I had never seen a Cyclops before, except in a book when I was young – a picture of Odysseus searing the eye of Polyphemus. When I spied you, I thought I was going mad. I confessed to doctor what’s his name… Dammit. Forgotten his bloody name, so I have. Tell me now, who’s that doctor with the crooked teeth? A spooky looking chap he is, to be sure. You know who I mean—old carrot top. What’s his name now?’

‘You mean Pontius?’

‘Yes, that’s him. Pontius. An ignorant bostoom if ever there was one. I have always had a bad opinion of doctors, but he really takes the proverbial biscuit. Do you know what he did when I told of you?’

‘Upped your medication?’

‘No. He sent me for an eye test! An eye test, I ask you! Of course, he refuses to believe that I’m a salamander; and I dare not show him; such a sight would scare him to death.’

‘How so? I find salamanders to be the most attractive amphibians.’

‘Oh no, I don’t look like them. I am quite a different creature altogether. A gruesome hydra with two heads and eight arms.’

‘Can you show me? I’d love to see your true shape.’

‘What, here? Are you mad? Another time perhaps. Besides, I need fire to transform. Unless you happen to have a light?’

‘Sorry Michael, I left my tinder box at home.’

‘I thought as much. You’re stuck with me as I am then.’

‘Tell me, have you always had second sight?’

‘As long as I can remember. The first entity I ever saw was a gnome. I must have been about two years old. I remember it most distinctly. My mother had left me alone in my pram, parked outside in the pouring the rain. I was most unhappy, screaming my little head off. When low and behold, a little gnome appeared on the pram-rail. He was such a happy looking fellow, and he did a little dance to cheer me up. He made me chuckle, so he did. But as I got older I began to see darker entities. I can assure you, many substantial and terrifying creatures exist. Could modern man but see these phantom beings, he would wilt with fear and become Christian overnight. I’m surprised you can’t see them yourself. The air is full of them. Such vile ugly beasts. They make my flesh crawl.’

‘Can you see them now?’

‘Yes, they’re everywhere.’

‘What do they look like?’

‘Have you ever seen a drop of pond water under the microscope? It teems with hidden life: monstrous creatures, devouring each other like ravenous squid. Well that’s what the atmosphere looks like—teeming with elementals. Of course, I myself am no Adonis, but I am far prettier than the Undines and Sylphs. The Undines in particular are most hideous: they have six rows of teeth and heads like tapeworms.’

‘Do you realise that you’re the only salamander in Sunhill?’

‘I am?’

‘Most certainly. And probably the only salamander in the whole of England.’

‘Well, my mother always said I was special.’

‘Does she visit often?’

‘No. She died when I was six.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?

‘I dropped a lamp in the stables and burnt down the house. She was asleep in bed at the time. Oh it was such a glorious sight! The whole night sky lit up like a forge! All the horses running about with their manes on fire! The crackling timbers; the flames writhing like serpents; a tornado of sparks roaring to the stars! I tell you, it was the greatest wonder I ever saw in my life. It was then I decided to become a fireman. Not that I like putting fires out, you understand. But it was the only way of getting close to the really big blazes. Factory fires were my favourite. I could walk right through them and never get burnt.’

‘Would you like to start a fire now?’

‘Oh yes. Very much. Why? Do you have a match? Or did I ask that already? Forgive me, my short-term memory is abysmal… Matches. Oh what I could do with a box of matches!’

‘How many do you need?’

‘Oh, just one will suffice. I could raze the whole asylum with that.’

‘You could?’

‘One little flame is all it takes.’

‘Pray tell me how you’d do it.’

‘Well, take those curtains for instance; they are synthetic polyester and highly inflammable. I would tear them down and make a nest about the chairs…’

‘Why the chairs?’

‘Because they are made from polyurethane foam: a fine accelerant with some very unique properties. Allow me to elaborate… During combustion the foam decomposes into its constituent parts, namely Toluene Diisocyanate, and Polyether Polyol. The TDI burns first, with an exceptionally high heat release rate. After 180 seconds, the chairs will be a furnace of roaring flame. Once the TDI is consumed, a melt pool forms, and then the Polyol combusts, increasing the heat release rate even further. Polyol burns so hot that it creates a fire column which can reach over 14 feet high, with flame temperatures up to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. Imagine that in an enclosed space! The fumes are lethal—choking black and laced with hydrogen cyanide. One breath and you’d drop down dead.’

‘You know much about the combustion of materials.’

‘Any salamander worth his salt knows these things. Oh yes, this room would make a fine tinder box. Besides the foam upholstery, there are all those wooden tables and chairs. Not to mention that ceiling of polystyrene tiles. The joists would catch in no time, then my fire would creep between the floor-space up into roof. This asylum is full of polyurethane foam—it’s everywhere—mattresses, upholstery, bedding, pillows, cushions, stretchers, wheelchairs. I can see it now: a pillar of fire reaching to the stars! A beacon for Salamanders throughout the land! Am I not worthy of my race?’

‘Ah yes, you are a very worthy salamander indeed.’

‘Oh what joy, to dwell in spiritual fire! To live in a Light where nothing impure exists! Is that not the happiest life?’

‘Yes indeed. But please remember, the other patients are not salamanders; they are lowly mortals, and would suffer greatly if you set fire to their home.’

‘That is true. I will try and refrain from harming them. Even though I am so very cold.’

‘You must visit my cave in the halls of Etna.’

‘I should like that very much.’

‘Hot lava all year round; pyrotechnic displays to rival old Pompeii; and sulphur mines in abundance.’

‘Ah! Sulphur! No sweeter smell on earth! But please Cyclops, do you have a match? Just for safe keeping, you understand.’

‘I’m sorry, I don’t smoke.’

‘You would smoke, if I set fire to your cassock! Then you’d run about with your hair blazing, banging into the furniture! Do you take me for a fool?’

‘Have I offended you?’

‘Patronizing me in such a gross indecent manner!’

‘How do you mean?’

‘I mean to say, how can I be the only Salamander in England? I have three cousins in Blackpool, an uncle in Stockport, and a great aunt in Preston! And all of them Salamanders of the first degree!’

‘I implore your pardon Mr. Salamander. I didn’t mean to insult you.’

‘Very well Cyclops, I accept your apology… Tell me now, I’m a little curious: am I the only inmate who can see you?’

‘No. Jack Vallis can see me too.’

‘The Parisian Lady?’

‘Yes, that’s right. I am his diamon.’

‘You are? But that man’s a bloody lunatic!’

‘Why do you say that?’

‘He dresses in women’s clothes! And he claims I’m a pyromaniac. What an insult! How can a salamander be a pyromaniac? That’s like calling Michelangelo a pop artist—a philistine—an artless bonhomie. Pyromaniac? I’m a salamander! An artiste! I create with fire! Fire is my element. My element! Pyromaniac indeed. What utter rot.’

‘Wait a minute. Now I come to think of it, I knew one of your ancestors: a baker who started the Great Fire of London.’

‘Good God in heaven! I knew it! I knew it all along! Oh Cyclops! What an honourable pedigree! To come from such a long line of fire starters! Do you have a match? Do you? Please tell me that you do.’

‘Not now. Later.’


‘There is much to arrange.’

‘Why? Are you planing arson?’

‘Not exactly.’

‘What then?’

‘’Tis a secret. But your services will be required.’


‘I cannot divulge the details, suffice to say, that as a salamander, you will perform a most unusual feat of pyrogenics—one that shall be remembered for generations to come.’

‘Oh how wonderful!’

‘Tell no one, especially the doctors, or some harm might come to you.’

‘Don’t worry Cyclops, your secret is safe with me. But when will all this happen?’

‘If all goes according to plan, several weeks from now. Meanwhile, I must attend to other business.’

‘What business?’

‘I need not trouble you with that. But rest assured, I will return at the appointed time. Farewell Mr. Salamander.’

And with that, I vanish in a puff of smoke.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2017