BY: MARISSA BAUDER
She’s not your average teenager…She starts fires with her mind!
Sixteen-year-old Sable Mosley thinks her life is over when her parents send her to a psychiatric hospital, but that’s only the beginning. She’s isn’t the only person there who has freaky powers. There is a whole race of people classified by the government as The Diseased—they can see the future, create air shields, or even drain the life out of others.
Then she escapes with the breathtakingly-handsome Brandon Harper, and her very existence is threatened. A secret government agency is hunting down people like Brandon, and now Sable, determined to turn them into biological weapons or kill them. Can Sable survive her attraction to Brandon, her new life as an enemy of the state, and the government assassins, or will she forfeit everything for just being who she is?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: I thought The Diseased by Marissa Bauder was terrific. Sable Mosley has abilities. But not like other 16 year olds. When Sable gets angry, things catch on fire. Now she’s in an institution for crazies. Her parents think it’s for her own good. Little do they know that in the basement is where they keep “the screamers.” The nurse said “some of the patients were more ‘volatile’ then others,” a chilling thought since most of the patients all looked pretty volatile to Sable.
She had never been in a place for “crazy people” before and maybe she did start fires with her mind. But this place wasn’t what it seemed. Here she meets the others—other like her who can make things happen with their minds. Soon after arriving she is tossed into the basement and finds out that people with her skills that end up here don’t necessarily get cured of their ‘disease’ in this hellish place. But just as Sable thinks her life is about to end, she finds she has an unexpected ally with some secrets of his own, including the mysterious Mr. Shaw. The book is a real page-turner.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Diseased by Marissa Bauder is a classic paranormal thriller with a twist. It revolves around Sable Mosley, a teenager who can start fires with her mind. Reminds me of a movie I saw long ago called Carrie about another girl who could start fires with her mind. However, in Sable’s case there are a whole bunch of kids who have unique abilities. The government calls them The Diseased.
The characters are well developed, the action fast and heavy, the plot solid and strong. There are enough surprises, twists and turns, and unpredictable events, that it really is hard to put the book down before you get to the end. I was caught up immediately and the book held my interest until the very last page.
“Let go of me! I’m not crazy! Please don’t do this!” I begged as two men in all white two-piece suits wrestled me into a strait jacket. My shallow gasps of breath didn’t come from struggling against my restraints and my captors, although I was putting up one hell of a fight. It was out of panic. I didn’t deserve to go to the nut house. The fires weren’t my fault.
As my mother buried her face against my father’s shoulder, he put a loving arm around her and stared at me. His steel gaze hardened his brown eyes, ones I’d always known to be so soft and caring. In a voice hollow of emotion he said to me, “It’s for your own protection, Sable.”
A strangled cry escaped my throat. How did it all come to this? My first instinct was to cry, but I would be damned if I’d show them any weakness. Or let these people, who thought I should be locked in a nut house, see that their betrayal broke me up inside. No freaking way.
I screamed as loud as I could and thrashed as hard as I could. But the men in white still dragged me out of my home and into the back of their van. That would be a show my neighbors wouldn’t soon forget.
The back of the van looked just like the prison vans in the movies. A bench lined three walls of the chamber, with a slab of bulletproof glass separating the cab from the prisoners. Above the benches were hooks anchored into the walls. Before I had enough time to wonder what those were for, I found out—they clipped the back of my strait jacket to it. That didn’t stop me from stomping my feet and screaming the whole way there. The men pointedly ignored my rampage.
Since I was sitting on the wall on the left, I could see a little out of the windshield. The van pulled up to a pair of wrought iron gates that had to be at least fifteen feet high. I heard a code being punched into a keypad, which was followed by a low whistling noise and the subsequent sound of the gates scraping across the gravel driveway.
A few minutes later, the van stopped again, but this time, the engine was turned off. The men opened the doors and released the chain connecting me to the van’s wall, making sure I wouldn’t have a chance to run.
When they herded me around the side of the van, I stood before a building that mimicked the cinematic depiction of everything a nut house promised to be. The wrought iron gates had tipped me off about what I was to expect once I could fully see my impending prison.
Weathered brick with crumbling mortar housed The Geraldine S. Cannon Hospital for the Mentally Disturbed, more commonly known as the “Crazy Cannon Place.” The thick haze of smog in the air told me that I’d arrived in New York and was no longer in my home state of Connecticut. The Crazy Cannon Place was on a spit of man-made island off the coast of New York. It was far enough away from civilization so that if someone escaped, they wouldn’t have much chance making it back to the normal people. A quick glance over my shoulder brought the barbed wire fence surrounding the property into focus. This place was getting more and more clichéd by the minute.
A plump woman, with brown hair streaked gray at her temples, waited at the metal double-door entrance for us with a wheelchair. I was freed from the straight jacket only to be strapped into the wheelchair, buckled in at my waist, wrists, and ankles.
“We’ll take good care of you here,” she promised me as she wheeled me into the lobby.
The walls were painted stark white and pictures of different flowers hung on them. The frames were plastic, and I assumed that the protective clear plate covering the pictures were plastic, too, not glass.
A few plastic chairs, which were bolted to the walls, littered the space. The plump woman wheeled me over to the desk, where a waif of a woman typed furiously on her computer. Her fingers flew over the keys, hazel eyes peering over the tops of her thin wire framed glasses.
“Name?” she asked briskly. She was all business, whereas the woman wheeling me around seemed sorry for me that I was here.
I wasn’t going to answer her, but the plump woman did for me. “Sable Mosley.”
“Sixteen,” the nurse—at least, I assumed she was a nurse—responded.
“Hallucinations,” the nurse informed her.
“Hallucinations?” I asked incredulously. “Are you for real? Why? Do you think I’m insane?”
The receptionist seemed interested in the answer to my demand, too, so the nurse indulged me. She said quietly, “You think that you start fires.”
“No,” I corrected her, “My parents think I start fires.” The word parents left a bad taste in my mouth, considering they’d just fed me to the lions, so to speak.
“There are tons of kids who consider themselves pyromaniacs. Why is this girl an exception?” the receptionist asked, finally looking up from her monitor.
“She thinks she starts fires with her mind. Using only her mind,” the nurse responded.
My mouth dropped open. I’d never admit it to anyone else, but I knew I started fires. I didn’t mean to, but it usually happened when I was really mad. I always tried to keep my temper in check, but when it built up too much, something always exploded into flames. It might be my neighbor’s mailbox, the bathroom rug, or the oak tree in my back yard. My mom said that I was screaming about starting fires in my sleep one night about a week or so ago, but I told her it was just a nightmare. Apparently, she and my father thought otherwise. The police didn’t believe that it was only nightmares, either.
The receptionist seemed satisfied with the information she’d gathered from the nurse and asked no more questions. She stared back at her computer monitor and resumed typing at her furious pace. The nurse wheeled me away from the front desk and into an elevator. I assumed I would go straight to my prison cell, but we stopped off on the second floor to rid me of my attire and the few meager possessions in the pockets of my jeans—my house keys and a tube of lip balm. In exchange I received a pair of pale yellow scrubs. Staring at the hideous attire with contempt, I watched longingly as the last traces of my old life were sealed in a plastic bag with my name on it and locked in a large metal filing cabinet. The staff were all dressed in navy blue scrubs, so I guessed that’s how new people were supposed to differentiate between the patients and the employed.
After I redressed in front of a bunch of strangers, the nurse strapped me back into the wheel chair and pushed me into the elevator. At this point, the contempt left me feeling hollow and numb. It was awkward to get undressed in front of my family doctor. Being naked in front of a bunch of people treating you like a feral animal trapped in a corner was downright humiliating.
The elevator stopped on the fifth floor, the one at the very top.
“So, where do you keep the screamers?” This was my lame attempt at a joke.
“In the basement. Why, are you a screamer?” the nurse replied. Her answer caused a shiver to rake up my spine. I bit my bottom lip, a nervous response to when I felt uncomfortable.
As she wheeled me down the hall, I noticed that every door had an electronic keypad lock. Those locked rooms must have been reserved for the patients who posed the greatest risks to the others and possibly themselves. I fully expected to be shoved into a soft space with nothing flammable in it—like I could’ve sneaked a lighter in if I tried—because I might just be crazy enough to burn the place down. A humorless laugh escaped me. The nurse made no remark at the sound.
We stopped in front of a room numbered E6. Inwardly, I groaned at the Battleship reference that popped into my head when I read it. After the nurse quickly and discreetly punched in the code on the lock, the door clicked and she entered the room backward, pulling me with her as she went.
The room was more spacious than I’d anticipated, but everything was clinically white. The furniture in the room was sparse: a metal-framed twin sized bed, a small plastic end table painted white, and a white plastic armchair sitting next to the four-by-four-foot square window with black metal bars on the outside. A small closet was stocked with more ugly yellow scrubs and a half bathroom with a toilet and a sink was on the opposite side of the room.
The nurse unstrapped me from the wheelchair and eyed me carefully as I stood up and studied my surroundings. I unconsciously attempted to rub away the sting in my wrists where I’d been restrained for the better part of the day.
“Dinner is in an hour. A nurse will come up to escort you down to the dining hall. We’re having meat loaf with stewed vegetables, and for dessert, there’s lime gelatin with mixed fruit in it.” Every part of that meal convinced me not to eat at this place if I could help it.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“I’m Nurse Karen.”
“What floor do you work on?”
“I generally work in the admitting and discharging department on the first floor.”
“When do I get out of here?” I didn’t think she’d tell me, but I had to ask anyhow.
“After Doctor Pantiel deems you cured.” She turned on her heel and closed the door behind her. I heard her punching in another code and the subsequent beeping of the lock to indicate that it was armed.
For a long while, I stood in the middle of the room. How did I end up in this place? How could my parents do this to me? Well, they weren’t my parents anymore. The only family I had in the world locked me in a loony bin. As I contemplated that fact, my chest constricted. I walked over to my bed in a sort of stupor and sank down onto it. A wave of loneliness washed over me, sending a single tear rushing down my cheek. I wouldn’t allow myself any more. There was no time to wallow in pity now. Even when I was with my family, I’d felt alone. I was the freak who started fires just by thinking about them.
I was twelve the first time it happened and I knew I’d done it. I was at school. It was the middle of winter, and the snowstorm the night before left the temperature beyond frigid that morning. Class wouldn’t start for another twenty minutes, and my bus was always early. The wind whipped around the campus, chilling all the students to the core. Most of them laughed and gossiped with each other, but I sat alone.
As the wind lashed out in another violent blast of cold, I wished desperately for something to keep me warm. A vision popped into my head of homeless people sitting around a burning trash can, warming their tired bones. I envied them of that warmth, and before I realized what had happened, the steel trashcan a few yards away from me starting smoking.
When I peered inside, tiny flames licked at the garbage inside it. I gaped at the steadily growing fire until one of the teachers noticed the smoke and pulled the fire alarm.
Since I was the only one near the fire, I was brought inside by school officials and the principal questioned me about the cause of the fire, while my possessions were searched for lighters or matches. I answered everything innocently, and I played dumb, claiming I had no idea who or what caused the fire. Inside, my head was reeling. I wished for fire in a trashcan, and it happened.
I tested the theory later on at home. I held a piece of paper in my hand and visualized it burning. At the corner of the page, a flame yawned to life and rapidly ate up the page in my hand. There was no doubt in my mind then: I caused the fire, at school and at home, and no one could ever know.
After that I never started a fire again on purpose. I knew how dangerous fires could be if they weren’t used responsibly, like burning down whole forests. That didn’t stop them from finding me, though. Sometimes, if I was really angry or upset things around me would erupt into flames.
I didn’t know how to stop, so I started keeping journals. I’d never believed in keeping one before. I preferred to speak my mind when I had an opinion about something. But I couldn’t risk the consequences anymore.
A thought suddenly hit me—what if I started a fire here out of frustration? There clearly was nothing to write on—or with. I made a mental note to ask the nurse who escorted me to dinner to get me some paper and a pen. Besides, if the idea of this place was to heal crazy people, they wouldn’t insist on their patients staying in an environment that drove them down the path of madness, would they?
The sound of the buttons on the keypad being pushed interrupted my thoughts. A nurse, different from the one who brought me to this room, appeared in the doorway. A plastic sort of smile was spread across her face, but her eyes looked like she was exhausted.
“Time for dinner, then?” I asked as she stood in the doorway. She nodded, and so I joined her. To the left of the door in the hallway was a wheelchair with straps at the wrists and ankles. With as little disgust as I could manage, I indicated the chair with a nod of my head and said, “That won’t be necessary.”
The nurse nodded again and held me lightly by the elbow instead. I allowed her to steer me to the elevator and eventually to the dining hall. The space reminded me of a typical high school cafeteria. Round tables with plastic chairs lined the walls of the room with bench tables in the center. Like the rest of this facility, the walls were white, but the furniture was a faded shade of avocado green. Maybe they were donated from a school when ’70s decorating style became passé.
Most of the room was filled by the time I’d arrived. People sat in groups of three or four, many of them in silence. Some discussed things like colors or numbers, while others argued about the weather. In the far back corner, a girl who didn’t appear too much older than me sat alone. She was absent-mindedly pushing her mixture of carrots, peas, corn, and green beans around on her plate with her fork.
The nurse let go of my elbow, so I took a few tentative steps towards the girl. When the nurse didn’t protest, I broke into my normal stride.
As I reached the table, I noticed the girl was still staring at her half eaten food. A mass of frayed-looking, dark blonde hair hid her face. I cleared my throat. “Mind if I sit?”
She shrugged and held out her hand, inviting me to join her, so I took the chair across from her. We sat in silence for a few minutes before another nurse brought me a Styrofoam tray of less than appetizing food. I immediately pushed it away. That brought a snicker out of the silent girl.
“It’s the same shit all the time. You better get used to it since you never know how long you’ll have to stay in this place.”
“How long have you been here?” I asked. I didn’t expect her to answer since we didn’t know each other at all.
“Since I was twelve, so that’d be six years now,” she replied evenly. My chest constricted at the thought of being here more than six hours, let alone six years. “The worst of it is the testing they do to you, but that doesn’t happen to everyone. Just the ‘special cases.’”
I looked at the green gelatin with squares of fruit suspended in it and shuddered. Would it be too much to ask for a cheeseburger or something?
The blonde-haired girl was watching me with the slightest hint of amusement in her violet eyes. After my gaze locked with hers, she asked, “Got a name?”
“Sable Mosley,” I answered. “What’s yours?”
“Ophelia Reinhardt. So, what’s your crime?”
I felt nervous about telling her why I was institutionalized. It didn’t really matter how she would judge me, I decided, since everyone here was deemed crazy for one reason or another. I took a deep breath before responding, “I’m accused of thinking I can start fires with my mind.”
“Impressive,” she said as she tenderized her brick of meatloaf with the back of her fork.
“Why’d they throw you in here?”
“I see things that no one else wants to see,” she said darkly.
I didn’t know if I wanted her to elaborate on that or not, so I just replied with a lame, “Ah.”
The sound of plastic chair legs scraping across linoleum indicated that dinner hour was over. Spots of navy dotted the sea of pale yellow as nurses herded the patients out of the dining hall and back to their rooms.
“So what floor are you on?” I asked. Not like there was any chance of me having any kind of social life at this place. Ophelia seemed to be pretty together as far as I could tell. I was locked in my room all the time, so it wasn’t as if I could wander the grounds with her or something. “I’m on the fifth floor.”
“My room’s in the basement,” she smirked as a nurse came to escort her back to her room. “Tomorrow at breakfast?”
I nodded. “Sure.” Maybe she wasn’t as put together as I thought.
“Miss, I’ll take you back to your room now,” a male orderly told me gently.
I sighed and stood up from the table. That’s when I locked eyes with him. His were icy blue and seemed to crackle beneath the surface. He was quite a bit taller than me, and built, with lean muscle. Black, shaggy hair adorned his head, curling at the temples and the nape of his neck. My stomach twisted into a knot as I took him in.
Wow, was he hot! His lips twitched at the corners as I continued to gawk at him. He raked a hand through his hair, grabbed me by my elbow, and began leading me back to E6. Well, at least there was a little bit of eye candy in this place. He didn’t look much older than me, either.
As I was led back to my room, I screwed up my courage. “Can I have some paper and something to write with?”
“What do you need them for?”
“So I don’t go crazy in this place.”
He chuckled softly and shook his head slightly. The sound made butterflies flutter in my stomach.
“How poignantly ironic of you, Miss. It seems you haven’t lost your mind quite yet.”
Did he believe I wasn’t crazy? “So, can I?”
“I can’t authorize it, but I’ll have one of the higher ups ask the doctor about it.”
“Thank you,” I replied breathlessly. I wanted to hug him out of gratitude, but the butterflies in my stomach made me too shy. My arm twitched, determined to stay at my side.
That night, I lay awake on my too small bed—the one in my room at home was a queen size—trying to process the events of the day. This was definitely the worst Saturday ever. Before I drifted off to sleep, I said a silent prayer that breakfast in the morning wouldn’t contain any grits.
© 2013 by Marissa Bauder