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The blaze spread to the farmhouse from the shed.  Shouldn’t have made a fire, but I was cold.  Looking for shelter.  Couldn’t sleep under the bridge with those kids waiting there.  Woke up to laughter last week, my left shoulder dislocated, my left leg bloody, bruised.  The farmstead burned like a beautiful dark, bright furnace.  Like war, columns of flame shot across heat-crazed skies.  Oil fields alight, hell splitting through desert sands.

      Three days waiting for the ruins to cool.  Snared a rabbit last night.  Easy to skin, easy to cook, pelt and meat all in one package.  The Rabbit Man.  Gil to my buddies, when I had them.  Second Lieutenant James Gilhooley, once.  Cutting a rabbit’s throat is real, watching its eyes glaze, wiping away its blood.  You can’t see dying on the ground from way up in the air.  Hard to know what you have done.

      No smoke from the buildings this morning.  Will there be dead horses in the stable, charred dogs in the kennels?  Shouts and sirens flash in my head, soundtrack to silent memories of bombing tanks.  Retreating tanks.  Did everyone get out of the farmhouse?  I watched but couldn’t see.

      Inside, the walls are black, gaps for doors.  The ceiling is gone.  No shelter from the sky.  Pick up a quilt, patches of pink, blue, green, scorched but still whole.  I pull it round my shoulders.  The smell of burning, like a bonfire, autumn leaves, toasted marshmallows, cheerful fire.

      Friendly fire.

      Something shudders in a corner.  I cry out.  Cracked voice, no sound.  A singed grey cat head-butts my leg.  I scoop it struggling into the quilt, its scratches marking deep welts into my forearm. Too bad.  We survived. 
 
 

Jac Cattaneo lives in Brighton, England and teaches Cultural Studies to Fine Art undergraduates. She studied literature
and design and has an MA in Applied Art and Visual Culture. Her writing has appeared (or will appear) in Word Riot,
Bartleby Snopes, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Everyday Poets, and Tales of the Decongested. Jac's story Skywalk  was short-listed
for the Asham award this year and she is currently writing a novel.




This story began as a response to a Fiction Forge colleague's prompt - some lines from the Welsh poet Catherine Fisher: 'The month's end/ is a bonfire and a bolted door/ and a new blackness breathing round the house.'  I had a clear image of a big house burning - at first it was grander, with tapestries and chandeliers, but feedback showed me that those details were distracting.

As I wrote, Gil's voice became more insistent.  Rather than being 'down-and-out', he attempts to experience life physically, at first hand, after his experiences of the technology of war.  I have the feeling that I have not seen the last of him as a character.

 


  


Copyright 2009