Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to use the following words or images in a story: whirlwind of leaves, wizened old man, lonely call of an owl, crackling fire.
This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama, is available from her locally or on Amazon. MISTER WOLFE, the sequel, coming early 2020. Watch for it!
“We’re in this Together”
by Cathy MacKenzie
Walter rubs his hands and shivers. Night is drawing to a close, and morning will soon be upon him.
He throws another log on the fire, humming a sorrowful tune that came to mind. He can’t remember the name—or the words—so he sings his own. Nonsensical phrases he’ll never repeat even if he had a friend.
Loneliness. Grief. Sadness. Where’s the happiness he once enjoyed?
“Silly me,” he mumbles, knowing darn well where his joy went. The way of everything good: a wife, kids. A home. A job.
Not that he needs a job at his age. His meagre pension covers his expenses. He’s thrifty. Has to be. Enjoys it, actually, as if proving he can overcome any obstacle.
He tosses another log into the fiery mass. The resulting sparks remind him of autumn leaves blown about by the wind. He’s careful to keep the fire contained within the metal rim. Mustn’t play with fire: a haunting refrain from his childhood. He didn’t know much about fires then and never played with matches, but his parents still spewed the words.
He stares into the crackling pit. Flames rise, higher and higher. Out of control. In the distance—the far distance—he hears screams. Shrieks. Smells burning flesh. Oddly familiar. But no, he’s never smelled anyone burning. That would do him in, for he’s read that burning flesh is an odour one never ceases smelling. His sense of smell remains intact even though the rest of him’s gone to crap.
Despite that, he inhales. A huge deep breath that relaxes him.
No horrific smell; nothing but the smoky pine of the campfire.
And the screams? A lonely owl crying in the night.
The vision? Gotta keep that out of his mind. Nothing exists around him but his tent and trees. The moon. And darkness except for the hypnotic fire that’ll die if he neglects it. That’s what happens with neglect: death and heartache.
The fire is fine. Contained in its container. Nowhere for it to go. He should never have lit the fool thing, but every time he camps, he feels compelled to do so. A mysterious force that commands, “Light me, light me.” And he does. His penance, he figures.
He’s never enjoyed camping, but the dark shrouds him from himself. He can pretend he’s twenty-five when his life stretched before him. He can ignore the white hair, the mottled skin, the discoloured fingernails. Nasty yellowed toenails, too, but his feet are hidden in his haggard hiking boots.
It’s impossible not to feel close to ninety when glimpsing a wizened face in a mirror. A stranger—no one he knows. He sighs and rubs his palms against his dungarees. Who’s he kidding?
He doesn’t consciously look at himself except for shaving, but sometimes the bathroom mirror draws him in, forcing him to shout at the invisible person behind it. “I’m alive! Foxed you, eh?”
He stares into the darkness, somewhere behind the trees. “Hey, God, I cheated death, didn’t I? Or was that your plan all along?”
God shouldn’t take the innocent, but He doesn’t care. Too many gone too soon. Too many too young.
The fire dances. He blinks, swearing he can see his wife. Yes, there she is! For a second.
His son and daughter. Sees them, too, but for a lesser instant if it’s possible to cut an instant in half. He didn’t have his children as long as he had his wife and barely remembers what they look like. But, no, there they are. Their faces rise with the flame, and they screech, “Daddy, save us. Save us.” His wife’s arms wrap them close. “Hush, my babies, hush. Everything will be okay,” she says. “We’re in this together.”
He’s positive she’d have said those last four words. She used to comfort him with the same words when life didn’t go quite as planned—minor blips on life’s stage now. We’re in this together.
Yes, she would have said those words when she comforted the children. When he wasn’t there to save them. When they must have called out to him, “Save us, save us.” He should have been there.
They thought he was.
But he wasn’t.
He returned home to an inferno, the flames devouring their home. Firetrucks surrounded the house. Firemen with hoses battled an undefeatable rival. Helplessly, he stood. Hopelessly, he fell.
Despite fisticuffs with everyone blocking his way, too many stronger arms held him back.
He heard no screams. Smelled no burning flesh. He couldn’t even form the horrid images of what transpired. Their deaths. What must have been in their minds?
Their charred remains were found, the three entwined together as if seeking warmth from the cold. We’re in this together. Would the words have comforted their children as they’d once comforted him?
He leans back. “We’re in this together,” he yells to Heaven.
He prays his family heard.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbles. “I’m so sorry. We should have been in this together.”
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com
Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/