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As he drove he remembered the big one. The one that had spread beyond the old goat shed, the one that screamed after the bleating had ended. The goats were burned along with Duncan, the Great Pyrenees, and the air was filled with the aroma of roasted mutton and burnt hair. The smell from his family’s house was no different.
He took a left onto Briar and then a right on Stone. Her house, Connie’d told him, was the last one on the left before Stone dead-ended into the Kroger parking lot.
“I’ll leave the porch light on,” she’d said. But there was no light on, on the porch. It didn’t help that some asshole had gone to work on the windows of his company van. The boss would blame Marc; that was a given.
He strained to see through the spider-cracked night, drove past the house and then slowed, stopped, backed up. His tools and spare parts rattled in the back of his van. He reached behind his seat and into his toolbox, felt blindly for something soft among the plastic and metal. He pulled the nylon stockings from the box, crumpled them in one hand and put them into his pocket.
He remembered the puppy Duncan, remembered sitting out cold nights in the pasture, he and the dog surrounded by the Boer goats, South African imports that were going to pay for themselves in a year, make their family rich the next. That’s what his Father had said.
The only snag was the coyotes. They killed three goats the first week. Duncan was bought from a breeder in Louisville soon after. Marc was tasked with getting the dog acclimated to the herd.
“He’s got to imprint on them,” his father had said. “Make sure he stays with them.”
And that’s how the playful puppy grew into a dedicated guardian of the goats, from licking Marc’s face to eyeing all passersby with suspicion, including Marc, even though the boy had spent the entire winter sleeping in the pasture with him and the herd.
From the van, Marc saw her silhouette through the window. She moved inside and he loved her just a bit, like people love an object they’d wanted their entire life, but he knew the anticipation was what he really loved. And that he was about to give it up for something else, something short lived. Like the cold in the pasture when the small fire had died and Marc woke up shivering in the sunshine. Duncan next to him, warm and still, looking like snow.
The night of the fire, Marc hopped out his bedroom window and put the lead on Duncan. The dog gave a low grown in protest, but followed Marc to the small barn. The goats followed Duncan. Marc secured the lock and pulled the box of matches from his pocket. He lit one, dropped it and watched the dry straw catch fire.
He viewed the scene like television through the open slats. One by one the goats fainted from fear until all that stood was Duncan. The dog moved left to right, stepping over his fallen herd, checking one side of the barn for escape before retreating from the singeing flame. Duncan met Marc’s eyes with his own only once, and only briefly. The dog knew young Marc could not help him, or that he would not. And the dog continued his pouncing game, back and forth as goats came to, stood, and promptly fainted again, choking on the thickening smoke.
Marc’s own eyes began to burn as the black smoke poured from the gaps in the wood like molasses. The heat played with him, intense as the winds blew the demon-tipped fire toward him, releasing him when the wind died. It returned again, singeing his eyebrows and lashes.
His father’s heavy hand found the boy’s shoulder. It whipped him around and made him feel thin and light as paper.
“What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know,” Marc said. “Are the goats in there?” The man scanned the pasture and answered his own question. He grabbed the metal handle and flinched at the heat. “God Dammit!”
Marc watched his father kick at the door, again and again until the handle gave and the plumes of smoke opened the door. Before the man could even take the breath to call for the dog, the beast roared out of the barn. The dog’s leap met the man and took him to the ground, mauling him about the face and neck, ablaze and burning Marc’s father as his teeth sank in. Marc watched this, stood silent as his father fought the animal.
The man delivered a hard open hand to the dog, knocking it into a spin. For ten seconds, the burning dog spun faster and faster, a flaming top snapping at the air until finally it collapsed, smoking and shaking.
His father couldn’t speak, choking on blood and coughing red mists of spittle. He sat up, tried to stand, could not. Marc watched the flames blaze through the trees, toward the house where his mother and brothers slept.
That was the beginning for Marc, the beginning of the short-lived pleasure he got from the burn. And as he approached the house he felt for the stockings in his pocket, the pair he’d taken from an old flame. He imagined them binding Connie, holding her still as she lay in the afterglow. Holding her tight as he lit the bed on fire. Holding her captive until they burned away to nothing.
published 27 May 2013
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• Recovery Period (#3)