I was digging through some files earlier and came across a story I had completely forgotten about. I must have written it about seven years ago and once I got over the initial horror of some of the crap writing I had a lovely wave of memory as I recalled where I was and what inspired the story (when you read it you might not immediately conjure up words like “lovely”. You might start with “arrest this freak” or similar.)
What I really enjoyed was being able to read a story from years ago and to apply the things I now know about writing (not that there are many) to it. I wasn’t quite brave enough to put it up here without an edit but I’ve tried to be as minimal as possible when weighing in with the red pen of justice.
There are a few things that leapt out and give me a laugh, particularly the overuse of the following phrases:-
– for a moment (I stand for a moment twice, I wait for a moment twice and there were others…)
– make my way (in total I make my way through a number of rooms and passages on at least four occasions)
It seems seven-years-past-me was also very fond of long clunky sentences and a whole bunch of stuff that sounded far too much like “writing”.
On the plus side…the adverb police didn’t need to waste much time cleaning it up and, best of all, I quite enjoyed reading it!
So without any more rambling from me, here it is. It’s called Feeding The Flames, it’s horror and until two hours ago not even its author knew it existed…
I am the man that feeds the fire.
I wake early, stretch and reach for my dressing gown. Never socks, never slippers, just the dressing gown.
I step along the passage that connects my bedroom to the rest of the house feeling the ebbing warmth of the fire in my bones. I stand at the door to the living room and pick at the paint on the doorframe. A white shard flutters to the ground to join the others while I stare towards the hearth and watch as the last remaining flame dances upwards, straining against the bonds of gravity like a starving dog on a leash. I could stand and watch until nothing remains. But duty calls.
I take the bucket from its usual place and drop the shovel inside. The sharp clash of metal echoes through the room, but no one will hear it. I walk through to the kitchen, open the door at the back and step outside. The frozen ground bites into the soft flesh of my feet. Such beautiful pain. My blood stirs with each step and my face is flushed by the time I reach the bunker. I lean against it until my short, shallow breaths return to normal. I wipe the sweat from the side of my temple and reach down to lift the steel plate that holds the contents of the bunker in place. It catches at first, but then it’s free. Lumpen, indistinct shapes tumble on to the ground. It’s still too dark to properly distinguish one from another, but I can see well enough to scoop them up with the shovel.
I fill the bucket quickly and make my way indoors. The delicious pain in my toes morphs into a dull ache as I walk towards the fireplace. The memory of the hurt is fresh in my mind but I cannot conjure my thoughts into true pain. I am disappointed, but as I approach the centre of the living room the feeling wanes. The last flickers of life stir among the embers and I know why I am here.
I sit cross legged on the carpet in front of the fire, cradling the bucket like a child. The shovel is back on its hook, the wood and paper are within reach. I make sure that I’m far enough away from the tinder so that when I try to retrieve it the edge of the metal bucket digs into my chest. I shrug off my gown. Metal on skin. I gasp as I stretch forward and it pierces my flesh. I sacrifice the newspaper to the fire and lean forward for more.
I sense the hunger of the flames. The twigs will suffice for now, but soon the need will be greater. As the last of them is consumed I reach into the bucket and pull out objects at random. A chunk of wood the size of a cricket ball takes well, much better than the dark nugget of coal, and I rummage around for more. I find a couple of smaller pieces and add them to the flames, but my fingers constantly stray to a flat, pliant piece poking up from between the mismatched lumps.
The fire is stronger now, fighting against its shackles and getting ever hungrier. I grab more coal for a time, but the temptation is too strong and my right hand settles on the piece it desires, perhaps of its own volition. I tease it free and hunch protectively over the bucket, my left arm encircling it, a barrier to the flame.
I turn my prize slowly in front of my face and cock my head to one side. I shake the coating of black coal dust away and reveal the plain fine structure beneath. It is curled at the edges and I stretch it out between my hands to study it more closely. I can see the suggestion of flame through it as it stretches. As I turn it over to study the back I can see a faint brown line curving up from the bottom left hand corner of the piece and I feel a familiar stirring. Slowly, delicately, I turn the piece clockwise and the line returns to its correct position. Just above the ragged oval where her grey eye used to be. I follow the rough edge down past the side of her nose to the corner of her mouth where I can barely make out the fine hairs at the corner of her lips. The scatter of freckles on her cheek is more apparent although some may just be coal dust.
I take a deep breath and then I am ready. I offer her to the fire and watch the flames lick against her mouth. I listen to the crackle as the tiny beads of fat that remain are lapped up. I breathe in the sweet, charred ruin of her and sigh. It will not last long, and if Old Joe calls in as he sometimes does he will assume it is the fading remains of breakfast.
I close my eyes once more and smile.
I am the man that feeds the fire.
My work is done.