Field Fire, fiction by Paul Heatley

Bob­by woke in his truck, the rim of his hat pulled low to cov­er his eyes. Ris­ing sun­light hit him full in the face when he lift­ed it. He winced, blinked until he could han­dle it, then reached for the warm bot­tle of water in the cen­tre con­sole. It was half-emp­ty. He drained off what was left, but still his throat was dry. It burned, and it wasn’t just his throat – every­thing else hurt, too. His right hand was swollen, the knuck­les pur­ple. He looked back at the bar behind him, the cars and trucks parked in front and around where he was near the bot­tom of the lot. In front of the build­ing there was a row of motor­cy­cles. A cou­ple of bik­ers had fall­en asleep in the sad­dle, and a cou­ple of oth­ers were lay­ing splayed on the ground or atop the bench­es on the sun-bleached grass. 

Bob­by got out the truck, stretched, then strolled up to the bar. It was dark inside, only a few lights on, but it was bliss­ful­ly cool. The bar­tender looked up as he entered, raised one eye­brow. “We’re closed,” he said. He scowled. He sat on a stool behind the counter, read­ing a news­pa­per. His left eye was black­ened and his lip had a split in it. He sucked on the cut. 

“I can see that.” Bob­by took a seat at the bar. “You got water?”

“I said we’re closed.”

“You ain’t got­ta open just to give me a glass of water.”

The bar­tender looked at him, his eyes hard, then put the paper down and went to the sink. He came back with a glass, hand­ed it over. Bob­by gulped it down. It helped, a lit­tle. His throat stopped hurting. 

“Looks like some­one did a num­ber on you,” Bob­by said. 

“Uh-huh. Ain’t the first time.”

“Deserve it?”

“Some­times do, some­times don’t.”

“In this instance?”

“You tell me, asshole.”

Bob­by held up his swollen right hand. “Your face did this, huh?”


“I was wonderin.”

“Won­der no more.”

“I don’t remember.”

“No one does.”

“Guess I should apologise.”

“Save it. I don’t give a shit.”

“So what hap­pened after?”

“Cou­ple of the boys threw you out.”

“I appre­ci­ate not receiv­ing a beating.”

“There’s time yet.”

“Sure. Well. Thanks for the water.” Bob­by turned. 

The bar­tender called to him. “You brought some­thin in with you.”

“What’s that?”

The bar­tender reached under the counter, pro­duced a gun. He put it flat on the bar. Bob­by looked at it.

“You threat­en­ing me?”

“No. It’s yours. You came in here wav­ing it round. I took it off you. That’s when you start­ed throw­ing fists.”

Bob­by stared at the gun. “That ain’t mine.”

“You brought it in.”

“I don’t own a gun.”

“You did last night, and you do now.”

“I don’t want it.”

“It ain’t stay­ing here. Just take the fuck­ing gun.”

Bob­by reached out, picked it up. It was heavy. “What am I sup­posed to do with this?”

“Stick it up your ass. I don’t care. Now get the fuck out­ta here.”

Bob­by checked the safe­ty was on, then tucked the gun into his waist­band and went back out to his truck. The night before was a blur. He’d gone out in the ear­ly after­noon with his father-in-law, to cel­e­brate the old man’s birth­day. Some­where along the way he’d lost him, but he didn’t know when or where. He reached into the glove box, pulled out his phone. There were more than a dozen missed calls from Karen, his wife. She wasn’t going to be hap­py. He braced him­self, rang her back. 

“Where you at?”

“Hey, you.”

“Goddamn it, Bob­by! You know how many times I called you? Where you at?”

“I’m on my way home.”

“Uh-huh. You know where my dad’s at?”

“Uh –”

“He’s at home, ass­hole. Why’d you take his gun?”

“His gun?”

“That’s what I said. Why’d you take it?”

Bob­by could feel it, press­ing cool against his stom­ach. “I – I don’t know. I mean, why’d he have it out?”

“How drunk did you get?”

“Pret­ty drunk.”

“And you were dri­ving. You’re in the truck. You know how dan­ger­ous that is, Bob­by? You could’ve got your­self killed! You could’ve killed some­one else!”

“Yeah, okay, but I haven’t.”

“That doesn’t make it all right.”

“Tell me about the gun, Karen.”

“You don’t remember?”


“Well. Dad said the two of you got drunk, then you went back to his place and you got this idea in your head to go out back and shoot bot­tles in the moonlight.”

“Bull­shit. I’ve nev­er tak­en a notion to play with his gun ever before, why’d I start now? I reck­on he’s just blamin me, it’s him, he’d’ve want­ed to do that kin­da thing.”

“You remem­ber that?”


“Well, he said you were real insis­tent on it. And I believe him, because once you’ve had a drink, you get some­thin in your head – I know you, Bob­by. Any­way, regard­less, the two of you went out there, he left you with the gun while he goes and sets up the bot­tles on the fence posts, then he turns back and sees you run­ning off. Why’d you run?”

“I got no idea.”

“Have you got the gun?”

“Yeah, I got it.”

“Just come home, Bob­by. You can apol­o­gise to dad later.”

“Sure. Yeah. Sure. I’m on my way.”

He pulled out of the park­ing lot and head­ed onto the road. In the mir­ror he saw a cou­ple of the bik­ers begin to rouse, stretch their limbs and climb onto their bikes, or off their bikes, depend­ing on where they had wok­en. One of them stood to the side and pissed into the dead grass. 

Bob­by drove, still thirsty. His throat burned again and swal­low­ing just made it worse. He thought about the night before, of the sto­ry Karen had relayed to him, but he remem­bered none of it. The men­tal images it con­jured, how­ev­er, brought a smile to his face. He chuckled. 

He passed through a thick gath­er­ing of trees that sprout­ed up in the fields on either side of the road. Com­ing out from their shade, some­thing caught his eye. A fire. There were kids stood around it. He slowed. The fire was rag­ing, it kicked and thrashed. He stopped. It was a horse. The kids, five of them, stood and watched. 

He jumped out the truck. “Hey!”

The kids looked up, saw him. They turned and ran. Bob­by hur­ried after them into the field, then stopped. The horse screamed. It was the most awful sound he’d ever heard. He smelled burn­ing flesh and gaso­line. He looked at the horse, the heat bring­ing tears to his eyes. Its own eyes were gone and its lips had burned back to reveal gnash­ing teeth and a lolling tongue. Its legs were bro­ken, all four of them. They’d been smashed so it couldn’t run, prob­a­bly with a hammer. 

It con­tin­ued to thrash, to scream. It pierced his ears, made his skin prick­le and his teeth grind. He tried to block the sound with his hands but it came through. He was about to start scream­ing him­self when he felt the gun still in his waist­band. He pulled it out, shot the horse until it was dead. 

Low­er­ing the gun, he breathed heav­i­ly and watched it burn. Tears ran down his cheeks. There was move­ment to his right. He glanced. A kid stood beside him, red-haired and heav­i­ly freck­led, wear­ing shorts and a grass-stained t‑shirt. The kid didn’t looked back at him. He stared at the horse. His mouth was twisted.

“Were you with them what done this?” Bob­by said.

The kid nod­ded, once, very solemn. “I was with them,” he said. “But I’m not one of them.”

Bob­by nod­ded, then turned back to the fire. The horse was just meat now. The flames were dying across its black­ened corpse.

“Why’d they do it?” Bob­by said.

“Because they had gas, and match­es, and a ham­mer, and they want­ed to watch it burn. It was an old horse, anyhow.”

“That don’t make it all right.”

“I know it don’t. What you gonna do about it, mis­ter?” the kid said. “You gonna go after them?”

Bob­by realised the gun was still in his hand. “No,” he said. He wiped the tears from his face, and they stood togeth­er in silence and watched until the flames were gone, and smoke rose and curled from the charred and black­ened carcass.

heatleyPaul Heatley's sto­ries have appeared online and in print for a vari­ety of pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing Thuglit, Spelk, Hand­Job Zine, Crime Syn­di­cate, Plots With Guns, and Shot­gun Hon­ey, among oth­ers. He has six novel­las avail­able for Kin­dle from Ama­zon. He lives in the north east of England.

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