Minutes pass. I eat my toffee apple. More minutes drain away. The crowd is thickening; despite my assurance that I would wait in a landmarked area, he will struggle to find me. I wish I had chosen a spot closer to the centre, now the crowd of latecomers is descending- I have to stand on my toes to get a good view. Then again, once lit, the bonfire will be hard to miss. By my estimation, there are at least fifty wooden pallets stacked in pyramid formation towards the sky. The fixed barrier stops anyone getting closer than 20 feet to the structure. It’s going to be very hot, and quite a show.
Two parallel lines were drawn along the grass, like train tracks across a field. His deadened heels sunk into the ground, digging up earth as he struggled along. A testament to the fact he really was there.
His head lolled, chin touching his chest as he was dragged, arms taut above his head. The speed and carelessness of the motion seemed to test the ligaments inside him, pulling at his aching, useless joints. In the dark of the hood, this was a painful journey.
However, it ended abruptly. The same, merciless hands that had gripped his wrists like death now grasped his waist, and threw him backwards. He landed on a raised, hard surface. Cartilage and ribs snapped with the impact. Contrary to natural human reactions under the circumstance, he lay sprawled, arms at disjointed angles, completely helpless.
He is still not here- I’m angry now. I’m entertaining myself imagining all the things I will say to him when he arrives; all the ways I can accuse him of this selfishness. All the ways I can storm off, and all the ways he can follow me. At this point I’ve imagined five different ways he could apologise to me- I’m trying to decide which version I like best. It’s a hard decision.
Of course, despite all the ways I’m hoping he will receive my anger, I know he won’t be apologetic. He’s the kind of man who refuses to admit that from time to time, he can be wrong. He will twist this argument back in my face, and once more, his tardiness will be my fault. Everything is my fault.
I can only occupy myself with this for so long. For the umpteenth time, I gaze through the crowd, my eyes falling on sights I’ve already seen. Apart from one thing. I didn’t notice it before, it wasn’t visible from the other side. Slumped on the wooden decking is the bonfire’s guy. With its defined body shape, it is strikingly realistic, dressed all in black with dark sacking for a head. The workmanship of it is in some ways beautiful, but for some reason- and I can’t quite put my finger on why- I find it disturbing too.
Less a sack of straw, more a bag of bones. His sprawled, unmoving body was the epitome of helplessness. A lack of understanding would have been a blessing at this moment, but unfortunately, he was not so lucky. Hearing the shout and cry that he was dreading; and the swelling cheer of a large crowd, he knew all too well what was to follow.
A sizzling, shooting sound cut through the Autumn air, presumably sparks of ignition, followed by a louder cry from the crowd. And a more sickening, dreaded sound, the crackling of a fire, accompanied by heat. At first, it was only a little warmth, thawing and strangely enough, somewhat comforting. This changed as the warmth intensified, until it was hot enough to blister the skin.
Smoke rose upwards, clogging his nose and mouth. He tried to open his mouth to scream, but the smoke silenced him, smothered him. It made little difference anyway; the paralytic had already seized his vocal chords. He tried to struggle, to remove himself, but there was no hope of escape. He had known this for a long time.
The crescendo of heat intensified further still, his skin beginning to burn under the hotness. He was given one final moment to collect his thoughts before he was completely agonised. The pain hit him like a scorching tidal wave, roasting his skin. He tried to lift his limbs, to shield himself from the flames, but they were on fire, and movement was impossible. He tried to move his legs to run away, but they were alight, and immobilised. In his mind, which was also on fire, he twisted and turned in agony, like a pig on a spit; but in reality, he lay there unmoving as he was consumed. His skin began to melt and bubble, before crackling and hardening again. The bonfire was roasting him.
I check my watch
He still hasn’t arrived.
He’s not coming now. I know that for sure.
I should just enjoy this on my own.
I’ll just enjoy the countdown.
Light the Fire!”
Sparks fly onto the wooden pallets, and ignite. The fire starts from a little flame, and begins to devour the wood, spreading around the structure. The crowd goes wild. Everybody loves a bonfire.
I stand alone, watching as the flames consume the wooden pallets from all sides. Soon the fire is roaring, a bright light against the bleak autumn sky. It’s a beautiful sight.
Watching the dancing, ravenous flames, I’m no longer angry. I just miss him, I realise. I wish he was here.
There was a time- and thankfully it came sooner rather than later- when his brain was not made predominantly of grey matter anymore. The percentage had been overturned by fire, and subsequently was no longer able to function as brains do.
And so he lay in the flames, though there was little point in determining ‘him’ by a pronoun anymore- His body was also, predominantly, fire. The bones were being fast devoured by the flames, which were still ravenous. This consumption was accompanied by the raucous noises of the crowd, which had continued since the fire’s lighting. They cheered onwards, until all that was left was a little marrow, and ash.
Overall, the townsfolk deemed the bonfire a success. It had been the largest fire to date, and had attracted the largest crowd on record. There was only one complaint, however. Some local residents reported a strange, persisting smell, which lingered in the area for some time afterwards. No one could quite put their finger on what it was. Many people blamed the bonfire’s caterers, accusing them of cooking something foul. However, in time the smell faded, and was forgotten.