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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