Contest #131 shortlist ⭐️

Fire on the mountain, Run Boys, Run

Submitted into Contest #131 in response to: Start your story with the arrival of a new person in a town full of gossips.... view prompt

13 comments

Fiction


The Hickory Stump had sprung from the ashes, and yellow tape, and crumbling concrete of Seventh Ave. There was never a construction crew, never any solicitation of Appletowns city hall, only one morning it was there, building permits nailed to a sign upon the door, an envelope, fat and stuffed with bills beside it. The sign read in a flashing green and blue:

OPEN: 3AM-? CLOSED: SUNDAYS.

The buildings, which had turned to ash around The Hickory Stump were, according to fifth generation Fire Chief, Trevor Denricks at the press conference covered by the High Schools newspaper and AppleTart report, old, and original to the town. 

“Old as the dirt we’re standing on.” 

He was not wrong. The old buildings had been made mostly of wood, cheap stone, and crumbling well-rusted nails. It was only a matter of time. Decades of Georgia drought had made them dry enough to kindle water. Nothing had been done though, Appletown valued tradition over fire codes.

Four died.

An older man asleep in his LaZ boy when the roof caved in, a boy with a sprained ankle in the towns shabby old movie theater, unable to navigate the stairs with his crutches, and a dog named Spoons left tied to the drugstore door, his little corgi corpse trampled beneath the evacuating “essential oil” Mom group, their arms full of sassafras, cinamon, and pot.

The fourth sucker, one of Appletowns three firefighters, Richard “Panzón” Daniels, hooked up his oxygen mask all wrong. He was so hellbent on saving a little girl burned beyond recognition in the boutique, that he didn’t realize he was suffocating on smoke, grime, and his own beer breath. 

The little girl was a mannequin. 

Three weeks and some change later, was The Hickory Stump. It rose from the ruins like displaced bone shoved through gnarled skin. Like mannequin plastic through the used-to-be-yellow of a firefighters coat. Its pearlest white and darkest black striped walls were as mesmerizing as they were trap-like. A cat, its hackles up, ears back, was painted against the side in masterful strokes. 

It had arrived by flame, and it would leave the very same way.


 There was an emergency Town Hall meeting that next morning. Hickory Stump was on the tip of everyone's tongue, stinging like battery acid. The citizens of Appletown, those poor souls deprived of issues worth gossiping, but rich with time in which to gossip, were grateful for an excuse to bicker and to argue. Rumors spread like disease within the hour. 

Rumors of hostile takeover, of aliens, of drug cartels, of the devil himself.  

Appletown was not fond of anything new. The HOA had managed to kick out last year's Atlanta Garden Bros Circus, unbothered by the wailing cries of the children, as the circus was “a distracting insult to what they stood for”. 

They decided that Appletown and its two IHops, Amigo Laundry mat, and juvenile detention center, should die the way any good little southern town dies. Circusless, with the kids all run off to follow the Garden Bros that were stolen from them, and Grandad keeled over on the dock, catfish slurping up chunks of his diabete-ridden meat. 

First it was piano bars, then it was skyscrapers, and vegans, and red-eyed men with snow on their summer suits. 

They sent their best to handle the sleek threat of the piano bar. Their best was Pam Brenton, valedictorian of the class of 89’, Vp of the HOA, Treasurer, and founder of Garden Club. She had her hair done up all big, eyes in gunslinger slits, and P238 in her purse. A warrior. 

She was the first one inside, and the only one to leave Hickory Stump whole. She would always wonder that maybe, just maybe, if she hadn’t gone inside, if she had left it alone, it would have been alright. That maybe she had said something to piss them off. It will keep her up at night, drive her to drink and to sleeping pills to cure her insomnia. The sleeping pills will not work, only growing in intensity as the years drag on, until they are so strong she wakes up slowly, like a tranquilized rhinoceros. First her mind, then her legs, arms, piece by piece she wakes, painfully aware of the passing morning hours, or the trickling of time.

It would not have mattered what she did, of course, but the important part is that she would wonder herself into circles and bleeding soles.


She did not bother to knock.


Inside, according to Pam, when later interviewed by authorities, there were seven men, and a single boy inside. The boy could not have been more than fifteen, but the men were difficult to place. She said the men all had features that were a little bit off, like they had been mauled up by a big dog, then stitched back together the best that could be done. She said they were tall, too, tall and lanky, but she was never one to judge just based on appearances, of course. What really bothered her, she said, was that all of them (except for the boy), were wearing suits and coats, bundled up as if there was a chill. And this was Georgia. And this was Summer. 

They did not notice her. 

And one of the men, she said, the tallest one of em’, was up on top of the piano, a fiddle tucked under his chin, and he was playing it so quickly she had been sure he'd catch the bow alight. 

The boy had clapped along as he played, his own fiddle tucked beneath his arm. It shined like nothing she had ever seen. The man at the piano, a bulking, smiling form, hit the keys with such ferocity the man on top struggled to keep his balance.

Pam explained that she was not sure how long she stood there watching them play, that it could have been hours, no days, and she would not have cared. The man’s song was beautiful, but it made her chest tight and head buzz and her stomach twitch. The same chest tightness and head buzzing and stomach twisting she described as being “that feeling when someones watching you, but you can’t see them, you just know. You just know it isn’t good. Oh, oh and it's dark. That's important. It has to be dark.”


When the song ended, the fellow atop the piano turned to her, whipped his bow against his thigh, and flashed a smile that was too white and too wide. Pam would later explain, when they asked her to place his accent, that it was deeper than deep. Souther than south. 


He said: “Hey there ma'am. Welcome on in. ‘Fraid we ain’t open quite yet, but I can get you a drink. Cold as it is out there, I owe you something to warm you up some.”

“What?”

“Whiskey. Damn good whiskey, too.” 

“Sir, It's only eleven. Unholy hour to be drinkin’. No. No, that's quite alright.”

The man just smiled wider.

“Oh, I count on it.”

Pam pursed her lips and shook her head as she began to pull the paperwork from her bag, the proposal was nicely typed up, small apples printed on the top right corners.

“We need to discuss your-”

“Nother time Jonny. Tonight I’ll beat ya. I swear to God.” This from the man, the day drinker, as he tossed his fiddle down to the table. He shouted it at the boy.

“I done told you, you son of a bitch, I’m the best that's ever been,” This from the boy, who giggled and, much to Pam's disgust and horror, turned to pick up a beer from atop the piano. 

Her own glass, the one she had refused, was warm in her hand. Whiskey, half-empty before the man had leapt from the piano smooth as anything.

“Luci,” He said with another smile, extending a hand.

Pam did not take it.

He was not called Luci, though. Never on the news. They called him Nero, because it's funny, and because you might as well be funny while your world burns down.

“Pam Benton. Can we talk about-” 

He tapped her now empty glass and clicked his tongue.

“Well met, Mrs. Brenton. Care for another drink?”


What she will insist upon, when they find her with whiskey up to her eyes asleep on the old park bench is that she never took him up on it. That the whiskey glasses in her hands she never remembered pouring them or taking them or drinking them, that she didn’t even like whiskey. 

Most of all, she will talk about his song. This she will die telling her grandkids, to anyone who will listen before she keels over on her dock, before she is food for catfish, she will tell them about the song. About how it's her Grandaddy's favorite song. That he would whistle it day in day out, that she hadn’t heard it since the day he died. That she had never been able to find it. When they interrogate her, when she makes her statements, and there would be many statements, this is what she will come back to, his song. And the men in their tight fitting suits and tight brows, men with snow on the collars of their summer suits, and mad eyes, they would listen with bored disinterest as she hums it, they will explain to her again and again that it does not exist, that it has never existed, that could she please tell them more about the fires? 



Hickory Stump had left swiftly within three days of its arrival. Appletown was gone in two, gone in twice the hurry. Despite Pam’s witness statements, the collaboration of the FBI, a city full of evidence, and years of arson investigation, an arrest was made three years after Appletowns fall. 

It was some poor chap, some poor kid, they picked him up years later, new DNA evidence, they said. 

No one put up a fuss. 

They locked him up in that juvenile detention center three hours up North because the Appletown jail had been destroyed. It was the first thing to go. They picked him up because the men with the snow on their collars had big lawyers and dozens of asses to cover, and because the boy lacked the cash to scream back . 

Later on he would go to a real prison up-state. He would be tried as an adult on the cusp of his seventeenth birthday, because it's close enough and because what is an adult if not a kid with a bit of madness and a bit of malice in their eye.


Georgia has a death penalty. Despite the two-man fire department's best efforts, there were 345 corpses to answer for. 345 murdered justified death penalty, the jury cried and the judge concured. But the death penalty is a finicky thing. Instead, this poor chap, the sacrificial Nero, sat there in prison, appealing, and losing, and appealing again. He sat there and rotted, unsure of if he would live, or if he would die, or which one is better.


The Hickory Stump will open elsewhere, in another little town. Mostly, there will be beautiful music, music you could have sworn you have heard before, that makes your soul quiver at every note. Mostly, there will be nothing but the occasional two-headed calf or teenage stroke when they are in town. Under no particular circumstances will there be tragedy grand enough for outrage, for fire. 


The fiddle will echo over Appletowns singed hills forever, where the wildflowers refuse to grow, and the stray dogs walk backwards.


And Luci, despite his best efforts, never does beat Jonny.


February 04, 2022 03:07

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13 comments

K. Antonio
23:48 Feb 11, 2022

ABOUT TIME YOU GOT SHORTLISTED! Congrats, dude. I had read this story earlier this week and didn't end up commenting, but I'm stoked that it got recognized.

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B.T Beauregard
01:12 Feb 12, 2022

Thanks for reading!! I really appreciate it. :)

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K. Antonio
01:27 Feb 12, 2022

I've been following you for so long, that all I can say is that it's well-deserved. Your writing (though so different from mine) has always peaked my interest. KEEP EM COMING!

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J.C. Lovero
12:54 Feb 22, 2022

Very nice job. I really liked the descriptions and imagery you used here. Congrats on being shortlisted!

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Story Time
08:47 Feb 13, 2022

I remember seeing this prompt and thinking "Well that would take a bit of world-building and I'm not sure how effectively you can do that with those parameters with the word count we're given" and dang, did you prove me wrong. This is so clear and so evocative. I knew instantly where I was and why I needed to spend time there. Great job.

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B.T Beauregard
18:15 Feb 13, 2022

Thank you for reading! I really appreciate it. :)

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Franca Filomena
23:57 Feb 11, 2022

I loved it. Bulgakovian vibes! And that is one of my husband's favourite songs 💕

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B.T Beauregard
01:15 Feb 12, 2022

Thanks for reading! Thats one hell of a compliment. lm glad I could do the song some justice. :)

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Amanda Lieser
15:37 Feb 11, 2022

Hello! I found this piece incredibly witty. I thought you captured the south very well-this, of course, coming from a person who has never actually been to the south, so it’s really that I loved the way you created a whole world using a few tropes I am comfortable with. I absolutely could hear these accents! They were written really well. I also enjoyed the way you chose a setting for this piece. Nice job! Congratulations on getting shortlisted!

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B.T Beauregard
01:11 Feb 12, 2022

Hey! Thanks for reading! I actually just started this piece as a world-building exercise, and it snowballed a lil bit. And I'm so glad the accents worked out!

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02:59 Feb 11, 2022

Hey it’s Veronica the story is great! My only feedback would be to work on the beginning portion, it took me a while to put together the imagery and make the connection.

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B.T Beauregard
01:07 Feb 12, 2022

Hey, thanks for reading! I would love to expand on this piece some more another time, make it a little longer and make sure everything is cleared up. I appreciate it the feedback, thank you!

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B.T Beauregard
03:10 Feb 04, 2022

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sh7BZf7D5Bw

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