Thursday, August 31, 2017

Fire on the Mountain

Part Four

“He almost killed you, dummy,” the man with the shovel said.

“I had him.”

“Really? And at what point of him getting the drop on you, did you ‘have him? I thought you were gonna talk him to death.”

“At this point right here.” The kid pressed the barrel of the shotgun into the soft flesh of Gareth Burroughs cheek. “Say goodbye, old man.”

“No.” The second man said, slapping the barrel away from Gareth’s face.

“He was right. The blast will be too loud. We ain’t scoped out the house.”

“That third fella really might be in there?”

The older man just stared at the boy. “No, son, his third boy is Clayton Burroughs, the Sheriff down in Waymore Valley. How do you not know that?”

The kid just stared back trying to think of an answer. The older man spared him the pain. “The County Sheriff isn’t in his outlaw father’s house sippin’ hot cocoa, but any other one of this old man’s people could be—Jimbo, Ernie Pruitt, or that big black joker, Valentine. Who knows? Let’s just do what we come here to do, and get gone.”

“Are you shittin’ me, here? We’re just gonna torch the barn? We got us a chance to kill Gareth fuckin’ Burroughs. That’s a golden ticket. We’ll be goddamn legends.”

The older man leaned the shovel against the wall, squatted down to get a look at an unconscious old man. It was a sight few ever got to see. The patriarch of Bull Mountain, helpless, his jaw gaped open on the dusty cement, a goose-egg rising like a biscuit on the back of his head. The man sat there a second, cocked his head and tried hard to see the feared and respected figurehead of North Georgia’s most notorious bloodline, but he couldn’t. He just saw an old man laid out in the dirt—simple and sad. After a quick glance around the room, the man stood, and picked up one of the jerry cans. “Let’s just do what we’re suppose to do, and torch this place.”

“And what about him?  What if he wakes up and makes it out?”

“He won’t”

The older man twisted open the lid on the can and dumped half the contents onto Gareth. It smelled like cat piss. “We torch him, too.”

The kid smiled. He picked up another fuel can, and then the two of them emptied the rest of the chemicals over the tables and equipment, dosing the pallets and the walls as well. Once they were outside, one toss of a lit Zippo, and the barn that Johnson Burroughs built in 1882 as a stable for Cherokee Paints and Palominos was a chemical fed monster inferno.

Even as his clothes caught fire, Gareth remained unconscious. It wasn’t until his hair and beard caught the flame that the intense heat shot him awake. His skin immediately began to char, and blister. He tried to roll, and cover his face, but the chemicals his killers had covered him in made the burning impossible to escape. He barely moved a few inches, before the pain paralyzed him. He couldn’t move or see.

But he could scream.

Gareth Burroughs screamed, and his scream was a foreign sound to the world he’d created. Gareth had never screamed before. Never like this. After nearly eight decades of systematically numbing himself to every variation of pain this world had to offer, he believed he was immune to the concept, but as his flesh began to sizzle and split and the fat underneath began to liquefy, it was clear he’d known nothing about pain, and he screamed like a newborn being pulled by force from the comfort of the womb.

In the seconds before the intense heat caused his eyes to burst like tomato red water balloons, he saw hundreds of detailed faces flicker through his madness—details his brain had not allowed him to process until these last few moments on earth. As the fire claimed his entire body, he was bombarded with these details. Every outline of every shrieking mouth, every scar, freckle, mark, or blemish, every slow decent into hell that played out on every face of every man he’d ever watched burn or burned himself. He’d felt nothing when they died screaming, nothing but morbid fascination, and even that faded after the first few. Now, in this fury of white-hot needles that spun and bored into his every pore, he knew why he’d been numb. He was meant to feel it all right now.

“Come on, son. Let’s go.”

The kid with the shotgun picked up his Zippo from the dirt and stuffed it in his pocket. He scratched at the sprout of blonde hair just starting to form a teenage beard on his chin and let the flames dance in the reflection of his icy blue eyes. He propped the gun over his shoulder and stared at the fire until his father prompted him again.

“I said, let’s go Danny.”

“Okay, paw. I’m coming.”