Who’s there?

Fire and embers outdoors.

This is a tale told in the blackened runes of burnt heather stems . . .

It was a day of drought. Listeners came to The Garret in the late evening, when the lower sky glowed coppery. They leant against the cool stones and sighed with the pleasure of it. The Pilgrim Woman poured out water for them. When the wake star first shone, she closed the door. A rough shawl went over her head and she began this tale:

Was that a knock at the door?

Margaret sits up in bed. Sniffs. Smoke kippers the bedroom. Her eyes smart and she grabs a pillow. She wipes her eyes on the frill. Coughs.

What were it you were supposed to do?

Orange light licks at a gap in the curtains. It brings crackling with it, an incantation of snaps and small collapses.

She half falls, half pours herself onto the bedside rug. Crawls across the warm floorboards. Coughs and coughs.

The charred air fills her mouth with dryness. Swabs any spit away. Offers the taste of heather ash instead. Outside, the wildfire repeats its hoarse chant.

Her answer stays in her head.

Don’t look at it. Don’t go to window. Keep down where air’s better.

Last time, the farmhouse made a grey stone streak among cadmium orange, chrome yellow and lamp black. She never got the sight of the burned ewes out of her head. Never got the reek of smoke out of the furniture neither.

Coughing and retching, she stretches up to the door handle. Ribs heave, raw like her heart, on the inside.

The knocking again. She tugs on the handle. Makes a lizard-crawl path to the landing. Before, black roots and reptile limbs told her death’s progress. This time somebody’s come wi a warning.

The flagstones in the hall cool and soothe. She lays her cheek down. So tired. The knocking tells her to move. The letterbox puffs noise at her.

‘Come on, Mrs Lumb.’

Is it Shawn? He’s a good lad to come for her. Dun’t sound quite right. Fierce. Must be the smoke.

She takes hold of a walking stick to pull herself up. Turns the key. Opens the door a span. Heat trespasses inside. Why ever din’t she take chain off? It is Shawn. Quiet, reliable Shawn waiting for her. Who’d have thought it? She coughs and coughs.

The chain’s not easy with her old hands. Whatever is he wearing? Some sort of cloak effort, all wet for protection. It steams from the front, facing the lit moor. Shawn turns. He’s grinning. A can stands by his foot.

‘Behold,’ he says, head high, arms wide, ‘I am the Lord of the Red Horizon.’

*******

The Pilgrim Woman pours out more water for everyone.

Header image by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

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