The Burn Barrel

📅 Published on October 20, 2021

“The Burn Barrel”

Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.63/10. From 8 votes.
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There is thunder.  There is lightning.  Trent’s world ignites.  He’s flat on the ship’s deck, surrounded by an ocean of fire.  Rockets snap across the runway and explode–the horror.  He’s in hell.  Everything is burning.

Trent gathers his thoughts as he pushes himself up from the bedroom floor.  It’s an earthquake.  He stumbles toward the kitchen window.  It’s near the kitchen window where he observes his world.  It’s an older world, where the nights weren’t as haunted, and a scrabble of goodness thrived in the daylight.

Outside tonight, nothing exists unless it is black.  It’s 3:00 A.M., again.  Trent splashes cold water on his sweaty face.  Again, the water has the scent of jet fuel.  It was all half-nightmare, half-truth, and 100% pure P.T.S.D.  Trent shuffles his way back to bed, where he can feel secure.

Trent’s only child, Amanda, announces, “We are getting married!” Trent is tickled to death.  Cam is a good guy, salt of the earth.  He’s someone Amanda’s deceased mother would have liked.  But in truth, Trent is looking into the future.  He envisions himself spoiling a covey of quail.  He hasn’t felt whole in a long time.

Amanda can’t handle living without a man in her bed.  She isn’t two years out of high school when she marries Cam.  He is her high school sweetheart, athletic, poetic, a real bad boy.  To her, he is a romantic pirate, dark to her daylight.

Dale is the firstborn, twelve, and smart as hell.  Lizzy, eleven, she’s a natural comedian, and Mary, nine, is sweeter than Georgia tea.

After Cassidy arrives, Grandfather Trent is elated.  He enjoys spending his extra money on dolls, fishing poles, and video games.

It doesn’t matter how or why a grandchild ends up a favorite.  It’s something that happens.  In Cassidy’s case, it’s his bright eyes, kindness, and intuitiveness.  Intuition is an attribute that his grandfather rarely observes in adults.  Cassidy’s love of nature and the wildness of the river will bless him with a lifetime of memories to cherish.  He is destined to be part of the Pacific North Coast’s aura and folklore.

Trent lives in this large house he built for his wife.  It’s more than enough room for him to kick around with her ghost, plenty of objects she touched, including the talisman that reminds him that he wasn’t such a bad man.

The two-story shipboard is in a California coastal forest.  It’s about 500 feet north of Dry Dock Gulch off of the Big River.  Big River Road shadows the beautiful river until it reaches Dry Dock.  And after that, the river is on its own another 41 miles inland.

After the hiccups or tremors – that’s how Trent refers to the quakes and aftershocks – he refrains from using the burn barrel.  The barrel is situated on a sandy beach at the water’s edge.  Fissures in the river’s granite bedrock can shift.  This shifting causes the natural gas to escape to the surface.

The combustible vapor can ignite.  Lightning strikes, the flick of a cigarette, even errant sparks from a campfire have caused the river to blaze.  The locals refer to the restless river as the River of Fire.

Every bend and ripple, the volume of its currents, is a part of Cassidy.  It’s the blood that courses through his veins and arteries.  Like his grandfather, he’s explored the jeweled water’s magical adventures.

Cassidy thinks the world of his grandfather.  He still waits on Grandfather Trent to move the coastal mountain range so he can enjoy the view of the mighty Pacific.  Cassidy is his study, a follower of sorts.  He loves visiting him near the spirited river where grandfather can explain its mysteries.

Grandfather Trent’s house is about four miles southeast of the hamlet of Mendocino, a storied village that leans up against the Pacific Ocean’s rocky shoulders.  The Big River empties into Mendocino Bay, a favorite of locals and tourists.  From Mendocino Bay, Poseidon takes charge, whisking the river into the Pacific Ocean’s eternal green bowl.

The bohemian city of Mendocino is chill.  It accommodates a constantly evolving population of older hippies, artists, adventurers, and truth seekers.  The permanent population is made up of 800 to 900 hardy souls.  That’s if you can pin down the folks that claim an address.  Some locals work the seasonal grow and prefer to remain invisible.

During the twentieth century, up until 1972, the Georgia-Pacific Redwood Lumber Mill employed nearly 2000 locals.  The lumber mill was located in the neighboring city of Fort Bragg.  Fort Bragg is about 10 miles north of Mendocino.

Because of high unemployment, some of the locals decided to make a living by nefarious means.  Turning a blind eye is something you do to stay alive in Mendocino County.

Trent works at the mill as a sawyer after he returns from Vietnam.  Once the redwood mill closes, he makes a decent living working as a general contractor.  At the age of sixty-eight, Trent decides to retire.  He settles down and builds a place along this beautiful Big River.  He’s squirreled enough money away to live comfortably, with plenty left over to spoil his grandchildren long into the future.

Over time, grandfather resolves to offer his new home to daughter Amanda.

If you look straight down the hill from his homestead, you can see the river’s banks on the other side and the teal tree line a few hundred feet to the west.  Behind the green castle of trees sits the old cabin.

From the back porch of the run-down cabin, you can see where early California explorer’s gardened, raised beef, chickens, and pigs.  Beyond the long, fallowed garden is a swampy green estuary, and further west, beyond the estuary, more tall trees.

Trent says, “It’s in disrepair.  The Fed says if I work at fixing it, I can stay rent-free.  It will give me something to do, Manda.”

“But what about your beautiful house, dad?” asks Amanda.

“It’s all yours, Manda.” The kind offer is made over delicious hamburgers.

Amanda nearly chokes on a chunk of her perfectly cooked burger.  Jenny’s Giant Hamburger is a Friday evening family tradition.  It’s located on the north end of the City of Fort Bragg.  The weekly event is an opportunity for Grandpa to get a good look at his gaggle.  If it were summer, they’d be eating outdoors on a picnic table.

The kids ooh and ahh, not having a clue about any housing implications.  Complicated bullshit like that is not important to children.

“What in the hell are you talking about, Dad?” says Amanda.

“It’s time we get you and the kids out of that damned double-wide trailer and into a real house.  There are enough bedrooms, a garage, and of course, the large workshop for your eBay selling.”

“Jesus,” says Amanda. “No, no, you can’t do that.  The offer is too generous.”

The kids giggle and pretend not to know anything about adult conversations.  They steal french fries and throw elbows as fast as flying fish.  On the other hand, Cassidy notices the kindness in his grandfather’s eyes, the tone of his timbered voice.  Cassidy listens intently and smiles.

“Think about it, Manda.  It will mean a lot to everyone.”

Amanda looks down at the table and back up.  Her wheels are turning.

The kids are restless, having packed their stomachs full of Jenny’s best.  They bang open the front door and file outside.  Out in the drizzle, there’s more room to get the ants out of their pants.

Cassidy is watching the rest of the crew from inside, finishing the last of his fries.

“Ok, Manda, think it over, but not too long.  My last alarm might go off at any time.  I’ve got lots of work to do on that old river shack.”

“God, I can’t believe you, Dad.  You and your sense of humor!”

“It will make me happy.” Grandpa steals a look at his favorite.  Cassidy’s face is all grins, mustard, and catsup. “And this little guy,” he looks over at Cassidy, “He can be Grandpa’s helper.”

They all stand.  It’s a group hug, Grandfather Trent, his loving daughter, and Cassidy, his favorite.

It’s only been a few years.  The kid’s dad Cam drowns in a fishing mishap just a few days out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska.  The seasonal crab and salmon in Alaska having paid more than the local salmon fishing in Fort Bragg and Coos Bay, Oregon.  With all the restrictions, the local salmon industry is bleeding money.

The four children are heartbroken, of course.  But, it’s not like Dad is an integral part of their lives.  They have no experience with loss.  In hindsight, maybe that is a good thing.

* * * * * *

A lively bed and having a man on her arm drive Amanda to Charlie.  The grass over Cam’s grave is still a different shade of green.  It’s another one of Amanda’s careless decisions.

Charlie comes with a generic bad-boy reputation and a price tag.  He’s two years fresh out of Pelican Bay State Prison, the one up near Eureka in Humboldt County.

It’s a long story, but Charlie and his knuckle-dragging friend go back into Ray’s Food Place in Fortuna.  The ATM is too heavy to lift into the bed of Charlie’s truck.  And so, Charlie Einstein comes up with the bright idea of attaching a chain to the cash-heavy cabinet.  They drag the serious loot to some obscure corner of his crazy universe and attempt to binge on it.  Red and blue lights surround them.

The R2-D2 safe has nearly worn through to the cash, leaving most of the ATM’s backside as a trail of filings on California 101.  His friend Lupe was shot in a gunfight with the well-armed California C.H.P.  Charlie is a pussy.  He cries like a baby when they handcuff him.  The police slam Charlie into the back seat of the patrol car.  Roughing the idiot up is the price he pays for risking the lives of innocent drivers and the other officers.

Since getting out of prison, he’s been too lazy to find honest work.  He’s obsessing about making an outlaw living by bootlegging illegally grown weed and distributing narcotics.

The Burn Barrel

Part of Trent’s daily ritual is to walk the banks of the River of Fire.  He collects washed-up derbies.  The river’s ecology is his priority.

On any given night, the burn barrel’s blaze can be seen clear across the river—all the way up to what used to be his house on the hill.

Salmon carcasses, old coyotes that die on the banks of the sacred river while taking their last drink, dead seagulls, even the remains of a black bear have been found and burned.  All forms of decay and death go into Trent’s burn barrel.  Splintered branches rubbed smooth from the Pacific’s eternal push and pull.

Trent’s obsession gives him something to do, anything to keep his cemetery wife out of his skull.  He is a master of the river, the best at eliminating things whose time has run out.  He teaches his grandson the importance of pleasing the river.

Trent loves the fact that Cassidy has especially enjoyed the burn barrel fires late at night.  It’s their secret.  Cassidy is a ghost.  He slips out of his bedroom window at night, a phantom climber as he treks the tall hill behind the house.  He sits atop this ship-shaped rock, gazing clear across to his grandfather’s endless fires.  The burn barrel is comforting to the lonely child.  Grandfather is family, the next best thing to a living father.

The two discuss Cassidy’s adventures.  It’s their well-kept secret.

Light My Fire

It has been less than a year.  Amanda and her family are loving the gifted house and surrounding property.  Unlike Amanda, her new husband Charlie isn’t thankful for the home.  He makes Trent very uncomfortable when he visits.

“Say, Charlie, can I check out my old shop and see what improvements you’ve made?”

“No, no, someday.  Not now, Trent.  It’s a mess, a real cluster-bang.  Does it need a new light switch?”

“Can we have Dad over for a BBQ, please, Charlie?”

“No, Amanda, how many times do I have to tell you?  It’s too dangerous to have him snoopin’ around, all the chemicals in the garage and workshop.”

“Chemicals?” Asks Amanda, looking surprised, “What chemicals, Charlie?”

“You know, paint, thinner, stains, spirits.”

“But Charlie, since when have you painted anything?”

“Let’s don’t do this, Amanda.  Not now, that’s that.”

And so, Cassidy and his grandfather devise a way to communicate by lamplight.  Late at night, after Cassidy climbs the long hill, he sits atop his large boulder.  He lights his Coleman lantern and waves it to his grandfather across the river.

In turn, Trent tosses more wood in the burn barrel, stoking it into a witch’s pyre.  Cassidy imagines his grandfather’s fire-glow is as tall as any lighthouse, preventing stormy weather shipwrecks.  Trent loves Cassidy’s endless imagination.  But the intense fire is mostly to keep their love warm and alive.

* * * * * *

It’s 1:00 A.M.  Trent is helplessly watching.  If not for the flames across the river, Trent would be staring into the early morning darkness.

Trent’s mind shifts back to 1967.  He is a sailor assigned to the U.S.S. Forrestal, just off the coast of North Vietnam.  Back then, the deadly explosion occurred at 10:52 A.M. local time.

Trent is not himself at the burn barrel.

The Forrestal is launching F-4 Phantom aircraft from her flight deck four days in a row.  Trent is loading bombs.

The explosion at his daughter’s house across the river isn’t from a Zuni Rocket experiencing a misfire and causing a nautical disaster.  The burning structure will not cause Trent to catch any shrapnel metal in his legs and chest.  And, it hasn’t killed 134 sailors and injured 161 others.

Trent watches his former house burn in a pyre.  He knows he’s not going to feel the same the rest of his life.  Losing his wife has taken him down.  Losing his entire family is taking him out.

In the township of Mendocino at 1:00 A.M., Pacific Time, Charlie is getting ready to shoot his last shot of cheap liquor.  He’s at the Mendocino Hotel and Restaurant intoxicated during last call as his favorite bar closes.  He and a recent graduate of Pelican Bay State Prison are wasted as hell.

Hearing the explosion, Sam breaks the news before the barkeep drops his tray of empty shot glasses.  “That’s a Goddamned meth lab explosion.”

Half-full bottles of righteous liquor fall from the bar’s expensive glass shelves.  They burst open as they hit the wooden planked floor.  The stained-glass door at the bar’s entrance shatters into colored diamonds.

Charlie attempts to squeeze through the frame of what’s left of the door.  His biker boots catch the bottom of the jagged door frame.  He trips out of the bar and onto the shattered glass sidewalk.

After about thirty minutes, Californian’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection arrive at the blaze.

Across the river, Trent watches the fire crew battle the flames as his old homestead burns.  It’s too late to save the house or anything in it.  The fire is wild-eyed and fierce.  Its furious flames burn up the side of the ridge.

The fire is stamped out a mere 100 feet from Cassidy’s lantern rock.

Trent loses most of his shipmate buddies in the Forrestal fire, and now he’s losing his entire family.  He paces the river’s shoreline and stokes the burn barrel.  He strains to see the lantern at his grandson’s rock.  He sees nothing except this charcoal wind that insists on whipping itself against the hills’ pines.

He screams, he prays, he begs for help from no one with ears.  It’s all for naught.  His throat is hoarse, fresh raw meat.  There is nothing Trent can do to save them.  Crossing the swift river at this time of year is an act of suicide.  Driving down to Mendocino and back up the river road will only lead Trent to a roadblock.

Trent shrieks and cries to the sea and river gods.  His entire heritage is being torched in the fire.

Charlie is arrested at the scene, probable cause.  He’s got a five-gallon bucket full of 240 mg extended-release Sudafed tablets hidden under a blanket in the cab of his Chevy pickup truck.

It isn’t until 9:00 A.M. the following day that Fire Protection can commence clean-up.  It will take them the rest of the day to figure out the how and why of all the destruction.

* * * * * *

The night after the horrific fire, Trent is attending the burn barrel.  He is throwing in anything flammable, including his shoes, socks, and jacket.  He paces the sharp graveled beach, cutting his bare feet.  He sits, he cries, he stands and paces the flank of the river.  It is the Forrestal fire all over again, the burning ship, his entire family, the feeling of helplessness.

Midnight finds Trent knee-deep in the River of Fire.  He isn’t attempting to cross the river.  That’s just stupid.  Trent wants to drown in his sorrow.


Two more days pass.  Trent wakes from a sound sleep at the edge of the rushing river.  He rises and stokes the burn barrel.

Much later, near dark, he drags himself back to his meager cabin, where he collapses for the longest time.

Trent and friends bury the entire family at Cuffy’s Cove Cemetery.  The saddest part is Trent thinking that his wife will be upset because he gave them their home.  Trent isn’t in his right mind, nor will he ever be again.

Trent is beside himself that his disguising son-in-law is thriving.  He gives himself over to revenge.

Trent paces the river, day after day, month after month, a month into years.

Charlie is supposed to get 10-20 years.  Trent does everything he can to keep the loser locked up forever.  Trent gets a notice from the parole board that Charlie is getting out of prison, this time, New Sacramento.  It’s only been six years since the day he entered.  But, Charlie finagles time off for good behavior, his usual charm.

Trent scours the river.  It needs miles and miles of clean-up: dead snakes, salmon, rabbits, and someone’s pet goat.  He gazes across the river for renewal.  Trent wants his wonderful family back, his daughter, the magical Cassidy.

It rains, it snows in the winter.  The burn barrel keeps Trent warm and busy, a few steps ahead of insanity.  As spring arrives, Trent yearns for revival.  He prays hard so he can learn to forgive, but he fails.

And then, one day, Charlie and a crew begin to rebuild.  First, it’s the concrete demolition, and then the new foundation, and after, the walls, headers, rafters, and roof.  Electrical wiring, heating, and air conditioning ducts are.  Next, a new fireplace, a garage, and a new workshop is built.

Charlie is using Amanda’s sizable life insurance payout to fund his project.  He also receives all the fire insurance money.  Liberty Mutual can’t prove he’s the one who started it.

Charlie moves in with his new wife.  The construction continues.

Renewal grows vengeance, the burn barrel blazes.

The Reckoning

It happens in February.  Neither keeps track of the years as they don’t matter in the scheme of eternity.

Trent continues to stoke his burn barrel.  He is angry and beside himself.  The flames have risen at least six or seven feet, straight up into the bitterly cold night; the barrel crackles.  It’s a witch’s cauldron: river wood, a deer jaw, a rotting raccoon that died from rabies.

Trent is sitting in a lawn chair, next to the roaring barrel and river.  His attention is focused on the new house Charlie is building on top of his dreams.  He gazes into the steep woods behind the new house.  Blackness inhales the house and forest, a vicious insult to everything good.

Then, something catches his attention.  There he is, up the long hill.  He thinks he sees Cassidy sitting on his favorite boulder.  As crazy as it sounds, it has to be him.  Cassidy is swaying the lantern.

By God, he knows it.  Who else knows the signal?  The lantern sways sideways, three times, then up and down.  Trent is communicating with his dead grandson.

But Trent knows full well that after losing his wife and family, you can see dark things, things that aren’t meant to be real.  Yet, Cassidy’s signaling is explicit.  And if so, what is his grandson communicating?

Cassidy has waited a long time, hoping a man’s soul can change.  But nothing’s changed.  His stepfather Charlie has continued his evil ways.

Cassidy chuckles in the alpine darkness.  He hasn’t changed much either, still a badly burned boy of eleven.  He hasn’t changed much since the fire, but wait?

Cassidy is a lost shadow of himself.  He is the blackness of fire, his skin, the texture of burned marshmallows.  Cassidy’s warm smile is a continuous grin, his remaining teeth ivory yellow.  His tee-shirt and shorts are scorched, with fashionable eroded holes.

He is a ghost, a ghost of a once beautiful child, an outraged spirit, a revengeful ghost.  Even sugar burns in a fire.  This Charlie guy, who is attempting to replace his sweet mother, needs to learn a lesson.  He needs a reckoning.  His night of accounting will be the last thing he ever remembers.

* * * * * *

Charlie sleeps through the quake.  It’s about 2:30 A.M. when he wakes.

“Did you feel it?” Charlie asks.

“Yeah, now go back to sleep, Charlie,” Angela, his new wife, says with a yawn.

Everything around him feels unusual, including his devil’s brew high.  He has a wacky mixture of drugs onboard.  There are those among us who never choose to learn the most elementary lessons in life.  His lack of conscience and morals is a glaring clue.  Charlie rubs his eyes and nose, sniffs the charcoal.  They say, once a house burns to the ground, even if you replace the wooden bones, you can never get rid of the scent of fire and decay.

Such is life.  There is more to this than Charlie’s keen olfactory glands.  Against the purest of winter black, Charlie senses something isn’t right.  There is an unfamiliar aberration at the end of his bed.  Yet, he knows his hallucinations well.  And he loves it when his concoction of drugs does that.  But this time, his pleasure zones are giving him disinformation.

He sits up, freezes in place as his delusional effigy shifts closer, more aura of that matter.  The entity appears alongside the bed.  It settles as smooth as liquid mercury.

The warmth of Angela’s sensual, soft body beckons Charlie.  “Lie down, lie down beside me, sweet love, who wants to live forever?”

He needs that.  The room’s temperature is dropping fast.  Charlie sees himself stocking the iron wood stove.  It’s only been an hour.  But is he certain?  Is he certain of anything?  His dreamy comfort is something that feels like forever.

Before it happens, Charlie smells it, death.  In an instant, this black, fleshy ghost dumps nearly five gallons of premium gasoline all over Charlie’s body.

“Run, Jesus, run,” Charlie shouts to Angela, “Run for you damned life.” Charlie lacks intuition.  He barely got his GED.

“Stay away from any open flames or sparks,” he shouts into the room’s black Rubik’s Cube.

Instinct kicks Angela out of bed.  Barefoot, in a flimsy tee and shorts, she screams in the direction of something unknown.

Charlie attempts to speak, but his brain is stuck in primordial muck.

If she doesn’t flee, she’s doomed.  Angela runs and bounds down the carpeted stairs, straight toward the front door, oxygen, and Charlie’s truck.

“Run, Angela, head to town, get help,” Charlie screams at Angela, not knowing she’s already on the road.

“Before you go, blow out the…”

”…candles,” the shedding flesh of a boy says.  “You are too late.  Angela is on her way to safety, unlike my mother.”

Angela races down the winding road toward Mendocino, to hell with Charlie and his candles.  Charlie isn’t worth the breath it takes to blow them out.  She’s been planning to leave for good for what seems like forever.  She can’t live with herself: Charlie’s meth lab blowing up, the killing of his entire family, his dead wife’s life insurance money, the fire insurance.  None of that is worth it.

Charlie makes his move.

He breaks toward the bedroom’s open doorway.  The one that gives him a false sense of escape.  After, he lunges down the stairs, nearly falling flat on his face.

Charlie catches himself halfway across the laminated floor in the foyer.  He plants himself in front of the chestnut table behind the sofa.  On the table burns this aromatherapy candle.  The candle’s flame dances and entices Charlie.

Charlie avoids the flaming tongue of the candle as if it’s a venomous snake.  He pauses, hears steps.  He looks over his shoulder.

The shadow of a tarry boy stretches the length of the carpeted staircase in the dim candlelight.  Everything appears distorted to Charlie, including reality.  Charlie is reminded of the internet monster Slenderman.

Once the moving vapor reaches the bottom of the stairs, it strikes a wooden match.

Charlie busts open the front door, nearly pulling it off its three hinges.  He’s in freefall down the front porch entrance stairway.  He runs and runs until he crosses the paved county road.  He pauses.

Somehow, Cassidy is standing right behind him on the gravel.  Cassidy is lighting and flicking matches near Charlie’s feet.

Charlie thinks, if only I can make it to the river, I’ll be safe.

Crashing and cracking branches follow Charlie as he heads down the pathless hill toward the rushing river.  Thorny blackberry, poison ivy, and dry witchweed hook and tear at bare legs.

He’s intent on crossing the river or drifting downstream in the impossible currents.  Charlie doesn’t know the River of Fire that well.  But the funny thing about terror, sanity is the last thing on your mind.

Charlie falls.  He is impaled through his side by a pointed hickory branch.  He screams into the night as he lies squirming on the ground.  He watches fresh blood trickle down his goatskin ribcage.  In the dim light of the moon, Charlie is in a fetal position, praying for a quick death.

Cassidy appears on the make-shift pathway.  He strikes another match to see that Cassidy is not Cassidy, not even close.  From what Charlie can tell, Cassidy is a burned piece of meat, from hoof to horn.  The thing’s chest is ripped open.  Whatever it is, it is mostly wound.

Cassidy’s cavernous chest wound glints.  His greasy heart throbs in the growing moonlight.

“Need a light,” Cassidy inhales deeply.  Only one lung is functional.

Charlie pisses his cool pirate P.J. undershorts as he pushes himself up from the graveled rocks and blasts downhill.  He needs the winter river in case he catches fire.  As he sprints, he snaps the shard of wood that has pierced his side.  Adrenaline is his anesthesia.

Finally, he is at the banks of the river.  He places his sticky hands on his bloody knees.  Charlie gasps and gasps, coughing up blood.

Charlie raises his head.  It’s this thing, again, named Cassidy.  He pukes on the ground from the smell of burnt flesh.

“Would you care for a glass of water, Charlie boy?”

“No, no, this can’t be happening.  Cassidy, I am truly sorry.  I really mean it.”

Cassidy scoops up a palm of water out of the river’s edge.  It’s a small palm.  Two fingers are missing.  He sniffs the water, “Just right, Charlie, it’s just right, Charrrrrllllliiiiee.”

“Just right, for what?” rasps Charlie.  He begins to snivel and cry.

“Due time,” says Cassidy as he dries his hand on what’s left of his tee-shirt.  He slowly backs away from the river.  Cassidy looks across the river.

Charlie gazes at the distance too.

“Are you happy, old man, you bastard?” In the distance, he can see Trent.  Trent is behind his burn barrel, stocking it madly.  The flames are dancing nearly ten feet in height.

Charlie looks up at the angry moon’s darkness, the skies winking stars. “I hate you, God!” He shouts.

Charlie rushes toward the river and leaps in.  He tries to swim downstream.  Drowning is better than burning to death, he imagines.

Grandfather Trent kicks the burn barrel for all he’s worth.  It’s spewing fatty flames.  It tumbles and picks up speed as it rolls down toward the water’s edge.  The barrel enters the water, sizzles, and then explodes, igniting the vaporous gas.  Both Grandfather Trent and Cassidy are blasted to the ground.  The River of Fire has not let them down.

Cassidy rises and watches as the initial blaze begins to climb.

Cassidy imagines the burning sky as the sails on a schooner.

Higher and higher, the fire rises in Cassidy’s made-up pirate ship.  He’s wide-eyed.  He watches as his bloody ship sails the River of Fire, carrying Charlie’s remains in the direction of the Pacific Ocean.  Charlie boils and burns in the heat of hate.  He numbs, stiffens, and drifts in agony toward Mendocino Bay.

* * * * * *

It’s 9:30 A.M.  the following day.  Sheriff Sammy Williams is stringing up crime tape.  He is wrapping it around the burnt trees where Charlie’s house once stood.

“Sergeant Williams, we’ve found a badly burned body down here at the wharf.  It looks a lot like that troublemaker Charlie.”

“I’m not a bit surprised,” says the sergeant.

“What’s your 10-20, sir?  When can we expect you down here?”

“Well, in due time, my man, in due time.  As far as my location, I’m across the river from Trent’s house, you know, the guy that drowned himself a few years back when he lost his family?”

“Of course,” says the corporal, that whole damned neck of the river is f’d-up and haunted.”

“I’ll head down to the wharf as soon as the county detectives arrive.  Save me some popcorn.  This is going to be a long and interesting day.”

Rating: 9.63/10. From 8 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Dan A. Cardoza

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Fright Bites: Short Tales of Terror
The Creepypasta Field Guide: The Official Field Guide to Creepypasta Creatures & Killers, by Slimebeast

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