There were flames, and then there was Robert. He had eight kids he knew of, many more he didn’t. He slept in hay bales, on rafters, and within bushes. A bottle of vodka never left his person.

And he only had his parents to blame.

Robert rose from a knoll, covered in his vomit and coat of browning grass. Light filtered apprehensively through the canopy of branches. Thickets of shrubs adorned fallen trees. Petals danced in the light breeze. Robert turned his head towards the sound of crunching leaves.

“Daddy, is there a dead skunk around here?”

Daddy smelled his armpits before answering, “Most likely.”

The son and his father stepped into the clearing. Robert pulled a pistol from his pocket, shot the child first, then the father. As Robert walked into the forest, the child breathed his last.

And Robert only had his parents to blame.

With the rancid smell of alcohol on his breath, Robert stumbled upon a stream. He knelt in a cluster of ferns and drank some water from the sluggish flow. Robert shivered as another gust of wind carried more leaves in his direction.

Robert took out a match, lit it, and threw it into the brush. Fire almost instantly began to consume the brush. Smoke billowed into the light blue sky as the fire engulfed a tree, and then another, Flaming branches fell to the floor as pine cones exploded into smoke and flames. The fire began to inch over to the stream. Robert felt warm. His heart beat at an irregular rhythm as sweat dripped down his face.

He crossed the stream, saluted in the general direction of the two corpses he left in his wake, and walked further into the forest as more pine cones exploded behind him.

And his parents were only to blame.

Maybe Robert had a traumatic childhood. Maybe he didn’t. All he knew was the smell of alcohol, the pensive stare of the birds in the sky, the warmth of fire and the warmth of blood.

He knew nothing else except the ashes that blew in the wind.

Leaves crumbled under Robert’s boots as he desperately clung on to a tree after stumbling. He cursed the stones that rose like mountains from the forest floor. Trees reached into the sky like monoliths all around Robert. Suddenly, he heard the sound of passing cars.

Many passing cars.

Robert had stolen a car before. He knew he didn’t have a license. He took a swig from his bottle and swaggered out to the shoulder of the highway. He looked left, and he looked right.

He crossed into the middle of the highway.

Maybe the semi had time to stop. The bus certainly did. When the firefighters arrived at the highway – a river of pavement, tar, and passing dreams – they discovered Robert’s broken body. Bones jutted from smashed legs, hands clenched, lungs pierced. Robert’s blood slipped into cracks and potholes surrounding his body.

Robert let his life slip away.

With the ashes and charred trees and the two lives extinguished, Robert dealt much more pain than he felt.

No one came to his funeral, because no one knew him.

He never sought help.

Who drank the alcohol? Who dropped out of high school? Who shot a child? Who shot the child’s father?

We’re all born into different situations. It’s up to us to adapt and grow. We’re only children for so long. Move on.

Maybe Robert’s life could have ended differently. Blood on gray, blood in veins, blood spilled in vain. Streams of life splitting in many directions, subtle flow, dirt pulsing. Pebbles on the edge.

And Robert only had himself to blame.

Author: Michael Sterling

I'm a nerd. What else is there to say?

One thought on “XX”

  1. Incredible! There is a deep sense of self here that can only be the very definition of poetry in prose. You do a great job ensuring that the reader feels every emotion and sees every detail.

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