I barely smell the burlap smoke anymore, but I remember that it used to burn my throat and water my eyes. I blow into the tin fume-canister until a little flame leaps up then I slap the top closed and squelch the heat. I want the smoke, not the fire. A thousand or so honeybees swarm around the two hives I’ve placed at the edge of Old Man Orchard. I should camouflage them or put them a little deeper into the woods, but the big white boxes need sunlight if I want the bees to survive the long winters, so it’s a tradeoff I guess.
I pull the little red wagon train, three of the kid’s yard toys bolted together like train cars, behind me. Each car carries a pair of plastic buckets, plastic lids and stainless steel hose clamps to seal them tight. The first time I did this, without the clamps, the bees took all the honey back. Bees can get in anywhere.
Most of what I’ve learned about bees I learned by doing and taking my stings, but some things, like about the burlap and how it makes bees confused but not mad, you can learn in a book. Benson’s Big Book of Bees and Beekeeping, that I salvaged from the library has been a lifesaver, even if it’s a little more of a kid’s “about stuff” book than it is an instruction book.
I pump the little tin fumer until the acrid gray smokes drives the bees away a bit. The hive lid comes off easy and another few hundred bees surge out. They can’t bother me much though, my suit is a good one, leather and treated canvas, a stiff straw and vinyl helmet with a nylon net that hangs around my whole head like a curtain. Velcro fasteners hold the net’s bottom snug to my collar.
The first honeycomb screen comes out and I have to bang it twice against the hive’s base to free up the spoils from the swarm. I drain and scrape honey and beeswax into the first bucket then slide the frame back into place. I pump billows of smoke into the bucket to chase the more ardent bees away then cover and screw the hose clamp snug enough to seal the bucket.
I repeat this process until I’ve cleaned half of each hive and used up all my storage space. There is still more honey to take, but I can wait a few days before hitting this one again. The bees will go right back into their “get pollen/make honey” behavior almost as soon as I walk away. But, I linger for a few minutes and let them gorge themselves on whatever honey I managed to drop or spill during the extraction. Bees are notoriously good at recycling and within a few minutes there isn’t a drop of honey or a speck of beeswax left on me, or on any of my gear.
The swarm lessens with each foot I put between the hive and me. I reach the fifth row of stunted apple trees then strip the netting and gloves. I drag the honey train a few more yards though, just to make sure there aren’t too many really diligent sisters buzzing around my head.
No stings today. Any day without stings is a good day.
This should be a good batch with a little hint of apple swimming beneath the honey-sweetness. Apple blossoms fall like huge snowflakes from the rows of untended trees that make up what’s left of Old Man Orchard. I wipe a muddy sweat off my forehead with my sleeve and slip into the shade. I double check my hip holster, the .45 revolver hangs there unmolested – it fell off one time last year and I had to walk three miles between all of my hired-out hives to find the damn thing – The last thing you want to be missing when you need it is a revolver.
I glance back at the two white hives and risk a sting or two by prying off the bucket top to the first container. I draw out a little wedge of honeycomb and bite off the pointy end. “Thanks ladies,” I whisper before the profound sweetness overwhelms my taste buds. “Oh my god that’s awesome.”
“Dan, that you?”
I hear the voice before I see the lone figure straddling his bicycle on the roadside.
I wave because I’ve still got a good mouthful of beeswax.
“Scavenge tomorrow, you up for it? Three-day trip we think. West.”
I hope Pete Whilouby can’t see my furrowed brow from his vantage point near the old “U-Pic!” sign.
“Trying for medicine, seeds, and cleaning supplies. If we don’t have good luck there’s a couple of caches we left out last time to harvest.”
I wave and cough out, “Yeah, come by when you are all ready to go and I’ll come along. Jim will be with me too.”
“Okay, great!” Whilouby doesn’t wait for me to trudge up to the roadside. He pushes off and before I even get ten yards he’s pedaled down to meet me. “You alone?”
“Not anymore.” It’s definitely getting warmer. Pete only wears a flannel shirt over a tee shirt. His black beard hangs down almost to the middle of his chest, and his black mane is pulled back into a long ponytail, Winter Hair, that’s what we call that style.
I’ve already sheared most of mine off.
“Dan, really, you know better -”
“Jim’s still getting over strep and this has to be done. You have a bee suit?”
“Then it’s moot. Unless you’re a sucker for stings. And they love long hair, so be careful.”
Whilouby doesn’t prolong the argument and instead pokes the sides of each bucket on the wagon train. “How much you get?”
“Mostly wax this early.”
“No need to be coy -”
“I’m not being coy.” This doesn’t seem to placate Pete’s reproving stare. “Look, it’s me and Jim’s business. I built the hives, I found the queens, I raised the bees. I made deals with the friendly locals to pollinate their gardens. I’m sure you’d like a piece of my tiny action, but honestly, there isn’t enough work even for me.”
Pete raises his hands. “No offense, Dan. Things are stabilizing, I know that. A little entrepreneurial spirit should be applauded but -”
“I’m as communal as the rest of you! But, if I’m going to spend a day or so a week tending the hives for people then those people need to help me make up the difference, got it? I’m not trying to be a captain of freaking industry here -”
“- Everyone can benefit from this resource.”
“I’m sure that us not immediately turning our jars over to Reverend Lyons at the church sticks in your craw.”
He snorts, hard. The sound is not totally unlike an angry bull trying to breathe out of a rage. “We’ve managed pretty well considering for three summers and four winters now because everyone worked together all the time. What happens when someone wants to just chop and trade wood for food instead of gardening or hunting? We don’t have enough people to sustain that kind of economy. Not yet. In another three years, sure, maybe, I don’t know. But now we can’t afford to be venture capitalists.”
“There’s nothing wrong with trade, Pete. Humans have been trading since cave-man times. You remember cave men, right? They were a lot like us except they didn’t have bicycles.”
We walk in silence towards the road. Old Man Orchard isn’t just overgrown with trees, the grass is three-years untended and hip high now. By mid spring, sometime in June, it’ll be head high. A shame no one in town needs hay because this stuff would be perfect.
The days are getting warm now, and the nights.
I stumble on a campsite hidden beneath the overhanging boughs of a Macintosh tree. I kneel beside a little heap of ash and charred rabbit bones surrounded by a ring of rocks. “Hey.”
Whilouby joins me but doesn’t say anything.
I dip my fingers into the cold ash then peer out into the surrounding fields. “I wonder if our visitors just walked on?”
“We’d have seen them in town or on the way if they hadn’t.” Pete kicks at the little campfire pit.
“No, wait. If they’re still around we don’t want them to know we’ve been here. Leave it. I have to come back in a week to harvest. If we haven’t seen anyone, and it’s undisturbed, I’ll clean it up. Otherwise, if it is a scout then we’re better off with them not knowing we’re around.”
Pete eases back out. “Fair enough.”
The early afternoon sun beats down on Pleasant Hollow. We’ve been lucky this year, only a couple-dozen shamblers found their way into downtown, and we’ve only lost three residents, a suicide, a flu, and a blight, since the thaw. Three years after the comet strike, the undead plague, the world circling the drain, and we’re starting to make things work. Now we work to sustain what little we’ve carved out of the end of the world.
Cracked and cratered asphalt stretches east towards Pleasant Hollow and west towards Shepherd Creek at the entrance to Old Man Orchard. Me and ten or so of the men felled a bunch of big deadwood, maple mostly and a few oaks, over the road just before the snow started in earnest last year. The barricade keeps anything larger than a pull cart out of town. Pete and me snake around the trunks. “You think it was one of Brother Charisma’s scouts?”
“We don’t even know if they have scouts.”
“They’re the closest big settlement to us, I think.” I follow Bob through the last of the toppled trees and skirt beside him on the narrow road leading back into town. My wagon train bounces and squeaks on the road behind me. “Maybe we should send a trade mission.”
The canopy of oak and maple throws the road into perpetual near-night, always damp and cool; always clammy. We almost crawl and have to listen hard for rustling leaves, sniff the air for corrupted meat. I keep my pistol ready while Bob peers through the riflescope into the darkness along the tree line. We wait a full minute before proceeding.
The undead aren’t subtle, or very smart. If they aren’t thrashing around trying to get to you within one minute, then they aren’t there.
Wisps of smoke rise up from the heap of charcoaled timber. The fire-smell is mostly gone and the earthy, leafy, moist smell of the springtime slips back beneath the smoke. I kick over one of the smaller timbers, a boot, half of the upper is burned away. Black bones poke out through the hot ash. “I got one.”
“Henderson says there’s more. A couple doors down too. I don’t get it, how do they get inside the houses and manage to start them on fire?”
I stare at Jim for a second then shake my head and fiddle with the shoulder strap of my bolt-action Ruger hunting rifle. “C’mere and help me move the debris and I’ll tell you.”
Jim strides over. He’s big, like, linebacker big still, but dumb as a stone wall. It’s not Jim’s fault, his mom, my Mother-In-Law, had a bad drink habit and he was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, so he’ll never see the world any differently than a twelve year old even though otherwise he ages like the rest of us do. “Don’t burn yourself, okay? The wood is still hot.”
He slides a pair of gray leather gardening gloves over his massive calloused hands and stands over the far end of the rubble.
“Just push it up a little, okay? And don’t drop it on my head this time.”
“I won’t Dan.”
“Okay. Ready? One. Two. Three!”
Jim hoists the smoldering debris up to his waist then transitions it to chest high. I squirm into the space, reach in and feel around until I’m pretty sure I’ve got a handful of bone then slide the carcass into the daylight. “Let it down nice and slow.”
Jim grunts then gently puts the debris back in place.
I wrestle with the body for a minute. Some of the clothes are still intact, floral print cloth, probably a woman. “Look here, see?” I pry the arm back and show Jim the loops of wire around the wrists. “They didn’t stumble into the house and burn it down, someone tied them up, put them in, then burned the place down.”
Jim rubs the side of his big balding head for a minute then stomps out of the smoky mess. “Jeez. Why’d someone go through all that trouble then?”
“Maybe they weren’t zombies, Jim.” I ignore that he’s standing there staring at me again. “Help me count how many, okay? Then we’ll meet up with Henderson and Whilouby.”
“I don’t want to.”
“It’s okay. They won’t hurt you.”
“I’m not worry about being hurt. It’s too sad.”
“Don’t be stupid you big ox. Just help me and the sooner we’re done the sooner we can leave this sad place. Okay?” I try not to call him names, but sometimes when I’m tired or frustrated or scared I can’t help it. Today I’m all three. “Sorry Jim.”
Jim nods and begins to kick over piles of ash and shift twisted skeletons of metal furniture. “Two more here. I don’t care if you call me names.”
“See if they have wire around their hands.” I try to concentrate on my little slice of sooty Hell. There’s another tangle of bones mixed in with the bottom half of the skeleton in the floral dress. I can’t get this one out but I can see the wire around its wrists too. This skeleton is smaller. “Jim. Find anything?”
“I got two more.”
I step back and brush the ash across the front of my shirt. “I’ll get Whilouby.” I walk off and stop in the bushes long enough to vomit the little bit of friendship bread and goat cheese I’d gobbled down at first light. I curse and wipe the spittle off my whiskers. Damn it, I’m going to miss those calories in an hour or two.
Whilouby is standing as I was before the smoking ruins of a house. He cradles his lever-action Winchester and peers up the wide asphalt road, east, towards Littleton and the big Interstate highways.
“We. We – found some bodies.”
“Us too. Must’ve been a hell of a party. No supplies left. Everything that might have been useful to anyone is gone. Not even a can of beans.”
“Well, this is just the outskirts, right? I mean, Clara and me and Jim used to drive through here on the way to Littleton or Brattleboro. There’s a few brick places, police station, post office, that sort of thing, a little further down.”
“I used to know the pastor here. Nice fellow. Roderick, Ben Roderick. Baptist, had a really pretty wife.” Whilouby’ voice trails off leaving on the scant morning birdsongs to fill the emptiness.
“We’re only thirty miles from Pleasant Hollow.”
“Henderson? How many?”
“Three? Ten? Thirty? I have no idea. There’s bones all mixed up with everything in here. For all I know this place was full of people and chickens and goats and cows.” Bob Henderson’s head pokes up over the mess. “I’d rather not be in here if you don’t mind. It’s creepy.”
“Come on out.” Whilouby Lowers his eyes and offers a short nearly silent prayer. “It won’t be long,” he says finally, “before they come for us.”
“This couldn’t have happened more than two days ago.”
“Now the question is, which way did they go; west towards Littleton, or east towards us?” Bob wipes some of the soot from his jacket sleeves as he steps out of the rubble. ”
I think for a second about our two pathetic carts and how little they can carry. “Home. They have to bring back whatever they find. We’d have seen them if they came east. It’s not like we were in the deep-dark or anything.”
“You think there’s enough stuff out here, still, to warrant a return trip?”
“We don’t know what they found.”
Jim lumbers up behind me. “I know what they didn’t take. There’s a dozen bee hives piled up a couple of houses down. We’re going to take them back, right Dan?”
I glance at the others. We carried back two hives during the last scavenge and we had to sacrifice some other stuff to do it. “If the others don’t mind.”
Whilouby offers, “Just hide them for now, and we’ll grab them on the way back if we have space.”
“Only one of them looked like it had live bees,” Jim says, “I checked them over for rot, like you showed me, and they look pretty good.”
A strong hive can last through the worst winter if the box is set up right. You have to face the opening to the south and let the sun warm the outside of the thing all winter long. The bees make their own friction heat too, wriggling and squirming against each other like fuzzy little pillows. Benson’s Big Book of Bees shows a hive with an internal temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of an Alaskan winter.
“I wish I had my suit. Can we mark the map for a return trip? A good queen isn’t always easy to come by.”
Whilouby nods and pulls a battered road atlas from his knapsack.
We regroup and double check weapons before Whilouby and Henderson head back towards where we hid the carts. Jim and me walk into downtown, and like Pleasant Hollow, most of the buildings are little more than shells of brick and wood. A pharmacy with punched out windows sits at the main corner between the wide state road and the rural crossway that turns the center of downtown into an X-marks-the-spot. The pharmacy is empty of everything useful save for birth control devices, plastic toys, and old Red Sox tee-shirts that have mildewed into splotchy rags.
Jim starts methodically sifting through the piles of detritus while I scour the mess behind the pharmacy counter. White pill bottles, some as big as half-gallon milk jugs, litter the cracked and wet tile floor. Most of the labels are worn off or damaged and unreadable but I have to check them all. There’s always a chance that someone overlooked a clutch of antibiotics, or real-good painkillers, something that can get a sick person over the hump, you know? I pull a battered pill reference book from my backpack and try to match the dozen or so pink ovals in one of the bottles to the book.
“Jackpot!” Jim’s voice echoes through the ruins.
“What?” I don’t take my eyes of the book.
“This place is loaded! I got a Frisbee and two pinky balls!”
“Great, glad you found useful stuff.” It’s easy to forget that Jim is sort of stuck with the brain of a lesser than average twelve-year-old until some event brings out that side of him. Toys can usually do it, sometimes cartoon or comic book pictures, or if we get to talking about TV like when it’s dark and cold and boring, and he suddenly remembers that things used to be a whole lot better. Today he’s ecstatic with a Frisbee, tomorrow he may be crying over a remembered rerun of Spongebob Squarepants.
“I found something for you too.”
“Uh huh?” I scan each page but none of the pills shown match the ones in my hand. The book has over 500 pages describing every possible pill, name brand and generic, produced in the US right up until the comet strike.
We don’t usually find this many of any one medicine anymore as whoever managed to hang on for the last couple of years would have had to ravage their local drug stores like we did then and are doing now. Scavenging is on the downside too, we have to go further, longer, to get the same amount of usable stuff we once found only a town or two away. That our paths would cross with some other band of hangers-on is – was – only a matter of time, and persistence.
“Come and see what I found for you, Dan.” Jim’s voice lilts softly and I know he’s teasing me at least a little.
“In a minute. Just wait -”
“You’ll thank me when you see it.”
I whisper, “Round and pink with a C stamp, red oval, beige with an X stamp, beige oval with a C stamp – ” to try and drown out Jim’s chortling. All of these pills are for gastrointestinal something or other. I don’t even know if they are useful. I scoop the handful into one of the dry pill bottles and push my way up the counter. “Ok Jim, what do you have?”
He smiles and holds up two packages of ladies disposable razors. “Now we can put the lice on the run!”
“Excellent work!” I slap the counter top then scratch intently at my beard and long wild hair and Jim does the same. “Now see if you can pull off a miracle and find us some kind of soap, okay?”
“You got it!”
I bury myself in the pharmacy mess again until Whilouby and Henderson push through the debris near the front door. “We’re going to get a planning map, if we can find one, from the town office and scout for a safe billet. Let’s say we meet up again in an hour? Looks like there’s a post office down the road with a big parking lot.”
“Sure, we’ll be there in an hour.” I rattle another bottle of unknown pills and get back to work.
Jim and me walk point with the lighter of the two carts. Whilouby and Henderson trail us by about a half-mile, that way if we blunder into anything they’ll be far enough away to be out of the mess, and close enough to rescue if the situation allows. The same goes for them if they get jumped from behind we can double back. It’s not the best system, but when we can only muster up four or five people for a scavenge, there isn’t much choice.
“I’m tired of walking, Dan.” Jim leans into the cart as we shove it over the lip of a giant pothole.
“So talk about something. Take our minds off the walk. I’m sick of walking too.”
Jim is quiet for a minute and I know he’s scouring his memory for some new or old and interesting thing to make conversation from. Hopefully he won’t start to babble like an idiot, something he does when the tiredness slows down his brain even more.
“What kind of bees are your favorite?”
“I don’t know Jim. I never really thought about it. Honeybees I guess because those are the kinds we keep and the honey is food and can be used as medicine even. Yeah, honeybees. Those are my favorite.”
“I like those too. I don’t like yellow jackets.”
“Those are wasps. Remember how they are different than bees?”
“They can sting and sting and sting and not die. Right?”
“You’ve got a good memory, Jim.”
“And they don’t make honey.”
“I don’t know about that –”
“They don’t. Benson’s Big Book says so.”
“How about you Jim, what’s your favorite bee?”
“I like the Japanese honeybee.”
We round a big corner where a heap of rusted cars is nearly reclaimed by leaves and grass. The woods stretch down towards Franconia to the south and for a few hundred yards you can see something like fifty miles of rolling green hills and within them an occasional church steeple or rectangular roof jutting out and it looks almost like the last glimpse of a ship sinking in a green sea. We stop for a minute and just stare out into forever. I pretend for a minute that the world hasn’t really ended.
“Do you want to know why?”
“Why what?” The sun filters down through breaks in puffy gray clouds and casts drifting ovals of yellow over the canopy.
“Why the Japanese honeybees are my favorite.”
“Sure.” I wrap one of the leather cinches around my chest and tighten the buckle. “We got hills coming, so get ready.”
“They’re my favorite because they know how to protect themselves.”
I let him prattle on while we strap ourselves to the cart. The last thing I want is to have to chase this thing down the hillside then lose all of our booty on the roadside.
“They have a sworn enemy too, the Japanese giant hornet. It’s like a yellow jacket as big as your thumb. If one stings you, then you die. They’re wicked scary. I’m glad we don’t have those here.”
“Uh huh.” We start the decent gradually. The cart is pretty well loaded up but I rigged a friction brake after the last scavenge when we had two runaways. Now the cart rolls but not so fast it’ll run us over, or get away. I glance back at the leather and wood I’d screwed together into a brake shoe and hope it holds.
“When the giant hornets find a hive of regular honeybees, you know like we have, they mark it, bring their friends back, fly in, and kill every single honeybee then take all the honey, eggs, and babies back home and eat them. The Japanese bees figured out a way to beat the hornets a million billion years ago. They let the scout in and wait, and talk to each other, and plan. They let the scout hornet get all the way inside then, when the bees are sure it can’t escape, they all leap down and rub against it until it dies from too much heat.”
“You learned all this from the big bee book?”
“Yeah. Neat huh?”
“Sure is! Why don’t the regular honeybees do the same thing when a Hornet scout comes to the hive?”
“They don’t now how. They haven’t lived in Japan long enough I guess and the Japanese honeybees don’t teach.”
We both laugh at that for a minute. The hill steepens some but we manage to get to the bottom without any incidents.
The road stretches around another S-curve into what used to be Dalton, I think, and beyond that Stewardstown, and beyond that still Rt 93 running north to Montreal and south all the way to Boston. But we won’t cross that until after nightfall.
Ten miles north of here is where we saw the trucks last time out. Only ten miles. Reverend Lyons took a bullet to the arm that day or he’d be here leading the scavenge for sure. Jim stayed behind that week because he was sick with the strep. Probably better that he doesn’t know anyway. “Almost time to pull off the road and wait for the others.”
“We’ll heel off over by the stone bridge and wait there. Keep the water at our backs for safety. Remember?”
“Can’t get jumped if you have water at your back.”
“That’s good Jim. You’re getting smarter I think.”
“I try and remember stuff.”"
Three hours later I fall asleep as Jim describes Japanese honeybees to Whilouby and Henderson beneath the gray light of a waning moon.
We link up with Whilouby and Henderson before wheeling the carts into town. The only zombies we saw were shambling up and down Rt 93, and even then it was just a handful. Summer’s coming though and they’ll come in force then. Used to be we’d pop a few from up on the tree line, but ammunition is scarce now and it’s best not to waste on fun.
Standard protocol for return from a scavenge is to inventory and add to the stores at the church. Usually The Reverend is with us, but today we’ll have to make sure he’s around or we can’t get inside.
The only stop we made before now was to unload the new hive for Jim and me.
We halt both carts on the road outside the church and shout up for Reverend Lyons.
Reverend Lyons struggles down the short steps to the sidewalk and makes his way to the cart. “Welcome back,” he says. His freshly bandaged arm hangs in a sling. A stranger stands beside him within the churchyard; young guy, long black hair, suntanned skin, well-trimmed beard. He wears a blue hat and wool sweater. A big revolver, probably a Magnum, hangs off his blue-jeaned thigh.
We all stare at the visitor and Reverend Lyons notices that none of us speak. “Let me introduce a few of our friends here.” He points us out in sequence. “Jim and his brother-in-law Dan, Pete Whilouby, Bob Henderson.”
The stranger says, “nice to meet you all. Duane, Duane Walker.”
“Duane has found his way down here from Canada. He’s part of a settlement outside Montreal, and they’re doing well enough to send out for more folks. A few thousand, isn’t that right?”
Duane nods and I notice that he’s taking a good long look over the downtown buildings. “Were you camping out in the orchard just west of town?”
“I stayed a couple of nights there, yes.”
Pete glances at me.
“Now, before we get all worried about a new face in town,” Reverend Lyons says, “I’ve called for a town meeting to discuss sending back an emissary with Duane -”
Jim interrupts, “You said you were headed towards Boston -”
“I am, but I have been authorized to provide a map and coordinates and even a route if necessary, to any friendly settlements -”
I ask, “has he met Linda yet?”
“Not yet. We’ll make sure she gets to the meeting tonight though. Until then we should unload and inventory what you have. Any perishables?”
“Some.” Whilouby begins untying the ropes that lash the booty down to the cart. “Duane, has the Reverend given you the full tour of the town?”
“Not yet, but I’m very excited to find so many people. Most of the world is wastelands now. I’ve found a few other small settlements north of here, but none as well developed as – what did you say the name of the town was again?”
We unload all of the stuff and stack it behind the stockade fence so we can rest a bit before putting all of the boxes away in the sanctuary. I grab Jim’s arm. “Hey, do me a favor okay?”
“Take the scout over to meet Linda, and make sure he stays there for a while. Have a cup of tea or something.”
“Ok, but I can help put things away faster -”
“Don’t worry. There isn’t much stuff. Besides, you can ask Linda if she wants to make use of our new hive. She has a good garden, remember?”
Jim smiles. “Okay. Hey Duane, do you want to go visiting with me?”
Reverend Lyons encourages them both and before anyone can think of raising an objection, Jim and Duane are headed down the road towards the cast iron bridge. “How’d the scavenge go. I don’t see too much that’s really useful -”
“There’s not too much that’s really useful left I’m afraid.”
I think back to the burned out houses and the wire-wrapped skeletons. “None. Hey, do you know anything about Japanese honeybees?”
The remains of the little one bedroom house smolder just up the road from Linda’s place across the cast iron bridge that spans the roaring Pemigewasset. There’s nothing left but a tangle of charcoal and fluttering orange ash that climbs into the morning sky like wayward fireflies. The Reverend gave last rights only an hour ago and how he sits off on the side watching the smoke rise. He didn’t want this, but didn’t interfere either. Lyons understands, now, even if he doesn’t agree, and helped spread the plan around town. He gave last rights while the scout was still unconscious. The Reverend said he’d pray for us all.
Jim prods the charred timbers with a pitchfork. Most everyone has gone home now that sunrise has lightened the sky up but for a while, everybody helped out, singing and chattering as the scout, screamed and hammered and shot holes in the doors that we’d bolted shut and the window’s we’d boarded. The little house was old, and dry and went up very, very quickly with the help of some straw bales stacked on the porch.
After an hour or so, when the flames smashed through the roof shingles and the center collapsed with horrible moaning roar, you could barely hear him curse us all, before the fire silenced him.
All that remained was us, the townsfolk of Pleasant Hollow, abuzz with post bonfire excitement.