James Stanton

A Poet’s Child

It isn’t hard to burn down a house. I know. I did it once but it almost killed me. I was eleven years old at the time and if you had asked me that April morning why I was heading up Mars Hill with a pocketful of matches, I would have said something about worker’s rights and fair wages. Now, I believe it was the stacks of curled and used up yellow legal pads in my father’s room that covered several shelves, the nightstand by the bed, and a small desk near the window that may have started it. They were the story of his life though that’s not what they were supposed to be. It was poetry in pencil that filled the graphite-smudged pages, reflections on rainy afternoons, childhood, solitude, the universe in general and a million other things. If forced to explain why the biggest house in the county had become a blackened hole in the earth I would now have to square my shoulders and say as clearly as possible, “It was poetry that did it.”

“You are a weapon,” my father said to me on a cold January morning of the year of the burning. I was used to being spoken to in metaphors. At various times in my life I, his only child, had been referred to both verbally and in written words as a “sweet burden,” a “trick of the light,” and a “morphing paradox.” It was a Saturday, and the world outside was a twice frozen landscape of jagged, dirty snow squeezed into rock hard ruts on the street and bare trees bowed with a coating of transparent ice. We were at the kitchen table, oatmeal cooling in our bowls. In the past we would have had a fire on a morning like that. The old house we rented had a big fireplace in the downstairs great room. We hadn’t used it since my mother moved away two years earlier but when she was here, it was my job to start and tend the fire to keep her warm. I got pretty good at it. Wet or green wood was a challenge but I had my ways, usually involving a vacuum cleaner hose, muffled and attached to the exhaust side of the unit. Air was the key, slow and steady. I had been called many times to start fires in other people’s hearths at Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve over the years.

“Morton is full of shit,” he added, which was something like reinforcing the fact the ocean was wet. He tended to speak in pronouncements like that, as if his words were the next line in a difficult poem. Jacob Morton had been fired from the Dykes’ Subassembly Plant where he and my dad and about a hundred other people from town worked. Morton was from back east as he liked to say, New Jersey maybe, and he was well acquainted with labor unions, a concept unheard of at the Dykes plant. Apparently, handing out union pamphlets during one’s lunch break amounted to sedition, and Morton had been fired. For the past six months there had been meetings at Morton’s house, and even a couple at ours, where people told stories about better wages, safer working conditions and collective bargaining. The idea of setting fire to the Dykes mansion first came from Morton. Of course no one paid any attention at first, but somehow the idea assumed a life its own since that first mention until it seemed some believed the big white house on the hill would spontaneously burst into flame simply out of empathy for the beleaguered workers.

Morton had taken my dad aside at a recent meeting but not far enough away for me not to hear. “That kid of yours can start a fire from piss and popcorn. Let him run on up there some morning and set the place going. No one lives there, everyone knows that. It’s just for show. There isn’t even any mail delivery. Just walls and a roof.”

“And then what?” my dad asked. “Dykes will be more likely to raise the pay and improve the work stations?”

Morton winked. “He may be a little more agreeable to leaning in that direction if he knows someone around here means business.”

That April morning, my dad drove me the seven miles south on unevenly paved country roads to where Mars Hill reared up from the otherwise gently rolling hills against the blue sky as if something huge was pushing the earth up from below. The white mansion was perched at the very pinnacle of the hill, as if to take advantage of every inch of elevation to be as close to the sky as possible. You could see the hill and the house from miles away in any direction if the day was clear and you knew where to look. The building of the house four years ago was an event in itself.

Cars and pickup trucks would park at the sunny eastern base of the hill, the passengers watching the white walls of the house slowly taking shape at the summit. We made the trip to watch a couple of times when my mom was still around. I can still see her in the front seat, shading her eyes and looking up, talking about how many people could live there, what the view must be like on a clear day, and shaking her head at the prospect of riding out a thunderstorm up there so close to the sky. My dad wondered how much the house was costing Dykes, and how many thousands of underpaid man hours it had taken to produce the profit required.

 

My dad stopped the car on Sage Creek Road in the spotty shade of a sycamore tree with new leaves the size of half dollars. Mars Hill climbed to the eastern sky on our right. He shut the old Camaro down and sighed.

“It’s not too late to change course,” he said. “This is one of those forks in the road we’ve talked about. You get a few in life.”

“But you want me to do this.”

“I do, but I shouldn’t. It’s our own damned fault for taking the jobs on the line. Those were forks in the road for us, duck your head and walk in to that old hot building, or turn around and find something else.”

“You hate it in the plant?”

“I do.”

“Is it hard?”

He laughed. “Oh, hell no. It’s easy, way easy. A monkey or a robot could do most of the jobs. That’s what makes the days seem a week long. It’s not hard but it gets to you after a while. Your back starts to hurt and your hands cramp up. Three-fourths of the people have headaches every day from the smell of the glue they use on the bottle line. They put tall guys on jobs that require squatting down and short girls on jobs where they have to reach up. There are little things they could do like rubber mats on the concrete floor where you stand by the line, or some ventilation fans to get some fresh air inside. We ask and they say they’ll look into it, but nothing ever happens”

On that day, my eleven year old mind didn’t see too much of a problem with doing something easy all day and then someone giving you money for it. It sounded way better than school where it wasn’t easy and there was no money.

I was getting anxious to get the thing over with. “So I’m going,” I said as I opened the door.

“Okay. I’ll make loop over to Newberry and back. If you get back here before me wait back in the trees.”

I said okay and shut the door behind me. My dad took off easy down the road and out of sight. There was ditch full of weeds and beer cans beside the road. I waded through these and through the remnants of a barbed wire fence that wouldn’t have kept anything out or in.

I felt the expectations of my dad and Morton and the rest of them as a firm hand in the middle of my back, pushing me up the hill. I could be the weapon of the day I supposed, but I knew even at eleven that some people made a habit of our burning things, either for themselves or other people. This would be a onetime thing for me. I didn’t want a life of being loaded, aimed and fired.

The climb up the wet grass was slippery. My Converse All Stars were worn smooth on the bottom and I thought about just taking them off and starting the barefoot season early but the grass was too cold. Once or twice I looked back down the slope toward the road where I’d been let off to see if any other traffic was coming by but nothing ever came. The grass was about knee high at the base of the hill and got shorter the nearer you got to the top. It was drying out too. The buffeting wind blew waves in the grass and almost tipped me over a couple of times. It was a bright, clear spring morning with lots of blue sky. Like I said, I was eleven years old when this happened but the climb was still making my thighs burn. I sat down in the grass to rest a little and looked up at the house, still a hundred yards away, like that girl in the Andrew Wyeth painting.

There was a story about why this little mountain was named Mars Hill. Back in the early 1900’s there was a man who lived up here, a hermit or a druid, or maybe an independent monk, and his name was Mars. He supposedly lived underground in a cave he’d dug with his bare hands. He ate grass and leftover corn in the fields and got water out of Haw Creek a half mile to the north. The story said that Mars wanted nothing more than to be struck by lightning. You could see him every spring and summer when the thunderstorms were rearing up black and blue in the southwest, with thunder pounding the ground like explosions in a mine, standing at the very summit of the hill with his arms stretched out like Jesus waiting for the cross to appear, trying to get the lightning to hit him.

That morning, just like I did probably more than I should have, I imagined my mom watching what I was doing. There had been no word from her for two years, so it was fairly certain she not only didn’t watch anything I did, she didn’t much care about anything I did. My dad told me not to think about her too much. He said he didn’t hate her for leaving but I know the whole situation made him sad. People change, was what he said on the subject when he said anything, which wasn’t often. He teased me once and said if I’d built some bigger fires at home she wouldn’t have left for a warmer climate. That stuck with me though I know it was just goofing around. Well, I thought, I was about to build one goddamned big fire so maybe my dad could take that little remark and shove it.

I stood up and continued climbing. The driveway curved around the west side of the house and widened out into a crushed gravel apron in front of the four car garage. I peeked into the garage and saw a lawn mower, a wheel barrow and some old wood planks stacked against the wall, but no cars. I was still in the shadow of the house and looked up at the tall windows and the red brick chimney running up the rear wall. The only sound was the wind coming from the southwest, pushing me towards the back door up three concrete steps from the drive. I needed to get inside and open some of the windows, get some air moving in there. It was hard for me to believe someone would build something like this just for show, but it sure seemed like the place was empty. No trash cans or tracks in the gravel or anything that would indicate people came and went or spent any time here at all.

I’m sure the back door was locked but that wasn’t my way in. They’d told me to look for a cellar door and there it was, a shallow angled set of doors up against the stone foundation. There was no lock on these and I pulled up the left one but the wind kept trying to blow it back down. I tried the right door and it flopped back quickly against a little chain that kept it from going all the way to the ground. The wind held this one open. I took one more look at the windows of the house, and then I went down the steep stairs to the cellar.

There was a dirt floor and two rows of wooden shelves stacked full of cardboard document boxes, or for my purposes, tinder. A giant furnace sat in a corner too dark for me to see the details but it looked fairly new.

“I ain’t trying to tell you your business,” Sam Hastings had told me, respectful of my fire starting ability for he had none whatsoever, “but sometimes those big houses have a laundry chute. The lazy ass people upstairs can throw their dirty clothes in a little doorway that goes down to the basement where the grunts can wash them. If that big ass house has one, could be a good place to start a fire.”

Sam was my least favorite of my dad’s friends and normally he was as stupid as dirt, but on this point I had to agree with him. Fires like to go up and if there was a laundry chute that would be the way to go. The light spilling down the cellar stairs from the open door was too dim to see much. I popped a match and poked around and there was the chute, a dark rectangular hole in the ceiling near a concrete slab and some water pipe connections for a washing machine that had never been installed. I put out the match and grabbed a couple of the storage boxes from the nearest shelf. The paper inside was in manila folders.

I dumped them out on the concrete slab right under the chute and fluffed them up into a pile. It took a few minutes to get the rest of the boxes emptied but at the end I had a pile that reached halfway to the floor above. There were six little tilting windows around the perimeter of the cellar which ran the length and breadth of the house, three on the east side and three on the west. I pulled these open and got a nice cross breeze going. I figured it would take a good ten minutes to get the ground floor burning. After that, maybe twenty more before the whole house was in flames. One of my dad’s other friends, I don’t remember his name, was on the plumbing construction crew for the house. He said there was no sprinkler system, and unless they’d been put up later, there were no smoke alarms either.

It was time shit or get off the pot as Sam would say. The house above me was quiet, and seemed to be waiting for me to get on with it. The possibility of it remaining on top of Mars Hill for tomorrow and next year and who knew how many years was totally up to me. I thought of the years into the future when people would drive by on Sunday afternoon cruises through the country, looking up at the big house and imagining the view and the people who lived there. Or they would see nothing except the smooth and barren top of Mars Hill, windswept and empty as it had been before Dykes built the place. Those two paths extended away into time from my hand holding the match.

I could just turn around and go back down the hill and wait for my dad. I could tell him I just couldn’t do it and I believed he would be okay with that, maybe even feel better about me as a person in the long run. I wondered what my mom would have wanted if she knew what was about to happen. My dad said she was likely in Central America or maybe on an island near the equator, someplace where it never got cold and she could drink rum and screw the local boys all day every day. That last part he never said to me but I heard him say it when he thought I couldn’t hear. The fires I made for her were the only things I ever gave her, and she seemed to like them just fine. I hoped someone would get out here in time to take a picture of the house engulfed in flames. I would get a copy and if I ever saw her again I would give it to her.

“What the hell,” I said to no one. I struck a match on the cinder block wall and tossed it into the giant pile of papers. It didn’t get going right away but after a minute it was all on fire. I pushed over a couple of the wooden shelves so they would catch too. But the flames weren’t shooting up the laundry chute like they were supposed to. They just curled up to it and away like there was a lid on it. Then it came to me. The opening on the other end of the chute needed to be open to get the flue effect. I quickly found the stairway up to the ground floor and ran up, bursting through a narrow doorway into the kitchen.

There were black and white tiles on the floor, with black granite counter tops and a stainless steel refrigerator and ovens. A right turn brought me to a foyer with the double front doors on the left and a wide staircase curving up to the floors above. Except for the dark wood floor everything in the foyer was white. The walls, the ceiling, the stairs, and there was no furniture, just an empty space that extended all the way up to the top of the second story. I ran across the dark floor to the foot of the stairs.  

I paused a moment on the first step of the staircase, listening. The sound of the wind was dampened by the high walls but not blunted entirely. It was still there, whispering in the eaves like an invisible caller too shy or too proud to knock, but begging to be let in. The morning light angled in through the eastern windows casting trapezoids of gold on the bare floor. So quiet.  

I ran upstairs. A wide hallway went left and right from the top of the stairs and I took a right, looking for a bathroom in a vertical line with the location of the laundry chute. It was there, the second door on the left. It was a big room, with two sinks, a bath tub and a shower, all that same alabaster white. The door to the laundry chute looked just like the adjacent cabinet doors but when you pulled it open it hinged outward from the bottom so you could toss in the dirty clothes. I pulled it open. Hot air and a little smoke curled up from the chute.

Turning back to the door I noticed the gold toilet paper holder on the wall and I stopped breathing for a second. The roll was half gone and the end was torn crookedly. There was also a beige towel draped over the edge of the bath tub. I reached to touch it and it was damp. Someone was here, or had been recently. The operation changed as they said in so many movies. My only thought was to go back to the basement and try to put out the fire. Put it out and get the hell back down the hill. I wanted nothing more than to jump back in the passenger side of that ratty Camaro and put this damned house as far behind me as possible. Halfway down the stairs I heard the sound of a window being opened. I couldn’t tell if it was from above or below.

I was back down the stairs and almost to the kitchen when she spoke.

“It’s old Mars you know!” A thick, sleepy voice echoed in the large empty space of the foyer.

I turned to see a girl standing at the railing at the top of the stairs. She wore a light blue nightgown sort of thing that was lacy and too big for her. Frizzy blonde hair haloed her pale face. It appeared she had been crying, puffy red eyes, and lines of sadness on her forehead. I guessed she was probably in high school or maybe a little older, and she was not much taller than me. She looked down at where I was standing but I wasn’t sure she actually saw me. She started down the stairs, gripping the banister in her trembling hands, going slow, planting both bare feet on each step before lowering herself to the next one.

“Ghosts,” she stammered, “s-s-slithering like snakes. In the d-dark. They want it…but it’s not here!”

I stood frozen in place, wanting to run back down to the cellar but not able to. It may have been a pause in the wind, or the fire below fading to momentary embers while preparing to ingest a new stack of fuel, but the house grew absolutely quiet as I watched her. Five steps from the bottom of the stairs she slipped, lost her grip on the railing, and collapsed. She tumbled to the floor, smacking her head on the hard boards. The nightgown ended up twisted around her chest. A thick girdle of bloody white bandages wrapped around her waist and between her legs. She didn’t move anymore but started crying softly.

“It’s not here,” she said between sobs. “Not anymore.”

I walked toward her, still not sure if she was fully aware she wasn’t alone. It was getting hot inside the house.

“Hey,” I said, trying not to startle her. “You okay?”

“Hot.”

“Yeah, it is.”

I could hear the fire clearly now, a low roar in the basement and the air rushing in through the open cellar windows, feeding the flames. This house was as good as gone.

I knelt and offered to help her get up. Her hands were pale and cold. I got the feeling she didn’t want anyone touching her so I tried to be quick. Once she was standing she reached out for the bannister and breathed deeply.

“Smoke,” she said as if it were the answer to a question.

I nodded and looked toward the front door which was the nearest exit.

She looked hard at my face, squinting and trying to focus. “You’re not…not Mars?”

“No. I don’t think he’s around here anymore.”

She looked back up the stairs. “I’m supposed to be resting, and sleeping, and forgetting.”

A loud crash came from the cellar, likely one of the heavy shelves breaking apart in the fire. The shaft of sunlight coming through the front door beveled glass, now prismed into jagged bits of rainbows on the floor, was tinged with gray smoke.

“We should go outside,” I told her. “Now.”

She took two steps back up the staircase. “I can’t. I have to stay here.”

He voice was becoming clearer, as if some drugs were starting to wear off. But her eyes were tense with pain and her hands were never far from her stomach. It seemed she couldn’t really stand up straight.

“There’s a fire in the basement.” I looked hard at her eyes to see if she understood.

Her eyes flitted from side to side, maybe still looking for Mars. “No. Maybe, but the sun isn’t good for me. They said so, Mr. Dykes and the doctor. Don’t answer the door. Don’t look out the windows.”

“None of that matters anymore,” I told her. “The fire changes everything.” I reached for her hand to try and get her to move towards the door.

She turned and started back up the stairs. “It’s not here anymore!”

A huge puff of smoke blew out of the upstairs bathroom where the laundry chute came up. It rolled out into the hallway and filled the foyer. My eyes and throat burned and I began coughing. I could barely make out her pale feet disappearing into the smoke as she continued climbing the stairs. The interior space of the house pulsed as waves of heat came up through the floor. I knelt at the base of the stairs trying to get under the smoke. It occurred to me at that moment that I was really good at making fires, maybe too good. My goal for the morning had been achieved, however girl was an issue. At that age I had not yet learned the term “collateral damage” so I didn’t know the trick of explaining the need to kill innocent people for a higher but ambiguous purpose. If I had known that, I’m ashamed to say, I would likely have turned and ran out the front door, leaving the girl and the house to their fate. I had tried to get her to leave, but she wouldn’t.

My father, the failed poet that he liked to call himself, once told me that at any given moment every person has an infinite array of vectors from which to choose every action they take or word they say. Patterns and expectations compel us to limit those vectors within the bounds of what most would agree was logical or sane behavior, but for those disinclined towards expected patterns or sanity in general, there were a lot of ways to do just about anything. At that moment, with the fire now a living, breathing thing busily digesting the house, I could have turned and ran out the front door. I could have walked slowly back down to the basement and into the inferno. What I did was take a deep breath of the cleanest air I could find and sprint up the stairs.

She was in the last bedroom on the left, a corner room facing east with a view of the distant ribbon of I-69 snaking through the trees. She lay curled up on the bed with a ragged child’s blanket held close to her chest. Another crash from downstairs, louder this time, shook the house and cracked the glass in the casement windows.

I knelt beside her bed and touched her cool arm. “I’m Elliott. What’s your name?”

She opened her eyes a slit, quick tears slipping down her cheeks. “Meagan.”

It seemed the bedroom floor was beginning to sag. It was hot on my knees. “I know you’re sick, but we have to leave. The doctor and Mr. Dykes wouldn’t want you to stay here now. There’s a place you can rest outside. It’s in the shade. I’ll show you.”

She looked up and raised head slightly. “Elliott, do you have needs? Are you old enough?”

“I don’t know, I guess.”

“My Dykes says it’s the way of the world. He said it wasn’t his fault, and that I was pretty.”

“Yeah, you are.”

“You’re nice, but I can’t, you know, for a while. Maybe just a regular friend, just…regular. You know?”

This was making no sense to my eleven year old mind but I agreed. I would be her regular friend. I got up and went to the door. The hallway was filling with smoke and it was impossible to see anything back towards the stairway. We would have to go out the window.

“Meagan, we have to go. I’ll help you.” I held out my hand and she took it. It was old school but we didn’t have time to try anything fancy. I took the sheets off her bed and a couple more out of the closet and square knotted them together into a rope. I made a big loop at one end and put it over her head and under her arms.

“The window,” she said. I nodded and pushed the bottom sash all the way up.

“Sit on the ledge,” I told her. “Scoot out then turn back to the house and crawl backward down the wall. It’s not that far”

“Don’t drop me.”

“No problem. You’re not heavy.”

And she wasn’t heavy. Just like someone who has been through far greater trials than bumping down the outside wall of a burning house anchored by an eleven year old kid, she crawled down easily and I let the sheets out, keeping her from falling.

As she touched the ground I felt a wave of warmth at my back. A wall of flame pushed into the room, hungry for the air from the open window. My best summer tee shirt, my Marshall Tucker Band Official Roadie one caught fire and disappeared from my back. I swung my legs out quickly and twisted until I was hanging by the window sill.

“Jump!” Meagan yelled up at me and as the skin on my fingers began to go gooey from the heat I let go and pushed out. I’d jumped out of a hundred trees in my time, playing paratrooper and so forth, so the fifteen foot drop to soft grass was no big deal. I hit, rolled, and popped back up in time to see the remaining windows on this east side of the house blow out, raining glass shards on our heads, followed by jets of flame that curled up and blackened the outside walls.

I reached for Meagan’s hand and we headed downhill as fast she could go. When we were about fifty yards away I pulled her to a stop. “Are you okay?” I asked her. Whatever mix of pills or medicine that had been clouding her mind was gone now. Her eyes were as clear as the sky. She shook some glass bits out of her hair and brushed some out of mine.

She nodded. “Kind of sore. But you, the skin on your back and hands is sort of black.”

“Yeah, that’s going to hurt some tomorrow.” I had also been burned a few times in my life. I knew what was coming. “I’m okay now.”

“Can we rest? Are we far enough away?”

“Sure. Have a seat. The shade I was talking about is down there though.” I pointed to the bottom of the hill where scraggly oak and redbud trees grew along Sage Creek.

We sat in the grass and watched Dyke’s Mansion become a roaring inferno. We felt the heat on our faces even from where we sat. The walls and roof caved in soon after and the remainder of the house collapsed and fell into the basement. Since it was just the shell of house it had gone up way faster that we’d thought it would.

Meagan bumped shoulders with me and whispered. “You did that, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t know anyone was inside. I was told the place was empty.”

“It was, mostly. What are you going to do now?”

The breeze bent around the hill and sent a wave of smoke into our eyes. We both ducked and squinted.

“Reform school or something, I guess. I don’t know what they do with people like me.”

“I bet your mom or dad works at the plant.”

“Yeah.”

“So did I, for a while. I know what’s going on. Look at me.”

I turned away from the fire and was startled by how close her dark blue eyes were to my face. I listened to her but all I saw were her eyes.

“You’re too young to know why I was in the house, so forget that. Here’s what’s going to happen. Are you listening real close?”

My mom had dark blue eyes.

“So okay. I was lonely in the house and lit a candle and said some prayers. I got dizzy from the medicine they gave me and knocked over the candle. I must have passed out and when I woke up the drapes were on fire. Everything happened so fast. I ran out as quickly as I could. There was no time to call 911 or anything.” She bowed her head and poked her lower lip out. “I was so scared.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “What if there is an investigation or something?”

“There won’t be. That would involve an explanation of why I was there in the first place. Mr. Dykes wants that kept very private.”

“What about me? Why was I here then?”

“You weren’t. I don’t even know you. And if your parents can treat those burns you have…”

“I only have one, parent that is. And I know how to take care of burns. We have a big jar of silver sulfur something leftover from the last time I burned my arm.”

She patted my knee and looked toward the driveway. The dark red Camaro was coming fast up the hill. “Someone you know?”

“My dad.” I stood up and waved my arms then fell back down. I was starting to hurt pretty badly.

The Camaro shot across the grass toward us and slid to a stop. My dad jumped out, all scared looking like he was going to faint.

“Are you okay?” he yelled as he ran up to us. “Who the hell is that? Meagan? What are you doing here?”

“He needs some medicine.” She told him as she slowly stood up. “He can tell you the whole story later. You two get out of here. I believe I hear some sirens heading this way.”

 

That was the last time I saw Meagan Chastain. My dad told me she had been Dykes’ office assistant at the plant. One day she’s calling in sick and then she’s on short term disability for some reason. Well the reason was Dykes had gotten her pregnant, and then talked her into having an abortion. I met her one day after the procedure. Dykes must have thought the empty house was a great place to recuperate in secret.

As Meagan anticipated, there was never any news in town about the house possibly being the victim of arson. My dad’s friends never mentioned it though there were a few sideways glances and muted smiles for the two or three weeks afterwards. We were able to treat my burns successfully with a very painful cool bath, the leftover tube of burn cream and about a case of Neosporin. It wasn’t quite third degree burns so the skin grew back fairly normal if a little slick looking. I took a couple of weeks off school and it was okay after my dad talked to the principal. I think he made up something about me missing my mother and going through a rough patch. Nothing was ever said about that either.

The summer following that eventful spring I missed going to the public swimming pool more than anything. I still looked a little funny with my shirt off. It may have been some mental reaction to the burns but I really looked forward to autumn and the ensuing winter. I’d always felt better when it was cold, more energetic and all. My dad was the same way. There had been some changes at the factory which were mostly good and may or may not have had anything to do with the mansion on the hill now being a blackened hole. On most nights as the sunset came earlier and earlier, he was up there in his room, burning through No. 2 pencils at the rate of two or three a week.

He wrote poems about winter, and the grayish light, and the way the world grew quieter when the leaves had fallen and the stars were brighter. It was a time of dreaming he said more than once in his writing, and of being close to someone you loved when the freezing rain pelted the windows in the night. He showed me some of the poems and I guess some of them were nice. I never saw what he saw in the words and he said that was his fault but he would keep working on it.

One night in December when the temperature was in the single digits I pulled off my shoes and socks and went out into the yard to gather some fallen sticks and bigger dead branches. My feet were nearly frozen when I was through but that was okay. I went to the great room that we no longer used and piled the dead wood into the hearth. One match was all it took and I sat on the floor like I used to do and watched the shadows dance on the empty chair.

 

James Stanton is a life-long lover of stories, especially those that illuminate the dimly lit corners of our lives where dreams are waiting to be rediscovered. His earlier work includes short fiction in Edgar Literary Magazine and the novel Project Unity. A current novel nearing completion explores the intersection of the Lovecraft mythos and cosmology.