“Crop Fire”

We trapped the cats behind the bowling alley with cans of potted meat and stuffed them yowling in sacks we found behind our shop class. You could see their claws thrashing the burlap. We walked through our town and past our middle school the crooked houses and down an overgrown alley sided in garbage bins and junk metal and came to the convenience store. One of us waited outside with the cats and the bag and the rest of us went in. You could hear the coolers clinking and some old country song over the speakers. We each picked a piece of ten cent candy and went to the counter where a graying man with one ear charged us for the candy and asked if that was all. We said no and slapped a pack of lighters onto the counter. The man asked, What you gonna use these for.

We said, Our parents want them.

He said okay and we paid and left and took the cats to a shed against a cornfield. August had burnt the husks. October dried them. You could smell the soil and the dry husks all rotten and crisp. Chaff gritted our noses. We could see the town’s grainloft and some of the steeples and our boxlike middle school out there above the trees. It all looked nice but the cats kept crying. We thwacked the bag but the cats would not stop. We went inside the shed. It smelled like gas and grass and oil. The clapboard walls banged though there was no wind. We took a plastic gas canister with clippings pasted to the sides and sloshed the gas on the bags and the cats in the bags and the cats hissed. We poured the gas until the canister emptied and the cats had stopped hissing.

We took the bag outside and walked a little into the cornfield so that the shed was nothing but another browned husk standing there against the wide sky. The cats rolled in the sack like apples in a bag. We unlashed the bag and reached inside and tried to grab the cats but the cats clawed us and the gas stung our cuts and we stopped for a bit. Then we retied the bag and beat the bag against the ground for a little and hauled the stunned cats from the bag. Their fur was matted from the gas and their eyed rolled stupidly. We held them by their tales and shook them until they woke up mewling. One of us said, Sounds like I kitten I had.

Then he raised his cat out in front of him and flicked a lighter and the fire caught the gas and the flames were blue for a moment and then orange as the cat’s fur. He dropped the cat and the cat went screaming through the field. The rest of us followed in suit with our cats and soon you could see trails of smoke rising from the cornfield. We backed out of the crisp husks and the burning smell of rotten leaves and hair. Within a few minutes you could see an orange blaze spreading from the lines of smoke like blood from a slash. We watched it all burn for a little. Someone said, Can you hear the cats.

We said we couldn’t.

Then the same person said, I can.

We watched the field burn until the same coal gray diffused between the corn and the sky. Sirens wailed in the distance. The sun had begun to set. We checked the time and split up. Each of us walked back to our parents’ house. Nobody wanted to be late for dinner.

James O’Brien

About James O’Brien