By The Fire

Contributor: D. Robert Grixti

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It’s been a hard day. I throw my rucksack to the ground in relief and take a seat next to the fire. A particularly large rat is roasting in the flames, but it’s still a ways from being done, so I reach for the yellowed paperback laying on top of my sleeping bag and begin perusing it in the flickering light.

“That book again?”

Across the campfire, Rowan looks at me curiously, taking a break from watching our dinner cook.

“Seriously Jess, what’s with it? You’ve read it at least twenty times by now,” he says.

“Do you see anything else to do around here?” I reply coolly, glaring at him and then returning to my well-read book. “I don’t think cinemas or amusement parks make very good business these days, do they?”

“Whatever,” Rowan says in exasperation, going back to watching the rat revolve on its spit, slowly browning. “I don’t even know how you can feel like reading a book when we have all this real life stuff to deal with, let alone the same one over and over.”

Suddenly, he’s back to contemplating the fire. That’s how he spends most nights, though it’s not like I can blame him. The fire is probably the most interesting thing to stare at, I’ve figured: everything else around us is gray, empty and dead, and it’s been like that for quite some time.

He notices me watching him and he shoots me a look as if to dare to me to ask what’s on his mind. I don’t take the bait.

I ignore him and continue reading my book. It’s hard to get into it since its pages are so well tread, but I try my best to zone out and relax. Tonight, it’s not working. I swear loudly and toss the book aside.

“Thanks a lot, Rowan,” I say. “You’ve ruined it for me.”

He looks up briefly, smiling lightly.

“My pleasure,” he says, before poking the rat carefully with the edge of his rifle. “Let’s eat!”

He cuts the rat into tiny pieces and we attempt to make a meal out of it. We devour it in two quick mouthfuls. It’s not very satisfying fare; I don’t even taste it as it goes down, I just register the fact that the bones are crunchy before it’s over and I’m only slightly less hungry than I was before.

“How was that?” Rowan says kindly after we’re done. “Better than nothing, right?”

“Better than nothing. But…”

“But you’re still not full, right Jess?”

I give him a forlorn look.

“I just wish we had a bit more to eat, sometimes,” I reply, staring at the small pile of bones beside my knee.

“Well, hopefully we’ll find something more substantial tomorrow,” he says. “You should get used to not eating much. Unless you want to make like the marauders, that is. Then you’d get a little more to eat, but…”

He trails off, pointing at the rolled up sleeping bag beside me. It’s a spare. It used to have an owner. He was our friend, but he’s gone now, killed by one of the monsters that lurk beyond the light of the campfire.

“Never,” I say through gritted teeth. “I’ll never resort to that.”

He gives me a sad look, then turns to blow up the air mattress that is our bed for the night.

“Then try to keep a happy face about things.”

Feeling dejected, I pick up my book and return to the page I left off. I need to forget. It’s been a very hard day.

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D. Robert Grixti is a speculative and horror fiction writer from Melbourne, Australia. His influences include Stephen King, John Wyndham and H.P Lovecraft. His work has appeared in Imagine Literary Journal, Crossfire Magazine, Black Petals, Flashes In The Dark, Eunoia Review and more.
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