Exodus. Short Story.

He stood on the hill, watching the town burn. Great plumes of smoke billowed into the sky, thick, dark and choking. A slight breeze carried the scent of the burning, occasionally a scream could be heard faintly over the roar of the fire and the crashing of collapsing buildings. He pitied those people, but they were foolish. They knew what would happen and they refused to leave. Some were trapped, but most were there by choice or their inability to prepare. He had left a few days ago, camping up here on the hill. He or Jess occasionally went into the town to buy more supplies or to retrieve an item from the house. They spent no longer than half an hour in the town and had three or four escape routes planned at all times, just in case.

They came during the night, quickly and quietly. They set about starting their fires, leaving one side open, as always, to allow people to escape, usually they used the fire to direct the people to them, but today they were simply destroying everything. He turned from the harsh light of the fire and walked down the gentle slope, The River Yen was wide and moved lazily along its course, but it would act as a fire break. All the boats that had been moored along its banks had already taken off, the fire couldn’t jump the river, there was nothing to burn on this side. Jess was sitting at the mouth of the tent, looking up at the sky, gazing at the column of smoke. “Will we be ok here?” “Yeah, as long as the wind doesn’t direct the smoke towards us. There’s a lot of toxins in it.” He didn’t expect the wind to change direction, that’s why he chose this spot. The tent would offer some protection if that happened. He didn’t know how far the fire would spread, but it was unlikely to be far. They had planned everything perfectly, the yearly rains would come and put out the embers, preventing the dying flames from rekindling. They were used to moving, though usually at a slower pace, they had taken only their most important possessions, they couldn’t afford to pay anyone to bring the lager stuff, even if they could find someone, they would be too worried about their own family and possessions. A breeze began to pick up, blowing the smoke east, away from them as he expected. They winds were pretty tame here, usually following the same path. “Do you think Emmet got out?” “I’m sure he did.” Emmet had been kind to them when they first moved to the town, helping them out when they needed it but he and his family were stubborn and unlikely to run. He hoped they had left before it was too late. The fire had spread quickly, faster than anyone had thought, jumping from home to home creating a ring of fire, burning inwards with a deadly speed.

They had settled in the town and thought that they might spend the rest of their lives there, no one was chasing them, not any more and they began to relax. They moved so frequently more out of habit than anything else, they both got antsy after a year or two and after finally staying in one place for so long it was a shame to watch it burn. “Where will we go next?” “I don’t know, I was thinking we should stick around for a few days, they might start to rebuild.” “Yeah, maybe.” They both knew the town would never return, no one would dare try to rebuild, everyone knew they would just keep coming back until everyone either gave up or had died. He knew the towns problem with the Enforcers, everyone did, they came, got drunk and, knowing they were untouchable proceeded to do anything they damn well pleased. It’s how it has always been until a few years ago, one of them raped a young girl and then strangled her. The town found out and lynched him, they might have gotten away with it if they were not so bold about it all. They left the body there for days, weeks, rather than hiding it and denying everything. They could have said he continued onwards after staying for only a day but the towns around them had heard and, seeing a chance to make their lives better, they took the rewards on offer and turned in the town. The Enforcers imposed a penalty fee on the town, half of all the money they brought in, after the taxes that were paid to the High Government, the town paid for three years then stopped. They were warned and given another chance, a rare occurrence, but the town held strong. It was a stupid thing for them to do. He was sure that on the other side of the flames there were television crews pointing their cameras at the inferno and talking about the terrible fire, a horrible accident, an act of god. Though they would never dare say who started it or why everyone knew or could guess. It was an extreme punishment. They had burned people out before, but it was rare. The perpetrators are usually punished but the whole town was considered complacent because they refused to turn in their friends and neighbours. No one could quite recall who was at the lynching, though it was near the whole town.

They climbed into the tent and after a few moments, fell asleep with the sound of the burning town in the background. They both woke early to the steady drumming of rain on the tent, it wasn’t that surprising really, the rain was supposed to start any day. They would have to decide where they were going to go soon, and if not a town, at least a direction. He stretched and sat up, throwing on a pair of runners he pulled on a rain jacket and stepped outside. The rain was heavy and the hill was muddy, they had set up camp on a small rise behind it in case it started raining before they moved on. At the top of the hill he looked at the town, there was still smoke but it was less than the night before. The fire had spread quickly and burned everything, but in it‘s speed it had burned itself out. They had probably placed accelerant around the town, it would explain the extreme heat and the speed of burning. The rain was washing ash into the river, it’s surface black and glossy. There were still the charred remains of buildings here and there, ones that didn’t collapse, leaving behind nothing but metal skeletal structures, occasionally a flame flared to life briefly before settling down again. He could see a few people standing at the edge of the ruins, they looked at though they were waiting for the area to cool down a bit before they entered. Probably scavengers, or maybe they were going to try to find some survivors. If anyone had survived it probably would have been better if they had died. He heard Jess struggling up the hill, trying not to slip in the mud. She stood beside him in silence, gazing at the ruins. He glanced at her and saw she was crying. He pretended not to notice. “The rain will stop around mid afternoon right? We should pack up then and move on. No one is coming back here.” He nodded and turned from the ruins of what they had once called their home and made his way back to their camp, after a moment Jess turned and joined him.


About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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