The Bonfire – a short story
He had walked to the edge of the field, to the wide slot that had been cut across the fields to allow traffic to pour back and forth, north towards London and the Midlands and south, further into the West Country.
Behind him he could hear the excited shouts of the children and see a few blurred points of light around the bonfire site.
Later he had watched the flames take hold, driving the white smoke into the mist which tried to rise on a breeze which could only made itself felt when they turned to face it.
He stood with some of his mates from the second team then turned to help himself to another drink. It was quieter next to the bar. Some of the dads came over, away from the kids who had gathered over by the barrier that kept them from the fire. Something slipped and the figure of Guy Fawkes turned slowly over, releasing a shower of sparks that flickered over the heads of the spectators and died away on the breeze. To one side of the fire he watched a swathe of smoke roll away down the field, then slip over the bank down towards the road.
“See that Tom.” He nudged his mate with his elbow. “The wind’s turned.”
Another long cloud of smoke hesitated above the roadway, lit up by the opaque light above the traffic.
“Getting dangerous that is.”
“Only a bit a smoke – get broken up by the traffic.” He nodded towards the children. “Try telling them you’re going to put the fire out.”
They could hear the sound of the traffic, the same subdued roar that they heard during a break in a game, or at half time.
Tom’s friend shook his head and moved away from the others so that he had a better view of the edge of the field. He set down his glass and found himself hurrying over the edge of the cutting, moving down the field with the smoke, watching it mixing itself with the mist that had been hanging around all day. For a moment he wondered how much of the blurring of the lights ahead was caused by the smoke and then he realised that he could smell the smoke all around him even when it seemed to have lost itself.
Ahead of him was the light of the traffic, like a long white neon light fixed above the road; it was not until he reached the edge of the cutting and could peer down at the vehicles that he could see for himself the powerful flow, the uninterrupted movement below him.
Another swathe of smoke seemed to separate itself and pause at the edge of the cutting. As it rolled over and downwards the force of the traffic tugged at its edges, unravelling it and the smoke lost its shape. An articulated lorry hurried by and left in its wake fragments of smoke while another swathe of smoke began to roll off the field.
The man from the fireworks company was dismissive.
“Nothing’s going to stop that traffic. Anyway – it’s well away from the fire.”
The man stood up, tall and straight. He looked over from the remains of dead fireworks to the fire which threw a red light that flickered across his face.
“I’ve been down there to have a look. The smoke’s going down onto the motorway.”
“Not stopping the traffic though.”
“Not yet – surprised we’ve not had the police up here.”
The man with the fireworks and the matches laughed.
“They won’t bother this lot. Too many of them play here.”
The man turned back to the boxes of fireworks – he could really do with some help here.
The other man walked over to one side, to where he had watched the first wisps of smoke finding their way down the field while the first flames had taken a hold. From his pocket he took out his mobile phone.
The firemen were dousing the last of the ashes when the police arrived. There was a fuss and he could hear some of the parents complaining. One of his friends had seen him standing apart, using his phone.
“You did the right thing mate. I know this lot aren’t happy.” He nodded at a group of families, children disappointed and parents trying to prise them away. One group of kids were watching the fire crews and one of the mothers balled at them to come away.
“You can imagine something out on the motorway.” His friend nodded across the field to where the line of the cutting could be seen more clearly, a sharp line now that led the eyes away from the field and the remains of the fire, towards the far distance and lines of red and white lights that flowed never ending past each other until they merged, becoming pink before they disappeared completely.
“Only wanted someone to slam on the brakes – bloody chaos it would have been, bloody chaos.”