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Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Dark · #2278990
A dancer/musician caught in the destruction of climate change is betrayed by a neighbor
About 1600 words -- Death in the key of C

Denton McQuade and his neighbor Carver Vikander leaned on the fence separating their properties and studied the cloud of smoke roiling above the distant forest fire.

“That thing really worries me, Carver. What do you think? Maybe we should have left yesterday.”

His neighbor spat over the fence onto the seared grass, then regarded the gob of spittle as though regretting the lost moisture. He brushed lank hair away from his pimple-strewn face and stared at the fire.

“Probably, yeah. But I hate to leave with all my fuckin’ beer undrank.” He turned back to Denton. “How come you still here?”

“Had to finish fixing up the Harley. Got it running good now.”

“Gorgeous fuckin’ bike! Sure wish you’d let me ride it.”

“Get real, Carver. You know better than to even ask.”

“Shit, yeah, you ‘bout went loco when I sat on it last week.”

“You’re lucky I didn’t rearrange your teeth.”

“Ah hell, if I wasn’t wasted I’d a pounded you to a pulp, you goddam pussy fag ballet dancer.”

Denton reached across the fence, grabbed Carver’s arm, and twisted.

“Fuck, Dent, okay, you’re a strong fuckin’ pussy fag dancer! Leggo! Leggo!”

Denton hadn’t danced since breaking his ankle at a rehearsal six weeks ago, but he still worked out daily. “And I’m not a dancer now, I’m a musician. You've known that from the time you moved in last month.”

“Yeah, sure, now you’re a fuckin’ pansy musician, okay?” Carver yanked his arm free and massaged it, glaring over the fence.

"And you're a wild man on drums. You remind me of Animal on the Muppets. Remember him? That frenzied puppet drummer covered with red hair?"

"Shit, yeah, I loved them fuckin' Muppets as a kid. You really think I play like fuckin' Animal? Cool! You ain't bad on guitar, neither. Bin fun jammin' wit' ya. But you're too fuckin' straight, man. You need to fuckin' relax, drink a few beers, smoke a little fuckin' weed, ya know?"

“Not my thing, Carver. Hey, local TV gave a final evacuation order this morning before the station closed down. I’m thinking it’s definitely time to split.”

“Fuckin’ A, man. Fuckin’ towel-head up the road, he’s leavin’ in about forty minutes, and I’m gettin’ a ride with him.”

“Mr. Bukhari? He’s a good guy. I’m glad you’re headed out. I plan to ride out about noon, so in case I don’t see you before you go, good luck.” He held out his hand over the fence for a good-bye fist-bump.

“You too, Dent. You bin an okay neighbor, for a fuckin’ libtard fag guitar picker and ballet dancer.”

“Thank you, I guess.”

“I got time to finish my last case of beer. Think we got time for one last jam?”

“Time's short. You’d better go. We’ll play together again one of these days. You take care.”


Every breath seared his lungs. Smoke clogged his throat and he coughed until he puked. He crawled through his own slime and bashed his head against a wall. A thin stream of cooler, smoke free air caressed the corner of floor and wall and he oozed into it like a slug into a rotted log. Panting, he inhaled that blissful current for a few precious breaths. Carver, you asshole, if ever I survive this, I will kill you. As slowly and as painfully as I can.

Nose wedged into the corner, he wriggled on, hoping he was headed not for the inferno of the blaze but for an exit.


The world was aflame. Denton had seen it on TV, while there was still TV. A million acres of forest burning. Thousands of homes destroyed. Lakes and rivers dried to cracked mud as hard as kiln-fired pottery. Roads turned to bubbling strips of tar. Weather gone wild, torrents of drowning rain followed by weeks of heat and drought. A final evacuation order. All residents to leave. To go where? Forest fires on all sides, roads jammed with dead cars, looting everywhere, people killing each other.

Before the radio and TV cut out, it looked like most folks were heading inland, to the west, hoping to somehow get through the fires. Not that the whole west coast wasn’t burning too. His plan—though like his neighbor Carver, he’d left it far too late—had been to ride his Fat Boy east to the coast; he figured it would be cooler by the sea, with the sea rising from glacier melt; all that glacier water and evaporation should cool the air, right?

Anyway, that was his plan, until he looked out the window to see Carver riding off on his Harley. Astonishment warred with anger and panic. Carver, what the hell? Bet you got drunk and missed your ride with Bukhari. You thieving piece of garbage! That was my exit plan! How on earth did Carver know where the spare bike key was hidden? Sneaky bastard. Stupid me for trusting him.

But he didn’t really start to curse Carver until he realized the man had barricaded him in and torched the place. The old house, tinder dry, had swiftly become a roaring furnace.


The thin stream of cool air became a breeze, then a gale, as the fire sucked fresh air into its feeding frenzy. When he looked ahead, he almost slammed his eyes shut again. His shirtsleeves were singed and smoking. The backs of his hands were red and blistered. He suddenly became aware of pain on his scalp and back. He erupted into frenzied motion, elbows and knees flailing, hugging the floor to avoid the roaring flames above but desperate to get out.

He spilled out of the burned hole that used to be the doorway and crashed through the burnt steps into the relatively cool air of a 90 degree night. Hottest temperatures on record for the past 38 days. He struggled to his feet and staggered across the smoldering lawn. It crunched where he stepped, each footfall sending up a black puff of burnt grass. Carver, dammit, I’m coming.

With no other real choice, he stumbled down the driveway and turned right on the gravel country road that Carver would have taken. The blazing house on his right and the distant forest fire on the left lit his way with hellfire. No matter how much he blinked, his eyes felt gritty. His throat was a clot of smoke and every swallow was ground glass. With each breath, scalpels slashed his back and ribs. Anger-driven, he reeled and swayed doggedly on.

Climate change. God damn politicians. Said it wasn’t real, alarmist commie scientists just sucking for grant money. Or it was real but was far in the future. Or it was coming but everything would be fine. Or the predictions were exaggerated and the effects wouldn’t be that bad.

A ripple of music ran through his mind, an old record his Grandpa had played when he was a boy, some old cowboy thing.

All day I faced the barren waste, without a taste of water, cool water.

He would give his left nut for a taste of water. Hell, he’d give both nuts. His throat was as dry as the gravel road. He had long ago stopped sweating. Every step was a stab of nails, a rip of skin, reminding him of the pain when he stressed his body in dance classes. He thought of dancing, the ballets, the shows, the joy of movement, all ended, stilled. He thought of music, the grandeur of symphonies, the rhythms of rock, the fun of jamming with friends, all turned off, silenced. He thought of art, of life and emotion expressed in paint and clay and metal, expressions of being human, all vanished. He thought of love, the pride and thrust and tender caring, all gone forever.

Gone, yet not lost in memory. He tried walking a few steps en pointe, attempted a clumsy tour en l’air but stumbled on the gravel. Giving up on dance, he played air guitar, his seared fingers flexing in at the remembered patterns of a Leonard Cohen song. It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift, the baffled king composing, hallelujah. Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah....

The final C major chord ringing in his memory, he trudged on in the realization that he was dying. Hallelujah, hallelujah....

The hiss and crackle of his burning home had faded, but the roar of the forest fire, off to his left, was growing louder. He stopped to watch, fascinated. The fire was beautiful in a terrible, majestic way--flames leaping and dancing in the air, cabriolés and jetés and flaming glissades from treetop to treetop. The Nutcracker as performed in Hell.

When he passed the Bukhari place, he saw that the car was still in the driveway, front doors open. Ah, Carver, what on earth happened there? What have you done? Saddened by fear, filled with helplessness and tragedy, still brooding with anger, he staggered on.

Ahead was a line on the road, a shadowed streak wriggling in the flames like a wounded snake. A skid mark, veering off into the forest on the right. He followed it and found his Harley mashed against a tree. God damn it, Carver, you wrecked my bike. Couldn’t ride worth shit, could you?

He found the crumpled body laying on its back a dozen feet further on, where it had been hurled by the impact. Got you, asshole. He gave the body a kick in the ribs, and was amazed to hear a croak.

“Carver, man, you alive? This is totally righteous. Karma, baby.” Grimacing with pain, he spreadeagled Carver's legs then, as hard as he could, kicked him in the groin.

The effort knocked him over and he fell onto his back. He writhed in agony from his burns and finally managed to curl up into a fetal position. Damn you, Carver, if you were too dead to suffer from that kick in the balls.

He could hear the roar of the forest fire picking up from andante to allegro, growing louder in a howling crescendo. He began to cry, choking out dry tearless sobs for his lost bike and his lost house and his lost love and his lost life and the lost world.

A sharp new pain in his shin jerked him back to awareness. He raised his head and opened his eyes to see a rat nibbling on his charred flesh. It stood and regarded him with bright black eyes and quivering whiskers.

“Hey, little bro. We screwed up real bad. We wrecked the whole environment. Maybe you’ll do better in whatever world is left .”

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

He closed his eyes and waited for the end.
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