Sleep Now in the Fire

Sleep Now in the Fire

A Story by Cas Anthony
"

Death is supposed to be cold. But Hell is hot.

"

Sleep Now In The Fire

 

Death was supposed to be cold. It made perfect sense. Corpses were cold, and living people were warm. Even a living man of the coldest demeanour had a little heat in his blood and body, but a corpse started growing colder the moment it came to be, and never got any warmer by natural means.

Despite this irrefutable fact, at least as Howard saw it, the jar which held his mother’s remains was uncomfortably warm. He loathed it. The curious new practice had been creeping ever so carefully into fashion for years now, reeking of pagan sensibilities and the poet Shelley, and his mother had willed it that she be placed through the bizarre procedure upon her death. Millicent Tassitter, in life, had possessed an unfortunate proclivity for latching on to blossoming trends, and even in death she’d insisted on pushing out the proverbial boat. Next summer, Howard was sure, every one of her friends would be getting cremated, and as his mother looked up on them from down below she’d roll her eyes and scoff one last time.

Hands still clutching the urn, building up a cold sweat on the still-warm ceramic, Howard struggled up the chalky cliff path in the dark. The coastal gust bit and snapped viciously, shrieking in his ears and nipping at his collar, and each step forward was a battle against an indomitable wall of cold night wind. Why had he done this at night? Because the coach had been damaged, on those hideous Cornish roads. Then why hadn’t he waited until morning? Because the sooner it was done, the better. It helped very little that his legs were near rooted, stuck by the dull weight of guilt that sat in his stomach. But his fear prevailed over any sense of reason, and he forced himself to the cliff edge, where he triumphantly flung open the lid and cast his mother’s ashes away. She billowed out in front of him, and then a stiff gust of wind brought her hurtling back. A blinded Howard erupted into a fit of hacking, violent coughs as black ash flew into his face and cascaded down into his lungs, and he collapsed to his knees, scrabbling inside his jacket. His blind grasps found his flask, and a wash of cold brandy cleaned him off. A final, victorious cough sent the last of the ash from his throat in a wet glob into the clifftop grass, and he burst to his feet again gasping for air.

“Bloody… mother…”

He found the urn as he readied himself to head back, not wanting to waste such a finely-crafted thing. It was still bloody warm.

***

The carriage had taken Howard halfway to Winchester before breaking down again, and he’d decided to wait for repairs. He’d have been faster walking, and they weren’t back in the city before morning. Exhausted, Howard had slept the moment he’d gotten in. Another mistake, as he’d awoken in the evening and found it impossible to rest peacefully again. That’s why he was sat by the fire, brandy in hand, watching the moon peek in and out from behind the clouds that sprinted across the sky. Bloody moon. Just a cold sun. It was unreasonably warm tonight, though. Bloody summer nights. Bloody clouds, too. Hardly made for a peaceful evening, them pelting across the sky like that, wind screaming. Perhaps they’re running from something. Howard chuckled to himself. Very witty.

Everyone’s running from something.

His laughter curled up and died in his throat.

“Something amusing, sir?”

“No, Chives. Certainly not with an empty glass.”

Mother’s manservant, Chimes, or Childs, or something, retrieved the decanter. A sharp clink of bottleneck on glass, and amber liquid flowed. Howard raised it to his lips, and it was awful, but he didn’t much care what he drank tonight. This was mother’s brandy. So it was. Not her previous bottle, of course. God, she’d loved it. A little too much, as it’d turned out.

“She was quite a woman, sir,” offered Climbs.

“She certainly was,” Howard muttered between sips. He pulled at his collar with discomfort. Too warm. Even the drink was warm. My kingdom for a cube of ice. He didn’t have a kingdom. He barely had a business. He didn’t even have a mother. Small mercy.

“She was remarkably elegant, sir, if you don’t mind my saying,” Clams continued. “Rather sharp, too, if it’s not overstepping. And if it’s not too bold-”

“I’m sure you thought she was wonderful, Clive,” Howard snapped. His mother had been lots of things. Elegant, yes. Sharp of wit and tongue. Abrasive. He finished his drink in a single gulp. It was bloody warm. “Now pour me another drink and go away.” The clink of glass-on-glass, the slosh of pouring brandy. “And smother that bloody fire a little. It’s boiling.”

Dutiful footsteps away behind him. Then a pause, just short of the door. “Apologies, sir,” the butler’s voice said behind him. “But it appears the fire’s been out for some time.”

Footsteps out. The door shut. Howard didn’t watch him go. His eyes were fixed forward, out of the wide-open window that drew in the night air, paralysed in the direction of the moon. Trying not to glance sideways. Seeing it out of the corner of his eye, his hand, shiny with sweat, tightening around the glass. The fire was dead. Lifeless black coals sat cold in their cradle of metal.

“Bloody hell,” Howard whispered. He was boiling. He… that meant he must be ill. He was running a fever. He couldn’t be running a fever; he should be running a company. Back in London. Out of the ground and-

“Sleep now in the fire.”

Howard yelped as the brandy glass burst under his grip, a shard piercing his palm. CHRIST! He hissed in pain and ran for a towel, found one, wrapped soft linen around his bloody hand. Christ! It hurt like… like a LOT. His head was pounding, he was boiling, this fever… blood was running down his arm and forming a vile cocktail with layer upon layer of sweat. “Mother!” He couldn’t help himself. He cursed her name. He shouldn’t be here, on the other side of the bloody country, riddled with whatever West Country disease was running around, hand cut open… a drink, a drink. He needed a drink. He went for the decanter, and as he touched it he felt the skin on his hand almost seared clean off. He threw himself back with a yelp. The bottle was scalding. The brandy inside, it was…

It was boiling.

He heard a whoomph! behind him and a sudden, rapid chorus of crackles. The sound of fire.

“Sleep now in the fire”

That voice again. Behind him.

“Mother!”

“Sleep now in the fire”

A cool, refreshing blackness swallowed him.

***

Howard awoke in a raging inferno. The walls were crumbling under the flames into charred scraps, heat roaring at him from every side, from above, it BURNED! He scrambled up, the back of his trousers were on fire, he tried to beat at them and fell, fell into his chair that was ablaze with a furious heat. Hissing, screaming, burning, he tore off his clothes and ran to the window. An orange sky before him. Morning? No. The city was on fire. The whole city was burning.

“Death is supposed to be cold.”

He could feel flames licking at his heel, but he still stopped. He gripped the iron balcony rail before him, but it was white-hot, and he screamed and reeled back as he felt his flesh bubble to its touch. He stumbled back into the flames, but a wave of searing air pushed him back. No smoke, he realised. Just fire. And that voice.

“Death is cold to the living, Howard.”

“But Hell is hot.”

Howard had always hated the heat. When it was cold you could put on a jumper. What was he supposed to do in the heat? Take off his skin? A roaring blast of burning air brought him back, and he felt as his eyebrows caught alight. He beat at them, but it was no use, he was alight-

“You think this harsh?!” The voice thundered from the flame, that bellowing wall of orange, cascading over him. “You think me harsh, Howard Tassitter? Do you feel you deserve better?!”

“I do!” Howard screamed. He tried to raise a hand, to point in accusation, but his flesh had melted and fused to the balcony rail, and he clung to it with a blackened bone. “I do!” His face twisted into a snarl, even though his lips had curled and charred. “I can put up with a disapproving mother, who doesn’t want me to run my business the way it SHOULD BE! I can cope with a scowling mother, who can’t look at her own son without impaling him on that bloody tongue.” He felt he should be spitting with rage, but all the moisture in his mouth had boiled away. “I can even cope with a wicked, twisted, witch of a woman who tries to run my father’s legacy behind my back!” His bones were crumbling to ash, but he struggled to his feet on limbs made of charcoal. “But I could not abide a disapproving, scowling, twisted mother who nags! Howard do this, Howard do that, now Howard, roll over, now BEG! I’d do it again! I’d do it a thousand times again! It’s no less poison than it than twisted little heart! You’re doing it wrong, Howard, I want it now, Howard, Howard-”

SLEEP NOW, HOWARD.

His ears were gone, but it was ok. The voice was in his head now.

SLEEP NOW.

He felt his legs crumble away. Wasn’t he tired? The moon was full. It was a beautiful night.

I don’t want to-

I never should have-

SLEEP.

It should all have been so easy.

Sleep.

Sleep now.

Sleep now in-

© 2021 Cas Anthony


Author's Note

Cas Anthony
The first third is fully drafted, the other two are not

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Reviews

This is pretty darn good, enjoyed your detail

Posted 3 Days Ago


Pretty good. Some words could be cut without adversely affecting the tale, e.g. "... my business the way it SHOULD!" instead of "... it SHOULD BE!"
It nevertheless had me rapt until the end. All the best with your writing, and I hope you find a publisher!

Posted 1 Week Ago


Cas Anthony

6 Days Ago

Thanks so much Al, that's really wonderful to hear. Hoping to find the time to redraft and trim it d.. read more
Al. S. Neworth

6 Days Ago

That's what it's all about: constructive criticism. Hope someone does the same for mine. That's not .. read more
Love the imagery and descriptiveness of this write, nicely presented

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Cas Anthony

1 Week Ago

Thanks Katzie, really great to hear you liked it

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Shelved in 2 Libraries
Added on October 11, 2021
Last Updated on October 11, 2021
Tags: horror, ghost, short story

Author

Cas Anthony
Cas Anthony

York, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom



About
Aspiring writer of things. Currently developing scripts and novels of various kinds. more..

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