Beth Thomas

The night the prison burns is the night Meredith loses her virginity in the field behind the house. Sirens wailing from a mile down the road warn of escape, and across the small valley, people return to their homes and lock their doors.

But Meredith is stuck in the pasture with the new firefighter, her dress at her neck, panties lost in the grass. Her hair ribbon is caught in a shrub and flashes a muted red in the wind. William is heavy on top of her when they hear the sirens swell. He is pressing her into the dirt with his bare chest, his fingers clawing deep in the soil. She is focused on the half-moon, winking silent above her.

At the sound, he pulls away, panting and sweating. He stands up, naked, trying to see something off in the dark. “It’s on fire.” Eyes wild, he grabs for his clothes.

While he buttons his shirt, she straightens her dress and listens in the dark for the hushed footfalls of an escapee. She imagines someone creeping through the corn, through the tobacco, through the grass, toward the house.

But when the footsteps come, they are heavy and loud. Three or four men’s worth, pounding along the banks of the creek just out of sight. The escapees shout to one another, showing no real effort at being quiet.

William pushes her back to the ground and is still, his weight on her limbs, his breath hot on her mouth. “Shhh,” he whispers. His breath smells like beer. They breathe in and out, one breath chasing the other. The voices are closer.

Near the pasture gate, a horse stirs. Meredith shuts her eyes to the moon and to William on top of her and to the shoulders of escaping men now visible above the rise of the grass in the muted orange glow of the growing fire. They are passing on the trail, parallel to the creek. In a moment, the voices are gone. In the corner of the field, the horse stamps. William holds his breath, waiting. Meredith’s back cramps and her hips stretch and her shoulders start to ache under the weight.

“They’re gone, I think,” William says. He rises to his knees, cautious. “I have to go.”

The sirens stop abruptly. The fire grows bright against the black sky. For a long moment, there is silence. It is the kind of silence that has things happening in it. The horse stirs. The creek splashes. Somewhere down the valley, a dog barks. But the men are gone, and William is up and pulling on his boots. The new sound of police sirens echoes from down the road.

“Get inside,” he says, extending a hand to help her up. “Hurry up.”

She nods her head. “I will. I have to get dressed.”

“I have to go,” he says. He kneels and kisses her then, longer and deeper than the moment requires. “Get inside.” Then he is gone.

She stays in the grass and lies there like that for a long time. Her breath goes in, out. Memories of loud boots on the creek rocks sound in her head. Memories of his tongue in her mouth. Her heartbeat slows. She sinks into the soil, and stretches her back in the grass, unwinding herself like ribbon.

Beth Thomas spends her time in the desert southwest writing mostly flash fiction and user manuals. Her work has appeared in PANK, Wigleaf, Corium, and the hands of many soldiers and airmen. She is also an editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her story, “Burn” was submitted to the AWP Heat contest in conjunction with AWP 2013 Boston.