The Burning Tree
A Perfectly Lit Spectacle
He saw the van as he was zipping up his fly after a much-needed trip into the bushes. It was parked at the bottom of a short, sloping car-park behind the shops, almost invisible from the road and the late night drinkers. He could hardly believe his luck.
There was music coming from one open window, nasty, growly music, and the sound of voices. He was fairly sure that there were more than two people in there.
He ran quickly and silently across the car park to a large diesel tank. A good hiding place. He hunkered down and waited for his courage to catch up with his intentions. After a while, he crept forwards, ready at all times with the excuse of needing the piss he’d already had. He managed to get onto a low wall which ran alongside the vehicle. Keeping his head down, and his movements slow, he moved to a position where he could see straight through the two back windows. The extra two feet of height the wall gave him meant he could see the floor of the van, an old Bedford. There were the dark shapes of bodies lying there. He could see the glow from the ends of cigarettes and they in turn lit up the faces inside. He thought they might be naked, that really would be a bonus, but he couldn’t be certain.
He could hear their voices now. Make out individual characters. He reached into the pocket of his slowly tightening trousers.
“No way,” someone said, a male, half laughing. “No way is that right. That’s just plain nasty.”
“No, it’s good, trust me.” A girl’s voice. “Just lie back and let me… there.”
“Hey!” Another male. Slurred, drunk. “That’s not fair. What about me?”
“Just wait. There’s all night. Why rush?” A female voice again.
It was perfect. A live show. Better than any video.
He eased down off the wall and crept down the right hand side where moonlight glinted from the small, round petrol cap, urging him on, confirming that he was doing the right thing. He dropped to his knees and tried to keep his breathing normal. The voices, louder now, were just so much white noise in his overexcited brain. He watched his right hand reach out and grip the petrol cap. Watched it turn, slowly, smoothly, soundlessly. A sudden moment of panic as the cap came free: is it a diesel engine? But no, one small sniff confirmed it to be petrol. He bunched the rag, pushed it into the inlet and wiped it around, collecting as much greasy residue as possible without getting it soaked in fuel. It was supposed to be a fuse, no point having a fuse with a nanosecond delay.
He leaned under the van and flicked the top of a match with his thumb. It sputtered into life, filling his face with light. Quickly, trying to control the insane pounding of his heart, he brought the match up to the rag and touched the perfect, yellow flame to the material. At once it ignited. Perhaps a little too readily. Forcing panic down as hard as he could but grinning like a fool, he pushed his own body back the way it had come across the car park and towards his hiding place.
What if the rag goes out?
What if there is hardly any petrol in the van?
What if someone challenges him before he gets back to the diesel tank?
But he need not have worried. The music and voices from the van stayed at the same pitch; he climbed up and around the back of the tank; he got himself comfortable and well out of sight...
And then the van blew.
And God, how it blew.
There was a deep, sonorous whoomph, as the two back doors blew across the car park and into a garden beyond. The end of a fat, fractured fuel inlet that fed through the main body of the van spewed burning petrol into the interior.
And that was where those magnificent bodies danced.
They were naked, and there were four of them, and the whole scene was like the greatest special effect in the world. The reality before him surpassed even his own fertile imagination: the music continued, impossibly, shielded somehow from the intense heat within the rear of the van, and the four bodies skipped from one foot to the other, dripping deadly fire from fingertips and toes, elbows and faces. Their hair blazed, turning them to Gods, and their bodies writhed, first facing him, and then turning away, in an erotic dance of death. The whole spectacle was perfectly lit by the searing flames. He felt tears prickle in the corners of his eyes. He had never seen anything quite so beautiful in all his life. One of the four was trying to kick something out of the back. He couldn’t make it out properly. It looked like a small suitcase. But within seconds there were three more, simultaneous explosions, explosions so bright that they hurt his eyes. When he looked back there was nothing left, just a burning husk of an old Bedford van, some peculiar, twisted forms huddled on the floor, and the sickly sweet stench of roasted human flesh, hanging in the air.