I am petting a horse in a barn full of wet hay. His coat is oil spill iridescent and I cannot stop running my hand over it. Hush, hush. I try to braid his mane but the hair breaks off in my fingers.
“It’s going to burn, soon,” he gestures towards the hay, “summer is coming and the hay is hot.”
I want to tell him it’s not guaranteed, but that sounds like a flimsy excuse. He predicts with such conviction I find myself nodding along. The hay is hot, the barn will burn. And I will be there when it does.
“Might as well help it along,” he shrugs, and reaches into his coat pocket. Pulls out a matchbox and opens it with nimble hooves.
That’s a little drastic, I almost say, why don’t I just move it? Move the hay, take a shower, reach out to my friends; it can’t be that hard. I already know what he’d say.
“I knew you’d help me with this,” and he strikes the match. The fire sputters up like a reaching hand, but it evens out just as quickly. Burns steady and endless.
He looks me in the eyes, and lets it fall from his hoof. Immediately the hay catches, engulfing the barn in a heat that makes my back cold. I wasn’t expecting the fire to be silent. I think I wanted kicking and screaming, anything to show something in there was fighting it. But, I guess it learned long ago to cry quietly.
He turns to me, the light casting his shadow distorted onto the walls. Offers me his hoof. I take it. Together we walk into the fire and it feels familiar, like I was meant to burn here. I wonder if I could have stopped him.
Erin McKay (she/they) is a high school student from the East Coast. She has been previously published in Stone of Madness Press. You can find them on twitter @erintmck.