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Garrigue

Contest 5, Week 2 : Inkstains submission - Expansive
I grabbed the theme and ran with it. This story has kept me awake for two nights. Flash fiction, unedited draft.

WARNING: Possibly triggery. Character death.


GARRIGUE.

A partridge flies away from me, rustling the rock-rose behind which it was hiding. The clean slab of limestone besides it, oddly smooth in the broken surface of the lapies, looks inviting. My mouth is dry from the long walk under the sun. I turn around, and I have to squint to spot the ochre roof of my parents' house, down below.

I take a good whiff of lavender, its smell rich from the heat of the sun. I have braided my hair with the purple flowers, like I used to when I was a child. It made me feel like a fairy.

I came here, too, even though I was forbidden to. This is Albert's territory. It starts from the curve of the path midway through the hills, crosses the garrigue, and culminates with the forest of pines and cork-oaks that adorn his family's vanity crest. The trees are too far to cast their shadow on me, but I can smell the acre resin already.

I fold my dress under my legs and sit on the stone. I shift my tummy around, but can't find a way to not feel it. It's bulging, has been for a while now. I cringe as the thing inside moves. This morning, my mother noticed. She blinked, dunked her slice of bread and jam in her bowl of coffee, and said nothing. I think she knew, the day Albert hired me, it would come to that. Sacrifice a daughter, or lose the house. The choice was easy.

The buzz of bees breaks the song of the cicadas. I smile. I'm close enough. I dip into the large side pocket of my dress, and search for the small matchbox I've taken from the kitchen earlier. It fits nicely in my hand. I shake it, and the sound of matches frotting together makes me giggle.

I crack one. The little flame fizzles. It trembles. It's so tiny that I strain not to blink, in case it vanishes if I don't sustain it with my gaze. I cup it with my hand, fragile life, and I'm tempted to keep it there and wait. I imagine my mother and my father finding me, later this afternoon, sitting here, the match still lit between my charred fingers. There is pride in their voice as they say, pointing at the desolation of dead pines, "Our daughter did that. With a single match, she undid Albert. Our daughter."

I smile. It won't happen that way: this match wasn't made from the biblical burning-bush, and it will die out before I burn. I flick my wrist. The match lifts off. It lands in the lavender, disappears. At first nothing happens. The thing twists in my belly again, mocking me. If only I could reach inside, pull it out and strangle it with the very cord that ties me to it.

But the lavender sizzles, and it's my turn to mock. The bush is selfish and keeps its life to itself. It smokes, showing off. The dried grass that runs to its feet sees that. It doesn't take it long to steals the heat, and spreads it. Wood cracks, and the heat raises. I don't sweat yet. It's not so different than the usual summer heat, which I love so much. It is more focused, though, like if the sun sprawled out like a lazy cat, waiting for me to pet it.

Grass turns black under the course of a red line. It slithers among the rock-rose bushes, around the treacherous rocks that try to stop it. It gives birth to more vipers, and when they reach the first trees, I'm losing the count of how many they are.

My sight is blurry. Liquid waves of heat reshape the landscape. Bushes go out in a dazzling ball of orange, then shrink, their black fingers dropping on the ground. The first pine lights up like a torch. It explodes, and the bang is loud enough to wake up the bell tower of Saint-Jean-la-Gardelle. The only other time I've heard so many bells at once, the village was ringing the tocsin for Albert's grandfather. My chest swells with the knowledge that our old church is giving me its benediction.

After the pine, it goes fast. The trees burst and crackle. Purple and amber masses of smoke climb into the sky, reducing the sun to a white halo. I cough. The beauty of the scene makes me tear out. The baby in me stills, in awe. I want it to be a girl. My daughter. I breathe out, rubbing my tummy when it expands to its true shape. I don't have to hide it anymore, cramping my muscles all day under the inquisitive looks of the villagers. I undo the top buttons of my dress. My breasts, fred from the fabric, stop hurting. My areolas darken, widen. I feel beautiful, and even though I hate what that old man has done to me, I understand why he's chosen me.

It's hot. I stand up, and I tear my dress. It pools at my feet, like a pond of blue-green water, ridiculous against the immensity of the fire. Someone's yelling in the distance, and I know I don't have much time left. They'll come running, Albert, my parents, the gendarmes, and the firefighters. They'll stop at the curve, their arms dangling at their side, useless. There's nothing they can do to stop the fire now, but I don't want them to see me. I don't want to see them.

A cork-oak crumbles. Flames lick my ankles. I laugh, and I walk into the inferno.