It wasn't easy. His eyes hurt and weren't focusing properly, he kept
losing his balance, disoriented from a brain hemorrhage he knew nothing about,
and as he reached the top of the ladder, the injury to his hand returned like a
hot poker. The only saving grace was that he could see anything at all, the
hayloft being high-ceilinged enough that the red, glowing smoke stayed above
He grabbed the ladder's upright with his good hand, fumbled for the first
rung, and began his descent, hearing the tethered animals starting to get
Halfway down, just clear of the inferno overhead, he stopped for a moment to
adjust to the stable's contrasting gloom. There, hanging by one hand, praying
for salvation, he watched in stunned disbelief as all around him one bright rope
of fire, then two, then three, magically appeared on the walls from the ceiling
and dropped like fiery snakes to the floor, shooting off in different directions
and leaving lines of fire in their wakes, stimulating a loud, startled chorus of
bellows from the frightened creatures below him.
The fire spread as if shot from a wand, in defiance of logic or
comprehension, racing from one hay pile to another. Bobby watched, transfixed.
The cows had panicked in mere seconds and were now, all sixty of them,
struggling and stamping and heaving against their restraints, lowing and roaring
as the encircling fire, progressing with supernatural speed, changed from a
series of separate flames into the sheer embodiment of heat.
One by one, the animals broke loose. Stampeding without direction, corralled
by fire, they began generating a stench of burning flesh in the smoky,
scream-filled vortex of swirling, lung-searing air. A broiling wind built up as
it passed by the dying boy, the trapdoor directly above him now transformed into
a chimney flue. Bobby Cutts clung to his ladder as to the mast of a sinking
ship, weeping openly, the fire overhead filling the square opening with the
blinding, bloodred heat of a falling sun.
His hair smoking, all feeling gone from his burning body, he gazed between
his feet into the twisting shroud of noise and flames and fog of char, no longer
aware of the contorting bodies of the dying beasts slamming into his ladder,
splintering it apart, and uncaring as he finally toppled into their midst,
vanishing beneath a flurry of hooves.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...