Gunpowder and Treason. A seasonal flash fiction story. #fridayflash

A seasonal offering this week. In fact, it’s a cross-over story taking a large chunk of inspiration from Bonfire Night (Lewes style) and a smidge of Halloween. Lewes Bonfire is the biggest and most famous Bonfire celebration in England. I should know having had it pass my front door for three years before I moved house. They really do burn effigies of the Pope, along with satirical effigies pertinent to issues of the day. This year I would expect to see at least one Murdoch go up in smoke. The Pope burning thing is more historical these days and goes back to the burning of several protestant martyrs in Lewes many years ago. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether a ‘celebration’ like this should still find a place in these modern times. I’ve simply based my story on an event which really does take place.  Anyway, you can check it out for yourself here. (Images from Google Images)

Pope effigy at Lewes Bonfire

Bonfire procession, Lewes

Gunpowder and Treason

‘What shall we do with him?’

‘Burn him! Burn the Pope!’

The crowd surged forward through the smoke, invoked by the collective cry, desperate for a closer view of the effigies as they were thrown onto the flames.

Margaret remained rooted to her spot; unwilling, unable to move forward with the pressing throng. She swayed as they pushed past her, knocking her shoulders, elbows thrust into her ribs, and still she didn’t move. The bitter sting of wood smoke caught in her throat, already parched from nerves. She felt the insides of her nostrils smart as a plume of acrid smoke drifted carelessly across her face.

I hope he’s awake to feel the heat, she thought.

Margaret scanned the horizon above the silhouetted heads bobbing in front of the fire. Which Pope would it be? There were several, spinning and turning in a macabre dance, ever closer to the flames. Most of them weren’t quite big enough; tall certainly, but not roomy enough to hold….there it was…..she was sure of it…..slower than the rest…..labouring through the mass of fire-glow faces. She gulped, a rasping, clawing, ash-filled gulp of bonfire air.

It had to be. There were black holes for eyes, as requested.

He’d agreed to it straight away, saying bastards like that deserved everything coming to them; for a price, at least. His men, he’d said, would kidnap her husband the night before, drug him, and encase him in the effigy. All they had to do then was join the crowd on the hill and follow the other Popes.

Margaret had told him (she never caught his name) that she would be at her mother’s all night, that Dave would be home by seven. She hadn’t been back yet; had come straight from her mum’s. Told her she was meeting Dave at the bonfire.

‘That’s romantic,’ her mother had said, ‘same place you met. Give him my love.’

Romance! Love! Try black eyes and bleeding lips.

The Pope had made his way round the bonfire; was straight ahead, facing the flames. ‘Go on,’ she muttered, ‘throw him on.’ She could see the figures toiling under the weight; they braced themselves, then, without warning, the Pope turned to face her. For the briefest of moments, she saw a firework reflect in his wide eyes. She smiled. He saw. That’s how it feels: trapped yet seeing everything.

‘Burn him! Burn the Pope!’

‘Burn you bastard,’ whispered Margaret, before turning away from the wave of heat created by the final burning effigy.

Margaret made her way home; she was calm, breathing evenly.

‘I couldn’t find him at the bonfire, so I came home to wait for him. He might have stayed out all night, but none of his friends have seen him.’ It sounded ok to her, inside her head. She had all night to practice. She’d phone the police around midday.

Her hand shook as she held the key, missing the lock twice.

‘Get a grip, Margaret,’ she said.

She looked around the hall. No sign of a struggle. Jake’s photo, the one she took before he left for college two months ago, was still on the table.

‘Is that you Margaret? Where the hell were you?’

Dave was standing in the doorway.


‘I…I…bonfire…not there…home…’

‘Your mother said you were going to meet me at the bonfire. Where were you? I looked for you.’


‘Yes. Your mother. I called her after I got up. Didn’t know where you were.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘You never bloody do, woman.’

‘No, I mean, you were….’

‘Spit it out, Margaret, for Christ’s sake.’

‘You weren’t home last night’

‘Do you ever check the answer phone?’


‘I switched to the night shift this week. If you’d checked, you’d know.’

‘I’m sorry. I don’t understand. I don’t feel well.’

Margaret grabbed the table, sending a dish of coins and keys clattering to the floor.

‘And where’s Jake?’


‘Jake, our son. Where is he?’

‘He’s…he’s at college. Isn’t her?’

‘Again, if you listened to your fucking messages you’d know he was coming home yesterday. Didn’t want to miss bonfire night.’

Margaret felt the bile surging upwards, pooling around her tongue.

She’d smiled.

He saw.

© flyingscribbler 2011

21 comments on “Gunpowder and Treason. A seasonal flash fiction story. #fridayflash

  1. John Wiswell says:

    Got to say, I’m white and I live in the north part of the United States, but burning crosses freak me out. That’s never a good sign. From the parade you know this is going to be grim.

    • John, the connotations are very different here, thankfully. Although it is true, the whole throwing Guy Fawkes on the fire thing is anti-Catholic. It isn’t just the crosses: they run through the town with burning barrels of tar.

  2. Anne Michaud says:

    You had me at ‘Burn the Pope!’ Good work:)

  3. ~Tim says:

    It’s so hard to get competent help.

  4. Creepy, but well done Justin!

    I really thought the mother had been chucked into the fire until the son was mentioned. A horrible way to go.

    • Thanks Craig. Very unpleasant way to go indeed. It’s the wild animals which crawl inside the unlit bonfires who probably have the best take on this. Oh, and countless ‘witches’, heretics (of all types) etc.

  5. Icy Sedgwick says:

    Oh that is dark. I don’t quite get the concept of burning effigies due to the chemicals released into the air but never mind. Chilling slice of flash, sir.

  6. Wow. That was very dark. Great stuff and what a fascinating source of inspiration.

  7. Steve Green says:

    Oh dear, the best laid plans…

  8. I was just in the middle of applauding the abused finally lashing out at their abuser when the twist sucker punched me right in the jaw. Brava!

  9. brainhaze says:

    Nice work – you’ve definitely given me the shivers! Great descriptions

  10. Ha, just got round to reading this, but yes, we do seem to be sharing a mind. How strange. Or possibly we’re both just depraved.

  11. mgideon says:

    You could just feel this ending coming; things were going too smoothly! Dark piece indeed. Well done!

  12. adampb says:

    Doing a bit of catch up reading and this hit me in the guts. Such a powerful thought to have sacrificed an innocent person. Well done.
    Adam B @revhappiness

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