Burnt Flesh

Do you know the smell of burnt flesh? When the rough, itching sensation moves through your nose and reaches the back of your throat; the urge to throw up?

Moving to Longtown was the worst idea we ever had. It was for a job – her job, not mine. I hated my job at the time and was happy when Victoria’s opportunity gave me a chance to quit. It also made me look like a good husband; something that I never felt I was.

The house looked great online, it even looked great when we visited it on a Friday around noon. Spacious rooms, big garden, slightly grayed white walls on the outside. It was a pretty place and only undervalued slightly, not enough to make us suspicious.

The agent seemed relieved when we signed the papers.

“I’m sure you like your neighbors.” He smiled while he said that.

As we found out, neighbors was nearly an exaggeration. The two houses to the left of ours were empty and there was only one neighbor, monosyllabic Jeromy and his zerosyllabic wife Brendyn.

We arrived in the morning, spent the day emptying the car and cleaning dusty floors, toilets, and kitchen furniture. Around 4pm we smelled the barbeque; the pleasant smell of well-smoked meat grilled on real wood.

Victoria suggested we should introduce ourselves right away, but I didn’t want to seem like the greedy neighbor hoping for a free meal.

The fences were so high that we didn’t see much except the rising smoke.

The smoke was gray, then dark gray, and then a thick, suffocating black. But worse was that the wind was driving it in our direction.

What was pleasant at the beginning became unpleasant and finally unbearable by 4:40pm. The dark smoke with its pungent smell seemed to seep through the walls; even the bread we tried to eat and the water we forced ourselves to drink tasted like burnt meat.

And it was not just burnt; not like an overdone steak. It smelled as if the meat itself was on fire; as if the meat was roasting to ash.

By 6pm we couldn’t take it anymore. We took the car, found a highway rest stop and drank milkshakes to get the tastes from our tongues. It didn’t work.

We came back around 8:30pm. Our front door was open.

We approached slowly, looked inside and saw two people in the living room. The man was talking; the woman was quietly placing something on the table.

“They don’t have any stuff.” Said the man.

Victoria was just getting her phone out when they started to walk towards the front door. We ran to our car; too slow.

“Hey!” Said the man.” There they are!”

He walked towards us with a large smile.

“We’re your neighbors!” He said.

The woman didn’t smile, but she followed the man.

Victoria kept walking to the car; I was too confused to move.

He grabbed my hand, pulled it up, and gave me the most forceful handshake of my life.

He introduced himself as Jeromy and the woman as “my faithful wife Brendyn.”

Brendyn looked away while he said that. When Jeromy finally allowed the blood flow to return to my hand I stretched it out for Brendyn to shake. Instead she took a step back.

“She cooked for ya.” Said Jeromy. “It’s on the table.”

When Victoria stepped next to me and stretched her hand towards Jeromy he took it with a wide, swinging motion. I saw Victoria’s face twitch when he pressed his hand around hers.

“Pleasure.” He said. “And here’s a welcome. We thought we’d stay alone.”

Victoria pulled her hand back; I think I noticed the ring on her finger before she did.

“What is that?” Victoria asked.

“Can’t see such a pretty lady with just such a small ring.” Jeromy grinned.

Victoria tried to give the ring back, but Brendyn and Jeromy just walked off.

On the table was a huge slob of meat, burned black as coal. We threw it in the trash, but the smell stayed in the living room.

Victoria cleaned the ring; when she realized it was plain gold she wanted to give it back. We never got to that.

The next two days, while we were painting walls and assembling shelves, the barbeques continued. Every day the thick smoke seeped through the walls and set small, black dust on everything. Still, the worst was the constant smell.

We went over to ask Jeromy and Brendyn to stop. The fire was burning in the backyard, but no one answered the door.

During the weekend the fires stopped. We were relieved. Victoria wanted to go over to return the ring. Still, they didn’t answer their door.

On Sunday we heard shots in the forest behind our back yard; later Jeromy came home with a deer on his truck.

I went outside.

“Big game, eh?” I said. “Is that your next barbeque?”

Jeromy smiled.

“Nah, that’s for bad times. We have enough meat right now.”

“About the ring –“

Jeromy interrupted me.

“You want another one? You can give it to her this time, say it’s yours!” He winked. “Don’t want to steal your lady, good ones are hard to get, you know?”

I didn’t know how to continue the conversation. I just refused and excused myself. Behind the curtains – Victoria had put them up early to keep out the smell – I watched as Jeromy pulled the deer off his truck and towards the house. He banged his fist on the front door; Brendyn opened and took a step outside. Then she stepped aside and Jeromy pulled the meat in.

Monday afternoon we saw Jeromy pull up to the house again. He parked closer this time, and pulled another carcass inside the house. A few minutes later the smell of smoke began; then the smell of grilling meat; finally the smell of burnt meat returned with full force.

The fire was high enough that we could see the flames from our upper floors; but the fence was still too high to allow us to see their garden.

That night they brought us another portion of burnt meat.

“I hope you like it.” Jeromy said. “It’s Brendyn’s specialty.”

Brendyn smiled. Then she stepped forward and threw a small object at Victoria. Victoria reacted too slowly; the object fell on the floor.

A gold necklace.

We tried to give it back, but Brendyn walked away quickly and Jeromy refused to take it back, even when I was insistent.

“It’s yours now. We have a lot of these.”

We tried to eat the meat; we thought there must be something about their method to make wild game if they kept polluting the neighborhood for it. It was stringy and reminded me of chicken or soft pieces of pig. I thought that the taste could maybe be good, if there wasn’t the pungent burning smell all around it.

They had another barbeque on Tuesday.

On Wednesday Victoria finally began her new job. She was excited, half about the job and half about the opportunity to get away from the smell. She wore Jeromy’s ring “for good luck,” as she said. In reality I think she liked it.

I felt a painful, sticky mass in the back of my throat. Speaking hurt, still I called the agent to see if there was any way to cancel the sale. He said there wasn’t.

In the afternoon Jeromy brought another carcass. He drove close to the house, folded the black sheet off the truck and quickly pulled the carcass inside the house. It was wrapped in more black plastic. It looked smaller, like a younger deer maybe.

I walked over to talk to Jeromy, to tell him to stop burning stuff. He cut me off, mid-sentence, by shutting the door.

When the fire started again I went to the police station. I told the officer I was new in town and that I didn’t want any trouble but that there was an issue with my neighbors.

I gave him my address. The officer smiled.

“You live next to my brother.”

“Oh.” I said. “But I mean the other house; the empty one.”

“What about it?”

“It –“ I paused. “It looks ugly.”

I’m bad at improvisation.

“Sure does,” Jeromy’s brother laughed. “But that’s not a police matter.”

The next day I finally caught Jeromy. It was morning and he was getting in the truck.

“Hey,” I said.” I need to talk to you.”

“In a hurry.”

He sat in the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut.

“It’s about the fires; you have to stop!”

“No way,” Jeromy said. “The oven is broken; can’t help you.”

“Can’t you just cook something else; or without fire?”

Jeromy started the motor.

“No.” He said. Then he drove off.

In the afternoon I heard his car coming back. Again the black plastic was covering the back of his truck.

We argued about the fire; or more exactly I argued and Jeromy stayed mostly quiet. Finally I gave up in frustration. I told him I would find a way to make him stop.

He laughed.

“Don’t bother my brother.” He said. “The other houses are empty for a reason.”

Victoria and I decided to spend the weekend exploring the town. We had still hope that we could make Jeromy and Brendyn stop; we still had hope that this could become our home.

We walked through the small shopping street, right next to the large glass windows. Behind one of them we saw Brendyn. She was sitting at a desk and talking to another person.

We watched her for a few seconds, fascinated to see her speak at all and even more fascinated to see her speak with passion. It looked like a sales talk, although the woman at the other side looked uncomfortable.

“Oh god.” Said Victoria.

She turned to the side and threw up.

“What?” I asked.

I looked at Brendyn and her smart, black dress. Her customer was now crying.

Victoria turned around and pointed at the large, black letters stuck onto the window.

I took a step back to read the slogan; then I too emptied my stomach.

“J&B – Funeral Parlor.”

This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.

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