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by Gareth Spark

Hours had passed and the inn had emptied. Apart from the young couple seated close to the fire, there was only the barmaid, leaning on the bar. Her hair was flame coloured and fell forward onto the polished wood. The man watched her and then turned back to the woman seated across from him and smiled. It was dark outside and every now and then he saw more snowfall in front of the blackness of the forest. The coal fire beside them burned against the side of his face. There was a half-empty glass of whisky before him, which he finished in one gulp. The woman looked back from the window and asked, “She alone now?”

“The cook’s outside smoking.”

Her long wavy hair was black and her brown eyes were almond shaped; she reminded him always of a Minoan wall painting; it was the hair and the eyes that had all the heat of the sun in them. “You doing it?”

“You know I am as much as you know we have to.”

She smiled her thin-lipped smile and said, “Do it, and let’s get out of here.”

The man walked over and ordered another whisky that the barmaid poured with surly haste.

He glanced at the upside down newspaper on the bar and felt the cold against his back when the door opened. The cook, dressed in a dirty white tunic that was tight across his stomach, stamped thick snow from his boots. The fire shone in the framed photographs of hunters and their prey on the wall behind him. There was snow in his short black hair. “Shit, it’s cold,” he said.

The barmaid turned and blinked her almost transparent eyelashes. “What’s behind your back?”

“Nothing,” the cook said, stepping across to the bar with exaggerated, comic steps.

The young man moved to let him by and felt the weight of the pistol pulling in his waistband.

“Come on,” the barmaid asked, “what is it?”

The chef lifted the young rabbit by its long hind legs and swung it before the bar. Its brown fur was damp and its eyes were open and very black. “Found it dead out there.”

The young man glanced at the woman, who was staring at the flames.

“I was thinking of cooking it up tomorrow.”

“You can’t eat something you found; it’s disgusting.”

The chef shrugged and slung it over his shoulder. The heat from the fire glowed in his face. “You can eat anything.”

“It’s horrible.”

The chef said, “You have to have something dead first, so’s you can eat. That’s nature’s law, wasn’t me made it up.”

The woman caught the young man’s eyes and nodded. Snow fell in the darkness behind her and there was just the slightest curve of a smile to her lips.

He drew in a breath filled with smoke and death and snow, pulled the gun from the waistband of his jeans, and started to fire.

Gareth Spark is from Whitby, Yorkshire. His short fiction and poetry has appeared in Shotgun Honey, Line Zero, Out of the Gutter, NAP, Poetry Bus and Deepwater Literary Review, among others. He reviews poetry online for Fjords Review, among others.