The sticky sweat of the afternoon heat is clinging to the sides of the freshly painted barn like flies to strips of adhesive paper hanging around the kitchen. Swathes of bright burgundy paint cover the orderly planks in long, clean stretches, each finished with a bandage of white varnish around the edges. Walls end abruptly behind the angled roof, leaving the shiny metal shingles to extend outwards and provide a modicum of shelter for the ground below.
The sun’s unrelenting rays seem to have stunned every critter into silence; nary a sound can be heard, save for a few insects buzzing around the shaded sides of the barn – tasty morsels for lizards that crawl up the walls in search of afternoon snacks. The swarm of hornets that usually overflows from the southern up-most window has retreated from the light and only contributes a subdued hum in the background.
A sickly sweet smell of rotting hay rolls down in waves from the open doors of the barn, becoming more and more intense until it finally ends with a gust of wind. The air feels dry and scorching hot, yet the blow becomes more resolute, quickly turning into a constant breeze. Dried-up leaves, dust and a few lost thistles get caught into the draft, entering the barn through open windows.
Soon, the breeze has matured into a storm. Trees creak from the depth of their trunks, dust erupts in haunting whirlwinds, while the sun disappears behind a thick curtain of clouds. A final ray of light rests awkwardly on the open southern window of the barn, before being engulfed by the encroaching darkness. The frustrated remaining light, amiss for having been left behind while trying to escape over the clouds, paints the barn acutely. Despite the wind, or perhaps owing to it, the air is even hotter, choking the life out of any breathing thing.
A brisk, hair-raising electric tinge is all the warning before it strikes – right through the open window, into the main beam that forms the heart of the barn. The white heated plasma burns through the air in a split second, instantly igniting the dry wood. Aided by searing gusts of air, the flames spread vigorously, reaching the walls within seconds. Twisting, bristling tongues of fire flow from the windows, inundating the barn in a red glow that contrasts with the dark grey clouds in the background. Red paint is boiling on the timber, while the charred remnants of white rise into the air, only to burn within moments like thousands of tiny fireflies.
Suddenly, a powerful roar is heard from the top of the barn – it’s the army of hornets, escaping from their fiery crypt; they gather into a swirling mass above the smoky gloom. Moments later, the main beam collapses, and with a loud, foreboding groan, the side walls cave in. A column of writhing flames raises for a second, and all that is left behind is the southern wall, still standing tall.
And then it finally starts – sharp, small, ice-cold water droplets pelt the remnants of the barn like bullets from a machine-gun. As water meets the burning timber, a swift fight ensues that ends in steam and charcoal. Fire hopelessly struggles to hold ground, sending sparks into all directions, only to find them all vanquished. Slowly but surely, every burning ember is extinguished, until all that’s left is the smoking black wall of the barn and a large pile of ash. As swiftly as it started, it all ends.
The rain brought coolness to the air, and a little hint of freshness, as the wind sweeps the clouds away to let the twilight sun shine one more time.
An acorn falls into the ash.
I wrote this as the final assignment of a writing course I took in 2013. The requirement was as follows: Describe a barn as seen by a man whose son has just been killed in a war. Do not mention the son, or war, or death. Do not mention the man who does the seeing.