Lunch in The Infernal Sun || by Eric Farrell


A LACONIC SIGH WHISPERS THROUGH the thicket of trees skirting Vista Park.  

    A young couple breaks through the fog embankment beyond the treeline. The male’s a gangly fellow, with gaunt cheeks and a jaw line resembling a blunt arrowhead. Each stride he takes is comically long and loopy, as if he’s hoping to best each respective step by aiming further than the last. A pair of old-style suspenders are yanked up over his bony shoulders, digging into a plain white t-shirt. He has a picnic basket in one hand, his partner’s hand in the other. She struggles to keep up with his stretching gait. 

    The trees watch the scene unfold, silent and reticent. Their breeze is very fickle, and emotional. 

    Of the couple, it’s abundantly clear that the young man is more excited for the picnic that lay ahead. 

    They’re nearly to the picnic bench when the young woman falls to her knees in sudden agony. As she collapses, her short flowing dress sinks into the loamy green grass at her partner’s feet. 

    He sets down the thatched basket, the white and red gingham lining drooping out over the sides. He kneels down with deliberate urgency, and picks her up. 

    The trees watch him labor toward the nearest table, where he places her on top of it as if it were an altar.  

    He stoops down and kisses her on the lips, his hands over hers. He whispers something into her ear. 

    The trees listen in:

    “I’ll just be a second my dear, I just need to grab the rest of our lunch! It’s okay, darling, it’s all okay now.”


    Once he’s returned, he looks around wearily before placing the picnic basket on the table beside her. The trees shush one another, sensing they’ve been caught. He shrugs and opens the basket, assembling his picnic.

    The thicket is so preoccupied with the plight of the young couple that they miss the stranger that’s just emerged on the far end of the park.  A light breeze whispers through their limbs, a foreboding panic that disrupts the serenity of the air. 

    They watch the stranger beeline straight to the very same picnic table. He’s dressed in a matching black sports jacket and pair of slacks, with a thin charcoal tie pinned to his sternum. A bowler crests his brow, shading the creamy pale skin of his round face. He merrily swings a bulky suitcase by his side.  

    “Ah, it’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” he says on approach, his voice cheery. 

    The stranger removes his cap, revealing thick scales of peeling skin on his scalp.  He dabs his forehead gently with a handkerchief, glancing at the woman lying down behind the wicker basket. He replaces his cap and flashes his best smile. She meets the stranger’s gaze with unwavering eyes. 

    A taciturn, embarrassed smirk crawls across her partner’s gaunt face. With spidery fingers he opens his picnic basket and places two sets of cutlery down.   

    “I can’t remember the last time I saw a couple have a proper picnic in the park.” 

    A pudgy hand juts across the table: 

    “I’m Fontaine. Sorry, there’s only a single park bench with as exquisite a view as this one. Damn shame about this heat though. But look around! Ah… what a world. It just seems to end beyond the treeline there. 

    Retracting his unshaken hand, he stares out at the verdant thicket skirting Vista Park. 

    “I think the trees are talking about us,” Fontaine says, his voice is stiff, each word intentionally placed equidistance from the last with a mechanical diction. A wicked smile spreads across his thin lips, encased by his doughy complexion. He’s waiting for a response from a couple. 

    “I’m Maurice,” the young man mumbles uneasily, before gesturing downward. A wave of goosebumps ripple up his bony arms. “This is Maxine. She’s a little unwell. You know, because the sun.”

    “Maurice and Maxine,” Fontaine recites. His dark little charcoal eyes glint in the sun. “What beautiful names! Yes, the sun has really gotten infernal lately. Surely that’s why Maxine’s fallen ill. Tell me, how did you two meet?” 

    Maurice shrugs this off and resumes setting up his picnic, despite Maxine’s laconic disposition. Without her to lean on and take cues from, it becomes evident that he’ll have to continue conversing with the stranger in front of him. 

    While he waits, Fontaine heaves his suitcase on the table and begins preparing his own lunch, perfectly happy with the reticence.  

    “We met at the Ports O’ Call, a few years ago,” Maurice says after a very clear and intentional pause.  His fear is mounting. Something is wrong with this stranger. 

    “Mmm,” Fontaine says, “And so you fell in love. And how soon after did you two consummate your love?”     

    In the dreadful silence, the trees try their best to intervene. A breeze whistles through the thicket, the pillowy breath of the distant fog reeding through the branches. 

    Maurice glances down at Maxine for guidance. Silence. 

    “I was in love once,” Fontaine continues, the same thin smile on his face. “Funny how everyone meets at the Ports O’ Call. I met her there, too. Hell, we were probably your age, too. We consummated our love within days.”

    Snap. Fontaine unclasps his suitcase, the tight metal buckles gently clicking against the handsome jet leather.

    “Listen, Maurice. What she took from me is permanently gone from me. So I had to murder her.” 

    The stranger flips open his suitcase, the hinged face obscuring Maurice’s view of the contents. 

    “It only seemed right, you know. Love takes its toll on the old heart. Hell, it consumes all of you. Picked at and torn sinew and muscle from rind, like a flock to a feast. Without her in the picture anymore, I find myself alone. Like carrion, my cadaver is left to vultures for ripe picking. I’ll be nothing more than bleached bones, in this hellacious sun.” 

    His smile faded, Fontaine stares straight through Maxine, straight through Maurice, shaken by this reverie. 

    And just like that, with calculated precision, the grin returns. 

    “Now, shall we eat?” 

    Maurice has silently begun picking at his food, unable to match the stranger’s stare. 

    “Bugs get so big during the summertime,” the stranger continues, pulling out a mason jar housing a single live cockroach. The massive specimen darts skittish around the glass prison.

    Snap. He clasps his suitcase shut and slides it beside him on the bench seat. 

    “Did you know that? Bugs get bigger and more of them come out to play when it’s hot out. And as you know, Maurice and… Maxine. Ahem, it’s been especially hot out, lately.”

    Fontaine caresses the jar as if it’s his most prized possession, his nerves steady despite the thrashing insect between his hands.  

    “With bugs, just because they get bigger, and just because they multiply, it doesn’t actually mean anything for them. In reality they live these fleeting, pathetic little lives. Then they disappear. Poof!”

    Maurice sits slack-jawed, his knife and fork held limply between his long fingers. 

    Fontaine’s sickly thin little lips are plastered in a grin, as he shakes his head.

    “See, when a person dies, there is an obligation for ceremony and compassion. We mourn the death of each other. Hell, even when a dog dies you dig a ditch and sing its praises.” 

    With his pudgy, pale fingers, the stranger unscrews the cap off his mason jar, slightly tilting it to invite the prisoner out of its prison. The roach slides out of the glass jar and lands in Fontaine’s palm, the poor pest upended from the tumble.

    “Not a cockroach, though. If this cockroach were to die right at this moment, you would rejoice! They all die eventually, isn’t that right Maurice? Especially now, with the sun? All life dies eventually, isn’t that right?”

    “You and I,” Fontaine gestures, eyeing Maurice up and down, nodding his head, “we’re not all that different.” 

    Swiftly setting the jar aside, Fontaine tosses the roach into his mouth, his tight lips sealing the bugs’ fate, a series of crunches crackling in his jaws. 

    Snap. He’s forgotten his beverage. He retrieves a corked vial of water to rinse out his mouth in one prolonged swig.  

    “What?” Fontaine asks, as he wipes his mouth with his sleeve. “What?!”

    Snap. Suitcase shut. 

    “What is it?!” Fontaine screams, “who are you to judge?!” he hollers, “Look at you! Who are you to judge? Stop eating and get this basket off the fucking table so you can show me yourself. You’re just as sick as me and we both know it. She ain’t well and you know it. Maxine was going to die eventually, isn’t that right? You’re sick, Maurice. You’re sick.”

    Maurice takes another bite of his lunch, wiping the bright red smear of fresh blood on his crisp linen napkin. He sets the wicker basket on the ground beside the picnic bench. 

    Fontaine stares at the cavity in Maxine’s abdomen.

    Maurice’s knife and fork stick out from her guts. He’s missed a dribble of thin blood dripping down his chin. 

    The stranger cuts his lunch short, the wicked smile still on his face. He fixes his hat and makes his way toward the whispering trees. When he’s nearly to the perimeter of Vista Park, he glances back and salutes the couple. 

    Maxine silently stares up. Circling vultures streak dark against the hazy blue sky reflecting in her eyes.

    Maurice cuts another piece out of her and places it in his mouth, as Fontaine finally disappears. 

    The thicket sighs as he leaves, just the feintest whisper through the trees. 


ERIC FARRELL is a beer vendor by day, and speculative fiction author by night. His writing credits stem from a career in journalism, where he's reported for a host of local and metro newspapers including the OC Register,, and the Grunion Gazette. He runs the website, Stygian Space (

Twitter: @stygianspace

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