By: Adriel Morton
The flames in the fireplace mirrored the cadence of the evening. Hot and roaring, they won the struggle against the autumn chill. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents occupied every chair, couch, and crevice. The dinner dishes had been cleaned, but the dessert plates littered the living room. A drowsy pup, curled up in a red chair, eyed a forgotten bite of pie. The loud chatter slowed to a rhythm of whispers and softly hummed songs. As the night crept on, the relatives began to bundle up, and the husband and wife hugged them goodbye on the porch, being mindful to ease the door shut after the guests had left. A brother and sister were curled up under their fortress of couch cushions and blankets in front of the fireplace—a tiny castle. With a quick kiss, the mother tiptoed away to the bedroom. The father sat for a moment watching his children. He closed his eyes and smiled at the scent of holiday; the fire reminded him of times past, of good times. He stood to his feet and scooped the children up from their castle.
* * *
He hadn’t slept and his body hurt in every imaginable place, but he was finished. He stared at the house. It was unbelievably perfect. It had taken him years to build it. He had done it all from memory, of course. No one else could have helped him because no one could remember it the way he did. He dropped his work gloves and walked up to the front porch and through the front door. He wandered around the empty house and he could see it all— the red chair, the couch, the fireplace. The carpet underneath his feet felt like home. It was just like it had been before the fire. He could see his children chasing each other around the living room. He saw his wife standing in the kitchen. He saw the pup sleeping in the corner. He closed his eyes and searched for the memory of the holiday. It was singed and charred. It was broken and desperate. It was sudden and inescapable. His body shook, and the glass in the window exploded. The room was lighter than it should have been at that time of night. The back of his throat burned and he was screaming, searching.
It had started on the first floor, an attack on the tiny castle that spread to the carpet and to the curtains and to the walls of the house. He tried to run but there was no escape. The children screamed from their bedroom but all he could do was crawl. The smoke was all consuming. It ran through his veins and into his body. There were flames and then there was blackness.
His eyes shot open, and the memory was gone. He was alone. He sat on the carpet in the living room of the house. He was no longer tired or aching. He was finally calm as he watched the match ignite the pool of kerosene that soaked the carpet. He sat and watched as it spread, bursting with eager anticipation.