Fire


Nat was glad of the fire. It was the first thing he had spotted when he had walked into the abandoned farm house. He had crawled through a broken window, juggling his windup torch and being careful not to cut himself. Landing on the floor beside his army rucksack, the torch light had fallen onto the empty fireplace. Further inspection had caused him to discover an iron bucket half full of coals and a rotting wicker basket with just dry logs.

He had quickly set to building a fire with his cold wet hands. Luckily, he had still got some matches and he found an old book to rip the pages out of. Outside, he could hear the wind and rain raging on. Nat felt glad to have found a roof and warmth for the night. Wrapping himself in both his sleeping bags, he returned to the remains of the book.

The cover had once been blue, but was now almost faded to a yellow. The pages inside were dark yellow, the ink smudged letters were so tiny. Nat wound up his torch and fixed the beam onto the pages. At first he couldn’t make anything out, then words took shape and he was reading for the first time since he had ran away from home.

The fire crackled away to itself adding an undertone to the storm outside. Orange light flickered across the walls and ceiling, giving light to hundred year old wooden beams. From what Nat could figure out the book was about the adventures of a fictional pirate. It was tedious reading though and after a few pages, he placed it down.

He shivered in his still damp clothes and decided to look through his bag for some drier ones. As he undid the straps and began pulling things out, he realised the rain had gotten inside and everything was wet. He took out some crumpled clothes, some photographs, a small teddy bear, a pair of shoes, some tined food, a plastic bowl and some matching cutlery. He placed everything before the fire to dry out.

Then winding up his torch again, he shrugged out of the sleeping bags and looked around the room. Beside from the fire place, a side table and a rotting arm chair, there was nothing else. He went to the door and found it opened. Stepping through he was in a hallway with a flight of stairs before him, the sealed front door to his right and an open door a few steps to the left.

Trying to keep his footsteps quiet and testing the floor as he walk, he went into what had open been a kitchen. An old sink stood before him with a couple of broke cupboards opposite. He went to the sink and tried the taps, but he could hardly turn them. The kitchen smelt worse than the living room and Nat imagined years of cooking staining the walls.

He looked into the cupboards, but they were empty. Going back to the staircase, he gingerly tested each step, worrying that he could fall through it. He made it safely to the top and found three door-less rooms. The first to his left had been a bathroom, but now only the outline of the bath could be made out. Bits of blue porcelain covered the floor.

The other two rooms were bedrooms, though they had been stripped out. There was a dirty single mattress on the floor of the second room. Empty bottles and pair of black shoes were scattered about. Nat guessed someone else had stayed here before him. The only thing in the other room was a large wardrobe. The wood was rotting due to a leak in the ceiling. Nat slowly opened the door, not wanting to find anything inside.

A picture frame rested against the back of the wardrobe. Nat pulled it out and turned it around. The black and white photo of a bride and groom stared up at him. The couple were very young and Nat guessed it must have been taking in the late forties to fifties. He took the photo back downstairs with him, wondering why it had been left behind like that.

Walking into the living room, he saw that the fire was running out of wood, but the coals he had placed underneath were now red. Placing the photo and his torched down, Nat placed some more sticks and logs inside the fireplace and watched the flames growing.

He turned back to the photo and laid it amongst his other things. Burying himself in the sleeping bags once again, he settled down to sleep. His mind roamed, but kept coming back to the wedding couple. He wondered if they had lived in this house and what had happened to them.

Sleep came heavily and he dreamed that he was at a wedding. Everything was black and white and he couldn’t hear anything. He was standing outside a church, the newly married lovers came out and people threw rice into the air. Then he was standing in a front garden. There was a neat patch of square lawn on either side of a path leading up to a cherry red front door. Flowers created a boarder around the lawn and he watched them waving in a breeze he couldn’t feel. He noted that everything else was still monochrome beside the door.

He walked up to it and stepped inside the house. There was fresh wallpaper and paint on the walls. The carpet was nice under his feet and he half thought he could smell drying paint. He walked through the house, thinking he knew the place, but it felt so different. There were photographs on the mantle and he went and looked at them.

He saw the wedding day and the happy couple posing for shots outside the house. Other photos showed them at a party, in the woods, at a beach. The last one was of a baby, but the photo seemed older than the rest. He went into the kitchen and saw a stove burning away. Upstairs, the bathroom was useable and the first bedroom had a large bed and wardrobe in it. The second room was a nursery. Nat touched a teddy bear and ran his fingers along book spines.

He went downstairs again and stood in the front room. He listened but heard nothing, somehow he knew the house had been abandoned. The newlyweds were gone, but he didn’t know why. He thought he had a baby crying and went back upstairs again. He walked into the nursery, his feet feeling heavy. The room was empty, but the crying still continued.

Nat awoke suddenly, gasping for breath as if he had been drowning. He fought off the sleeping bags and scrambled up. He couldn’t see very far in the darkness and the fire had settled down into the glowing coals. He grabbed his torch, cranked up the handle and looked around. The room was empty and he could hear nothing.

Catching his breath he lay back down again. He felt hot and sweaty, the cold air felt good on his skin. Getting up again, he tried to bring the fire back to life. After a few attempts, he realised he was only doing it to keep his mind busy. He tore some more pages from the blue book and stuck them into the coals. They didn’t catch, so he rebuilt the fire again.

Once it was going and he could hear the popping and crackling of the wood, he packed his now dry things away. As his fingers closed around the last item, he stopped and stared at the photograph of the wedding. It still looked the same. He easily took the frame off and tossed it into the fire. The flames eagerly licked around the thin damp wood.

Nat folded the photo in half and placed it in his bag.

When dawn broke through the window, he gathered his things and left. Still not sure why he had taken the photograph, but believing that the couple no longer wanted to be trapped in their house.

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