Mitch never liked the fireplace. It reminded him of a grotesque tombstone with the fire of hell burning at its centre. A kind of grey brooding monolith with a clock crouching on its mantle counting down the hours minutes and years as if to say ‘it’s only a matter of time’.
Often, after his family had retired for the night, he would spend long hours staring into the black abyss in which the flames mocked and danced, writing unfathomable messages in menacing glowing specks on its sooty backdrop.
He was to spend the weekend alone, his family were visiting relations in the west. It was Saturday morning and he spoke to his wife on the telephone. She laughingly gave him a list of household chores to carry out. He faithfully did the washing up from the previous night, dusted the furniture then began to clean out the fireplace.
The blackened half burned logs were still hot from the night before and singed his hands as he placed them in the metal bucket. One seemed hotter than the rest, and as he picked it out of the grate it suddenly burst into flames. He threw it onto the floor and it immediately burned a hole in the carpet and a column of acrid smoke rose into the air floating like a black cloud above his head. Grabbing it with both hands he flung it back into the fireplace burning the skin from his fingers. It landed in a shower of sparks, then the flames suddenly subsided. He looked down at his damaged hands, then the burnt carpet and then up at the fireplace. ‘You’ll not win’ he muttered under his breath.
After tending his burns Mitch set about completing the housework and laid firelighters, kindling and fresh logs in the grate. He placed a rug over the blackened carpet. There was no way he was going to light the fire this weekend, he would leave it ready for when his wife returned. That evening he took advantage of his new found freedom and joined his friends for a drink or two at The Black Horse. Actually it was more than one or two, and when he left the pub he trod an unsteady path back to his house!
As he turned the corner into his street he noticed smoke coming from the chimney on his house. For a moment he forgot he was home alone and imagined his wife and children sitting in front of the fire watching the TV or playing games. But then it struck him. He’d left the house empty, and the fire unlit. As he walked to his door the house was in darkness except for a flickering orange glow in the lounge window.
He fumbled with his key in the lock, then stumbled and half fell into the hallway. He pushed open the lounge door and the heat from the blazing fire hit him in the face sending him reeling back on his heels.
The fire hissed and crackled and spluttered and sparked. The clock ticked and tocked, getting louder and louder with every second. The whole scene was unbearable and he clasped his hands over his ears then screwed up his eyes to lessen the glare of the flames. Suddenly the clock began to chime. It hadn’t chimed for years – he’d never got around to having the bell repaired. One two three. The clanging of the chimes got louder with every strike of the hammer. Four, tick tock, five, tick tock, SIX, TICK TOCK....
To read part two click HERE