It was a cold February night. The rooftops were all shining bright with ice in the moonlight. Fireplaces up and down the street were hard at work keeping the families inside warm while chimneys puffed smoke into the crisp evening sky.
Frigid air spilled into one of the houses as a woman in her early 50's stood in the doorway relishing the cold stream of relief.
Close the door!
Yeah mom, close the door, so we can eat.
Hey now! It took me all day to build a fire and to get the temperature just right.
Alice’s face was red with heat, beads of sweat dripped down the side of her face. As far as Alice was concerned, the whole house felt like it was on fire. Reluctantly, she closed the door and headed back to her place at the head of the table.
Dinner was almost finished, but the night was far from over.
I’m going to put another log on the fire.
As Roy started to push his chair back, he noticed that the wall seemed to be a little closer to the table than it was on Christmas. Not to worry he thought as he twisted his chair, bumping into his son’s legs.
Excuse me Daniel.
Want some help dad?
As Roy passed, he smiled proudly at the young man looking up to him from his seat.
It’s going to be a small one.
As he stepped outside, the ice crunched under Roy’s weight as he grabbed the biggest log he could find in the pile. He had to leave dinner once already and didn’t want to make another trip outside if he could help it.
As he opened the fireplace gate, Roy heard a sizzle. There must have been snow in my hand, he thought because there wasn’t a sting. Not wanting to take a chance of getting burned, Roy decided to toss the round hulk of a log onto the remains of the last three. He watched as embers floated up and out of the chimney as he used the poker to stir things up.
Hurry up dad! Mom’s about to start.
You can start without me! Besides, how long is it going to take to light 80 candles?
There are only five dad.
I’ll be right there.
Roy quickly swung the fireplace gate door closed and turned his back hurrying into the other room.
The decayed slow burning log on the bottom had split and with a breath of fresh air, the fire started to grow.
Back in the other room, Alice started feeling uneasy. She could see everyone enjoying their cake and ice cream, but something was very wrong. Alice loved watching her family talk and laugh over the soft pops and cracks coming from the other room. But now the pops and cracks were getting loud and sharp.
Roy was having a great time, but he could sense fear from across the table as he looked over towards Alice. He had heard something but could could not put his finger on what it was.
What was that noise?
Daniel, you didn’t put your book bag on the hook in your room again did you? It can’t hold that kind of weight and your father had to fill in the hole from the last time.
No, I put it on the other side of my bed on the floor. Maybe it was next door.
That’s right, Alice. Steve said that he was working on his basement and that there might be some noise tonight.
Hey Dad, what if it was a log from the fireplace?
Roy bumped the table back as he got up and rushed into the other room. Daniel was not far behind.
Daniel saw a huge log in the middle of the family room floor burning like a giant marshmallow. The carpet surrounding the log looked like burnt toast and the remaining areas were turning into black nothingness. Daniel felt dizzy as he breathed in smoke that smelled like burning plastic, but he stepped in to see what he could do.
Stay where you are Daniel! Don’t let anyone else in here!
When Daniel was younger he thought his dad could do anything. Now Daniel thought differently. Over the last couple of years, Daniel saw his dad make mistakes and hurt himself. Roy was not special. Daniel didn’t know what to do. He was paralyzed with fear as he saw the room fill up with smoke and the area where he watched movies melt away.
In an instant, Daniel saw his dad dart over, lift the fire covered log with his bare hands and quickly put it back into the fireplace. No one else saw it happen, but with a knowing smile, Daniel knew enough.