House on Fire

Matthew Donnellon

Photo by Nathan Lindahl on Unsplash

*A work of Fiction

The fire crackled and the night was dark.

We were deep in the woods taking part in an annual reunion we’d been doing for twenty years. Every year was always in the same place. We’d all sojourn back to the family cabin which was only really used for this one day and one tradition.

It was the day our father died, or at least the closest we could get. This time the anniversary of his passing happened to coincide with a Saturday. Better yet the three of us were all able to make it.

We’d all get to the cabin generally around the same time. It was nice. Even though we all still lived in the same state, life was starting to get in the way and other than holidays it was the only time we all saw each other. And it was the only time it was the three of us back together again. No kids. No spouses. Those were the rules.

We’d make a big dinner and sit out at a bonfire under the Northern stars. No one ever mentioned the irony that we spent the day at a fire considering our father died in a house fire when we were kids.

This year was a bit different though.

You see our mother passed too.

Now the three of us were orphans and now our tradition turned to mourning both our parents.

It was definitely a different experience.

Usually the three of us would visit our mother at some point during the week. There’d be tears and memories, and then finally she’d tell us about things we did as kids. My brother Charlies and I were too young to really remember him and our mother’s stories were all we had left.

Often Charlie and I would go together.

Our brother Danny always went by himself. He was ten years older than us. Charlie and I never felt put out. It was their time together.

The fire crackled and spit. Danny went to go get more wood. The ancient wood pile was finally getting low. One of my only memories of him was of him cutting down a tree and splitting the logs into usable chunks. We were supposed to be able to use it all Summer. But he died that spring and we stopped going to the cabin.

It lasted nearly 15 years, as we only took from it one night a year. Half the wood was so rotten it would crumble when you tried to handle it.

While Danny was gone Charlie started talking. He was always the talkative one.

“I can’t believe she’s gone.”

“I know right.”

“I was about to run over to see it before coming up when I remembered she wasn’t here any more.”

“I know. I still try to call her sometimes.”

“It’s kind of sad. She just figured out how to use the phone too.”

He laughed. It was true. She was terrible with technology.

“Do you ever remember that day?” he asked.


“I know. It was just a blur.”

“You know what’s weird? I don’t remember even being in the house. I remember waking up outside.”

Charlie went to say something else but then Danny came back and he stopped. He didn’t like talking about it. I don’t think he’s ever said ten words about it.

I decided to try it. I’d always been curious.

“Danny,” I started. Charlie looked at me trying to get me to stop.


“You what I don’t get?”


“How come we don’t remember the fire? I don’t remember the smoke or anything. How’d we sleep through that.”

Danny didn’t say anything.

I was about to give up when he finally said, “You were never in the house.”

I was about to ask what when it finally dawned on me. All these years finally made sense.

“We weren’t in the house because you started the fire didn’t you?”


“Why the heck would you do that?” Charlie asked.

“Dad was hitting mom. He was starting to hit you guys too. So one night when he was really drunk. I took you both out first and then went in and lit the house on fire.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“I tried to get help. No one believed me. So I wasn’t going to let it keep happening.”

“Mom knows?”

He was quiet for a long time, “It was her idea,” he finally said.

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Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories

Detroit, MI

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