Sitting quietly outside the doorway he was invisible.
Eyes the colour of earth, soaked with rain took in everything. Not the details of the room, nor the occupants; so enraptured in their conversation that the quiet boy went unnoticed, even as he shuffled closer to the door.
Upon arrival, the visiting adults had gushed over the artwork which the twins had brought home with them. From drawings and paintings to the hula hoops wrapped in crepe paper which hung ceremoniously at the bottom of the stairs. These props and pictures had been instrumental to the event the twins had attended earlier in the day. Now like all children’s crafts, they awaited their fate of either being discarded or moved into another room to be forgotten about for a while.
The twins often attended events like this and each time their parents marvelled at what they had created as if each project were a priceless work of art. Darren liked this, and getting to show off what he created to more grown-ups when his relatives visited was an added bonus.
The twins godparents came to dinner about once a fortnight. The routine always the same. Dinner, drinks and then hours of chatting and laughing together in the living room. The only variation came when a football match was on, and the men would slink off to the kitchen to watch, all the while shouting and cheering along so that everyone knew what they were doing.
After the first round of drinks, the twins godfather would take out his pipe and load it up. Darren loved watching his godfather smoke his pipe, from the way he tapped out the ashes, to the packing of the tobacco into the empty bowl with the edge of his thumb. The way he licked his lips before placing the pipe firmly between his teeth and taking a brief pause as he fished his gold-plated Zippo lighter out of his pocket.
This was Darren’s favorite part. The glint of golden metal as the lid flipped back, the spark which caught just as the smell of gas which came from the lighter became noticeable. The fire as it jumped to life, as if by magic, so brazen and free. Yet, contained as soon as the lid snapped shut and quelled the flickering flame.
Darren often watched quietly as his godfather smoked, and reveled in the moments he could watch this fascinating device be used.
From the doorway to the living room he watched as usual as the Zippo was freed from its pocket. Produced with a flourish it opened and lit in one fluid movement. With his pipe already between his teeth, he puffed away happily until he was satisfied it was lit. While normally the lighter went straight back into the pocket it had come from; on this day it was instead placed on the floor, to the side of the chair his godfather occupied.
Darren paid no attention to the adults in the room, as they likewise did the same to him. Whether they were aware of him or not, Darren didn’t know. His eyes were fixed on the golden treasure before him. There was something alluring, adult and powerful and the draw to this power was too much for Darren to resist.
He stole into the room and without interjection lifted the lighter, before making a hasty retreat. After years of watching this giant of a man create fire from nothing; Darren now held this prized device in his hands.
The movements his godfather made to open the lighter were movements made with practiced hands. Practice Darren had never had. It took minutes to open the lighter, yet once open the magical flame did not erupt. Instead, Darren was left staring at sharp metals, contained within the metallic casing.
Growing more curious, and frustrated Darren retreated from his doorway hiding place to the sanctity of the stairway. The walls on either side giving him a little more privacy to fathom the secrets this metal mystery held uninterrupted.
Copying the motions made by his godfather, Darren was surprised when he finally managed to flip the lid properly causing the flame to appear, as a genie from a lamp. Ready to appear, but waiting to be released.
The flame itself was beautiful. The yellow, red and orange which danced in synchronicity around a core of black which lay at the heart of the flame. The longer Darren stared the more entranced he became.
If he’d paid attention, he may have noticed the body of the lighter heating up. Instead, it wasn’t until his hand released the hot metal that Darren realised his mistake. In his haste to create; he had given no thought to how he would destroy this rapidly growing beast.
After escaping his hand the lighter landed on the bottom step. Picking it up quickly and carefully, wary now of the hot metal Darren closed the lid.
The damage, however, was already done.
The flame having escaped the confines of its metallic prison was now trying to flee. It crawled along the carpet, slowly as if testing the limits of it’s new found freedom.
Self-presevation was the first instinct to kick in. Hastily entering to the living room Darren returned the lighter to the spot he had taken it from before moving back to the stairs. The fire on the bottom step still moved slowly, but as Darren looked on unsure how to tackle this beast he watched in horror as the flame moved towards the crepe paper, which dangled still from the hula hoops hanging on the end of the stairwell.
The paper exploded with heat. The walls, the carpet the very floor melted under the intense heat caused by this unexpected fuel source. As the hoops were engulfed so too were the stairs and Darren realised all too late that things were out of his control.
He thought of fire extinguisher in the kitchen. He thought of the adults who could better help, but he was so conflicted with the idea that he’d be in trouble he froze. Eyes locked on the growing inferno, tears escaped as finally, an alarm sounded.
At once all of the adults sprang to action. The men moving to extinguish the flame and the women moving to console the child frozen at the bottom of the burning stairway. They removed him from the house until the fire had been dealt with, and Darren learned a very important lesson.
Never play with fire.