The fire could be seen from all the way across the city. In fact, after the blaze was extinguished and life had settled back to normal, the Addersfield Gazette ran an article describing the fire as the largest fire since records began.

Leonard Packer was the first to notify the rest of the squad. He had an instinct for these things, he told the crew.

When it was over, he leaned over his desk and whispered to Andrew Delfont, his breath smelling of the strawberry gum he always chewed when sitting at the station, monitoring the radar.

(Always monitoring the radar.)

“Andrew, you know how I knew that the house in Charleston Lane would go up in flames?”

Andrew bit his lip, as he often did when he was deep in thought. He stared out at the cloudy and grey afternoon. Already, he could imagine the rainfall later in the night as it left a crest, a thin and silvery patina, on the chalky ruins of number 75. The hiss of the raindrops hitting the charred lumber. The smoke, rising in thinning waves.


Andrew blinked. “Uh, Mrs. Adams is old and doesn’t quite get how her oven works?”

“That’s a factor, certainly.” said Leonard, twiddling his thumbs. “But it’s not the answer that I’m looking for.”

Leonard gestured to town outside of Addersfield Fire Station.

“There’s always a fire, Andrew. And there always will be. Whilst we’re sitting in this room, waiting for that phone to ring or preparing the engines or checking over the gear, there’ll always be a fire.”

“Even when we’re off-shift?” Andrew joked.

Leonard gave him a steely glare.

“Especially when we’re off-shift.”


The walk home from the fire station was a short one, with Andrew living only five minutes away from the station. Even then, Leonard often argued that it would be more sensible for him to stay at the station.

Thunder rumbled overhead as he walked past the hedgerows of Mr. Palmer’s and pushed open the rusted gate leading up to the front door of number 23 on Elton Road.

As he fumbled for his keys in his jeans, he waved over at Mr. Palmer as he watered his begonias.

“More fires, eh?”

Andrew nodded, in a non-committed way.

Gregory Palmer was a lovely and well-meaning man who often loved to have a chat. His wife Sharon, however, could never seem to keep her mouth shut.

He pushed open the door, put down his helmet, took off his weighted boots and slouched towards the living room.

Debra was flicking through the soaps as he sat down on the couch and brushed a few stray clods of ash from his rubber galoshes.

“Mrs. Adams?”


“Well, was it?”

“Hm? Yeah, yeah it was,” Andrew replied. “Probably left the oven on. She’s got insurance, but it’s likely her kids will want to put her in a home after this.”

“Bit sad if you ask me.”

As his wife began to talk about how she feared that one day her own children would stick both herself and Andrew in a home when they became too much of a burden, Andrew found himself zoning out slightly.

Something was wrong, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

After a while, Zach came in to ask for some help with his maths homework. After that, two episodes of Emmerdale and a chicken pot pie with runner beans and mash followed by a cup of green tea and a warm bed.

Andrew looked out at the pouring rain, unable to sleep. The glowing red display on the alarm clock beamed “23:45.”


At the station, Leonard Packer was settling down for the night. He didn’t set an alarm, waking up at precisely five in the morning and going to bed at midnight on the dot.

He was very punctilious. He felt that you had to be if fighting fires was your livelihood. One second could be a matter of life and death.

Leonard put on his pyjamas that were neatly folded at the foot of his bedroll.

He brushed his teeth for exactly five minutes.

He drank a single glass of water in a single swallow and climbed into bed.

He reached over to a desk tidy and picked up the picture frame containing the picture of a young woman with baby blue eyes and golden brown locks. In her arms, a swathed baby.

Leonard kissed the picture and then replaced it on the side. After that, he slept uneasily.


The alarm never blared at six. Fingers of sunlight slanted through the blinds, capturing motes that flitted across the room.

His pager was beeping.

He tapped his phone, flicked through his SmartHouse features, and remotely turned on the kitchen lights.

He staggered downstairs, pulling on his uniform. He thought in a daze about the white and chalky smudges and wished he’d taken the time to rub them off with a wet tissue.

Civvies didn’t generally like to see a firefighter covered in yesterday’s ash running into a new building that was on fire.

And judging by the fact that it was five in the morning, he knew that it wasn’t someone who’d accidentally set off their smoke alarm after forgetting about some toast.

Those weren’t usually called in.

He sprinted down the road and into the station, Captain Leonard already leaning out the window and honking his horn.

Andrew leapt in the fire engine and they sped off into the early dawn.


By the time they’d got there, the entire house was up in flames. The two parents, Mr. and Mrs. Rosebaum, were outside. Even before Andrew got out of the fire engine, he knew where Fred was.

He sprinted up to the door and heaved it open. Hot smoke billowed over him, followed by a gout of fire.

He continued the charge through the decimated house, dodging bricks and lumbar as he spotted a small child of about five standing petrified in the kitchen. He was crying and holding a teddy bear close to his chest.

Andrew snatched up the child and sprinted out into the cold morning air.

As he did so, the entire first floor crashed into the entrance hall, causing an explosion that singed his eyebrows and hair as he protectively covered the child.

He ran to his parents, who were now crying tears of joy as they stood next to their ruined house.

Andrew searched for Leonard, but he’d disappeared.

It was strange.

Two volunteers helped him with the fire hose as they mitigated the worst of the damage before heading back to the station in the early afternoon.

As he drove the fire engine back to the station, his phone rang.

It was Addersfield police, asking him to come to Mr. Palmer’s house.

He parked the engine and quickly ran home to see two police officers dragging Captain Leonard Packer out of his own home.

Andrew’s heart turned to ice.

Matches were cascading out of Leonard’s pocket.

Debra was at work, and the kids were at school.

But still….

“I saw him trying to throw burning matches through your letterbox,” said Sharon, as her husband stood next to her and tutted.

“He said he was just testing something.” said Gregory Palmer. “But we knew that he was up to something with those Swan Vestas.”

Andrew watched his commanding officer being dragged away. He didn’t protest or shriek or screen. And somehow, that was worse.

He looked deep into the dark eyes of the captain as he was loaded into the police car. The eyes which had seen his own wife and child taken by the flames.

Andrew felt himself choking, almost as if his own throat had become filled with soot and ash.

As the car drove off, the captain shuffled in his handcuffs. One of the officers sitting in the back tried to restrain him as he pushed his head towards the rear windshield, craning his neck.

He smiled a smile that never stretched to his ears as his eyes bulged crazily.

The words that Captain Leonard Packer shouted were muffled by the car, but Andrew Delfont could hear them. Crystal clear.

“I told you, Andrew! I told you there’ll always be a fire!”