The Immortal Game
A family with a strong tradition of Firefighters.
The mortal clan of Firefighters and EMTs tracing their family origins from Ireland. They came to America like any good Irish family suffering during the Gorta Mór. America offered them freedom, food and a chance to do more than toil in the fields. However, like most immigrants they learn the hard truth of a nation still struggling with its identity.
Most of the Factory work was dangerous, offered little chance to move anywhere beyond the gutter and it was a dirty job. Most of the ever increasing clan found their lot in this work. However with Boston being mostly brick and wood another danger end up becoming clearly apparent. Fires were the blessing and curse of every man in the city, however for the recent Irish they were another matter altogether. No one would save the Irish ghetto if it burned. In fact some might be more willing to let it burn.
The Barns family pitched what pennies they had together to get an engine and found the first Irish Volunteer Firefighter Company. Becoming a stable of the community until draft riots of 1852, however by that time most of the Barns’ men had either volunteered or where drafted into the American Civil War.
The family spread from its moderate beginning to expand all across the continental US, but most of the family makes its home in either Boston or New York City.
“Watch out for the Fairies boyo. You have that luck they love so much they will be after it, one way or another.” His Great Uncle Stan had warned him. Most people were warned about fairies by Stan. Most nodded and smiled, some played along, arguing with him was pointless. Somehow they were worse threat to mankind since forever. Still he warned Gary nearly every time he saw him, Gary was a child though, and how could a child take an old man’s life advice serious?
His Gruncle Stan was a man from Ireland that had come to the new world before the war, the Great War. An ancient man who seemed to stare through you. A man who whispered to himself in tongues of Gallic. A man who when he saw a black cat would walk a block away than walk through a different route for a week afterwards. He was an old firefighter like the nearly every man in the man in the family. Stan had scars of burns all over his body like some ancient terrain map to a forgotten treasure. His reputation was so great and strong that his ramblings and cryptic warnings weren’t seen as him being senile but the eccentric nature of great man who had lived a great life.
Gary wrote the warning off. He after all wasn’t that lucky. Lost his first quarter ever when it popped out of his tight fist directly into a storm drain in the street. The first girl he ever told he liked had squealed in disgust and pushed him into the mud. He tried to jump between two buildings like his friends on afternoon, missed and fell two stories where he broke his arm and his ribs. Which meant he had to miss the big game, the play off for the sandlot. So for this lucky trait, Irish or fairy liked, Gary couldn’t see what his grandfather meant.
Gary was young when his Gruncle Stan died. A sad day the old man was an ancient so many had expected it however that kind of expectation rarely is ever easy to confront. A sad day of tears and clothes finer than Sunday’s best. Stan had left Gary his cold iron knife. A heavy blade of cold iron that had been hammered into shape before Ireland had ever seen a potato, or so some would claim. He left the artifact for Gary “just in case.”
The knife went into the safety deposit box, because as his mother put it “No Gary, it is a priceless family artifact not something to pawn off for baseball cards.” For the most part he forgot about the knife and his uncle, both memories sealed in the box beneath an old vault. He would remember slices of the man; the way he would rub the dry skin under his shirt, the smell of his whiskey and cigar smoke on cold nights.
He went through school not the best at anything, a mediocre student, a second string bench warmer, never in trouble enough to be anything more than a boy with no aspiration and too much time on his idle hands. By the time he became man he had followed the family tradition, he was a fire fighter, another Barnes to tame the flames of the urban jungle.
Here is where Young Gary made something of himself. On night, a building burn like hell’s own inferno. A screaming hiss of flame and smoke bellowing into the quiet night. Men in gear who were normally peerless for their courage turned blue in face before this blaze of hellfire. Gary swallowed whatever threaten to crawl from deep in his heart. Took a step forward then another, another, then he was running without fear. Soaring through the bonfire into the mouth of Hades proper. He found a small child, with strength he did know he had he griped the tiny life in his arms he rushed through the world of fire into the cold night air. He handed off the life before he disappeared again, another life in his arms when he emerged again. His bravery and spurn on veterans of nearly twenty years his senior. He was a hero, a man without fear, a savior in the flames.
The story was retold a hundred times. With every telling becoming more embellished. Until finally Gary Barnes alone with nothing more than a wet rag and his bare arms saved an entire orphanage of children and dosed the fires of hell with that wet rag. The story produced him drinks from men who saw themselves lesser before his legend and it earned him the admiration of the finest women that could found listening. Even the girl, now woman, who once pushed him in mud now looked at him like an ancient exalted hero. He would ask this woman, who once spurned him to marry him and by the following spring before their friends and family they seal their love in oaths and faith.
However, it was the night before that happy day that he met Her. He had left the men who were his best some time ago. They were having more fun without him and he had wanted a quite drink. Something from deep in his heart was laughing at him. Cold feet he thought, but he never heard stories like his current problem.
He enter the old tavern. A place place his grandfather might have been a fixture at, or his Uncle. She was at the farest from the door, but She was the first thing you would have seen. She had hair of fire. Lips of rubies. Eyes of Emeralds. Her voice was like a gentle breeze through trees. Her figure was slim but the coil of muscle could be seen just under her skin. The dress looked timeless but was something old. Gary didn’t follow fashion but it was out of place. The dress suited Her so well though.
He wasn’t sure what it was. Her voice maybe, the whiskey She ordered and the way She ordered it, maybe the dress or the way that everyone one else stared at Her like he did. She barely seemed to care they stared all of Her.
She was drinking the whiskey of his uncle. He felt that thing he had felt the night of the fire, it trying to climb up from his heart. Something made him try his luck. Gone was any fear, about tomorrow, about himself, about whether or not he was good enough for anything, because he knew he was. Maybe it was simply the last act of man about to swear his love to another forever.
He sat down next to her. He wasn’t sure who was more startled by the action more, the bartender or the woman. He order them each other glass of the whisky, his voice steady and strong. The woman smile, something that would have made him a puddle if he didn’t feel like he did at this moment.
Gary couldn’t tell you what they talked about, he was sure he mention his uncle and the whisky. She mentioned that She once loved a man with a name of Stan who loved Her almost as much as he loved the whiskey and fire. They might have talked of fairies and of Ireland. Gary doesn’t remember Her name maybe She never had one. He doesn’t even remember her face most of the time when he will think back on this moment. Gary does remembers Her laugh, a collection melodic notes that sound like the chimes of silver bells jingling. The beautiful sound haunts him in his deepest dreams.
He remembers leading her to the hotel, he remembers the man’s smirk as he took the keys for the room. He remembers the kiss, all passion and hot like he crawled through a fire when he was on the job. Yet, he doesn’t remember the night after the kiss. In the morning She had vanished like a dream like a dream, as his head pounded from the whiskey, the signs of their passion apparent across his body and the torn sheets. His cloth he had worn, were shredded, torn from his body no doubt. As for the woman, She was little more than a dream.
Despite his night of passion away from his heart, the wedding was perfect. None of the groom’s men spoke of his disappearance or the fact they needed to find a tailor open at 6 am that could fix his buttons and his shirt. They gave him a puckish smile though and wiggle their eyebrows suggestively any time his new wife wasn’t looking at them.
Gary remembers the night with his wife near perfectly. Not the first night for them together but the first night as husband and wife. It was everything they had promised it to be when he was lad. One thing that blemish the night, for him, was for some reason both during and after he felt like he was forgetting something. Something Important. The dark thing in his heart seemed to laugh at him.
Soon he put the wedding and the pre-wedding night out of his mind, they faded into a warm memory for nearly everyone who had been at either. Few months later, life was better than it ever had been. He had been promoted, his bravery helping carry him to new heights. On the same day as the news of his promotion he came home to find his wife with news of her own, she was pregnant. Life continued like that, an amazing set of days that seemed to be too happy, too wonderful to be true.
It was six months into the pregnancy, while she waited for the doctor in the expensive obstetrics they had select when the fire happened. Somehow material in the insulation had caught fire and burned the buildings. Nearly all had lit up in a fire that spread quickly across the city.
Gary’s engine had gone out to fight the fires, as many others would. Gary the hero was in rare form, the stories from today would be in grander than the story that had made him the hero the first time. Gary the champion would be a tale dwarfed by only one other story to rise from the ashes of this day. The tragedy of Gary’s first born child.
He hadn’t been the one to pull his wife out of the burning, smoke choked building. He was a block and half away fighting for strangers, just like the heroic stranger that had saved his wife. He didn’t get the new until the fires were out, EMTs had carried nearly all to hospitals that needed. The call came from his own mother, who learned from his wife’s mother.
He was numb as the doctors, told him in somber and soft tones word that changed everything. The words left him cold. The room, reality and the truth felt far, so far from him. He felt like wasn’t there. Like someone else was doing a play no one wanted to watch. Some of the words stuck out though most of them just fade away; smoke inhalation, complications, not uncommon, risk to the mother, had to, we’re so sorry for your lost.
He didn’t talk to his wife as he had them drove them back to the home they bought together after the twice joyous day. A house for a family in a nice neighborhood, the right neighborhood for a family that plan grow roots like tree. The nursery was half finished. The baby, now never to arrive, wasn’t due for at least three more months and Gary had stalled, busy with work and keeping his wife happy.
His wife simply walk into the room and sat in a lump in the middle where paint cans with brushes and ladder rested around spots of colors that had been painted on barren walls of matte white. She started at the crib, gifted early because it was an old family heirloom and no one want to drag it around the city when they could just dump it off on someone who needed it.
The house normal so warm and comforted felt cold and empty. Life became almost colorless. His wife didn’t smile. Gary turned to the whisky. His wife turn inward, the room becoming her haunt as much as her sanctuary. He moved about the house with a glass in one hand and the bottle of his uncle’s whisky in the other. Just moving from room to room, drinking till he just passed out. They both continued like this for a while. They didn’t talk about it. They barely looked at one another. There friends tried to help but they couldn’t, what could you say when neither would even look at you or the sight of their raw grief struck you silent. Three months of motions and patterns that was not living occurred. Then the knock came.
A storm poured down a quite torrent muting the city and their thoughts. At first he wasn’t sure he heard it. He stepped out of the room he was in near the door. Glass filled with his first drink of the evening. Then a booming knock confirmed he had heard the knock. This one was knock was loud enough to startled his wife out of the Nursery. She hid behind the door frame and stared wide eye at the door. A swear loud followed after both just started at the locked door. It enough to be heard over the storm and down pour and through the think wood. A moment of quite before the door nearly exploded off its hinges as it swung forward. A cloak figured shuffled in.
The hood fell back revealing hair of fire and green emerald eyes that took in the hallway entrance with surprise. The eyes settled on him, She laughed with that bell like laugh. It bubbled up from a smile in that sound which haunt his dreams. She took the glass from him, downed it without pause. She handed the glass back before shrugged off the cloak. One arm was given completely to the task of carrying a bundle tight against her chest before she picked up the bottle out of his arm in the other hand. She drank it liberally as she walked down the hall. Before gentle shooing his wife into the nursery and entering herself. He stared open mouthed before he followed her slowly, the empty and drained glass felt heavier in his hand for some reason.
He had avoided the nursery in those lifeless months, perhaps more than he avoided his wife. It was the first time in nearly three months he had stepped foot in the room. Gone were the cans of paint, and supplies. The room now was finished, a stool sat in the middle of the green room parallel with the crib. His wife was looking over some papers the other woman simply drinking. Something in the crib moved.
Gary walked over, cautiously, approaching only close enough to see just over the wood of the side. A baby with big eyes stared back looking no doubt as confused as Gary did.
He heard Her laugh again felt as the woman moved past him out into the hall. Following Her, he watch as She picked up Her cloak without stopping her stride. She then disappearing out into the storm. The door slowly closed after Her.
He blinked stupidly there in the hallway felling like he had forgotten something. He turn back into the nursery where his wife was now standing over the crib staring down at the child. He approach next to her. Both watched until she took his arm in a hug, startling him. She handed him the papers.
Staring down at the adoption forms where his name and her name and the name of the child, Andy. There was a birth certificate from what looked like Ireland, it no name for the mother, but he was listed as the father.
“He’s ours,” his wife whispered gently as she smiled. The baby stirred, made a noise and reach out to them. His wife picked up gently.
“Ours,” he agreed setting the glass down.