The Room Of Forking Paths, Chapter Four: Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire
If I had any doubt about the clues being personally tailored to me, they disappeared soon as I stepped into the next room. Sunken into the middle of the wall adjacent to the one I was standing in front of, was an old-fashioned fireplace that was identical to the one in the house I had stayed at in France at the start of the year. There was wood in the fireplace, and on the floor in front of it were two small boxes: one was a box of long wooden matches, the other a packet of firestarters. Both were the same type that we had had in the house in France.
It took a minute for the full implication of this to hit me. If these clues were all specifically tailored to my own memories and experiences, then someone I know must be deeply involved. Possibly someone who was in France with me, otherwise how would they have known about the fireplace?
But that didn’t make any sense either. None of the people I had been to France with seemed to be even remotely credible as suspects. It was hard to imagine any of them having either the time or the resources to put something together like this. I doubted that I was going to come to any solid conclusions just then, so I decided to focus on the clue.
The wood in the fireplace had all been chopped up ready for burning, and there was a huge steel air vent over it to draw up the smoke. Next to the fireplace there was a basket with a few pages from a French newspaper. There had been a similar basket at the house. I looked the pages over but could see nothing that looked like a clue. After that I examined the wood, but there were no markings of any kind. Quick inspections of the matches and firelighters revealed nothing unusual.
Maybe I’m supposed to start a fire, I thought, and somehow the clue will be revealed. I pushed a couple of firelighters out of the box, and tucked them under a piece of wood, then used a match to light a twisted up piece of newspaper. I placed the burning paper next to the firelighters, which started burning straight away, flames licking the underside of the wood. Then less than a minute later they had burned out, and the wood had failed to combust.
I tried the same thing again a couple more times, placing the firelighters in different places, and was met with the same lack of success. Eventually I decided it would be easier to just dump the entire packet of firelighters into the fireplace and light that, and within a couple of minutes there was a small fire blazing away.
So now what? I was half expecting some kind of message to apear in the flames, but there was nothing. I looked down at the empty firelighter box. It was a good job that I would not need to start any more fires after this one as I had used them up already. Then I remembered something. I had made a similar comment about firelighters in the house in France, something about how we’d expected the firelighters to last a week, but after just one fire there were already none left.
None left? was that the clue? If it was it was tenuous as hell. And if it was the clue then what did it mean? Not to use the left door. It seemed like a bit of a stretch but it was the only thing I could think of, and it fit in with the previous clues. It also gave the impression that whoever had been tasked with thinking up these clues had started to get a bit desperate for ideas by this point.
I stood next to the fire, taking in the warmth until the flames died down. Then I walked over to the door on the right.