I jumped awake, and my heart sank as I realised what time it was. The murky darkness of the street outside crept into my room, and I squinted in the darkness until I could see the outline of my door, which was ajar. The lights were out. My parents were sleeping. It was still too early for the sun to come up. It was that silent, surreal time of night sometimes described as the Witching Hour.
I could smell non-existent burning in my nostrils. I could see imaginary smoke creeping up the walls and along the ceiling. I could hear the crackling of flames in my head. As always at this time of night, I’d woken up, convinced the house was on fire.
I crept out of bed. I didn’t want Mum to be angry with me for sneaking around the house at night. I stopped at the top of the stairs and listened hard. Could I really hear burning down in the kitchen? Was that really thick, black smoke encircling my ankles? I blinked hard. I was imagining it again. But I had to check. I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I had.
I tiptoed down each creaky step, my heart pounding as I thought about the video we’d watched in class. Nothing had started the fire in the video – no one had left the oven on or forgotten a burning cigarette. If a fire could start by itself at night in the video, then it could happen here. I had to make sure.
I made it to the bottom step. All was silent; I couldn’t even hear owls hooting in the night. The kitchen door was closed. I stretched out my fingers with a shaking hand. In the video, they’d said that if the doorknob was hot, it meant there was fire on the other side. I touched the metal with the back of my hand. It was cold.
I slowly opened the door. The kitchen was dark and bare. No fires tonight.
I crept back upstairs and got in bed with my parents. My mum sleepily put her arm round me as I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to sleep. We were safe for another day.