“Please tell me this is another report for Old Hannigan,” Hannah said, looking over the stack of books Jack had spread over the dining room table. “Where did you get these, anyway?”
“The professor’s bookcase, next door.”
“You stole his books?”
“Borrowing. He said I could. And it’s not for the old bat. I’m following up on some stuff Mrs. Simms looked up for me today.”
“Harvest festivals? Celtic festival of the dead? Well, you’re certainly in the Halloween spirit.”
“This is hard enough without the commentary,” Jack said with a heavy sigh.
“Oh, c’mon, its not all bad,” Hannah said, sitting down next to him.
“I don’t like what everything is pointing to: Death, darkness, fire. Why did it have to be fire?”
“What’s with the morbid turn all of the sudden?” his sister asked. “I never figured you for the emo type. Your hair’s all wrong for it.”
“Look, maybe you’re thinking about it too literally.”
“What do you mean?” Jack asked. “How else am I supposed to look at it?”
“A lot of these festivals, they’re not about death at all.”
“Sure they are. Look — end of summer. No more sunshine, it’s all cold and dreary from then on.”
“You can’t have light without dark.”
“What about the harvest? All that growing, and then it’s all cut down.”
“But it feeds people. And the fields need time to rest. You have to sleep before you wake up.”
“Okay, well, what about the fire? They’d make sacrifices to it by throwing the bones of their cows in the flames.”
“Fire doesn’t just destroy, Jack. It also purifies. When you got that huge splinter and cried like a baby, what did Mom do?”
“She dug it out with that huge sewing needle. It hurt like —”
“But what did she do before that?”
“She… held it over a match… Or a candle.”
“To sterilize it.”
Jack stared at his notes, at the doodle of a bonfire, with tiny stick figures dancing around it.
“We learned in biology that there are some trees that can’t reproduce unless there’s a fire. Sometimes the forest rangers have to set them intentionally.
“And look here — at those harvest festivals of death and gloom and doom, it says that in the old days, the villagers would each light their hearths from the common flame of the festival bonfire. That is a really beautiful, powerful image, don’t you think?”
“I guess so,” Jack said, doodling a little ball of flame running towards a fireplace.
“Its not all bad. So stop looking like you lost your best friend.”
The following morning, having finally slept, but not dreamed of anything at all, Jack wondered if that wasn’t exactly what was happening.