By Peter Berry
“You’re stuck on the bottom.” Ronnie dropped the net and picked up his fishing pole.
Frankie shot a disgusted look at his friend as he stretched for the net, giving up when he realized there was actually nothing tugging on the other end of the line. Scrawny Ronnie laughed when he pulled up a water logged stick covered in scum from the bottom of the river. Fresh out of bait, Frankie dropped his poll and started kicking over rocks in search of worms.
“Dude, ya ain’t gonna find nothin’ round that firepit.” Instead, Scrawny directed his best friend and partner in crime to a rotten log at the edge of the small clearing.
Frankie kicked the top of the log, sending moist wood chips flying. A few more whacks with his heel and the old chunk of tree gave way, exposing several crawly bugs and a few grubs trying their best to get away. Selecting a juicy one, he held it up for inspection before returning to his fishing pole. The skin of the wiggly bug popped as he forced the hook through. Green guts oozed over his thumb, which he wiped on the backside of his shorts.
“Who do ya think’s been makin’ fires down here?” Frankie asked.
Scrawny Ronnie was a year older so Frankie thought he knew everything.
“My brother and the other potheads. They try to get girls to come down here so they can, you know.” He made a gesture with his hand that either of their mothers would have slapped him in the back of the head for making.
Frankie grew a grin, “Hey, I’m gonna run home and get some matches. Look for some wood. I’ll be right back.”
* * *
The boys went through all but a couple of the kitchen matches Frankie swiped from home, but still no flame.
Ronnie had the next brilliant idea, “Got any charcoal lighter fluid at your house?”
“Nah, mom made my dad get a gas grill. Hey, what about gas for the lawn mower? I’ll bet we only need a little. Nobody’ll miss that!”
At Ronnie’s house they dug a plastic milk jug from the recycling bin then poured a few cups of gas from the can his dad used for the lawn mower. By now, fishing was the last thing on their minds. They were on a mission. Back at the river’s edge, Frankie was about to dump the gasoline on the wood when Ronnie stopped him to add more branches to the pile. They had one shot at getting this to work and Ronnie wanted a big flame.
“Wait!” Frankie grabbed Ronnie’s arm before he could strike the match. “I’m not sure this is a good idea.”
“Relax, chicken, it’s in a fire pit. My brother does this all the time. There’s even rocks all the way around. Nothin’s gonna happen.”
Scrawny Ronnie lit the match, but even before the flame touched the log, it roared up and nearly blew them off their feet. But it didn’t last. Their magnificent bonfire burned down almost as quickly as it flared up.
Frankie grabbed the milk jug and up ended it over the top of the smoldering wood. A few drops of fuel dripped out causing a small flame to dance across the top of the wood pile. That’s when Ronnie’s eyes bugged out of his head. Fire lit up the inside of the milk jug. Frankie instinctively tossed it as far away as possible fearing that it would blow up, just like in the movies. Ronnie gasped as it tumbled to a pile of leaves next to the path leading back out of the clearing. He ran over and stomped on it, expecting to kill the bomb. Instead, it acted like a flame thrower in one of those old war flicks they’d watch on rainy Saturday afternoons. In an instant, their path home was cut off.
“My brother’s gonna kill me!” Ronnie cried as he struggled to his feet.
Frankie didn’t take the time to comment; he threw the water from their empty bait bucket at the flames, then dashed back to the river for more water. A thick cloud of gray smoke grew high into the sky. The sound of sirens could be heard off in the distance; surely everyone in the neighborhood knew what was happening by now.
Scrawny paced back and forth as Frankie grew winded of running to the river again and again. Finally help arrived, a fireman, complete with respirator, charged through the smoke, axe in one hand, bucket in the other. If the flame hadn’t already been doused it would have looked like a scene from and action movie.
With the smoke clearing, the fireman that dashed in to save the boys presented them to Frankie’s father who was standing with a crowd of neighbors. The man in uniform praised Frankie for his quick thinking then scolded both boys for playing with fire, of course making sure that every other kid in the crowd could hear him.
“What on Earth were you thinking?” Frankie’s dad demanded, veins at his temples ready to burst.
“We were cold?” Scrawny Ronnie meekly suggested, attempting to take the heat for his friend.
“It’s EIGHTY DEGREES!” Frankie’s dad was just getting started.
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