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It’s amazing what a single match can do.
The wind blows and ash skids across my feet. I blink in the ruined site before me, breathe in the dust particles floating around my head. I blink again and look down at feet standing on broken pieces of a life; a half burned picture, books and CDs, all burned.
What would it be like to lose your home? I think to myself. To have to start over with nothing but the clothes on your back and the change in your pocket, while everything else has been turned to ash?
I quickly turn away from the carnage.
The sight before me is no better than what I just faced. The rolling hills are black and smoking from the wildfires that were just calmed only days before. Other homes, like the one behind me, dot the landscape, but a few got lucky and survived.
I swallow my guilt.
I tug on the end of my ponytail and close my eyes. The smoke was starting to give me a headache, so I quickly turn and head back to my car. Smoke tended to stick; in your hair and in your clothes and for days the smell would accompany you everywhere. No matter how many showers you took.
After sliding into my car, I slam the door behind me and sit, seeing and not seeing everything in front of me. My eyes fill with tears but I refuse to let them drop. I refuse to cry in this place.
My phone rings and I jump, startled out of my thoughts. I quickly grab my phone and answer it without checking the caller ID. I have a pretty good idea who it is. “Hello?”
“Why did you go back?” Demands my friend, Jack.
“What, no hello?” I ask sarcastically.
“Answer my question Amy.” Jack growls into my ear.
I sigh heavily into the phone. “I had to see. You know we did a terrible thing and I don’t know if I can live with the guilt any longer, so I had to come back and see it for myself.”
“It was an accident!” Jack yelled. “Do you know what will happen if you decide to open your big mouth and tell because you have a guilty conscious? Our lives will be ruined!”
“Our lives were ruined the day we decided to strike that match.” I whisper into the phone.
They deserve to know. I think to myself.
I hear Jack curse under his breath. “What is it? What is she saying?” Frantic voices whisper on the other side of the line. But they are quickly hushed.
“Don’t panic yet Jack, I haven’t decided anything.” I say.
“Oh, go…” I don’t get to hear what else Jack has to say, because I’ve hung up.
I fling my phone into the backseat and hope it stays silent. Closing my eyes, I can’t help but remember that night in all its gory detail.
Laughter fills my ears, making me smile along with it. I was glad I had decided to go on this trip with Annie, Jack, and Dan. Camping out in the woods with good friends had turned out to be a great way to relieve the unwelcome stress that had been brought on by the start of the new school year.
I swing my hips to the music blaring out of Jack’s truck as I walk back from my car, holding a bag of food in one hand and a tray of drinks in the other. “I’m back!” I yell. “Who wants tacos?”
“Ooh finally! I’m so hungry!” Exclaims Annie. She hops up from her seat and skips over to me. I laugh at her silliness and hand over the food to her so she can help pass everything out.
Once everyone had their food we all sat around the cold fire pit. Everyone talked and laughed animatedly around, me but I wasn’t listening. I was looking at the fire pit, remembering all the camping trips I went on as a kid and how we would sit around a campfire and roast marshmallows.
Jack seemed to be thinking the same thing because he said, “Hey, why don’t we light a fire? It doesn’t feel like we’re really camping without a good campfire going.”
Everyone nodded in agreement. “Good idea Jack.” Dan said with a big grin on his face.
I smiled at their excitement. “Does anyone have marshmallows?”
“I do!” Annie exclaimed.
Jack stood and jogged over to his truck to find some matches. There were already some logs in the fire pit, so we didn’t need to go out and find something to burn. “Found some!” Jack yelled. “But there’s only one left.”
“Better make it count.” I said.
I tore my eyes open and found that my face was wet with tears. “No!” I yelled and punched my steering wheel, jumping when the horn honked. We hadn’t known that there had been a burn ban in the area. That lighting a small campfire could cause so much pain and destruction.
My eyes were suddenly drawn to movement below me. A small van was driving through the valley, making slow progress along the road. As I watched, they stopped in front of a pile of rubble and sat idle for a few minutes, presumably gathering up the courage to face what was left of their home.
Then a small figure stepped out of the car and picked their way over to what was left of the house. Three others followed more slowly behind her up to the edge of the foundation.
I tore my gaze away from the small family below me and stared straight ahead of me for a few moments. I knew what I had to do.
Even if it hurt the people I cared about.
As I drove away, I smiled sadly at the sun setting behind me.