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For a Moment This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

The distinct aroma of saffron wafts over from several yards away where a campfire is being prodded to life. Perched above the flames is an obscenely large pan teaming with Spanish rice that sizzles and dances in time with the swaying blaze. Others begin to meander towards the campfire, drawn to the scent and warmth, but disheartened by the prospect that this will be our last meal here.

As dusk settles in for the day, so does a chill so bitter it permeates through my countless layers of clothing and slithers up my spine, sending me into violent shivers. Knowing the cold will only escalate as the evening progresses I close my novel and reluctantly relinquish my hidden spot under the clementine tree. For the past week, I have sat here every lazy, late afternoon and meditated in the shade enjoying the refreshing citrus scent and sneaking the occasional clementine.

I join the others who are arranging an eclectic assortment of chairs, stools, and logs in a loose circle around the campfire. I claim two seats nearest the blaze and plop down on log that’s just a little too rough and a little too damp to be comfortable. I pull my knees up to my chest and hope my friend will join me soon; I don’t know most of the people here.

Suddenly, I am engulfed in the warmth of two familiar arms wrapped around my shoulders. I close my eyes and absorb as much of the heat as I can, trying to shake the cold that has seeped into my very core. But those arms disappear all too quickly as my companion comes around to sit beside me. He leans into me and for a moment I am able to stop shivering.

Then something warm is being shoved into my hands, and steam rushes to meet my face. I've dozed off for what could only have been minutes, but somehow the world has become darkness and now only what is illuminated by the fire can be seen. A tinge of regret creeps up on me as I realize I have missed my final chance to witness the brilliant purples and pinks that always paint the sky at sunset here.

Everyone is silent as they dig into their paella, and as they grow quieter, a new chorus of sounds becomes audible. A cacophony of crickets and cicadas fills the valley as their calls and chirps echo. Gusts of wind accompany their cries, creating dull whistles and howls as they pass through the mountains. The longer the silence persists the louder it grows. It’s altogether frightening. Thankfully I am distracted by nudge from my right.

“How is it?” he asks. He knows I haven’t touched my food yet.

I take a tentative bite. The rice is spiced and well-buttered, but the dish is altogether bland, bitter, and burnt.

“Tastes like campfire,” I remark.

He smiles and nods. “Could use some salt.” But of course he finishes both his entire bowl and what’s left of mine.

The other campers exchange a final few murmured conversations before they begin to turn for the night, and after a while only a handful of us remain. It’s late and there’s an early plane to catch come morning, but I’m comfortably cocooned in another’s arms and I haven’t quite worked up the motivation to move yet. For the time being I am mesmerized by the fire. I watch, absorbed, as the dying flames reach hopelessly for the sky and cough up sparks which dance untamed in the air—but only for a moment.



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