Bonfire Holiday

Bonfire Holiday

A Story by Debbie Barry

A group of teens have a bonfire camp-out to celebrate the Fifth of November.


Bonfire Holiday


Tick … tick … tick ….

I watched the second hand crawl its slow, inexorable way around the face of the round, white clock above the classroom door, telling off another minute.  There were still three minutes to go, as the second hand crested the top of the clock’s face, edged past 12, and began the long descent into another minute.

Tick … tick … tick ….

It was the fifth of November, and my friends and I had plans after school.  I tried to listen to Mr. Rudyard, as he talked on and on about contrasting literature with “literary” movies.  English was my favorite subject any other day of the year, but I couldn’t focus today.  I had English history on my mind, not literature.

Tick … tick … tick ….

Another minute dragged to the finish.  Mr. Rudyard droned to the end of his lecture.  He was going to assign homework.  I picked up the violently magenta ball-point pen that lay beside my heavily doodled, but scantly note-filled spiral notebook.  I forced my eyes away from the ticking second hand, and onto his dark, bearded face, with the heavy brow overhanging chestnut eyes that always sparkled in the shadow of thick eyebrows.  He was dressed, contrary to modern faculty fashions of jeans and open-collared Oxford shirts, in a stuffily traditional, almond brown, tweed suit, a white shirt, diagonally striped chocolate-and-pumpkin tie, and well-polished mahogany leather loafers over matching socks.  He had a tweed suit for every day of the week, and had yet to wear the same tie twice this school year.

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November,” Mr. Rudyard said.  My attention snapped into sharp focus.  My eyes cleared, my vision brightened.  A frission of energy tingled over my skin, making the fine hairs on my forearms quiver.

“Gunpowder, treason, and plot.”

I wasn’t the only one paying attention now, and writing the words to the famous verse even before Mr. Rudyard spoke them.  Pens and pencils scratched on notebook pages all around the room.  I heard voices muttering the words under their breath, and I recognized Christy, Ted, Rich, and Jason, muttering in a single chorus, along with my own low voice.

“I see no reason why gunpowder, treason

Should ever be forgot.”

My friends and I finished the recitation two words ahead of Mr. Rudyard, and I saw his sparkling brown eyes rest, briefly, on each of my four friends, before coming to rest on me.  He nodded, and smiled approvingly.

“Some of you already know it,” he said, his voice rich and warm.  “You’ll all know it well by Monday, when you will each turn in a five-page essay on the meaning of those words.”

There was a general groan throughout the classroom, but Jason’s eyes met mine, and I saw that he was as pleased with the homework as I was.

“Remember that tomorrow is a day off for students,” Mr. Rudyard called out over the tumult of notebooks being stuffed into backpacks, and chairs scraping the floor and clattering against desks, as the bell clanged the end of the last period of the day.

I jammed my notebook into my over-full, blue, nylon backpack, and tucked the pen down into the narrow space beside it.  Zipping the top as far as it would go, the zippers missing each other by a good three inches over the books and notebooks, I slung my purse strap across my chest, so my small, brown, suede purse rested on my right hip, hoisted the backpack onto my left shoulder, and joined the jostling mass of chattering classmates, all trying to get out the door at once. 

Once I was in the corridor, my right hand was grabbed.

“C’mon!” Christy urged, excitedly, and she dragged me, without resistance, to the stairwell, where the three boys were already clustered. 

“Hey!” Rich greeted us, as Jason grunted a friendly sound, and Ted grabbed my left arm, above the elbow.

Together, my friends and I navigated the crowded stairwell.  Our ears were assaulted by shouting, laughing voices from all three floors, echoing and re-echoing up and down the open space at the center, bouncing off the steel stairs and the brick walls in a cacophony of pounding, jangling sound.  As our feet skimmed over the stair treads, barely touching each one in our haste to reach the ground floor, my nose wrinkled at the sour, bittersweet odor of a hundred or more anxious, hurried teenagers, sweaty, and reeking of stale sweat from daily gym class, burping, farting, and soaked in a mélange of perfumes, after shaves, hairsprays, and hastily-applied deodorants and breath sprays.  Even in my fourth year in the building, the rank stench still made my eyes water, and the roof of my mouth tingle.

Finally, after two minutes that felt like an hour, the five of us burst out through the steel-and-glass double doors, into the relatively fresh air of the front courtyard.  The close, vile body odors were exchanged for the cool breeze of early November, which rattled the bare branches of two ghostly stands of paper birch trees, and sighed around the pair of abstract stone sculptures that stood sentry on either side of the school’s main entrance.  There was a moist, loamy smell, where the autumn flower beds had been dug up and emptied of the brittle remains of the masses of yellow, gold, and white mums that had framed the courtyard, against the red brick walls, the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Cheerleaders’ Corridor.  Drifting through the fresh, natural scents was the acrid smoke of the diesel engines, as the two dozen or so yellow buses waited in two lines along the edges of the huge arc of curved drive that fronted the school.

Around us, students streamed from three sets of doors, and poured down the broad avenue at the mouth of the courtyard, rushing to get to the waiting buses.  There were elated cheers, anxious shouts, querulous cries, whistles, and laughter, and they all rushed on by.  My friends and I tucked ourselves into a space between a bulbous, stone statue and a clump or rattling birches, to wait out the human flood.  We all carried similarly over-full backpacks, and Christy’s purse, resting on her right hip, was not unlike mine, except that hers was bubble gum pink, with a fake snakeskin texture, and mine was velvety, brown suede, beaded and fringed in a Native American design; my purse had been a gift from one of my parents’ friends.

“Everything in the trunk?” Rich asked, looking at each of us.

We all nodded.  Before school that morning, we had all stowed other backpacks, sleeping bags, and other supplies in the capacious trunk of his battered old Oldsmobile Cruiser, parked in the student parking lot, to the right of the bus circle.

“’Kay,” he approved.  “Jason, food?”

“Yup,” Jason replied.  “Mum’ll meet us by the cat at 3:30.”

School had let out at 3:12, as usual.  It was now just past 3:15, as I knew without seeing any clock.  The buses would pull out at 3:25.  We could walk to the car in under five minutes with no trouble, once the crowds had been whisked away in the rumbling, smelly, yellow buses.  A shiver ran up my spine at the thought of those buses, and I was glad to be spared the daily ride home in creaky, rattling bus 16.

“D’we have enough wood?” Christy asked, anxiously.  Her eyes glowed with anticipation.

“’Course we’ve got enough wood, Chris!” Jason exclaimed.  It’s the woods!”

Christy blushed, and we all laughed. 

“C’mon,” Ted said, looping his arm through mine.  “Th’ crowd’s about done.  We can get t’ th’ car now.”

“Let’s go!” Christy agreed, cheerily, grabbing Rich and Jason by the hands.  Rich looked a bit unsettled, but Jason looked pleased.  Ted and I followed in their wake, as Christy dragged the not-too-resisting boys along.

We trooped down the concrete walkway that bordered the bus circle, and then crossed a narrow service drive, and climbed over a grassy embankment, to get to the parking lot.  The service drive led to the school’s kitchen, and around to the back doors of the gym.  As we crossed, I heard the football coach shouting at a crowd of laughing, jostling boys, who were boarding a bus.

“Game, t’night, Chris?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she called back, over her shoulder.

“How’d’ja get out of it?” I asked.

“Mom called Coach, an’ told ‘im I was goin’ away this weekend,” she replied, breezily.  “He tried t’ bully her, but didn’t get too far.  She said I could just drop cheers, if he wanted to make an issue of it.”

Jason whistled, his face showing surprised admiration.

“You’d never drop cheerleading,” Ted said, as we all stepped onto the cracked macadam of the student parking lot.

“No, but Coach let it go.  He wasn’t too sure, I guess.”

We all laughed at the idea of Mrs. Fisher telling off Coach Gunner.  No one, not even the principal, stood up to Coach Gunner.  I was impressed.

“There’s Mum,” Jason announced.  A large, wood-paneled, tan station wagon had just pulled into the lot.  I recognized Mrs. Edmonds’ car at a glance.  We walked down the row of second-hand cars, all belonging to students, many to those football players I’d just seen piling onto the bus.  We reached the Cruiser just as the station wagon pulled up behind it.

“Hi, Mum!” Jason said, opening the rear door of the wagon.

“Hi, Sweetie,” Mrs. Edmonds replied, making Jason blush.  “Hi, gang!”

“Hi, Mrs. Edmonds,” we all chorused, like a class of first-graders.

“Cool!” Jason enthused, emerging from the back of the wagon with two large, brown grocery bags, packed with food, which he passed to Ted.  “Thanks, Mum!”

Rich opened the trunk, and Ted lowered the two bags into a space we’d been careful to leave for them.

“You’re welcome, Sweetie,” Mrs. Edmonds replies, apparently, as ever, unaware of how the endearment embarrassed Jason.  “D’you have a little more space in there, Richard?” she asked, turning to Rich.

“Uh, sure,” Rich replied, doubtfully.  Ted reached in and stuffed Christy’s sleeping bag farther up and back, on top of mine, and Rich shifted the bundle of dry kindling further to the left side of the space, making a gap in the middle.

“Perfect!” Mrs. Edmonds approved, reaching into the back seat of the station wagon.  She emerged with two enormous, paper shopping bags, with twisted paper handles.  The bags bulged, but brown paper had been taped over the top of each bag, so I couldn’t tell what was inside.  “Surprise!” she announced.

Rich and Ted each took one of the bags, and they wiggled the bags into the limited gap in the trunk.

“What’s that, Mum?” Jason asked, trying to peer into the bags, but finding only brown paper and packing tape.

“It’s a surprise,” his mother replied, with a smug smile.  “Don’t open them until dark,” she added, “and keep them dry.  Do you have matches for the fire?”

“Yep!” Rich said, rummaging in the trunk, and producing a full box of strike-anywhere wooden matches.

“Alright, then.  You kids have fun, and be careful,” Mrs. Edmonds said, kissing each of us on the forehead, ending with Jason.  Behind her, I saw Rich swipe his hand across his forehead, where she had kissed him.  “Are there any phones up there?” she asked.

“There’s one outside the store, where we turn off the pavement,” Rich said, shrugging.

“It’s the woods, Mum, not a hotel,” Jason protested.

“We’ll call from the store when we come out Sunday morning,” Christy promised, showing a handful of quarters, dimes, and nickels, and then dropping them back into her purse, and zipping the top.

“Okay,” Mrs. Edmonds sighed.  “You’re all 18, or near it.  Go, have fun.”

She climbed into the station wagon, Jason closed the doors to the back seat and the rear compartment, and she drove away.  Immediately, we all piled into the car, our school backpacks crowding the floorboards.  Rich slammed the heavy lid of the trunk, and slid into the front seat.  Jason was also in front; Ted, with his long legs, sat behind Rich, I sat behind Jason, and Christy curled her legs under her in the middle.  The seatbelts, as usual, were ignored.  The old car was wide and spacious, and no one was really squeezed or crowded.

Rich backed out of the parking space, and we were on our way.  The camping area was easily an hour’s drive away, but there was a dirt road right to the top of the mountain, where we planned to spend the entire long weekend. 

The drive up Route 7 was pretty, even though the brilliant fall foliage had faded to dull copper, bronze, and sulphurous tints, sparsely scattered amid the web of spindly branches that showed dark against the pale, azure sky.  Dark, evergreen pines and spruces punctuated the scene, as we rushed past woods and meadows, swamps, and rocky road-cuts.  Here and there, a late sumac still blazed crimson, and was then lost to sight.

In the car, the conversation was lively.  We chatted about the school day that had just ended, at first.  Besides English, we shared physics and calculus.  Christy and Ted shared a French class, Rich and Jason shared German, and I took Spanish.  Christy had band and chorus classes, which was unsurprising, since she was very talented, and played clarinet, flute, and piano, as well as singing in the choir at her church.  The boys and I all took an extra English class, as an elective, to focus on writing, but we had the remaining two periods free; Christy’s free period coincided with one of ours, just before English, at the end of the day.  After the first half hour, the conversation shifted to the adventure ahead of us.

“I can’t believe my mom let me go!” Christy exclaimed.  We had been discussing the English homework, which we would all do together, and it had sparked my imagination, too.

“Me, neither,” I agreed.  “Mine never let me go without a grown-up before!”

“I’m a grown-up,” Rich said, pompously, from the driver’s seat.  “Turned 18 last week!”

We all laughed.

“At least you’ll all be 18 before graduation,” Jason pouted.  “I’ll be 17 in May.”

“Never mind that,” Ted said, encouragingly.  “Your parents letcha come.  That’s th’ important thing.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,” Ted intoned, very solemnly, before breaking into a mischievous grin.

“Bonfires, hot dogs, and pop!” Rich improvised, also grinning.

“Yeah!” Jason cheered.

“Yay!” Christy and I echoed. 

We all laughed.

Rich and Jason started chatting about a role-playing game they had both been involved in the previous weekend, and Ted pulled out the calculus homework.

“Ugh!” Christy complained.  “Math.  Can’t that wait, at least ‘til tomorrow?”

“Oh, okay,” Ted laughed, closing the book, and shoving it and the backpack back into his backpack, at his feet.

I shoved Christy’s arm, playfully, and she made a wry face. 

“I can’t stand calc,” she pouted.

“Me, neither,” I agreed.  “But Ted’s good at it.  You’ll help us with the homework, right?” I asked, looking across her at Ted.

“’Course I will,” he assured us both.

Not long after, we drove through a picturesque village, with a high-steepled, white, clapboard church facing a tree-spotted village green, with a gazebo-like, white bandstand at its center.  Facing the church, across the green, were several quaint shops; a general store, with several rocking chairs on its wide, worn front porch; and a pink-painted tea room, with frilly, white café curtains visible through its gleaming front windows.  On the far side of the green, between the church and the general store, was a large, white play hose, where we sometimes saw the summer stock performers perform plays and musicals, but it was dark and silent on this first Thursday in November.

The road opened up again after the village, and we passed more woods, and fewer meadows and swamps.  The rocky road-cuts glinted here and there, where flecks of native mica caught the lowering afternoon sun.  Once, as Rich guided the big car around a curve, he had to brake suddenly, when a handsome, young, buck white-tail bounded across the road right in front of us.  Christy fell over onto Ted’s lap, and I fell on top of her.  She and I both screamed, just slightly, and Rich uttered a word not to be repeated. 

“Three points,” Jason breathed, and we all knew he was looking at the buck’s antlers. 

Before we could start again, three beautiful does and two half-grown fawns followed the buck across the road.  I tried to see where they went, but they disappeared, as if by magic, as soon as they gained the dappled shadows of the foods on the far side of the road.

“Beautiful,” Ted breathed.

Ten minutes later, Rich turned off the main road, onto a rough, rutted, dirt road, which had not seen a grader or a gravel truck in too many years.  We all looked curiously at the small store at the corner, and I saw signs identifying it as a hunters’ reporting station.  “Hunting Licenses Sold Here” was printed in bold letters on a sign above the reporting station sign.  “Cold Beer,” “Cigarettes,” and “Sandwiches” were also posted on signs, taped to the inside of the grimy front window.  I saw the glass-walled phone booth just beyond the end of the wide, gray, wood porch, which matched the weathered walls.  Outside the closed door, on which hung a inviting, “Come In, We’re Open!” sat a thin, faded man, of indiscriminate age, wearing worn blue denim bib overalls over a red-checked shirt, open at the collar, and a heavy, tan, coat, with the dingy sheepskin lining visible.  Across his lap rested a rifle.  I watched him, as he turned his head to watch as we slowly turned the corner onto the forest road.

“You’re sure we’re okay to go up there?” Christy asked, worriedly.

“Yeah, my dad set it up,” Rich replied, confidently.  We all knew Mr. Barrow was a park ranger, and worked for the State.  “Got us a fire permit, too,” he added.

“Good thing,” Jason responded.  “Since that’s the whole point.”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Rich agreed.

Ted, Christy, and I all made unintelligible sounds of emphatic agreement.

The road was little more than a fire break, and not wide enough to be that.  Rich kept the speed way down, as we bounced, jounced, and jolted over the washboard surface, pitted with potholes.  Not far past the store, we waited patiently while a mama black bear and her three cubs amble unconcernedly across the road, emerging from the brushy forest undergrowth on one side of the road, and disappearing into more of the same on the far side.

“Late for cubs,” Jason commented.

“And three,” I added, astonished.

“They’re so cute!” Christy squealed, clearly delighted.

A few minutes later, we paused again, to watch in delighted wonder as another family of white-tailed deer bounded across the road.

“Five points,” Jason counted, impressed.

“So beautiful,” Christy whispered, her blue eyes gleaming.  I nodded, taking in the amazing wildlife in wonder.

“Look,” Ted said, pointing at the sky.

We all leaned to look out his side of the car.  Above, a little ahead of us, three dark shapes circled over the woods.

“Vultures,” Rich muttered.

“Look higher,” I said.  “A hawk!”

The majestic bird flew in a wider circle, above the vultures.

“Dinner time,” Jason commented.

Only a few minutes later, the mountain road leveled off, and we were in a broad clearing atop the mountain.  To the right, at the edge of the trees, a pair of weathered, gray, wooden outhouses stood: lonely sentinels of the place.  Rich drove the Cruiser off the dirt, and across frost-withered grass, and stopped near the center of the clearing.

At the center, a huge circle of bare earth stood around a smaller, though still large, circle of charred blackness.  I remembered that the site was alive with campers throughout the summer months, and was a popular camp for Scouts, boys and girls alike.  My Scout troop had camped here once, when we were in fifth grade.  Even near mid-summer, the nights had been chilly.

We unloaded the car near the black circle.  As soon as it was empty, the boys piled back into the car, leaving Christy and me alone.

“Be back soon!” Rich promised, as he climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Hurry up!” Christy replied.  It’ll start gettin’ dark soon!”

Jason laughed, the car doors slammed with a staccato of clangs, the engine roared to life, and the car bumped slowly away, across the field to the edge of the trees.

“Let’s set up,” I suggested, grabbing a large, canvas tarp, and starting to unfold it.

“Sure,” Christy agreed, taking the other side of the tarp, and helping me spread it out.

“Boy-girl?” Christy asked, giggling.

“Why not?” I agreed, laughing.

We laid out the five sleeping bags on the tarp, side-by-side, and close together: first, Rich’s old, olive-drab, Army-surplus mummy bag then Christy’s hot-pink, nylon bag, fluffy with polyester filling, and lines with cotton flannel, covered in kittens; third, we put Ted’s sensible, dark blue, cotton sleeping bag, with blue-and-tan plaid flannel lining.  My bag was next, dark blue, like Ted’s, but puffier, and lined with pale blue flannel, printed with unicorns; Jason’s blaze-orange bag was last, lined, very practically, with thick, cream-colored sheepskin.  We each had a pillow, and Christy matched the pillows to the sleeping bags.  We positioned the bags so our heads all faced the charred area.

“Home, sweet home,” Christy cooed, plumping Jason’s pillow.

I had to laugh. 


A howl in the distance brought us both up short.  Christy caught my hand, squeezing it tightly.

“It’s not close,” I said, reassuringly. 


“Neither is that one,” I added, as a second howl, on the other side of the next valley, answered the first.

“No, right,” she said, forcing a laugh.

“Let’s start the fire, before the sun goes down,” I suggested.

“Good idea, she replied, heading for the bundle of kindling.

Together, we built a small fire, just inside the circle of charred ground.  We built a near teepee of thin twigs, and a larger tee-pee around it, of sticks.  At the center, we placed some dry birch bark, a clump of milkweed fluff with their dried pods, and a few dry pinecones.  Using the strike-anywhere matches, I lit the bank and fluff.  It took three matches to get a fire that lasted long enough to catch the pinecones and twigs, but then we had a small, crackling fire.

“Thank God!” Christy breathed, sitting cross-legged beside me on the dirt.  She had watched, anxiously, as I worked with the matches.  She looked a little tense, with her eyes wide, and her lips thin.

I sat back, too, enjoying the warm smell of burning sticks, as the smoke drifted on the almost-still air.  Most of it curled upward in clean, pearly-white smoke.  I breathed in, deeply, finally taking time to notice the rich, clean scents around me.  The air was fresh, with the nip of frost, or even an early snow.  I smelled the rich pleasing odor of fallen leaves that had only begun to compost into a loamy layer of new soil.  The many pines and spruces ringing the clearing, sharing space with oaks, birches, chestnuts, and poplars, breathed their distinctive scent out into the mountain air.  The exhaust from the car had already dissipated, overcome and forced out by the scents of nature.  I sighed, contentedly, and saw Christy relax beside me.

Twa-woo!  Twa-woo!

The eerie sound cut across the long, dark shadows at the western edge of the clearing, where the dark gold and crimson of the setting sun slanted low behind the trees.

“What was that?” Christy yelled.

I was startled, too, in the deepening gloom, but I laughed, in spite of myself, at my best friend’s panic.

“It’s an owl,” I laughed, pointing at the shadowy form that skimmed above the darker trees.


“It’s hunting,” I added.  “Prob’ly a mouse.”

“Where’re the guys?” Christy simpered, making me chuckle.  She was squeezing my hand again.

Just then, I heard the Cruiser thump-bump across the twilight field.

“They’re coming,” I said, encouragingly, adding sticks to the cheerfully burning fire.  The warmth from its golden flames was welcome, as the temperature dropped with the lowering sun.

Bump, thump, bunp!

The sound of the car grew closer, and the headlights lit up the campsite.  Moments later, the car lurched to a stop, only feet away from the sleeping bags, and the boys piled out of the car.  All three had been packed into the front seat.  I understood why, as soon as Jason opened the back door, and Rich popped open the trunk.  The car was jammed with sticks and branches.  The two boys started unloading the firewood, heaping it in the charred circle, beyond the campfire. 

Ted walked to the back of the car, but he didn’t unload the trunk.  As Christy and I watched, he started to untie something from the rear bumper of the car.  As soon as I realized what he was doing, the thump, bump noises made sense.  Pulling on Christy’s hand, I jumped up, and we both ran to help Ted.  Together, the three of us untied three whole, dead, dry trees, which had been bumping along behind the slow-moving car.

“Excellent!” I exclaimed, as we dragged the trees into the circle, piling them in with the armfuls of branches Rich and Jason were bringing from the car.

Finally, the car was empty.  Rich drove it a little way off, so as not to crowd the campsite, but still within easy reach.

“Doors’re open,” he said, dropping down beside the small fire with the rest of us, “in case we need t’ get in fast.”

Ted and I each added a stick to the fire, and Christy peered nervously into the shadows.

“I’m hungry,” Jason announced.

“Yeah, what’s for supper?” Rich asked, gently bumping Christy’s shoulder.

“Um, lemme look,” she replied, with a nervous chuckle.


Christy jumped, dropping the paper grocery bag.  A bundle wrapped in a towel fell out and unrolled, revealing two ten-packs of hot dogs, with a blue, plastic ice pack sandwiched between them.

“Sorry,” she muttered sheepishly.


Ted took the bag, and I put an arm around Christy’s shoulders.

“Thanks, Deb,” she murmured.

“’S’okay, Chris,” I said, softly.  “Little spooked?”

“A little,” she admitted.  “I’m okay.”

“Hey, it’s about dark,” Rich observed, as Christy and Jason started threading hot dogs onto the long, metal forks Mrs. Barrow had packed for the trip.  He reached for the taped-up bags.  “You’re mom said wait ‘til dark.

Ted set out two six-packs of Coke.  I found buns, mustard, relish, and marshmallows in the grocery bags, and put them by the Cokes.  Ted added a bag of B-B-Q potato chips.

Rich ripped brown paper and tape off one of the bags.

“Jackpot!” Rich crowed, holding an envelope in one hand, and pawing through the huge, bulging shopping bag with the other.

“Whad’ja find?” Jason demanded, grabbing the envelope.  He looked into the bag, and gave a long whistle.

Grabbing a flashlight from the heap of camping gear, Jason flopped on his belly on his sleeping bag, opened the envelope, and pulled out two pieces of paper.  He glanced at one, by flashlight, and then read the other.

“Wow!” he finally exclaimed.  Mum’s note says all those’re fireworks, so we can celebrate tonight!”

“Like in England?” Christy gasped.

“An’ th’other paper’s a permit from the fire marshal, so we can use ‘em!”

“Put the permit in the car,” I said, hastily.  “Don’t lose it!”

“Darn right!” he agreed.  He clambered up, trotted to the car, and put the papers on the dashboard, above the steering wheel.  The clash of the door, when he slammed it, sounded very alien in the purplish darkness.

Twa-woo! Twa-wa-wa-woooo!

The door had, evidently, disturbed an owl.  Poor Christy trembled, as she held a pair of hot dogs over the fire, 

Ted had a hotdog on to roast, too, and I had two more.  I turned the forks in my hands, so the hot dogs would cook evenly, but most of my attention was on Rich and Jason,

Careful to keep all of the fireworks on the tarp, away from the fire, Rich and Jason unloaded the contents of both bags.  After sorting them into piles, Rich took a double handful of cardboard tubes, with spikes on the ends, and went to the large pile of trees and branches.  Jason followed, with another double handful.

“Whatcha doin’?” I called over to them, turning the hot dogs, which were starting to steam.

“Puttin’ ‘em in the firewood, on the back edge, so’s they’ll go off when the fire gets t’ them,” Rich called back, stooping behind the wood.

“Not all on the edge,” Jason countered, a note of glee in his voice.  “But I’m puttin’ ‘em so’s they point away from us a bit, so’s they won’t come our way!”

“What’re the rest?” I asked, peering over to the pile.

“More o’ these, Jason said.  “We’ll get ‘em in a minute.”

“An’ some we can toss on the fire, to make a buncha light an’ noise,” Rich added, chuckling.

Rich and Jason planted the tubes of fireworks, while Ted, Christy, and I finished roasting the hot dogs.  When everyone was finished, and the hot dogs with blistered, blackened, and exuding a mouthwatering aroma of cooked meat, we all gathered beside the campfire.  We settled the hot dogs in the buns, added mustard and relish to taste, with the help of a plastic for, tore open the bag of chips, and popped open five cans of Coke, with a simultaneous click, pop, creech, phist-s-s-s!

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder, treason

Should ever be forgot.”  Ted started the rhyme, as though he was saying grace for the meal.  We all joined in on the second words, and recited it in unison.  Punctuating the moment, Rich tossed a small object into the fire.  After a moment, we all heard a hiss, pt, sss, and then …


A brilliant white light flashed through the clearing, startling sleepy animals and birds in the trees all around us.

Christy screamed, and Ted saved her hot dog as it flew from her hand.

Then silence.

After several seconds, we all burst out laughing, and then we ate.

We were roasting a second round of hot dogs, when Rich lit the end of a lerge pinecone, and tossed it in among the branches on the far side of the fire.  Several moments later, I heard the crisp crackle, pop of sticks catching fire,  IA moment later, there was a distinctive fwoosh, fwoosh, fwoosh, and three fireworks shot into the sky.

Bang, sizzle, sizzle!  Bang, whee, hiss!  Pop, sizzle, sizzle, sizzle, pop-pop-pop, BANG!

The sky lit up a brilliant, magnesium white, followed by wriggling sizzles of white falling over the clearing.  Before they fell, the sky filled with a flash of crimson fire, from the center of which, whistling embers spiraled in all directions, and fizzled to nothing.  While they whistle, an emerald starburst bloomed in the heavens, glowing against the lingering smoke of the first two rockets.  The sparkles glittered and hissed, and then the third bang resounded over the mountaintop. 

We all cheered.

Rich and Jason set to work on the big bonfire, while Ted, Christy, and I roasted hot dogs over the cheerfully burning campfire.  Soon, the branches of the dead, dry pine tree, at the center of the file, crackled into flame, and the smaller sticks around them began to smolder.  They popped and crackled, and then the fire bloomed in the dry wood.  Before many minutes, the fire was snapping, popping, and crackling, the flames leaping and dancing.  Rich tossed a handful of sparklers on the flames closest to our little campo, and they instantly flared up, sending showers of tiny stars into the night, hissing and whistling as they burned out, and fell to ash.

Rich and Jason were sweaty and smoke-begrimed when they returned to our little half-circle in front of the fire.

“The Brits do it right,” Rich said, spreading mustard and relish on a roasted hot dog.

“Yup,” Jason agreed, doing the same.

“Fireworks and bonfires when it’s dark early enough to enjoy them,” I said, approvingly, as the fire-starters bit into their hot dogs.

We all laughed again, and ate our hot dogs.  We finished the bag of chips, and burned the empty bag.  We finished our Cokes, and popped open another round.  Then we roasted more hot dogs. 

All the while, the sky overhead was filled with burst after burst of crimson, emerald, sapphire, and gold stars, whistling white spinners, and flashes of white and crimson light.  Sulphurous smoke hung with an acrid tang over the clearing, and the booms and bangs echoed and rebounded off the surrounding mountain peaks. 

The night air behind us was chill and dark, but before us was a mountain of joyously dancing, flickering, shining warmth and light.  My face felt hot and tight, and I drank another gulp of Coke. 

We ate and watched without conversation, but not in silence.  Christy stopped cringing from the bangs, and we all gasped and cheered the magical sight of the bonfire and the fireworks. 

From time to time, Rich or Jason tossed more sparklers, or more flash-bangs, into the sun-colored fire, and sprays of tiny white stars, or great flashes of light, would burst from amid the flames.

Some of the fireworks shot up only a few feet, but great gouts of sapphire and cobalt and amethyst flames and sparks fountained up from them, showering into the dancing, devouring flames of the bonfire. 

When the hotdogs were gone, we stuffed the moist, slimy, plastic wrappers into an empty bun bag, and buried the trash in the bottom of the grocery bag.  The Coke cans, redeemable for five cents each, went into the bag, as well.  Ted brought two more six-packs of Coke from the trunk of the car, and Christy started threaded plump, white marshmallows on the long, metal forks.  The fireworks burned themselves out, and the smaller explosives and sparklers ran out, but the bonfire still raged and roared as we roasted marshmallows over the campfire.

Christy and Ted roasted their marshmallows very carefully, turning them over the heat until they were uniformly caramel-tan on all sides, which they both agreed was the correct way to roast a marshmallow.  Rich, Jason, and I, on the other hand, plunged our marshmallows into the flames, and withdrew them as sugary torches.  We let them burn until the outsides were charred, and the insides a gooey semi-liquid.

“That’s the perfect marshmallow!” Jason crowed triumphantly, blowing out the remaining flames, and popping the sticky, gooey blob in his mouth, before it could drip down his fingers.

“Mph hmph!” I agreed, around a gooey, charred blob of marshmallow goodness of my own.

Christy wrinkled her pert little nose in distaste, and tossed her golden curls pettishly.  The rest of us laughed until she couldn’t resist, and then she laughed, too.

We roasted and ate our way through the entire bag of marshmallows, and finished the second round of Cokes.  Christy said she was done, so the rest of us popped open the remaining four Cokes, and drank them to wash down the marshmallows.  I sucked sticky marshmallow from my fingers, and saw the others do the same.

Christy started singing “This Land is Your Land,” and we all listened to her beautiful voice through the first verse, and came in on the chorus.  She knew all the verses, so we sang them all.  We sang one campfire song after another, as we watched the fire burn.  Being goofy, we sat close together, linked arms, and swayed side to side as we sang. 

The full moon rose over our mountaintop clearing, illuminating the darkness, so that everything outside the circle of scarlet and gold firelight was limned silver by the moonbeams.  From the boisterous magic of fireworks, we slipped into the calming magic of the full moon.

It was late, when the bonfire finally burned out.  The moon had set, and the eastern sky shimmered pearly pink and grey and lavender.  To the west, we saw the lights of a large town, but the horizon was black velvet.  The dome above our heads was deep indigo, sprinkled with the constellations of late autumn.  Finally, with only a tame, cheerful campfire to ward off the predators of the night, we crawled into our sleeping bags.  We slept.

The next day, the boys gathered more wood for another, smaller, bonfire.  Rich and Jason drove down to the little store, where the tall, thin owner of the place said Mrs. Edmonds had set up an account, so we could buy food and drink throughout the weekend.  When they returned, they told us Mr. Thompson, the store owner, was supposed to call Mrs. Edmonds when we passed his store the first afternoon, and each day after that, until he saw us leave on Sunday.

“Would’ja believe that?” Jason complained.  “She’s checkin’ up on me, even up here!”

We all laughed, and then gladly ate the ham-and-Swiss subs he and Rich had bought for lunch.  The cold Pop Tarts and cans of Hawaiian Punch that Mrs. Edmonds had packed for breakfast had left us all wanting more meat, and less sugar.

“Got more hotdogs and marshmallows for t’night,” Rich announced.  “Oh yeah, and Wet Wipes,” he added, tossing a package to Christy.

Even though we were on a mini-0holiday, we all sprawled on our sleeping bags the rest of the day, working on our essays for Mr. Rudyard.  We all knew the history, which was a lucky thing, so far from a library.  Ted knew all the names and dates, which also helped a lot.  We talked the rhyme over and over, and discussed our ideas, but, in the end, we each wrote a full five pages, without sharing the writing itself.  Afterward, before it was too dark, we checked each other’s spelling and punctuation, finishing by fire light and flashlights.

The second bonfire was smaller, without any fireworks, but we were delighted to be out on the mountaintop together.  Ted and Rich told Arthurian legends, Greek myths, and a few ghost stories, until Christy broke in after a particularly spooky story, and we sang campfire songs until the still-full moon sailed the indigo sky above us, and then we slept.

Saturday was similar, and we waded our way through calculus and physics homework, with Ted’s help.  We contented ourselves with the cheery campfire our final night on the mountain, to be certain the bonfire was well and truly out.  While Christy and I roasted a third night’s hotdogs, the three boys kicked and stomped the remains of the bonfires, making sure nothing still smoldered there, to be caught up by a passing wind.  We sang until the just-waning moon rose over our heads, and then we slept gain.

Sunday morning, we packed everything into the trunk of the Cruiser.  With the firewood, food, and fireworks gone, there was room for our school backpacks, so the floorboards weren’t crowded on the way home.  There had been frost in the night, and the nip that had lingered in the air all weekend, outside our circle of warmth, was a tingle on the roof of my mouth, and a tang in my nose.

“Snow,” I said, as the first delicate, lacy, white flakes fell on the hard, bare, charred, black circle of earth.  There was cold there now, where there had so recently been blazing heat.  Out holiday was over.

We called Mrs. Edmonds from the pay phone, and we all thanked Mr. Thompson for looking out for us.  The drive home was quiet, and we were all self-contained and reflective.  Rich drove carefully through the falling snow, and the quiet allowed him to concentrate, which suited me in that situation.  Rich dropped Christy off at her house, first.  She hugged us all, and kissed Rich and Jason on the cheeks, before dashing into the house.  Jason was next, and wore a bemused smile all the way home.

“I’m not gonna hug everybody,” Jason said, gruffly, in his driveway.  “Well, maybe you, Deb,” he amended, catching me in a bear hug.  As he released me, I surprised him with a quick kiss on the cheek opposite the one Christy had kissed.  His eye goggled as he let me go, turned pale, muttered something incomprehensible, and stumbled in through the basement door.

Rich and Ted dropped me off next.  Ted gave me a quick hug and a kiss on the forehead.  “Seeya t’morrow, Debs,” he said, laughing slightly.

“Bye, Deb,” Rich said.  “Nuff hugs, thanks.” 

I picked up my stuff, and went in through the kitchen door.  It had been an incredible bonfire holiday, but I was ready for a hot shower and a soft bed.  I closed the door, and smiled.

© 2017 Debbie Barry

Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Please let me know if you catch a typo; it helps. Initial reactions welcome. Constructive criticism welcome.

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'I sat back, too, enjoying the warm smell of burning sticks, as the smoke drifted on the almost-still air. Most of it curled upward in clean, pearly-white smoke. I breathed in, deeply, finally taking time to notice the rich, clean scents around me. The air was fresh, with the nip of frost, or even an early snow. I smelled the rich pleasing odor of fallen leaves that had only begun to compost into a loamy layer of new soil. The many pines and spruces .. .. '

There are typos but methinks, you just need to carefully edit yourself. The writer knows what he/she wants to say - should say, the reader can only criticize merely for the joy of doing so. Maybe tighten up long sentences and kick out supefluous 'and.the', etc.

You romp from scene to scene, add scents, sounds very well. Your prime skill is your dialogue, really is very natural, suits your characters. As to the finish.. gentle, appropriate, suggests maybe, just maybe - more to come! Loved it. ..

Posted 11 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Thanks, Emma! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I had great fun writing it.

I'm especia.. read more

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A wonderful coming of age story, I suspect with a good bit of truth mixed with fiction.

Posted 11 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Thanks, Wendy! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
'I sat back, too, enjoying the warm smell of burning sticks, as the smoke drifted on the almost-still air. Most of it curled upward in clean, pearly-white smoke. I breathed in, deeply, finally taking time to notice the rich, clean scents around me. The air was fresh, with the nip of frost, or even an early snow. I smelled the rich pleasing odor of fallen leaves that had only begun to compost into a loamy layer of new soil. The many pines and spruces .. .. '

There are typos but methinks, you just need to carefully edit yourself. The writer knows what he/she wants to say - should say, the reader can only criticize merely for the joy of doing so. Maybe tighten up long sentences and kick out supefluous 'and.the', etc.

You romp from scene to scene, add scents, sounds very well. Your prime skill is your dialogue, really is very natural, suits your characters. As to the finish.. gentle, appropriate, suggests maybe, just maybe - more to come! Loved it. ..

Posted 11 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Thanks, Emma! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I had great fun writing it.

I'm especia.. read more
Its a very good story! Everything is so descriptive. Almost better then being there myself.

Posted 11 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Thanks, Diane! I was hoping you would enjoy it. Did J read it yet?
It is a very descriptive writing, every minute of the trip you detailed it except which state and town they are from. It is November and a little bit about the weather would have been helpful too, these are teenagers and how they met and what made them to be so close, that they spent
a weekend in the woods? The typos are very few; ... large play hose ( house).you will catch them easily in proof reading . Over all an excellent writing. I enjoyed reading.

Posted 11 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Thank you, my friend! I'll consider your suggestions. I'm worried that there's already too much su.. read more
Mrudula Rani

11 Months Ago

They are only my suggestions, it is your story and you are not under any obligation to change your w.. read more
Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Thank you. I appreciate that, my friend. I like to give every constructive comment consideration. .. read more
This story perfectly captures the essence of good teenaged camping . So sweet and nostalgic I have to wonder if it is partly autobiographical?

When I saw the length of the story, my goal was to read half, offer what I can, and come back for the second half, maybe tomorrow. Once the kids left the school I was hooked and had to read straight through.

The comparisons between stinky adolescents all cooped up in school and the fresh smells surrounding the kids while camping at the top of the mountain were brilliant.

The description of the camp sight, put me right there with them. The wildlife and environment in its natural state, perfectly described and I totally got it.

Ok, this is the hard part on a few levels. First of all not sure what I can offer someone with your educational training, but these are my thoughts and findings while reading.

"The clash (crash?) of the door, when he slammed in (it), sounded very alien in the purplish darkness.

A howl in the distance brought up (us) both up short

“Why not>(?)” I agreed, laughing

There was a moist, loamy smell, where the autumn flower beds had been dug up and empties (emptied) of the brittle remains of the masses of yellow, gold, and white mums that had framed the courtyard, against the red brick walls, the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Cheerleaders’ Corridor. 

in a stuffily(stuffy?) traditional, almond brown, treed (tweed) suit

Another minute dragged to the end.  Mr. Rudyard droned to the end of his lecture. (Can you switch out one of the "end" with maybe finish?)

inexorable way around the face of the round, white face of the clock above the classroom door, (face twice in this sentence, threw me when reading it)

Aside from the typo stuff this is an amazing piece. One other thought, I found the description of the time when they were in the classroom to when they actually got in the car to leave, a little too long. I kept wanting to skip some of it and get on to that trip. But maybe that's just me :)

This is great stuff and I did feel like I was right there with the characters camping, Debbie. Thank you for an enjoyable afternoon's read.

Posted 11 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

I'm so sorry that happened! GPS didn't exist when I lived in Vermont, so we just got directions, bu.. read more
Karen Redburn

11 Months Ago

Happy Saturday, Debbie.

Please don't be sorry, it did lead to quite the adventure an.. read more
Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Good morning, Karen! Happy Saturday! I thought I was the only one up early.

Yes, ad.. read more

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5 Reviews
Added on November 15, 2017
Last Updated on November 16, 2017
Tags: story, fifth of november, bonfire, fireworks, teenager, camping, homework, marshmallows, deer, bear, owl, hawk, wolf, friends


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..


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