It was spring in Montana and the chirp of a bird caused Ben to
look up from his work. "Beautiful." he whispered to himself and
went back to work.
Chipachee had always been promised a school by the state but no
such thing happened. So Ben sat at home for his education, which
was mainly arithmetic and finances. He had never liked his
schooling, but what use had he for other subjects? For
generations anyone who was born into Ben's family lived in the
family condo and ran the farm. It went back all the way to Ben's
great-great-great grandfather who had came to the prairies when
it was first explored. He settled down and began the farming that
was to pass down to Ben. Nobody really enjoyed the farm work but
Ben figured it was worth it to get the money. Companies would pay
big bucks for hand grown organics and that's just what Ben's
family made. And besides, if they had all been taught in such a
way; and raised in such a way, how could you find it easy to do
something else? So once you were old enough to stand you were put
to work washing dishes, feeding animals, watering the crops, and
tuning up the engines on the tractors. Everyone was expected to
follow this path for the rest of his or her life. Of course there
had been "deserters". Once, his cousin Jodie ran off with a boy
from New York and started working on computers. Ben was just two
whens this happened so he hardly remembered much of Jodie. But
what he saw was a girl struggling against the chains that held
her to this work, struggling to make her own path. The next he
remembered of Jodie was when she was in tears, saying goodbye to
Ben and the rest of his family above the screams of the
grandparents. Occasionally Jodie sent a card or a birthday
present back but mostly there wasn't a soul who dared mention her
for fear of an explosion. A few years afterwards his cousin
Michel was born and that swept away all memory of the girl. Of
course, Michel only stayed a few years before going off to a
school for children with special needs but it still took minds
off for a while. And when Ben was nearly seven his cousin, Carle,
was born. Boy, that girl caused a bang! She didn't just suck her
thumb like normal babies do she demanded attention. For a while
the grandparents had all the kids and everyone had to go handle
Carle. But Carle proved smart and sassy and somehow she really
hit a spot on Ben. He would do almost anything for her and did.
It was amazing how time seemed to fly when he was with Carle. He
would show her the real world and then he would get a peak into
hers. Carle was Ben's best friend and Ben hers.
The thought of Carle woke him from his daydreams and he stared at
his watch. Just enough time for a walk before dinnertime. He
filled his backpack- safety kit, raincoat, Swiss Army knife, and
a book, which he couldn't read unless in the private of his own
sanctuary. Running down the stairs he dashed a note on the board
for anyone who might wonder where he was and headed out the door
to his sanctuary, a mile over the rolling hills to the east. He
ran the first quarter of the way before trying a slower pace.
Step over step Ben walked and the minutes ticked on his watch.
When reached the valley that stood as his sanctuary he rested and
began to read his book.
Purple clouds covered the sky and Ben realized he should probably
go back. Storms on the prairie can be explosive and you never
want to be caught alone in one. As he turned to face his house
his gut churned with rising horror. Even over the grassy hills he
could see his house, and could there for see the smoke billowing
forth from his father's room. Ben's legs pumped violently as he
sprinted to the house, pack bumping on his back. What about
Carle? She had come down with a fever and had been in bed all
day. How would she know? He had to get everyone out! "Fire!" he
shouted, "FIRE!" Flames lick the walls and with dread Ben saw one
collapse near the sick room where Carle lay. He knew from the
scream that for whoever was in there it was too late.
It took Ben all of five minutes two run the mile
but even that was a long time as the buildings were coming down
and it was beginning to spread onto the grass. Screams echoed
across the family farm but he had ears only for Carle. Flames
stood almost thirty feet in the air but Ben burst through them
headfirst with ferocity rarely seen. Finally he reached the post
where Carle hung. "Carle, hang on!" he cried.
"Help, Ben! I'm slipping!" the girl cried in a
scared voice. And with reason. The post Carle was clinging to was
two feet in the air and looked as though it was about to split.
If Ben didn't reach her soon she would plummet into the depths of
the flames. But how would she get down? There was only on,
extremely risky solution.
"Carle, you have to jump! I'll catch you as long
as you jump out."
"I can't, Ben!"
"You have too!"
"It's too far!"
"Carle-" his words were cut short as the post
Carle was gripping snapped and she plummeted into the raging
flames, which seemed to open up and swallow her. "CARLE!" Ben
screamed. He plunged into the flames, ignoring his burning hair,
his singed clothes. He had to get to Carle. Maybe it wasn't too
late. He fell over a chunk of wood and his face met another
charred one. It was Gramma. He had to ignore her. Sobs racked
through Ben as he saw all he had worked for destroyed. All his
family gone. What would he do now? He had to die with Carle. He
couldn't live without her. Why did it have to be her? Why not
him? He pictured himself getting down on his knees and screaming,
praying, "No! Take me with her!" But he had no time, he had to
get to her, she could still be there! She could still be
He ran through the flames until he tripped over
something soft. Looking down he saw Carle's body, limp and hot to
the touch. He hauled her onto his back and sprinted out of the
flames, trying to protect her burnt, delicate face. He remembered
reaching a circle of dirt that was about thirty feet wide with
the well in the middle of the family "community" and laying Carle
down. Then he remembered pouring water over her face and begging
her to come back. He remembered listening to her heart and had
the illusion of a faint heartbeat. And his world went black and
he passed out.
An hour later flames still gorged on the houses
but Ben was safe inside the dirt circle. A faint moaning awakened
him. Looking over at Carle he saw what he had desperately been
hoping for. Carle was alive! It was her moan of pain. Ben heard
shouts in the distance of what sounded like firefighters. Ben
looked over at his, cousin who was beginning to come to. He
poured water over her thin face. The water was a warm, but it was
still a relief from the flames that leaped out around them. Ben
looked at Carle's burnt clothes and reached inside his back for
his coat. He took the burnt pieces of it and dipped the coat in
water before laying it over her in a blanket. Carle whispered a
silent, nearly inaudible thanks before going back to sleep. Ben
looked through what was in his pack. His safety pack was water
and fireproof so it was in tact, as was his knife. His book,
however, was burnt to a crisp. It had been on the outside pocket
of his backpack, which had actually burned off. He would miss the
book but it wasn't like it could help him much. Then he looked up
at the sky again and remembered the storm that had made him turn
back. Sure enough he felt a light drop of rain on his cheek and
seconds later it was pouring. It was a welcome rain and soon the
heat soon died down and Ben could look over the scorched ground.
For miles all he could see were acres of the ashy remains of
fields his family had farmed for generations. What would they do
now? The firefighters had evidently left, assuming that the rain
would take care of everything. Ben scanned the wreck. He found
the safe he kept ion his room. The heat had melted it but he
could still pry it open. He withdrew the twenty dollars he had
saved up and put it into his pocket. He also found some cans of
soup with the wrappers burnt off but the food still mainly in
tact. He slipped those into his pack and began to look for
bodies. He found Gramma and Grandpa and laid them next to each
other. A little ways off he found his mom and dad, hugging each
other. Ben sobbed as he lay them to rest near the grandparents.
They had loved each other in life and in death and they had loved
him too. Finally, regret filled his stomach. None of this would
have happened if he had stayed home. He would see whatever had
caused the fire and put it out. After all, his room was right
next to his dad's. But that thought brought him to something
else: what had caused the fire? He choked with sobs as he
guessed. Then he went around back and found something he hadn't
guessed on: a gas tank and a pack of matches.