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 alive!
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.
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