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.
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