"What are you still doing
up? I thought everyone called it a night an hour ago."
She came from the shadows,
into the front of the campfire, wearing a thick coat and a scarf wrapped hastily
around her neck. He looked up from the campfire, almost as if just broken from
She sat down on the log
next to him, and stared at the same fire. Finally he said, "Right now's the
first time I had all day to hear my own thoughts. I had no idea everyone could
be so loud. "
She laughed, and nodded
too; eight young people certainly had enough lungs to shake up an entire campground.
"No offense, Jo, but your
friends yelled loud enough to wake up those hibernating bears those rangers
told us about."
She laughed again, then
answered, "My friends? Some of those girls you brought along screamed like they
were being physically attacked."
"They're city girls, all
"With piercing voices.
My dad would have said, 'Sounds like someone's getting a needle stuck up her
"Your dad sounds sick."
They both did, after a
laugh. The three tents and two sleeping bags behind them seemed further away;
the night crept up on them and they faded into the background, along with the
solemn black shapes of the trees and mountain. All that seemed alive were two
feet around the still-roaring campfire. A ring of stones. A shirt draped on
a large rock, hung to dry. A tiny, lidded pot, meant for the next morning's
breakfast. And the two last waking campers, on an old log, staring at dancing
"Why are you up, Jo?,"
after a timeless silence.
"It's too early to sleep
for me. I don't know. I think that little skinny-dipping after dinner woke me
up. I'm still high right now. Too much energy to sleep."
"Oh really? I'm surprised
you didn't catch pneumonia, or that other cold....thing. It's...uh..."
"Yeah, that's it. You
guys are just... adrenaline junkies. Always looking for that rush."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"No. No it's not. It's
just ... interesting to be around."
"Listen, I saw you when
we ran to the lake. You wanted to come along too. You just didn't want to embarrass
yourself in front of your friends."
"Nonsense. I don't care
about what.... I don't even know how to swim."
"You don't? Wow, I didn't
think a kid nowadays could grow up and go to school and not be able to swim."
"My parents always said
I was special."
"You're special all right.
Special in the ... ". Her words fell beneath her breath.
"Special in the ... ?",
"Look at the night out.
The sky is beautiful. I mean, just beautiful.", she said, arching her neck to
get a full view of the sky.
"It is. Spectacular. It
doesn't ... look this good from the city, does it?"
"Exactly. It's why I love
camping out, going outdoors. It's the way to go, let me tell you."
"Go on with yourself,
"Thank you, I will." She
straightened up, as if preparing to address a crowd. "It's like... we live each
day in the city. In buildings, on streets, inside rooms with tv's and computers.
I mean, almost every hour in the day we're inside, under a roof, between four
"That's just not natural,
you know. People used to be more 'outside'. We used to be farmers. Worked on
the railroads. Stuff like that. We used to play more too. Everyone went to the
park. Played frisbee, walked the dog. Things are different now. No one goes
outdoors anymore. Like there's nothing out here. But there is. It's everything
around us. Even in the sky. We just have to see."
"Here, here. That was
beautiful. Jo. I mean it. Seriously. That was wonderful."
"That's just how I see
it. We don't 'partake with our natural wonders as much as I would hope."
"I think if everyone 'partook
in your natural wonders', we'd be all in better shape."
She turned to look at
him, studying his eyes. Figuring out what he meant, implied to say. He was careful
not to look at her, but a smile escaped anyway.
"What...what is it, Jo?"
"I think you have an interesting
choice of words over there."
"What, you mean.... oh.
I see. That must have been a Freudian slip. Pardon me."
The night shook suddenly
when an owl called out, but it was brief, a quick gesture to everyone in the
forest that it was still there, still waiting for its mate.
"Why do you keep looking
at your hands?"
"Oh... I just have to
write something, especially after a day like today. But there's just not enough
light out. My eyes are bad enough as it is."
"You write everyday?"
"I guess. I guess I do.
Usually about stuff that doesn't matter to anyone else but me. But sometimes..."
"It's about something
a little more ... universal."
"Yeah, you can say that."
"Well, if you write to
put stuff down, stuff you, or anyone else, can read later on, then why don't
you write with me. Just tell me what you were going to write with your hands.
I'll be your sole listener."
He stared off into the
fire. It danced and flared, flickered, weaved. Sometimes it would lull them
with a slow, heavy burn, then suddenly it would wake and rush out at them; fiery
tentacles rising, snapping at the frigid air. His eyes were glued to this single
flame's dance, a looping, jumping thing that verged on supreme height then death,
but managed time and again to return to normal. He stared at it, and after a
" 'It started with a waterfall
that wouldn't go down.'
" 'First of all, it wasn't
my idea to throw our backpacks across the river. That would be insane, risky,
a stupid idea. It was Jo and her friend's idea.' "
She laughed, hitting him
with her elbow.
" 'Naturally, I tried
to change their minds. Trying to convince explain to them that it would be easier
to just walk up the river and until it was shallower and easier to cross, but
they would have none of it. I felt like Moses trying to hold back the over-eager
ones who wanted to cross the Red Sea before it had parted.'
" 'I had no effect on
them, and they threw bag after bag across the other side of the river, the side
we should have been on, had it not been for a costly left-instead-of-right turn
at the park entrance, thanks to Miss Jo and her amazing map skills.' "
" Shhh. 'Now, it came
down to my bad and sleeping gear. Their plan had inconceivably gone well. Still
shaking my head at the preposterous nature of it all, I heaved my pack across
the mighty river, in true form of an Olympic hammer or discus thrower.'
" 'When the applause died
down, I picked up my sleeping bag, and attempted to send it on its way. Notice
the word 'attempted', instead of 'done, because as I was in the middle of my
spin, a bystander close to me, still unknown to myself, choose to point out
at that time that a lace on my shoe was untied. I, being distracted at the comment,
looked down, while releasing my bag. It went about halfway across the river.
About halfway to where I wanted it to be. '
" 'The river, the one
thing we had tried to avoid during this whole thing, simply took my bag and
left us standing there like scarecrows on an empty farm. '
" 'We gave chase, almost
futile because who can run as fast as water, until we saw the river disappear
up ahead. It fell into a deeper river; a four-foot fall, and then into this
lower, deeper river, which ran much slower. Slow enough that some of us with
the skill could swim into it and retrieve my wayward bedding.
" 'It was lodged among
some rocks right on top of the waterfall. We waited, deliciously licking our
lips at the impending bag-falling. It crept to the very edge of the fall, water
bouncing behind it, nudging, pushing it over. But it didn't. We waited but it
would not fall. Physics and nature failed us. Failed me. I was to go cold this
night, as my protection-in-slumber lay in the clutches of this mad river....'
"Do all your stories go
"What.... Oh. Sometimes.
"I think I should be heading
off to sleep now."
"Oh. What makes you say
that, now of all times?"
"Well, that was just this
morning. I'm afraid you won't be done with the whole story before everyone else
"You're going to miss
all the good stuff then. The action, the violence, the witty dialogue, the sexual
"You didn't notice it?
I thought it was rather .... obvious."
"Between who? Robert and
Tina? Or was it John and Barbara? I thought they kind of hit it off..."
He leaned in a bit closer
to her. Just staring into her eyes, silently grabbing her attention. She trailed
off, and waited for him to say...
"I can't tell you if you're
going off to sleep now. It would ruin the story."
"Oh, good night."
"Good night, Jo."
He turned to face the
fire again, now a bit smaller, a little less bright. Dying slowly but not caring.
It would do its job till the very end, it didn't know anything else to do.
"Hey, you're still up,"
she whispered, making him jump a bit off the log.
"So are you," he whispered
back. "That was a whole fifteen minutes, Jo. Must have been a heck of a nap."
"I know. It was that stupid
story of yours. You make the simplest things sound so dramatic."
"Sometimes they are."
"Not all the time. Stuff
is usually simple," she continued to whisper, as she sat back on the log. "Usually
plain. It is what it looks like. You can take it or leave it."
"Not usually. You overthink
things too much. Just let stuff happen. Don't worry about consequences. Worry
about what's right there. The stuff right in front of you."
"I see," he said, turning
away to face the dim campfire again. Even the night grew silent, down to a whisper
along with both of them.
"Sometimes, I guess the
voice in my head drowns out the voice of my mouth. I want to say something,
but my mind says something else."
"Sounds like you have
a conflict inside. 'War of the Words.' That'd be a good soap opera to call you."
"Nice to see you care
enough to make that observation."
"No problem. Considering
you were about to put all that stuff about me in your story. You make it sound
like I was the cause of all your misery."
"Who says you're not?"
"What? What have I done
He sighed, letting his
mouth move too quickly from his brain again.
"Nothing Jo. I'm just
drowsy, that's all."
"I bet. Aren't you going
to go in and get some sleep?"
"I don't know. That story
kind of woke me up, too. Thanks, by the way, I've never written out anything
with my mouth before. It was pretty weird for me."
"No problem. It was pretty
good too. I was just kidding before. It was funny. You should let me read some
of your other stuff, when we get back."
"Sure, why not?"
"It's so quiet now. Look's
like the forest finally went to sleep."
"Maybe we should stop
whispering and wake it up again."
"Hush. It's so dark now.
I might not be able to see which tent is mine anymore."
"Its the one not snoring
"What?...Yeah. I'm going
to get a big laugh at them tomorrow."
"Maybe we should call
it a night. This fire's about to choke out on us."
"I know. You've been staring
at it for hours. Thought you were hypnotized by it or something."
"No. Maybe......I've had
this thing with flames. Ever since I was a kid..."
"Oh no. A pyromaniac's
"No. I hope not. They're
just....been always so interesting to look at. They're never the same, always
moving. At different speeds, taking different shapes. Sometimes they're real
quiet, and then they go and act up, be real loud. Whipping and striking out.
Then they go still and quiet again. They're like every person in the world,
all in one flame. Living out whole lives, all condensed into a few minutes or
"It's like I hear they're
stories when I look at them, all I do is listen when I stare."
She had leaned in closer
to him as he whispered, so she was nearly talking to his cheek when she said,
"That was really beautiful."
He turned, caught by her
proximity. The dying light caught her face in such a way that he couldn't look
away. Her cheeks glowed smoothly and pale in the flickering light. Her lips
perfectly drawn in, holding her breathe. Her eyes cast down at the flames, a
portrait of her he had never been this close to, never been so drawn in by.
Almost saying something,
she looked at him, catching his lips move from the corner of her eye.
He hesitated, then said,
"I guess this is one of those times where I shouldn't say what I want, but I'm
saying over and over again in my head."
She grinned a little bit,
then looked back at the campfire. It was her now, studying these flames.
"You just say what you
want to say. What you're saying in your head. Its got to be important, if that's
all your thinking about...."
"You... look....so beautiful."
Her eyes turned to him,
then widened. They studied his, looking for some hidden meaning, for a hint,
a vague clue, something that might say ... he was joking. Her eyes studied his,
searching for false sincerity. When she couldn't find it, she sighed inside
and wondered what an interesting point now, between these two friends.
"I think we should go
to bed now."
She froze, felt his eyes
glued on her. Nothing made a sound, even nature held her breathe after that.
The shock of what she said was still etched on her face.
"You see what I mean,
" he finally said.
Both managed a silent
laugh, not wishing to break the pristine night air. The light grew dimmer till
it seemed they had to be inches from each other to tell the expression on the
other's face. That seemed important to them that night, not wanting to miss
the extra words their faces said.
So close were they, that
when he thought the light was nearly dying out, that he would go with it too,
he kissed her on her lips, not too quick but not too long. She thought that
a nanosecond was too long, because it wasn't expected, but nothing interesting
ever was, so when he let go, she did too.
"I think we should go
inside," she finally said.
"My sleeping bag is still
wet, outside", he answered.
"I think 'we' should go
"Don't forget to put out
"Are you sure you know
"Yeah, I'm sure. I'll
just feel my way around, and I'll know when I get to the one I want."
"Yeah. That's how I always
look for the things I want."
"How ... interesting."
"Yeah, I know. Say good
night to the sky now."
"Good night, sky."
By Don Bernal
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