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“C’mon, it’ll only take you a second,” he said. I can still remember the look on his face; he looked like a puppy begging for a treat. My red-haired neighbor was three years older than me; he had a sprinkle of freckles across his cheeks and a certain charm in his voice.
“Ben, I don’t know about this. I don’t want to get into trouble,” I, being ever cautious, was always reluctant to participate in Ben’s adventures.
“No one is going to find out. Stop being such a baby, and go get them!” he said, growing impatient. I was put in a difficult position. I had Smokey the Bear telling me it was wrong, and my best friend accusing me of being a coward.
“All right, fine,” I said grudgingly, “I’ll get the matches, but you better come with me.” My heart was already racing, and I could feel my palms moisten. My father was the manager at the local bowling alley. This arrangement suited us well, as we would often spend our afternoons lounging around the bowling alley. For this particular act of mischief, the “Superbowl” was the perfect place to obtain our sought after matches. Much to our joy, the Superbowl was a mere mile away from our houses, just the right distance for twelve-year olds. It was far enough to seem like another world, yet close enough for us to venture to alone.
We made our way through the dense foliage and towards the bowling alley. We had cleverly named our backyards as “The Woods”. For a child, even a dozen trees make a thick jungle. We soon came upon the large single-storied building; the prized matches were within.
I saw the bowl full of matches on the snack bar counter. My heart was racing and my head was pounding; I might as well have been stealing the crown jewels. Much to my surprise, getting the unholy packet of matches was easy. We soon had what we yearned for. We now headed for our ‘Cabin’.
The Cabin was a small clearing in a patch of trees. This provided us with ample space to play, and gave us the seclusion and privacy which acts of mischief required. We gathered the necessary materials and headed for Ben’s house. What possessed us to play with fire in the basement of his house, I cannot fathom.
Ben and spoke little during this period.
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"The Fire." 123HelpMe.com. 26 Feb 2020
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We chose a dark corner close to a door, grabbed our newspapers, and pulled out the matches; Ben new how to use them, and we soon had glowing, warm fire. Our eyes widened as we gazed into the bright, pure fire. We feared to touch it, but we also longed to grasp it in the palms of our hands. The basement was dark and damp, perfect to make a small bonfire. Unfortunately, we were so wrapped up in our business of fire making, we failed to notice Ben’s younger sister. At only 5, she was not yet gripped with the passion to create that mystical amber, and promptly alerted her mother.
Ben’s mother was an unemployed large woman with a bad smoking habit. Contrary to modern cliché, she was not a bad mother. She knew that playing with fire was dangerous, and soon put an end to our endeavor.
The scolding that followed was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced. Anyone fortunate enough to grow up in the north-eastern United States will have a clue as to what went on for the next two hours. I was interrogated and lectured. Fire was equated with evil and with the devil.
I still remember how I felt. I was sure my parents would send me to jail; after all, that’s where bad kids went. I did what any child at seven would do, I blamed Ben. I told them how he threatened to hurt me unless I got him the matches. One of us had to take responsibility, and he wasn’t around at the time.
“He’ll never know,” I thought. It turns out he never did find out. It’s odd, I still feel guilty for turning my friend in, after all this time. It serves as a reminder of how cruel children can be, and how foolish.