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The Campfire « Fiction365
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Today's Story by Bennett Ashford

Let's hope the only thing dying out tonight is the rest of this bottle.

The Campfire

Gordon tossed the last few thin sticks on the campfire. Sparks from the embers floated up like fireflies, extinguishing quickly after leaving their warm home.

“You know, Ted,” Gordon said, “one of us is going to have to get more wood for the fire.”

Ted shrugged. “Maybe. What if we just let it die down?”

“What for? It’s chilly tonight.”

“It’s not that bad. Flannel weather at most.”

“At least flannel weather, you mean.”

Again Ted shrugged. This shrug more indifferent than the last.

“Sorry about your father,” Gordon said.

“He was old. No surprise.” Ted poked absently at the fire with a forked branch.

“But still, sorry. He was a generous and funny man.”

“He was, wasn’t he,” Ted muttered.

“I thought of him as a second father.”

“He liked you too. Thought you were a good influence on me.”

Gordon reached over and raised a bottle of vodka into the air. The glass reflected the firelight, the orange color stopped cold in the liquid.

“Glad you joined me tonight,” Gordon said. “You needed this I think.”

“I suppose,” Ted said.

“Grab those tin cans.”

Ted leaned forward, snatched the two campfire tins they had used earlier at dinner, and dumped out the water into dirt. The water hit the ground with a satisfying splash, as if the tin cans were spitting. Ted proffered the cups. Gordon spun off the bottle’s top and poured vodka into the cups nearly to the top.

“I left enough room so you don’t waste any by spilling it,” Gordon said, chuckling.

Ted waited until Gordon took his drink before sniffing his. “What kind is this? It’s strong.”

“Stolichnaya.”

“Russian?”

“Of course. They make it better than anyone.”

“That they do.”

Gordon lifted his cup and swung it through the air. “To this. To us, here, right now.”

“To this,” Ted agreed.

They thumped cans, a tiny metallic clink indicating a successful toast. Gordon swigged his vodka complete in three gulps. The liquid burned his upper body from the back of his throat all the way to his belly. But it was good. A reminder that exceptional vodka was supposed to burn. Gordon watched Ted swirl his drink in the cup.

“Go ahead. You’ll like it,” Gordon said.

“For the moment. What am I suppose to do when all of it’s gone?”

“Teddy, we gotta make the rest of ’46 better for you. And this–” Gordon poured himself another cup. “–this is how you start.”

“Alright, Gordon.” Ted cringed as the vodka hit his tongue. He tried to take a swallow, but gagged, the alcohol too strong to go down. Lurching, Ted threw up near the fire. The puke sizzled as stray drops touched small pieces of glowing stick remnants.

Gordon laughed heartily, almost dropping his cup and the vodka bottle. “Now that’s it!” He bellowed. “Now that’s definitely it!”

Ted looked up, wiping vomit residue from his mouth. He coughed once, then said, “That stuff is strong!”

“Do you feel better?”

Ted paused and eyed Gordon and then sat straight up. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Good, good.” Gordon stood. “I’m going to get some more wood.”

“Let’s just let it die down. I don’t want to see the puke.”

“Scoop it into the fire, then. We need to stay warm.”

“Alright, fine.”

Gordon wandered a hundred feet away, stomping weeds over, kicking useless branches out of the way. Occasionally, he’d bend over and find one or two sticks that would do the job of keeping the fire going. When he would bend over, Gordon would sneak quick glances at his friend. Ted continued to exhibit a forlorn demeanor, despite the tactics Gordon tried. It had been almost a month to the day since Ted’s father passed away; a man should mourn only so long. After that, remembrances on the deceased birthday’s, special anniversaries, and holidays were the days to mourn. A man should only mourn so long. Maybe Gordon should tell Ted directly, instead of hinting.

With an armful of wood for the fire–Gordon’s collection consisting mainly of forearm-sized branches and rotted sticks–Gordon returned to the campfire and fed the flames three sticks from his arms.

“That should do it for a while,” Gordon said.

Ted nodded and flipped a clump of dirt over the last of the puke with the toe of his boot.

“The year will get better, Ted. You have to know that.”

“Maybe.”

“Have you talked to your sister?”

“No, not since the funeral.”

“Why not? I bet she’s hurting just as bad as you.”

“I don’t know–”

“You don’t know because you haven’t asked her. Your mother passed away years ago. It’s just you two now. You can’t let time spread silence between you and your sister. That’s not how life progresses. You have a family for a reason.”

Ted gazed into the fire, the heat making his eyes tear. When his pulled away, Ted wiped his eyes, but tears continued to drop onto the ground.

“Take that campfire, Ted. The fire either goes up or goes down. The flames enlarge or diminish. Do you think the fire has enough time to worry about any of the wood that slowly dies away to ash? No, it may wish for a while it had that piece of wood back, but it doesn’t dwell on it. The fire moves on to another piece wood to stay alive.”

Ted casually looked at the pile of sticks Gordon had brought over.

“There is wood all around,” Gordon continued. “Your sister, me, your drinking buddies at The Last Tap. Use the other wood to make those flames larger.”

A sigh escaped Ted’s lips. “Fourteen,” Ted mumbled.

“What?”

“You have fourteen sticks there.”

Gordon ran his eyes over the pile. “Probably. I didn’t count them.”

Ted angled forward on his knees and reached out for one of the sticks. “Thirteen now. I want to put this one in the fire.”

“It’s not necessary. There’s plenty of wood–”

“I don’t want it to die out.”

The intensity emanating from Ted’s face could spark another fire next to their current one if Gordon set down a starter pile.

“Go ahead. Maybe just to be safe, in case we fall asleep,” Gordon said.

Ted carefully set the stick into the fire, crossways over the existing pieces of wood. When he pulled his hand out, Ted shook it, smoke rising from the flesh. A heat burn, Gordon guessed, but Ted made no mention of any pain.

Ted smiled, a tear collecting in the upturned corner of his mouth. “Now share some more of that vodka.”

With a less careful pour, Gordon once again filled their cups. “Let’s hope the only thing dying out tonight is the rest of this bottle!”

“To this,” Ted said.

“To this,” Gordon answered.

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Bennett Ashford has had many genre pieces (horror, sci-fi, and fantasy) published in various online and print magazines and is currently under contract to complete a comic book.

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