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HomeDrama StoriesWhere There's Smoke, There's Fire

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

Two boys decide to play with firecrackers with unexpected results.

The two firecrackers flew through the hot, dry air and exploded with almost simultaneous BANGS. The report echoed off of the surrounding woods and just as quickly as it came, it was gone again. Steven reached into the brown paper bag that lay at his feet, withdrawing another two M-80 firecrackers that he had bought when his family went to Myrtle Beach the previous summer. He handed one to his friend Rob and both boys used the lighter (stolen from Rob’s stepfather) to light the fuses. They made sure the fuse had lit and threw the firecrackers as far and high as they could. BANG! Another echo, then silence.

It was late May. The two boys were just finishing their freshman year of high school. Another two and a half weeks of classes and they had the entire summer in front of them. They already had jobs lined up: weeding houses for ten dollars an hour from a neighbor that believed boys should have the opportunity to work if they wanted. Even their teachers seemed to be gearing up for the summer. Their homework load was steadily dropping and they had more and more free time on their hands. The only main project left was an oral presentation they had to give that was worth quite a bit of their grade, but neither boy had started theirs yet. They figured they had plenty of time before it was due, so why bother starting now.

They were in what they considered to be “their” area. A small public place set just behind the power lines that ran about a quarter mile from Rob’s house. The boys would ride their bikes down to the area almost every day and just goof off. They had smoked their first cigarettes there (another courtesy stolen from Rob’s stepfather), had hunted rabbits with a bow and arrow, and had played paintball in the surrounding woods and stream. In was not a big area, maybe ten acres all told, but to the boys, it was as big as it needed to be. Surrounding the whole area was a dirt track, the grass a distant memory from kids that would ride their ATV’s and bikes around the area. On either side of the trail, tall grass almost as tall as the boys grew. The two boys, however, were not the only ones that knew about the area. Some kids had taken it upon themselves to build a tree-house in one of the shorter trees. The steps were nailed in, but that was a far as they had gotten. A small pile of lumber testified to the promise to continue to build. The boys had also found empty beer cans and crushed cigarettes. Others knew about the area, but every time Steven and Rob went, it was all empty, but more importantly, all theirs.

Steven reached into the bag again and withdrew another package. “Check this out,” he said. “Smoke bombs. I have a couple packs. Want to give these a try?”

“Awesome,” was Rob’s response, holding out his hand for one. Steven tore into the package, extracting one of the four it held. He placed it in Rob’s hand, and then stepped back. He was letting Rob throw this one. Instead, Rob jogged forward a few steps, placed the smoke bomb in the middle of the dirt trail then knelt and lit the fuse. Even from afar, Steven could see the fuse disappear as it burned, then sparks shoot from the end of the smoke bomb where the fuse disappeared into the body. Sure enough, the sparks were followed by a thick, steady stream of white smoke.

The boys were elated. They ran back and forth through the smoke, jumping over the still smoking canister. Too soon for their liking, the smoke bomb sputtered, and then stopped. “We need to do that again,” Steven stated. “This time, try throwing it,” he instructed.

“Way ahead of you,” was Rob’s response. He already had another one in his hands and was touching the tip of the flame to the fuse. It caught, and then Rob heaved it as far as he could. His aim was off though. Instead of landing on the trail, it had veered off and was a couple feet in the grass. Steven could see where it had landed because the smoke had again started to pour out. As they watched it, however, they noticed something was different. There was the white smoke they had seen before, but there was also a darker smoke mingling in with the white. They ran over and immediately saw the problem; the grass had caught on fire. It hadn’t rained for a while, so the grass was extremely dry. Enveloped by the smoke, the boys began to try and stamp the fire out, but it was too late. Every time their feet came down, the air pressure would cause the flames to spread. It quickly became clear to both of the boys that there was nothing they could do. They needed to get out of there, and fast.

The boys ran to their bikes that had leaned against a tree. In one swift, fluid motion, they jumped on their bikes and started pedaling furiously. The tires spun, the tread caught, and they were off, Rob in the lead and Steven following. They tore out of the area, up the ATV track and through the woods. Right before they hit the road, Steven chanced a glance back. The fire was not in sight, but a thick cloud of smoke hung over the area, promising that the fire had indeed spread. Looking back forward, Steven tried to think through what had just happened, but it proved impossible. He had to focus all his efforts on keeping up with Rob, who was quite a distance away. Steven stood up on his pedals and pedaled even faster, eventually catching up with Rob. He assumed they were going to Rob’s house, which was the closest.

Rob’s house was indeed the destination. The boys pulled their bikes into the empty driveway and climbed off. Their legs felt like jelly from the fast, furious sprint from the woods. Feeling a little shaky, they opened the gate into the backyard and walked around to the pool. Without saying a word, Rob walked to the edge and, fully clothed, dived in. Steven kicked off his shoes and joined in, jumping into the clean, cool, crystal clear water. It felt absolutely wonderful. Steven held his breath for as long as he could, then kicked to the surface. Rob had already come up for air. The boys treaded water and stared at each other, both wanting to talk about what had happened, but unsure what to say. They both started speaking at the same time.

“Did you see…” Steven sputtered.

“I can’t believe…” Rob yelled.

“The way the flames…” Steven began to say.

Both stopped speaking abruptly. The raised their heads and listened. In the far-off distance, a siren had started to sound. As they listened, it grew closer and closer, until it again began to fade into the distance. The boys looked at each other again as the truth sank it. They knew what they had heard. It was a siren from a fire truck.


It was in the newspaper the next day. Not front page news, but a couple of pages in. It was just a short article explaining that a brush fire had started and a neighbor had noticed the smoke and called the fire department. It was a 3 alarm fire and 2 of the firefighters had to be treated for heat exhaustion. There was no mention of firecrackers or smoke bombs. In their mad dash to leave the area, Steven had the foresight to grab the bag containing the rest of the explosives. Upon getting home, he had put the bag back where he had found it, in the basement closet. Steven was the one who found the article. His parents had already read the paper, so he cut it out and put it in his pocket, intending to take it to school and show Rob. Steven still couldn’t believe what they had done. He felt bad for the firefighters, but also relief that they hadn’t been caught. He finished getting dressed, said goodbye to his mother who was doing laundry, and ran to catch the bus to school.

Days passed without any police showing up at the house or any other mention of the fire. Rob had reacted with amazement that something they had done had made it into the paper. That seemed to be the end of it. The boys continued going to school, getting more and more ready for summer vacation, but acutely aware that “their area” was now off limits, at least to them. They refused to return to the scene, implicitly aware that their presence might be noted by a nosy neighbor and be reported. Instead, they went swimming in Rob’s pool, rode their bikes around the neighborhood, and began making other plans for summer for when they weren’t working. They still avoided doing their final project, but they had made decisions on what they were doing. Rob was doing his report on paintball. Steven decided to do his on baseball, another passion of his. They hadn’t gotten past the planning phase, but they were ready to start.

The following night, Steven’s mother came to his room. “I have a question for you,” she said. “I was doing laundry and emptying your pockets. Why do you have this newspaper clipping?” She held out the small crumpled piece of newspaper that contained the story about the fire. Steven swallowed hard, his mind running trying to come up with a viable explanation that his mother would buy. His silence and his face, however, betrayed him. His mother read the truth on his face.

“We didn’t mean to!” he cried out. “It was an accident.” Like a dam breaking, Steven began to talk, faster and faster, explaining to his mother the firecrackers, the smoke bombs, how the fire had started, everything. She listened, first with incredulousness, then anger. When he got to the part about hearing the sirens, she exploded.

“You started a fire and just left! How could you? Don’t you know that people could have died! Homes burnt, possessions lost, everything gone because you were playing with firecrackers! Those firefighters could have died doing their jobs because of what you two did!” she finished.

Steven didn’t say a word, but just hung his head. Tears had begun to well up in his eyes, not from fear of his mother, but shame over what he had done. “Stay in here,” his mother ordered. I need to talk to your father. Better yet, YOU’LL talk to him and explain what happened.” She left the room, returning moments later with Steven’s father. Just by looking at his father’s face, Steven knew that he had heard everything, but, obedient to his mother, Steven complied, telling his story again.

Rather than reacting with anger, his father sat down and sighed. “What have I always told you,” he said. “Always take responsibility for your actions. You weren’t planning on telling us this, were you?” Instead of waiting for an answer, he kept talking. “You put people’s lives in danger. You can’t do things like this. You’re grounded for the first month of summer vacation, starting now.” Steven huffed in with a sharp intake of breath. That was almost half of his summer vacation! He knew better though than to argue with his father. “Also,” his father asked, “don’t you have a report coming up?”

Steven eyed his father, not sure where he was going with this. “Yes,” he answered. “I was going to do it on baseball.”

“Not anymore,” his father responded. “You’re going to do it on forest fires and the damage they cause. That might help you realize exactly what you did.” His parents got up and right before they left the room, his father turned. “Your report topic is not negotiable. I want to see it before you turn it in and see what you learned. I’m very disappointed in you,” his father concluded. He left the room, softly pulling the door shut behind him. Steven wiped his eyes dry, crumpled up the beginning of his baseball report, and pulled a fresh sheet of paper towards him. “Forest Fires,” he wrote at the top of the page.


The next few days were spent at the library, both school and the public one when he could get his parents to take him. He did what seemed like endless research on the topic. He found out what the causes were, how often they occurred, and where they mostly happened. He found out numbers of deaths per year, the amount of property lost, and the effects of those losses. He read and read and as he did, the realization sunk in. He and Rob had indeed been very lucky that the fire had been contained as quickly as it was. They could have caused even more damage than either of the boys could have realized.

All of the information found, Steven faithfully copied it down, writing it in his paper and making notes to use for his oral presentation. Finally, the night before the paper and presentation was due; he presented himself in front of his father, paper and note-cards in hand. He handed his father the paper, cleared his throat, and began. “Forest fires are one of the most destructive forces of nature,” he began. “Some of them are caused by lightning strikes, but others are caused by human carelessness,” he continued. He went through his whole report, topic by topic until, 5 minutes later, he finished.

“That’s good, really good,” his father said. “Have you learned anything?”

“Yes,” Steven replied. “All the facts and figures I gave really made me realize how stupid we were. I’m really sorry about what happened, but I did learn from it.”

“Good,” his father replied. “Get ready for bed. You have a long day ahead of you tomorrow.” Steven complied; glad this chapter in his life was almost over.

The next day, sitting in class, Steven was eager to do his report and get it over with. When Rob had found out Steven was grounded and had his report changed, he was understanding, but a little worried. “What if they figure out it was us,” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” Steven replied, whispering as the teacher began calling roll. “It wasn’t really big news and I didn’t mention anything about us. Don’t worry,” he finished. “I don’t…”

He never was able to finish his thought. Looking at Rob, Steven could see out the windows that looked onto the parking lot and road and turning in, with its light bar flashing, was a local cop. Rob also turned around, saw what Steven was staring at, and then turned back to Steven, neither saying a word, the color drained from their faces. As they watched, a mountain seemed to climb out of the patrol car and, with the lights still flashing and the door slamming shut, the cop began walking briskly toward to the school.

“Do I have any volunteers to do their report first,” the teacher asked from the front of the room, interrupting the boys’ thoughts. No one in the class moved until Rob, almost forlornly, seemed to raise his hand. In answer Steven’s unasked question, Rob shrugged as if to say “Might as well get it over with before we go to jail.” Responding to the teachers nod, Rob walked to the front of the room and began his report on paintball.

As he gave his report, Steven was only half listening. He was still staring out the window at the lights on the car flashing red and blue. Images of Rob and him being dragged out of class in handcuffs and thrown into a cold, dark jail cell pervaded his mind. He was close to crying, overwhelmed with guilt and terror over what he had done and what was going to happen to him. Suddenly, another sound pierced the classroom, growing louder and louder until some students covered their ears due to the noise. Turning into the parking lot, gravel flying from the spin of the tires, an ambulance pulled in and parked by the police car. Two EMT’s climbed out, opened the back and pulled out a stretcher, and began jogging toward the school. Confused now, Steven looked at Rob, who had been interrupted by the ambulance’s sirens. The teacher who had also gone to the window turned to Rob and said “Please continue from the last paragraph you began.” After he finished, he turned to the teacher who said “Thank you, that was very informative. You were also very professional, waiting until the noise had passed until you continued. Good job” Rob walked back to his seat, grinning sheepishly, and sat down.

As the teacher called on another volunteer, the boys resumed their silent vigil looking at the window. As they watched, the EMT’s wheeled a stretcher from the direction of the gym. On it, they saw Sarah, a girl they had science class with. She seemed alright, but her left leg was wrapped and Steven thought he could see splints on the side. They loaded their classmate in the back and pulled away, the siren again interrupting the next speaker. Following closely by, the mountain climbed back into his patrol car and pulled away, turning the flashing lights off. Hardly daring to believe what he had just seen, his thoughts were intruded upon by the teacher, who by now had begun to randomly call on students, having run out of volunteers. “Steven, you’re next,” she said.

Steven walked to the front of the room, heart pounding, his mouth dry, ready to get this done and over with, but also worried out Sarah, wondering what had happened to her. “I decided to do my report on forest fires…” he began. He finished to what seemed like thunderous applause and a smiling nod from the teacher. He walked back to his seat, proud of himself for what he had accomplished. He settled in his seat as the last few students began their presentations.

Two weeks later, Steven pulled off the road on his bike and began to pedal towards the scene of the fire. He had gotten an “A” on his report and while he was happy about it, he was still grounded. He knew that he was risking his entire vacation if he was caught, but the draw was too strong. His parents were at work and he had to see what had happened to the area he had frequented so often. He broke through the tree line and the area in front of him looked like a war zone. He stopped pedaling and put his foot down, his breath caught in his throat, unable to believe what he was seeing.

The fire had consumed everything on the left; where there had been tall grass was now just a blackened landscape, burned down to the trees and the bank of the stream. The fire had also jumped the track, burning the grass and trees on the other side as well. He couldn’t see around the distant bend, but he had no doubt that it was burned there as well. “All this from a smoke bomb…” he thought to himself.

His father’s decision to do the report on forest fires had paid off. Steven knew how much danger he had put people in, how much it had cost the fire department to fight the fires, and how lucky he was that no one was hurt. He knew that not only was his grounding fair, it was done to ensure that he had learned a lesson, which he had. Steven walked over to where the smoke bomb had landed and after a quick bit of searching, found the burnt cylinder. Some strange fascination seized him and, after deliberating for a second, he leaned over and grabbed the smoke bomb, gripping it tightly. Taking a quick, last look, Steven climbed on his bike and headed towards home, the smoke bomb still held tightly in his hand.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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