It was a cool day in October and the houses on Camden Street displayed all sorts of Halloween decor. The leaves were falling covering the once green grass making a quilt of many colors on the ground. Some houses had white sheets made into ghost hanging from the trees. Others had orange pumpkins carved into ghastly faces on their porches so everyone could see them. The crisp mornings and the cool nights told all the children that winter was just around the corner. Christmas was just a few months away and another year would be over.
Pepper would be ten years old just after Christmas. He had always disliked his birthday because it came just after Christmas and he never got as many presents as he would have had his parents not spent so much on Christmas gifts. He always felt he had been short changed by having a birthday in December.
He looked at the frost on the ground and decided he would go to the outside building and get out his tent. It would be a great time to set it up and perhaps have some of the local children to have a sleep over outside. Every year he had put up the tent, retrieved the sleeping bags and the lanterns getting everything in motion for the campers. His mind recalled the nights eating hot dogs cooked over the campfire and the marshmallows all melted on the wire hangers he used to hold them over the fire. This would be the fourth year of camping and he felt like a professional as he drove the stakes into the ground with his dad’s heavy hammer.
This year Pepper’s cousin would be the first girl to sleep in his tent. His sister had moved back home with her two children, Jeff and Terri. Jeff was still afraid of the dark so it would only be Terri and Johnny down the street who would be coming to his gala affair. He checked and rechecked the stakes. It would not be good to have it fall in the middle of the night. He had dug a small trench around the tent so if it were to rain, the water would not flood the tent. Gazing over his handy work he sighed a long sigh. It appeared everything but the food was prepared.
He snickered under his breath thinking of all the scary stories he planned to tell. He knew girls were more afraid of spooky things than boys and he planned to share some of his creepy stories with Terri.
“Come on everybody! It is getting late and we need to get matches and fuel for the fire. I can’t wait to eat all the hotdogs my stomach can hold. Working always makes me hungry!” He laughed rubbing his stomach in a circular motion.
“I’ve got the wieners, the mustard, ketchup and rolls. I’ve got to run back into the house and get the marshmallows. Then we can light the lanterns. This is going to be so much fun.” Terri said as her eyes moved from side to side taking in all of the camping paraphernalia.
“Don’t forget your sleeping bag. I have already brought mine out.” Pepper called.
It didn’t take long before the fire began to pop and crack. It was burning up the acorns and sticks that Pepper had raked into a pile. His father would be proud of the way he had dug a hole in the ground so the fire could not escape if it burned all night long.
The warmth from the fire felt good upon his face as he placed several large pieces of wood on top of the pile. This was a great way to get rid of all the limbs from the oak trees that had fallen from the previous storm. It was much better than picking them up and hauling them off in the truck with his dad.
“It got a slow start but I think the fire is about ready for us to roast our hot dogs. Did you remember to bring the buns?: He asked addressing his cousin.
“Yep I got it all here in the cooler. I even have can drinks and lots of ice on the bottom.” She smiled.
The two of them sat close to the fire waiting for Randy their neighbor to come. He was always late at everything he did. This night was no exception.
“I’ll get the metal can of kerosene from the barn so I can keep this fire going all night. It looks like we may need this to ward off the vampires.” He chuckled to himself.
Terri had worn her long denim overalls and a long sleeve shirt just in case the mosquitoes came calling.
“I just hate bugs and mosquitoes. I wish they would all move away from here. I’ve never seen as many spiders, and mosquitoes in one place before. They must think they have a good meal sucking out all of our blood.” She slapped her neck to shoo the buzzing critters away.
” I just hate to hear that noise they make. It makes me think they are all over me.” She complained as she moved closer to the fire.
Pepper retrieved the red fuel can and began to screw off the rusty cap.
“I’ll just pour some on the fire. This will make the mosquitoes get out of here.” She said as he began to pour the clear liquid.
Then it happened! The fire leaped from the ground to the can and made a loud noise.
It burst into a huge blaze as it attacked Pepper’s hands. He wasn’t aware that the fuel was not kerosene but rather gasoline. His hands were burning and he dropped the can. The liquid splashed this way and that leaping onto Terri’s overalls.
Terri began screaming as loud as she could. The fire was burning her overalls and her skin underneath. She slapped at the flames hoping to keep it from burning her long blonde hair but it was not to be.
“Roll over on the ground Terri!” Pepper called frantically. “Roll over and over on the grass. It will help smother the flames!” He gasped.
Screams could be heard inside the house and Terri’s mother came running to see what was wrong.
She grabbed the water hose and began putting out the fire. Then she grabbed Terri and began to take off her overalls. She could see smoke coming from each pant leg so she knew Terri’s skin was being burned.
Frantically she picked up Terri and ran into the house.
“Mom! The children are on fire. Have dad to see about Pepper. I don’t know if he is burned really bad or not. I have got to take Terri to the hospital. The skin on her legs is burned black.” Terri’s mother called loudly as she rushed Terri to the car.
Smoke curled up into the air as the water reduced the fire to ashes. The camping adventure was no more.
Months passed and Terri went day after day to have the bandages changed on her legs. They had been burned terribly and the pain was unbearable at times. She would have huge scars on her legs for the rest of her life.
Gasoline is not a liquid that can be poured around a fire. It is a very dangerous fuel and should not be handled by children for any reason. The red can should have been labeled so Pepper would have known not to use it.
Years later as Terri held her tiny baby she glanced down at her scarred legs.
“It doesn’t take but a second to be burned. These scars have faded some but my legs still look horrible.” She sighed looking up at her husband.
“My children will never have access to gasoline. Their smooth skin will never be scarred like mine. Gasoline is a deadly chemical!” Terri pulled her baby close to her chest and continued rocking her baby to sleep.
An important lesson had been learned.
Question: What is gasoline?
Written by Sybil Shearin
All Rights Reserved.