Campfire Stories

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After my shower, which was mostly me scrubbing my skin raw under the cold water, I braid my hair again and dress warmly. It gets cold at night here, especially in the fall. I can see the smoke from the fire rising outside my window, spiraling towards the sky.

When my father is at home, which isn't too often, he likes to stare at the stars, telling me about all the different constellations and galaxies. When he was growing up, he lived in a big city, and the smog and lights blocked out the sky. That's one of the first things he noticed about the world changing around him.

He could finally see the stars.

On nights like tonight, when he is working at the research complex or the infirmary, I glance up and name the constellations I can see, just to prove I haven't forgotten them over the years, because my memory has gradually gotten worse. I can't remember what the ocean sounds like, but I can remember the smell of a gun right after you fire it. I can't remember what my mother looked like, but I know what the alarm sounds like, when we brace ourselves for a wave of infected.

So, I want to remember the constellations, those little moments my father and I shared, before he quit smoking and threw himself into his job.

Jogging down the steps, I notice that the ground floor has emptied. Laughter drifts into the room from the backyard outside. They managed to get a fire going good enough that I can see it over their heads as they sit in a circle around it. Jane is handing out these small fish from a silver bag; although, I have no idea where she got them. Probably something she brought with them from 3. As I'm walking out the door, everyone is skewering the fish on different sized twigs, shoving them into the fire.

"Welcome back, Jaelyn," Jane says, handing me a stick and a fish. It's still damp, and the fins on it's back are sharp. I just look at it, scrunching my nose up. "Oh. You don't know what to do with it," she continues, taking it back. In one swift motion, she stabs it with the stick, handing it back. "Dinner is served."

I find a seat around the circle on the grass, beside one of the girls and the guy with messy blonde hair. They both smile at me, watching me dangle the fish precariously over the fire.

"Alright," Jane says, sitting across from me, "Everyone's here. Let the campfire stories begin!"

Everyone is quiet for a minute, staring at each other.

"We know all of our stories," a man says, giving her a look.

"Well, Jaelyn doesn't, Trevor," Jane replies. The guy looks over at me, his black hair reflecting the orange light of the fire.

"Well then, maybe she should tell us a story first," Trevor says, shrugging.

"We are guests in her home. I will not make her share if she's not willing." Jane's voice is low, like she's talking through gritted teeth. I can see her face growing red in the light, but I'm unsure if it's from the heat or anger.

"It's okay," I blurt, smiling a little, "I'll share something." Jane gives me a nod.

At first, I'm not sure what story to tell. There's the one about the man I got killed or the girl I got killed. There's Isaac's story, although I'm not sure that's mine to share. Maybe...

"So, when I was little, my parents and I lived in the suburbs of Knoxville, which isn't really far from here," I say, taking my now brown fish out of the fire, "We owned this little house with a white picket fence. My father was a scientist at the local center for disease control, and my mom was a teacher at Hammond School, this private school near where we lived. She had been a teacher before they got married, and I started pre-school there when I was four. Everyday, we would walk to school together, and on the way home, we would stop and get ice cream at this food truck that parked at the playground by the school."

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