74 - A Short Story - Under the Stars

November 15, 2020

It was another hot day in a long row of hot days. The sun beating relentlessly down on the Earth felt like it must feel like on Mercury. The plants were wilting from the heat, the grass no longer green but now golden and dry as desert sage rolling across dusty roads. What was a family to do in such conditions? Especially through the long hot nights when even the breeze was too hot to touch if you could touch it.

Jeffrey, the resident know-it-all at 11 years old, said, "Hey, let's go camping! We haven't been camping in a long time, Dad. Can we?"

His father, Jacob, replied, "That's a good suggestion except that there are restrictions because of the dry weather."

Jeffrey frowned and took another bite of his Choco Crispies cereal.

Tess, the 15-going-on-30 year old daughter, piped in, "We can go to the beach! My friends are going there this weekend, and I bought a new swimsuit..."

Her dad interrupted her, "You bought a new swimsuit? Or a new string bikini?"

"Dad, they're the same thing," said Tess.

"I don't think so, a swimsuit is one piece that covers a lot more than those little pieces of string you call a swimsuit," her dad said.

"Oh, Dad, you're such a fuddy-duddy," and Tess finished her fruit salad and went to her bedroom.

"Hmm," dad looked at Jeffrey, sitting across the table, "what do you think?"

"I think," said Jeffrey, with much thought, "that Tess just wants to show off her new bikini and tease the boys."

"I agree," said Jacob, "and I won't let that happen." Jeffrey giggled and finished his cereal.

Jacob got up from the table, put on his tie and said, "I have to go to work now. Jeffrey, please clean up these dishes before you go play your video games, okay?"

"Okay, Dad, see you later," said Jeffrey, and his father gave him a kiss on his forehead and left for the office.

That evening while they were eating dinner the power went off for the entire region. The news said it was due to an overheated and overused power grid.

"Dad, can we sleep outside tonight? It's really hot in my bedroom," said Tess.

"Yeah, Dad! Let's sleep in the back yard! That'll be fun!" Jeffrey agreed, "Can we set up the tent? Can we, Dad?"

"Why not just sleep under the stars?" Jacob asked.

"It'll be like camping but in the back yard, and can we use the lantern and the camp stove? Please, Dad!" Jeffrey was getting excited by the idea of camping in the yard.

"Well, let's just start with the tent, so why don't you go get it out of the garage and take it into the yard, I'll be out there in a couple minutes," his Dad said.

"I'll help you, Jeffrey, I think it might be too heavy for you," Tess said.

"No, it's not!" Jeffrey ran into the garage and picked up the box with the tent in it, "Oh, this is heavy! Tess, help me!"

The two of them carried the big box out into the back yard and started to remove all the pieces. There father came out a few minutes later with the lantern so they had some light and all three of them set up the tent.

They brought out their sleeping bags and pillows and laid down under the stars. They talked about the constellations that they could see and Jeffrey invented new ones.

"Let's make a campfire!" suggested Jeffrey.

"Son, I don't think that is legal in the city," said his father, "but we can cook on the BBQ."

"But I want to make smores Daddy," begged Jeffrey, with a little disappointment in his voice.

Tess suggested, "We still can, the BBQ uses charcoals and those can roast marshmallows just as well as wood, right Dad?"

Jacob went to get the BBQ and rolled it over to the little campsite, loaded it with charcoal and lit it. In a few minutes Jeffrey was ready to start roasting marshmallows.

"Jeffrey, not so fast, the coals aren't ready yet," his sister said.

Jeffrey said, "Yeah they are, look! They're hot, very hot!"

"Yes, but they need to burn down so they're red hot and mostly dust, just wait a few more minutes," said Tess.

"Okay," said Jeffrey, and he stuffed the marshmallow into his mouth, then a piece of chocolate, then a piece of graham cracker, and tried to say with all that in his mouth, "Look, I'm eating a smore!" but it was mostly unintelligible garble combined with bits of cracker spewing out of his mouth. His sister jumped back away from him and he cracked up laughing, spewing even more of the mushy stuff out of his mouth.

"Jeffrey! That's enough of that! Just wait for the coals for a few more minutes," his dad scolded him.

"What is there to do, Dad?" Jeffrey asked.

His Dad handed him a book, "Here, read."

"Ugh, read? Seriously? We're camping, Daddy, look," he said as he waved his arms around at their campsite in the yard.

Tess said, "That's gross, Jeffrey, look at that mess you made! You need to clean that up so nobody steps on it."

Jacob agreed, "Yeah, that's a good idea. Take that flashlight and get some paper towels and get your mess cleaned up. By then the coals should be ready for you to roast marshmallows."

"Yay! Okay!" Jeffrey grabbed the flashlight and ran to the house, into the kitchen, bumped into a chair and knocked it over, grabbed the entire roll of paper towels, knocked over a bowl of fruit, and ran back out to clean up his mess.

"What was all that noise, Jeffrey?" his father asked.

"Oh, I just bumped into a chair." Jeffrey cleaned up the mess he spit out on the ground.

"It sounded like more than just bumping into a chair, son," his father said.

Jeffrey replied, "Are the coals ready yet? Can I roast the marshmallows now? Dad?"

Jacob stood next to the BBQ and carefully and intently looked into the glowing red coals, his son just about holding his breath in anticipation. Jacob shifted his position, looked into the coals from another side, said "Hmm" a few times, and finally looked over at his son.

"Dad! Please! Can I? Can I?" Jeffrey had a stick with two marshmallows jammed onto the end of it, standing at the ready.

"Son, I don't think using that stick is a very good idea." He reached into a box and pulled out a long metal stick with a handle on it, "Here, use this, it's much better than that stick. You might get sick from something in that stick."

Jeffrey took the metal sticks, removed the marshmallows from the wooden stick, and stuck them onto the metal one, and Tess stopped him, "Wait, munchkin, not those marshmallows. You've already contaminated them with the dirt and whatever else is on that old stick. Use fresh marshmallows."

"Okay," Jeffrey said and was about to put one of the marshmallows from the old stick in his mouth when he was again stopped short.

"No, what are you doing? You can't eat those, they're contaminated from the stick," his sister told him, again. She took the two marshmallows and put them in the trash.

"Hey, you could have let me burn those in the coals. You know they're like torches when they burn!" said Jeffrey.

Jacob interrupted the two kids, "Are you guys going to argue all evening? Start cooking those marshmallows so you can fix me a smore."

Jeffrey said, "What? Fix one for you? You cook your own, Dad".

"Oh, you're a good friend, aren't you?" his Dad said with a wink and a smile.

Tess said, "I'll fix one for you, Dad".

"Thanks, sweetie. I'm going to get the sleeping bags arranged in the tent," and Jacob started arranging things in the tent.

After they all enjoyed a few smores each they sat, talked, and made up stories. Jeffrey made up ghost stories, of course, and Jacob told a story of monsters coming out of the woods, well, on this night, coming from the neighbor's yard, and Tess told a story about a princess finding a prince. Jeffrey fell asleep during his sister's story.

Jacob woke him up enough to get him into his sleeping back and the three of them retired for the night. But, Jeffrey wasn't quite finished for the night, apparently the smores didn't settle with him so well, and he let out a rather smelly fart.

"Oh! Dear lord! What's that smell?" Tess was now sitting up in her sleeping bag.

"Jeez! What is that?" Jacob asked, looking around the tent, and he opened the tent door. Then he heard Jeffrey giggling.

Tess said, "Jeffrey! You! You're terrible! Get out of here right now! You have to sleep outside!"

"What's the matter, sis?" asked Jeffrey, as if nothing had happened. "Hmm, I don't smell anything bad".

Jacob said, "Jeffrey, that's a very rude thing to do, please take your sleeping bag outside and sleep out there."

"Really, Dad? You're going to make me sleep with the monsters?" Jeffrey asked.

Tess just about shouted at him, "You're the monster! Now get out!" She pushed him through the door and tossed his sleeping back after him.

"Wow! This whole camping trip was my idea, you know that, right? You should be thanking me," said Jeffrey as he laid his sleeping bag out and crawled into it.

"You're crazy!" shouted Tess, "Jeez! What a little creep!"

"Okay, everybody go to sleep now. And Jeffrey, try not to pollute the air out there as well," Jacob was trying to not laugh at the situation.

Jeffrey let out another fart that was probably heard at the neighbor's house.

"Jeffrey!" His father and is sister both yelled at the same time.

Jeffrey just laughed and eventually went to sleep under the stars.