Fire Always Burns - By Krista Lakes
The dry grass crackled in the evening breeze. Pale green streaks at the base of the stems were all that showed it was alive, struggling against the heat of the summer sun and a rainless afternoon. Thunder rumbled in the distance, but the clouds refused to release their water. A large sign with a bear in a hat declaring the fire danger “extreme” glared out over the road. A car sped by, the taillights fading into the setting sun. A red glowing cigarette ember flicked out of the open window, landing on the dark asphalt. It rolled gently, swirling in odd circles until finally resting on the edge of the road. The parched breeze puffed, pushing the small glowing light into the grass. It only took a moment for the spark to ignite on the dry tinder, small flames hungrily feeding on the thirsty weeds. The spark of disaster had been lit.
I leaned back against the checkout stand, waiting for something to happen. I had straightened the gum, organized the gift cards, and even wiped the conveyer belt twice, but there was nothing left to do except wait for a customer.
Conifer Grocery was the biggest grocery store for miles, but by industry standards, it was still a small store. It carried most of the items that the small town's inhabitants needed, and it was actually one of the local hotspots for teenagers to hang out. In the small town of Conifer, Colorado, it was the center of the town. It was a 45 minute drive east and out of the mountains to get to Denver, so most people just stayed in town. The long drive to the city made Conifer Grocery the heart of the town and the center of activity. Today though, it was dead quiet. I glanced at my watch. Only fifteen minutes left until the end of my shift. Fifteen minutes of torture. I adjusted my apron and smiled as one of the old regulars, Mr. Snyder, purchased a single loaf of bread.
"Hello there, Holly!" he bellowed. He was always overly friendly.
"Hey there yourself, Mr. Snyder. Lovely weather we're having," I replied.
He frowned, his gray bushy eyebrows knitting together. "Too lovely, if you ask me. I tell you, I've been living up here a long time, and I've never seen a winter with less snow."
I nodded to be polite, but I was pretty unconcerned. It had been unseasonably warm, and the lack of snow was disturbing many of the local residents. It was one of the most frequent things I was told while working the cash register.
"I tell you, in a mountain town like this, the snow is vital. The whole forest is like a tinderbox, ready to go," he added.
I agreed with him and finished checking him out. The old man thanked me and walked slowly to the exit, clutching his loaf of bread under his arm. I watched him walk out, wishing I could follow. Fourteen minutes left.
I didn't mind the warmer weather when I woke up to scrape the ice off my car to get to work, but I did keep hearing on the nightly news that if this heat wave continued, the summer fire season would be terrible. Summer seemed a long way away from now, though, so I was just enjoying the ice free car.
“Bored to tears yet?”
“Crying my eyes out,” I recognized the voice and turned back with a grin for my childhood friend. Andrew was one of the few bright spots about moving back home. He grinned at me, his blue eyes twinkling. He began piling food onto the belt in unorganized heaps. I quickly started scanning and sorting it, bagging it quickly as we easily fell into a conversation.
“Have you heard about Luke and Tyler's parents?” Andrew asked as he plopped two gallons of milk down.
“The divorce? Yeah. It sucks, but knowing Ray, I'm not really surprised. The guy works way too hard and Barb was just too high maintenance to put up with that. I hear it was pretty ugly when they started figuring out how to split their stuff up, especially who gets custody,” I said with a grimace. Andrew nodded.
“Luke says the judge is going to rule tomorrow on what is going to happen to Tyler. Poor kid. Luke is hoping the judge will let Tyler stay with Ray, but it doesn't look good. They usually side with the mom in cases like this.” Andrew shook his head sadly as he put the cereal up on