No. 408

Twelve-year-old Ben Foster watched the fireworks blast up into the sky with a keening hiss and then explode into scintillating colors. He felt the concussive force in his chest as the wave of sound hit him.

Deep down, he knew that this would be his favorite night of the year. But it was not his intention to be a mere spectator. He longed to be the one to put flame to fuse. His parents’ ultimatum still rang in his ears. “Not until you’re older.”

But Ben was not to be denied. He snuck away from the party in his backyard, retrieving his bicycle on the way through the gate.

Once he was sure that his absence had not been noticed, he hopped onto the bike and began to pedal furiously down the block. Almost every home was having their own celebration, and the night was brightened by countless festive detonations.

Ben knew he would only have to convince one group of revelers that he should be the one to launch the rockets. He travelled two-and-a-half blocks before stopping, to lessen the odds that his new friends would call his parents immediately when he rolled up asking to blow things up.

He spotted a likely mark straight away. He let the bike fall to the ground and approached the target casually.

“Hey mister,” said Ben. “Those are pretty cool.”

The man looked up at the new visitor. “They are,” he said, while trying to work out if the child would be a passing annoyance, or someone he’d have to put effort into dealing with.

“I’ve done a few, before,” Ben lied.

“Uh huh,” nodded the man, giving every indication that he didn’t want to be bothered.

Of course, Ben ignored the cues. “I could help you,” he offered congenially.

The man sat back from the next round that was set up on the pavement. He flicked his lighter and glanced back at his two female companions. They did nothing to endorse or deny Ben’s proposal.

The man shrugged. “I guess so. I don’t see why not. How old are you?”

“Thirteen,” Ben told him, lying again.

“Ok, sure,” said the man, handing over his lighter. “Don’t hurt yourself. After you light it, come back over here.”

Ben held the lighter tightly. The flame jumped and shook in his hand. He knelt down and held the fire to the cord. It caught with a flash and Ben almost fell over in surprise. He scooted backward on all fours, like a crab, and reached the safety line just as the first burst left the cardboard tube.

“Wow,” he laughed as it zipped up overhead. He flinched as it separated into a dozen streamers that fell back toward the ground. “That’s bigger than the ones at home,” he exclaimed.

The man suddenly realized what had occurred. The boy had scammed him. “Hey, where is your home?” he asked, suspiciously.

Ben was already back on his bike. “Just down the road,” he said, keeping the details vague. “Thanks a lot for letting me shoot that one.”

 

The man watched Ben disappear around the corner. “Strange little kid,” he said to the women.

“Brave,” said one.

“Kind of dirty,” said the other.