It crackled and sparked and danced. I couldn’t stop staring at it, as I sat on a picnic blanket and watched the bonfire grow higher and higher, straining to reach the stars.
A few people were dancing, but most of us were just sitting down, exhausted after a long day. The ocean crashed and fell a few metres away from us. We rubbed our toes into the fine, white sand, still warm from the heat of the day.
There were bowls of marshmallows and crackers lying half empty around us, because we were too full to eat anymore.
I lay down next to a friend, and we cuddled under the blanket. The air had a certain chill to it at night; a chill our flimsy dresses did nothing to protect us against. We gazed at the stars, and made ill-educated guesses on the names of constellations. We weren’t even sure if they were constellations at all, or just figments of our imagination.
We were so very happy, all 21 of us. We bubbled with anticipation, we fizzed with excitement. And though we were tired, it was a good kind of tired, the kind where you fall asleep, exhausted, but with a smile on your face. It was the end of the first day of the best trip of our lives.
The following day was going to be one of ticking things off bucket lists. Scuba diving, snorkelling, jet skiing – we could barely wait.
I could feel sleep creeping towards me, and my mind grew foggy and drowsy. A distant, annoying voice at the back of my head told me that we should go back to the cabins to sleep, but it was so warm under the blanket, and so cold outside. Nearly everyone around me was asleep anyway. The voice in my mind grew increasingly distant. Finally, it faded away, and the dark shadows of sleep took over. I fell asleep to the crackle and spit of the fire, and soft, sleepy whispers, with a warm hand wrapped tight around my waist, comforting.
I awoke to screams and pain and heat. I awoke to blinding light and the terrible, terrible smell of burning flesh. I awoke, gasping. I couldn’t breathe. The pain was an orchestra, the beats echoing in my head, thudding its way to a crescendo. Huge clouds of smoke filled my lungs. I could feel the shadows creeping in, but they weren’t fast enough.
I watched it crackle and spark and dance, and as it strained to reach the stars, I begged it to take me with it.