The trees in front of Ben’s house were his playground. About the size of a baseball diamond, he’d spend much of his summer battling dragons and sneaking up on trolls. His tree fort was here, as well as a swinging bridge his father built him across to trees. His family also used the woods, building a fire pit at the edge of the clearing.
But above all else, it was home to his dad’s wild garden, where Lady Slippers, Dragon’s Mouth, and Slender Ladies’ Tresses grew. But more important than any of those were his prized Western Red Lilies.
At the start of summer, his dad had noticed the bright orange flowers on the way back from the cabin. Ben was suspicious about this “discovery” when he pulled out a spade from the trunk, and several milk cartons with their tops cut off.
Before he crossed through the ditch, his dad opened the back door and leaned in conspiratorially. “You mind keeping an eye out for me while I get these?”
“Why?” Ben asked.
“Well, since they are the provincial flower, we aren’t exactly supposed to be digging them up.”
Ben stared at him, shocked at his father’s brazen statement.
“So, if you see anyone coming, would you mind giving me a holler?” His dad winked and wandered down into the ditch, spade and milk cartons in hand.
Ben rolled down his window and hung over the sill. His eyes darted up and down the road and occasionally paused to monitor his father’s progress.
It felt like ages before his dad even got one flower in a carton. Why was he moving so slowly?
Ben caught sight of some dust rising far down the road. He shouted, “Car!”
His dad glanced up and saw the plume but returned to his digging.
Why wasn’t he coming?
Ben had given the signal. Now was the time to wrap it up and get back to the car. Yet, he was still packing his second Western Red Lily.
Okay, good, he’s got it. He’ll come now.
Nope! He went for the third one, and the car was cresting the last rise before he was on them. The people in that car had to see his father digging up his ill-gotten gains, didn’t they?
But no, they didn’t, because his father had unzipped his pants and was urinating in the bush. The vehicle roared by, and his father waved while his two stolen lilies sat at his feet. Then, as the dust wafted over the car, his dad finished digging up the third. And once he had all of them, he proudly climbed back up the ditch and deposited his illicit goods in the back, along with his shovel.
Ben worried the entire trip home that his dad was going to get pulled over. The officers would saunter up and ask him to pop the trunk, and that’d be it for him.
But no one showed up, and when he got home, he got to work replanting them right near the front, beside the lady slippers, so everybody could see them.
Now he was just blatant with his crime, and the evidence was right in the yard. The police passed through their town all the time. What if one time they came down this street and happened to see those bright orange lilies burning like candles in the trees? What would they do then?
Would they investigate? Would they make his dad pull them out? Would he be arrested, and Ben would be taken away as an accomplice to the crime?
“No one’s going to care about a few flowers,” his dad told him one day. “I’ll just tell them they grew there naturally.”
His dad’s flippant attitude never settled right with him, and before he knew it, he was scheming to bring an end to it all.
Ben had to be careful. He had asked too many questions and expressed too many concerns. If anything happened to them, his father would come after him first. He had to make it look like an accident.
So that evening, he asked his parents if they could roast marshmallows by the fire pit. His parents agreed, and his plan was set in motion.
He sat calmly by the fire and toasted his first marshmallow. To be honest, he did a fantastic job. Light golden brown on the outside melted on the inside. After years of failed ones, he’d become an excellent roaster.
But he needed to fail.
On his second one, he pushed it deep into the coals, and it quickly lit on fire, as a torch dipped in kerosene wielded by an explorer in an adventure film. After that, it was simple: swing the flaming marshmallow backwards.
He did give it a quick whip, and it sailed through the air and landed right on target in the dried grass and leaves of the forest. But that wasn’t all.
Ben had taken an entire jerry can from his father’s workshop and doused the area with gasoline to ensure that the fire would start. He’d poured it everywhere in the target area, splashing over every inch of the ground he could find, as well as long tendrils that lead to his father’s garden.
He hadn’t expected what followed.
As soon as the marshmallow landed, a loud fwoomp exploded in the trees. The flames were nowhere and then everywhere very fast. Ben’s family raced backwards away from the fire. His dad went for the water sprinkler, not knowing about the gas fire, and the more he sprayed, the further the flames spread.
The fire brigade was called, and it took them several hours to get things under control. By the time the evening was finished, half of the forest was in smouldering ruins.
His treehouse? Gone. His swinging bridge? Definitely gone.
But his dad’s Western Red Lilies?
They were safe. The flames never got to that part of the woods before the firemen could get things under control.
And they stayed there long after Ben’s punishment had passed.