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The day it all started, Freddie and I had been gathering firewood most of the afternoon. We were ten days into the big backpacking trip ("we" is the Sunset Hills Junior High Ecology Club, our faculty sponsor Mrs. Castillo, and her husband) and we were going to have a bonfire that evening, to celebrate reaching the halfway mark right on schedule.

But that afternoon we'd come to a stretch of ground that had been all burnt over about twenty years back, and so far the second growth hadn't gotten past the underbrush and sapling stage. Gathering enough sticks and kindling for a really big fire turned out to be quite a job—especially since Mr. Castillo didn't seem to think that any stack of wood shorter than the person who gathered it was enough, even for the little fires we usually built.

"Talk about overkill," I said, as Freddie and I carried the last rucksack-loads of kindling back to camp. "If Mr. Castillo had been in charge of building the Ark, Noah would have wound up with a boat the size of the New Jersey."

"It still wouldn't have been big enough for all those animals," said Freddie. He's always coming up with lines like that; in science class, Mrs. Castillo used to say that Freddie was one of nature's skeptics.

"Honestly, Freddie," I said. "Don't you know a joke when you hear one?"

"Sure," he said. "Just the same, Val, with the few people the Ark had aboard, there wouldn't even be enough of them to shovel all the—"

I threw a pine cone at him and chased him back to camp.

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