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SmokeLong Quarterly

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The Last Summer

Story by John Mantooth (Read author interview) March 15, 2004

All summer, our backyard fire sifted into the charcoal sky while we sat and told ghost stories in deep, scratchy whispers.

The moon watched us, a haze of gray clouds haunting his face.

Boyhood.

We had planned the summer on the last day of school, in Mrs. Watson’s room, where we sat like squished bugs between grimy fingers. Jeff said we needed to do something fun, something that we would never forget. We would only be twelve for one sweet summer. Everything that came after, we knew would outrun us, break us, even when we thought we were living.

We were twelve and sensed these things naturally.

“We have to make the summer last forever,” Cliff said.

“Forever,” I echoed.

So on the first night of summer, we built a campfire in Jeff’s backyard and refused to sleep, claiming the long, slow, cool hours after midnight for our own. The next night we roasted marshmallows and marveled at how long we had to still be twelve and in love with summer.

The next night, we told ghost stories and did not sleep at all.

The next night, we lay on the grass beside the fire and counted a million stars, and blew our collective breaths into the flame, turning them to smoke, sending them to the stars, and the stars breathed back on us.

And soon we lost track of time and flew on bats’ wings and cricket chirps and fluttering leaves to the fleeting present. The end of summer, the dawn of fall, a dry crackle in the fire.

“Bummer,” we all agreed when we sensed that our eternal night wasn’t so eternal.

“Hey,” Cliff said. “Next summer, we’ll do the same thing. Every night. We’ll make a pact.”

So it was agreed. Next summer. We promised. The stars promised, the half-lidded moon as witness.
But I worried. Next summer we would be thirteen, and things might be different.

About the Author

John Mantooth teaches middle school English and Reading. When he’s not grading papers, he writes. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the following publications: Thirteen Stories, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, NFG, and Hauntings, an anthology of ghost stories published by CyberPulp. His novel, Faith Like Wolves, made the top ten in the Fred Bonnie First Novel contest sponsored by River City Publishing.

This story appeared in Issue Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Three
ornament

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