Here's an A is for Anecdote story as written by my cousin. It's a second-hand story written by someone trained in storytelling (I come from a family of storytellers), although not formally trained in writing.
Note his pace and his casual style, the personification of the burn pile, how he builds the tension with a gut-punch at the end, a story guaranteed to keep you reading to the end even if you know what's coming. He knows how to deliver the ending.
You should hear this guy in person telling stories.
I present it here unedited, as it was written for a literature class.
Nate is my brother. He is the pyro of the two, thus the explosions.
Flaming Pine Cone, by Jason Watson
It was very hot and windy that day and the smell of freshly cut grass was in the air. I had been on leave from the military and my family was having a get-together by my parents swimming pool. My sister kept everyone relaxed with plenty of vodka jell-o shots. My cousin Nate and I grabbed two more ice cold beers and started walking around the front yard, which had more pine trees than Baton Rouge has people. We looked up to see the tops of the trees swaying back and forth as the wind blew through their tops. Nate looked at me and said, “You wanna light something on fire?”
“Sure,” I said. I figured that since my parents had five acres of land for their yard, this would be enough to keep us busy until we passed out.
As we walked through the yard, Nate and I took it upon ourselves to rid my parents of all of those pesky little piles of pine straw and grass that accumulates after cutting their lawn. As I leaned forward to light one of the piles of straw, Nate said to me, “You know,there’s nothing more Amercian than drinkin’ beer and starting fires!” We both laughed and took a long drink from our beers that were beginning to taste warm from being out in the sun. We continued to scour the area and continue our patriotic mission of eliminating pesky pine straw piles.
“Do you have anything bigger to light on fire?” Nate said, as we watched the orange flames dance away on another pile of straw.
“Sure we do. My parents just cut the entire yard, so our burn pile should be full of stuff to torch!”
“Hell yeah! Let’s torch that mother!” Nate said.
We marched to the south side of the house were the biggest pine trees were. They seemed to watch every move that we made. Then we saw it: the biggest pile of pine straw we had ever seen! The pile was a high as a Pathfinder and twice the diameter. There were so many pine needles it smelled like Christmas. I would not have been surprised if we saw two of Santa’s helpers living in that behemoth.
“Ok,” Nate said, “the first thing we’re gonna need is diesel. It will burn better and it won’t burn as fast.”
“What’s the second thing?”
We laughed as I ran to my dad’s dingy white tool shed. It was dark as a cave in there because dad had not bothered to replace the light bulb. As I fumbled around the unraveled extension cords and rusty saw blades, I found it: the five gallon can of diesel. I brought the spout to my nose to smell it and ensure that it was diesel. I did not smell like diesel, but since it was in the diesel can that clearly marked ‘diesel’, I knew it had to be just that. As I walked back to the pile of straw, I noticed that the pool was empty and the water was very calm. I looked inside the sun room to see everyone escape from the blistering heat of the sun except me and Nate. We had a job to do.
As I got to the pile, Nate was ready to go: “Did you get the diesel?”
“I found the can that says ‘diesel’.”
“Is that diesel in there?”
After we drank another beer, I began my task of making sure that all five gallons of the contents of that can were poured on every single pine needle in this pile. As I poured the contents out of the can, I smelled something that wasn’t diesel, I smelled gasoline. Nate gave me a very glazed-over-Pirates of the Carribbean look and said, “Are you sure that’s diesel Jason?”
“I’m sure,” I lied, because by this time I couldn’t smell a damn thing, “it says diesel on the can Nate. How stupid do you think I am?”
Nate did not say a word, he just drank his beer. However, as we looked at the contents coming out of the can, it did not look like diesel either.
“Jason, are you sure that’s diesel?” Nate said.
“I’m sure Nate! It says it right here- Look! ‘DIESEL’!”
“Well it doesn’t even look like diesel!”
“Nate, that’s only a detail we don’t need to worry about right now. Let’s just stay focused.”
I finished pouring all of the contents out of the can in the center of that big pile. I looked at the worry starting to spread over Nate's face. The fumes that rose over the pile gave it a very pissed off look and it filled our noses with the familiar smell of high octane unleaded. It was getting hotter outside and sweat was glistening off of our foreheads. We looked at each other and Nate said, “Here, you light it.”
“There’s no way in hell I’m lighting that damn thing, this was your idea to begin with!”
The pile seemed to grow so high it was beginning to tower over us. Each second we delayed in torching this monster, it seemed to grow and taunt us. Nate knelt next to the pile and extended his red lighter and pressed the trigger. Click, nothing, no flame for the bad pile. Our hearts skipped a beat and we started to struggle for breath. “It must have been the wind, “ Nate said.
“Well try again.”
After several more ‘clicks’, Nate came up with another strategy: “Jason, if I light that thing and I’m next to it, I’m dead meat. What we need now is the flaming pine cone.”
“What in the hell is that?”
“Take a pine cone and fill it with pine needles. After that take whatever’s left in that ‘diesel’ can and pour in on the pine cone. Once it’s covered, light it, and throw it right in the center of that pile!”
We immediately went to work. I found a pine cone the size of a football and gave it to Nate. He looked like Vulcan as he made the proper adjusments to the cone. Both of us knew this would work, and to be honest, it had to work. We could not let this pile with the mystery fluid survive.
Nate and I stood before that big monster. At this point, Nate looked at me and said, “Are you ready?”
“Hell yeah! Let’s light that bad boy!”
With a steady hand, I took the lighter and placed it in the middle of that pine cone. Nate said, “I want you to know that is gasoline Jason.”
I pressed the lighter trigger and it took flame with one strike! Nate took the pine cone and launched it from his hand. The yellow-orange flames danced off the cone as it sailed through the air. When the cone made contact with the middle of the pile, for one second there was no flame. I could not hear the birds chirp or the wild blow through the trees. All I could hear and feel was the oxygen being sucked into that pile. It was like this beast was taking it’s last breath and it wanted us to join him in his funeral pyre.
With the pile’s next breath one second later, a fireball so big you could see it from the international space stations shot up towards the heavens! The force of the blast not only knocked us off of our feet, but blew pictures and painting off of the walls inside of my parents house. Everyone ran outside to see what exploded. They saw Nate and I, laying on our backs looking up at the sky. Nate said to me, “See, I told you that was gas!” I looked at Nate, laughed , and said “Maybe we should stick to small fires from now on!”