Anna and her parents hurried down the road. As was a long-standing tradition, they would meet up with some friends, who lived a few doors along, for jacket potatoes, and then have a big bonfire. Most of the people who lived in the area were invited, and as Bonfire Night celebrations go, it was among the most popular.
“Ooh, it’s cold, isn’t it?” said Anna, shoving her gloved hands into the pockets of her winter school coat. Her breath was misting the air in front of them and she was shivering.
“Yes, but once the fire’s lit it’ll be nice and warm,” her father reminded her.
“That’s true,” she said.
When they reached James and Denise’s house the door was wide open.
“Ooh, they’ll regret that,” said her mother. “Why, anyone could walk in! And it’ll be freezing inside, too.” James came to the door.
“That’s the idea!” he said enthusiastically. He’d been running these events for as long as he could remember, and Anna’s family had been regulars for at least ten years.
“What, that it’ll be freezing?” Anna asked skeptically.
“No, that anyone could walk in! This is an open event, remember. We don’t charge, and the only rule is that you treat other people as you’d like to be treated.” James was beaming. That was his catchphrase.
“Hmm.” Anna was unconvinced. You got some strange people around the area, she knew, and who knows what they might get up to?
“Anyway, come in! You must be freezing. The fire’s just about to be lit – the youngsters are doing the honours, as usual. Do you want to join them, Anna?” Anna nodded. It was a tradition that all the teenagers would thrust a flaming branch into the huge heap of wood, cardboard and paper that made up the bonfire, and she wasn’t about to miss out.
“You bet!” she said, and ran through the house to the back garden. Two of her friends were already there, holding branches that had their ends burning with bright flames.
“Anna!” they said. The youngest, Callie, came forward to hug here, then remember the branch she was holding.
“Oops. Better not,” she realised.
“That’s probably a good idea,” smiled Anna. “You okay, Kathryn?” she said to the older girl, who stood about a metre away.
“Yeah, just tired,” said Kathryn. “Haven’t got much sleep this week.” Anna sighed.
“I’ve told you a hundred times, Kat, you do too much!” But she wasn’t critisising, and they both knew it.
“If I do too much, what do you too?” Kathryn pointed out. “How many dance classes is it that you take, now? Nine? Ten?” Anna smiled sheepishly.
“Seven, and you know it,” she said. “Ten! The very idea!” She fiddled with her scarf awkwardly. “I need a branch. They’re waiting to start.”
Denise came over holding a flaming brand.
“Do you want this one, Anna?” she said. Anna laughed.
“Yes, please.” She took the long stick from her neighbour’s hand and prepared to thrust it into the bonfire.
“On your marks! Get set! Go!” Together, the seventeen teenagers present placed their branches against the pile of flammable material. It lit with a huge whoosh, casting eery shadows over everyone in the garden. Tiny sparks whizzed through the air like caterpillers, and as usual the smallest children tried to catch them, crying when they burnt their hands.
“Bet I can hold one for longer than you,” said Anna, grinning mischeviously. She and Kathryn took off their gloves, ignoring Callie’s protests.
“Bet you can’t.” They each caught a spark, gasping as the hot paper touched their palm. After about ten seconds Kathryn shook hers off, but Anna was still holding it. Only ten seconds later, it winked out.
“Beat you, again!” she said. “Every year, Kat, every year.” For this was a regular competition, and Anna always won.
“How do you do it?” Kathryn asked. “It’s like you’re impervious to heat.”
“Maybe I am,” said Anna, her white teeth flashing in the light from the fire. “Want to try with something a little … bigger?
“No way!” said Kathryn. Her eyes widened suddenly, focused on someone behind Anna. Anna immediately turned around, and met the eyes of a boy she was sure she had seen before.