The throaty click of my trusty lighter echoed off the four pillars surrounding the cold clearing that was freezing my knees. With one exposed hand, I cranked frantically at the flint while simultaneously wondering if it had any drops of lighter fluid left. Suddenly, yellow and red flame soared from the wick, and hungrily leaped onto the nearest edge of the pyramid of crumpled newspapers and scribbled half-plans for undersigned buildings.
With the fire lit, I stowed my lighter and leapt onto the nearest concrete pillar. I exerted as much brute force as I could and pulled myself up to the square top. Below, the flames crackled up the papers word by word and spar by spar before reaching the small heap of empty beer boxes above them. Across from me, Secret Asian Man rubbed his hands excitedly over the faint echoes of warmth rising from the conflagration below. Next to me, the Minnesotan slumped atop his pillar, staring into the flames numbly.
All of us were perched on “Art”, more particularly, modern-campus art. We were sitting on a circular quartet of four irregularly shaped concrete pieces that were two to three feet in width and seven feet tall. From a far, far distance, they looked like a small, ugly imitation of Stonehenge. Our fire was sparkling merrily in the center of the circle. We weren’t worried about defacing the sculpture because it had already been chipped, eroded, peed on, plastered with gum, covered with stickers and paint, and much more. In any case, our slight blaze wasn’t enough to cause any scorching or blackening of the already dirty base.
Unfortunately, our fire wasn’t even hot enough to face the cold Midwestern night. Cautiously, inevitably, the icy night air crept up the crinkling winking bits of glowing parchment and snuffed out the light mercilessly. Once the slight flames caught wind of its predator, the cold abandoned its stealthy progression and caught the heart of the fire in its icy grasp, callously throttling the slow smoldering remnants. There was one final puff of smoke, and the remaining ash floated off.
We didn’t care. Fire, or no fire, this was our place. We had dangled off the statute all semester each as we talked, and occasionally pelted our friends with empty beer cans. Two days before winter break, in the cold, we were going to stay there and wind up our affairs for as long as we wanted, or until we succumbed to hypothermia. We kept talking. Just as the sky was being to rain down a blanket of white ash, dueling sirens screeched to a stop nearby.
After the Campus Police extricated themselves from their mini-vans, they immediately directed us to “step away” from the statue. We descended slowly, since our muscles had long since hardened. Once we were down, we were peppered with questions while a very bright flashlight shone in our eyes. We were more than happy to answer the easy questions. The more difficult questions, such as our names, we were reluctant to answer. Happily, we happened to have no identification on our persons.
We quickly understood why we were being detained and questioned. It appeared that the police had received a call two hours before regarding our fire. It wasn’t fully explained to us why it had taken two hours for them to respond to the call, but it didn’t really affect our response. We categorically denied all knowledge of a fire, how to make a fire, and knowing what a fire was. It wasn’t that we were evil people, it was more that we didn’t want to get busted for something that hadn’t had the potential to hurt anyone, hurt anyone, or was still ongoing, or actually really illegal.
Faced with our stone wall of silence, the Campus Police could only do two things. First, they searched us and found my lighter. Second, they felt the ground where we had had our fire. The ground was no longer hot. After a lengthy investigation, they determined that it was slightly warmer than the nearby ground temperature. As a result, they had enough evidence to charge us with the crime of “Making the Ground Warm”. This, they told us, was a severe crime.
I had many questions about this crime, but as I was more concerned with getting off, I kept my mouth shut. This tactic was well served, as the crime apparently carried the maximum punishment of a warning, a mini-van ride back to our dorm, and learning our true identities. We listened to the warning and vowed never to warm the earth in their presence, took the ride back to another dorm that was not ours, and gave them the names of three people that had been annoying us. We were then released on our own recognizance, and managed to wait just until we were out of ear-sight to burst into gales of uncontrollable laughter.