Philip should have given up as soon as he heard the squishing sound. That's normally a big clue that your wood isn't dry enough to start a fire.
"Should we tell him?" Jake asked.
"Tell me what?"
"You've got it, Philip," I said.
He didn't have it. I knew that, Jake knew that, and looking back at it, I'll bet Philip knew it too. But he was the youngest of us and if you're the youngest, you're not supposed to be the first to quit. That's one of the unwritten rules of the tree scouts.
"Screw this," Jake said. "I've got a lighter in my pack. Let's just get this started."
Lighters were, of course, cheating. If Phillip wanted to earn his firestarter badge, and if the rest of us wanted to earn our mentorship badges, we'd have to do it the right way. The scout master had left us out there for the afternoon, and he'd expect to see a full camp with a large cooking fire when he returned at sunset.
"Just help him find kindling," I told Jake as I crouched and gathered dry leaves.
Philip trusted us to help him out, but that's not how scouts work. Sure, we told him we'd help, but really Jake and I chose the only wet log in the area. We knew he wouldn't be able to light it. We just thought we'd have more time to screw around. We were wrong.
Philip didn't earn a badge that afternoon because as soon as I bent down, Jake pulled out his lighter and lit a flame beneath Philip's left heel. The kid's pants lit quickly. I had no idea corduroy would burn so fast, but his whole lower half was ablaze when I glanced back up at him.
Philip kicked hard, trying to swat the flames away, but it was already too late. The leaves around his feet went up in seconds. Honestly, I'm still proud of the way I handled it. You'd have been proud of me too, guys.
I didn't get emotional. I didn't writhe around on the ground on piles of dry kindling like Philip did and I didn't shriek obscenities like Jake did. No, I surveyed the damage, thought back to the scout manual, and collected saliva.
I learned something important that day. If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then we should've been able to put out a forest fire one spit at a time. Sometimes the scout manual doesn't know what the hell it's talking about.
Anyway, Philip was a good kid and I'm happy you were all able to come to pay your respects. This is the only visitation I've ever been to, and Philly's family mentioned something about cocktail wieners in BBQ sauce so I'd better wrap this up. According to the prayer cards, this visitation will continue for one more hour. Thanks for coming out.