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Chapter Twenty-Six

The flames were long since gone. The trees lay scarred and bare, their branches burnt and blackened. The world was made of ash. Yet hope remained. A thin green tendril of life, forged in the heat of flame, emerged from a tiny seed. Another followed quickly. Life sprung from the fertile ground, ready to start the cycle anew. The circle of fire and life continued.

***

I stood staring at the ruined remnants of West Hardware. The fire was finally contained, and we were allowed to return to the ashes to start rebuilding. My dad was a few feet away talking with Audrey and Ray. I could hear them laughing about something, their voices melding together in the warm summer wind.

Audrey's hand rested comfortably on Ray's forearm, a diamond ring glinting in the sun. The wedding had been four days after the fire started in an intimate ceremony at the local chapel. The town had celebrated their wedding, throwing a party in the hotel where most of the evacuees were staying. Everyone said it was the b
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