Wildefire, p.1Karsten Knight
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W I L D E F I R E
K a r s t e n K n i g h t
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PART I: THE REDWOODS, XX
Eight Months Later
Blue Flame, Friday
The Beach Scrolls, Saturday
Interlude, Central America
PART II: PANTHEON
Chain Gang, Sunday
The Burning Bed, Monday
Interlude II, Central America
PART III: SPRING WEEK
Match Point, Wednesday
Midnight Movie, Thursday
Sibling Rivalry, Friday
Extinguished, One Month Later
Ashline Wilde was a human mood ring. Sixteen years old, and she was a cauldron of emotions—frothing, bubbling, and volatile. She had never heard of “bottling it all up inside.” She was as transparent as the air itself.
And as she loomed over her combatant in the dusty Scarsdale High School parking lot, it didn’t take an answer key for the gathering crowd to decipher her mood du jour.
Ashline was pissed.
Lizzie Jacobs touched her split lip and gazed with a mixture of fury and awe at her bloodstained fingertips.
One right hook from Ash had laid the skinny blond girl flat out on her ass. “What the hell, Wilde?”
“What’s the matter, Elizabeth?” Ash massaged her knuckles. Goddamn, that had hurt. “You couldn’t find your own boyfriend?”
“Oh, I could.” Lizzie brushed the dirt off the seat of her designer jeans as she used the hood of a nearby car to rise to her feet. “He just happened to be yours at the time.”
A chorus of “ooh” echoed around them.
“With all the guys who come in and out of the revolving door to your Volvo’s backseat, you had to get your paws on Rich, too?” Ash asked. The crowd hollered again. Summoned by the promise of bloodshed, students flooded out of the high school’s back doors, the circle around the two girls growing thicker by the minute.
First rule of school yard fights: It didn’t matter who you cheered for, as long as someone got slapped around.
“Ashline, wait,” a deep voice called. Somewhere in the sea of hoodies and popped collars, a varsity letter jacket wormed its way through the crowd. Rich Lesley finally elbowed in to the periphery of the inner circle. He stopped dead when he caught sight of Lizzie’s bloodied face. At six-foot-four he stood a full twelve inches taller than Ashline, but he still shrank back when his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend turned around. His sandy hair bobbed as he searched for an emergency exit, but the crowd that had been so eager to let him through had now knitted together to block his escape.
It was the first time she’d seen him since Tessa had reported the horrible news to her in last-period chemistry. As Ash had stormed out midclass, she’d imagined all the awful things she would say to him, do to him even.
But faced with the boy who had abruptly tossed their three months together out the window like an apple core to the freeway, she couldn’t even pretend to be anything but hurt. Maybe it was the naïveté that came with having your first real relationship, but nothing about their romance had screamed “summer fling” to Ashline.
“Really, Rich?” she said finally, her voice sounding far more pathetic than she’d intended. “It’s bad enough that you cheated on me, during school . . . but Lizzie Jacobs was the best you could do?”
“Hey!” Lizzie protested from behind her.
“Shut up, bitch,” Ash said, raising a hand to silence her. “The grown-ups are talking.”
Rich shifted his tennis bag from one shoulder to the other. At one point or another every man dreamed of two women fighting over him, but this clearly wasn’t what Rich Lesley had imagined. “I don’t want to talk about this here.”
“I’m sorry,” Ash said quietly, unconsciously twisting the Claddagh ring that Rich had given her. Its heart was still pointed inward. “Is there some place quieter you had in mind to humiliate me?”
For a moment, when he tugged at the hair that was starting to grow over his ear, when his posture slouched as if he were deflating, when his feet shuffled restlessly in place, Ash thought she saw a specter of the old Rich, the same Rich she’d seen in his cellar the day his parents had announced they were getting a divorce. For a moment she 3
felt like maybe it was just the two of them, alone again, lying in the bed of his green pickup.
But then the world around him seemed to coalesce, and the crowd snapped back into place. His eyes hard-ened. “The only person who’s humiliating you,” he said,
“is you.” His fingers settled on the zipper of his tennis bag as if it were a holstered gun.
Ash leveled him with a stare that could harpoon a marlin from a hundred yards. She pointed at his bag.
“What are you going to do, coward? Swat me with your tennis purse?”
Momentarily girded with courage, Rich turned and smirked at Reggie Butler, co-captain of the tennis team.
One second Ashline was standing in the middle of the circle. The next second Rich was curled in the fetal position on the ground, howling in pain, holding his tennis bag in front of him like a shield to prevent further irrepa-rable injury to his groin.
“You have something to say too, Butler?” Ash asked.
“No, ma’am,” Reggie said, and after one glance down at his squirming friend, he defensively held up his hands.
“Personally, I think he deserved it.”
“Traitor,” Rich rasped from the ground.
“Christ, Wilde.” Lizzie came up beside Ash, who had temporarily forgotten all about her. Lizzie planted her hands firmly on her hips and peered down at Rich with no particular touch of concern. “Didn’t your parents teach you any manners?”
Ever so slowly Ash rotated her head to the left, her eyes piercing out from behind her bangs.
“Ooh, right,” Lizzie said. “You’re just some crazy bush child that your parents came home from vacation with.”
Ash raised her hand and touched the skin over her cheek, at once painfully self-conscious of how her skin, the hue of earthen clay, clashed against the backdrop of her predominantly white school. She spent the better part of each day feeling like a grizzly in the polar bear cage, and now Lizzie Jacobs was poking her with a stick through the bars.
The crowd had fallen uncomfortably quiet as well.
Oblivious to the silence around her, or perhaps driven by it, Lizzie wiped the blood from her still-bleeding lip. “Where do you think your parents are right now?
Chanting in a circle back on Tahiti? Fishing with a spear?
Or are they poking needles into a little voodoo doll, controlling you, and that’s why you’re acting like such a—”
It really wasn’t Ash’s intention to knock out anyone’s teeth during this altercation. But Lizzie hadn’t even finished her verbal portrait of Ashline’s birth parents when, in a blur, the Polynesian girl’s hands wrapped around Lizzie’s skull and threw her across the circle. The momentum carried Lizzie uncontrollably toward a familiar green pickup.
It was one of those genuine oh-shit-what-did-I-just-do moments when everything slows down. Lizzie’s face smashed into the truck’s side mirror—so hard, in fact, 5
that the mirror snapped clean off and clattered to the ground, cracking in half on impact. Meanwhile Ash watched with a cocktail of glee and guilt-ridden horror as the light flickered behind Lizzie’s eyes and her eyelids drooped. Lizzie Jacobs was three quarters of the way to Neverland by the time she landed on the pavement, her outstretched arm mercifully providing a pillow for her head as she went down.
And there, spilling out of her mouth and onto the ground like it had just popped out of a gumball dispenser, was one of Lizzie’s incisors. One end covered in blood, it skittered across the pavement until it landed at Ashline’s feet.
“My truck!” Rich helplessly reached out to his cas-trated pickup.
Ash wasn’t looking at Rich or the bloody tooth in front of her. Instead the sounds of the crowd around her died away, fading into a void, replaced by a ringing in her ears. In that sliver of time Ash was frozen, looking at her split reflection in the cracked mirror.
A wind picked up from the west, and the already overcast sky instantly grew darker. The temperature plummeted to frosty levels. The short-sleeved students rubbed their exposed arms. Hoodies were zipped in unison.
Then, on that September afternoon, it began to snow.
Just a few flakes at first, carried like dancing ash by the growing west wind. But as a murmur rumbled through the crowd, the snow began to fall in blizzard proportions.
Ash finally severed eye contact with her broken reflection 6
and tilted her face to the sky, her cheeks quickly pow-dered by the storm. Despite her island roots, she always found the cold comforting.
“What’s going on here?” a sharp parrotlike voice screeched from the direction of the school. “You’re all blocking the fire lanes!”
The crowd shuffled to the side, letting Vice Principal Davis through to the combat zone. Mr. Davis pushed past Reggie Butler and, with no regard for where he was stepping, tripped right over Rich.
The vice principal caught himself just before he face-planted. “Mr. Lesley?” His bespectacled eyes tried to make sense of the tennis player on the ground, who still hadn’t risen and was cradling his man-bits as if they were about to run away. Then the vice principal’s gaze traveled across the circle first to Ashline, standing motionless, and then down to Lizzie Jacobs. Lizzie was just beginning to stir, her body now caked in a fresh coat of snow. As a half-human groan escaped her mouth, Ash thought she resembled a waking yeti.
The puzzle pieces clicked together, and Mr. Davis blinked twice at Ash. “Ms. Wilde?”
Ash shrugged and flashed her best attempt at an innocent smile, a look that, despite her numerous brushes with trouble, she’d failed to master. “What? I was just the referee.”
“Nice try.” Mr. Davis folded his arms over his chest.
“But drama club tryouts were last week.”
Ash couldn’t meet his gaze, and looked away, as if 7
there were a better future for her written somewhere on the pavement. Instead she found only a man-shaped cut-out in the snow. Following the trail of footprints away, she spotted Rich fleeing the school grounds without his truck, his dignity trailing behind him like a string of tin cans.
“Mr. Butler,” the vice principal said to the tennis player still lingering at the scene of the crime. “If you would run in and catch Nurse Hawkins before she leaves
. . . I have a feeling Ms. Jacobs will need an ice pack momentarily.”
On cue a loud grunt echoed from behind them. “My toof . . .” Lizzie moaned, sitting up. And then again louder, “My toof!” She touched her mouth in horror, and her finger explored the space where her left incisor used to be. She frantically raked her fingers through the snow, the fragment of her previously beautiful smile helplessly concealed by the white blanket on the ground. “Where is my toof?”
Meanwhile, the world war of snowball fights had erupted all around the parking lot. The silhouettes of its soldiers danced with delight through the impromptu snowstorm, using the cars as cover from the returning fire. The shrieks of mirth echoed through the eerie dark of the afternoon. A rogue volley splattered against the pleated pantleg of Mr. Davis’s khakis, and he took a hesitant step in the direction of Christian Marsh, who, with an ashen face, squealed and ran away.
But another sound overtook the school grounds. From behind the thick curtain of snow, a low rumbling picked up, an engine distinct from those of the factory-fresh cars and hand-me-downs that were slowly making their way out of the parking lot and onto the slippery streets. It was the churning rattle of a motorcycle, and even Mr. Davis, who had opened his mouth like he was about to really rip into Ashline, paused to listen. The snowball fight and the cheerful shouts of its participants faded to nothing as the sound grew louder.
Ash knew exactly who was on the back of the bike before the outline of the motorcycle emerged through the white gauze. The old Honda Nighthawk chugged threateningly as it rolled toward them, its red chassis like a spot of blood in the otherwise virgin snow.
The engine cut, and the bike drifted to a stop between Ash and her fallen adversary, who had finally located her tooth. Lizzie had it pinched between her thumb and forefinger and was squinting at it in a half-conscious daze. The arrival of the motorcycle caused her to drop it again.
The rider, cloaked in white jeans and a matching spandex shirt that made her look like a floating vision in the falling snow, dismounted the bike and plucked her helmet from her head in one smooth motion. Her short chin-length hair curved around her face into two ebony spikes that pointed forward like tusks. Her dark skin, even richer than Ash’s, betrayed her roots to an island 9
far, far away from
The older girl glanced briefly at Lizzie Jacobs, perhaps noting the blood on her lip and the concussion-induced disorientation in her eyes. “Way to go, Little Sis.”
“What are you doing here, Eve?” Ash asked.
“Yes, Ms. Wilde, what are you doing here?” Mr. Davis echoed.
Eve pouted mockingly at her former vice principal.
“Can’t a big girl check in on her wittle sister from time to time?”
Mr. Davis cleared his throat. “Not on the school grounds from which you have already been expelled.”
“Oh, please.” Eve rolled her eyes and tossed her helmet from hand to hand. “A couple of unwanted comments in biology class, and one teensy little cafeteria fistfight, and you kick a girl out of school? Hardly seems fair.”
“Three,” Mr. Davis corrected her. “Three teensy little cafeteria fistfights, and one restraining order.”
“See?” Eve exclaimed as if this proved her point. “Six months out of school, and I can’t even count straight anymore. And I was so eager to learn.”
Behind Eve, Lizzie Jacobs climbed unsteadily to her feet, tottering from side to side. She massaged her head and squinted at the new arrival. “Christ, Ash. Did you hit me hard enough that I’m seeing double? Or are 10
there two Tahitian bitches strutting around the parking lot?”
“Lizzie, please shut up,” Ash said, this time pleading, not hostile. Eve had been missing for three months now, ever since her seventeenth birthday. But three months wasn’t nearly long enough for Ash to forget that when Eve got involved, things never failed to get out of hand.
“Didn’t you learn your lesson the first time?” Eve said over her shoulder; the peon behind her wasn’t worth the energy of turning around.
Lizzie opened her mouth to reply, but Ash darted between the two of them. She experienced a pleasurable surge of victory when Lizzie flinched, but wanted to tele-pathically say, I’m trying to protect you, you moron.
“Forget about this one,” Ash said to her sister. “I’ve already invested enough energy in her, and Rich Lesley isn’t worth the fight.”
Wildefire by Karsten Knight / Young Adult / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes