Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fire Lily: Chapter One

18 Nesting Street sat on the far end of Tender Meadows' new cul-de-sac. It was white and tall and exactly like every other house on the street, with the same painted mailbox, the same dark shutters, and the same black shingles. The panels on its sides were perfectly white, like a brand new coloring book.

The boy, some would call him a young man, seemed extremely out of place in the clean symmetry. His clothes were dark and tattered, and purple bags always hung around his seedy eyes. Brown glops clung to his spiked hair, and dirt had made a bed beneath his nails. Not to mention the smell. There's a certain smell about a man who finds clouds of cologne sufficient in lieu of a shower, and it is often none too pleasant. In this case it made Mrs. Tanith crinkle her nose before the door was even halfway open.

"Hello, Lars," she said coolly. Mrs. Tanith had never been fond of Lars Macallister. Even now she found her eyes drawn to the taco shell wedged in his teeth.

"Hey Missus T. Is Josh home?" There was an odd creak to his voice, like a frog that somehow learned to speak.

"Yes, he's upstairs." Reluctantly, she moved to the side, holding the door like it was a shield. "Take your boots off before you step off the rug."

"Not a problem." He grinned, flashing more detoured taco. The stench of cheese and corn chips wafted up as he kicked away the black boots.

"You know where his room is?" Mrs. Tanith held her breath as the foot-stench molested her nostrils.

"Yeah, not a problem."

The boy rushed up the stairs, taking his foot-stench and cologne cloud with him. But just having him in the house made Mrs. Tanith uneasy. It was as though there was an anvil above her head, and the coyote was about to cut the string.


***


Joshua J. Tanith was a bright kid. All the report cards from fourth grade onward (which were stored in a shoe box under the bed) were marked top-to-bottom with "A"'s. But he wasn't just good at hitting the books. You might think that with all the model rockets around his room and the number of hours dumped into Guardians of the Guild Online he'd be a total shut-in nerd. That would be far from the truth. Josh was smart, handsome, and he got along with most people.

The notion that all people were inherently good made him easy to get along with, but this naivety brought less-than-desirable people to him. People like Lars Macallister.

"Hey, is that the ship from Alpha Grade?" Lars asked, snatching the rocket model off the dresser. Even from across the room, Josh could see grimy fingerprints smothering the sheen of the red paint.

"Yeah." Josh winced and turned back to the computer, trying to ignore the ruination of his efforts.

"How much is it worth?" Lars turned it up and around in the light.

"Not as much as it should be. I botched the paint job on the wings. The brush slipped and the black was too dark to cover up."

"That the weird-looking bit on the bottom?"

"Yeah."

"Huh." Lars carefully placed the rocket back on its pedestal, not realizing it had already been ruined.

A tingle climbed Josh's neck. It was the uneasy feeling of a long and awkward silence. Or so he thought. "Do you want to watch a movie or play games or something?"

"Yeah, sure," Lars said. "Right after you pay me."

"I already did." Josh clicked out of Guardians of the Guild. Suddenly, it seemed, he did not want distractions.

"You only gave me half. I want it in full. Today. That was the deal."

Josh's mouth went dry. His voice seemed to hang in his throat like a fly caught in webs. Words raced through his mind, searching for the right one. They seemed to skip back, the same ones playing over and over until they lost meaning. At last he was stuck with only one option, repeating it again and again. "No. No no no nononononono."

"Oh yes." Lars grabbed another model off the shelf. Some kind of biplane piloted by a cartoon fox. "Three days, you have the money. That was the deal, remember?"

"Nononononono. Another week, Lars. A week. Just one. You know me, man. We've been friends for how long? Who kept your secrets for you? Me. Who's done your essays since fifth grade? Me. Come on, man. Just a week."

Lars put the plane down and gave the fox a rub, as though it were real.

"Sorry, Josh. A deal's a deal."

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