Here you go…chapter one. Your comments and suggestions very much welcome. Thank you in advance. (Please ignore the strange formatting on the first lines of each paragraph. I don’t think it would be a good use of my time to fix right now.)
After the Storm
In the early hours just before sunset, a tiny white star bobbed its way through the town of Shark’s Valley, floating over once-manicured now-blackened lawns, between trees, their bark and branches still smoking, and houses, some still standing, others partially
charred or completely destroyed. The fire had swept through two days ago,
destroying everything in its path. The tiny star moved with a military
precision, travelling up and down each street, covering each block, searching.
It had to find her.
It had seen her once, standing among
the flying embers and roaring flames. Then the hot wind had come and it could
barely keep airborne. It had lost sight of the girl as it had tumbled down the
valley. Disoriented, the star had struggled to make its way back up to the now
unrecognizable town. Somewhere here was the girl. The one it needed. The one
who would help it to return. Return through the same hole that had brought the
fire to the valley. Return it back to where it would have its freedom and its
Doors slammed nearby. The tiny star
dashed into the blackened branches of a large oak tree and became very still. It
found if it remained unmoving then most people did not see it. And this was
important to it for they were already coming. Through the fire hole. Searching
for it. Wanting to take it back. Put it back in its prison. But it couldn’t go
back. Not yet.
A girl rode her bicycle down the
dark drive leading to the street, turned and headed downhill toward the town.
The star flew out to follow the girl. She was not the one but it had discovered
the young people of this town congregated in a large building during the day.
It followed the girl, staying close as she made several turns, finally stopping
at the large red-brick building. It too had sustained some charring but the
fire had pretty much left this building alone.
Loud voices carried to the star. It
tried to decipher her voice from the hundreds but it could not. Deciding she
had not yet arrived, it lifted high into the sky and surveyed the area. In the
distance, it spied more girls walking toward the building. It waited. As the
crowd grew at the base of the building, it tried to find her. It was becoming
more and more difficult. The boys didn’t help. They were even louder than the
girls and confused the tiny star. Then almost all as one, the crowd turned and began
to enter the building.
Still it had not seen the girl. It floated
down toward the shiny walls that it could see through. Somewhere in there, she
had to be. A loud screech of tires made it turn. It was her. She was hurriedly
locking up her bicycle among all the others. It dove toward her but she was
already running up the stairs. It had to get to her. But she was now running up
the stairs. It flew in front of her face, making her stop. She barely glanced
at the star and instead squinted and covered her eyes with her hand. Of course,
its brilliance was too much for her to accept. But she would learn though to
accept it. She was the One. It just knew.
The star swung around and came back
to the girl. The metal door opened, cutting off the star’s path. The star would
have hissed had it a mouth. Metal. Cold, sharp, painful. Only the people can
touch it. The girl passed through and the door shut. The star moved to the
see-through walls but it couldn’t see her any longer. Hovering, it began to
feel this world’s own yellow star burning down. It would have to move into the
shade or succumb to the larger star’s power. It had been so close to her. To
touching her. Soon. Later. When the yellow star had moved on. It would come
back to find the girl.
Alaysa hurried down the school’s
hallway, to her classroom, just barely making it into her seat before the final
bell rang. Mr. Billings stood at the chalkboard writing out the day’s lesson so
she thought she was safe. Pulling out her books, Alaysa glanced over her
shoulder. Her best friend, Sasha, looked at her, puzzled. Alaysa just smiled
and shrugged her shoulders, mouthing the word later. She’d explain at lunch.
Her father, a college professor, had
been out late the night before helping the town council to get the valley’s
restructuring plans into place. The forest fire had destroyed nearly half the
town and damaged the rest in varying degrees. He had slept in this morning so both
he and Alaysa had to rush to get out the door. Alaysa had woken on time, but sharing
the kitchen with her father, usually the early riser, had turned out to be a
chore. Absent-minded was a polite way to describe him. How someone could never
remember where the coffee cups and cereal bowls were always kept, Alaysa still
But she had raced to school and just
barely made it on time. Then as she had ran up the stairs, a light had blinded
her, causing her to stop. Her heart had started to pound. She had thought it
had been another fire ember. Not again.
Suddenly cold, she had yanked open the door and rushed to her class. She needed
a normal routine right now. No more excitement. No more panic.
Partway through Mr. Billing’s class the
school secretary had knocked on the door, and leaning in, the chain holding her
glasses in place swinging forward, and gestured for him to come out into the
hall. For the few seconds he had been gone, the students began muttering about
how much longer they had to wait for the lunch bell. Alaysa had bent her head
over her books, letting her hair fall forward covering her eyes making it look
like she was studying so she could pretend she was too busy to talk to anyone.
She had seen the looks from the
people she had thought were her friends. Just because her father had figured
out how to save their house, being a science professor at the local college, and
had tried to convince their neighbors to stay, that his plan would work and
that they didn’t, instead following the evacuation orders, didn’t mean she was
to blame for their bad luck. Her father had been right. He was always right.
And it infuriated her.
Two weeks ago everything had been
normal. It had been mid-September. She had gotten back into the routine of high
school, managed to get most of her homework done at night and still fit in her
part time job at the coffee shop where she worked with Sasha, a transplant a
few years ago from New York City. Sasha, tall and thin, was everything Alaysa
was not. She was smart, her parent’s had money so Sasha had a huge allowance
and already had a car even though she could barely drive yet, and best yet, she
didn’t seem to care that Alaysa was poor, that her father drove a car that
spent more time in the garage than out, and rarely remembered to give her money
to buy lunch during the week.
Alaysa looked over her left shoulder
and saw Sasha looking out the window, idly drumming her pen on her binder. She
turned and their eyes met. Sasha rolled her eyes and Alaysa nodded in
agreement. Boring! Coming from the
excitement of the last week, they both had agreed school had become deadly in
The door snapped open and Mr.
Billing stepped in, his tiny eyes squinting about the room, finally settling on
“Alaysa, you’re wanted in the
office,” he said, “Bring your things.”
As Alaysa reached under her desk for
her knapsack, Josh Thorgood, all round pain in the ass and way too handsome in
a strangely disturbing way, leaned over his desk two rows away and said in a
stage whisper, “Hey, Al, they finally figured it was you who set the fire?”
She glared at him as she stood.
“Hey, Josh, that soot is still on your face.” She could give as good as she
got. Besides she had been getting a lot lately and didn’t want anyone to think
even Josh, the town bully, could get one over on her. A few of the girls
giggled as she swung her knapsack over her left shoulder and walked down out of
the classroom. Still she felt her face go red, barely looking at the teacher as
he held the door open. A flood of guilt filled her body. Her mother would not
have liked her angry reaction. But then her mother had a lot on her mind these
days. Glancing at Mr. Billings, she couldn’t help but see his look of pity
before she stepped past him to get into the hallway.
The fire. It had swept up the back
of the mountain coming over the top and down toward the subdivision her
family’s house had sat. Her father not being one to give up, had spent all day
and night hosing down the roof of their house while everyone else had
evacuated. Leaving had not been an option so she and her brothers and sisters
had taken turns keeping the house from burning that night. When morning came,
their’s had been the only structure not damaged by the raging fire.
Josh’s house had lost its roof. Just
because their house had survived didn’t mean she had set the fire. Josh’s anger
had put some of their other neighbors against them and things had gotten a
little tense on their street. And it hadn’t helped when the local paper had
sold their story and picture about the “miracle house saved by family” to the
nationals, garnering more than fifteen minutes of fame for their town.
So now with the police here, Alaysa
wondered what she had done. Or maybe her family had done something wrong in
defending its home and they just wanted to ask her some questions. As she
followed the secretary at a discrete distance, trying to look like she wasn’t
really with the older woman but knowing it was way too obvious, two girls from
a younger grade hurried forward, giggling.
“Did you see him?”
“He can’t be the new librarian,” the
second one said, “he’s way too cute.”
“Guess I’ll be doing some extra
detention time this year,” the first girl said.
“Maybe even private.” They both
broke out into another fit of giggles.
The secretary glared at them as they
rushed past but they didn’t even look up.
Alaysa had heard the school had
gotten a new librarian. Their old one had decided to take early retirement all
of sudden and the new replacement had been here within a day. She had pictured
someone old, again, and had never considered someone young and possibly
good-looking would want to be a high school librarian.
Her heart began to beat faster as
they approached the library’s double doors. Trying not to look too obvious,
Alaysa slowed a little. Too curious not to look, she glanced through the
rectangular windows in the door as she walked past. Standing by one of the
tables a man stood with his back to the door. She could see by his silver-grey
hair and hunched shoulders, he was not a young man. He waved his hand in the
air above a book as if trying to explain something on the page to someone else
in the room. She slowed in her step and tried to peer around him. As if reading
her mind, the man turned sideways. Alaysa came to an abrupt halt.
A young man, draped in a cape, stood
leaning over the book from the table’s other side. Brown hair, pulled back from
his face allowed him to focus black eyes directly upon her face. His eyes
sparkled as if filled with stars. Alaysa felt cold steel in her hand, looked
down startled, saw she had moved to the door and now held the cold handle in
her hand. She couldn’t remember having got here. She looked up to see both men
staring in her direction now. The secretary cleared her throat and Alaysa
jumped back, releasing the handle. She looked up only to see the younger man
start to walk around the table, watching her intently. He stopped abruptly as
the older man barked something at him, his voice thick and guttural. The
younger man spoke back, his face angry then glanced up at her, his face now
intent, his eyes now in shadow. She shivered as a chill went down her back.
“Alaysa, are you coming?”
Alaysa dragged herself away from the
library door. The secretary held the office door open, just a few short steps
away. A desperate feeling swept over her as she walked away from the library.
Her whole body ached to return. It didn’t make any sense to her and as she
stepped over the office threshold, the feeling vanished. The secretary ushered
her to the first office, where Principal Jordan and Sherriff Krass stood up as
she walked in.
“Alaysa,” Principal Jordan said,
looking frustrated. She immediately felt guilty and didn’t really know why.
“Sherriff Krass needs you to go with him down to the station.”
She glanced at the sherriff. “Why?
What have I done?”
The sherriff eased a smile on his
face to respond. It did little to reassure her. “There are some people who have
some questions about the fire.”
“But why me?”
“We’re asking other people, too,” he
said. “The insurance companies, you see, are starting their investigations.”
She looked up at the principal. “It
was a forest fire. What is there to question about a freak fire?” So it wasn’t
about her father. He wasn’t in trouble.
“You’re correct, Alaysa,” the
sherriff said, “it is just some boring questions that will most likely get you
out of school for an hour, no more. We’ll have you back here before your lunch
Alaysa slung her knapsack over her
shoulder and followed the sherriff out of the office, down the hall and into
the parking lot. She sat in the front seat of the unmarked car as they drove
the few blocks downtown. He pulled up in front of a two storey building of dark
glass and steel. It looked like a prison with its long thin windows. She didn’t
like that she couldn’t see inside. Not at all inviting.
Inside the station, the sherriff put
her in a boardroom. She moved over to the window, letting her knapsack drop to
the floor, and stood leaning against the wall. Across the street in the park, a
tent city had been set up for those who had become homeless during the fire.
She had heard most of the people had left already, moving out of town to live
with relatives or into trailers on their burnt out lots. Workers moved around
the tents, filling green bags with garbage. She could barely make out the legs
and feet of a group of men standing in a far corner beneath the branches of a
large oak tree that had managed to remain untouched during the fire.
One of the men wandered out into the
sunlight, his face upturned to the bright light. He closed his eyes and smiled,
reminding her of a child seeing and feeling his first touch of summer, knowing
of the promise of more heat, and long days with lots of light for playing. She
found herself feeling that promise, too, even though she knew summer was long
gone now, and saw her reflection smiling in the window.
The young man, barely older than
Alaysa, opened his eyes. Just because of how he had been holding his head,
their eyes met and he recognized her. She jerked back from the window and then
laughed, feeling silly. No one could see through the darkened windows. This was
becoming a weird day. She settled back against the window only to see that the
young man had disappeared, most likely re-grouping with the others. He seemed
pretty young to be among the volunteers who had started coming into their town
to help rebuild it but then they’d welcome anyone who could swing a hammer.
The door opened, startling Alaysa,
and she spun around as Sherriff Krass and another man entered. The second man
wore an ill fitting blue suit, the jacket too short for his arms and chest, and
the pants too short showing bare skin between down to his shoes. She thought
all insurance people made good enough money they could at least afford socks.
Then again her father could afford socks but he often forgot to wear them. But
then her father was more of a sandals type of guy and she preferred he didn’t wear
socks during those times.
“Alaysa, this is Mr. Jones,”
Sherriff Krass said, motioning her to sit in the closest chair. “He has some
questions to ask of you.”
“Uh, shouldn’t I have my father
present during this?” she asked as she pulled out the chair.
“It’s not a police investigation,”
the sherriff said. “You do not have to answer any questions if they make you
Alaysa sat down, pulling up her
chair so she could rest her elbows on the table. “So I can leave anytime?”
The sherriff nodded. “But let’s give
Mr. Jones a chance, shall we?”
Mr. Jones lifted his briefcase onto
the top of the table and pressed the snaps to open it. Lifting the lid, Alaysa
didn’t see what he was doing but he placed a pad of paper and a pencil on the
table beside. He flipped through other papers for a few seconds, looking
confused, looked up at her, seemed to calm a bit and closed the lid. Sitting
down he grasped the pencil, looking at it familiarly as if his favorite type of
writing instrument, grasped it firmly in his right hand and cleared his throat.
“Miss, uh, …?”
“Kristenson,” she filled in.
“Miss Kristenson,” he continued, “It
is standard procedure to start an investigation in a tragedy of such large
She nodded. She figured that. This
was going to cost the insurance companies lots of money so yes, why wouldn’t
“So we will need to get certain
facts straight before any monetary payments are made,” he said. “As per the
insurance act of…”
Alaysa’s eyes began to glaze over.
She fought the urge to yawn. She hadn’t expected to be lectured and almost
considered getting up and leaving. But she hadn’t been asked a question yet and
had agreed to only leave if she felt she was uncomfortable during the
questioning, not during the start.
“…so Miss Kristenson, do you
understand the seriousness of this inquiry?”
She nodded once realizing she hadn’t
heard a word he had just said.
“Then let us start.” Mr. Jones
straightened his pad of paper and looked her square in the eye. “Tell me when
you first knew the fire was coming?”
“What?” Alaysa’s pulse started to
thud loudly in her ears.
“When did you know the fire was
coming?” he asked again, his voice a little quieter as if talking to a child.
“I…we didn’t know,” she said,
angrily, glancing at the sherriff.
He remained standing in a corner,
his arms folded across his chest, looking concerned. He nodded in her direction
but did nothing else to stop this line of questioning.
“The fire came down the mountain too
quick,” she continued, remembering, “Dad and some others were out back at the
bar-b-que and saw the smoke but by then it was too late. I remember him saying
something about no wind, so they hadn’t even heard the roar until it was about
an hour away.” Alaysa shuddered. “It seemed everyone in town saw it at the same
time, like we were all on a psychic line or something. I heard the air raid
siren go off. People started packing up their cars.”
“An hour off?” Mr. Jones repeated,
scribbling on his pad. “Bar-b-que? So that was the supper hour? About five?”
“About seven, actually,” she said.
“There’d been a football game at the high school so we always got home later
“You were at the game?”
She nodded. “Yes, the whole town
“And nothing happened out of the
She started to shake her head then
stopped. “Well, there was the boom we all heard, just before the last quarter.”
“A boom?” Mr. Jones looked up
“Yeah, like a…like a…,” she looked
at the sherriff, trying to find the right words, “like when one of the jets go
across the sky and breaks the sound barrier. That kind of boom.”
Mr. Jones looked at her puzzled then
started writing on his pad. “A jet? Breaks the sound barrier.”
Why he would find that so
interesting she didn’t know. Fighter jets flew over the mountains all the time
from the training base in the next state. Everyone knew that.
“And this jet, did you see it?”
She shook her head. “It was cloudy.
The pilot was probably up too high.”
“That was the only strange
She nodded. “That I remember.”
“And you got home and then saw the
“We saw the smoke first,” she
“And everyone left?”
“Dad tried to make them stay, tried
to explain about the water bubble, but they all left anyway.” She remembered
the panic, the fear. Her father’s best friend had even tried to get him to leave
with her brothers and sisters. Her father had refused saying he could save his
house and his family.
“But you had very little time? An
hour you said?”
“I…I think the wind shifted because
the fire didn’t come to us for a while. Not until much later at night, maybe
“And what did you see?”
“See?” she asked, startled. Not
‘do’. ‘See’. “While I was hosing down the house, I could only see smoke and
embers.” She folded her arms across her chest remembering the heat and the
sharp bite of the firey wood splinters as they struck her bare arms. “The wind
didn’t pick up until the fire was nearly upon us. Dad called it a thermal wind
caused by the fire’s heat.”
“And where were you during all
“I was at the front of the house.
Dad didn’t let me be at the forefront of the fire.”
“And what happened? What did you
“I saw nothing,” Alaysa said, trying
to block out the sounds of the trees exploding, the shooting bits of wood
falling around her like missiles. The sound of sap on fire, like a million
steam kettles all going off at once. And then there were the animals. The
squirrels and rabbits and the deer all running wildly, trying to flee, their
bodies scarred from the heat and flames, the smell of their burnt flesh filling
her lungs, making her gag. The room began to spin. She stood, grasping the
table and looked at the sherriff. “Washroom?”
Concerned, he pointed down the hall.
“Do you need some help?”
“No, thank-” Scooping up her
knapsack, she dashed out the door and ran to the back of the building, finding
the women’s washroom, shoving open the door, crashing against the sink,
wretching over it. Nothing came up and she looked at herself in the mirror. Her
face had gone a green color. Sweat beaded her forehead. She splashed cold water
on her face.
“What had I seen?” she repeated. “I
saw the end of the world.”