unnamed false start

Written in ASE (bleh)

Hiding it behind a More tag because it’s over a thousand words long.

Chapter One

There was very little action of any kind to be found in Hogarth Heights. We didn’t get tourists, the weather was never anything but mild, and the landscape didn’t so much as hiccup until a couple dozen miles outside the town limits.

It was no wonder Megan wanted to burn the old theater down.

I crouched in the dirt beside her, watching her struggle with her zippo. My friend and I were nothing alike on the outside. Where she had thin, tangled blonde hair, mine was a dull black that was too short and thick to knot up. Her average height and build made her look stocky next to my stretched, narrow skinniness. My hands and fingers were smaller than hers, which may have been why she looked so clumsy.

Neither of us looked good in comparison to the other. It bothered Megan, but I tended to forget about it. There were only so many things that other people could say about it, after all. She flicked the zippo again, then dropped it with a euphemised non-curse.

“Maybe it’s empty,” I said, digging the tips of my fingers in the dirt.

“Shut up, Synda, it is not.” Megan scooped up the lighter off the ground, only to throw it at my face. Luckily, I caught it. But all of the friction and angry manipulation she’d put it through over the last few minutes had made it so hot that It nearly burned my fingers.

I tossed it away and wiped my hands on my pants. “Let’s just go,” I said. “Nothing out here is gonna burn anyway.”

“What makes you think it won’t?”

“For one thing, the theater is made out of brick.”

Megan’s face turned red. As deep into summer as we were, it was hard to tell if she was blushing, or if the hour we had spent out here had just made her sunburn even worse. “I know that,” she grumbled, reaching out to snatch the lighter up from where it had fallen. “But there’s all this dry grass.”

Sometimes I thought we weren’t much alike on the inside either. I pressed the point of my index finger into the dirt and dragged a lopsided circle through it. “Man, you really never paid attention in class, did you?”

If I’d laughed at her, she might have punched me. But I waited for a few seconds, grinning at her in an overexaggerrated way. When she started laughing, I joined her.

Nobody laughed at Megan Hope. They laughed with her, or they lost teeth.

I climbed to my feet and stretched, then leaned back to scratch away dirt and grass that had stuck to the sweaty backs of my knees and legs. “Let’s go,” I said again. “Maybe we can scam some donuts off Mrs. Price or something.”

One thing Hogarth Heights did have was a bakery. Mrs. Price was the only reason some people didn’t just desert this hole.

But Megan didn’t seem interested in a big fat frosted donut. Which was unlike her. She flicked the zippo open and shut, no longer messing with the sparks, but still preoccupied.

I grabbed for her arm, ready to pull her back to what passed for civilization in Hogarth Heights, but she just pulled away.

I didn’t like the way she was staring at the theater. The only reason I’d come along was to make sure she didn’t really do anything to the place. That, and anything was better than laying around the house watching my brothers hold amateur wrestling matches and break things.
“Let’s go inside,” Megan said. She hooked her arm with mine and started marching around the building. The front door had been boarded up, and with good reason. Which I wasted no time pointing out.

“This place is condemned. It could fall on our heads if we–”

“Oh don’t be such a girl.”

“We’re both girls, you big jerk.”

She ignored that and dragged me up to a window. Living with four brothers who would brawl over someone not passing the salt had made me tough, but Megan still weighed more than me. Not to mention the atomic strength she got when she set her mind to something.

Sure, I could have kicked her or at least pulled her hair, but she was still my friend. And I wasn’t that worried about the theater falling on us. It was unlikely we’d find a way in anyway.

The window was just as thoroughly boarded up as the front doors. Even the ticket office was condemned, we couldn.t have snuck in there to burn it down. Which Megan had tried.

“Come on.” I tugged at her, succeeding only in rubbing skin painfully against skin. She was hanging on too tight. “This is stupid.”

She reached up to pry at the boards with her fingers. “Just ’cause you didn’t think of it.”

“No, because it really is stupid.” If it had been anyone but Megan, I would have said something about us getting into trouble. “Anyway, we’ve been out here for over an hour. My mom’s going to pitch a fit if I don’t go home soon.”

This was a bald-faced lie. Not that Mom didn’t care, but we lived in Nowhere Land. What kind of trouble was I really gonna get into?

Breaking and entering and getting smashed by a building, apparently.

Megan narrowed her eyes at my crappy lie and then let go of my arm. She started on the boards with both hands, even lifting her feet up off the ground to use her weight as leverage.

I folded my arms and watched this ridiculous display, waiting for her to fail and get bored. I couldn’t just leave her there, I’d never hear the end of it.

My stomach was rumbling. Rumbling for donuts. But she had to give up sometime.

Suddenly, one of the boards cracked as it tore free, releasing a lot of wet rot and a small torrent of bugs. Megan gave a small squeal, either of disgust or triumph, and hurried wiped off her hands. “Come on, give me a hand!”

Dread added a staccato to my stomach’s orchestra. “No way. I am not going in there.”

She pulled out the rest of the boards, calling me nine kinds of sissy. In return, I decided not to tell her when a spider climbed in her hair. It was only a daddy long-legs, but wow did she ever scream when she finally noticed it.

Still slapping at her own head, she pouted at the half-cleared window, and then at me. “Look, just help me, already!”

“Nothing doing. You’re lucky I don’t just leave you here.” I couldn’t do it for real, but there were no rules against threats.

“Why are you being such a baby?” No one coild whine like Megan. She could drag a two-letter word out to five syllables. The irony of her whining that I was the baby did not escape me.

But I didn’t comment on it either. “I’m not a baby, I just think this is a bad idea. A stupid, bad idea.”

“Why? It’s just an old building.”

“An old building that’s so old and run-down that the bricks are getting soggy. And it’s full of spiders.”

Megan reached up to grab a fistful of her hair. Some of the color had drained from her face. But then she appeared to regroup. Hands on her wide hips, she gave me a nasty grin that made her face look fat, she said, “Bet you’re just scared.”

I snorted and rolled my eyes. “Oh come on. What are you, four? I don’t care if you think I’m scared.” I knelt to pick up a rock and threw it at the pulled-apart boards. They splintered under the impact. “There, have a peek. Then can we go get some donuts?”


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