Author: Heather Hawke
Genre: MG SF
Title: THE LEGACY OF FROST AND FIRE
I crouched under the covers so Mom couldn’t see the glow from my cell phone. She’d flip if she caught me awake after midnight. I texted, “Finished ninth level. Blew everything up.”
My phone buzzed with a new message, but it wasn’t from one of my gaming buddies. It read, “Justin. Do not skip this class: Essential Lessons for Frost Dragon Egg Maintenance. All Lab. No Lecture.”
I snapped the phone shut. Stupid spam. Didn’t even have a number to say who sent it.
A light flicked on in my room. I puffed out a breath. I was so busted. Trying to think of an excuse, I pushed aside my old plaid camping blanket. But Mom wasn't there.
From the window, electric bright light rippled across the walls. The light shaded into pink and then turned burning red.
A noise from outside roared like a freight train, and an enormous thump shook my bed. Adrenaline surging through my legs, I ran to the window, threw it open and leaned outside. My mouth fell open. Frozen lightning hung in front of my house, stretching from the lawn up to the roof. Across the narrow street, red haze swirled around a hulking animal, big as a backhoe. It cast about, as if looking for something.
Smoke drifted into my room, making me cough. The animal snapped its head up. It gazed directly at me with a golden eye big as my fist. The pupil thinned to a narrow vertical line.
I staggered back. “Ahhh….”
From downstairs, Dad shouted, “There’s a fire! Get down here.”
I ran to the landing and bolted down the stairs. “Wait! Don’t go outside.”
But my mom and dad walked out the front door anyway. I leaped after them. That monster might snatch them up. But they remained on the shadowed step. I edged next to dad. Beyond, there was no monster.
The silver thread and red haze were gone. However, flames licked the small house across the street. The one where Amber, the girl who used to be my best friend, lived. She and her mom might need rescuing. Where were the firefighters?
I blew out a breath as Amber and her mom, Mrs. Yao, ran around from the back hand-in-hand. They crossed the street to our side and held onto each other. Amber’s bare feet stuck out the bottom of her pajamas.
I jogged down the walk to her. “What happened?”
Amber’s curly black hair flew about her face. She scowled. “What do you think?”
I shrugged. I’d only been trying to help.
Fire exploded out of their roof with a shower of sparks. It felt like I’d opened an oven door and squinted my eyes against the heat. Right under my feet, wisps of smoke curled up from our lawn. My breath caught as I took in a wide blackened trail leading across the street and to the burning house. It was almost like an arrow pointing from my house to hers. Sirens blared, getting closer.
A fire truck and an ambulance rounded the corner, lights strobing. Firefighters attached a hose to a fire hydrant and water gushed through the looping coils. The water made clouds of smoke and steam erupt from the broken roof.
Once the firefighters had the blaze out, an official-looking black car pulled up and a woman stepped out. Her suit strained over her barrel-shaped body as she pounded her feet on the sidewalk like she were trying to beat it down. Stopping next to me, she put her fists on her hips. Instead of facing the fire, she stared at me.
I looked at the woman from the corner of my eye. Creepy. What could she want? Finally breaking her gaze, she took in the burnt lawn. Then, walking up to my parents, she flashed some kind of badge. “I’ll need to talk to you,” she said to them, gesturing to Amber’s house, “about this. Send the boy to bed.”
A blaze of anger burned in my chest. She didn’t have the right.
Mom’s lips trembled.
Dad put his arm around her. “I’ll take care of this. Don’t get upset.” He gave me a stern look. “Go on to your room. I’ll talk to you later.”
Back in my room, I watched the sky turn grey. Night was almost over. I hoped Mom had kept it together, hadn’t fallen into one of her funks. Things were bad enough without that.
My cheeks felt like they were sunburned. I rubbed them and my hand came away dirty with soot. At least I was at home. I wondered where Amber and her mom had gone. Maybe I should text Amber to see if she was okay. But I hadn’t hung out with her since she’d called me a geek in front of a bunch of her girlfriends soon after we started junior high last year. My face had felt hotter when they giggled at him than it did now.
The door slammed downstairs. A minute later, Dad came into my room. “That was an arson inspector. She thinks you might have had something to do with the fire.”
I sat up and clutched the sheets. This couldn’t be happening. “You don’t believe that.” My voice sounded strangled, even to me.
Dad’s face was lost in shadows. “Of course not.”
He took too long to answer. Something squirmed in my stomach.
Dad shook his head. “Your mother was right. We should never have let you play all those violent video games. We’ll talk to a lawyer tomorrow. Get some sleep.” He left and closed the door.
I flopped back on the bed. Sleep. Right.
I finally did doze off a couple hours later, and when I came downstairs, my parents had already left. To see the lawyer I supposed. Mom would be all worked up, so Dad probably took her with him. She might have to go back on meds. It made my stomach hurt just thinking about it.
My cell phone buzzed and I flipped it open. “Learn how to avoid feeding dragons. Sign up now before it’s too late.” More dumb ads.
Someone knocked on the front door. Through the living room window, I could see it was the arson inspector. I edged along the wall, placing each foot in careful silence. The inspector pounded again. This time, it sounded like she was using her fist. I leaned forward to peer through the peephole. The inspector was not alone. Amber stood next to her.
The arson inspector put her eye to the peephole. An orb filled the view. It was brown, with red veins snaking away from the iris. I jerked my head back.
Perhaps I could pretend I wasn’t here. But Amber might have seen my parents leave without me. I swallowed and opened the door.
The inspector folded her arms so her shiny gray suit wrinkled up in her armpits. “Well young man, are you ready to tell me how the fire started?”
I took a step backwards. “I didn’t do it!”
The woman shook a piece of paper under my nose. “You texted that you had blown everything up right at the time of the initial explosion.”
She had a copy of my texts already. I racked my brain for what I had sent last night. I shook my head. “That was just a game. Crysis. On the computer.”
The inspector stared in disapproval. “You don’t have time for games.”