Setting Fire 001: Once Bitten (Original Draft)

Setting Fire 001: Once Bitten (Original Draft)

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A original first draft is a chapter in all of it’s rough, unedited original glory. You’ll find typos, terribly phrased sentences, hilarious accidents, and frequent point of view flips. When giving feedback on these chapters only consider the following: Character behavior & development, plot revelations, and flow of the scenes. Click here to view more on how to help beta-read our chapters!

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10:00PM. Lexi peeked out in to the hallway. At the end of the hall her dad’s bedroom door was closed and the faint sounds of his snoring could be heard. She smirked to herself and ducked back in to her bedroom. The oldman (as he liked to call himself) crashed early on the weekends, leaving their family owned gas station under the care of some part-timer and leaving his only daughter up to her own devices. Any other day, that wouldn’t of been a concern. Outside of a few harmless shenanigans, Alexa Ryan was a well behaved teenage girl. She didn’t go out to weird parties, drinking, do drugs or even smoke. There were no obnoxious boyfriends or underaged sex. In fact, Lexi didn’t even have friends. The one person in the world she hung out with was probably about as uninteresting as she was.

But she had every intention of making their world a million times more exciting. Starting with tonight.

Climbing out now, meet you at the treeline.

She texted Knucker before her phone got tucked away in to her back jeans pocket. He was her best friend, probably the bestest friend anyone in the world could have. Just hanging out with each other had always been enough. There wasn’t anything they got in to that didn’t turn out to be a blast. But this was the last weekend of summer vacation, before senior year. Seniors. After this year High School would be over and they’d be going off to college. Joining the world as adults and kissing their twosome goodbye. Lexi didn’t even know if she wanted to go to college. So this last year of High School couldn’t be like all the others. It had to be BIG. For the rest of her life she was going to look back at this year and know it was the one that changed everything.

Making up her bed so it looked like she was sleeping in it, Lexi admired her handiwork one quick time before she pushed open her bedroom window and climbed out of it. From there all she had to do was shimmy down off the roof and jump to the ground. She ran across the backyard and hopped over the fence. Dashed through the big meadow that stretched out behind their property until she reached the treeline of Silent Pines Forest.

There she waited, wearing a sparkling tank top and a skinny pair of jeans, along with some flashy strands of beads. Out in the middle of the town forest Margrit Berkshire was having an end of summer party. The girl was the Queen Bee of Silent Pines. Anyone and everyone important at school was going to be there.

And as soon as Knucker hurried his slow ass up, they would be too.

“Crap, crap, crap!” Knucker Polk swore under his breath, hopping up and down on one foot as he tried to free himself from the fence without ripping a huge hole in his jeans. Of course, he was really thinking something more like shit, shit, shit, but growing up with a swear jar and a small-town Sheriff for your dad, well, that sorta did things to a person. Not that that was important. What was important was that he was stuck to a freaking (fucking) fence.

Lexi was going to strangle him.

Maybe some guys wouldn’t be afraid of a girl beating them up. But those guys weren’t best (well, only) friends with Lexi Ryan. Sure, Knucker was taller; he was a guy; he was probably physically stronger than she was. But that wasn’t accounting for the pure psychological element of trying to fend off the girl who’d been dragging you around since you were still wetting the bed.

Which screw you (assholes), hadn’t happened since he was six, no matter what Margrit Berkshire and Owen DeWhitt had told everyone in homeroom last year.

Speaking of Silent Pines High School’s It Crowd, Knucker wasn’t quite as keen on this whole crashing-their-party thing as Lexi was. Knucker and Lexi weren’t what you’d call… cool. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite. Which Knucker was just fine with, personally. Since when did they need anyone but the two of them? …Since Lexi had gotten it into her head that she needed to make a statement in her senior year, he guessed. If it had been anyone else, Knucker would have stayed out of it, but this was Lexi. There was no chance in heck (Hell) that he wasn’t going to be right there with her every step of the way.

Even if it meant making a complete doofus of himself at this party. Which was probably what was going to happen. He hadn’t even gotten there and he’d already stumbled his way into a bully’s wet dream.

…Man, he really hated the way his brain chose to phrase things sometimes.

One last determined jerk of his leg and- with a slow-dawning horror- he heard the denim peel apart with a ripping noise straight out of a freaking (fucking, again) cartoon. Awesome.

Welp. This is why they invented cell phones. Ruefully, he skimmed the text that Lexi had sent while he’d been playing Fence Hopscotch before firing one back.

Sorry Lexi Im a little stuck, where are you now?

Waiting by that mangled oak tree. Stuck WHERE?

Lexi could imagine a hundred and one different places Knucker would be stuck. He could have meant figuratively, like his Dad was awake and lurking. Or he ran in to someone on the way to meet her. …but Lexi got the feeling he meant literally stuck, which had her imagination coming up with some pretty interesting predicaments.

Lemme rephrase, stuck IN what? If there’s bees again, you’re screwed. I’m leaving w/o you.

It probably wasn’t bees and Lexi was already bouncing impatiently on her feet, twisting in this direction and that trying to see out in the dark if he was stuck somewhere within her line of sight. Dammit, she should have thought to bring a flashlight. Instead she held up her lit phone to see if that helped any, but nope. It was too dark, and the moon wasn’t helping either.

She wasn’t going to that party without him, no matter what she threatened. They were a duo. A team. Two of a kind. He HAD to be involved or she was just going to be one of those sad pathetic make-over girls from teen dramas that wandered around cool-kid parties like a quaking rabbit. Lexi was no rabbit.

And Knucker was taking too long. “Gaaaaaaaaawd. HURRY UP. ARE YOU CLOSE ENOUGH TO HEAR ME?” She ‘shouted’ as loud as she dared to.

Crap (shit). He was way behind her. There was a full block between the Rogersons’ fence (you know, the one he’d gotten caught on) and the treeline where she was waiting on him.

At this point, though, his pants leg was way past saving and he was forced to admit defeat. The ripped look was… in though or something, right? (Yeah… Somehow, Knucker didn’t think that applied to six inch tears up the side of your jeans.) These were one of the pairs he’d gotten as part of his back-to-school package too. His dad was going to kill him. (Especially since he’d have to come up with an explanation that didn’t involve sneaking out of his room to go to a party in the woods the night before the first day of school… Yeah. Awesome.)

Wincing, he fished his Swiss army knife out of his pocket and gave the denim one last dubious look. Welp, time to operate.

ill b ther asap

He texted. (He was doing it one-handed while holding a knife, okay? Poor spelling and grammar were understandable given the circumstances.)

(Sometimes Knucker wondered who the heck (Hell) he thought he was explaining this stuff to.)

Out of earshot, he never heard Lexi calling him.

Something else did.

As Lexi peered about in the darkness, trying to catch sight of her friend, a dark shape moved under the shadow of the trees. Short, sharp breaths and a snapping twig broke the silence and stillness of the pine woods, close enough to Lexi that only deafness could have caused her to miss it.

Yeah, he needed to be rescued. Lexi was just about to start walking when she heard the snap of a twig and the heavy breathing.

“There you are, jeeeeze. Luckily I haven’t been wai…ting long. Knucker? Huh.” She didn’t see him. In fact, now that she thought about it, the sound was coming from behind her. Lexi spun around, squinting in the dark trying to see who was lurking in the trees.

“Real funny. Stop screwing around…” Silence. Movement? “Who’s there?”

Lexi held out her phone again, the dim light barely reaching a few feet. Something further out moved, though. A large shadow. Suddenly she could feel her heart ramming against her chest, and it was nearly the only thing she could hear. She swallowed and scowled. There was nothing to be afraid of. Things didn’t freak her out, she wasn’t a jumpy sort of girl. It’s not like there was a serial killer out in the woods. Lexi had enough common sense to know it was most likely just someone being a dick or an animal.

“Alright… this is stupid.” she muttered to herself, answering her own thoughts. Trying to take charge of her anxiety and prove she wasn’t scared of shadows, Lexi stomped in to the woods to check it out.

Whatever it was out there, Lexi couldn’t quite catch a glimpse. Once or twice a swatch of darkness seemed to dart between the trees ahead of her, but it was there and gone so quickly that it might have been her eyes playing tricks. Every time that she began entertaining thoughts of turning back, however, a sound of rustling undergrowth or breaking branches further down the path caught her ears.

And then, distinct footsteps, coming from somewhere close at her back.

One irreparably disfigured pair of jeans later, Knucker was headed for the treeline.

Devil’s Wood, whispered a perverse part of his psyche which Knucker was pretty sure was the voice of his Nana because no one ever really used the proper name of the local forest except for maybe senior citizens. Sure, they all told crazy as heck (Hell) stories about the woods and what happened to people who went in there at night. But no one used the (damn) name.

Gulping, Knucker told himself to calm down. They were just stories. No one had ever really got eaten by monsters in the woods. Even if they totally looked like the kind of woods where people got eaten. As he got closer and closer, he found his eyes following the dark lines of the pine trees all the way up to where the tops jutted into the sky like claws digging into a star-spangled blanket.

Lexi would laugh if she could have heard him describe it that way.

Wait. Lexi. He should have caught up by now. In fact…

He drew to a halt by the old oak tree where his best friend was definitely not hanging around. No sign of her. Spinning in a circle, Knucker frowned to himself, scratching the back of his neck.

“Lex? Lexi, come on, you know I hate it when you do the jump-scare thing.”


Where had she gone?

There was something out here. It couldn’t just be some jerk playing tricks. Knucker wasn’t great with dark creepy woods, or creepy anything really, so she doubted it was him. And who else would be out here roaming around? She wasn’t anywhere near the party, so she didn’t think it was drunk peers stumbling around in the dark.

Well. It could be. But she’d be hearing more than just a few shuffles and – Footsteps?!

Lexi whirled around, walking backwards as she aimed her lit phone down the path she came. Not a person, not a shadow. She was seriously starting to get freaked out.

Screw that. If she was going to freak, she might as well do it with a weapon. Lexi stopped and aimed her phone at the ground. Kicked around some leaves and bushes until she found an old branch that seemed solid enough to use as a weapon. She popped off the extra twigs and gave it a good test swing. Perfect!

“All right, deer. Possum. Beaver. I’m ready.” she muttered to herself, finding being ridiculous was a good way to make herself feel less like a dumbass.

There was an answer to Lexi’s bravado in the form of a low, distinctly animal growl.

A split instant later, something heavy collided with her back, bowling her over and shoving her face-first into the forest floor. Pain shot through her shoulder, sharp and piercing and tearing and- this was the weirdest, most shocking part- blazing hot.

She could feel a tongue.

“This bites,” Knucker muttered to himself, pushing his way through the trees. Every now and then he had to stop and disentangle his shredded jeans where they’d caught on fallen branches or prickly, thorny bushes. His leg was starting to look like he’d tried to shave, badly. Or maybe just taken a swim in a lake of razors.

He couldn’t blame Lexi for going ahead without him, though. She had warned him that she would leave if he didn’t hurry up. It was pretty normal behavior as far as Lexi went, so he’d figured out what was going on right away. (Well, it was either that or she’d wandered off into the woods on her own to go do God-knows-what, but how likely was that? …Well, it was less likely than Lexi straight-up ditching him.)

Anyway, he could see light from a bonfire peeking through the trees up ahead and the distant beat of crappy (shitty) dubstep was starting to assault his eardrums. He was almost there. Freaking (fucking) finally.

Unfortunately, Knucker was so zeroed in on getting to the party and meeting up with Lexi that he nearly crashed right into the couple necking against a tree.

“Hey! Watch where you’re going, asshole,” snarled a horribly familiar voice.

Oh, shit. Even Knucker’s swear-jar-brought-to-you-by-Sheriff-Dad upbringing had to cut him some slack for cussing this time. He’d just stumbled right into Owen “Jerkwad” DeWhitt.

Lexi didn’t shriek. It was hard to when all the wind was knocked out of you and you suddenly had a mouthful of dirt and leaves. Her cellphone got tossed somewhere under the bushes, so she couldn’t see a damned thing. Not that she was thinking about wanting to see it. NOW she was screaming, the pain in her shoulder being a shock and instinct kicking in. She rolled elbowing what she was pretty sure a rabid dog right in the jowls and was trying to scrambled to her feet.

“Ew, it’s the gingertroll.” Margrit Berkshire had her fingers curled in to Owen’s shirt, and that distinct puffy-lipped look of a girl who was just making out something fierce. Her lipgloss was a little smeared and her usually perfect hair was messed and falling free from it’s hair clips. The hypocrisy of calling Knucker a gingertroll was lost on her, and now she was staring him up and down with her nose wrinkled up in disgust.

“What did you do, crawl up from under your bridge home and put on the first homeless man’s pants you could find?” She pushed Owen back with one of her hands, apparently with the idea of physically assaulting Knucker, cause now she was shoving HIM back by the shoulder.

“Who the hell invited you anyway? This is a private party for humans. No trolls allowed.”

There was a sickening ripping noise as Lexi struggled to stand. It wasn’t like tearing fabric; it was more like the noise that meat makes when you strip it off the bone, only a lot louder. Her frantic elbowing hit home, though, prompting an ear-grating bark that didn’t sound quite like any dog that she’d ever heard before. A large paw scrabbled at her side, and she got her first clue of how huge the thing was, because that paw was easily the size of her hand.

Out of the corner of her eye, a vaguely person-shaped silhouette flashed between the trees. If someone was out there, they must have heard the screams…

Knucker’s dad had this crazy theory that Margrit Berkshire picked on Knucker because she liked him. Knucker was pretty sure that couldn’t be further from the truth.

If it were true, he’d honestly be terrified, anyway.

And not only because Owen was glaring at Knucker over Margrit’s shoulder menacingly. Margrit was pretty monstrous all on her own. Knucker had long ago learned not to provoke her, because her temper was absolutely nasty. Sometimes he wondered how she had any friends at all, but apparently she only terrorized a select few, and Lexi and Knucker were her absolute favorites.

Lucky him.

“I’m looking for Lexi,” he muttered, taking a tiny step backward and shuffling his feet. “Did you, uh, have you seen her?”

“Why would I notice her?” growled Owen, his scowl going from you-are-inconveniencing-my-life right up to how-dare-you-speak-to-me-like-you-aren’t-a-paramecium. He was stepping around Margrit now, cracking his knuckles. Knucker briefly pictured Owen sharpening a spear and wearing a saber-toothed pelt. “We said you’re not invited, loser. This isn’t a party for freaks.”

Margrit went from looking disgusted to out right laughing. It was actually a very charming sort of laugh, if you ignored the fact she was terrorizing someone. “Oh god, were you trying to party crash. Where is she? I HAVE to see this!”

With one thumb wiping around her mouth to fix her lip gloss and her other resting on her hips, she did a quick scan of the crowd. Out a few feet away was the bonfire. Dozens of classmates and a few strangers dancing around or chatting. Margrit half expected Lexi to be lurking somewhere in the shadows in one of her stupid hoodies and turning down beers like a total loser.

She was disappointed not to see her. Chasing BOTH of them out would have been great.

…Of course, now Knucker was here without his Lexi guard dog.

Margrit gave the sweetest smile.

“Y’know, Owen. Let him stay. I bet he’s never been to a REAL party before.” Margrit stepped away for a few seconds, coming back with a bottle of amber liquor and a couple of cups. She poured one for Knucker and shoved it at him.

“Drink. Kay?”

“Fuuuuck! Fuck! urgghh!hhhrrnng.” Hurthurthurthurt. Lexi was thinking in red. A blur of pain and panic. Arms and legs flailing trying to get loose from teeth and FUR. At some point she balled up a fist and punched it, which must have surprised it just as much as it did her because she got loose enough to scrambled across the ground.

Lexi was on her feet in an instant and took off running. She didn’t look back to see what it was. Even when she stumbled over a fallen tree, she picked her ass up and kept running.

It gave chase. It was right on her heels, snapping and snarling, so close she could feel breath and flecks of moisture against the back of her neck. Which didn’t seem right because how could it be that high off the ground?

Either way, it was close. Almost on top of her. Sooner or later, Lexi was going to get tired…

Slam. Lexi could practically feel as well as hear when the thing chasing her hit the dirt behind her, yelping and scuffling. In fact, there was another, different growl in the mix now, accompanied by thrashing and crunching and a veritable cacophony of assorted unpleasant sounds. Sounds that were no longer quite so nearby, and getting further behind as her feet carried her forward.

“I’m not supposed to,” Knucker blurted, and then wanted to facepalm so hard, because wow, that was probably literally the least cool thing he had ever said in his entire life. “…I mean, you know, I have to, uh, drive.”

Owen snorted derisively. “Drive. Through the woods?”

Feeling his face heat up, Knucker made a grab for the cup, thumbing the grooves in the plastic as he tried to stall for time. “Well, not drive through the woods, obviously. I mean. Drive home.”

Why was he bothering to talk to these jerks (assholes) again?

Margrit passed a cup over to Owen and filled one for herself. To prove the drink was harmless, she downed her entire cup in three big swallows. Raising a pointed eyebrow to Knucker, before she gestured at his cup.

“Drink it. You’re not a pussy are you? Afraid Sheriff Dad is going to put you in lock up for having one little drink?” She made a big pouty face at him, all the while talking to him like he was about three years old.

Passing a smirk to Owen, she slinked over to Knucker, resting her elbow on his shoulder and tipping his cup up with a finger. “I guess you need permission from Lexi first, since she paid to get you neutered. That does take all your will to live away, doesn’t it?”

Something inside of Knucker, something brittle, snapped. And he knew it was probably what Margrit wanted, but he just couldn’t help himself.

First things first, he took a swig of beer and oh, man, wow. That was gross. It tasted sort of like bug spray and toilet water, both flavors which he unfortunately was familiar with (thanks to Owen and Margrit, as it so happened). But he swallowed it all the same, grimacing, and gave Margrit the best glare he could muster (which wasn’t much of one).

“Pick on me all you want, but shut up about Lexi.”

Owen whistled mockingly. “Oh wow, look at Dexter here standing up for his girlfriend.”

“She’s my friend.”

“Sure. You don’t even have the balls to admit you like her, man. You think you can tell us what to do?”

“Oweeeeen, don’t be mean. She’s the only girl with a heart big enough to love a troll!” she laughed and poured more in to Knucker’s cup. This was pretty much the best night of her life. The only thing that would top this off would be Knucker hurling his stomach up right on Lexi.

She was still running. A red glow was in the near distance and darkly she thought it might’ve been the fires of hell and she was already dead. Lexi thought maybe hell beasts had collided behind her, as that was the only thing that could explode the sheer horrifying sounds of terror she heard as she was running through the woods.

Lexi stumbled in to the party grounds, a few people backing with comments like what the fuck! and shit, I am so high!. She probably looked like a psycho, with leaves and twigs in her hair. Blood pouring from her shoulder down her arm and all over her clothes.

The moment she spotted Knucker she stumbled over to him, snatching his drink from his hands and gulping it down. SHE NEEDED THAT DRINK.

“Holy shit…!” Margrit rarely ever sounded genuinely surprised and concerned, but this time she did. “What the hell happened to you?! Ew, no! Don’t touch me, you’ll stain my dress!” She was back to normal again, inching away from Lexi as the girl was reaching for another cup of booze. ANYTHING to help dull the pain and erase the memory of her five minutes in a Silent Hill game.

“A BEAR or a WOLF or something. Just… give me another drink, this HURTS!” Now that she had some light to see by, she took a look at her shoulder.

That was a bad idea. Lexi nearly fainted.

Shockingly, Owen was the one who caught her, his arms looping under Lexi’s and holding her upright. Even he looked a little bewildered, as if he weren’t sure why he’d just done something that might be called considerate. Knucker sure as heck (Hell) hadn’t come to expect common decency from the track team captain.

“Here,” Owen grunted, and sort of nudged Lexi at Knucker like he expected him to do something about it.

“…Holy crap, Lex!” Finally finding his voice, Knucker grabbed Lexi’s arm to get a better look at her shoulder. It was definitely an animal bite, and it looked like an entire chunk of her shoulder was missing. He was pretty sure that was bone peeking out. There was blood everywhere and her shirt was falling open in a way that he could kind of see her bra and wow that was totally inappropriate, okay. Shrugging out of his jacket as quickly as possible, he tried to sort of wrap it around her while avoiding getting tangled with Owen (who was still propping her up).

“We need to get you to the hospital!” he told her, in what was honest-to-God not a croak or anything like that. It was one thing taking a first aid course and another having your best friend bleeding to death in the middle of the woods. “A bear? Seriously?!”

“A wolfbear.” she hissed. Not because she wanted to, but because all this grabbing and jostling was just reminding her how much everything freaking hurt. Lexi untangled herself from everyone and held up her hands, letting everybody know she was fine. She had this. “I got this. Fine. We’re here to party…! Fuck that freaking… bearwolf. I think- …broke my hand…” Lexi shook her hand a bit and refused to look at her shoulder again. Scars were cool. She was totally a badass.

Lexi was rocking on her feet, clearly in shock and probably near delirious from blood loss. Thinking and behaving like a sane person was no longer on the table. She tilted forward and went face first in to Knucker’s shoulder. Clinging on to him to keep from hitting the ground. That wasn’t cool.

“Uh, Hello!” Margrit shouted. “She is totes about to bleed out and I am SO not going to have my party known as the night Lexi Ryan died and have that be all everyone talks about for the rest of the year.” She dug around in her purse and a jangle of keys was heard. “Take my car, whatever, just GO.”

It was all Knucker could do not to gape at Margrit. He was pretty sure this night had reached the peak of surrealism at this point. Margrit and Owen being kinda sorta nice was right up there with the wolfbear.

But yeah, he didn’t really have time to sit around and wonder at the bizarreness of the evening. Hastily, he snagged Margrit’s keys and shot her what he hoped was an appropriately grateful look.

“Thanks. Uh, I’ll get it back to you tomorrow? C’mon, Lexi,” he urged, hauling her good arm up and over his shoulder and starting to wobble in the direction he hoped Margrit’s car would be. Which… yeah, he had no idea, honestly.

But someone was tagging along.

“I’ll help you get her there,” Owen told him tersely, not looking especially happy about volunteering but clearly determined. He was steadying Lexi’s other side and actually improving their combined walking capacity by a really good margin. Knucker supposed he should be gracious about accepting the goodwill while it lasted and so kept his mouth shut. Together, they managed to navigate through the woods to Margrit’s car with minimal trouble. Knucker used his free hand to light the way with his cellphone, especially on the alert since there were apparently rabid and violent animals wandering around and it was probably a really bad idea to be caught out there in the dark…

“But the paaaarty.” she whined, giving Knucker a pitiful look. It was way better than her fake ones, this time she really meant it. It was her party! Her grand entrance in to the school year, and they were ruining everything. Uuuugh, she should go back and punch that bearwolf all over again.

Lexi felt like her blood was on fire. It was similar to that burn in her gut when she swallowed hard liquor, but this was spread out all over the place. Arms and legs, fingers and toes. Probably because she was bruised in every nook and cranny. She couldn’t decide if that was worse, or if the glimmer of bone was worse. Her shoulder had gone numb at this point, so aside from making her want to throw up a little, that wasn’t so bad.

Her head tiiiilted until she was blinking wearily at Owen. “Yuuuuuur not a dick.” Her mouth curved in to a wiiiiide toothy smile. That faded slowly in to a concerned frown. “Donchou dare toss me in tha dumpster again, swur ter gawd…” Holy crap was her jaw going numb too? Did she have rabies? She had rabies! That bearwolf gave her rabies!

“You can’t party if you’re dead,” Knucker protested, exchanging a look with Owen over Lexi’s head. He guessed this was what male bonding felt like, because he was pretty sure Owen’s face reflected the exact levels of uncomfortableness and oh my (fucking) God this girl is insane that his own must have been expressing at that moment.

“Just get in the car,” Owen grunted at her, keeping Lexi upright- and avoiding her eyes- while Knucker fumbled with the keys and unlocked the passenger-side door. As soon as he’d gotten it open, he stepped aside in time for Owen to actually sweep her up bridal style and load her into the seat. It was completely as impressive as it sounded and Knucker was completely kinda jealous, because he sure (as shit) couldn’t have done that.

“Thanks,” he muttered, circling around to the driver’s side. “I got it from here.”

“…Yeah, okay. Don’t crash Margrit’s car unless you want to get your ass sued, fucknuts.” The other boy glanced down at himself, grimaced at the dark stain on his white t-shirt, and pulled the shirt up and over his head. “If she doesn’t die, tell her she owes me for ruining my clothes.”

“You, uh, gonna be alright walking back by yourse-” Knucker began, but quelled at the absolute look of rage and offense on Owen’s face. Yeah, maybe he shouldn’t have implied that a roid-raging jock might not be able to take care of himself, that wasn’t the smartest idea. Even if there were man-eating wolfbears. “Right, yeah, sorry. Never mind. Uh, see you tomorrow.”

“Fucking go already, Polk.”

Lexi had no idea how she got in to that car. She might have blacked out for a minute, or got dizzy or something. She had the vague feeling that maybe she was flying, or floating, or… was super high? She never tried hard drugs before, but Lexi bet this was what being high felt like. She was pretty sure she was hallucinating anyway, cause Owen was shirtless and he looked like one of those action movie cover dudes. With blood all over him and that expression of wanting to punch all of the things.

Thiiiiiiings! Shiny car! The car door shut in her face, which left her tiiiilting in the other direction when Knucker climbed in to the driver’s side. Now her whole body was numb, which was good. Nothing hurt anymore. Kind of like that feeling of laughing gas and Novocaine from the dentist.

“Dis isn’t yours. Oh man… lookit this girly stuff.” There were shiny prisms and beads hanging from the rear view mirror. Lexi batted at them a few times, smearing a couple of them with red droplets of blood. She looked down at her hands in shock, as if it were the first time she realized she was injured.

“Oh yeah, the bite… Eh! I’m feeling better now.”

And that’s when she slumped over right on to Knucker’s lap and passed out.

Knucker wasn’t sure what was the most horrifying thing happening at the moment, because there was a long list to choose from.

Taking Owen’s advice, he floored the gas as much as he dared, headed for the hospital. He didn’t want to speed, because the last thing they needed was to get pulled over. They were in enough trouble as is and Knucker wasn’t sure they could afford the time it would take to explain to an officer. Especially since… yeah, there was no way now that his dad wasn’t going to find out about this. Lexi’s either. They were going to be grounded for a year.

But none of that mattered, as long as Lexi was okay.

“It’s going to be okay,” he whispered, not entirely sure why he was bothering since he doubted she was going to wake up anyway. Gingerly, he petted her head, brushing her long brown hair out of her face and pulling a dead leaf out of her curls. “You’re not going to die. It’s okay.”

She was still out of it when he pulled Margrit’s champagne-colored sports car into the parking lot of the ER. He halfway wished that Owen had come along for the ride after all, because yeah, there was no way he was going to be able to pull off getting her out of the car by himself.

“Lex,” he began, shaking her as gently as possible and trying to keep the panic out of his voice. “Lex, come on, get up. I can’t carry you. It’ll be awkward and humiliating for everyone if I try, so you need to wake up now, okay? Lexi. Lexi.

“Stahp. Staaaaaahhhp.” Ugh. Uuuuugh. What the hell was Knucker doing? Bleary-eyed and confused, Lexi grunted as she sat up slowly. All of the numbness was gone and it was back to feeling like she had rolled around in the woods being attacked by a wolfbear. Which she was, holy shit. The euphoria, adrenaline, bloodloss, or whatever it was that had her doing mental loops was starting to fade away now too. Her little nap in the car did her good. Or bad. Lexi had no freaking idea. All she was aware of now was that she felt stupid as fuck and seriously freaked out.

“I’m not dead, it- ooowww. Ow, ow, ow…” She groaned, fumbling for the door and effectively putting bloody hand prints on everything as she pushed it open and practically fell out. While using the door to help herself climb to her feet, she gave the fancy champagne colored beast a look over. Oh god, she knew whose car this was. Knucker stole Margrit’s car to get her to the hospital! That had to be the single most awesome, and most stupid thing they had ever done!

“Uunngh. My BONES hurt! How do bones even hurt?!” Lexi leaned against the car, glaring at the hospital building. If Knucker tried to carry her, they would both end up face first on the pavement. Her body ached enough as it was. She might as well die in the hospital tonight. Lexi was starting off the school year as the girl mauled by a wild animal. And Knucker was a car thief.

“Leave me on the sidewalk so I can die dramatically, never quite reaching my destination.” she muttered, nearly sliding down to the ground again.

Funnily enough, all of that wailing and flailing was what finally calmed Knucker down. If Lexi was well enough to be melodramatic, she couldn’t really be dying after all, he reckoned.

“Come on,” he repeated, scrambling out of the car after her and reaching a hand down to haul her up by her uninjured arm before she hit the pavement. Which… didn’t work very well, so he ended up grabbing onto her fingers with both hands and putting all of his weight into it. “I’m not letting you die! Our dads will KILL me!”

And I’d never get over it.

For a moment or two she was deliberately being dead weight. The way a cat would when they refused to be picked up. But seeing as Knucker would be the first person on her dad’s shitlist if she had an unexpected death, Lexi took pity on her best friend and rose to her feet. Or stumbled and crashed in to him. Whatever.

Using Knucker to keep herself upright and steady, they shuffled across the street and through the automatic doors in to the lobby. Their town hospital was a decent size, but in the middle of the night it was still pretty vacant. Aside from a few people lingering in waiting chairs and the night nurses wandering about, the place was quiet and uneventful.

At least until Knucker and Lexi strode in covered in gobs of blood. They must have looked like a terror because the desk nurse shouted out help immediately, and suddenly Lexi found herself shoved in to a wheelchair and was getting whisked away to an examining room.

The questions that followed were expected, and the answers earned a dozen more questions. No it wasn’t a car wreck. No she wasn’t drinking BEFORE she got attacked by a wild animal. No, it wasn’t a person. NO DON’T CALL HER DAD. FUCK. NO. SHE SAID DON’T CALL HER DAD.

Luckily they let Knucker stay with her. She doubt he would have been fine staying in the lobby fretting, and she kind of maybe was glad he was there for her to cling on to his arm while they took a look at her shoulder. Lexi was fully expecting a gory scene of bone and muscle. The need for a cast or a million stitches or surgery to reattach her arm.

That’s not what happened.

“Oh honey, this isn’t bad at all.” exclaimed the nurse. With gobs of gauze and clean water she was wiping blood and dirt away to see what the actual damages are. Beyond some weird looking scratches and a couple of shallow punctures, the wound was far from life endangering. It wouldn’t need any stitches. Just a few bandages and some aspirin. Again the questions of drinking and drugs came.

Lexi was baffled. “I’m not drunk! It was seriously BAD. It almost ripped my arm off! Knucker you saw my shoulder. Tell her I almost died.”

From the moment they entered the hospital, for Knucker, everything was a blur of questions from the nurses and Lexi’s frustrated replies, the clock ticking on the wall of the examining room, and the warmth of Lexi’s fingers curled around his wrist. He was pretty sure he wasn’t drunk, so maybe it was the fading adrenaline that was making the edges of his vision start to fuzz. He tried to focus on his friend’s face instead of the gaping hole in her shoulder that was about to be uncovered. Jeez, were they going to have to operate?

…Only there was no gaping hole to operate on.

Dumbfounded, Knucker swallowed and furrowed his brow as Lexi tried to explain to the nurse. Yeah, that wasn’t what he remembered seeing. Slowly, he shook his head.

“I… I swear, it was worse, ma’am.” He’d sworn he’d seen her bones sticking out, Jesus. “There was blood everywhere.”

There’s no way he could have just imagined all of that, right? And he’d only had a little bit of beer. Surely not enough to misjudge what he was seeing that much. …Right?

Knucker met Lexi’s eye and did his best to silently communicate: Holy crap (shit), I don’t know what’s happening but I’ve got your back like always, but I also really don’t know how to explain this and they’re going to think we’re totally high aren’t they?

What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck! She wasn’t CRAZY. Something huge out there ripped her to shreds. Lexi tried to poke at her shoulder while the nurse swatted her hands away. Chunks were bitten out of her. Her blood had been on fire.

Had been. Lexi was coming to the slow realization that she was no longer in mind blowing agony. Sure, she ached pretty bad. But it was nothing compared to the pain that drove her to snatching for booze and consequently forgetting the fast majority of what happened after that. So she didn’t remember Knucker stealing a car. She clearly remembered a giant animal jumping on her ass and going to town on her like she was some sort of free steak buffet.

“I’m not making this shit up!”


Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck!

If she could shrink to the size roach and skuttle her way out of there, Lexi would have done it in a heartbeat. There was a good reason she was a well behaved (as well behaved as she could be anyway) daughter. And that reason was now standing in the threshold giving her disappointed dad eyes. Jacob Ryan’s dark hair was disheveled in every direction, he was still wearing his pajamas, and had only thrown on his coat and a pair of boots with the laces not even tied. The man had some sort of super power that poured a novels worth of guilt in to one curt statement of her name. It was more like her first name had become the short-code for I have raised you on my own since you were three years old, never asked for anything, and you repay me with [insert stupid thing you did]?

The worst part was that he looked like he was both going to cry or punch someone and Knucker was the only one available for the punching. Lexi immediately launched in to defense mode. “IT WASN’T A CAR ACCIDENT AND WE WEREN’T DRINKING!” she blurted a few octaves louder than she meant to.

“Explain it.”

Oh god, he wasn’t even using full sentences. It took every ounce of effort not to raise up her arms, give the daddy-please-don’t-hate-me pout and beg for a hug. She almost died, dammit.

So she explained, from the very beginning. There was a party. Waiting for Knucker. The wolfbeaverbear grim reaper thing that tried to eat her. Her narrow escape. She left out Knucker stealing Margrit’s car, she wasn’t sure how that happened. She left out the guzzling beer part. It’s not like -A- drink would matter and Knucker didn’t ever drink at all. The important part was that she was safe and alive. …right?

There was no reading his expression. His hands opened and closed a few times, while the nurse explained that an animal definitely had gotten after his daughter, but the wounds weren’t nothing more than shallow scratches. All that blood was misleading and the girl was fine and even fit enough for the first day of school.

Mr. Ryan stared straight at Knucker. “Your Dad is here to drive us home.” He didn’t say anything else, and neither his tone or his expression changed. But he didn’t have to. His Dad-Magic was already working.

Lexi slid off her seat, grabbing Knucker’s wrist and leading the way through the threshold. Taking it upon herself to be a human shield between him and Sheriff Polk who was waiting just a few feet away out in the hall. When they approached, Lexi opened her mouth, intending to spin a grand tale of her brush with death and Knucker’s heroism but a sharp clearing of the throat behind them cut her short. The Dads were having none of that tonight.

She exchanged a psychic glance with Knucker. Looks like we’re spending Senior year in domestic prison.

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