Here is the opening chapter of Fireflight


My name is J.J. I’m fifteen years old, lying in a hole in the ground, and I’m about to become dinner.

It’s a cold night in a small forest in western America. The temperature isn’t quite near freezing, but my goose-bumped skin would say otherwise. All I can smell are wet leaves, thick mud, and my own stink.

The trees are huge shadows stretching to the sky, and bright lunar light filters through the branches in thin beams. Every once in a while, the creature hunting us passes in front of the moon, blocking out the glow. Everything is silent, except for when it shrieks.

My dad and I were walking through these woods at sunset, looking for a spot to camp for the night and shouting at each other, fighting as usual about Mom. We’d gotten distracted and didn’t see the creature’s nest, hidden in a dip in the ground, behind some low foliage. Didn’t notice until we had pushed through the wall of small leaves and walked right in, my foot kicking against one of three huge eggs sitting inside. Dad and I locked eyes. Then we saw the mother.

A Roc is nothing to be taken lightly. They look mostly like an eagle, except they’re bigger than an elephant, really mean, and deadly strong. If the stuff I’ve heard is true, a full-grown adult could carry off a cow without even breaking a sweat. Rocs are territorial enough as it is, but now this one thought we were trying to hurt its babies.

She stood in front of us not more than ten yards away. The last bit of sunlight fell on her pure-white feathers, making her appear to glow. A second after our eyes met, she let out a scream that nearly split my eardrums.

The Roc lunged forward, her razor-sharp beak stretched wide. Dad and I took off, circling wide around her. The trees were what saved us, making it hard for the creature to turn and follow.

We split apart, putting some distance between us but still running in the same direction. I was already tired from walking for the day, and the heavy supply pack on my shoulders threatened to drag me to the ground. I gritted my teeth and fought, pumping my legs like a maniac. The Roc took off soaring above the trees, crying out in its high-pitched voice, sounding insane with rage.

I saw a hole ahead on my right, nothing more than a tiny, dirty pit barely big enough to squeeze into. I called to Dad and pointed. As soon as he got what I was thinking, he nodded. Then he jerked his thumb at himself, and put up his first two fingers. Me too, it said.

The gust of the Roc’s wings at our backs was getting stronger. I dove into my spot like it was a water slide, getting covered in mud, sticks, leaves, and other stuff I didn’t want to think about. I turned around immediately, raising myself up just enough to see out. Dad’s head popped out of a hole just like mine, and I let out a sigh. The Roc passed overhead.

The creature hunted us for a while. It seemed like we wouldn’t be that hard to find, but I can remember something I learned from a late-night nature documentary: Eagles have great eyesight when there’s light, but not so much in the dark, and their senses of smell and hearing are no better than ours. I guess it must be the same with these giant, raged-out versions.

Eventually I got tired of lying there by myself. I waited a good ten minutes without any sign of Big Bad Momma, so I slipped out of the pack, climbed from my spot, and started creeping my way over to Dad. I got about halfway before the Roc let out another shriek.
Its dark form passed in front of the moon, a black tattoo over the pure-white circle. I leapt forward into a run, covering the last several yards at a dead sprint. Another rush of air beat at my back, pushing me into a baseball slide home, landing right next to Dad.

That was an hour ago, maybe more, I can’t say for sure. I need to get better at judging time by the movements in the sky. The bird still can’t seem to find us, but I can hear it out there, sometimes crying out from above, sometimes stomping through the trees.

Everything is quiet at the moment, but I won’t fall for that again. We have no choice but to stay where we are and wait it out. A few minutes ago Dad couldn’t fight to stay awake any longer. I guess I should also accept the fact we’ll be sleeping here tonight.

My full name is Jerome John Harris. Dad calls me Jerry because he named me after his favorite singer, Jerry Garcia. Sounds like a girl’s name, if you ask me. I use J.J. It’s like J.J. Abrams, and his movies were awesome.

I have dirty blond hair, right now minus the blond. I’m skinny and tall like my dad, though without the glasses that keep him from being totally blind. I live in Chandler, Arizona, but this pit I’m lying in is nowhere near there. I’m not sure exactly where we are — can’t remember the last border we crossed — or what date it is. We’re east of home, that’s all I know, and the year is 2019.

Dad and I were fighting because he’s mad I won’t talk to him about Mom. She’s the reason we’re lying in the ground, why I’m probably going to spend my last hours covered in mud and worse. We’re here in these woods, late at night in the cold, because my father won’t accept reality. Mom’s gone. She’s dead. Why can’t he see that? Just because of something a stupid fairy tells him, he decides to pack us up and head out to find her.

Dad lost his mind when Mom was taken from us. I can’t blame him for that. I mean, I went nuts, too, but that was a year ago, and he still can’t be normal. He tries to hide it, tries to put on a strong face and act like he’s taking care of everything, but I can tell. I can see it in his whole body when he thinks I’m not looking. Her death broke him.

And me? It sucks, what else do you want me to say? She was the glue of our family. She kept it all together.

Dad can’t function without her. I guess I feel the same, but we’re never going to be able to have a life if we can’t move on, accept she’s gone. I’m a teenager and I know that, but he can’t let her go. He hasn’t given up hope. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have a body to bury, like her death isn’t real for him.

That’s why we’re here. Some stupid mythical creature opens her mouth, and now Dad’s got it into his head Mom’s still alive, that we can go out and save her. He’s being stubborn like always, and he dragged us out here to the middle of nowhere because of it.

But I’m the one who’s keeping it all in, he says. I’m the one who needs to deal with my feelings. I am dealing, Dad. She’s dead. She’s gone. We can’t change it. You’re the one who won’t let go. The only thing that will make me happy is if you stop acting stupid so we can go home.

The cry of the Roc is moving off. Hopefully it’s finally going away. I’m too tired to do anything else, so I guess I’ll just let my head drop and sleep where I am. Maybe when I wake up, this will all have been a bad dream.

Probably not.