Read Into the Wild Online

Authors: Sarah Beth Durst

Into the Wild (5 page)

“Try me,” her mom said.
For an instant, Julie was tempted. Could she have the conversation she always wanted to have? If she explained, would her mother understand? Could she know what it was like to not fit in? Could she understand what it was like to not know who she was or where she belonged? Or even where she came from? Julie knew nothing of her father. She knew nothing of how her mother and her fairy-tale friends had escaped the Wild. How was Julie even here? How had the force of the Wild Wood, a power that had dominated the entire Middle Ages, been reduced to a tangle of vines under her bed?
Behind them, Gothel hung up the phone. “Julie, be a dear and fetch my purse, would you? I left it under my chair.”
Zel’s voice sharpened. “What’s wrong?” she asked Gothel.
Gothel’s eyes flickered toward Julie.
“Julie,” her mother said, “please go get your grandmother’s purse.”
“Is it the well?” Julie asked.
“No,”
both her mother and grandmother said in unison.
Julie swallowed a lump in her throat. “It’s because I wasn’t in the Wild. That’s why you won’t tell me. Isn’t it? You know what? I don’t care.” She threw the sponge in the sink. “I don’t care that I don’t belong. I don’t want to be a part of your little club.”
“Julie, it’s not because—” Zel began.
“I wish Grandma would let me make a wish in the well,” Julie said. “I’d wish you weren’t my mother.”
Zel’s face drained white. Gothel sucked in a breath. For a long second, the kitchen echoed silence. Her mother opened her mouth and then shut it. She looked like she’d been slapped.
Julie turned and ran from her mother’s expression—out of the kitchen, through the dining room, up the stairs. She locked her bedroom door behind her and threw herself on the bed.
The Wild left her alone as she cried herself to sleep.
Chapter Five
The Wild
Julie took a few Oreos and poured herself a glass of milk. She was doomed to a long you-hurt-my-feelings talk. She was just lucky that Mom worked at the salon on Saturdays or she’d already be at the table feeling like a horrible slug for the horrible thing she’d said to her mother.
She really, really shouldn’t have said it.
Julie grabbed the whole bag of Oreos and the container of milk and carried them into the living room. She switched on the TV. She had six hours until Mom came home.
Cartoon, cartoon, commercial, rerun, talk show . . . She flipped through the channels, wishing she could flip through parts of her life like this. She imagined she was turning her mom off, Grandma off, Kristen off, Cindy off, the dwarves off . . . Cartoon, rerun, rerun, Torso Track infomercial . . .
Breaking news,
she read on CNN.
Live from Northboro, Massachusetts.
Hey, that’s here!
She’d seen those Halloween decorations: the cardboard pumpkin over the Marlboro poster, the corn husk witch on the Pennzoil . . . It was the Shell gas station near Grandma’s motel—or she thought it was. It didn’t used to have trees between the pumps. Premium unleaded was now next to an oak tree instead of a window squeegee dispenser. Vines were twisted around the pump nozzles. Moss covered the credit card displays.
Julie leaned closer to the TV. Was that moss spreading?
“ . . . Even more alarming,”
a reporter was saying,
“the rate of growth appears to be increasing.”
The TV focused on the pavement. Green (oddly vibrant for October) advanced across the blacktop like an army of worms. Tendrils snaked forward, and the asphalt cracked. Thicker vines shot into the cracks, widening the splits. The street crumbled.
Oh, no. Julie looked down at her flip-flops. She began to feel sick as a horrible suspicion solidified in her mind. No, it wasn’t possible. Her door was locked. “Boots,” Julie called. “Boots!”
Green seeped down a drainage hole, raced around a manhole cover, and climbed a streetlamp. The TV camera chased the vines as they braided themselves around the pole.
It was super-powered fertilizer. Yes, it had to be some escaped science experiment. Or a weird government thing, a biological weapon—but if it were a weapon, wouldn’t it kill things, not make them grow?
Helicopters whirred overhead, and the reporter clutched at her coat as it fluttered around her. Gas stations did
not
just sprout trees.
“We have been told that a SWAT team has been ordered on the scene, and police are currently evacuating the surrounding area.”
Boots sauntered into the living room. “Unless you found me a girlfriend, I’m going back to sleep.” He froze mid-stride as the camera panned away from the self-service island across police cars, TV station vans, and a crowd of onlookers held back by police tape.
Looming over the crowd was a thick, dark forest.
“Oh, no,” Boots said.
Julie barreled up the stairs. She grabbed the key from Mom’s jewelry box, and she unlocked her bedroom door. “Please, no. Please,” she said. She dropped beside her bed and yanked up the dust ruffle.
Aside from a few green stains, nothing was there.
This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be real. She’d had nightmares like this. She flopped her stomach to the floor and crawled under the bed. “Please be here. Please!”
It wasn’t.
Julie wormed back out from under the bed. “No,” she said. “No!” It couldn’t be gone. She looked around her room—nothing under her desk, nothing behind her bookshelf. She opened her closet and shoveled clothes off the closet floor into the center of the room. She pulled the drawers out of her dresser. She searched the drawers in her desk. She ripped the covers off her bed.
Finally, there was no place left to look. She stood in the center of her wrecked room. Somehow, the Wild had escaped. Worse, it had escaped and grown. It wasn’t hidden anymore.
Clapping her hands over her mouth, she ran for the bathroom. She fell in front of the toilet and retched. Government laboratories. TV documentaries.
National Enquirer
articles. Talk show specials. She’d be branded a freak forever. She’d never be able to have a normal life. The whole world would know she was Rapunzel’s daughter.
Why? Why? WHY? She hadn’t asked for this. She hadn’t asked for a mother with secrets this big. She hadn’t asked for a mother who wasn’t supposed to exist.
She had, in fact, wished her mother wasn’t her mother.
Stomach empty, she sank down on the bath mat. What if . . . Oh, God, could her wish have somehow caused this? Was this her fault? “No, no, no,” she said. “I take it back! I didn’t mean it!”
But she
had
meant it when she’d said it.
“Please, I take it back!”
How did you undo a wish? The words were out, dissolved in the air. You couldn’t suck them back in. She’d said it; it was done. And now the Wild was free . . .
No. She couldn’t have caused this. She hadn’t wished in the well. Just wishing aloud couldn’t do anything. Hundreds, thousands, millions of people wished all the time, and their wishes didn’t all come true. Look at how often she had wished for her dad. If her wishes had power, it wouldn’t be just her and Mom.
Whatever had happened with the Wild, Mom would know how to fix it. Julie had to call her and tell her the Wild was free. I can’t, she thought. How could she tell Mom that their worst nightmare had come true? How could she face her after what she’d said?
Knees shaking, Julie got to her feet. She splashed water on her face and rinsed her mouth. Laboratories, she reminded herself.
National Enquirer.
She had to tell Mom.
Julie went downstairs.
“As far as can be determined,”
she heard the TV say
, “it appears the growth began in the vicinity of a local establishment, the Wishing Well Motel.”
She missed the last step and landed hard on the heels of her feet. Grandma . . .
She hurried to the phone and dialed the number for Rapunzel’s Hair Salon.
No one answered.
Chapter Six
Behind the Yellow Tape
As Julie coasted into the parking lot of Rapunzel’s Hair Salon, she heard cheesy ’80s music drift out the open door. It sounded so cheerfully normal that for an instant, she thought maybe she was wrong. Maybe the Wild wasn’t growing. Why would Mom be listening to the radio if the Wild was growing? She propped her bike against the bike rack and went inside. “Mom . . .” She halted beside the reception desk.
All the lights were on, and one of the dryers was blowing hot air on a vacant chair. Julie felt her heart drop into her stomach.
The salon was empty.
The salon was
never
empty.
“Mom?” Her voice came out as a squeak.
“Oh, honey,”
she heard. The mirror! She’d forgotten the mirror! The mirror’s smoke-like face drifted across the glass over Julie’s reflection (frizzed hair, red sweater and jeans).
“Haven’t you heard?”
the mirror said.
“The Wild Wood has returned.”
She felt dizzy. It was like there wasn’t enough oxygen. Don’t panic, she told herself. The fairy-tale characters stopped it before, back when the Middle Ages ended. She was sure they’d defeat it again.
Mom must have gone to watch it be defeated. She probably planned to fit it in between appointments—pop out, watch the Wild shrink; pop in, cut some bangs. That was why she hadn’t bothered turning the radio off.
Julie tried to make herself believe it.
“Please, child, take me off the wall before it comes,”
the mirror said.
Grandma would do something witchy to defeat it. She wouldn’t let the Wild recapture the fairy-tale characters or force ordinary people into its stories. Julie just had an overactive imagination.
She remembered last night when Grandma called the motel and Mom asked what was wrong. That must have been when she found out . . . But that was
before
Julie had voiced that wish. She’d been right—the Wild’s escape wasn’t her fault. The timing made that impossible. So why didn’t that make her feel better?
Wait—if they knew about the Wild last night, then why was it still here today?
“Smash me on the floor if you have to,”
the mirror said,
“but don’t leave me here. I will not lose myself again. I cannot.”
Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong, and the mirror knew it.
Julie’s feet were moving under her, faster and faster. She ran out of the salon, down the steps, and to her bike. Getting on, she started pedaling.
Grandma will stop it, she told herself. It’ll be okay. It had to be okay.
She heard sirens. Outside Shattuck’s Pharmacy, she saw the ABC Channel 5 News van, and her heart jumped into her throat. She tried to calm herself: she’d seen this on the news, so of course there were news vans. It didn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean the Wild was still growing. Please, don’t be growing.
In the distance, she heard the thrum of a helicopter. She passed more news vans and then emergency vehicles: police cars, ambulances, fire engines. Red siren lights splashed across the buildings. It’s okay, she repeated, Grandma will fix it; it’s all okay.
She came around the corner of the library, and she saw the crowd: a teeming swarm of reporters, scientists, and police. On TV, the crowd hadn’t looked so large. Or so upset. Why were there so many people? What did it mean that there were so many people? Where was Mom? Where was Grandma?
Grandma should be vanquishing the Wild—it should be writhing and melting into a puddle of vines. Or whatever it did. Standing on her toes on the pedals, Julie looked for the Wild.
Above the street and beyond the crowd, she saw dark summer green where there should have been bare autumn branches. It was a smear of dark green. A big smear. A very, very big smear. She realized she was gripping the handlebars of her bike so hard that it hurt.
This
had been under her bed? It wasn’t possible. It was so . . .
big
.

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