Sarah Beth Durst

Excerpt from Into the Wild


Chapter One
The Monster Under the Bed

In the darkness, the heart of the fairy tale waited...

Julie picked up a scrap of shoelace. Once upon a time, it had been an entire sneaker. "Look what you did," she said, wiggling it under her bed.

Snapping out a green vine, the Wild snatched the lace. "Hey!" She dropped to her knees and peered under the bed. It's not fair, she grumbled to herself. Worst most people had under their beds was dust bunnies. The Wild, a tangled mass of green, tried to tuck itself back into the shadows under her bed, but one vine -- the newest -- couldn't fit. "Oh, great," Julie said. "Not again." She flattened onto her stomach to see it better. The new growth was pale green with tuliplike leaves that cradled a half-laced, tan-colored boot -- the fate of her poor sneaker.

The Wild had swallowed and transformed it.

Note to self, Julie thought, throwing things at the Wild was not the brightest move. In her defense, though, when she threw the shoe, it was 2 a.m. and the vines were snoring. "Mom!" she called, getting up. "It happened again!"

"Be there in a minute!" her mom called back.

This was her third pair this month. Julie scrounged through her closet. She was pretty sure that all she had now were left shoes. And a pair of flip-flops -- bright sunflower yellow flip-flops. Perfect footwear for October in Massachusetts. She put them on and grimaced. Her naked toes looked like plump breakfast sausages. Maybe no one will notice, she thought hopefully.

Mom came into the room with a kitchen knife. Her eyes swept expertly over the room and settled on Julie's feet. So much for no one noticing. Julie wiggled her toes.

"I'm sorry," Mom said. "I could try putting it back in the basement." Leaves rustled as the Wild pressed itself farther under the bed. The vine with the boot quivered and began to slide back into the green. "Quick, catch it!"

Julie scrambled forward and grabbed the boot. The vines squirmed. She leaned back, pulling against the vines with her full weight. "Why do we always have to guard it?" she complained. "Can't one of your friends take a turn?" She shot a look at Mom. Julie hadn't meant to ask that. The words had slipped out before she'd thought about them.

"Julie, watch the vine."

She turned back as the Wild struggled, leaves flapping against the underside of the mattress. Julie stepped on the new vine with her flip-flopped foot, holding it steady. Businesslike, Mom sawed off the boot. Green ooze stained the carpet and spattered Julie's toes.

Mom eyed the boot critically. "Unfinished Seven League Boot. I'd say it's about a three-mile boot." She tucked the boot under her arm, then fetched her special key from her bedroom and unlocked the linen closet. Rubbing the excess ooze off her foot, Julie trailed after her.

She peeked over Mom's shoulder into the closet. All the shelves were stuffed with the Wild's creations: cloaks, purses, wands, hats, picnic baskets. The Wild had made a lot of items. It desperately wanted to grow again.

She looked again at Mom. Was she just going to ignore the question? "You didn't answer me," Julie said.

"Oh, pumpkin, not now, please," Mom said. "We could put it back in the basement. But that's the best we can do."

Ugh, that wasn't a solution. Last time they had kept it in the basement, it had pried all the plumbing out of the walls and transformed half of the hot water heater. Julie had had to take cold showers for two weeks after that. "Never mind," Julie said. The Wild was calmest under Julie's bed, and it was weak enough that Mom was willing to allow it to stay there. Maybe the Wild thought Julie would help it grow. Fat chance of that.

Mom locked the closet door and handed Julie her special works-on-any-door key. She kissed Julie on the forehead. "Don't be blue. It's only a shoe." And then she smiled. "How's that for a rhyme?"

"Very rhyme-y," Julie said.

As her mother went downstairs, Julie locked her bedroom door with the special key and then returned the key to her mother's jewelry box. Mom never answered her straight-out. Why did they have to have this permanent houseguest? Why couldn't she just once have a normal morning without lost shoes or locked doors or any of it? As she trudged down to the kitchen, she tried to imagine what a normal morning would be like. She pictured her mother wearing an apron and a '50s-mom smile and handing Julie a paper bag lunch. And of course, Julie's father would be there, sitting at the kitchen table and reading the newspaper. He'd put it down when Julie came into the kitchen, and he'd say...

Her mother handed her a Cheerios box. "Did you lock the door?"

For a second, Julie blinked at her. She had almost pictured him there, maybe in a bathrobe and slippers or in a suit and tie, ready for work, whatever that would be. He'd have an office job, be home in time for dinner, and he'd complain about the commute, like other dads... She could almost see his face, smiling at her...

"Did you hear me?" Mom asked. "Did you lock the door?"

Julie sighed as the daydream vanished. "Mom, please."

"Julie, it's important."

"Yeah, I know," she said. "I'm not a baby."

Her mom cooed. "My wittle baby-waby." She sounded so exactly like a cartoon mouse that Julie laughed in spite of herself. Her mom made a fish face. "Oobe snooby uppy wuppy."

Julie made a fish face back at her. "Uppy snuppy wuppy puppy."

Her mom smiled, and Julie grinned back. And for an instant, everything was okay. Julie started on her cereal as her mom fixed her age makeup in the reflection in the microwave door. She wore just enough to look the appropriate age for a mother of a twelve-year-old. Julie watched as her mom wet the tip of a brown eyeliner and darkened a wrinkle on her forehead. Skillfully, she blended in the new shadow. With makeup, she almost looked ordinary, Julie thought. Of course, all the makeup in the world couldn't hide her mother's most recognizable feature: she had amazing hair, the color of wheat and the texture of silk, which she kept bobbed short, up above her ears.

Julie wondered what her father would have thought of Mom's short hair. Suddenly, her cereal was hard to swallow. Why was she thinking about him so much this morning? She should be worrying about how to blend in at school despite her bright yellow flip-flops. Of course, if no one guessed who her mother was from the hair, then no one would guess their family secret from Julie's feet. It wasn't like her footwear was the biggest tip-off around. Finishing the age makeup, her mother lifted the cloth over the kitchen mirror. "Well?" she asked.

"Eh, you look terrible," the mirror said. "How many times have I told you that pink is not your color, and what are those? Slacks? You're wearing slacks?" Her mom dropped the cloth back down.

Compared to a talking mirror, what was a pair of sandals? Today was going to be fine. Or at least it would be if she wasn't late. Glancing at the clock, Julie said, "Gotta go." Grabbing her jacket and backpack, she headed for the door.

"Wait a minute, young lady."

Julie stopped, hand on the door. "What?" she said. Her mother pecked her on the forehead. "Have an uneventful day," Mom said.

With a backward wave, Julie sprinted out the door. Down the driveway, she saw the yellow of the school bus through the red and gold maple leaves. She was going to miss it! Backpack bouncing on her shoulders, she ran for it. Her shoes slapped her feet. The school bus turned from West Street onto Crawford Street. The brakes squeaked as it stopped.

Up ahead, she saw Gillian -- book bag in one hand, trumpet case in the other -- hopping from foot to foot. "You're almost late," she said as Julie skidded to a stop in front of the bus door. She didn't have to say it: friends don't let friends sit alone on the school bus.

"Happened again," Julie managed to pant.

They slid into a seat as the bus lurched forward. "What was it this time?" Gillian asked as she balanced her trumpet case on her lap.

Julie peeked around the bus seat to make sure no one was listening. "Boot," she whispered. "Supposed to let you go three miles with one step."

Gillian whistled. "Wow," she said. "You could ace gym with that."

Julie shushed her. "I told you--"

"I know. Super-secret. Sorry," Gillian said. She too looked to see if anyone was listening, and then she settled back down in her seat. "But don't you think it's cool?"

"Not exactly the word I was thinking of," Julie said, looking down at her exposed toes, and Gillian giggled. Julie grinned back. At least there was one person in this school who knew Julie's weirdness wasn't her fault. Gillian was even loyal enough to think it was cool, once she'd gotten used to the idea. She'd known about it for two years now -- ever since she'd walked in on Julie's brother talking to a mirror (and the mirror talking back). That mirror never did shut up. Neither did Julie's brother.

For the rest of the bus ride, they talked about other things: the Halloween dance, Gillian's band tryouts, Julie's history quiz. Gillian left her at the school entrance. "Luck on the Wallace quiz."

"Luck at band," Julie said. Gillian held out her pinky, and Julie shook it with her pinky. Julie wished (not for the first time) that her locker was next to Gillian's. So not fair. Mom could have chosen any last name she wanted after she escaped the Wild Wood -- and yet Julie Marchen was stuck with a locker near the likes of Kristen March.

There was no way Kristen wasn't going to notice the flip-flops. If the school had had fashion police, Kristen would have been their captain. Leaving Gillian, Julie slunk toward her locker. Why should she care if Kristen noticed? I don't care, she told herself. No one was going to be able to guess their secret from a single pair of shoes.

Switching her homework books with her books for the first three periods, she risked a glance across the hall. Kristen tossed her hair -- her infamous reversible part. Even with a mother who owned a hair salon, Julie couldn't get her frizz to do that flip. I don't care, she repeated, but she eavesdropped anyway.

"I was going to be a princess," Kristen said to her gaggle of friends. "I had a tiara and the whole bit." Of course she was, Julie thought. She didn't have to worry about accidentally completing a fairy-tale event.

Her flock said, "Ooh."

"It's all Dad's fault," Kristen said. "He's impossible. Of all the weekends to want to go to Vermont, he picks this one. It's so unfair."

Julie sucked in a breath. Any other day Kristen's words might not have hit her so hard, but today... She felt as if she'd been punched in the gut. Unfair? Spending a weekend with a dad was unfair? Kristen had no idea what unfair meant.

Turning her back on Kristen, Julie faced her locker. She was okay with Kristen being beautiful and thin and having tons of friends who worshiped her, but Julie would have given anything to have a dad to spend a weekend with. Or even to know what he looked like. She smoothed the collage of illustrations on the inside of her locker door. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, each prince said. She didn't even know if he looked like any of them.

She closed the locker with a sigh -- loud enough, apparently, to be heard across the hall because she heard giggling from Kristen's friends. "Isn't it a little late for the beach?" Kristen called. Her voice seemed super-loud, and Julie felt dozens of eyes looking at her and her feet. "Or are you just early for the Halloween dance?" Kristen's flock of friends burst into peals of laughter, and Julie hunched her shoulders as if she could plug her ears with them.

Too bad she couldn't crawl under a rock and hibernate until middle school passed. Would anyone really mind if she opted out of the whole junior high experience? Mom hadn't had to go through it. Maybe, Julie thought as she trudged to class, I can find a nice, doorless tower.

 

Available now from Penguin Young Readers / Razorbill
Buy from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Powell's Books, or your local independent bookseller.

ISBN: 978-1-59514-185-9

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