Fire Country (The Country Saga Book 1)(3)

By: David Estes

“We hafta do something,” I accidentally say out loud, my thoughts spilling from my lips like intestines from a gutted tug’s stomach.

Once more, the room turns toward me, and I find myself investigating an odd-shaped rock on the dusty ground. Hawk, a thick-headed guy with more muscles’n brains, says, “What are you gonna do, Scrawny? You can’t even carry a full wash bucket.” My cheeks burn as I continue to study the rock, which sorta looks like a fist. In my peripheral vision, I see Circ give him a death stare.

“Watch it, Hawk,” Teacher says, “or you’ll earn your own shovel. In fact, Siena’s right.” I’m so shocked by his words that I forget about the rock and Hawk, and look up.

“I am?” I say, sinking further into the pit of stupidity I been digging all morning.

“Don’t sound so surprised, Siena. We all have a part to play in turning this around. We must be vigilant, must not allow ourselves even a speck of doubt that maintaining the traditions of our fathers is not the best thing for us.”

“I think the Wilds sound pretty smoky,” Hawk says from the back. There are a few giggles from some of the more shilty girls, and two of Hawk’s mates slap him on the back like he’s just made the joke of the year.

“What do we do, Teacher?” Farla, a soft-spoken girl, asks earnestly.

Teacher nods. “Now you’re asking the right questions. Two things: First, if you hear anything—anything at all—about the Wild Ones, tell your fathers; and second—”

“What about our mothers?” someone asks, interrupting.

“Excuse me?” Teacher Mas says, peering over the tops of the cross-legged Younglings to find the asker of the question.

“The mothers? You said to tell our fathers if we hear anything about the Wilds. Shouldn’t we tell our mothers, too?”

I look around to find who spoke. Lara. I shoulda known. She’s always stirring the kettle, both during Learning and Social time, with her radical ideas. She’s always saying crazy things about what girls should be allowed to do, like hunt and play feetball. My father’s always said she’s one to watch, whatever that means. I, for one, kinda like her. At least she’s never made fun of me, like most of t’others.

Her black hair is short, like a boy’s, buzzed almost to the scalp. Appalling. How she obtained her father’s permission for such a haircut is beyond me. But at least she’s not a shilt, like so many of the other girls who sneak behind the border tents and swap spit with whichever Youngling they think is the smokiest—although at least they’re not following the Law blindly either. I’ve always admired Lara’s blaze-on-me-and-I’ll-blaze-on-you attitude, although I’d never admit it for fear of my father finding out. He’d break out his favorite leather snapper for sure, the one that left the scars on my back when I was thirteen and thought skipping Learning to watch the Hunters sounded like a good idea.

“Tell your fathers first, and they can tell your mothers,” Teacher says quickly. “Where was I? Oh yes, the second thing you can do. If the Wilds, I mean the Wild Ones, approach you, try to convince you to leave, whisper their lies in your ear, resist them. Close your ears to them and run away, screaming your head off. That’s the best thing you can do.”

Pondering Teacher’s words, I look up at the sky, so big and red and monster-like, full of yellow-gray clouds as its claws, creeping down the horizon in streaks, practically scraping against the desert floor. And a single eye, blazing with fire—the eye of the sun goddess. It’s no wonder they call this place fire country.

Chapter Two

Circ agrees to meet me later on, when it’s time to take my punishment for daydreaming in class. But first, I want to go let my frustrations out to Veeva, who’ll understand them better’n most.

I cringe when I hear an eardrum-shattering scream from inside her tent. Her baby’s got a set of lungs on him alright.

When I push through the tentflap, Veeva’s all in a tizzy, muttering under her breath, rushing about, her hair a mess of curls around her face. She looks like she’s about to scream, too. All I know is if she does, I’m making a run for it.

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