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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Wicker King

K. Ancrum

Square Fish



They were thirteen the first time they broke into the toy factory.

It was almost midnight, it was freezing outside, and August was fucking terrified. He pushed his dark hair out of his face, plastering himself to Jack’s back while Jack tried to jimmy the handle open.

“Come on, come on. You’re so slow. We’re going to get caught, you asshole,” he whispered.

Jack ignored him. August always got mean when he was scared.

After a couple more seconds of watching Jack rattle the handle, August gave up on that approach entirely and just threw a brick through the window instead.

They both flinched at the sound of breaking glass and ducked farther into the shadows. When the police didn’t burst out of nowhere and arrest them immediately, August turned back to Jack and grinned.

Jack punched him in the arm and grinned back. “Quit showing off. Race you inside?”

“Thank you, August, for getting us in. I don’t know what I would do without you. Oh, you’re welcome, Jack. Anything for you, princess,” August deadpanned.

Jack pushed him. “Why are you such a dick? Just get inside.”

They crawled in through the broken window and dropped down to the floor.


“Did you bring your flashlight?”

“No, Jack. I followed you through the night to break into an abandoned building without a flashlight.”

“Seriously. Stop bitching. What is wrong with you?”

“I’m scared. I feel like I’m trapped with you in a more terrifying version of Bridge to Terabithia.”

“You’re not. And you need to stop reading books like that. Now give me your flashlight.”

August handed it over miserably.

Jack turned it on, the dim light bringing out the hollows of his face. “Oh yeah. Ha ha ha, wow. Yeah, this might be the best place in the whole town. We are definitely coming back here in the morning.”

And even though Jack’s word was pretty much law, August fervently prayed that they wouldn’t go back ever again.


It was August’s third night in the asylum, and already he had learned several things:

1. It was never a comfortable temperature. Ever. It was always too warm or too cold.

2. Only roughly half of the rules made logical sense. The other half seemed deliberately designed to be broken accidentally.

3. You ate when they told you to and you ate what they told you to, or you didn’t eat at all. (Then you got punished for that, too.)

4. No one had real blankets.

5. No one had real friends.

6. This was maybe worse than jail.

His roommate was terrified of him and wouldn’t speak to him because they’d brought him into the hospital in handcuffs, straight from court, and the orderlies didn’t have the kindness to explain to everyone that he wasn’t actually a crazed serial murderer.

He wasn’t allowed to have pencils or be unsupervised, because for some strange reason he was on suicide watch. They also made him wear a red uniform to separate him from the rest of the patients so it was clear he was a special prisoner-patient. As if the “handcuffed prison-guard parade” wasn’t enough.

And worst of all—he had never wanted a cigarette more in his goddamn life.

But it would be a cold day in hell before that happened. They don’t give lighters to arsonists.

Copyright © 2017 by Kayla Ancrum