St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Skunks Dance

Skunks Dance Cover

Spivey Spillane’s grandmammy always said there were only two good reasons to kill a man — for cheating on a woman, and for serving drinks to a Yankee. She may have had a hand in winning the Revolutionary War, but even she never met the likes of Alabama Sam. Sam robs a bank under Spillane’s name, casts him in an obscene one-man play wearing only a pink tutu, and starts a betting pool on how many wieners he has. Despite the indignities Spillane suffers, he chases Sam across Gold-Rush-era California because Sam is the only one who knows the location of a hidden fortune buried somewhere in the hills.

Meanwhile in the present, seventeen-year-olds Amanda and Jet have rekindled an old childhood rivalry. Amanda is obsessed with finding the treasure of her infamous ancestor Spivey Spillane. Jet and Amanda’s feud comes to a head over an extended incident involving a broken window, an exploded car, and a charge of sexual assault with a candy Batman. Jet vows that he is going to find to Spillane’s gold before Amanda does, but it doesn’t take them long to realize that someone may have come this way already — someone who wants the past to stay buried.

Inspired by the rickety world of 1960s British-made Westerns, Skunks Dance is a tale of revenge, greed, and men in tutus. Order the hardcover, paperback, and ebook on

“Karp doesn’t write treacle. It likely gives him hives. Nor does he invest insufferable perspicacity into characters who just got their driver’s license. What he offers instead feels like pan-sifted treasure from a genuine teen mind.”

Justin Hickey, Open Letters Monthly

“rollicking from the first, driven by quips and ostentatious characters … Skunks Dance is solid, sarcastic, and bombastic young adult fare”

Foreword Reviews

“Karp imaginatively combines absurdism and adventure with snarky teenage sleuthing and a sense of the macabre in this ambitious sophomore effort … A colorful, exuberant romp with an appealing fortune-hunting duo.”

Kirkus Reviews

“If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my dramatic readings of the book where I was laughing so much I could hardly keep it together. I am such a fan of the camp!”

— Christy Jane, Tales of the Ravenous Reader

“I was getting myself into a truly addicting story … I had so much fun with this one.”

— Siobhan Caughey, Bibliophile Ramblings

“Karp has a skillful touch with vibrant phrasing, bigger-than-life characters and colorful description.”

BlueInk Review

Still not convinced? Check out the book trailer and preview the first two chapters below.

Chapter 1

Grandmammy Spillane always said there was only two good reasons to kill a man — for cheating on a woman and for serving drinks to a Yankee. That was why little Spivey grew up without a grandpappy, although on account of which one she never said. Spivey asked her if you couldn’t also kill a man for cheating at cards, but she only shuffled the deck and said he had a lot to learn.

She’d been a sharp old crow, God rest her, but now Spivey Spillane reckoned he’d found another reason to kill — for money.

He’d spent such a long time telling himself it was for Christian reasons and he was doing the Lord’s work. But really, when a man sets fire to your day’s harvest, spooks your best milking cow, and makes off with the details of a buried fortune, is it God telling you to put a bullet in his belly? No sir, that’s just good sense.

Spillane spat onto the dusty street to show the locals how much he thought of their town. No-one paid him much attention, but a few curious eyes glanced in his direction as he rode past the houses and storefronts. Spillane was young, but no younger than the dozens of other gold-diggers that came through Kansas on their way to the rush. He didn’t seem to be tall, but he had the firm build of a man familiar with early mornings, hard labor, and vigorous milkings. He’d grown himself a fine mustache and sideburns, though they were now interspersed with rough and seldom-cut stubble. Spillane eyed the stores and dirty windows from under the brim of his hat. This town had a rat problem. He could smell it.

Spillane stabled his horse and tried to ignore the yawning in his stomach. A man had his priorities: kill, drink, and then get something to eat — if circumstances allowed. When he made sure his horse was watered and his revolver cocked, Spillane pushed open the doors of the Gravesend Saloon.

His eyes hadn’t yet adjusted to the gloom, but Spillane’s infallible sense of direction led him straight to the bar. He slammed down a few coins and glared from under his hat to where he imagined the bartender would be.

“Whiskey,” he said. “And open up a fresh ’un, if y'don’t mind obligin'. Never know what kinda vermin’s been drinkin' from the bottle.”

As the bartender turned to open a bottle, Spillane leaned over the bar and grabbed the guest book. He ran his finger down the list of names, sounding out each one under his breath. His finger stopped — room three, George Washington Dickey. Now he’d seen it all! The cur was Clancy Wellwater in Amity and Jebediah Balthrop in Bible Hill, but Spillane could smell that mangy thief a mile away. It was Alabama Sam.

Spillane replaced the guest book just before the barman turned back and placed a shot of whiskey on the counter. He affected an air of disinterest as he let his eyes wander across the saloon full of unhappy men with unhappier mustaches. Everything here seemed to droop and wither in the fog of cigar smoke and the constant squelch of chewing tobacco. Mangy deer heads were mounted above the bar, gazing eyelessly at the drinkers and soaking in the fetid atmosphere of that place. A woman in enormous petticoats and a shockingly prominent bustier attempted to cock an eyebrow in Spillane’s direction, but he passed her over scornfully. At last he saw past the drinkers and gamblers and spittoons to where a staircase led to the second floor. Smoke curled around the landing, and through the haze Spillane caught sight of room number three. His jaw clenched and his eyes fixed themselves on that door with unstoppable malice.

“Keep that whiskey warm,” he said without looking at the barman. “I ain’t gonna be long.”

Spillane walked across the saloon with slow, heavy footfalls. The drink-sodden gamblers and women of the night averted their eyes abruptly, sensing that something was about to go down.

Spillane could feel the ache in his thighs from the long ride. He savored the feeling. He had been at this filthy business for a very long time. The handle of his revolver stuck out of the holster at his side, ready, eager to feel the touch of his hand as if it had been waiting all these months just for this moment. Spillane scaled the stairs, old and damp, and heard them creak under his shoes. As he stepped onto the landing he shifted his weight very carefully so as not to make any noise on the treacherous floorboards. The revolver was in his hand now. The air was warm. The musty atmosphere had a different flavor now — it tingled, spicy and electric. His breath was still.

Then he kicked in the door. It flew off its hinges and Spillane charged into the room, gun blazing.

The reverberation of the shots faded, and the room fell to an unnatural silence. Spillane’s chest was heaving and his heart felt ready to burst against his ribs. A gigantic tropical bird lay dead on the floor.

“Excuse me, can I help you with anything?”

Spillane jumped out of his skin. He spun around to find the voice and blast it, but he caught himself just in time. It wasn’t Alabama Sam. It was a thin, white-haired old gentleman.

Spillane exhaled. “Lord help me, old-timer, if you sneak up on me like that again you’re liable to wind up with a ribcage full o' lead.”

The old man peered into his room and caught sight of the bird. “What on earth? You shot my macaw!”

“That’s a spurious fabrication and you know it. You wasn’t even in the room.”

“The bird, you chucklehead. What convinced you to go do a damn fool thing like that?”

Spillane mumbled, “I thought it was someone else,” but the old man only glared in response. “Anyhow,” said Spillane, “what are you doin' with a critter like that in somebody else’s room?”

“This is my room. I’m a naturalist.”

“A nat-ur-alist?” asked Spillane, being careful to take the challenge one syllable at a time.

“Well naturally. How else do you think a macaw got all the way to Kansas? By flying?”

“Well why not?”

“Because it’s dead! It’s been dead for years. You don’t think you killed it, do you? It’s dead and stuffed and you just put three bullets into it.”

The old man waved the bird in Spillane’s face so he could see the stitching and sawdust.

“I do apologize,” mumbled Spillane.

Spillane made to leave, but before he went more than two steps something seemed to strike the naturalist. “Young man, you’re not, by any chance, looking for the gentleman who took this room before me? Only he left you a message.”


“Indeed, now let me see…” The old man muttered to himself as he fished a notebook out of his pocket and began to read. “He told me to say your features are wormy and pustulent and he hopes your rectal cavity gets used as a burrow by a family of diseasy ferrets. Then he made an obscene noise that I wasn’t sure how to spell.”

Spillane grabbed the notebook in a rage and tore it clean in two.

As he stormed away he heard the old man mumbling, “Damn gunslingers, think they own the whole damn West. Vandals and Visigoths…”

Spillane made his way back down the stairs and collected his whiskey at the bar. The barman eyed him.

“Hope I didn’t hear shootin' just now, kiddo.”

“I’m 20,” said Spillane, tipping his hat back in contempt. “Do I look like a kiddo to you?”

“We don’t want no trouble, is all I’m sayin'.”

“No, no trouble.” Spillane thrust some coins at the barman. “Your obligin', a room for the night, an' another drink, on the house.”

“Drinks is money too, mister.”

“This one’s on the house, on account o' me bein' such a valued customer an' all. Now what do you know about "George Washington Dickey'?” he asked, saying the name like he was peeling a slug off his skin.

The barman scowled. “Only that he come through here, oh, three, four days ago. All he said, once he got himself good and liquored up, was he was makin' for a Skunks Dance. Only I never heard of any place called Skunks Dance in these parts.”

Damnation! Sam was getting away. If Spillane knew an egg from an omelet, that two-timing pick-pocket was making for California. Sam was liable to get there weeks ahead of Spillane, even accounting for a detour around Great Bend where rumor held a staunch sheriff had staked out his turf. But that didn’t worry Spillane. Let him get there first. Let him find it and dig it up. That’s when Spivey Spillane would saunter into town and take it off him.

Spillane downed his whiskey all in one. It was a good sipping whiskey, which meant it was even better by the bottle. He waved for a refill and eyed a game of cards forming in the back corner. Spillane limbered up his fingers and checked his sleeves. If he remembered anything Grandmammy Spillane taught him about cards, this night in Gravesend was about to pay for itself.

Chapter 2

If it weren’t summer Jet would never have found his mother until mid-afternoon, when she would surface from underneath the sofa or inside the utility closet. As it was she had been up early to take advantage of what she insisted were the prime trampolining hours between 5 and 7 a.m. Jet should have been used to the noises after all these years, but he was always startled awake by his mom’s breathing exercises, the rusty springs on the trampoline, and her boisterous rendition of “I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.”

It was not easy being the son of the Amazing Allan and Ashwood. Stories about them would circulate at school, each one more extravagant and embarrassing than the last. Jet only wished they weren’t true, but they almost always were. Even the mailmen of Skunks Dance had an uncharitable opinion of that house. They took turns doing the route and reporting back on the songs and dances they’d seen being rehearsed. The most popular nickname for the the duo was the Amazing Ass-Hats, but other names had their own charm too: the Flying Fruits, the Bouncy Melons, or simply Murder on the High Cs.

Jet slumped into a pair of baggy pants that flapped around his legs and put on a t-shirt with a picture of a cross-eyed Josephine Baker on it. He had always been a slightly pudgy kid, but in the last few years it had melted away. He gazed blearily into the mirror and ran his hands through his clipped blond hair until it was messy enough to look properly disrespectable. He always kept his hair short to avoid the dreaded blond afro that made him look like Harpo Marx or, worse, his mother. He had his dad’s nose, though — a pointy, Puckish thing that invited mischief. Although she never told anyone, Jet’s mom quite liked that nose. Without it she might never have married her husband.

By the time Jet got to the kitchen his mom was walking around on her hands, still dressed in a spandex leotard. He knew her well enough to recognize her worried face, even when it was upside-down.

“Up early, I see,” she said.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“You know when I was 17 I used to take the morning off school sometimes, sit in the park with a pack of smokes, and practice my French kissing with the linebacker.”

“Mom, gross.”

“Well it wasn’t in the French curriculum, I had to get the hang of it somehow. But you know, if you wanted you could take a little time off school once in a while. I’d even write you a note, I can forge the dentist’s signature easy. Play hookey! You could go to the penny arcade. You never know, you might meet a pretty punk girl with purple hair,” she said. “Or a boy…”

“Mom, for the millionth time, I’m not gay.”

“I’m not saying you have to put up a big poster of Justin Bieber, but a little experimentation never hurt anyone. It’s good for the soul. I remember when I was in high school there was this blond cheerleader who had the most amazing rack.”

“Mom! Stop being gross.”

She poured herself a cup of coffee and took a sip. Years of practice meant she could do this upside-down without spilling a drop. The trick, she delighted in telling the teachers at Jet’s parent/teacher nights, was to draw the scalding hot coffee into your nasal cavity until it could be forced back up against gravity and into the stomach. These days the teachers tried to send the parent/teacher invitations to Jet’s dad instead, but they were rarely successful.

“Jet, you know I love you more than life itself. You and Gina are the most precious things to me in the whole world. But sometimes I look at you and wonder how you came out of my vagina. It’s a very real possibility you’re actually the son of that Republican senator I had a fling with when your father and I were still poly.”

Jet groaned. “Not the Republican story again.”

She smiled and put her hand on Jet’s knee. “Then cut class, what do you say? For me?”

“I can’t do that,” he said, snatching his leg away.

She stumbled to get her balance back, then threw her feet up in the air with dismay. “I don’t know why you do this to me. Where did I go wrong? Am I a bad mother? Is that why you hate me?”

“You know it’s summer break, right?”

The blood rushed to his mother’s cheeks. “What do you mean, summer break? I gave Gina lunch money! See, she stole from me. Why can’t you be more like your sister? It shows a free spirit.”

“I dunno, Mom, how about I club you over the head with a crowbar next time you come in the door.”

“Jet! I will not be spoken to in that tone.”

But she smiled when Jet wasn’t looking. She knew he didn’t mean it, and if Jet needed an authority figure to rebel against, she was willing to be the patsy. She was about to forbid him to see his no-good friends when something exploded to her right. She fell off her hands and landed on the table amid a storm of shattered glass. Jet was already on his feet, staring blankly at the debris. For once he didn’t know any more than his mom.

Jet’s mom carefully stood back up on her feet and picked up the rock that had come clean through the kitchen window. To her surprise it was wrapped in a frilly lace doily. She shook off the shards of glass and unwrapped it.

A note on the doily read: “Dear Fat-flap. Die in a fire. Yours, A. S.”

A smile crept across her face. “I think a certain someone has a secret admirer! A. S. wouldn’t happen to be that Amanda Spillane, would it?”

“Mom, we hate each other! She just threw a rock through our window.”

“Ah well, "The course of true love never did run smooth,‘ as they say on TV. You two have been play-fighting since you were 12.”

“She collects porcelain dolls! She puts doilies under everything. Oh, yeah, and I nearly forgot, she’s a total bitch.”

“Don’t you use the b-word in this house. Who do you think you are?” Mrs. Ashwood glanced back over the wreckage. “Though I do think she got a bit carried away with the window. Just ask her for a check the next time you two have a play date.”

“I’m not gonna ask her for money!”

Jet’s mom contemplated the empty window and started framing it through her hands. “I suppose we could put some kind of curtain here. Maybe a tapestry. What do you think?”

Jet grabbed the note off the table and saw there was more. As he read, his face changed color.

“This is illegal — she stole my mail. I got a comic in the mail and she took it right off the doorstep. That bitch.”

Jet’s mom sighed. All Jet’s comic books were a little too… boring for her. She’d hoped he might develop an interest in the performing arts, but now she really was starting to wonder if that Republican story was true. Still, he seemed to like collecting his picture books.

While his mom despaired, Jet quietly fumed. The comic he bought happened to be a first edition of Fantastic Firecat (1943), worth at least $400. He made a fair amount trading comics on the side, but they were small fry compared to a collector’s item like this. He swore to himself that if anything happened to that comic book he was going to put Amanda Spillane’s pigtails in the insinkerator and turn it on.

The benches in the town plaza were a kind of desiccated wood covered in flaky green paint. Every time Jet sat down he tried to do it as hard as possible to see if he could snap one of the beams. So far they had bent and creaked, but to his disappointment nothing ever broke.

Josue texted to say he was right down the street, but knowing Josue that could mean down the street, up the street, or at a strip club on the moon. You kind of just had to wait and see.

Jet picked up a pebble or two and hurled one of them at the big, ugly statue in the middle of the plaza. It bounced off with a really satisfying clang, then rebounded and hit a middle-aged man on the back of the head.

“Mother of God!” he screamed. “What in the name of —” The man turned around and spotted Jet. “Oh hello! It’s young Jettison, isn’t it?”

Crap, Jet thought. It was the mayor, Mr. Franklin. Normally Jet wouldn’t know who the hell was mayor, only he’d gone to school with Franklin’s son since the third grade. Franklin was in the plaza almost every day campaigning for something or another that threatened to destroy the fabric of their entire community but which a year later no-one could really remember. When one cause was won or lost, there was always another waiting to take its place.

Mr. Franklin had a kind of turkey neck that bulged voluptuously into his shirt collar. One of Jet’s earliest memories of Franklin was during one of his election campaigns when he was handing out leaflets outside the polling station. Jet followed after his father and ran past Franklin with eyes glued to the man’s grotesquely wobbling neck. When Franklin smiled — and he always did — it compressed his neck fat and made him look strangely like a pelican trying to smuggle a fish in its beak. It was almost endearing, and evidently Jet wasn’t the only one who thought so — Franklin had been elected mayor for three straight terms.

“You’re up bright and early, aren’t you Mr. Ashwood?”

“Allan-Ashwood,” said Jet, trying to hide the pebbles behind his back.

The mayor’s eyes tracked the sudden movement. It was too late to stop him seeing.

“Oh, was that you?” said the mayor. “Think nothing of it, I was young once too. Throw as many rocks as you like. I used to hurl the odd igneous missile in my day, you know.”

Franklin looked up at the statue Jet had thrown the rock at.

“Good old Spivey Spillane. Truth is we’re about to tear the damn thing down. About time too, though the place just won’t look the same without him. Here,” he said, reaching for a pebble, “I can’t tell you how long I’ve been wanting to do this.”

He threw the pebble, then put his hand up to his eyes and squinted into the distance.

“Did I hit it?” he asked.

Jet shrugged. “Yeah, why not.”

“Hot dog, I don’t remember the last time I had this much fun. You know what I miss? It’s been years since I saw your parents perform. Your father’s quite a legend of the ol’ legerdemain, if I may say, a prodigy of prestidigitation! Where are they performing these days?

"Circus Maximo’s.”

“Oh fancy,” said Franklin, searching for his hairline nervously. “I didn’t know Maximo was out again.”

“Good behavior, apparently.”

“Well I’ll have to book a ticket to go see their show, anonymously,” he said with a cautious glance around the plaza. “You know I remember seeing the Amazing Allan and Ashwood way back in, oh, must have been ’96. Your mother was quite the little acrobat. There were things she could do on the back of a pony that still send shivers down my spine.”

“Yeah, I know. I have to watch them practice over my breakfast cereal.”

Jet’s eyes wandered awkwardly, trying to avoid catching Franklin’s. This was getting embarrassing. When was the old man going to leave?

In the awkward pause Jet spotted Nina at the far end of the plaza. Jet looked away and tried to hide half-heartedly behind his hand. The last thing he needed was her bugging him to get back together. He caught enough drama off his mother without adding Nina into the mix.

Franklin’s eye had also been caught by someone in the crowd of shoppers. He started inching towards them, turning his head back only to mutter a distracted farewell at Jet.

“Nice talking to you, but I think I see a registered voter. Give my regards to your mother,” he said, running his fingers through some imaginary hair.

A moment later Steve and Josue arrived on the scene. Josue had a big, goofy grin on his face. “Was that Drama-Llama-Ding-Dong I just saw?” he asked, looking back in Nina’s direction.

“Shhh!” said Jet. “She’ll hear you. Anyway, you can talk. Are you late enough?”

“What? You can’t blame me for that. My alarm clock’s broken.”

“Isn’t that the same excuse you used on Mr. Ricard?”

“Of course it is, it’s the same alarm clock isn’t it?” Josue asked, eyes twinkling with delight. “I don’t know if I like this intrusion into everybody else’s business. This exactly is how Hitler got started, Herr Jet von Fritzenheimenberg. Maybe someone should tell you this is America, where every citizen has the right to a broken alarm clock.”

“All right!” said Jet. To be friends with Josue was to enjoy being conned, and Josue lived up to his end of the bargain with infallible flair. He’d probably been planning this little speech all morning.

Steve finally spoke. Jet didn’t know why, but Steve never had to speak over anyone else — it seemed like everyone automatically listened. Jet hated him for it but had to admit that when Steve did speak, it tended to be good.

“School’s empty,” said Steve. “What say we find out what’s in the teachers' lounge?”

“I’m betting it’s an altar to Aleister Crowley with black candles and upside-down crosses,” said Josue. “And the corpses of sacrificed cats scattered all over the ground like Dippin' Dots.”

Jet laughed. “It’s probably really boring. Like all the fireworks for the Fourth of July barbe—”

Slowly the laughter stopped. Jet, Josue, and Steve looked at each other as they realized Jet was right. The school must be packed with fireworks for next month’s display.

“Could we?” breathed Josue. “Should we?”

“Yes,” said Jet. “And no. Let’s do it.”

Jet didn’t know why, but he loved breaking into his own school. It was weird — he spent enough of the rest of the time trying to break out of it. It was a pointless place anyway. He was already making better money than his parents, and that was just trading comics online. He kept wondering how much cooler it would be to have his own store, with a microbrewery in an annex out back and horror movies playing on the walls. He’d have to move out of Skunks Dance (Population: You and that old woman who wears too much makeup and smells like feet). Never mind the school — he’d outgrown this town years ago, let alone the school. But now he had the chance to turn it back on them, to do something that proved he dreamed bigger and better than the rest of them.

“I hear talking,” Josue said as if here were picking up a psychic signal.

“That’s you, you tard.”

“When I talk it’s like getting a handjob from Natalie Portman wearing satin gloves. This is more like… rusty chains.”

The noise got closer and they realized Josue was right. A group of chattering people were approaching, but a certain irritating voice seemed to carry over the others. Jet, Josue, and Steve all ducked into the stairwell and kept in the shadows as the voices walked past. Jet let himself peek out and sure enough, there she was — Spillane.

“God damn it!” hissed Jet. “Doesn’t she have a life? She’s at school during summer break.”

“So are we,” said Steve.

Jet glared back at him.

Amanda Spillane was tall but solidly built, the kind of figure that might have been child-bearing if she’d ever had a boyfriend. As it was she barely even had friends. She always wore her hair strictly plaited into pigtails, which gave her an air of Pippi Longstocking that made Jet want to chew his own face off.

Amanda was leading a tour group through the school, and Jet realized it must be for the prospective students. He saw a number of parents dragging their captive children through all the levels of the school and all the different cookie-cutter classrooms. She must be the only person in their grade who’d volunteer for this colossal waste of time.

“Look,” said Steve after they passed by, “we’ve got a clear run at the teachers' lounge.”

They crept out from under the stairs and nicked off down an empty hallway. The teachers' lounge was right in front of them. Steve stepped to the front and pushed his way inside.

The place had been furnished with chairs and chaise-longues that looked like they’d been found on the side of the street. The crushed velvet and embroidery, the soft leather and claw feet must have been very expensive when they were new, but now they were covered in tears and scratches and matted with dirt. Their stuffing had been deflated by generations of merciless academic bottoms.

The tables and shelves were littered with used martini glasses. To one side of the room Jet spotted an impromptu bar stocked with cheap gin and Spanish olives.

“I knew it,” Josue breathed. “They’re all drunks. I always thought Miss Bannister was flying high.”

“She’s taught you for three years in a row, hasn’t she?” asked Steve.

“Yeah. What’s your point?”

“Shut up and look!” said Jet.

At the far end of the teachers' lounge was a broom cupboard marked “Geography Supplies and Emergency Protractors — Highly Flammable.”

“They hid them in here where no-one would ever want to look.”

“But what happens if you want a protractor in a hurry?” asked Josue.

“You suck it up and grow a pair.”

He pulled open the door and walked into Fort Knox. The small, dusty, highly flammable room was loaded with fireworks of every kind — Roman candles, squawkers, squeakers, fizzlers and twizzlers, multi-stage exploding rockets, ones that went off with a bang and ones that peppered the children in the front row with white-hot phosphorus.

They gazed lovingly at the trove, eyes full of dollar signs.

“What are we going to do with them?” Josue asked.

A light bulb went on over Jet’s head. “I know the perfect thing.”

The school car park was underneath the main block. Not much sunlight got this far, so the parking lot was dusty, dim, and deliciously enclosed. The perfect place to set off explosive projectiles.

They had lined up the fireworks with unusual care. All were primed and loaded. All were facing the same target: a beat-up Volkswagen belonging to a certain student tour-guide, doily-fancier, and rock-thrower by the name of Amanda Spillane. Revenge was sweet.

“What the hell is that?” Jet asked, peering into the back seat. It was hard to make out in the gloom but it looked like Amanda’s car was full of picks and shovels.

“Who cares? Get out of the way so we can torch this lemon.”

They ran, ducked behind a concrete wall, and breathlessly looked at each other as if waiting for the first explosion.

“So,” said Jet, “how do we light these things?”

“Do I look like Gandalf to you?” asked Steve.

Josue produced a lighter out of his pocket. “What’s this I’ve found?” he said in awe. “It seems to be some kind of fire-maker. How did this miracle of rare device get into my pocket? What sorcery is this?”

Jet snatched it out of his hand and went to light the fuses. It was all he could do to jump back behind the wall and murmur, “Burn, baby, burn…”

There was a gentle hiss as the fuses burned down, then a heart-stopping silence for a fraction of a second. Jet cautiously peered over the wall.

The fireworks erupted, shrieking off into the darkness and sending Jet ducking for cover. Some of them showered the car in sparks and some ricocheted off and exploded onto the ground. Fire spewed in every direction. The noise stung Jet’s ears, even with his hands clamped over them. So much fire was flying through the air that Jet barely had the courage to glance back and see what was going on.

A rocket bounced off the hood and shot off into the distance. Then one heavy, loaded bomb sailed straight towards the windshield. It struck the glass and embedded jagged shards into the front seats. The bomb itself lay wedged against the gear stick. A second later it exploded in a dazzling blossom of light and fire. It was so intense the whole car lit up like a Christmas tree. The upholstery and paintwork began to singe. Suddenly the whole car was ablaze.

WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?” screamed Josue.

The fireworks had fizzled their last now and only the quiet flames in the car remained to illuminate the parking lot.

Jet peered at it and, as his eyes adjusted, he saw the flames consuming Amanda’s car.

“Ho-lee shit.”

A shiver ran up Jet’s spine, and he realized he was shaking. He made himself keep breathing. He never actually thought they’d nuke the thing.

But it was okay. No-one knew it was them.

Then he caught sight of Amanda Spillane on the other side of the parking lot staring slack-jawed at the wreck.

“Run!” he yelled.

The three boys all dashed off into the real world, leaving Amanda alone with her car. She realized the fire hadn’t yet hit the fuel tank and leaped out of the way. The last thing Jet heard as he sprinted off the school grounds was the blast as the fire finally ignited the gas and tore the car to pieces.

The blood throbbed in his temples. He had the sinking feeling he’d regret this.

The problem with having acrobatic parents was they were always cooking healthy food. Gina made a face and pushed her asparagus away.

“No!” she muttered. “It’s my birthday, I don’t have to eat that if I don’t want to.”

Jet rolled his eyes. It wasn’t Gina’s birthday for days, but she treated the whole week like one long birthday and refused to let anyone forget it.

“Come on,” said their dad, “you can eat what you like at your party but you don’t want to die of malnutrition before then. Look at Jet, he’s eating his asparagus.”

Jet picked up the stalks of green slime and dropped them head-first into a glass of milk. He cocked an eyebrow at his dad, who just sighed.

“Really?” said Mr. Allan. “You couldn’t back me up on this one?”

Mrs. Ashwood reached out and lazily plucked a stalk from Jet’s glass. She munched curiously.

“You know this isn’t as bad as you’d think.”

“Jet, have you got a check for the window? Your mother and I aren’t made of money.”

Jet cast his eyes down at his food. There was no chance he’d get any money out of Amanda now he’d exploded her car.

“Can I break a window too?” Gina asked.

“Not till your father and I explain the birds and the bees,” said Mrs. Ashwood.

“What do birds and bees do? Is it sex?”

“Yes, Gina, it’s sex.”

“Gross. I’m-a write a complaint to the Nature Channel.”

Jet was about to say something, but closed his mouth quickly and lifted his head. He thought he’d heard a police siren. Probably nothing.

Jet’s dad grinned at him. “I heard it was the ever-lovely Miss Spillane that threw the rock. You should ask her out, you two have been play-fighting for long enough. If you keep putting this off she’ll think something’s wrong with your equipment. There are many things a lady will put up with, Jet, but an overcooked noodle isn’t one of them.”

He leaned in close so Gina and Mrs. Ashwood couldn’t hear. “Is there is something wrong with your equipment? Just let me know, I can hook you up with a little chemical "inspiration.‘ Erectile dysfunction is nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Dad! I don’t even like her, she’s a frickin’ weirdo. You should see the crap she’s got in the back of her car — shovels and ropes and stuff. She thinks she’s digging to China.”

“How d'you know what’s in her car?” asked Gina. Jet stuck his tongue out at her in reply.

“That family have been digging for lost treasure since the Gold Rush,” said Mr. Allan. “They’re all descended from that Spivey Spillane.”

“…who made a million dollars in Skunks Dance…” said Jet, rolling his eyes.

“Or might have, if someone didn’t cut off his head before he could tell anyone where it was. All they ever found was the body stuck full of arrows and floating down the river.”

Skunks Dance © St John Karp 2017, all rights reserved.