The Iron King

By: Julie Kagawa


He didn’t glance at me when I walked up beside him. He lounged in the chair with his feet up and his head back, tossing an invisible ball across the room. I cleared my throat. Nothing. I cleared it a little louder. Still nothing.

Gathering my courage, I stepped in front of him and waved. His coffee-brown eyes finally jerked up to mine. For a moment, he looked startled. Then an eyebrow rose in a lazy arc, as if he couldn’t figure out why I wanted to talk to him.

Uh-oh. Say something, Meg. Something intelligent.

“Um…” I stammered. “Hi. I’m Meghan. I sit behind you. In computer class.” He was still giving me that blank stare, and I felt my cheeks getting hot. “Uh…I really don’t watch a lot of sports, but I think you’re an awesome quarterback, not that I’ve seen many—well, just you, actually. But you really seem to know what you’re doing. I go to all your games, you know. I’m usually in the very back, so you probably don’t see me.” Oh, God. Shut up, Meg. Shut up now. I clamped my mouth closed to stop the incessant babbling, wanting to crawl into a hole and die. What was I thinking, agreeing to this? Better to be invisible than to look like a complete and total moron, especially in front of Scott.

He blinked lazily, reached up, and pulled the earphones from his ears. “Sorry, babe,” he drawled in that wonderful, deep voice of his. “I couldn’t hear you.” He gave me a once-over and smirked. “Are you supposed to be the tutor?”

“Um, yes.” I straightened and smoothed out my remaining shreds of dignity. “I’m Meghan. Mr. Sanders asked me to help you out with your programming project.”

He continued to smirk at me. “Aren’t you that hick girl who lives out in the swamp? Do you even know what a computer is?”

My face flamed, and my stomach contracted into a tight little ball. Okay, so I didn’t have a great computer at home. That was why I spent most of my after-school time here, in the lab, doing homework or just surfing online. In fact, I was hoping to make it into ITT Tech in a couple of years. Programming and Web design came easily to me. I knew how to work a computer, dammit.

But, in the face of Scott’s criticism, I could only stammer: “Y-yes, I do. I mean, I know a lot.” He gave me a dubious look, and I felt the sting of wounded pride. I had to prove to him that I wasn’t the backward hillbilly he thought I was. “Here, I’ll show you,” I offered, and reached toward the keyboard on the table.

Then something weird happened.

I hadn’t even touched the keys when the computer screen blipped on. When I paused, my fingers hovering over the board, words began to scroll across the blue screen.

Meghan Chase. We see you. We’re coming for you.

I froze. The words continued, those three sentences, over and over. Meghan Chase. We see you. We’re coming for you. Meghan Chase we see you we’re coming for you. Meghan Chase we see you we’re coming for you… over and over until it completely filled the screen.

Scott leaned back in his seat, glaring at me, then at the computer. “What is this?” he asked, scowling. “What the hell are you doing, freak?” Pushing him aside, I shook the mouse, punched Escape, and pressed Ctrl/Alt/Del to stop the endless string of words. Nothing worked.

Suddenly, without warning, the words stopped, and the screen went blank for a moment. Then, in giant letters, another message flashed into view.

SCOTT WALDRON PEEKS AT GUYS IN THE SHOWER ROOM, ROFL.

I gasped. The message began to scroll across all the computer screens, wending its way around the room, with me powerless to stop it. The other students at the desks paused, shocked for a moment, then began to point and laugh.

I could feel Scott’s gaze like a knife in my back. Fearfully, I turned to find him glaring at me, chest heaving. His face was crimson, probably from rage or embarrassment, and he jabbed a finger in my direction.

“You think that’s funny, swamp girl? Do you? Just wait. I’ll show you funny. You just dug your own grave, bitch.”

He stormed out of the room with the echo of laughter trailing behind him. A few of the students gave me grins, applause, and thumbs-up; one of them even winked at me.

My knees were shaking. I dropped into a chair and stared blankly at the computer screen, which suddenly flicked off, taking the offensive message with it, but the damage was already done. My stomach roiled, and there was a stinging sensation behind my eyes.

I buried my face in my hands. I’m dead. I’m so dead. That’s it, game over, Meghan. I wonder if Mom will let me move to a boarding school in Canada?

A faint snicker cut through my bleak thoughts, and I raised my head.

Crouched atop the monitor, silhouetted black against the open window, was a tiny, misshapen thing. Spindly and emaciated, it had long, thin arms and huge batlike ears. Slitted green eyes regarded me across the table, gleaming with intelligence. It grinned, showing off a mouthful of pointed teeth that glowed with neon-blue light, before it vanished, like an image on the computer screen.

I sat there a moment, staring at the spot where the creature had been, my mind spinning in a dozen directions at once. Okay. Great. Not only does Scott hate me, I’m starting to hallucinate, as well. Meghan Chase, victim of a nervous breakdown the day before she turned sixteen. Just send me off to the loony bin, ’cause I sure won’t survive another day at school.