In the Southern California suburb of Pinch Canyon, among the swimming pools and tennis courts, fifteen-year-old Danna Press finds her summer life so dull she longs for some cinematic excitement. A kidnapping? An earthquake? A presidential assassination attempt? Even the scary wildfires she watches on TV, raging in nearby Los Angeles, seem like they would liven things up. Though the wildfires are miles away with little to no chance of coming near her home, Danna has a contingency evacuation plan in place—her kittens and the neighbor’s horses first, her brother Hall, second. Her parents are safely at work. But in an instant the fire expands and threatens everything Danna and the other Pinch Canyon residents hold dear. In an action-packed hour and a half, minute by minute, the wildfires will alter the lives of everyone who lives and works in Pinch Canyon—including seventeen-year-old Elony, a recent immigrant, and her young charge, Geoffrey; handsome teenager Beau Severyn and his awkward little sister, Elisabeth; and the firefighters themselves. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Caroline B. Cooney including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.
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About the Author
Caroline B. Cooney (b. 1947) is the author of nearly a hundred books, including the famed young adult thriller The Face on the Milk Carton, an international bestseller. Cooney’s books have been translated into several languages, and have received multiple honors and awards, including an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults award and a nomination for the Edgar Allan Poe Award. She is best known for her popular teen horror thrillers and romance novels. Her fast-paced, plot-driven work often explores themes of good and evil, love and hatred, right and wrong, and moral ambiguity. Born in Geneva, New York, Cooney grew up in Connecticut, and often sets her novels in dramatic New England landscapes. She has three children and four grandchildren and currently lives in South Carolina.
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By Caroline B. Cooney
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Caroline B. Cooney
All rights reserved.
Pinch Canyon Wednesday, October 27th The Press House 3:15 P.M.
ROCK SLIDE AREA
ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKING
A stranger who drove into Pinch Canyon would think he was entering a war zone. Danna herself would have removed the signs lining the road, and opted to have rock slides, strangers, trespassing, and, of course, armed response.
ARMED RESPONSE was Danna's personal favorite. She had never seen an ARMED RESPONSE, but she remained hopeful. Someday, uniformed responders carrying submachine guns and leading slavering dogs would vault out of a camouflage vehicle and surround one of the houses.
With her luck, she'd be in school.
Danna Press wanted action. Her very own mother and father had just entered a twelve-step serenity class. Please. Who would want serenity?
Danna felt she was an ideal candidate for a kidnapping. She could at least witness a major crime, and then have to testify in court, or else provide vital information about an assassination attempt on the President.
Why, Danna wanted to know, could she not be a terrorist, or date one?
When earthquakes struck, why wasn't it her house that got lifted from its foundations and tumbled down down down into the treacherous canyon below? That way, television cameras would focus upon the Press family, the nation aching over their plight, and falling in love with the beauteous Danna.
But no. The Press family continued on its placid way, outgrowing jeans and renting movies.
Danna turned on the TV for company. Los Angeles (not her area, of course; she couldn't be that lucky) was engulfed in flames for the ninth day in a row. People are packing their Volvos with photograph albums, thought Danna, calling the dog, hosing down the roof, rescuing their neighbors. And what am I doing? Vocabulary.
"A conflagration!" said the reporter eagerly. Now there was a vocabulary word.
Danna studied the TV map. Nothing in the way of a conflagration was near Pinch Canyon. She watched the people watching fires. People had driven to freeway overpasses and brought binoculars and even lawn chairs from which to enjoy the fires at a comfortable distance. Since neither Danna nor her brother, Hall, was old enough to drive, and since their mom and dad checked on them about every sixty seconds, this was not going to be a possibility. They were stuck on Pinch.
Pinch Canyon, well named, was a slot in the mountains, as thin and vertical as a toaster waiting for bread. Twisted oaks and shrubs dusty with heat and lack of rain filled the narrow box bottom on both sides of Pinch Canyon Road. The south rockface flared almost straight up. It was the kind of rock that peeled itself off in layers after storms. Dangerous, impossible-to-climb rock, scarred by years of erosion.
The north face was where the houses had been built. Twenty-one houses were pasted on the canyon's few slanting meadows. Driveways curled as tight and steep as spirals on school notebooks. Swimming pools and tennis courts and paddocks for horses had been carved into the hillsides.
Most people shared a driveway. Three houses peeled off theirs: At the bottom was Danna's, Mr. and Mrs. Luu lived in the middle, and stacked on top of them, the Aszlings. Everybody had a lot of land, but it was mainly vertical.
Pinch Canyon had no outlet. The road turned sharply off Grass Canyon Road, was blocked a quarter mile in by a gate, and then cut another mile and a half to stop dead at the foot of Pinch Mountain. Pinch Mountain looked like a five-hundred-foot sphinx glaring down the road, its huge paws forming the sides of the canyon. Most hills around LA were rounded, but her own personal canyon was sharp and harsh, the sides dropping roughly—fifty feet here, a hundred feet there.
On television, a large stucco house, built in pastel stacks like huge children's blocks, slowly caught fire. Smoke came before flames, so first the house turned into a soot-breathing dragon. Then, magnificent and horrific, it turned blazing gold. In minutes, only its black skeleton remained.
"You guys get all the good stuff," Danna said to the television. "I'm stuck here with abdicate and abjure."
Vocabulary ought to stay in elementary school. Sixth grade was the absolute oldest you should have to have vocabulary. Ninth grade was far too sophisticated for vocabulary lists. Nevertheless, she had a vocabulary list, one of those tricky ones meant to catch you by the alphabet heels. Abdicate, abjure, abhorrent, aborigine, and abstention.
Although Mom and Dad were at the studio today, fighting over a contract, they kept relentlessly in touch. There was no avoiding the family rule of Homework First. What with beepers, E-mail, fax, and phone, Danna and Hall never had a minute of freedom. Mom even wore a wristwatch that beeped at appropriate intervals to remind her to check on Danna's homework/clarinet practice/dance practice/tennis practice/horseback riding.
I'm sick of vocabulary, thought Danna, who sickened quickly over most homework.
She could go outside and swim with her brother, but the temperature was in the nineties and the Santa Ana wind was no relief: It cleaned out the lungs like a dry scouring pad. Because of the fires, the air was full of ash. Strange, particulate black ash. Not papery flakes, but little microscopic pieces of things, each different, like snowflakes—as if, with a microscope, you would know that one was from a roof shingle, another from a baby crib, or a birdhouse.
Anyway, Danna was wearing her favorite T-shirt, which was white, and she didn't want it to turn gray from the falling ash. It was from the Los Angeles County Coroner's office, featuring the outline of a human body, as if chalked by police on a street. It came down to her knees, making the chalk body about a quarter life-size. Mom and Dad said it was sick and tasteless, but since writing sick and tasteless screenplays was their trade, they had to quit arguing early. Danna always got a kick out of the fact that her strict, careful, and affectionate parents wrote stuff so sick that when it finally came on television, Danna and Hall weren't even allowed to see it.
"So okay," said Danna to the television, "I should feel sorry for the owners of that burned-up house, and their children, and their pets, and their insurance company, and I do, I really do. I really am a nice person and I do feel sorry when other people suffer. It's just that nothing happens to me."
Danna planned what she would take if she had to run from a fire.
The stray cat she'd adopted had provided kittens. Everybody who walked into the house fell in love with the kittens, crooning and cuddling, but not a single kitten-adorer would actually take one home. The mama cat moved on and left all seven babies to Danna. Danna named the kittens for LA burbs, so they had Pasadena, Burbank, Venice, LAX for the airport, and so forth. Her brother thought this was pretty crummy, a kitten named LAX, so he was calling the kittens by the names of fruit trees that grew on their property: Orange, Lemon, Kumquat, etc. Since the kittens looked alike, you couldn't tell which you were calling anyway, and Kumquat (or LAX) and Lemon (or Venice) just skittered around between your shoes trying to get you to fall over on one of their brothers or sisters.
Danna couldn't even guarantee there were seven kittens anymore, because getting them in one place at one time, even for meals, wasn't a happening thing.
Even though the fire was miles away, and would have to work its way through thousands of houses, cross major highways, step over hundreds of firefighters, and outwit dozens of tanker planes before it hit Pinch Canyon, Danna entertained herself by making kitten contingency plans.
Five miles up grass Canyon Road, and down a minor road that led inland and north of Pinch Canyon, was an ordinary brush fire. It moved along casually, like a person bored with exercise.
What you wanted to do with fire was to kill it around the edges. The edge was its line of attack. So you put your trucks and your firefighters at the edge. You bottled the fire up until it ate the fuel and then the fire died.
A small troop of firefighters used long-handled Pulaskis, a sort of combination hoe and axe, to rip up the spiky brown underbrush, chain saws to take down trees, and shovels to turn dirt on top of this tinder and take away its oxygen. Everybody was a little bored, because the really neat fires were elsewhere, and they were stuck on shovel duty.
They paused now and then to sip water from canteens or Cokes from cans.
At this particular minute, they thought they were in charge.
The fire knew otherwise.
The Press House
Hall wasn't swimming, just floating. From the air, their pool wasn't turquoise like everybody else's, but dark and secret because the tile that lined the Press pool was deep green. They'd bought the house by helicopter, flying over to make sure of the neighborhood, so Hall knew exactly what it looked like from the sky.
There was a lot of air traffic today. Silver-and-red tanker planes skimmed Pinch Mountain, headed for distant fires to dump their gooey loads of red fire retardant on endangered hillsides. Bucket-fitted helicopters flew to the Pacific, filled up with salt water, and rotored loudly back to pour water on roofs or yards. The copters were white with yellow tails and red-and-white-striped propellers, giving them the look of children's toys that actually flew.
It was a good day to float on your back and check out the sky.
Of course, the air was a little tough to breathe. Hall might as well have asthma. Every now and then, he had to go vertical, treading water and coughing.
Halstead Press loved the interval in his day that came after school and before dinner. This was when he felt most like a Californian: hot and tanned and timeless. No minutes. No hours. Just the moment.
Above the Press property, the immense Luu deck launched itself toward the Pacific Ocean. The last mud slide had taken away a good deal of the Luu property. Where once there had been a steep hillside, there was now a vertical drop. Mr. and Mrs. Luu had covered the bare dirt with huge blue plastic tarps, so if it rained again, the dirt wouldn't get wet and slide out from under the entire house. The tarp was weighted down with sandbags so it couldn't blow away, and the sandbags themselves were linked by heavy ropes, so they couldn't fall to the bottom of Pinch Canyon. It was a long way, and would be a very unpleasant fall, even for a sandbag.
Hall loved to swing himself up onto their deck (when they weren't home to know about it) by the sandbag ropes.
It was stunt man stuff and Danna filmed him every time. They planned to show the films to their parents in ten or twenty years when they were too old for their parents to punish them.
There were no gentle meadows around Pinch Canyon. You couldn't run up these hills. You had to crawl, or go sideways, and hang onto things. Naturally Hall crawled up the hills all the time, and slipped, and dislodged dead roots, and ruined his clothes. Once Hall asked Mr. Luu if he was worried about the mud or the fires.
"Halstead, my man," said Mr. Luu, who loved Hall's name, and said it was destined for a bronze plaque on a very important door, "what's to worry? If there's a fire, we rebuild. If there's a mud slide, we sandbag. And if we have to start over, then we do."
"Besides," said Mrs. Luu, "I want to redecorate anyway."
Above the Luu house were the Aszlings. Where the Luus had wedged in a stable and paddock, and the Presses had decided on tennis courts, the Aszlings had chosen garages. Their land was so steep that even the garages were terraced. The driveway split like fingers, so each of the four cars had its own smaller, steeper driveway. They had of course remote control for the garage doors, and their Jaguars slipped in and out, black and sleek and secretive as the jungle animal.
Mr. Aszling was in aerospace and Mrs. Aszling was in computers. They gave parties all the time and skied at their mountain place and traveled to the Far East and now and then even remembered Geoffrey.
Mr. and Mrs. Aszling had never had children but apparently always wanted them, and a year ago adopted a little boy from a Bucharest orphanage. It was all very exciting, but the little boy proved difficult. Perhaps nobody had hugged him enough in Romania, or even hugged him at all. Perhaps nobody had spoken to him, or let him be with other children, or eat a meal at a table. Geoffrey was just a silent little animal. He didn't improve much. He was not rewarding. The fun had gone out of the adoption, and if you could un-adopt, the Aszlings would have done it.
Hall loved Geoffrey Aszling.
There was something proud and brave in this solemn little boy that Hall respected so much. Inside Geoffrey were tortures and terrors. If you could see his soul, you would see a hillside ravaged and bare like the mountain, as if the color of Geoffrey's babyhood were sun-baked mud.
If he sat quietly with Geoffrey, and waited longer than Hall could wait for anything else on earth, Geoffrey would approach him. It was like feeding a wild bird. If every day you extended your palm with the sunflower seeds, eventually it would sit on your finger to eat out of your hand.
He'd been reading up on childhood emotional disorders and gotten interested in autism. Geoffrey did not have this dreadful syndrome, but there was a similarity. Hall cared intensely about Geoffrey's inability to love and to be loved.
Hall's family was very huggy. Whenever anybody went anywhere, they hugged. Not just a passing touch, but a bear hug. Dad still kissed him good night. Mom liked to stand behind him and massage his shoulder blades and kiss the back of his neck. Hall knew that he and Danna had the original prototype Super Parents, and he couldn't stand it that twice now Geoffrey had lost the parent lottery.
Hall knew, through Geoffrey, that he wanted to work with damaged little kids. Kids who had been hit, or hurt, or endured war or slaughter or abandonment.
He also knew that it wouldn't pay anything, and his parents would have little use for a career that paid nothing. Secrets were funny things. With some guys, the secrets they kept from their parents were drugs, or drinking, or being gay. Hall's secret was how much he wanted to help the Geoffreys of the world.
Yesterday, he'd leaned on the Aszlings' bell until the maid answered. (He never knew these maids; they were never the same woman; perhaps they sent their cousins to work when they were sick of housecleaning; or perhaps the Aszling household was regarded as an entrée for all illegals of a particular South American town, and everybody took turns scrubbing the Aszlings' bathrooms or pruning their bushes.) Anyway, Hall ran in yelling "So, Geoffrey, my man, how was your day?" and Geoffrey, who liked to speak a single word alternate months, yelled back, "Hall, my man!"
Hall felt like a million dollars. He returned home triumphant, yearning to share this huge victory with somebody, but his parents thought Geoffrey was creepy, and they didn't like their fifteen-year-old son hanging out with a four-year-old, even though at the same time they were mad at the Aszlings for giving up and proud of Hall for bothering.
Excerpted from Flash Fire by Caroline B. Cooney. Copyright © 1990 Caroline B. Cooney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Pinch Canyon Wednesday, October 27th,
The Press House 3:15 P.M.,
The Brushfire 3:16 P.M.,
The Press House 3:20 P.M.,
The Brushfire 3:21 P.M.,
The Aszling House 3:23 P.M.,
The Severyn House 3:25 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 3:30 P.M.,
The Press House 3:30 P.M.,
The Brushfire 3:35 P.M.,
The Severyn House 3:38 P.M.,
The Brushfire 3:38 P.M.,
Absolutely No Smoking,
The Gatehouse 3:38 P.M.,
Pacific Coast Highway 3:38 P.M.,
The Brushfire 3:42 P.M.,
Pacific Coast Highway 3:43 P.M.,
The Aszling House 3:44 P.M.,
The Severyn House 3:45 P.M.,
The Severyn House 3:46 P.M.,
The Press House 3:46 P.M.,
The Health Club 3:46 P.M.,
The Fire 3:57 P.M.,
Los Angeles 3:57 P.M.,
Los Angeles 3:57 P.M.,
The Press House 3:59 P.M.,
The Severyn House 4:00 P.M.,
The Press House 4:01 P.M.,
The Severyn House 4:02 P.M.,
The Fire 4:02 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:03 P.M.,
The Press House 4:04 P.M.,
The Severyn House 4:05 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:06 P.M.,
Los Angeles 4:07 P.M.,
The Severyn House 4:08 P.M.,
The Luu Stable 4:08 P.M.,
The Aszling House 4:08 P.M.,
Los Angeles 4:08 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:09 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:10 P.M.,
The Aszling House 4:10 P.M.,
Glass Canyon Road 4:11 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:11 P.M.,
The Severyn House 4:12 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:12 P.M.,
Pacific Coast Highway 4:13 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:14 P.M.,
The Severyn House 4:14 P.M.,
Pinch Canyon 4:14 P.M.,
The Health Club 4:14 P.M.,
The Luu House 4:14 P.M.,
Rock Slide Area,
The Luu House 4:15 P.M.,
Pinch Canyon 4:16 P.M.,
Pinch Canyon Road 4:17 P.M.,
Pinch Canyon 4:18 P.M.,
Pinch Canyon 4:18 P.M.,
Pinch Canyon 4:18 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Fire 4:18 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:20 P.M.,
Pinch Canyon Road 4:21 P.M.,
The Severyn House 4:21 P.M.,
Pinch Canyon Gate 4:22 P.M.,
Pinch Canyon 4:24 P.M.,
Pinch Canyon 4:24 P.M.,
The Severyn House 4:24 P.M.,
The Studio 4:24 P.M.,
The Severyn House 4:25 P.M.,
Pacific Coast Highway 4:25 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:26 P.M.,
Los Angeles General Hospital 4:27 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:27 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:27 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:28 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:28:30 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:29 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:29:30 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:30 P.M.,
The Studio 4:35 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:55 P.M.,
Grass Canyon Road 4:55 P.M.,
A Biography of Caroline B. Cooney,