The Wicker King

The Wicker King

by K. Ancrum


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The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.

Jack once saved August's life . . . now can August save him?

August is a misfit with a pyro streak and Jack is a golden boy on the varsity rugby team—but their intense friendship goes way back. Jack begins to see increasingly vivid hallucinations that take the form of an elaborate fantasy kingdom creeping into the edges of the real world. With their parents’ unreliable behavior, August decides to help Jack the way he always has—on his own. He accepts the visions as reality, even when Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy.

August and Jack alienate everyone around them as they struggle with their sanity, free falling into the surreal fantasy world that feels made for them. In the end, each one must choose his own truth.

Written in vivid micro-fiction with a stream-of-consciousness feel and multimedia elements, K. Ancrum's The Wicker King touches on themes of mental health and explores a codependent relationship fraught with tension, madness and love.

An Imprint Book

“Ancrum delves into the blurry space between reality and madness. A haunting and provocative read that will keep teens riveted.” —School Library Journal

“Teen fans of moody psychological horror will be entranced.” —Booklist

“Give this to readers who like complex, experimental fictions about intense relationships that acquire mythic resonance.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“An eerie piece of realistic fiction whose characters revel in intense emotions.” —Kirkus Reviews

“An eerie and mesmerizing thriller that questions the space where reality and perception overlap, The Wicker King is a spine-tingling read that will have you riveted.” —Caleb Roerhrig, author of Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250101556
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 10/30/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 84,486
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 15 - 18 Years

About the Author

K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois, under the illusory rigor of the Chicago Public School system. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in Andersonville and writes books at work when no one is looking. The Wicker King is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt



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.



He probably would have gotten off easier if he hadn't been so sarcastic.

It was just — they kept asking the stupidest questions. You know how small-town cops are. It was way too difficult to hold it in.

"Was the fire an accident, son?" The officer had looked tired, like he hoped August would say yes.

But, of course, August didn't. He'd just narrowed his eyes and said something rude. Then they slammed him into the holding cell so fast, it was as if he'd been begging to go.

Honestly, though. He was standing there with accelerant drying on his jeans and second-degree burns on his hands. It was a waste of everyone's time to try lying.



It was mostly his own fault for getting dragged in. But August supposed if he could blame anyone else for his current situation, it would be Jack.

Jack had always been bossy — even when they were kids. He didn't leave much room for defiance when his mind was set on something, and August had just gotten used to it. He wasn't a leader. It wasn't natural for him. He understood and accepted that. But ... sometimes it's better to have control over your own destiny.

This situation was one of those times.

Which — August thought as he tested the restraints on his wrists — was a grievous understatement.

Besides, he felt kind of bad complaining so much. Jack was doing ten thousand times worse than he was. The poor kid couldn't even go outside.

But — like every disaster they'd gotten themselves into through the history of their friendship — it hadn't started all bad. Things were actually pretty fun until that last bit with all the screaming and the flames and the ambulances.



They didn't hang out at school, Jack and him. They were on stratospherically different popularity levels. Plus, these types of things usually had a system:

The Jocks stuck to the Jocks, the Punk kids with the Punk kids, Band Geeks, Goths, AP hard-asses, agro ROTC-ers, Stoners, Ravers, Cheerleaders, New Age Hippies, Hipsters, Grunge Kids, Gamers, Lit Nerds, Actual Nerds, Theater Kids, Druggies, Gangsters, "the Popular Crowd," and those shy, immature kids who grouped together in awkward clumps. Everyone stuck to what they knew.

Of course, there was drifting between subgroups, but it was rare.

Jack rode the edge of the Popular Crowd just by virtue of his involvement with sports, while August found himself smack between the Lit Nerds and the Druggies — roughly near the middle of the totem. It wasn't exactly glamorous, but running drugs for Daliah meant that he was part of a group of Providers of Services — notable figureheads of the high school economy — and that he could make a month's worth of "minimum wage part-time job" wages in a week. Which was important because he really needed the money.

He didn't brag about it, but the way he looked really helped with not getting caught. August was horribly neat and organized. He wore fashionable, expensive clothes that he saved up for months to buy, and he was intense about personal hygiene. He didn't like people to know that he was poor. So he was never on a suspect list because of his obvious fastidiousness, spotless record, and absolutely perfect slicked-back hair.



They really only saw each other on school property at games. Their rugby team wasn't the best, but since it was the only major sport in their town, everyone generally made a lot of hoopla about it.

August didn't even like rugby, but he went to every game anyway. Jack was ridiculously athletic and first line this year, so August couldn't make an excuse not to care. He never cheered, because that was too much work. But he went, and that seemed to be enough.

After games, they usually met up in the locker room before taking Jack's shitty Camaro out to the plains to fuck around in the grass.

Wrestle and run. That sort of thing.

It was tradition. It made it all right that they didn't see each other during the day. It was worth people not knowing that they knew each other better than anyone knew anyone, really. They were so far apart on the social spectrum that it wouldn't make sense to people if they started openly hanging out together. It would be a spectacle, and August didn't like spectacle. Some things were just meant to be private.



Jack was good-looking. He was a bit shorter than August, but not by much. He had a sharp face with clever eyes, and usually wore his hair buzzed low — but it had grown out now. He had the whole light hair–gray eyes thing going on that people went crazy for. He was also strong and athletic. That didn't mean much to August, but he'd heard girls talking about it in the hallway.

Jack was popular, unlike August, and of course he had a girlfriend. Her name was Carrie-Anne: a bottle-blond, UGG-booted, North Face–wearing prepster with a perfect GPA.

August loathed her.

He could've written sonnets about her pouty lips and golden hair and ivory skin and melodious voice. Not because he admired those things in the slightest — he couldn't have cared less about the way she looked. It was because he had to constantly listen to Jack's moony-eyed chattering.

It's not that August didn't like girls.

He just didn't like her.



August's mother was special.

She was an indoor mother who never went outside, except in emergencies. But still — August loved her.

She was suffering from a Great Big Sad that she chased away with pills and sleep and game shows. Everything was hard for her. Getting up was hard, getting dressed was hard. Sometimes eating or even sitting up was hard.

Everything was a learning experience. And luckily for him, by the time his parents were divorced and the Big Sad came to visit, he was old enough to use the stove and clean up after himself. He got good at it.

Then, a couple of years later, when Jack's parents started traveling a lot for work, he found himself in the position to take responsibility for Jack, too. It wasn't a burden, because he was used to it and because he was prepared.

Sometimes, especially when he was cooking, he felt like maybe the Great Big Sad took his mom so he would be ready for Jack. Like the fear and depression that choked her until she couldn't move made it so that when Jack stumbled into his house three years ago and admitted that he hadn't seen his own mom in weeks, August was ready to sit him down and make him some soup.

It was a selfish thought.

He pushed it away whenever he could.


Jack slung his backpack onto the floor and collapsed onto August's bed, jolting him awake.


"I met a girl today, August. A girl I think you would like."

August opened one brown eye, then closed it again. His jet-black hair stuck up every which way, like he'd rolled himself violently down a hill. He rubbed his face and sighed loudly.

"Don't be like that. You already kind of know her. She graduated last year."

"Whassher name?"

"Rina Medina. I was at the library and she was trying to check out some books, but she forgot her library card and she looked like she was in a hurry. So I gave her mine. I figured it would give us a reason to find her again."

August opened both his eyes for the sole purpose of glaring at Jack derisively. "You need to stop talking to strangers."

"She's not a stranger. She's just older, she graduated two years ago. Besides, you and I both know that that doesn't apply to strangers who are around our age. Also, she invited us to a poetry reading and we're going," Jack declared.

"You don't even like poetry." August could feel a headache catching up with him.

"Yeah. Of course I fucking don't. It's boring as shit. But you do. I swear you'll like her. Just put on some clothes. We're leaving at eight."



It was crowded and dark.

August was pushed so close to Jack that he was practically resting his head on his shoulder. He slung his arm around Jack's neck so it would seem more intentional than just continuing to awkwardly breathe on his neck.

The first two poets were okay. But it was that type of poetry that's really personal and eventually escalates into yelling. The type he didn't like.

"This is her," Jack whispered into the side of his face.

August craned his neck to see.

She was kind of small, Indian or Pakistani, and wore a glittery dress with small pink barrettes in her hair and gold heels. She had wild dark eyebrows that made looking at her face feel like one was looking into a storm. And she wore entirely too much makeup, but applied with an expert hand.

"Hi, everyone, I'm Rina Medina and I'll be reading my poem: 'Random Word Generator Input #17'":

blusness knocle nextboarted naurnel, scouslaved rassly shagion waille hanling buckspoods seaged violities, stinings arfulbring scratic stael.

grapprose lerankers dinessed ressiations visuseelling astelly concticing extrine manonloccut leeses, bravon gistertnes repulatauting mysteerly thumspine Valeen.

"Thank you."

The entire café erupted into confused muttering and halfhearted snaps as she slowly got down from the stage, teetering dangerously on her stiletto heels.

Jack whipped around to grin at August.

"Shut up. You're right, Jack. She's fucking great. But shut up."



Rina pushed through the crowd.

"Jack from the library." She dug around in her giant red purse for a bit. "I have your card," she said as she pulled it out and handed it over. Jack shoved it in his pocket.

"Thank you so much. I really appreciate —"

"Your poem was great," August blurted, like he had no control of his mouth whatsoever. He pressed his thick lips together.

"It's a bit abstract for this crowd." Rina shrugged. "I've been trying new shit, you know? They don't really like me here ..."

She said some other stuff, but August was too busy staring at the chunky glitter all over her eyelids. What would even happen if that got inside your eye? Something awful, no doubt.

"Can you guys go somewhere else if you have to talk? There's a performance going on right now."

The barista and half the people there, including the person on stage, glared at them.

"Sure. Yeah. That would be best," Rina replied. She turned back to Jack. "Thanks for the card. See you never again, probably. It's been great."

She turned on a heel and was gone before August could even say "nice to meet you."

"She's perfect," Jack said as they were driving home later that night. "She's even mean, just like you like."

"I don't like mean girls, Jack." August leaned his head back on the car seat and closed his eyes.

"You like Gordie," Jack said pointedly.

August couldn't think of a good counterargument, so he just went to sleep.



Gym was jogging, mostly. Their teacher wasn't particularly invested in making sure they had a well-rounded physical education experience.

They just ran around and around the gymnasium as the coach sat in a foldout chair in the middle, with his whistle at the ready to startle any walkers into running.

Gordie came up on August's left side and fell into step with him.

"How ya doing, space cowboy?"

"Satisfactory. How are you?"

"Better. I broke up with Jordan."

August tossed his head back dramatically and groaned. "Fiiinnnnnally. Wasn't he that jock with the mullet?"

"Shut the fuck up, it wasn't a mullet. It was just a little long in the back."

"Whatever," August panted. "You can do better."

Gordie looked him up and down. "I have done better."

"Unusually ... forward ... for eight o'clock ... in the morning," August gasped. "But ... I'll take ... what I ... can get."

Gordie snorted. "Maybe if you didn't smoke so much, running would be easier."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." They grinned at each other.

She punched him on the arm.



She was his favorite girl.

Before Gordie transferred to their school, everyone August knew had pretty much just accepted their boring small-town fate and resigned themselves to hanging out in the woods, on the field, or at school under the bleachers. Then, one day, she'd dragged him and Alex and the twins a mile out to a better town that they hadn't even known existed. They even found a store that sold cigarettes to minors — which was pretty much the highlight of his freshman year.

August had dated her that year, but had spent more time getting playfully (violently) punched than much else. They worked better as friends, in August's opinion. He went to concerts with her these days.

Gritty things with shouting and mosh pits and rage.

It was more her scene than his, really. Gordie dove into it, war paint smeared across her face while August just leaned against a wall and watched, or closed his eyes and listened.

Afterward, he'd take her out for ice cream and tacos. Then they'd split and he'd go home to his empty bed.

He would dream of tattoos, piercings, and warm thighs and try to decide if it was worth giving them up just to avoid the punches.



August usually ate lunch with Alexandria Von Fredriech, Gordie, and the twins.

Alex was brilliant. She was extremely condescending, but useful if you needed practical advice or someone to critique your papers. She was short and round and covered in freckles. Gordie was a riot grrrl with a shaved head, stomping boots, and suspenders. She was pretty, but very, very agro.

Then, there were the twins. They were odd. They preferred to communicate in glances and gestures, finished each other's sentences, and generally reveled in being really creepy. They liked to dress alike and were difficult to tell apart, but one was definitely meaner than the other. One of them was named Roger and the other one, the meaner one, was Peter. But everyone just called them "the twins," because why bother with separate names if they were literally never apart from each other?

Once, August even caught one waiting outside a bathroom stall for the other. Just leaning against the wall and looking annoyed.


Excerpted from "The Wicker King"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Kayla Ancrum.
Excerpted by permission of Imprint.
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

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Roosevelt High Score,
Mrs. Bateman,
The Other Woman,
Rina Medina, Queen of the Desert,
The Dark and the Deep,
The Architect,
Assembly Line,
Group Projects,
Red Velvet, with Buttercream Icing,
Do You?,
Earth Space Science,
Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain,
Ball and Chain,
The River,
Rug Burn,
At the Library,
Roger Whittaker,
The Casualties,
The River,
The Twins,
Mario Kart,
The Sprout and the Bean,
Field Trip,
Step Up Your Game,
The Notebook,
Glass Shoes,
The Kingdom,
The Wicker King,
Monkey Wrench,
Friday, Under the Bleachers,
French Cut Silk,
Bang Bang,
First Receiver Falcon,
Sick Trick,
Cultural Studies,
Bestiary: Beastiary,
Null Hypothesis,
The Beginning,
Keep Warm,
Rapturous Blue,
The Field,
Fine Fierce Fifth,
Ruck and Maul,
Ocimum Basilicum,
My Kingdom for a Horse,
Hot Hands,
Nothing Left,
Ten Inches,
You'll Never Know, Dear,
One Eight-Hundred,
Black-Body Radiation,
Rosemary and Thyme,
Thread Count,
Semper Fidelis,
The Cloven King Rises,
The Fire,
Iron and Ash,
Cell Block 3,
Like Most Terrible Things,
The Hospital,
A Psychologist,
Eight Months,
Ave Maria,
Halved and Bound,
30,000 Leagues,
Bind and Break and Find and Take,
Les Cinq Doigts,
Please, Let Me Get What I Want,
The Legend of the Golden Raven,
Note from the Author,
About the Author,

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