Thyra Ariksen’s heart pounded in her ears as she spun past the defender and snapped her lacrosse stick forward. Time seemed to slow down as her eyes tracked the ball on its course through the air. She could tell from the ball’s path that the hapless Meridian goalie had no chance of stopping it.
Thyra pumped her fist and let out a triumphant yell as the ball snapped the back of the net. Her voice mixed with cheers from the eighty spectators as her teammates rushed to mob her.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a game on our hands!” a voice over the loudspeaker said. “With that score by Thyra Ariksen, Timberline High has tied the game at twelve with three minutes remaining in the second half of the State Girls’ Lacrosse Championship.”
Thyra was so pumped after scoring the goal that the announcer’s butchering of her name didn’t bother her the way it usually did. No matter how many times she told people it was pronounced ‘teer-ah’, they still said ‘thigh-ra’, like she was a chicken thigh on the loose.
The Timberline team hurried back to the middle of the field, taking note of the signal from their coach to have Thyra go to the center for the ball drop from the referee. Thyra approached the center of the field and dropped down to her hands and knees. Just across from her, a dark-haired girl in the blue and gold of Meridian High did the same. Thyra wasn’t surprised to see that it was Maddie Tramwell, the leader of the Meridian team and Thyra’s rival for lead scorer in both club and school seasons.
Maddie had been the premier lacrosse player in Idaho for years and had offers from several universities to play for them after she graduated in a few short weeks. Although she was older than Thyra, they had played against each other for the past two years, with Maddie always maintaining her spot as the best girls’ lacrosse player.
Until this year, that is. At the end of the season, it was Maddie Tramwell with sixty-five goals scored and Thyra with seventy. The Meridian senior hadn’t been pleased to have her title usurped by a sophomore, and their rivalry had turned even icier.
“You won’t get another one,” Maddie said around her mouth guard. “I’m gonna send you home crying.”
“I’m surprised to see you at the circle,” Thyra said. “I thought your coach liked to keep you wrapped in bubble wrap over along the sidelines.”
Maddie sneered. “I’ll remember you when I lift the Championship trophy next week.”
Thyra bit down hard to keep from firing off the first thing that came to her. It had been a physical game, and her blood had been on low boil since the start of the second half. So far, she had managed to keep her temper in check. Letting it take control, this close to the end, would not do her or her team any good.
The referee came over and blew his whistle, dropping the ball to the ground. Thyra’s eyes tracked it as it fell and she burst into motion the moment it hit the ground, her stick swiping across and knocking the ball out of the reach of her opponent. Thrya was on her feet in a flash and after the ball. She saw two of the Meridian defenders rushing to intercept the ball, but she beat them to it easily, scooping it up with her stick in a fluid motion. She lowered her shoulder and pushed past them into the open field.
Thyra’s electric blue eyes scanned the field and caught sight of a black jersey streaking towards the goal to her right. Her teammate held up her stick as she entered an open space and Thyra passed the ball with a swift motion. Thyra pivoted and cut to the left behind a Meridian defender too busy watching the ball’s progress to mark her. Remembering what her lacrosse coach always told the team, she kept moving without the ball and looked for space.
The Meridian defenders all began to sink toward their goal, cutting off the Timberline attack. Their attention was on the movement of the ball and they didn’t notice the pocket that opened just to the right of the goal. Thyra saw the opening and hoped that the ball would find its way to her when she got there. Streaking to the left, she curled around behind the goal.
As if sensing Thyra’s presence, her teammate rushed towards the goal, drawing the defenders towards her. Just before she ran into a knot of blue and gold, she faked a shot on goal, pivoted, and snapped her stick to the side. Thyra saw the ball streaking through the air and reached out with her stick. She felt the tug as the ball entered her stick’s pocket, and spun on her heels, bringing her stick around in a blur.
The Meridian goalkeeper never had a chance to stop the ball as it zipped past her and into the back of the net.
Thyra leapt into the air and pumped her fist as the referee’s whistle blew. She slid to her knees as her teammates rushed to mob her.
“Another lightning fast goal by Thyra Ariksen! That makes six, and the Timberline ladies have needed all of them tonight. With that, Timberline moves into the lead with two and a half minutes left to play.”
Thyra could suddenly hear the sound of Coach Jones’s voice yelling for his team to get back for the face-off. Thyra looked and saw the referee already moving back to the circle, ball in hand. Clearly, he was in no mood to let the clock tick down while the Timberline team celebrated. Thyra rushed back to the circle and got into position.
On cue, Maddie dropped into position across from her.
“No more,” she hissed.
Thyra smiled cockily. “You said that last time.”
The referee’s whistle sounded as he dropped the ball between them. Thyra tried to swipe the ball to the side, but Maddie was ready this time and got her stick in the way. They came together, jostling for position and the ball. The Meridian girl suddenly shifted position giving Thyra an open path to the ball, but just as Thyra reached out with her stick, she felt a lancing pain run up her left arm, and she let go of her stick. Thyra waited for the whistle to blow in response to the illegal check but no whistle came. Too late, she realized that Maddie had used her body to block the ref from seeing the cheap shot.
By the time Thyra recovered, the Meridian team was already streaking down the field with the ball. Thyra hurried to give chase but was too late. She could only watch as the Meridian girls made three swift, precise passes before sending the tying score into the back of the net.
Coach Jones was yelling at the ref as Thyra walked back to the center of the field. Clearly, he had seen the cheap shot from where he stood, but the ref ignored him as he trotted back to the center of the field.
Thyra glanced up into the crowd—the bleachers were full of spectators tonight—and looked at the spot where her mom, Sharon, sat. As always, her mom was one of the loudest in the stands. Tall and athletic, Sharon Ariksen looked like she could easily run out onto the field and run circles around any of the girls. She made a motion to remind Thyra to breathe, and Thyra nodded her understanding.
“Thyra!” Coach Jones yelled, snapping her out of the daze she had fallen into. He held up his thumbs with a concerned look. “You good?”
Thyra nodded and gave him a quick thumbs-up before hustling back to the center and getting into position.
“The score is tied again, ladies and gentlemen, with less than two minutes to go in play. This looks like it will be a true battle for the ages, and it very well may come down to the very end.”
Cheers from the crowd for both teams filled the air in response to the statement.
“Did I hurt you, cupcake?”
Thyra scowled as Maddie got down into position with a smile on her face.
“Don’t call me that,” Thyra said.
“Why not, cupcake?” Maddie sneered. “Does it hurt your feelings?”
Thyra’s tenuous hold on her temper evaporated. This time, when the whistle blew, Thyra didn’t watch the ball fall. Her eyes never left Maddie’s face as she hurried to scoop up the ball. Thyra let the Meridian senior get to her feet uncontested and start running. She stuck close until she saw Maddie begin to make a pass. Thyra didn’t let her finish the motion. She charged forward and put her shoulder squarely into Maddie’s side.
At sixteen, Thyra was younger than most of the girls she played with, but years of gymnastics and months spent in a local CrossFit box had covered her five-foot ten frame with layers of hard muscle that few girls her age could match. She had a reputation for punishing opponents with her unique mix of speed, strength, and killer instinct. When she hit someone, they felt it. Maddie Tramwell was no different and ended up in a heap on the ground, gasping for breath.
Thyra stood over the prostrate form of the Meridian girl and sneered. “Did that hurt, marshmallow?”
The whistle blew as the ref came rushing in.
“Charging!” The ref called out. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a yellow card. “Two-minute penalty and both sides receive a final warning!”
Thyra couldn’t believe it as she turned to the ref. “Two minutes?! That’s the rest of the game. You might as well eject me!”
“Cool it, young lady,” the ref said grimly.
“Cool it?” Thyra asked, her eyebrows rising. The referee was probably old enough to be her father, but that didn’t matter as Thyra stepped up so that she was nose-to-nose with him. “If you weren’t so blind you would have seen that cheap shot she gave me and she’d be the one who got the penalty. But, no! You’re too busy counting down the seconds until you can go back to whatever hole in the wall you live in to actually do what you’re being paid for!”
“Last chance,” the ref said.
“Last chance for what?” Thyra snapped. “Open your eyes and ref the game.”
“Should have kept your trap shut,” the ref said. He stepped back and held up a red card. “You’re ejected!”
Thyra’s eyes went ablaze, but her teammates appeared between her and the ref before she could give the ref a real reason to eject her. She fought against the hold for a moment, but finally allowed them to push her away from ref.
Meanwhile, Coach Jones had gone apoplectic on the sideline. “Ejected? What for? That was a legal hit, ref! You’ve got to be kidding me. Where did you learn to call the game? The U10 league?”
“Cool it, coach, or it will get worse for your team” the ref warned. “Meridian starts with the ball.”
Thyra’s teammates ushered her to the sideline and off the field. She walked by Coach Jones but couldn’t bring herself to meet his eyes.
“Bad timing, Thyra,” he said as she passed. Those words stung deeper than any lecture he might have given her.
“That was a crap call, Thyra,” one of her teammates said in an attempt to console her, but Thyra was too angry to respond.
She tore off her goggles and threw them onto the ground before sinking down onto the bench, unable to look up and watch the rest of the game. She had done it again. She had let her temper get away from her and had let her team down right when they needed her most. This kind of temper tantrum might be forgivable in any other situation, but in the championship game? Thyra felt sick just thinking about it.
She heard the rumble of the loudspeaker but was too numb to register what was happening on the field. At some point, she became faintly aware of her teammates dropping onto the bench next to her with defeated expressions and tears in their eyes. That was all the confirmation she needed that her fears had come true. The sound of the final score came over the loudspeaker and rang in her ears.
“The Meridian girls are State Champions with a 14-13 win over the Timberline Wolves.”
Thyra covered her face with her hands. She heard Coach Jones say something as her teammates slumped onto the bench beside her but was too numb to hear or care. She didn’t know how long she sat there with her head in her hands, but she was aware of her teammates getting up and leaving one by one until she sat alone.
Finally, she felt someone put a hand on her shoulder and a familiar voice spoke softly. “Hey, Lightning Bolt.”
Thyra looked up at her mom and saw the puffiness in her eyes.
“Let’s go home,” Sharon said softly. “We can grab a pizza on the way. Maybe you can convince me to get some ice cream, too. Eat our feelings until we’re too sick to care. What do you say? I think a night like this calls for some Chocolate Brownie Thunder or Moose Tracks.”
“I’m not hungry,” Thyra said softly.
“We both know that’s not true,” Sharon said. “You’re always hungry.”
“Not tonight,” Thyra said glumly.
Sharon sighed softly. “It was a bad ending to the game, Thyra. But it isn’t anything that a pizza and ice cream-induced coma can’t help soothe away.”
Thyra wasn’t so ready to forget the sting of the loss, but she felt her anger melting as she looked up at her mom.
“As long as you buy each of us a pint.”
Sharon’s megawatt smile split her face. “I think that can be arranged. Come on, Lightning Bolt.”
Thyra retrieved her gear and stood up. Sharon wrapped an arm around her daughter and began to lead her towards the parking lot.
They were halfway to the car when her smile faded and she cleared her throat. Thyra cringed in expectation of the lecture she knew was coming.
“That was quite the hit you put on Maddie Tramwell,”
“She called me ‘cupcake’,” Thyra explained. “I couldn’t let that slide.”
“Yes, you could have,” Sharon said. “We’ve talked about this, sweetheart. I love that you play hard, but that temper of yours gets you into trouble. You went head-hunting when you should have kept your cool.”
Thyra let the rebuke sting for a moment. “Do you think Coach Jones will be mad for long?”
“I’m sure his face will return to its normal color by next season,” Sharon answered. “Maybe you’ll get away easy and he’ll only make you carry all the equipment bags for half the club season. But I’d plan on spending some time on the bench this summer if I were you.”
Thyra grimaced at the thought.
Her phone buzzed in her bag and she pulled it out. She saw she had a message from Rich, one of the boys’ lacrosse players that she knew. She opened the message and saw a link with a few words written below it. You’re YouTube famous! This baby’s going viral!
Thyra tapped on the link and waited while the video loaded. She immediately wished she hadn’t. She saw Maddie Tramwell running with the ball and then suddenly go airborne as a girl with a wrist-thick, blond braid bull-dozed into her. It sounded like a thunderclap and groans from the crowd were audible as they reacted. Thyra cringed as she watched herself stand over her downed rival. The video zoomed in on just as the referee came rushing into view. The video had a good look at her face for a brief moment just before she spun on the referee.
What she saw during that brief moment made her stomach sink—her eyes shone an unnatural electric blue!
“What’s that?” Sharon asked.
Thyra watched the video again before turning the phone so that her mom could see. She pressed play and waited to the end, hoping that she had imagined the flash of light, but she saw it again. It was brief, but there was no mistaking it.
“Did you see that?” Thyra asked. “What was that at the end?”
“See what?” Sharon asked. She cringed and shook her head. “That hit looks worse from this angle.”
“Not the hit,” Thyra said. She rewound the video and froze it on her face. “That! Look at my eyes. That flash of light.”
“What are you talking about?” Sharon said. “I don’t see anything.”
“My eyes!” Thyra said. “They’re glowing! Do you see that?”
“Glowing?” Sharon laughed dismissively, although Thyra swore she saw a tightening around her mom’s eyes. “Don’t be silly. It’s just the way the light hit them. Your eyes have always done that when the light hits them just right.”
“Like that?” Thyra asked.
“It’s something that’s always been special about you,” Sharon said.
“How come I’ve never noticed it before?” Thyra asked.
“It only happens when the light is right, and it’s always just for an instant,” Sharon explained. “You’ve never seen it because you’re never looking in a mirror when it happens.”
Thyra wasn’t sure she believed her mom’s explanation. “You don’t think that looks weird?”
“No, it’s just the way your eyes are,” Sharon said. She shrugged. “What else would it be?”
Thyra didn’t have an answer for that. She stared at the still of the video. There was no doubt in her mind that her eyes were shining. No, not shining—glowing!
“You’re tired, sweetheart,” Sharon said. “It was just a trick of the light. Nothing to worry about.”
Thyra grudgingly closed the video and slid her phone back into her bag. Her mom’s explanation made some sense, and there were no rational alternatives. While it bothered her that she had never heard mention of this “special” characteristic, she realized that she might be exaggerating what she saw. She was tired and was coming off an adrenaline high and was probably just imagining things.
“You’re probably right,” Thyra relented. “It was just a trick of the lighting.”
“Of course, I’m right,” Sharon said. “Now, about that pizza and ice cream. How does an extra-large Hawaiian sound?”
Thyra rolled her eyes and sighed. “Pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza, Mom.”
Sharon gave her a shocked look. “Says who?”
“Everyone,” Thyra said with a chuckle.
Sharon shook her head, pulling Thyra’s head onto her shoulder and a sad expression crossing her face. “I’m so sorry I’ve failed you. To think, my child doesn’t like pineapple on her pizza? Where did I go wrong?”
Thyra snorted but kept her head on her mom’s shoulder. It felt good to have her close.
They were almost to the parking lot when Thyra felt an itch between her shoulder blades. She turned and looked back toward the field. A lone man stood at the end of the bleachers, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched Thyra and her mom. Even from a distance, Thyra could feel a strange, predatory energy coming from him that sent a shiver down her spine.
“Something wrong, sweetheart?” Sharon asked.
“There’s a man watching us,” Thyra said in a quiet voice as she faced forward again.
“A man?” Sharon turned around. “What man?”
“The one at the end of the bleachers,” Thyra said. “He’s got dark hair and a beard.”
Sharon shook her head. “Honey, there’s no one there.”
Thyra spun around, her eyes going to the spot where she had seen him, but the man was gone.
“I swear I saw someone standing there,” Thyra said. She looked at her mom and saw the concern there. “I’m being honest, Mom. I saw a man standing there watching us.”
“I believe you,” Sharon said. She glanced back toward the field and shrugged. “But whoever it was is gone now. Probably just a maintenance worker here to check on the field and turn off the lights.”
“Maybe,” Thyra said grudgingly. She shook her head. “Maybe I’m just seeing things.”
Sharon smiled ruefully. “Glowing eyes and a strange man watching you from the stands? I think you’re just tired. Let’s get home. Pizza, ice cream, and a cheesy rom-com is exactly what you need.”
Sharon linked her arm through Thyra’s and led her to the car. Thyra threw her bag into the trunk and slid into the passenger seat with a sigh. As she did, she noticed that her mom lingered for a moment before getting into the car, her eyes scanning the field carefully. Her features tightened and the concern expression returned.
But then it disappeared. Sharon slid into the car, a smile on her face. She started the car and turned up the radio with a laugh.
“Pizza and ice cream coma here we come!”
Thyra smiled in appreciation of her mom’s attempts at alleviating her distress over the loss of the game, but the smile was superficial. She couldn’t move on from the loss that quickly. Even worse, she couldn’t forget the video and the glow she was sure she saw in her eyes.
As the car pulled away, Thyra glanced back at the field, hoping against hope that the man she thought she had seen wouldn’t be there.
Her stomach sank. He was back, and the feeling of his eyes on her made Thyra’s skin crawl. Thyra was about to say something to her mom when the strange man took a step into the shadows and disappeared.