This is how it happens.
It’s night, and the stars are out in full force, unnaturally bright against the light pollution of the city. By all rights, they should be barely visible, yet they shine clearly, twinkling pinpoints in a quilt of black. Laying over them in loose, asymmetrical strips, thin clouds create a patchwork effect, splitting the sky into ragged stripes of black and white. The moon sits low, barely over the horizon, close and bright, casting long shadows and silhouetting the city in shades of gray.
The girl waits, balanced, at the top of the ramp. One half of her skateboard hangs freely out into the air, the wheels spinning aimlessly, while the other rests against the rough concrete. Her clothes, loose gray pants, a white tee and a denim vest, are tattered and worn, but there is a certain quality to the rips and tears that suggest intent behind their placement. A bright orange flat-brimmed cap does a poor job of concealing her hair, and orangey-blonde, curly locks spill down her back and sit on her shoulders. A small handbag with a poppy pattern on it sits off to the side. “50 bucks,” she says confidently.
“What?” scoffs the other girl at the bottom of the ramp. She is dressed in a similar fashion, with the same style of clothing damage, but she seems to be better prepared for the chilly wind that rakes across the skate park. A white bomber jacket clings tightly to her, and what little hair pokes out from beneath her beanie is bright purple in coloration. “No, no way. Kelly, I don’t even have 50 bucks.”
The first girl, Kelly, flips her hair over her shoulder with one hand. “Hey, you said I can’t do it. I do it, you owe me 50.”
“And if you can’t, you owe me 50?”
“Sure, whatever. It won’t matter, though, because I am gonna nail this.”
There are five of them, two girls and three boys. They look to be in their late teens, anywhere from 16 to 18. All of them are carrying skateboards of varying types and colours, except for the girl next to the bottom of the halfpipe. She’s holding a camera instead, the strap running over the back of her hand. A soft red light blinks next to the lenses, signifying that it is currently recording.
The three boys are standing off to the side, boards resting on the ground, engrossed in the phone of the one in the center. One briefly looks up and sees the girl waiting at the top of the half-pipe. He gives a half-sincere grin and a thumbs-up, then returns his attention to the screen.
“Kelly,” repeats the other girl, “I don’t want you doing this.” She’s pointing the camera up at her, fiddling with the knobs and dials. “But if you’re going to, then, fine. 50 bucks. Maybe it’ll encourage you to get it right.”
“Yesssss.” She pumps her fist in the air excitedly. The sudden action disturbs her balance, and she teeters dangerously for a moment, arms flailing, before managing to pull herself back. “See?” she says, slightly short of breath. “Nothing to worry about.”
The other girl sighs, still fiddling with the camera. “At least it’ll look good on YouTube,” she says to herself. “Alright, the camera’s rolling. Go for it, Kell.”
The girl grins, showman-like, at the camera. “Hey there. My name’s Kelly, and I’m about to show you the coolest shit you’ve ever seen.” With that, she moves her feet forward, letting the board tip forward over the edge of the pipe.
The group of boys look up from the phone, her actions apparently enough to entice them away from the flickering light of the phone. They cheer a little as she drops down into the half-pipe, quickly gaining speed. She races towards the bottom, leaning forward, arms outstretched behind her. “SUCK IT, TONY HAWK!” she yells at the top of her lungs as she begins to climb, garnering an involuntary chuckle from the camera-wielding girl.
She hits the top of the half pipe and shoots up into the air, flying much faster and higher than she should have been able to. As she rises, she kicks off the board with both feet, letting it continue on the upwards path. She flips backwards in the air, then does it again, and then a third time just before the apex. She and the board come to a stop at the same point, and she reaches out with one leg and, with impossible skill, flicks it with the tip of her foot, sending it spinning in place like a top. Falling now, upside down, she sticks a hand out and catches the board, continuing the spin on top of a raised index finger like a basketball. Just before reaching the ramp, she flicks it downwards and rights herself in one smooth motion, lining up her feet with the board’s top and the wheels with the edge of the pipe. The timing is slightly off, though, and the board makes contact with the concrete an instant before her feet grip its rough surface. The skateboard rolls smoothly down the pipe, but she rolls roughly after it, tumbling and crashing to the tune of a chorus of gasps. She comes to a stop at the bottom of the half-pipe, face down and one arm trapped underneath her body.
“Oh my god!” the girl cries as she rushes over to her friend’s limp form. “Are you okay?!” The boys follow, echoing her sentiment with varying degrees of concern and awe.
Kelly groans, rolling over onto her back. She is bleeding from multiple gashes and scrapes, more than a few in places that would have been covered by less-torn clothing. A few spots are already beginning to show the telltale discoloration that signifies bruising, one of them over her left eye. She is conscious, though, and in the large scale of things, unhurt. “Please don’t tell me you filmed that,” she says miserably.
“Still am,” the other girl replies, obviously relieved. “It was going really well, until you screwed up.”
She groans again, dropping her head back. “You’re not getting that 50 bucks, you know.”
There is no response. She sits up, ignoring the various aches and pains, concerned. “Guys? What’s-”
She cuts herself off as she sees their faces. They are all staring at her with a mix of trepidation and horror. “Kelly,” her friend asks cautiously, “are you… feeling okay?”
“…yeah,” she replies cautiously, “I’m fine. Why?”
“You’re on fucking fire, dude!” one of the boys blurts out.
She looks down at her hands, and the orange flames licking around them. “Oh,” she says weakly. “I… can’t feel anything. I think it might be okay?”
And then she begins screaming.
The flames race up her arms and engulf her body as her skin begins to blacken and char. They pass through red and blue in an instant, going a bright searing white as they surround her entirely. The heat is so intense that the concrete below begins to bubble, and the others have to step back to avoid being burned.
In a second, her skin is gone completely, muscle and fat exposed. That too begins melting, sloughing off bones in rough and uneven patterns, evaporating before even reaching the ground. Her screaming quickly fades as her throat is consumed, and the last thing visible in her eyes before they liquidate and boil away is pure terror and unimaginable pain.
The fire continues for a few moments, before vanishing abruptly. In its wake, it leaves nothing but charred and melted concrete, ash, and a pile of gleaming white bones.
As the screams of the teenagers fade into the distance, the ash swirls, guided by some unseen hand. It twists and dances in the air for a moment, before settling down on the scorched concrete in the shape of a word.