As development overturns the landscape of North Carolina, tenth-grader Chris Fuller knows he'll end up fighting Brandon, a new kid who just moved into the housing development that destroyed Chris's beloved pine forest. Brandon turns out to be a real runner, far better than Chris, shows no respect for locals, and when it comes to a school project that has Chris baffled, slams his hand down and says, "It's as good as done!" Chris needs an idea for the project, but mostly he's trying to find a way to be talking to violinist Muriel. She makes the crazy suggestion he try talking to someone from the past, anyone who might give him an idea. But he's pretty sure he's already been spoken to, maybe by a mythological night sky jaguar, who asks, "Do you know how fire burns in water?" When Chris's first idea falters and he gets desperate, the jaguar makes a way for Brandon's troubled past and Chris's faithfulness as a friend to cross paths and carry them to a new place of standing and friendship.