Authors: Megan Abbott
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #FIC031000
NEW YORK BOSTON LONDON
For Janet Nase
he, light-streaky out of the corner of my eye. It’s that game, the one called Bloody Murder, the name itself sending tingly
nerves shooting buckshot in my belly, my gut, or wherever nerves may be. It’s so late and we shouldn’t be out at all, but
we don’t care.
Voices pitchy, giddy, raving, we are all chanting that deathly chant that twists, knifelike, in the ear of the appointed victim.
One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, four o’clock, five o’clock
… And it’s Evie, she’s it, lost at choosies, and now it will be her doom. But she’s a good hider, the best I’ve ever seen,
and I predict wild surprises, expect to find her rolled under a saggy front porch or buried under three inches of dirt in
Mom’s own frilly flower bed.
Six o’clock, seven o’clock, eight o’clock, nine o’clock,
the cruel death trill we intone, such monsters we,
ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock, MIDNIGHT! Bloody murder!
We all scream, our voices cruel and insane, and we scatter fast, like fireflies all a-spread.
I love the sound of our Keds slamming on the asphalt, the poured concrete. There are five, maybe ten of us, and we’re all
playing, and the streetlamps promise safety, but for how long?
Oh, Evie, I see you there, twenty yards ahead, your peach terry cloth shorts twitching as you run so fast, as you whip your
head around, that dark curtain of hair tugging in your mouth,
open, shouting, screaming even. It’s a game of horrors and it’s the thing pounding in my chest, I can’t stop it. I see you,
Evie, you’re just a few feet from the Faheys’ chimney, from home base. Oh, it’s the greatest game of all and Evie is sure
to win. You might make it, Evie, you might. My heart is bursting, it’s bursting.
t was long ago, centuries. A quivery mirage of a thirteen-year-old’s summer, like a million other girl summers, were it not
for Evie, were it not for Evie’s thumping heart and all those twisting things untwisting.
There I am at the Verver house, all elbows and freckled jaw and heels of hands rubbed raw on gritty late summer grass. A boy-girl,
like Evie, and nothing like her sister, Dusty, a deeply glamorous seventeen. A movie star, in halter tops and eyelet and clacking
Dr. Scholl’s. Eyelashes like gold foil and eyes the color of watermelon rind and a soft, curvy body. Always shiny-lipped and
bright white-teethed, lip smack, flash of tongue, lashes bristling, color high and surging up her cheeks.
A moment alone, I would steal a peek in Dusty’s room, clogged with the cotton smell of baby powder and lip gloss and hands
wet with hair spray. Her bed was a big pink cake with faintly soiled flounces and her floor dappled with the tops of nail
polish bottles, with plastic-backed brushes heavy with hair, with daisy-dappled underwear curled up like pipe cleaner, jeans
inside out, the powdery socks still in them, folded-up notes from all her rabid boyfriends, shiny tampon wrappers caught in
the edge of the bedspread, where it hit the mint green carpet. It seemed like Dusty was forever cleaning the room, but even
she herself could not stop the constant, effervescing explosions of girl.
Alongside such ecstatic pink loveliness, Evie and I, we were
all snips and snails, and when permitted into her candied interior, we were like furtive intruders.
You see, knowing Evie so well, knowing her bone-deep, it meant knowing her whole family, knowing the books they kept on their
living room shelf (
The Little Drummer Girl, Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, Lonesome Dove
), the banana bark chair in the living room and the way it felt under your fingers, the rose milk lotion on Mrs. Verver’s
dressing table—I wanted to sink my face into it.
I couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t skittering down their carpeted steps, darting around the dining room table, jumping
on Mr. and Mrs. Ververs’ queen-size bed.
There were other things to know too. Secrets so exciting that they were shared only in hushed giggles under the rippling flannel
of sleeping bags. Did you know? Evie whispers, and tells me Dusty is named after the singer whose album her parents played
sixteen times the night she was conceived. It is thrilling and impossible. I cannot, even in my most devilish thoughts about
the hidden wickedness and folly of grown-ups, imagine Mrs. Verver turning her child’s name into a lurid, private wink.
Not Mrs. Verver. Living next door all of my life, I never knew her to laugh loudly or run for the phone or dance at the drunken
block parties every July. Tidy, bland voice as flat as a drum, she was the fleeting thing, the shadow moving from room to
room in the house. She worked as an occupational therapist at the VA hospital, and I was never sure what that meant, and no
one ever talked about it anyway. Mostly, you’d just see her from the corner of your eye, carrying a laundry basket, slipping
from hallway to bedroom, a fat paperback folded over her wispy hand. Those hands, they always seemed dry, almost dusty, and
her body seemed too bony for her daughters, or her husband, to hug.
Oh, and Mr. Verver, Mr. Verver, Mr. Verver, he’s the one always vibrating in my chest, under my fingernails, in all kinds
of places. There’s much to say of him and my mouth can’t manage it, even now. He hums there still.
Mr. Verver, who could throw a football fifty yards and build princess vanity tables for his daughters and take us roller-skating
or bowling, who smelled of fresh air and limes and Christmas nutmeg all at once—a smell that meant “man” to his girls ever
after. Mr. Verver, he was there. I couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t craning my neck to look up at him, forever waiting
to hear more, hungry for the moments he would shine his attentions on me.
hese are all the good things, and there were such good things. But then there were the other things, and they seemed to come
later, but what if they didn’t? What if everything was there all along, creeping soundlessly from corner to corner, shuddering
fast from Evie’s nighttime whispers, from the dark hollows of that sunny-shingled house, and I didn’t hear it? Didn’t see
Here I was knowing everything and nothing at all.
There are times now when I look at those weeks before it happened and they have the quality of revelation. It was all there,
all the clues, all the bright corners illuminated. But of course it wasn’t that way at all. And I could not have seen it.
I could not, could not.
Sometimes I dream I’m playing soccer with Evie again, all this time later. First I’m alone on the field. It’s all green-black
and I’m knocking the ball around between my feet. My round little legs beneath me. My funny little thirteen-year-old body,
compact and strange. Bruise on my thigh. Scab on my knee. Ink on my
hand from doodling in class. Wisped hair pressed by cool girly sweat onto my forehead. Arms like short spindles and stubby
fingers protruding. Barely buds under my shiny green V-neck jersey. If I run my hands over them, they will hardly notice.
Hips still angular like a boy’s, rotating with each kick, passing the ball between my feet, waiting for Evie, who’s there
in a flash of dark heat before me. Breath splashing my face, her leg wedging between my legs and knocking the ball free, off
into the dark green distance, farther than she ever meant it to go.
When I remember Evie now she is always slipping through shadows. Big, dark, haunted eyes rimmed with red. Running across the
soccer field, face flushed, straight black sheet of hair rippling across her back. Running so hard, her breath stippled with
pain to go faster, hit the grass harder, move forward faster, like she could break through something in front of her, something
no one else saw.
t is May, the last month of middle school, and Evie, who is my best friend, is propped up on Nurse Stang’s examining table,
so steely cold it stings my teeth to look at it.
“Does it hurt?” I ask, and Nurse Stang throws me an irritated look. She is holding a large pack of ice over Evie’s left eye.
“You only get one set of these,” she says, and makes to poke Evie right between the eyes. “What kind of girl hooks her stick
into another girl like that.”
“It was her sister,” I say, and I’m smiling a little at Evie, from underneath Nurse Stang’s raised arm.”
“I was near the goal,” Evie says, mush-mouthed, her eye tearing. “It’s what she had to do.”
Dusty had been showing us her moves. High school star, the golden goddess of the Green Hollow Celts, she was getting us ready
for August, for our first high school tryouts. She plucked our twig arms and said,
You two paper dolls have wasted years knocking soccer balls
. Chin high, hand on hip, she told us the time was ripe, we must make our move and ascend to the one true sport, to the deeper
glories of field hockey.
I’d do anything Dusty said. I’d let her drill us forever. Even when it made you so tired, almost sick from the exhaustion
and heat, it didn’t matter, because you were with her, and she was
everything you wanted. You’d be about to collapse, then you’d look up and there she’d be, face gleaming, telling you, without
You can do better, can’t you?
And you could.
Nurse Stang calls Evie’s mom, watching us the whole time.
“You should have been wearing something,” she says, hanging up the phone. “They’re supposed to put goggles on you girls…”
“We were just messing around,” I say.
Just then Evie spits out her mouth guard, red speckled. All three of us look at it.
“What in the world,” Nurse Stang says, her voice pitched suddenly high. She tosses the ice pack at me and peers deep into
Evie’s mouth, thrusting with her fingers, looking for something.
“I bit my tongue,” Evie says, her voice thickening. “I bit into it.” A strand of blood slips down her chin, and I start to
feel dizzy. I look at the mouth guard, which is split clean through.
“You,” Nurse Stang says to me, holding Evie’s tongue between newly scarlet fingers, “get the needle and thread.”
e’re walking home and Evie is leaning close, wagging her tongue out at me, the cloudy gauze nearly tickling my face. She’s
flaunting it mercilessly. We’re always eager for war wounds. Oh, her fury when I sprained my arm falling from the top of the
rusty old slide in Rabbit Park.
“Your dad is going to be mad at Dusty,” I say, scraping my stick on the sidewalk, which I’m not supposed to do, but the sound
is so satisfying.
“I don’t think so,” Evie lisps. “That’s the game.”
I think of ringletted Dusty, goalkeeper mask propped up daintily over her forehead. “Show me what you got, runt.”
“You don’t know the game,” Evie adds.
“I know as much as you,
” I say, leaning in and flicking the bandage on her stuck-out tongue with my finger.
We stop at her house. There’s no car in the driveway and all the lights are off. These are moments to be seized on, never
“Do you want to go to Perry’s?” she says, tugging the bandage off for good. I can see the threaded x-marks-the-spot on the
tip of her tongue. One, two, three, four. One for each pointy tooth.
eppermint-stripe awning, wall-to-wall white like the soft vanilla filling of a Creamsicle, Perry’s is the place all the kids
in our class go. Next fall, when we’re in high school, we’ll have to go to the Ram’s Horn restaurant instead, where my brother,
Ted, goes, and there is nothing under five dollars there, and there are no counter stools to spin on and the lighting is grown-up
I am eating an Oreo sundae, picking wedges of cookie carefully from my molars. With great concentration, Evie is eating her
favorite: a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup sundae—the kind where they give you the long spoon to get all the peanut butter silted
up in the narrow bottom. She shoves the spoon far into the back of her mouth, to miss the stitches.