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Authors: Megan Miranda

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BOOK: Hysteria
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Then they all walked up to the hole in the ground. His mother dropped a handful of
dirt into it, and someone, I’m not sure who, but someone released this
noise.
This horrible, unnatural sound

a
wail.
It traveled across the field and through the pickets of the fence. And it buried itself
deep within my stomach, like grief was a concrete thing. It settled inside me, and
there wasn’t room for anything else, not even air. I was suffocating. I turned around
with my back pressed up hard against the fence, and I felt hot and cold all at once,
but then only hot. And I vomited into the bushes behind me.

Then they were coming. They all crossed back over the street, finding their way to
their cars parked along the curb. I held my breath between the fence posts. Brian’s
mom was right there. I could reach out and touch her between the slats. I couldn’t
see her face, but she paused right in front of me and tilted her head to the side.
Like maybe that whole time she had been listening for me. Then Dylan was beside her,
pulling her along. I saw her jaw tense, and that vein, seething.

Later that night, when Colleen snuck over to see me, I said, “The funeral was today,”
because I wanted her to tell me why she went.

And she said, “Really? I thought it was next week.” I still didn’t know why she went,
but at least I knew why she wouldn’t admit to it then: there was nothing quite like
watching Brian’s body being lowered into the ground to fully understand the horror
of what I had done.

Someone was running up the path. Heavy steps, stomping the dirt. I crouched lower.
And then a muffled voice said, “Shit.” A decidedly male voice. I scrambled to my knees
and peeked over the top, breathing in the dust from the bricks under my nose. Reid
was scanning the woods beyond, my second pair of flip-flops in his hands.

I stood up, brushing the dust and debris from my shorts.

“God, are you trying to kill me?” He stepped over the piles of bricks, but froze a
few feet away. He shook his head to himself and stared at the bricks. “I mean, you
could’ve gotten me in a lot of trouble.” He held my shoes toward me again, like a
peace offering.

I took the shoes and slid them onto my feet. “I guess it’s no secret, huh?” At least
I knew why he’d been staring at me when I crossed center campus.

He had the decency not to act like he didn’t know what I was talking about. “It is
and it isn’t,” he finally said. “Jason’s dad is Dean Dorchester, so no luck there.
And Krista’s part of the family, though she was away for the summer, so I don’t know
if she knows yet.” She did. She definitely did.

“Siblings?” Made perfect sense to me. They had the same hair color and, from what
I could tell, the same cold attitude.

Reid shook his head. “Cousins.”

“What about you, Reid?” It’s not like our dads could confide in each other anymore.

He looked away. “I heard from Jason.”

“You’re friends?” I didn’t know why I assumed they wouldn’t be

it’s not like I knew him all that well. And even when I did, I never saw him with
his school friends. He could’ve been an entirely different person with them. Like
how being with Colleen made me bolder, more sure of myself, more confident.

Reid paused, like he was thinking really hard about the question. “We’re teammates.
And secrets are like currency here. You tell one, you’re owed one. There’s a hierarchy
to it.”

“You’re high up?”

He shrugged. “I’m high up.”

Reid’s eyes skimmed the trees as they rustled, like the wind was a thing and he could
trace its path. “You shouldn’t be here. It’s not safe.”

I looked around. The remaining walls were kind of unsteady, but nothing seemed dangerous
about it. Reid continued, “This is the old student center. You know what’s past here?”

“No,” I said.

“Nothing. Well, not nothing, just nothing you’ll ever find your way out of again.”

“It’s just trees.”

“No, not trees, a forest.”

Now that was something I could understand. The way a bunch of little things can become
something bigger

something more than the sum of its parts. I stared off into the distance, no longer
seeing the trees stacked up behind one another, but seeing this big
thing

a forest, a living, breathing single entity.

“Once you get going,” Reid said, also staring off into the distance, “it’s hard to
find your way back out again. There’s this story about this kid, Jack Danvers, who
got lost during initi

Anyway, he wandered off one night and didn’t come back.”

A chill ran down my spine. “What happened?”

“Don’t know. They never found a body. I tried to look it up but couldn’t find anything.
Didn’t you notice that form you had to sign about not going into the woods? It basically
excuses the school from liability. And a few years ago, the school finally raised
enough money to build a new student center so we could stay more centralized.”

I stared off into the trees, thinking about that kid who disappeared. I wondered what
the end was like for him

was it fast? Slow? Was he scared? Resigned? Was it violent? Gradual? But then I realized
it didn’t matter. Dead is dead is dead.

The wind blew and Reid narrowed his eyes at the woods. “Sometimes I think I can feel
. . .”

I shivered and cleared my throat. I didn’t want to talk about ghosts. “Anything else
I should know?”

“Jason’s an ass. Don’t let him get to you.”

I shook my head, about to explain that it wasn’t Jason I was running from, but I wasn’t
about to offer up yet another secret for distribution. If secrets were currency, I
was holding onto the ones I had left. “Noted,” I said.

“So come on,” he said, holding his hand out for me. I stared at his open palm, at
the lifeline running down it.

Colleen traced mine once, back in middle school. She ran the dark nail of her pointer
finger along the crease toward my wrist and said, “Better live while you can.” I had
laughed uncomfortably, and Colleen had smiled, even though she’d been trying to keep
a straight face. “Just kidding,” she’d said. “We’re going to live forever.” Because
that’s exactly the type of thing you think when you’re twelve.

Reid’s arm eventually dropped to his side. “Come on,” he said again, but this time
without the open palm.

I pictured us walking back together, side by side on the narrow trail. Either in awkward
silence, where I’d be thinking about how he used to be, or with him telling me stories
about Monroe, like almost kissing me wasn’t something worth remembering.

“I like it here,” I said. “Quiet.”

He dug at the dirt with the toe of his shoe, but didn’t make any move to leave.

“I won’t get lost. Promise.”

“Okay,” he said, making his way through the rubble again. “So I’ll see you later?”

“Later,” I said.

After he’d left, after I couldn’t hear his footsteps, even in the distance, and after
I couldn’t really even hear the scurrying of animals anymore, I maneuvered my way
back over the piles of bricks and shuffled down the dirt path, back toward Monroe.
I stood in front of the apparently not-main gate watching the students weave around
in pairs and clusters. But before I went back through the gate, I had to know. I had
to get close enough to check the license plate

check to make sure it was her. Before I called Dad. I skirted the edge of campus,
easing my way slowly down the street, watching for the car.

I kept moving until I could see the main gate that Reid had been pointing out. Smaller
and single arched, but smack dead in the middle of the school. From here to the gate,
no car. And beyond, as far as I could see, no car. I squinted, straining to differentiate
the shades of green on the shoulder of the road. The sun had sunk below the tree line,
and the shadows loomed again. I tiptoed down the road, the noises from campus getting
farther away, and eventually darted to the other side of the street, where I was sure
I’d seen the car.

Weeds tickled my calves and the backs of my knees as I made my way through the underbrush.
Nothing. I turned around to go back, wondering if I had imagined it all, if my brain
put it in my head

like how I’d see Brian’s shadow against my furniture in the dark. And then I stepped
into a hole. A flattening of weeds. And beside it, another. And ahead, two more. The
indentations from the tires of a car.

I whipped my head over my shoulder and stared into the trees

no, into the forest. I closed my eyes and listened for sounds from a car. The shadows
stretched farther, crisscrossing the street, making the gate to Monroe contort backward,
concave, like a spoon. I swatted at a mosquito on the back of my arm. And then the
first firefly of the evening flashed in front of me. Light on. Light off. Here and
not here. Like a signal to the rest, they lit up the roadside.

One flittered in front of my face, black as night. Light off, it flew.

The night Brian died, Colleen was catching fireflies on my back patio when I stepped
outside. She had one cupped in her hand, and when I walked down the steps, she released
it into my face, laughing as I swatted it away. “I think that’s bad luck,” she said.
“Like breaking a mirror or walking under a ladder or something.”

“I thought you were grounded,” I said, looking over her outfit: black miniskirt, tight
blue top.

“I was. Until Martha next door got in a fight with her husband and my mom went over,
and my bedroom window just happened to slide open a little, and I just happened to
fall out of it. And then I just so happened to remember that Brian is having a party
this very instant.”

“There’s late, there’s fashionably late, then there’s
God-where-were-you-you-missed-everything
late. Guess which one we are.”

“He’s your boyfriend. Or something.” She smirked.

I grinned. “My parents will be home in two hours. What’s the point?”

“What’s the point? What’s the
point
?” She gripped me by the shoulders and shook. “Cody fucking Parker, that’s the point!”

“He called?”

“No, he texted.” She fumbled around in her bag and pressed a few buttons on her phone
and held it in front of my face, the screen illuminated like the firefly.

where
U
at

Classy.

“I’m not ready,” I said.

“So get ready.”

I smiled. Colleen smiled back, big and toothy. “Two minutes, Mallory.”

I took three. Exchanged my boxers for a jean skirt and threw on a black tank top.
Since we were
God-where-were-you-you-missed-everything
late, we didn’t walk up to the beach, down the boardwalk, and cut back in, even though
it was safer according to my parents, who didn’t like me walking in the alleys after
dark. Especially since people came and went so quickly in the summer, renting homes
for a month, or a week. Then they’d be gone and replaced with more people we’d never
get a chance to know.

So as we walked, Colleen took out her black mini canister of pepper spray with the
key ring on the end and swung it around on her pointer finger.

BOOK: Hysteria
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ads

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