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Authors: James Preller

The Fall

BOOK: The Fall
11.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page


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This book is dedicated to my mother

Special thanks to Mark Lane, who read and responded to the original manuscript


I've come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done.

—Bryan Stevenson, TED Talks, March 5, 2012

I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is “Who in the world am I?” Ah, that's the great puzzle!

—Lewis Carroll,
Alice in Wonderland



Two weeks before Morgan Mallen threw herself off the water tower, I might have typed a message on her social media page that said, “Just die! Die! Die! No one cares about you anyway!”

(I'm just saying, it could have been me.)

And I say “could have” because the message was anonymous. Untraceable. Nobody knows who said that horrible thing. That was the beauty of the deal. Nobody knew exactly who said what, except for Athena, I guess. The rest of us sent messages from the shadow places and let them run loose like wolves in the forest.

No one was responsible.

I sure don't know who typed what. Whose fingers punched the keys? Who said such cruel, unspeakable things? I wonder,
Could it have been me

No, that wasn't like me at all.



I barely knew her. Not many people did. But I knew this: She was out there.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you: Am I not allowed to say even that? It doesn't make me a bad person for stating the obvious. It was a fact—Morgan Mallen was different, but not in a good way. Like in a

For example: The sky is gray, the grass is green, and Morgan Mallen became the saddest girl I'd ever seen. It even rhymes. Green, seen, mean, teen, sardine.

(Etcetera, etcetera.)

Some girls in school claimed she was this and alleged she was that. There was also a selfie that famously made the rounds. She maybe kissed the wrong boy. Who knows what really happened.

Once a message was spray-painted on the girls' bathroom door, and another day it appeared on the side of the snack shack by the football field: “Morgan Mallen is a slut.”

Check that tense.
, not

Was a tramp. A selfie-sharer. An outcast.

None of this makes me a bad person.




There are a lot of phonies in this town, I'll tell you that much.

A lot of them.

(A lot.)

The whole anti-bullying campaign is suddenly everywhere. Posters in the hallways, words on everybody's lips during morning announcements, in classrooms.

Somebody made a big sign for the front of the school:


, that's a relief. Now we can feel good about ourselves again. We forgive everybody, even the creeps. Please admire our cleaned-up images, like shiny pennies in a sock drawer—and about as useful.

The whole town was at the funeral, stunned and sobbing. Long-sleeved T-shirts were handed out for the students to wear, announcing to the world that we were
! We didn't even have to buy the shirts. Just pulled them over our heads, like wool over somebody's eyes. Now look at us, TV cameras: We're good peeps.

Do unto others. Yeah, right, we've memorized all the best slogans.

But at night we peel off our shirts. We stand barefoot and alone before the bathroom mirror, examining ourselves through hollow eyes. And we know. Deep down we know what we did and didn't do.

I sometimes wonder how Morgan would have reacted. You know that bracelet some people wear, WWJD? Jesus, I honestly don't know. I think about Morgan, if she could look down on us from some fluffy cloud in outer space or wherever. I think she'd laugh out loud—an empty, sad, sarcastic laugh. The way she usually laughed, a little crookedly. She'd look at all of us wearing shirts like Halloween costumes. Masking our true selves. She might even be looking down on us right now, laughing at the big joke.

Funniest thing ever.



Don't expect to get all the facts from me. Okay? She stepped off the water tower. A spectacular statement, concise and final. That's the only fact you're going to need. Says it all right there.

So don't get the idea this journal will be some kind of complete document where you learn “her story,” or even “my story.”

There are holes in this leaky ship. We could all drown together.

All the cops standing around like on detective shows, scratching their heads, saying, “There are things here we still don't know.”

No kidding.

I do have impressions, details, memories. I'll write down some things that happened. Try to remember.

Maybe it will help.

I will sit down, open this book to a clean page, and set the timer on my cell to fifteen minutes. That's the promise I've made to myself. Or maybe it's the promise I've made to her. The least I can give. If time's up, that's that. Even if the page stays blank.



A lot of people wrote a ton of trash. You want specifics? It became this thing we all did sometime last year, around the start of school. It was a game of tag, basically. And what's a game without rules? That was Athena's idea. She devised the system, set the guidelines, enforced the rules.

No comment could be longer than twenty-five words. And it was important, very important, that every comment was anonymous, like a Secret Santa, but, you know, way different. The opposite of a gift.

There was a bright-blue piece of laminated poster board, about half the size of an index card. In red letters it said:


Another rule: You had twenty-four hours to post the next message. That was important too. You had to keep it going, you know, and not think about it too much.

(That was the trick, the “not thinking.”)

When it was your turn, you had to post a secret comment on Morgan Mallen's stupid page, then you slipped the note back into Athena Luikin's locker, and she tagged somebody else. “You're it.” That was how she controlled the game. If you didn't go along, you were
. Not out of the game, you were cut out completely. Silent treatment, cold shoulder, and potentially a future target. Athena joked, “You'll be sent to Outcast Island.”

Nobody wanted that. A fate worse than death, we used to think … until we saw actual death, or at least its aftermath. Not the scream, but the echo of it. What do scientists call it? The aftershock? Once you felt that shiver down in your bones, the cold permanency of oblivion, a few days on Outcast Island didn't seem half so bad.

We treated it as a joke.

I can't deny it. I know this makes me sound like the biggest jerk on the globe, but it was funny at first. We laughed about it. We tried to write the nastiest, filthiest, wildest comments possible. It was a challenge, and we all looked forward to reading the next crazy message. A lot of people were reading it at first. We loved when something got a big reaction in school.

For example:

I'd rather crawl inside an aardvark's asshole than spend two minutes with you.

That's creative and humorous, at least I thought so at the time. Other people wrote way meaner. I had a hard time deciding which animal it should be: a rhinoceros, grasshopper, donkey, chicken, and so on. (Decisions, decisions.) At first I used the word
, but I changed it at the last minute. Who can know for sure. Art is so subjective.

After a while, most of us just got bored.

I am, you should realize by now, a complete idiot.



Our teachers said that it sometimes helped to talk about these things. Share feelings, exchange ideas. Whatever happens, don't keep it buried inside or you might blow like a volcano.

(Wait, is that the sound volcanoes make?
Seriously doubtful. I suck at onomatopoeia. Carry on!)

It seemed like three out of every five teachers felt a need to say something wise and important. They gazed at us through sincere eye sockets. We got all quiet and tried to make it look like we were searching our souls instead of secretly watching the clock.

Grief counselors visited the school those first few days and “made themselves available.” It was super awkward. One morning announcement said there would be an open gathering after school, where students could go to talk, hang out, share memories, and “enjoy” refreshments.

For reasons I can't explain, I thought this might be a good idea. Or, I guess, the right thing to do. That's the problem. Nobody knew the right thing to do. We didn't have any experience.

The gathering was in the old lower gym—and the minute I walked in I knew it was a mistake. There were way too many teachers holding clear plastic cups, milling around in hushed tones.

There weren't many students there, and I was one of the few guys. I estimated twenty tops. Morgan Mallen wasn't super popular.

One huddle of girls stood around sobbing and patting each other on the shoulder. I took a deep breath and headed for the refreshment table.

Soon an unknown, walrus-like teacher appeared beside me as I scarfed my second fudge brownie.

“You're Sam, right?”

“Yeah, yes,” I said.

He was a lumpy man in a way-too-cheerful sweater. And I mean
. It was like a peacock exploded on it. Neon barf. He wore a thick, droopy mustache. Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead. Like some weird alien, the sweaty walrus beamed a chipped-tooth smile directly into my eyeballs. I got zapped by Mr. Sensitivity.

BOOK: The Fall
11.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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