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Authors: Jennifer Bosworth

The Killing Jar

BOOK: The Killing Jar
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For the women who raised me—Kathleen Knott, Amy Jespersen, Borgny Erickson, and Gertrude Knott


All that lives must die,

Passing through nature to eternity.

, Act 1




I try not to think about it, that time I killed a boy.

But the problem with trying not to think about something is you'll think about it even more.

So that's what I do. I think about it. I dream about it. I obsess.

But I never, ever talk about
, the boy whose life I took. I didn't want to kill him. At least … I don't think I did. Or maybe that's just what I tell myself so I can live with what I am. What I did. How I did it.

I was ten years old, and so was he.

His name was Jason Dunn, and on the outside he appeared as normal as his name. His family lived next door to mine on the outskirts of town. My bedroom window gave me a direct view of the path to the river. I watched Jason take that path every day after school. He always came back smiling to himself in a way that made me feel cold and queasy, like I'd eaten something bad. So I followed him, and I found out why he smiled like that.

Jason liked to kill.

Insignificant things mostly. Small murders that would go unnoticed. He chopped up worms into wriggling segments and fried them with a magnifying glass. He pulled the wings from moths, or misted trails of ants with hairspray and set them on fire. Miniature tortures that parents tend to write off as boys being boys. Cruelty as a phase, like puberty.

Jason's preferred method of torment was to put butterflies in his killing jar, the kind entomologists use to kill insects quickly without damaging their specimens. There was a swab of poison in the bottom, a fast-acting toxin. Although Jason had a corkboard where he pinned dead butterflies and moths, beetles and spiders—he brought his collection to school every time we had show-and-tell—he wasn't in it for the scientific observation. He just liked to watch things die.

But then he went too far.

My twin sister, Erin, is allergic to everything with fur, so our mom wouldn't let her have pets. Still, she secretly adopted a stray orange cat with a missing ear and a scar over one eye that liked to hang around our house, especially after she started leaving food out for it. She named it Clint Eastwood because its squinty eye reminded her of the classic Eastwood glare, and Erin was going through a spaghetti western phase. It turned out the cat was a female, though. She had a litter of kittens in the shed behind our house. Erin and I visited the mother and brought her clean towels and bowls of tuna fish. We watched her kittens jitter and worm about, figuring out how to use their weak limbs, mewling in tolerant protest as Clint licked them clean. Their mother purred like an engine while her brood fed.

One day the kittens' eyes were sealed tightly shut. The next they were open and black, and fuzz covered their bodies.

But when we came back to see them the next day, the kittens were gone, and so was their mother. Erin was distraught. She begged me to search the woods for her cat and the kittens. She just wanted to know they were all right. Erin couldn't be a part of the search because of her “condition,” which was what we called it for lack of a name that ran the gamut of my twin's maladies. Defective heart. Weak bones. Anemia. Asthma. Severe allergies. Autoimmune disorders.

It was better that Erin didn't come with me to search for her pet anyway. Better she never had the image of what I found trapped in her head.

I knew as soon as I found Clint Eastwood's mangled body by the river, surrounded by her drowned litter, that this was Jason's work. But if I needed further proof, I got it when I saw him at school the next day, his hands covered in raw, red scratches. Clint Eastwood put up a fight. Good for her.

I told Erin I couldn't find Clint Eastwood and the kittens, but in truth I buried them in the woods and marked their grave with a pile of river stones. While I dug the grave with my bare hands, I thought about how I was going to make Jason pay for what he'd done.

I could have told my mom what Jason was up to, but I doubted she would believe me. Jason was an expert at hiding the monster inside him. He was unfailingly polite to adults. He never got into trouble at school. He was quiet but not too quiet. He played sports, but he wasn't too aggressive, never pouted when his team lost. He was everyone's idea of the perfect kid, and I had no evidence to prove otherwise.

If someone was going to teach Jason a lesson, it had to be me. I
it to be me. Because even though Erin and I didn't have the kind of uncanny twin connection that allowed me to read her mind, I felt it when she was in pain. She was a part of me and Jason had taken from her one of the few things that made her happy.

So I was going to take something from Jason, because I could. Because I had recently come to understand that I wasn't like other people.

“You have a gift that very few people in this world possess,” my mom had told me in confidence. “But you must never use it. Promise me you'll never use it, Kenna, because you're too young to control it, and if you start I don't know if you'll be able to stop.”

So I promised, but my promise was a lie. If someone tells you that you're special, that you can do something extraordinary, you have to try it at least once.

Three days after I buried Clint Eastwood, I trailed Jason into the woods, observing him, stalking him the way I imagined he stalked his doomed victims. He caught a monarch butterfly in his net and let out a whoop of triumph before inserting it into his killing jar.

“Can I see?” I asked, stepping from the trees and walking slowly toward him, my arms hanging loose and casual at my sides. I didn't want to seem like a threat. Not until it was too late.

He clutched the jar to his chest, like I might try to take it from him. “Why?” he asked, his eyes empty, not the eyes he showed to adults. These were his real eyes. His vacant crow's eyes.

I didn't answer his question. I lowered my gaze to the jar and the butterfly trapped inside, its crisp wings the color of Halloween, velvet black and flame orange. The butterfly beat against the walls of its glass prison until it lost the will to fight and drooped against the bottom like wilted lettuce.

Jason's empty eyes beamed with excitement then, and fury uncoiled in me like a rising cobra.

He never saw it coming. I grabbed Jason by the wrist and felt something unfurl from my skin, connecting me to him like a shared vein. His mouth opened in a distended O, but he couldn't scream. I didn't give him the chance. His life, his essence, a sensation like rising and expanding, like I'd swallowed a sunrise, flooded my body. At the same time, Jason's color waned from pale to waxy gray. His skin shriveled into a dehydrated shell. The hair fell from his head in hunks. His eyes turned black as underground tunnels and his cheekbones protruded in chalky, white wings.

When he fell, his killing jar hit a rock and glass exploded like brittle fireworks.

I've never told anyone about the hurricane of raucous, feral energy that poured from Jason into me, so heady and rapturous that it almost lifted me off the ground. It told me I could do anything. Run a thousand miles. Swim an ocean. Live forever. Raise the dead. Anything. It was all within my grasp.

It told me I was a god.

I knelt beside the shattered killing jar and cupped the limp butterfly in my palms. I touched its wing with the tip of my finger, and watched as a hair-thin strand of white light emerged and attached briefly to the insect's thorax. The wings stiffened and twitched. A moment later the monarch juddered into the sky and vanished from sight.

Then I ran. Not because I'd killed Jason Dunn, but because it was the only thing I could think to do with the energy boiling through me like rocket fuel. I raced through the woods, across the river where Jason had drowned the kittens, and into the mountains.

When I finally returned home two days later, the euphoria that had filled me after I killed Jason was gone, and I needed it back. I was certain I would die without it, or that I was already dead, because that was what it felt like to lose the light I'd taken from inside Jason. Who knew there could be such light inside someone whose soul—if he had one—was so dark?

I could tell as soon as my mom opened the door that she knew what I had done. And what I
to do. To take again, and take and take. To drive away the dead hollowness inside and replace it with perfect euphoria.

A fever took hold of my body and pushed acid sweat from my pores. My stomach seized and cramped and I doubled over, retching up searing bile. My organs ached like they were shutting down. My blood thickened and decelerated to an oily crawl in my veins, and my heartbeat slowed and then revved, slowed and then revved. A sensation like I was covered with biting insects tortured my skin until I scratched it raw.

“You were right,” I told Mom, sweating and holding myself and raking my arms bloody. “You have to take me away and lock me up or I'll do something terrible.”

Mom said nothing, only nodded and gave me some of Erin's pills to knock me out, and when I woke up I was in an empty room alone. A room with a locked door and no windows. I wasn't sure how long she kept me there. Five days? Ten? Thirty? I lost track of time as the fever melted my skin and invisible pincers snapped at my insides. Imaginary army ants chewed on my flesh and my stomach heaved and heaved, even when there was nothing inside it. My throat tore and I coughed blood until I passed out. I tried to forget why I was locked in the room. I tried not to hear my mom crying when she brought me food I couldn't keep down, telling me she was sorry … sorry for what I was.

When she finally let me out, I was string thin and wasted and unwashed, but I was under control.

Mom studied me a long time before responding.

“What you did to that boy … you can never do that again.”

BOOK: The Killing Jar
3.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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