The In-Between Suspense Short Fiction By Anna Stolley Persky

The In-Between: Suspense Short Fiction By Anna Stolley Persky

Anna Stolley Persky, author of The In-Between, is a lawyer and award-winning journalist, living in Northern Virginia. Her fiction has been published in The Write Launch, VOIS, and The Plentitudes Journal.

Her poetry has been published in the Sad Girls Club Literary Blog, You Might Need to Hear This, Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and The Closed Eye Open.

*****

Rachel stared at the stubble on Jeremy’s chin. She smelled cigarettes and soap.

Jeremy crouched over her.

There were no windows in the makeup room behind the high school stage. It was just the two of them, Jeremy and Rachel, together, alone for the first time. The room had white walls, naked but for a mirror, and stark florescent lighting.

It was unusual for Rachel to be in a tight space, not much bigger than a closet, with another teenager. She was only a few years past basement Spin-the-Bottle parties, but not quite at sneaking sex in her parents’ car. She’d been stuck in the in-between, although she wasn’t sure why. Her parents didn’t seem to see her restlessness.

Later, as often happens, there would be talk of just how much her parents failed to notice.

It was unusual for Rachel to be in a tight space, not much bigger than a closet…

“Close your eyes,” Jeremy said. He began painting her lids.

The door opened, and Rachel could feel another body invading the space. She knew who it was without seeing him: Wilson smelled like swimming pools and burnt toast. Rachel tensed. This was her time alone with Jeremy. She didn’t want to share it with Wilson.

Jeremy’s hand cradled Rachel’s chin.

“I need to talk to you, Jeremy,” Wilson said.

“And I’m working.”

The door slammed.

Rachel felt the absence of Wilson and relaxed against Jeremy’s cupped hand.

“You can open your eyes now,” Jeremy said.

Rachel knew Jeremy’s class schedule, where he bought his art supplies, and how his mother died: suicide. She’d been waiting for weeks for this moment alone with Jeremy, but while they were in it, she couldn’t talk, and if she could, she wasn’t sure what she would say. She couldn’t move her mouth because Jeremy was applying color — a lush red stain – to her lips. His brown hair was spiked up with gel so that she could see his widow’s peak.

“You have perfect lips,” he said.

There was only a door and a hallway separating Rachel and Jeremy from the rest of the cast as they practiced the opening number to The Boy Friend. And yet, they seemed far away from her, the song barely audible, faint, as she waited for Jeremy to do something more.

There was a knock on the door.

“There are two more actors waiting for their makeup,” the stage manager called.

“I’m on it.” Jeremy was done with her lips. He dusted powder on Rachel’s face. With the tips of his fingers, Jeremy traced the curve of Rachel’s slender neck.

“Your lips are perfect too,” she said, her voice bolder than she’d ever heard it. Jeremy laughed. Handing her his phone number scrawled on a torn piece of their playbill, Jeremy escorted Rachel out of the room. Rachel wrapped a sweaty hand around the paper, crushing it. She didn’t need to keep it. She’d already found and memorized his phone number.

“Next victim.” Jeremy brought Claire, Rachel’s friend, into the room, shutting the door.

Rachel’s flapper dress felt tight and scratchy against her stomach. The red beaded fringe slapped against her thighs when she walked down the hallway to the stage, where the rest of the cast was assembled. It was call time, minutes before the curtain rose.

No longer singing, the other students were whispering to each other or getting into character. A few cast members were talking about Wendy Borden, a junior who had disappeared two months earlier, in September.

Rachel had known Wendy since childhood and said a prayer for her under her breath. She’d heard Wendy had moved to California to get away from her parents. She’d also heard that Wendy’s parents had found a stash of drugs in her room after she left.

Wilson, standing by the heavy red stage curtain, stared her down. A swimmer, Wilson appeared out of place, although he held his chest forward, like he would challenge anyone who asked him why he was there. Nobody did. He looked scrubbed clean, like usual, with a polo and khakis, neatly pressed. Penny loafers. Wilson swaggered over to Rachel.

“You like Jeremy?”

Rachel shrugged.

“You should stay away from him,” he said. Rachel found Wilson’s preppie wardrobe and possessive attitude towards Jeremy irritating.

Rachel gave him the finger.

She knew what she wanted.

“I warned you.” Wilson left.

Closing her eyes, she revisited Jeremy’s fingers on her neck. She could picture Jeremy cajoling her down the path behind her house, the one that led to a graveyard. And she could see herself following him, just like in one of those dark fairytales her mother used to read to her – the ones that were really warnings to girls to retain their virtue.

Rachel understood subtext, but that didn’t mean she wanted to live by it.

The curtain rose.

*****

1986 had been filled with an unusual amount of death for Rachel’s suburban Philadelphia high school. In the spring, two students fatally overdosed on crack cocaine, once considered only a city problem. Another student died in a car crash. The teachers and administrators blamed the influx of cocaine into teenage life.

In September, the high school held an assembly to urge students to listen to First Lady Nancy Reagan and say no to drugs. Jeremy’s father, a police officer, strode to center stage in his black work boots.

“I’ve seen too many good citizens turned into dirt bags over cocaine,” he shouted into the microphone. “Don’t be a statistic.”

He told them that cocaine was made into crack by cooking it with baking soda.

“Cocaine crackles when it cooks,” he said, sweat dripping down his face. “It smells like ammonia and burning plastic.”

Claire whispered to Rachel, “It’s like he’s giving us a how-to lesson or something.”

The teachers started mumbling to each other about an “excess of detail.” From her seat in the auditorium, Rachel could only see the back of Jeremy’s head and Wilson leaning towards him, talking. One of Jeremy’s ears was smaller than the other. They were both turning pink.

A week later, Wendy disappeared. Jeremy’s father knocked on every door in the neighborhood, asking questions, looking, he said, for clues.

Rachel’s parents talked to her about being safe and avoiding drugs. Rachel wanted to scream at them, “My life is already way too safe.” But she said nothing.

*****

Once the curtain closed and the applause died down, The Boy Friend cast hugged each other. Rachel looked for Jeremy. She hunted for him backstage, her dance shoes clacking against the floor as she went room-to-room, methodically: Makeup room. No Jeremy. Green room. No Jeremy. Tech room. No Jeremy.

The other actors were already with their parents and guests in the front lobby. Just before she opened the door to where her parents were undoubtedly waiting, she bumped into Jeremy. His eyes were glazed.

“Where did you come from?” she said.

“You were great.” Jeremy patted the top of her head.

“Thanks.” She twisted a strand of hair. “You look tired?”

“I’m not. Come see me tonight.” He kicked her shin playfully. “My dad works the night shift this week.”

She shifted her weight back and forth. She had never snuck out of her house at night before.

“But maybe you shouldn’t.” He sighed. “Maybe I’m just trouble, like my dad says. I think I’m just a lot of trouble.”

She felt a stab of compassion.

“You can’t get away from me that easily,” she said.

“You might regret that.”

“I guess I get to decide that for myself.”

They opened the door together and slid into the crowded lobby. Rachel’s parents were waiting for her under the school motto: “Franklin Heights: The Road to Knowledge Begins Here.”

Her mother gave her roses.

As she left with her parents, Rachel glimpsed Jeremy huddling near Wilson, shuffling through Wilson’s backpack. They were talking to some people she didn’t know.

On the walk home, her parents, both professors at Swarthmore College, turned the conversation from the play to a debate over free will versus destiny. In the end, her parents agreed with each other.

“Life is just a series of choices,” her father said.

“Like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel,” said Rachel, trying to catch up to her parents’ brisk pace.

“The books Rachel used to love,” her mother prompted her father, but they went back to talking about Hume and Hegel. Rachel calculated how long it would take her parents to fall asleep so she could leave home, unnoticed. She didn’t want to get caught, not by her parents, not by any adult. Rachel wasn’t sure how her parents would respond if she got in trouble. She imagined they would punish her with disapproving silence. Maybe they would make her eat meals in her room alone, like Rapunzel.

*****

Two hours later, Rachel opened the bedroom window and crawled out to the ledge. Heart pounding, she felt for the oak tree by the gutter. She climbed down the tree, branch-by-branch, until she was low enough to jump. Rachel crept through the backyard, past her abandoned swing set and the overgrown garden in which her father once tried and failed to grow tomatoes. She’d made it out of her house. Blood rushed to her head. She began to run.

Jeremy was waiting for her. Jeremy wanted to be with her. They could be alone for hours.

Rachel had grown up two blocks down from Jeremy and Wilson, who lived next door to each other. Her mother used to call Jeremy “that weird kid with the vampire cape” and Wilson “trouble on two wheels.” When they were younger, Wilson and Jeremy rode their bikes around the neighborhood, chasing down any girl they saw, threatening to suck out their blood. Rachel, along with Claire and Wendy, would scream and run away from them.

It was strange, Rachel thought, that Jeremy and Wilson had stayed tight despite growing into such different people. Theater kids and artists didn’t usually mingle with jocks and preppies. The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink weren’t completely off.

Except Jeremy and Wilson clearly had some connection.

Jeremy’s home barely stood out among the row of historic grey stone houses, but for its emptiness. There were no trees in the yard. There was no ivy climbing the front of the house, no porch light blazing, no toys or lawn decorations in front.

On the right, Wilson’s house was well-tended. Patio furniture carefully arranged on a stone deck. Manicured lawn accentuated with a weeping willow. A silver BMW in the circular driveway. She thought she caught Wilson’s face looking down at her from a second floor window. She looked away, a wave of coldness rushing over her.

Rachel knocked on the door four times before Jeremy answered.

“You should have come through the back door,” said Jeremy, grabbing her hand and pulling her inside.

He led her down a narrow hallway.

“It’s just that’s how I usually sneak people inside so that the neighbors don’t tell my dad,” Jeremy said. “He can get really mad.”

He paused. “Not that I’m usually bringing girls into the house or anything.”

“Is it going to be a problem?” she said. “With your dad? With Wilson?”

Rachel drew in a breath, released it. They were standing in a kitchen with wood cabinets and yellow-tiled countertops in the style of the previous decade. Jeremy seemed different at home, more like the boy she remembered rampaging through the neighborhood on his bicycle in his cape. Volatile. Awkward.

“Nope,” Jeremy bowed. “I’m all yours, Madam.”

“You’re so weird.” Without hesitation, she pulled him to her.

*****

At lunch the next day, Jeremy and Rachel sat beside each other in the cafeteria. Claire sat across from them, observing them. Jeremy and Rachel bumped elbows awkwardly as they ate and laughed. Wilson, a few tables away, kept looking over at them. Jeremy brushed some loose strands of Rachel’s hair away from her face.

Wilson threw his chair back and stormed over to their table.

“I saw you last night,” he said to Rachel.

“Your problem is with me, not her,” Jeremy said. Claire stared down at the tater tots in front of her. Rachel put a hand on Jeremy’s wrist. Wilson moved closer to Jeremy.

“We have work to do,” Wilson said.

“Not now,” Jeremy said.

“You know this won’t last.” Wilson gave Rachel a prolonged, icy stare. “It never does.”

He went back to his table.

Rachel shivered, then wrapped her arms around Jeremy. He seemed so trapped. Wilson was a bully. She wanted to tell Jeremy that it would be okay, but she didn’t understand why Wilson was angry at Jeremy. He would tell her more once he trusted her. They just needed time together.

Claire confronted Rachel during study hall.

“You’re with Jeremy?” Claire poked Rachel’s arm with a pencil. “And you didn’t say anything to me?”

“It’s new.”

“Still, it seems like something you should mention,” Claire said. “You’re so secretive.”

“I’m sorry?” Rachel had never had much in the way of secrets before.

“I would have told you not to date him anyway,” Claire said looking into a hand mirror to apply cherry-red lip gloss. “That fight? It has something to do with drugs.”

“How do you know that?”

The teacher put a finger to her lips.

“Where have you been?” whispered Claire.

The bell rang before Rachel could ask her more questions. She’d never seen Jeremy do drugs or heard him talk about drugs. Claire was just trying to create drama. She was probably jealous.

*****

For the next week, Jeremy and Rachel spent every moment they could together. One day, after school, they went to the graveyard. They kissed by the granite mausoleum of William Burke, one of the original settlers to the area. The shrine to him towered over older, crumbling tombstones. They read off the different names, making up stories about who they were and how they died. They stopped at the more recent headstones, gazing silently at the names of people they’d once known. They left before it got dark.

Each night, Rachel ate dinner with her parents, did her homework, and then met up with Jeremy at his house. She wrapped herself so easily into him and him into her.

The walls in Jeremy’s bedroom were bare. Rachel didn’t see anything that would indicate he was using drugs. She didn’t see any art supplies either.

“Jeremy, how come you don’t have any of your art on the walls?” she asked.

“My father would just rip it down,” Jeremy said. “I keep everything at school where he can’t get at it.”

“Why? Isn’t he proud of you?”

“He doesn’t think I should be wasting time with art. He thinks I should have more entrepreneurial interests.” Jeremy emphasized the word entrepreneurial.

“Why?”

“Rachel, stop asking so many questions.” Jeremy put his hand over her mouth, then took it off to press his lips against hers.

At school, Jeremy began sketching Rachel. He liked to portray Rachel as a harpy, her face on a bird’s body.

“Why me as a harpy?”

“Your lethal talons.” Jeremy pointed to her long fingernails.  “You could kill me with them.”

“Why would I ever want to do that?” She kissed him.

Rachel hung some of his drawings in her locker. She took the rest home and kept them hidden in a desk drawer in her room. She wasn’t ready to tell her parents about Jeremy.

“Can I see more of your artwork?” she asked Jeremy one day after school.

“You really want to see?”

“Of course. You’re so talented.”

He led her to the art room, where he stored his portfolio. He handed it to her, saying “I’m not all that great.”

She pulled out paintings showing different perspectives of a creek bed — stones, tufts of grass, murky water. She recognized Lancaster Park. She hadn’t been there since she was in Girl Scouts.

She sifted through sketches of door frames, monsters, a bowl of cherries. There were charcoal drawings of people’s faces.

Rachel stopped at a sketch of a girl with long brown hair tucked behind her ear.

She knew the girl.

Jeremy grabbed the sketch.

The girl was Wendy.

Scowling, Jeremy shoved his artwork back into the portfolio.

“You were… close with Wendy?” Rachel cracked her knuckles.

“She was in art class with me.” Jeremy hunched his shoulders. “We hung out.”

Rachel wanted to ask if he knew why Wendy left, but she decided against it. His gloom was smothering him, them. She hugged him, pushing away her worry that something was very wrong.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s hard when people go away.”

*****

That night, Rachel was determined to lighten the mood between them. She started a game of asking each other ridiculous questions.

“Would you be friends with me if I were a talking cat?” “Would you want to marry me if I were a centaur?” “What would happen if I were Little Red Riding Hood, and you were the Big Bad Wolf?” “Would you hate me if I became a ghost intent on haunting you until the end of your days?”

“What if I watched someone die and did nothing?” Jeremy said softly into the darkness of his bedroom. “Would you forgive me? Or what if I killed someone? Would you forgive me for that?”

Rachel was quiet then, staring at the outline of his body next to hers. She tentatively put her hand on his biceps, felt the taut strength.

He is strong enough to kill me if that’s what he wants to do. He could strangle me right here.

Rachel wanted to stay, and yet, for the first time in a week, she also wanted to go home to her sleeping parents, curl up between them, like she did when she was little. He lit a cigarette.

“Why would you say that?” She could hear the alarm in her voice. “Watch someone die? Kill someone?”

“Jesus, Rachel, it’s your game.” Jeremy pulled away from her.

She left for home soon after that, changed into her pajamas, and checked in on her parents, both in the fetal position, facing each other. She gently closed the door to their bedroom, to her mother’s whistle breathing and her father’s effusive snores.

There was something dark about Jeremy, even darker than she’d anticipated.

But maybe he was being dragged down by Wilson, caught up somehow in Wilson’s problems, whatever they were. She thought about Jeremy’s life after his mother’ death – alone with a temperamental father who wouldn’t even support his passion for art.

Jeremy needed someone on his side.

The next morning, she pretended nothing strange had happened between them. They held hands in the hallway after Rachel’s math class, their fingers interlaced, ignoring Wilson’s glare as he walked by them.

*****

After dinner, Rachel and her mother watched the news. A man walking his dog found a body in Lancaster Park. The body was discovered in the creek, half-naked, half-submerged, encased in a gentle layer of ice. The police identified the body.

“We don’t know yet how this high school student ended up dead in a quiet suburban nature area,” the reporter said. “But police said they’ll find out.”

“Poor Wendy.” Her mother turned off the television.

Shaking, Rachel thought about the charcoal drawing of Wendy and his questions: “What if I watched someone die and did nothing?” “Or what if I killed someone?”

She went upstairs to call Jeremy.

There was no answer.

Rachel tried him again. What was he hiding from her?

Still no answer. Rachel had to see him, to know, to be with him. She paced back and forth in her bedroom until she figured her parents had dozed off watching Hill Street Blues. She climbed through the window, clinging to the hope that Jeremy had nothing to do with Wendy’s death. There was an icy drizzle. The ledge was slick. Rachel’s hands slipped on a wet branch, but, instinctively, she grabbed another one, avoiding crashing to the ground. The wind howled, and a raccoon darted through the backyard.

When Rachel came close to Jeremy’s house, she stopped. A police cruiser was in the driveway. Jeremy and his father were inside the house, shouting so loudly she could hear it. Rachel looked over at Wilson’s house. Wilson was sitting on a patio chair, barely visible in the foggy darkness, watching her. He didn’t move as the drizzle turned into a heavier sleet. Rachel turned around and fled back home.

The next morning when she saw Jeremy in school, he looked smaller, wilted.

“Are you okay?’ she said. “I tried to come over last night, but your dad was home.”

“You came to my house last night?”  Jeremy gripped her arm. “You shouldn’t come over right now.”

“What’s going on? Why were you and your father yelling? Does it have to do with Wendy?”

“Rachel, you ask too many questions.” He turned on her, his straight teeth bared. “Why are you always hanging around me anyway? Don’t you have a life?”

That stung. It was so sudden, this shift in him. She backed away from him.

The bell rang for class.

In study hall, Claire whispered to Rachel, “They think Wendy was strangled to death. It could have been anyone in school. Anyone.”

Rachel thought about telling Claire her fear that Jeremy was somehow involved in Wendy’s death, but she couldn’t betray him that way. She raised her hand and asked to go to the bathroom, where she threw up in the toilet.

The police came to school that afternoon, pulling students out of class to talk with them. Rachel heard that the police were looking for the dealer who had sold drugs to Wendy.

Jeremy’s father was one of the officers marching down the hallway. Did he suspect Wilson and his own son of knowing something about Wendy’s death?  Is that what they had been fighting about the night before?

Did she even want to know?

After school, Rachel walked home alone, through a light snow, her burgundy leather boots making soft imprints on white dust.

Over the weekend, Jeremy didn’t call Rachel. On Monday they avoided each other at school.

*****

The funeral was held on Tuesday, and school closed so students could attend. Rachel went with her parents, their arms wrapped around her. Jeremy sat nearby, red-faced, eyes swollen, with his father, in uniform, emotionless. Rachel spotted Wilson in the back with his parents.

Rachel’s mother cried, along with most of the parents and students stuffed into the small church with the closed coffin in the front.

“Why?” said her mother. It was as if her mother were talking to her from another dimension. Rachel felt like an alien observing a bizarre human funeral ritual. She didn’t cry. She couldn’t look at Wendy’s parents. She sat through the service, dazed.

Wendy was buried in the graveyard behind Rachel’s house, although Rachel didn’t stay to see her coffin placed into the ground. Rachel went home and lay on her bed, thinking how all the songs about heartbreak failed to describe the clutter of emotions fighting for control of her.

*****

Late at night, desperation prevailed. She had to reach Jeremy.

Jeremy needed her. She needed to see him.

He didn’t answer the phone. She tried again and again and again. She decided, despite everything, to go to his house again. She couldn’t let him slip away without understanding. Maybe she could help him.

She knocked on the back door to his house. Nobody answered. The door was unlocked, and she paused.

Is this smart?

Rachel let herself into the house, treading softly against the carpeted hallway, She climbed the winding stairs to his bedroom, whispering his name, not sure why she was whispering. No response.

Something clattered. She inched towards the sound. It was coming from the basement. Two voices, arguing. Jeremy and Wilson. Scraping noises.

The air smelled pungent, like urine and nail polish remover. She went upstairs and sat on Jeremy’s bed, debating going home or waiting for Wilson to leave so she could talk to Jeremy alone. She rubbed Jeremy’s pillow against her face.

A car pulled into Jeremy’s driveway. Rachel peered through the window. Jeremy’s father was getting out of the police cruiser and heading to the back door. Rachel didn’t want Jeremy’s father to find her. She pictured him dragging her – literally – down the street back to her parents. Or worse.

Rachel bolted into the closet in Jeremy’s room and sat behind his clothes, wrapping her arms tightly around her legs. She concentrated on calming herself, slowing her breathing. One breath. Two. Three.

She thought about the smell downstairs and what Jeremy’s father had said about how cocaine was cooked into crack. Wilson, who carried around his backpack and huddled with other students. Wendy, who had left behind her stash. Jeremy and his connection with Wendy.

Wendy, murdered.

Shoes. Stairs. Voices.

“Last chance to make money, thanks to you,” Wilson said.

They were coming closer.

“I want this to be over,” Jeremy said.

Rachel closed her eyes.

“Just get it out of here,” Jeremy’s father said. “No more drama. No more nosy girlfriends.”

Rachel bit her bottom lip. Jeremy’s father?  Was he involved too?  She’d read about crooked cops. Maybe he was forcing Jeremy to do things against his nature.

There was stomping, then the back door closed, the car door shut, and the engine revved. The car pulled out of the driveway.

The bedroom door opened. Rachel bit her lip harder, drawing blood. Jeremy and Wilson moved around, opening and closing drawers.

“Where’s the rest of it?” said Jeremy.

“Maybe it’s in my room,” said Wilson. Footsteps down the stairs. Back door slamming.

Through the gap at the bottom of the closet door, Rachel could see a slice of Jeremy’s black-and-white checkered Vans. The shoes stopped. She forced herself into stillness.

She knew she shouldn’t, couldn’t trust Jeremy.

Don’t look in the closet. Don’t look in the closet.

The closet door opened. Rachel flattened herself against the back wall.

“I can see your stupid boots, Rachel,” Jeremy said. “Get the fuck out.”

Rachel crawled out of the closet. Jeremy’s jaw was clenched. She stood up.

“Jeremy?” she said. “What’s going on?”

“You don’t want to know.”  He pointed to the door. “You should leave now.”

“But do you need my help? What have you gotten yourself into?”

“Rachel,” he said slowly, sternly. “You need to leave now. You need to run. And stop asking questions.”

She thought she heard Wilson shut the door to his house.

Rachel ran.

*****

The next morning, Rachel said nothing to her parents. She went to school as usual. In study hall, Claire asked her if she planned to try out for the spring play.

“I hadn’t thought about it.” Rachel realized that not everyone’s life had been tilted sideways.

When she saw Jeremy in the hallway, she couldn’t help herself.

“Jeremy,” she said. “I want to help you. What’s going on with you?”

“Stop asking questions.” He moved towards her.

“I’m so disappointed in you.” She hoped that hurt him, then regretted saying it. What if he had no choice?

Jeremy’s hands grabbed her face, and she gasped.

“You never knew me.” He released her, and she twisted her body away from him, out of his reach. She flew down the hallway without turning back.

She knew he was right. She had seen what she wanted to see. She had been lured by her own needs.

Rachel went home alone, ate dinner with her parents, then locked the door to her room. She sat by her window. In the darkness, the trees, coated with ice, glistened.

Wendy was dead. Jeremy was dangerous. She was alone.

Rachel needed to be resolved, to stay away from Jeremy.

When the phone rang, Rachel picked it up quickly.

“I need to see you,” Jeremy said.

“No.” Rachel hung up the phone.

Jeremy called back. She picked up on the first ring.

“Leave me the fuck alone,” she said.

“I can’t.”

“You were right. I don’t actually know you,” she said.

“You do. You know me,” Jeremy said. “Please.”

“Wendy?” she asked.

“Wilson…”

His voice was soft, broken. Rachel’s brain fogged up.

“I’m scared,” she said. “I don’t want this anymore.”

“I’m scared too,” he said. “It’s all Wilson. My father. I need to explain.”

She tried to clear away her confusion but was instead drawn into the urgency she heard from him.

“I need your help.” Jeremy began sobbing.

She couldn’t just listen to it. She wanted to hold him, to reassure him.

Rachel relented. “I’ll come over.”

“No,” Jeremy said. “My father’s home tonight, and Wilson’s always watching my house. I can’t get you in, but I can get myself out.”

“Where should we meet?”

“In the graveyard,” he said. “By the Burke mausoleum.”

“The graveyard? At night?” Rachel shivered.

“I have to tell you something.”

“I’ll be there, but I can’t keep doing this.” Rachel hung up.

Her parents were on the other side of their bedroom door, and Rachel briefly considered talking to them, revealing everything, asking for help. But she chose not to interrupt the television, the soft chatter, the squeak of bed springs.

She thought about calling Claire and asking her to come with her, but it was too late, and Claire wouldn’t join her anyway. Rachel knew going alone was likely a terrible idea, but she wanted to see Jeremy. Maybe she could help him. Maybe what he had to say could explain everything, clear up her fears. She had to find out.

And a little part of her was curious as to what the graveyard would actually look like at night.

It would definitely be dark.

Rachel found the emergency flashlight in the hallway closet. She put on her favorite Benetton sweater, checked her face and hair in the mirror, and crawled out of her bedroom window one last time.

She turned on the flashlight to help her find the path leading through the woods to the graveyard. There was no wind, only a deep cold seeping into her body. She wished she’d brought something heavier than her sweater.

Her boots crunched against the dead, frosted leaves. Her flashlight shone a dull light against a deer corpse, collapsed on the path. Skittering to the grass, she avoided the deer, but tangled herself up briefly in a winterberry bush. The flashlight grew dimmer, batteries running out of power. Her fingers grew numb.

Once through the woods, she kept walking. Slower and slower. Past rows of headstones. Her flashlight was dying. Another step. The next. Tentative steps.

Instinct told her to turn and run back through the graveyard, down the path, into her yard, past the swing set, up the tree, through the window and into her comfortable bed.

But her feet moved forward anyway. Jeremy was waiting. Jeremy was scared. Jeremy needed her.

Rachel wondered if she was walking over or near where Wendy was buried.

And then she stopped. She’d reached the meeting place. She didn’t see or hear Jeremy.

While she waited for Jeremy, Rachel turned off her flashlight to save what was left of the batteries. The coldness gripped her, infiltrated every part of her body. The moon was barely a sliver. She thought about her parents, unaware that she was gone, unable to help her if something should happen to her here.

“Jeremy?”

There was silence.

Maybe he wouldn’t show up after all. She couldn’t stop shaking.

She heard a car in the distance and, as it approached, the graveyard was briefly infused with light. There were figures standing among the tombstones. Motionless. Three bodies.

Rachel jumped back. The graveyard was dark again.

Fast rustling through the leaves. Rachel, scrambling to turn on her flashlight, dropped it. Someone grabbed her arm.

Rachel smelled chlorine.

“What kind of idiot agrees to meet up in a graveyard late at night?”  Wilson’s voice.

Sweat.

“The kind that’s fallen under Jeremy’s spell.” Jeremy’s father.

“Jeremy,” Rachel pleaded. “Help me.”

Smoke.

Someone stroked her face.

“You don’t have to do this.” She knew she was begging for her life.

“I know,” Jeremy said, putting a finger to her lips, tracing them. “But you ask too many questions.”

Jeremy’s cold fingers moved from her lips to her chin to her neck, where they lingered.

“Close your eyes,” he said.

*****

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