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From Bad to Cursed
  • Текст добавлен: 20 сентября 2016, 18:29

Текст книги " From Bad to Cursed"

Автор книги: Katie Alender

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Текущая страница: 8 (всего у книги 18 страниц)

THE NEXT MORNING my skin looked as splotchy as a mud-spattered car, and I could see dark circles under my eyes, no matter how much concealer I used. My face seemed wider and my features seemed flat and somehow…swinelike.

Kasey stopped at the bathroom door and watched me studying myself. “Lexi,” she said, her voice cautious, “what are you doing?”

I leaned in to look closer, and immediately regretted it. My pores looked as big as craters. “Did it suddenly get more humid this week?” I asked. “Do I look bloated to you?”

“No.” She stood next to me. “You look perfectly fine. Same as usual.”

“So I’m usually a troll?” I asked. “Good to know.”

Megan picked us up, as petite and perfect as ever, making me feel even worse about myself. But after we parked, she flipped her visor down and began frantically primping.

“Megan, please,” I said. She looked a million times better than I did. For her to pretend she didn’t was actually a little insulting.

“I’m a gorgon,” she answered, using her pinkie finger to touch up the gloss at the corners of her lips.

If she was a gorgon—note to self, look up “gorgon”—what did that make me?

When she finally felt presentable, we went inside. Walking through the halls of the school was like torture, with the sheen of the fluorescent hall lights reflecting off my bulbous nose.

I sat down next to Carter on the courtyard wall.

“I’m really sorry about yesterday,” he said. “I overreacted.”

God, that was only yesterday? I felt like I’d lived a month since then. I could hardly even remember why we’d fought. “Me too.”

“We should go out to dinner tomorrow,” he said. “I’d say tonight, but I have therapy.”

“Okay,” I said, but then I remembered—there was a club meeting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. “Actually, I don’t think I can. I have a…thing.”

He looked up. “What kind of a thing?”

I didn’t want to say it was the Sunshine Club and ruin our delicate peace.

“A dentist appointment,” I said. “Maybe Thursday?”

“Yeah,” he said. “That should be fine.”

“How was your party?” I asked, eager to change the subject.

“Oh my God,” he said, reflexively reaching up and covering his ears. “Shrill. Those girls are nice, but when they get excited, they do this screaming thing.”

“I’m sorry I missed it,” I said, leaning my head on his shoulder.

He laughed. “I’ll bet you are.”

And I knew we were good again.

For the rest of the day, I was so overwhelmed with relief that I couldn’t even get upset about my greasy face or my disproportionate feet or the scaly skin on the back of my hands. I sat next to Carter at lunch and focused on how good it felt to be forgiven, and how great he was for caring about me despite all of my very obvious shortcomings.

Kasey stood in my doorway, a strange look on her face. “Want to do some research?”

I sighed and sat up. “What hopeless cause are we Googling today?”

She didn’t answer. And instead of turning down the hall to our parents’ room, she went back to hers. I followed her.

“Kasey?” I asked. “What are you doing? Did you bring Mom’s computer in here?”

Kasey sat on the floor. “No,” she said. “We’re not using the computer.”

She reached under the dust ruffle and pulled out a Ouija board.

“We’re asking Elspeth.”

“What?” I asked. “No way! Where did you even get that thing?”

“Lexi, she knew about the libris exanimus. She might know more. She tried to warn us—she wants to help.”

“But she could be lying, for all we know!”

“We’re just looking for information,” Kasey said. “We don’t have to do what she says.” She pointed to a spot on the carpet. “Sit.”

Despite my reservations, the idea of maybe getting some real answers was tempting. So I sat and let my fingers rest on the planchette next to Kasey’s.

She looked at me. “What do we say? I’ve never done this before.”

I leaned over. “Um…hello? We’re looking for Elspeth?” I looked up at Kasey, who shrugged. “It’s Alexis and Kasey Warren from Surrey, California?”

Kasey sighed. “Somehow I don’t think that’s going to work.”

“Maybe there are multiple Elspeths,” I said. “Maybe one lives in Lydia’s board and one lives in this one.”

Kasey shook her head. “Don’t make jokes.”

My fingers lurched.

Kasey and I looked at each other as the pointer began to move across the board.

“For the record, I really don’t like doing this,” I said. “And I don’t like you doing it. I think we should find another way.”

“Stay,” Kasey said, her voice shaking.


“That’s what she just spelled—stay.”

My stomach churned. We already had one supernatural problem. Wouldn’t inviting Elspeth back potentially make things twice as bad?

We still had two options: stay, or leave. I was leaning heavily toward leave, but Kasey swallowed hard and charged ahead.

“Elspeth, we need your help,” she said. “Can you tell us about Aralt?”

For a long, tense minute, there was no response.

This is useless.

But then the pointer began to move. We awkwardly tried to keep our fingers steady.

Utterly pointless. A waste of time.

I looked up at Kasey, her eyes wide and afraid, stretching her upper body to allow the planchette to travel across the board.

What kind of fool would think you could solve a ghost problem with another ghost?


The movement was agonizingly slow, like watching a little old lady cross the street on the “Don’t Walk” signal. My frustration grew until I was on the verge of pulling my fingers away and telling Kasey I was done.

Without warning, the pointer jerked out from under our hands.

It moved fine—better, actually—without our help. I huddled close to my sister, gripping her elbow.


“Try what again?” I said, slumping back. I didn’t want to try again. I wanted to stop this, opening doors we didn’t know how to shut. Inviting trouble for ourselves.

She could be dangerous. We have no reason to trust her.


“See?” I said aloud, even though I hadn’t actually voiced any of my doubts.

“No, just teasing,” Kasey read. She sat back on her heels. “So…don’t try again?”

“Wow, Elspeth, how incredibly helpful,” I said, patting the pointer as if it were a dog.

Kasey slapped my hand. “Be nice!”

“I don’t want to be nice,” I said, feeling my face begin to flush. “She’s messing with us, Kasey!”

“I’m sure she can explain,” Kasey said, shifting her body slightly away from me. “Elspeth, please tell us something so we’ll know you’re on our side.”

“Like she couldn’t just lie,” I sniffed, crossing my arms and turning away.

But as she began spelling again, I turned back.


Staring down at it, I realized that I was holding my breath, bracing for some sort of impact. And then, before I could stop myself, all of that energy focused into a little bomb of anger, and I brought my fist down on top of the pointer.

Kasey gasped. “Why’d you do that, Lexi?”

Her eyes were wide, wary.

“I don’t know,” I said. Another flush was spreading through my cheeks, but this one was embarrassment. Avoiding my sister’s eyes, I focused on collecting dust bunnies from the edge of her bed skirt. “I guess I’m tired of being yanked around.”

“She wasn’t yanking us around—she was giving us answers! To questions we asked! And now she’s gone.”

Kasey flopped sideways onto the carpet. I turned away, just in time to hear her inhale sharply. “Lexi, what’s going on with the board?”

I looked down at it. Seeping out of its seams, almost like an oozing wound, was a thick black goo, chalky and opaque.

“What is that?” Kasey asked. She started to reach her hand toward it, but I grabbed her arm.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But don’t touch it.”

As the black stuff reached the edge of the planchette, the little wooden piece gave a startled jolt and tried to move away. It struggled to get across the board, but with a sizzling sound, the substance bubbled up and covered it completely. It was like one of those nature shows where the crocodile grabs a zebra at the watering hole. Kasey and I watched breathlessly as all of the blackness on the board converged on the big blob in the center. It pulsed lightly, like it was breathing, and then made another furious bubbling sound and evaporated, revealing the undamaged pointer.

Kasey reached down and touched it timidly. “Elspeth?”

She tried a few more times, but Elspeth was gone.

“What was that?” Kasey asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. But there was something familiar about it. The way it absorbed light absolutely, without any luminance of its own. The creature in Lakewood had been that same kind of shadowy black. I almost said something, but Kasey spoke first.

“I hope she’s okay.” Kasey stared down at the lifeless planchette. “That kind of looked like it hurt.”

I was relieved when she began to box up the Ouija board.

Elspeth wasn’t helpful, anyway—another gut feeling.

“I’m not sure if it’s worth it, to be honest,” I said. “She was just joking around! She even said so. And we don’t want to know what happens if more of that black stuff shows up.”

Kasey shook her head slowly. “No,” she said. “I guess not.” She carried the box to her closet and buried it under a pile of clutter.

My childish anger had melted away, leaving me feeling slightly guilty. “Anything else you want to try?”

She shook her head and looked up from behind her hair. “I think I’m done for the day.”

My heart began to flutter in my chest. “That’s too bad,” I said.

But it was a lie.

Because something inside of me was glad.

THE NEXT MORNING, I sat down next to Carter. Was it just me, or did he seem distant? Distracted?

“Carter,” I said, just wanting his attention. When he looked straight at me, I regretted it, imagining how grotesque I must look—my wide, shiny face washed out in the sunlight, revealing my yellow teeth with every word I spoke.

“Did you floss this morning?” he asked.

I reared away—was he trying to hint at something?

“I’ll be right back,” I said, hurrying toward the girls’ restroom.

I leaned in to inspect my teeth in the hazy mirror. They were the color of old mayonnaise, and thanks to my wisdom teeth starting to grow, the bottom ones were crowding in toward one another like a mob of miscreants—but there was nothing actually stuck between them.

Then I recalled my fictional dentist appointment. I sighed, blotted my skin with a paper towel, and went back outside.

Carter was talking to a girl.

As I got closer, I recognized Zoe. At the party I’d found her dull, but now she struck me as beguilingly wholesome. Her pale blond hair reached almost all the way down her back, glowing in the sunlight like corn silk. Her skin was peachy and fresh, and her features were elfin. I felt like an elephant trundling across the courtyard toward them.

Carter held his hand out to me when I got close. But I didn’t take it. Instead, I stuck my hands in the pockets of my skirt to hide my ragged fingernails and sat down.

“You guys haven’t officially met, have you?” Carter asked. “Alexis, this is Zoe…Zoe, my girlfriend…Alexis.”

“Hi, Alexis,” Zoe said, smiling like a skin-cream model.

Zoe, my girlfriend was all I heard. Why would you ever want Alexis, my girlfriend if you could have this beaming, healthy young thing?

I felt something rise in my chest as humiliated tears pricked at my tear ducts. I wiped them away and stared at the sky, trying not to hear the happy lilt of Carter and Zoe’s conversation.

“I have to go,” I said, standing abruptly. In answer to Carter’s questioning look, I added, “—talk to my sister.”

“Okay,” Zoe said. “Nice to meet you!”

Even her voice was sweet and springlike. I wanted to knock her down.

“Hey, Lex, you’ve got a spot,” Carter said, grabbing my shirt to hold me still. I looked down to find a dark gray smear on the side of my jeans.

“Oh, no! You should probably try to wash that off,” Zoe said, clucking with fake concern.

“It won’t come off,” I said, pulling my shirt out of Carter’s reach. “See you later.”

Now I had a giant sloppy stain on my pants, which was reason enough to flee. But more than that, I wanted to get away, hide my hideous self from Carter before he had the chance to realize the enormous mistake he’d made when he decided to be my boyfriend.

I got up early the next morning and spent an extra twenty minutes picking out a cute skirt and white shirt, wrestling with my hair, and slathering on makeup. I pictured Carter’s face lighting up when I found him, enchanted, enthralled, captivated—all the Disney princess words.

But he hardly even looked up from his book.

“No cavities?” Carter asked.

This time, I remembered the lie. “Nope,” I said, sitting down, trying to spread my skirt out beneath my legs so the grit of the wall didn’t touch my skin.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “You seem…”

“I’m fine,” I said, sucking in my stomach.

“Looking forward to dinner tonight?” he asked.

“Oh,” I said. “Yeah.” Another chance to gain a pound or two. Just what I needed.

“Hey, do you mind if I pick you up at seven instead of eight?” he asked. “I kind of need to get home early so I can finish my speech.”

Right. Student government speeches were tomorrow. That meant an assembly in the auditorium, bright lights, me in the front row. Everybody looking at me.

I shook my head. “Not at all,” I said.

Finally, he lowered the book and turned to me. “Lex, what’s wrong? All week you’ve been kind of out of it. Is your sister doing all right?”

I told myself to focus and gave him as much of a smile as I could muster. “Kasey’s good. I’m good too.”

“Okay,” he said. “I’ve just been worried.”

Worried how? I wanted to ask. Worried that when the school sees the drab chubster you’re dating, it will make them question your judgment and cost you the election?

Miss Nagesh noticed my efforts, at least. She gave me the once-over and said, “Ooh la la! Check out Miss Fancypants!”

She was cataloguing a new shipment of audiovisual equipment, and I was starting the 400s—Languages. Eager to do something that would take my mind off Carter, I lost myself in the work.

“We’re going to have to clean off some shelves in the equipment room,” Miss Nagesh said, interrupting me.

I glanced up to see her holding an ancient film canister.

“I hate to lose these cheesy old filmstrips, but they take up so much room,” she said. “Oh, well. How are you?”

“I’m up to…” I looked down and blinked.

“What?” she said.

“The five-forties,” I said.

She gave me a confused smile. “No, you just started the four hundreds.”

“I know,” I said. “But I…”

She knelt and looked at the shelves. “Wow,” she said at last. “Okay, well. Great.”

I stared at the hundreds of books I’d reshelved.

“Maybe you should wear your fancypants more often,” Miss Nagesh said, carrying the film can away.

When she was gone, I started back at the beginning of the section and skimmed every single number on every single book.

They were perfect.

* * *

The Sunshine Club called a special meeting that day. I tried to tuck myself into a far corner so no one would notice me. I was hyperaware of how much less polished I looked than the other girls, and a sense of certainty grew inside me that someone was going to know I was a fraud and call me on it. No way could a real member be so awkward and ugly.

Part of me was convinced that the whole reason for the meeting was to expose my lies.

What would they do to me when the truth came out?

I held my breath during Betterment, petrified that someone would bring up my lack of sunniness. My hands went cold when Lydia stood up and her eyes brushed over mine.

“Being part of this club involves a commitment,” she said. “Not just to come to the meetings and try hard to be your best, but to accept the gifts that Aralt wants to give you.”

Like they needed gifts. Every time I looked at another Sunshine Club member, I was reminded again. They all seemed to get prettier every day, while I felt uglier and more like a reject. It was completely unfair that Aralt would keep showering them with beauty and poise while I was left out.

And all because I’d gamed the system by swearing with the wrong hand.

We were up to twelve girls, and I would have sworn there were twenty-two eyes on me as Lydia spoke. I waited to hear my name. To hear an accusation that I was a faker, an imposter.

But then Lydia smiled. “I just wanted to remind everyone. Remember, Aralt loves you—not just for who you are, but for who you can be.”

And that was it. That was the whole meeting. No one outed me, no one even seemed suspicious.

They still don’t know, I thought.

I ducked away as quickly as possible. I was outside waiting by Megan’s car when she and Kasey came out.

“What’s wrong, Alexis?” Megan asked.

“I have to get home,” I said. My voice was brittle. “I have dinner with Carter tonight.”

At home I locked my bedroom door and threw my closet open, searching for something that might look okay. I found a simple black dress and put it on, then slipped on a pair of black shoes and went to the bathroom to do my hair. I brushed my hair back into a high ponytail and put on red lipstick and mascara.

Then I inspected myself.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. On so many levels I couldn’t even explain it. The boxy shoes made my legs look stumpy. The sleeves of the dress stopped on the fattest point of my arms, and the high neckline made me look about eighty. Plus my severe pink hair and red lips made me look like a decommissioned Russian spy robot from the 1980s.

I stared at the mirror, wondering what Carter would say if he saw me.…

What the Sunshine Club would say.

He deserves better than this.

And I thought of the way everyone else managed to look like they were right out of the pages of one of the fashion magazines that were passed around the lunch table every day.

The clock said it was five. Two hours—was that enough time?

What difference did it make? I had no choice. Worst-case scenario was staring at me in the mirror.

I called Lydia.

Forty-five minutes later, I sat on the edge of the tub while she massaged dye into my scalp. While it processed, she read a magazine, and I tried to focus on the book I was supposed to be reading for English.

Finally, the timer dinged and Lydia rinsed the dye out. I looked at myself in the mirror. My face was still shiny and puffy, my eyes were too close together, and I saw with alarming clarity the bushiness of my eyebrows.

But my hair, which just an hour earlier had looked like a Brillo pad on a bad day, was a relief. It was soaking wet, but it was dark and healthy looking. Pink hair had been part of my identity for years, but already I knew I wasn’t going to miss it.

“Ready for a cut?” Lydia asked, smiling. She wore a crisp black apron over her white button-down shirt and pleated red skirt. With her hair turned under, she looked like a retro housewife. In a million years, I’d never try to handle hair dye in a white shirt, but she didn’t get so much as a droplet on herself. She picked up a pair of wicked-looking scissors. “I was thinking longish layers that end around your shoulders.”

“Do whatever you want,” I said.

“I intend to,” she said, using her left hand to fluff my hair. “I’m so happy that you changed your mind, Alexis.”

I had no choice but to look almost straight up at her. “Me too.”

“I meant what I said at the meeting, you know. Aralt gives us so much,” she said, “and asks for so little.”

I was sure that was true for her and the rest of them. But so far, all I’d gotten out of the Sunshine Club was a healthy dose of paranoia.

Her hands—and the shears—were outside of my peripheral vision.

And I realized how very, very exposed my throat was. I could feel the delicate curve of it, stretched out like an apple on a cutting board.

I snapped my head down.

Lydia laughed. “Oh, Alexis. What are you thinking?”

“Nothing,” I said, trying not to be obvious as I tucked my chin down protectively over my neck.

“I’m sure that’s true,” she said, and her smile was like a poem in a different language.

She went to work, combing and parting and cutting. Big chunks fell to the floor. After the cut, she attacked me with a blow-dryer, cans of hairspray, tweezers, and a whole palette of makeup.

“Ready?” she asked.

I wasn’t sure.

“Too bad! Turn around!” Lydia said, like an inventor unveiling a miraculous machine.

Then I saw myself, and I understood why.

“Who is that?” I asked. Because it wasn’t me staring out of the mirror.

I didn’t have hair that hung in smooth waves of chocolate-colored silk. And I didn’t have eyebrows that arched like a 1940s movie star’s. Or eyelashes so thick and long that they made little picture frames for my blue eyes. Which, by the way, were not usually that blue.

And my lips didn’t look like that.

So it couldn’t be me.

I took a deep breath. But it was me. This was the new Alexis, like it or not.

Like it, came a little voice from inside me.

And something, some sensation, came bubbling through my body, starting at my feet and ending in a shiver at the crown of my head. It wasn’t like I was happy. It was like that feeling you get watching someone open a gift you gave them, when you know they’re going to love it.

This is what he deserves.

I felt my chest tighten. Because the “he” that popped into my head wasn’t Carter.

It was Aralt.

Lydia leaned in close to my ear. “Can you feel it?” she whispered. “He’s pleased.”

I watched the reflection of the dazzling stranger shake her head. “But Lydia, you don’t understand. I’m not the same as the rest of you. There’s something I…”

“What, your left-handed stunt?”

I waited for a blast of anger. But she gave my hair an affectionate ruffle.

“It doesn’t mean anything, Alexis. The hand on the book—Adrienne made that up because she thinks it looks cool.”

Inside my head, my thoughts reeled. I had taken the oath. I was connected to Aralt. And everything I was feeling was tied to the Sunshine Club.

“You poor thing,” Lydia said, her voice as sweet as honey. “All this time, you’ve been feeling so alone. But you were one of us all along.”

One of us all along.

I should have been scared, right? Or worried? Angry?

But I just couldn’t make myself feel those things.

“All he wants,” Lydia whispered, “is for you to be the best you can be.”

The thought came to me again: This is what he deserves.

And then a sparkling happiness burst and made my whole body feel radiant and beautiful, brilliant and clean. After a week of being filthy and hideous, it was enough to make me go limp with relief.

Lydia rested her chin on my shoulder. In the mirror, I could see her delighted smile. “Aralt thinks you’re lovely.”

Mom started to turn toward us. “Did you offer Lydia anything to drink?”

Her mouth formed into an O, and she set her wooden spoon down on the counter.

“Hi,” I said.

“Well, honey,” she said. Her eyes went wide and then narrow, like she couldn’t focus.

True, it was more dramatic than Kasey’s gradual transformation had been, but I wouldn’t have thought it was enough to strike a person dumb.

Apparently I was wrong.

“Thank you, Mrs. Warren, but I can’t stay,” Lydia said, daintily popping a single grape into her mouth. “And I know Alexis has dinner plans.”

Mom nodded, still staring at me.

“I’m going to go say good-bye to Kasey,” Lydia said, walking away. I listened to her shoes click click click on the tile floor.

Still, Mom didn’t say a word.

I was sort of afraid she was having a neurological episode or something. “Do you like it?”

“Alexis, I…You look beautiful, but…”

But? There was a but? Throughout my entire high school career, Mom’s fondest wish was that I would somehow find my way back to the social norm—to mall-bought clothes, shiny hair, tasteful makeup.

I’d expected…I don’t know. Squealing. Clapping. Hugs.

Not a but.

“I do. I like it. You’re stunning, but…”

But again. I took the offensive. “I thought it was time for a change. You know, I’m going to start thinking about college soon and all that. And the photography contest.”

“It’s just so…different,” Mom said. “How long is it going to take you to do that to your hair every day?”

I shrugged. “It’s just a blow-dry.”

She gave me a long appraisal. “You certainly look grown up.”

The glow inside me faded. “I thought you’d be excited.”

“Oh, honey.” Mom came closer and hugged me. “I really am. It’s a bit of a shock, that’s all. And you know there was nothing wrong with you before.”

I pulled away stiffly. “But why not improve? If you can?”

She didn’t have an answer for that. She sighed, then tried to cover it by raising her hands in surrender. “Maybe I just don’t like the idea of my two little girls growing up.”

The polite thing to do was to smile as though she’d made me feel better, so that was what I did—even though she hadn’t. I walked away, feeling self-conscious. It was a relief to turn the corner into the hallway, where I found Lydia and Kasey standing outside the bathroom, talking.

Kasey didn’t look surprised to see me.

“Isn’t she miraculous?” Lydia asked.

“She was fine before,” Kasey said. “But…you do look nice, Lexi.”

I trailed Lydia to the front door, where I could see she’d parked her dad’s red car right in the street, in front of the sidewalk.

“I hope you didn’t get a ticket,” I said.

“A ticket?” She gave me a bemused smile, like she’d never even heard of the word. “You have a lot to learn, Alexis.”

A lot to learn? About Aralt? I fought the urge to ask her what it was that I didn’t know about him. Because now that I knew I was stuck, I found myself intensely curious. It wasn’t, I told myself, that I wasn’t aware of how dangerous it was to get involved with ghosts. Or that I wasn’t committed to ending this whole thing as soon as possible. It was just…

That feeling—that bursting-with-brilliance feeling—I wanted more of it.

“Stay sunny!” Lydia said, hopping into her car.

Inside, Mom was on the phone. “Oh, here she is,” she said, handing me the receiver. “It’s Carter.”

“Hello?” I glanced at the clock. It was three minutes to seven.

“Hey, Lex.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Listen, I’m really sorry, but I have to cancel tonight. I started making some adjustments to my speech and it kind of unraveled. I can’t stop working now or I’ll be up all night.”

“Oh,” I said, going into my bedroom and closing the door behind me. The shoes Lydia had helped me pick out were sitting on the bed. I swiped them off and sat down. “Do you want another set of ears? I could come over. I can bring dinner.”

“That’s sweet,” he said. “But Mom made me a sandwich. And I don’t want to bore you.”

“You wouldn’t bore me,” I said. “It sounds like you need help.”

“No, listen, I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’m working some of the new ideas in, and I think they’re going to really, ah…really make an impression.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” I said.

“Okay, good,” he said. “So I’m pretty busy. I can try to call you later, if you want.”

“If you have time.” What the perfect girlfriend would say. “Otherwise, no worries.”

“All right,” he said.

“So, yeah,” I said. “Bye.”

As I went to hang up the phone, a voice in the background asked, “What did she say?”

It was like the bottom fell out, except it was the sides, the top, and everything else, too. Everything inside me shattered into a thousand pieces.

Because I knew that voice.

It was Zoe’s.

I sat on the bed and let stunned tears spill from my eyes. Then I got up, kicked off my shoes, and went across the hall to the bathroom to take off my makeup.

Streaking down my cheeks like ink spilling from a bottle were the lines of coal-colored tears.

After staring at myself and watching fresh, inky-black teardrops bubble out of my eyes, I grabbed a handful of tissues and daubed at them before they could drip onto my shirt. When I pulled the tissues away, they were covered in gray splotches like the ones on Megan’s shirt and my jeans. The occasional thicker patches of color were the same endless black as the goo that had covered the Ouija board.

Instead of leaving the tissues in the trash bin where Kasey might find them, I flushed them down the toilet, then scrubbed at my cheeks until they were clean. When I was done, the washcloth was basically ruined.

If I’d needed a reminder that I was different now, that something else was at work inside of me—inside of all of us—here it was.

Stay sunny, we said to each other.

Because if you don’t, the whole world will know you’re a monster.

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