Time means less when you’re dead, and you’ve been dead a long while. Someone always brings you back, though. This go-around, it’s two little girls with a Ouija board, playing at your grave. Victoria Waite, Victoria Waite, kill my parents so I can stay up late! The rhyme has changed again, it seems. It doesn’t matter. Evolution is part of being a monster; the legend shifts, and you shift to fulfill it. They invoked your name. They’re at a Significant Place. They wished for a death.
You didn’t wear the prom dress, that first time you resurrected.
It’s part of your signature, red dress, no shoes, but it only happened . . . the second resurrection? The third? It doesn’t matter, really. The legend shifted, so.
But that first time . . . you wore what your parents had buried you in: an ugly burlap sack of a nightgown, stained with your blood and sweat, piss and tears. The Redemption Gown, they called it. They never washed it, ever.
They hadn’t meant to kill you. Arguably, they’d been trying to save you; they’d been trying your whole life, in secret, in the dark. Things went too far. Head cracked against a wall. Not breathing, for a moment. Confusion, panic. Disposal.
But you were still alive, a little, when they threw your body in the old well.
You don’t remember the exact moment you died. You don’t quite remember being dead. But you do remember waking up that first time: the tiny metal thunk of a penny hitting your cheek. A boy’s voice—Todd’s Clarke’s voice—echoing through the well.
Victoria Waite, Victoria Waite.
Todd. Strawberry hair, big goofy smile. Earnest questions and silly little rhymes. His rented black tux had been a bit too big. You’d put your hands under his shirt. He’d laughed into your mouth.
Victoria Waite, Victoria Waite. Where did you go? Come back, it’s late.
One thing you don’t have is a signature weapon.
Of course, anything can be a weapon. You decapitated a vice principal once with an office door. You electrocuted a mayor with gin and a string of Christmas lights. You don’t exactly make puns—you never speak at all—but you’ve been known to indulge in the occasional irony kill. Your high school gym teacher, for instance. Shoving that golf club down his throat. Really, it made it further than even you would’ve imagined.
Still. You were all bird bones, back when you were alive, easily dislocated, easily crushed. Being dead is different: still skinny, forever sixteen and gawky, but there’s strength in your arms and legs now, even though they’re all bent and broken from the fall. It’s a very particular type of strength, the kind you only get from climbing out of your grave.
You don’t have a signature weapon because you don’t want a signature weapon. Weapons break, get stuck. Weapons are less effective the more you use them. You’ve always preferred a signature method: making flesh origami with your own hands. Snapping bones, contorting bodies. Creating new, agonized shapes.
This is how you killed Molly’s mom.
As a kid, Molly Guzman was an asshole. She shoved younger kids around. She stole their lunch money. She started that stupid chant. Wait, Victoria Waite! Which was inevitable, really, considering your surname—but still. You hated her guts. You hated her stupid pretty face. You hated her streak of pink hair and the bruises she didn’t bother to hide and how she was too cool to know the answer, even though she obviously did know all the answers. You hated everything about Molly until you were fourteen, and she pushed you into the bathroom wall, and you kissed her, suddenly you just had to kiss her, and she kissed you back, she kissed you back a lot, and you were staring at each other, breathing hard, all what the fuck, what the fuck.
“This can’t happen again,” Molly said, and you agreed because if your parents ever found out—
No. They couldn’t. They wouldn’t. (They didn’t.)
You kept your word; Molly did, too. The closet was almost the only thing you had in common, anyway. She was a poster child for juvenile delinquency; you were a B-student, trying desperately to become invisible. You never did become friends, exactly, but you . . . looked at each other often. Opposite ends of the hall, across the cafeteria. Nodded, occasionally, when no one else was looking. It was acknowledgement, validation. A silent confirmation: I see you. You see me. We’re both still here.
You turned fifteen. You lost another battle with the guidance counselor, rushed off to what would surely be your new personal hell: Drama. You literally ran into Todd Clarke, the Todd Clarke. He’d laughed, kindly. Steadied you by the shoulders. Made up one of his dumb little rhymes.
Victoria Waite, Victoria Waite. Don’t run so fast. For you, we’ll wait.
Todd made you feel wanted, special. Like you deserved to be seen by the whole world.
Todd and Molly were seventeen when they staggered away from the bloodbath at the sheriff’s station. They hadn’t understood yet, that you weren’t coming for them.
First, you came for your parents. But they had moved away by then. Nobody had stopped them; you were just a runaway, after all. No one in danger, no one who wanted to be found.
Then you came for the guidance counselor, but you found Todd’s father instead. He was every gym teacher in every movie. He wore stupid shorts and bellowed inspirational speeches from sports films and could only be proud of his son, the baseball player. Todd, the short stop, had value. Todd, the theater nerd, was an embarrassment.
Todd, the worried boyfriend, had said, “Dad, I think they’re hurting her.”
Mr. Clarke, the terrible teacher and terrible father and well-respected member of the local country club, had said, “Nonsense. They’re good folk. Don’t go making waves, son.”
Todd found that golf club just where you left it. The Sheriff found Todd near catatonic. Again.
It’s strange how many children are unhappy when you murder their parents.
The little girls with the Ouija board, for example. They made a wish, and you honored it, and now the redhead is clutching her knees to her chest and screaming, screaming, screaming. There are always kids who mourn their neglectful parents and abusive teachers and oh-so-kindly neighbors, the ones who offer lemonade but refuse to ask questions, to interfere. Children’s grief doesn’t touch you. You aren’t here to empathize; that’s not something monsters can do, even if you were inclined to. Besides, there’s always someone who understands that they’re better off today than yesterday. Someone who’s grateful and terrified in equal measure.
You step over the remains of the dinner party, over four broken plates and wine glasses and bodies. The redhead is still screaming, but blonde pigtails just watches from the corner. Watches as you pull the carving fork out of her father’s neck, watches as the blood spurts, as he shudders and goes still. Watches as you discard the carving fork for the bread knife. As you pick up an invitation for the 20-year class reunion that he’d obviously decided to skip.
The little blonde girl doesn’t say anything to you, doesn’t smile, doesn’t cry, doesn’t laugh. But you’ve seen children like her before. You recognize her.
She’s going to be just fine.
The last real conversation you had with Molly, before you died the first time:
“Okay, I know this is random, I know we don’t really talk, but Homecoming? Todd asked me to go, and I already found this amazing dress, but my parents . . . look, it’s not important, it’s just they’re not . . . great. Like, I’m not saying it’s anything, just I can’t—I can’t get ready there, I can’t stash my dress there, and I’d go to Todd’s, but Mr. Carter doesn’t like me; he’d definitely tell my parents. And I know you’re not even going to the dance, and we’re not even really friends, but—”
“Ugh, Jesus, quit talking already,” Molly had said, studying her dark nails, so carefully bored. “I get it, my mom sucks, too. You can owe me or whatever, don’t make a whole thing.”
At seventeen, Molly and Todd both got arrested on the same day, for public intoxication and homicide respectively. Todd had no alibi for his father’s murder, and unfortunately, his nervous breakdown about his dead girlfriend crawl-climbing up the well hadn’t exactly cemented his credibility as emotionally stable. Todd was shoved in the cell next to Molly, although the sheriff soon yanked him out again, like a sacrificial goat.
“Here!” the sheriff yelled, as you eviscerated the second deputy. His blood had splattered everywhere: up the ceiling, through the bars, across the snowy white owl stitched into Molly’s black crop top. “He’s who you want, right? Take him, just take him!”
You didn’t take him. Todd wasn’t in your way, and he wasn’t an adult, besides. He hadn’t failed anybody yet. Instead, you grabbed the sheriff and slammed him headfirst into the brick wall, five times in rapid succession. Skull flat and sopping red by the time you dropped him to the floor.
Todd backed up slow.
You tilted your head, silently watching, as he knelt down by the dead deputy and grabbed the gory ring of keys with pale, shaking fingers. He dropped the keys twice, as he unlocked Molly’s cell; she didn’t even move, still staring at you, eyes glazed over, pupils huge. She was still very, very drunk, had barely been on her feet when you first arrived, collapsed forward and half-hanging from the bars. There was blood spatter against her cheek, too.
Molly had sobered up, mostly, a few hours later, enough to run without needing Todd’s guiding hands. Still, she just kept staring at you, silent and blank. When you burst through the window, pulling her mother back by the shoulders. When you yanked so hard, Mrs. Guzman’s spine broke straight in half at the T6 vertebrae.
You walk to the high school in your red prom dress. That dress. Maybe it had been your second resurrection, after all. Todd and Molly had graduated by then, fled town with most of their graduating class. Already, the legend of you had shifted. Victoria Waite, Victoria Waite. Killed because she stayed out late. It’s true, and it’s not; no one remembers the details. It was Homecoming, not Prom. A white-and-black dress, not red. Everyone forgets why you got caught—but of course, the rhyme scheme. It would have been ruined. Victoria, the meek, Victoria, the fool. Killed for talking out of school.
You’re a monster. You adapt. You left the Redemption Gown behind.
You arrive at the high school now, find two women smoking in the parking lot, cheap carnival masks pushed up loosely atop their heads. You kill them quickly with the bread knife, serrated teeth to pale white throats. It takes longer to recognize the women as giggling girls from your algebra class. Their faces are sharper now, the dark circles obvious beneath their eyes. They’ve both grown so old. They’re adults, and you can’t help adults. They fail kids, break kids, kill kids. Adults deserve to die.
You drop the bread knife on the ground. Grab the closest beaded black mask. A masquerade reunion, all the better to elongate the suspense: who got pretty, who got bald, who got Botox, who got dead.
You slip the mask over your face and walk inside the gym.
It’s a surprisingly packed event, considering how many coaches and teachers have died here over the years. People have grown too comfortable. It’s been so long since you came back, and anyway, this isn’t your class reunion because you didn’t graduate with the class. There’s one deputy on duty, at least; you corner him in the bathroom and break the white porcelain with his skull. There’s a drunk man in a jester’s mask who might have been on the baseball team with Todd. He slurs about how his teenage daughter is growing up nice, if you know what he means. You do know what he means. You break him at the knees and hips and elbows and shoulders until you can fold his body into the smallest locker, a collapsible corpse.
You return to the gym proper and immediately feel someone’s eyes on you. She’s standing across the way, wearing ripped black jeans and a glittery black top and a snowy white owl mask that covers everything but full black lips and the round shape of her jaw.
She nods at you. You stare back.
Someone starts screaming.
Ah. A body has been found.
Now everyone starts screaming. Running, hyperventilating, not knowing where to go. In her panic, a blonde woman bumps straight into you; you grab her by the hair as she starts to beg for herself and her children. “Please, my boys need me, you don’t want them to live without a mother.” She must be somebody’s wife. Anyone from around here would know better.
There are rafters far above your head, painted in your school colors. If you launched her up, headfirst into one—
You drop the woman. She runs for her life. You barely notice. That voice—
Todd Clarke stands ten feet away, taller, wider, unsmiling. His hair is still more strawberry than gray. The absolute love of your life—
And so old, old, old.
Your parents were only the first people to kill you. Todd was the second.
You killed Molly’s mom. She deserved it. It was an open secret, just how much she deserved it—but still, no one wanted to make a scene. Not my monkey, not my problem. You killed Molly’s neighbors next, and the last living deputy who tried to protect them. Then it was finally the guidance counselor’s turn, who ran and ran from you. You couldn’t run anymore, couldn’t rush from place to place, but then, you didn’t need to. You just kept following, one step at a time. His strength would give out eventually.
It did. At the well.
“I didn’t know!” he screamed, begging, on his knees. “I didn’t know what they’d do!”
But he should have. You lifted him in the air and strangled him with one hand. His tongue bulged. His face turned purple. It took him a surprisingly long time to die. You watched, dispassionately, and threw him to the side when it was over.
A boy started crying behind you. “Vic.”
Todd, your Todd. You stepped toward him.
He scrambled backwards, hands up. “Wait, Victoria, wait!” he said, and you—
It’s surprise, more than anything, that stopped you. That old elementary school joke. Todd hadn’t meant to say it; you could tell by how his hands covered his mouth, by the way he laughed hysterically through his fingers, by the sob tearing through his throat. Todd had never laughed like that before. Someone had hurt him. You needed to hurt them.
But he never gave you the opportunity.
“I’m sorry, Victoria,” Todd said, and pushed you back down the well.
Todd isn’t wearing a mask, only blue jeans and a soft sweater. He has a beard now. Glasses. He’s holding a gasoline can in his hand.
“I hoped I’d never see you again,” Todd says, “but I guess I knew I would.”
You stare at him.
“Did you know I became a school counselor because of you?”
You didn’t know. You step forward.
He smiles. Nothing like his old goofy smiles; this one is thin, weary. There’s a woman’s voice, somewhere behind you: “Fucking Christ, Todd, don’t do this! She isn’t after you—”
You recognize that voice, even after all these years. Todd knows it, too, but ignores her.
“I had to make sure,” he says. “I couldn’t stand by and see the system fail another kid, like you were failed. Like I failed you. I should’ve done something more. When Dad didn’t help, I should’ve told someone else, I should’ve made you tell me what was really going on. I’m sorry, Vic. I’m still so sorry.”
But you never blamed him, not back then. He was just a kid.
You step forward.
“This is the only way I can save you,” Todd says. “It’s the only way either of us will ever get peace. Don’t we finally deserve that? Don’t we deserve some fucking peace?”
You step forward. You step forward. You—
“Wait, Victoria Waite!”
Words are just words until they have power; until someone has used them to beat back the night. Those words are part of the legend now, and they always work, at least for a while. Others prefer to slow you down with rudimentary child psychology and a splash of theater, dressing up as your mother or father to scare you back. People rarely plan past that, though. They waste their precious few seconds. They hesitate. They die.
Todd doesn’t hesitate. He reaches out and triggers a booby trap that explodes one of the ceiling rafters. It drops straight down, pinning you to the floor. Then he quickly sets the gym on fire, grabbing Molly—because of course it’s Molly—and dragging her out as she kicks and bites back. He looks at you once, only once. He might be crying.
He leaves you to burn.
The last real conversation you had with Todd, before you died the first time:
“You’ll be okay, right?”
You shrugged uncomfortably, trying to smile. The dance was perfect, nearly, anyway: kissing Todd, slow-dancing, how cute you felt in your feathered dress. “Like a snowy fucking owl,” Molly had muttered a few hours ago, “so goddamn precious.” Then she did your makeup while completely and aggressively ignoring you.
It was the best night you’d had in a long time, in forever. You didn’t want to ruin that by talking about your parents: about the Redemption Gown, the punishments, how everything they did was because they loved you. Todd suspected something, had been trying to bring it up for weeks. You even overhead him telling his dad—who’d brushed it off, predictably. Not a surprise; it shouldn’t have hurt. Your parents were influential. This was a secret-secret.
You tried sometimes, though. With Todd, who knew some of it and loved you anyway. With Molly, who didn’t like you but might’ve at least understood. Just yesterday morning, you had a whole little breakdown in the guidance counselor’s office when he said, “Your parents are so involved with the community; it must feel good, having that kind of support,” and you . . . just . . . snapped. Then you’d had to spend the next ten minutes doing damage control, all “I was just joking” and “I didn’t mean ‘hurt’ literally” and “of course, everything is fine” before, thank God, you finally convinced him not to do something terrible, like call your parents.
You did want to tell someone. You felt like glass, most days, vibrating at some terrible frequency no one else could hear. Like you were gonna crack under the pressure, eventually; like if you didn’t scream soon, you’d shatter—and maybe take out everyone in your vicinity, too: your parents, your teachers, Molly, Todd, all impaled in a storm of your broken, bloody shards. Sometimes, only sometimes, you thought maybe that would be better, maybe it would be a relief.
But mostly, you were determined to hold on. You shouldn’t tell anyone; you shouldn’t need to. In two years, you’d graduate. In two years, you’d escape this place, and maybe it hurt, maybe sometimes it hurt so fucking much—but all you had to do was hold on a little longer.
All you had to do was survive.
Your hair is on fire. You red dress is on fire. Probably your flesh, too, although you can’t actually feel it. That’s what dying means: you can’t feel anything anymore. It’s the very best thing about being dead.
If you could still feel, that rafter would be too heavy.
If you could still feel, those flames would be too hot.
If you could still feel, you’d never survive the gym exploding around you.
But you can’t. So you do.
You step outside. The parking lot is nearly empty now, only Molly, staring at the owl mask in her hands, and Todd, watching the gym burn down. Todd is close: to the fire, to you. His eyes widen. His lips part. He stumbles backwards, hands up.
He’s the love of your life. But you can’t feel that anymore, either. Love means less when you’re dead, and you’ve been dead a long, long while.
“Wait,” Todd says, “Victoria Waite!”
But that’s the thing about weapons: they’re less effective each time you use them.
“Wait,” he tries again, desperately—
You snap Todd’s neck so hard, he dies looking over his own shoulder.
“I’ll save you,” he’d murmured, as you slow-danced around the room, so softly you weren’t sure if you were supposed to hear him at all. You pretended not to. You swallowed your scream. You never asked him for that. You never wanted to be saved.
The night had been perfect. You get it back on track, sneaking your hands under his shirt. He’d laughed into your mouth.
Molly stares at Todd’s body.
She looks healthier as an adult: warm brown skin without any cuts or bruises, a thick, lovely waistline fed something besides French fries and vodka. Her hair is dark purple, buzzed next to nothing on one side. She’s looking at Todd’s body. She’s looking at you.
“I still have your dress,” Molly says. “I wanted to wear it tonight, poetic, or something. It was too fucking small.”
You stare at her.
She smiles. It makes her look angry. “I tried to find your parents,” she says. “Used to think if I could track those evil motherfuckers down, if you could finally just kill them . . . but I never could. Anyway, that’s not what you want, is it? You wouldn’t keep coming back, if you wanted to sleep. I tried telling Todd that, that not everybody wants peace, but he couldn’t . . . well. I guess we weren’t really friends. Just people who survived together, for a while.”
Molly’s eyes are wet. The bigger she smiles, the angrier she looks. “Anyway,” she says. “Here.”
The owl mask is in one hand. A crumpled piece of paper is in the other. There are names written down. Addresses, occupations. Ages and sins.
You look up at her. She opens her mouth:
Victoria Waite, Victoria Waite. Send these fuckers to their fucking fates.
As a rhyme, it’s not exactly elegant. And Molly is an adult. You can’t help adults. Adults fail kids. Adults deserve to die.
But she isn’t in your way. She invoked your name. She’s at a Significant Place. She wished for a death.
Molly nods at you. You nod at Molly.
You slip the mask on, take the list. Walk away into the night.