No More Lies
The lies would end. Tonight.
No matter what lame excuse Claire threw out, I’d had enough of her weird, cryptic crap. No more secrets. No more arguments. No more dodging questions. I was going to confront her and demand the truth.
Something I should have done months ago. The first time she lied.
My headlights splashed across the back of her baby blue Beetle. While my twin drove a cuter, newer, sportier car, I’d opted for an older, cheaper Corolla. If I had to pay half, I wanted to pay half of less. Claire still owed our parents money. I was free and clear.
Sometimes I made good decisions.
I slid my car into the narrow space next to the Beetle, claiming the last spot in the small parking alcove by the creek. I slammed the gearshift into park and ripped the keys out of the ignition.
Other times I didn’t make good decisions at all.
Like rushing out here on the whim of one of my sister’s histrionic rants. Claire might think it was cool to hang out here in the dark, but I didn’t. Why couldn’t she pout at Starbucks or the nail salon like a normal sixteen-year-old? Somewhere bright and safe where finding her didn’t require a Mag light?
My hand strayed to my pocket, my fingers brushing the soft denim of my jeans.
Get a grip, Kate. It’s a piece of paper.
A piece of paper with some pretty damning words—written in Claire’s barely legible loopy handwriting.
The twilight sky began a slow slide into night—the horizon a hazy pink, growing duskier by the minute. Thanks a lot, Claire. Stupid text—At creek. Need you. You couldn’t have needed me before it got dark?
I checked my phone again. Ten unanswered messages in my outbox in response to the one she’d sent twenty minutes ago. I tossed the phone on the dash and opened the glove compartment. Owner’s manual. GPS. A half-empty pack of Trident. And a tiny red flashlight.
Nothing that made me feel even a little bit okay about getting out of my car. I grabbed the flashlight and shoved open my door anyway.
Right into the car next to me.
Crap. It was a nice car, too. Even under the dimming street lamp, I could make out a deep scratch highlighted with beige paint, marring the black shine on the passenger door. Now I had to find Claire and get back here before Sleek and Sporty’s owner returned and wrote down my license plate.
I let my sweatshirt sleeves fall over my hands. Even mid-December, the winter chill hadn’t quite hit Texas, but the sun’s disappearance lowered the temperature another ten degrees and the breeze brought a bitter edge.
Claire’s sanctuary under the wooden bridge wasn’t too far down the winding creek—just past the huge tree that twisted and bent and practically fell into the water. Maybe a quarter mile or so.
I’d try there first.
Dead leaves and grass crunched under my boots. Long strands of hair whipped across my face. I brushed them back.
Something snapped behind me.
I whirled around, clenching my fingers. A branch blew across the ground. My heart sped again and the loud pounding echoed across the water and got lost in the blackness. A tight knot curled in my stomach. If something happened to me out here, I was going to kill my sister.
What would they say when they found me disemboweled and hanging from a tree a la Scream? Probably—stupid girl came out here all alone, she deserved it.
I quickened my pace. There were other more pressing things to deal with. Real things. Claire things. Crazy things. Things my head couldn’t process that should immobilize my heart more than the thought of some psycho hiding in the trees with a machete.
That slip of paper burned the proverbial hole in my pocket. But exaggeration was Claire’s specialty. I just needed to find her, before it got any darker, and we could talk about this in the car. With the doors locked. Or at Saxby’s over a latte. And I would fix it. Whatever it was.
Nothing ever turned out to be as dramatic as she made it out to be. And what was with all the sneaking around? What did she think she had to hide? Especially from me? Up until junior year started this fall, we’d never kept secrets from each other.
My stomach twisted at the accusation.
Okay, one secret. I kept one secret. No point in sharing what couldn’t be fixed.
The bridge loomed ahead, a tall arching structure made of wood and metal that connected one side of the creek to the other. The barely-there-sliver of a moon might as well have been MIA.
I switched the tiny flashlight on and pointed it toward the platform, shining it from one end to the other. Empty. She was probably huddled under the metal supports against the stone wall—which meant I had to climb down there to find her.
“Claire?” I whispered, angling the light toward the shadowy place where I expected her to be, but the dim light and distance made everything black.
I hugged myself, rubbing my arms through the thick sweatshirt. Oh yeah, perfect slasher set-up. Dumb blonde. No common sense. Armed with a penlight. I could almost hear the people in the theater screaming, “Run Kate! Don’t go down there.”
“Claire?” I boosted my volume. “Not funny, okay? Let’s pick up a pizza and go home. I’ll pay.” I glanced over my shoulder at the deserted street, then back to the creek. A cluster of dense trees moved in rhythm with the breeze. It should have been a beautiful dance. It wasn’t.
A sliver of ice skipped across my spine, wrapped around my middle, and took up residence low in my gut. My breath caught. Why didn’t I tell Dad like I’d threatened? Then he’d be out here instead of me.
The third time I said her name, my voice hit the bottom end of yelling and came out a shaky warble. “Claire?”
I stuck the flashlight between my teeth and worked my way one careful step at a time down the steep sloping bank, holding onto to trees and rocks, my hands trembling along with my breath.
“Oh, Claire, you’re going to owe me big time for this. Do you hear me? Work shifts. Bathroom cleaning. Dog poop duty. All yours.”
Almost to the bottom, an old gnarled tree bent and hung over the water, attached to a flat, narrow ledge. I tripped on a giant root, grabbed a low-hanging branch, and barely saved myself from falling the three feet off the edge and into the icy water.
The flashlight fell out of my mouth and landed in the mud, pointing across the creek.
“Don’t text me to come here and then be a jerk, Claire. Whatever’s going on, you don’t need to be mean.” If I could have hissed the words, I would have. “I’m going home.”
Right after I snagged my only source of light.
I slid down the rest of the slope—mostly on my butt—until my feet hit the dirt. I reached for the flashlight. The edge of the narrow beam caught a dark shape in the water.
A log? A broken tree? Or a psycho killer stalking me crocodile style?
Whatever. I was done here. I loved my sister, but I was tired of being pulled into her craziness. Dad could deal with her.
I snatched the flashlight, most of it covered in mud, and prayed Croco Killer wouldn’t jump out of the water once I turned my back. I kept my eyes forward and climbed up the bank, chanting, “Horror movies are made up by sickos with freaky imaginations that get off on scaring people to death. They’re not real. They’re not real. They’re not real.”
The chanting didn’t do much to stop the sliver of ice in my gut from multiplying and spreading to the rest of my body. The longer I refused to look back, the more I could feel someone watching me, rising up out of the water, slow and stealthy, stalking me up the bank, preparing to strike quiet and quick.
I couldn’t look.
I had to look.
Don’t be such a baby, Kate. I braced myself for the worst, held my breath, tensed my shoulders, and spun around ready with the flashlight in case I needed to use it as a weapon.
The bank was psycho free. Unless I counted myself and I was beginning to wonder.
My breath escaped in a sigh of relief that softened my entire body. “It’s just a log.” I pointed the flashlight at the shape one more time. And froze.
Everything faded into a black void. Paralyzed in disbelief, I couldn’t think, couldn’t react, couldn’t do anything. My mind couldn’t process what my eyes were seeing and for a moment, I stood there transfixed by the leg and arm crooked over a fallen tree, mesmerized by the long strands of hair that fanned out and rode the surface of the water.
That moment could have been a second.
Or a year.
A snatch of shimmery purple glinted off the beam of light—my sister’s jacket.
The flashlight hit the ground and the vacuum imploded. A splintered scream shattered my lungs, knocking my breath across the muddy ravine. “Claire!”