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Kayla

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Kayla Winter’s mechanical pencil slid across the smooth wooden desk, leaving behind thin lines the color of grey slate. The lines twisted together, mingling, dancing. Kayla tried to make them as random as possible, but in her haste not to draw a recognizable shape, the image of a bloody, serrated butcher knife appeared on the surface of her desk. Kayla frowned at it. She tried to make it look like something else, overlapping the doodle with loops, flowers and other, non-killing related shapes. No matter how many pointless circles, flowers, hearts or stars she drew, the knife remained, etched permanently into the desk by her twisted imagination.
“Hi.”
Kayla’s heart jumped three feet in her chest. She unintentionally tightened her grip on her pencil and pushed down. The tiny bit of lead protruding from the end of the pencil broke off with a sound like the snapping of a bone.
Kayla looked up, into the face of Annalise Franklin, the girl who sat four rows in front of her and three rows to the left. Annalise’s face was right in front of Kayla, filling her entire scope of vision. Two large, pale blue eyes, a triangular nose, and a pair of flaky, chapped lips were all that she could see. Vaguely, Kayla felt the balance of weight on her desk shift as Annalise put her hands on the surface and leaned against it, as if to brace herself for a daunting task.
“Hey,” Kayla said.
She leaned back a little in her chair, away from the looming face in front of her. Kayla’s eyes wandered to Annalise’s lips. The girl was worrying them with her teeth, probably a nervous habit based on how damaged they were.
“Is there something you wanted to talk about?” Kayla smiled, not quite widely enough to show her teeth, but enough to make the smile look genuine.
It was a smile she practiced on a daily basis, in the mirror, at school, at dinner with her family. It was a smile that said, “Trust me, I’m a friend, my only concern is to help you.” At the same time, it radiated a subtle message of surrender, of tearing down defenses and revealing deep, dark secrets that no one was supposed to know. Unconsciously, Annalise received this message and heeded it, just as Kayla knew she would. Annalise’s shoulders relaxed, and she stopped chewing on her lip to smile back.
“So, there’s this thing that I’ve been wanting to get some advice on, it’s about my boyfriend, Nick? You might know about him, he’s on the basketball team…”
Annalises’s irises were darker around the edges than near the center, Kayla noticed. They shifted constantly as the girl talked. Every time Annalise mentioned the name “Nick” she tended to keep her eyes down, with a tiny smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. On the other hand, whenever she said the name, “Danielle,” her nose would crinkle up and her eyes would roll almost involuntarily.
“…apparently, he and Danielle dated for like, a year or something, and this might just be me being paranoid, but every time Nick and I go out she just shows up, like, out of the blue, and starts throwing herself at him…”
Annalise had pale skin that contrasted with her dark, chocolate-colored locks. She reminded Kayla of a picture on the cover of her Romeo and Juliet book, which was probably sitting in a dark corner somewhere back in her house, unread for years. Juliet had pale skin and dark hair too.
But Juliet died.
“…just feel so—so angry when I see her, and I just feel like punching her in the face or something, but Nick doesn’t even notice…”
Unlike Kayla, Annalise had no freckles on her face. Her skin was completely smooth. It seemed unnatural, unfair even, that she should have such great skin while Kayla had to look in the mirror and deal with the sight of her freckles every day. But that situation could be remedied. All it would take would be a few cuts made with one of the X-Acto knives in the art room, maybe on her cheek, or on the bridge of her nose, and then poor little Annalise wouldn’t be so pretty anymore…
“…and I really don’t know what to do, once she actually taped a note to his locker, it was just…”
It would be disappointing, yet exciting, to see the moment when the light faded out of Annalise’s sparkling, baby blue eyes and turned them into faded, washed out imitations of what they used to be. And how would Nick react when he saw his beloved girlfriend’s corpse staining the forest floor black with her blood? What about Danielle? She’d probably be a lot less heart-broken at the death, given the circumstances. She sounded like a pretty girl too. Maybe Kayla would invite her into the forest as well.
“…and I heard from my friend, Marie, that you’re really good at giving advice about stuff like this, so I decided to come to you for help,” Annalise concluded, nearly out of breath. She stopped rolling her eyes and looked straight ahead, locking eyes with Kayla for the first time since she started telling her story.
Wait. What was she thinking?! There was a reason why she didn’t just go around murdering every single student in the school. If she killed anybody, the police would find out who the culprit was and put her in jail—or, even worse, stick her in an asylum where everyone would know her for the freak show that she was. How had she forgotten that?
“Well, I agree with you about Danielle being in the wrong,” Kayla said to Annalise, without even thinking about what she was saying. Her thoughts were somewhere else entirely—not that the other girl knew.
“But if you get mad at her, Nick will sympathize with her and she’ll just get what she wants. Ignore her. Act like you don’t care. Don’t ever let her see you frown, or cry, or scream. Don’t ever fight with Nick or argue with him while she’s watching. I know it’ll take some time, and it’ll be incredibly frustrating, but when she eventually figures out that Nick isn’t interested in her anymore, she’ll give up and go find herself another—“
“But what if she doesn’t?” Annalise cut in, her voice a little too whiny for Kayla’s taste.
“Try talking to Nick. If he tells her to back off she might just listen to him—and if she doesn’t, he’ll see how crazy she really is and he’ll do something about it. I mean, think about it, if you started yelling at Danielle in the middle of the mall or the cafeteria, you’ll just come off as the weird, paranoid girlfriend, but if he’s the one telling her off, people are going to take your side, not hers, right?”
“…That… makes sense, I guess,” Annalise admitted. She stayed silent for a few seconds, and Kayla could almost see the gears turning in her head. Then, abruptly, Annalise took her hands off of Kayla’s desk and stood properly, arching her back and stretching to relieve some of the aches caused by leaning against Kayla’s desk for such a long time. When she was done with her mini-yoga session, she said, “Thanks for listening to me. All my friends think I’m making a big deal out of nothing, so it’s great to talk to someone on the outside, you know?”
Annalise turned around and started towards her own desk. Just then, Kayla remembered something at the last minute and began frantically digging through the purple backpack under her chair.
“Hey! Annalise!” she called. As Annalise turned, Kayla tossed a stick of cherry-flavored chapstick in her direction. Annalise caught it between both her hands, flinching away in surprise at the same time. When she saw what it was, she glanced back at Kayla, bewildered. Kayla mimed the motion of putting chapstick on her lips. Annalise’s touched her lips with the index and middle fingers of her right hand, then laughed when she understood what Kayla was saying. “I bought it yesterday, it’s new!” Kayla shouted again. As Annalise sat back down on her desk, Kayla looked down at her own.
Annalise’s hand had smeared the pencil marks on the surface of the desk, making it look even messier than it had been before. Kayla blew up her cheeks with air and then slowly exhaled, before reaching into her bag again for an eraser. All the while, she thought about what had happened—or almost happened—while she’d been talking to Annalise.
The urge to kill was growing again. It was time for Kayla to go back into the forest.

***

Kayla squinted and leaned forward, shifting her weight onto her heels, trying to make out the vague, dark shape that standing in her dad’s study. It felt… out of place. Kayla didn’t recall seeing any pieces of furniture there before, so that was pretty weird. She hazarded a guess at the shape’s identity.
“Dad?”
All of a sudden, the shape moved. It grew larger and larger as the person slowly, silently made his or her way towards her. For a second Kayla was numb. Her arms and legs felt tired, heavy, like she’d just been treading water for an hour with a brick held above her head. Every nightmare she’d had, every ghost story she’d heard, and every horror film she’d watched rushed back into her mind, flooding it with terrifying images of twisted faces and bloody corpses.
Thumpthumpthump something went, and Kayla realized it was the sound of her bare feet pounding against the wooden floor. She was sprinting towards her right, away from the foreign predator. She heard another set of thumps as well. These were not her own, but they belonged to whoever was behind her. At this revelation, something built up in the back of her throat, an uncomfortable lump that was making its way up her windpipe and out of her mouth—
Just before Kayla could let out an ear-shredding scream, something closed around her left arm like a vice. Suddenly she was in the air, her feet no longer finding purchase on the floor, and then she was slammed against her dad’s bookcase.

***

Kayla crouched in front of the chest of drawers in the corner of her room. Only one of the drawers had a keyhole; this was the one Kayla was looking for. There was satisfying sequence of clicks and scraping noises as the key to Kayla’s “secret drawer” found its mark.
“The secret drawer!” Kayla’s father would announce in a deep, booming voice whenever the Winters were having dinner with a relative or family friend. As he did so, he would stretch his arms towards Kayla and wiggle his fingers in her face like adders. Kayla always responded by blushing crimson and batting away her father’s arms while the rest of the people in the room laughed.
Truth be told, no one in Kayla’s household actually knew what she kept in the drawer. They only made fun of her because of how defensive she became whenever someone mentioned it. Neither of Kayla’s parents was truly worried about what Kayla might be hiding; they both saw her as too much of an angel to be smoking or doing drugs. Kayla’s mother probably assumed that the drawer contained Kayla’s diary, while her father simply didn’t seem to care.
When Kayla grasped the handle of the drawer and tugged it open, there was no diary. Instead, there were three knives laid delicately on top of layer after layer of bubble wrap.
One was a long, thin switchblade secretly given to Kayla by her uncle on her fourteenth birthday. Using only the fingertips of her left hand, Kayla picked it up. The handle shimmered an iridescent red, like the silk dresses that Hollywood stars wore to awards ceremonies, just like it had the day Kayla’s uncle gave it to her for her fourteenth birthday—behind her parents’ backs, of course. There was a small groove carved into the handle, with a small knob built into one end of it. With her thumb, Kayla slid the knob from one end of the groove to the other. Afterwards, she pressed down on the silver button installed into the center of the handle.
In a matter of seconds, the blade flipped out of the handle with a solid click! It was completely coated with black, meaning that it did not glint in the dim sunlight that issued from Kayla’s open window. That also meant that if Kayla went outside still holding the weapon in her hand, it would be virtually invisible to anyone who happened to be looking at her from a distance.
Kayla extended the index finger of her empty hand and pressed the tip against the point of the blade. There was a tiny pinprick of pain, but the knife did not break her skin. She pressed harder, not moving as the pain grew more acute. A moment later, Kayla took her finger off the knife and stared at the swelling bead of crimson on her finger tip. Satisfied that the knife was still in good condition, she placed her injured finger in her mouth and sucked at the wound, wiping the switchblade on the fabric of her T-shirt at the same time. Afterwards, she closed the knife, and turned the safety back on.
Putting down the switchblade, Kayla moved onto the second knife in her collection, her father’s pocket knife. She picked it up and flipped it open the same way she’d opened the switchblade. This time there was no need to test the knife’s sharpness; the blade of this knife wasn’t coated black like the switchblade’s, so anyone could tell how deadly it was simply by the amount of light that reflected off the curved, partially serrated edge. Kayla took her damaged finger out of her mouth—which had stopped bleeding a few seconds ago—and traced the scratches and indents on the surface of the wooden handle. She wasn’t worried about her father discovering the knife’s disappearance. He had only ever used it when the entire family went on camping trips during the summer, and now that he was always consumed by his work, the Winters never went camping. Kayla put the knife back in its place, but not before closing it and activating the safety.
The last weapon was too big to carry around in public without a purse or shoulder bag. When Kayla held the black plastic handle, she had to grip it tightly to keep it from slipping out of her hand. It was a butcher knife, originally used by Kayla’s mother to cut meat with in the kitchen, but it had worn out to the point where it could no longer do its job. Kayla had discovered it a few months ago as she was taking out the trash, the edge buried into a block of Styrofoam so that it wouldn’t cut through the trash bag. It was her prized possession, the spoils of a war that no one else knew she was fighting.
Kayla did not love her knives. She admired them; she was awed by their ability to grant power to those who didn’t have thick bones or biceps the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s. On the other hand, they were different from guns in that they required the bearer to make contact with their target. For someone who held a pistol in their hand, the value of the lives around them was only worth the pulling of a trigger. The wielder of a knife could feel the ripping of skin under the blade, the warm blood trickling in rivulets down their hands and dripping off the tips of their fingers, gathering into dark pools on the ground. They could hear their victim’s screams, the gurgling noises they made as they choked on their own blood, the sound of the bedroom door opening…
Kayla leapt to her feet and whirled around. Her blonde hair whipped into her face, stinging her cheeks. In that same instant she slammed the drawer shut with her hip. She winced slightly as the key, which was still stuck in the keyhole, jabbed into the back of her leg. Too late, Kayla realized that she was still clutching the butcher knife. She had no choice but to hold it behind her back and hope that whoever had opened her door wouldn’t notice it.
“Kayla? What’re you doing?” Sophie asked, her tiny figure framed in the doorway to Kayla’s bedroom. Kayla gritted her teeth in frustration.
“How many times do I have to tell you to knock on the goddamn door before you come in?” she hissed through the gaps between her clenched teeth. Nine-year-old Sophie didn’t even flinch.
“The door was open. You didn’t hear me?” she replied, a little defensively.
“Liar,” Kayla growled back. “Get out and shut the door behind you!”
“I need help with my homework.”
“Then ask Mom!” Kayla’s back was uncomfortably sweaty, and her shirt was sticking to her skin. Her shoulders were ready to crack from the amount of tension it took to hold up the massive kitchen knife. Goddamnit!
“She said to ask you.” Sophie began walking into the room, towards Kayla. Bubbles of panic rose in Kayla’s throat like vomit. She took one hand off the knife and blindly clawed at the chest of drawers behind her. If she could just get one open and drop the knife in…
“What kind of homework is it?” Kayla asked, adding in an exasperated sigh, which, to her, didn’t sound convincing enough. Her hand found the handle of one of the drawers, at about the level of her thigh. Why was it so slippery? Oh wait, her palms were sweating… Kayla wiped her hand on the back of her jeans before grabbing the drawer handle again.
“Math.” Sophie was walking way too fast for Kayla’s liking. She had a sheet of wrinkled paper in her hand, which she raised towards Kayla as she came closer… closer… s***, the drawer was stuck!
…but why even bother? Sophie was weak, a perfect victim. In height, she only came up to Kayla’s chest, and she wasn’t a very athletic child either. To top it off, Sophie was wearing pigtails on either side of her head, making her look even younger than she actually was. The butcher knife was dull, but not so dull that it couldn’t cut through a third grader’s throat. Kayla might have some more difficulty if it were, say, her father walking into her room, but that wasn’t the situation at hand, right?
NO. Kayla was not going to kill her own sister. For heaven’s sake, she was just a little kid!
“I dunno how to solve the last question…” Sophie was literally two feet away from Kayla when the drawer opened, slamming into the back of Kayla’s legs. Kayla’s knees almost buckled, but she managed to drop the knife into the drawer and kick the damn thing shut without collapsing onto the floor.
Sophie, was young, but she wasn’t deaf.
“What was that?” she said, her yellow pigtails swinging as she swiveled her head around, looking for the source of the noise. Kayla took the opportunity to snatch the paper out of Sophie’s hands.
“It was probably just Mom downstairs. Now, you said you needed help on Question Number Seven?” she said, her eyes scanning the worksheet.
“No, but I heard something—“
“Do you want me to help you or not?” Kayla snapped, sending her sister an icy glare. Sophie turned her attention immediately back to the paper in Kayla’s hands.
It turned out Sophie had forgotten how to add fractions with the same denominator. It was beyond Kayla how that could have happened, but she still managed to explain the entire process to Sophie without tearing at her hair out and screaming in frustration at her sister’s stupidity. She had to repeat the lesson several times before Sophie finally understood, at which point Kayla promptly shoved her out of the room, slamming the door behind her as hard as she could.
After making sure that the door was properly locked, Kayla dashed back towards chest of drawers. She yanked open three compartments before she found the knife, lying tranquilly on top of a sea of rumpled clothing. Just as she was reaching into the drawer to pull it out, a violent shudder ran through her legs, and her knees crumpled underneath her. She fell sideways onto the carpet, hitting her left temple, but at the moment she really didn’t care.
So close. So, so close. Now that she really thought about it, Kayla remembered that Sophie had been telling the truth; Kayla had left her bedroom door open. Why was it that on the one day that Sophie needed help with her homework, Kayla just had to forget to lock the door?
Way, way too close—not just with Sophie, but with Annalise too. The whole reason she’d started giving out free personal advice at school had been to maintain her spotless reputation, not to endanger her classmates’ lives!
Kayla had to get to the forest. She had to get there fast.

***

Flashes of throbbing pain erupted in her shoulder blades and the back of her head. There were hands around her throat, it hurt so much, she was trying to breathe in but she couldn’t and her lungs hurt so much…
Kayla’s right hand went to the attacker’s arms, scratching them, hitting them with a powerless fist. Her other hand scrabbled desperately above and behind her, looking for something, anything to grab. Something in her shoulder popped, she still couldn’t breathe, and her lungs hurt even more than they did before—then the fingernails of her left hand clacked against a cold, metallic surface. She found herself wrapping her hand around a smooth, round cylinder, then lifting it, struggling with the enormous unexpected weight. She wanted to scream so badly, partly in pain and partly in frustration, only the scream wouldn’t come out. She could tell her eyes were bulging by the way they hurt, but she couldn’t see the other person’s face no matter how wide she opened her eyes.
I don’t want to die, a voice in her head whimpered.
That last thought gave Kayla the strength she needed to lift the cylinder clean off the shelf and swing it over her head—but once that was done, the hard part was over. Whatever it was, it must have weighed a ton, because the object propelled itself downwards with its own momentum, creating a perfect arc in the air. Barely conscious, Kayla encouraged it on, guiding it towards the emptiness in front of her.
CRACK.

***

The sun hadn’t quite set yet, but the trees branches overlapping above blocked out enough sunlight to make Kayla less visible against the background of dirt and leaves. She wasn’t doing much, just sitting against a tree trunk with her legs splayed in front of her. Her hands were resting limply against the ground and her entire body was still. In her dirty brown shirt and mud stained shorts, she looked more like a part of the forest, as though she belonged there. She’d even stuffed her blonde hair into a cap to keep it from standing out.
Kayla’s body was relaxed, but her blue-green eyes constantly darted from right to left, left to right. Any time she heard the rustling of leaves or the snapping of a twig, her eyes instantly moved towards the source of the noise. To Kayla, the ground was not just a patchwork of brown and green and yellow; every individual leaf took on a different shape and tone. She could even smell the dampness in the air from the last rain, which, was, what, three days? Four days ago?
A flake of something brown and papery fell onto the ground next to Kayla’s feet. It was followed by another flake, and another, like a miniature snowstorm. Very, very slowly, Kayla craned her head upwards.
The silhouette of a squirrel stood on a tree branch yards above Kayla, its long, fluffy tail hanging down behind it as if it were part of the branch, not the squirrel itself. It appeared to be holding an acorn in its hands and peeling it with its teeth, which would explain where the brown flakes were coming from. A spontaneous breeze blew a few of the acorn peels in Kayla’s direction, making them land on her shoulders and her head. Thankfully, her cap kept them from actually landing in her hair.
Kayla lowered her gaze. At the same time, she dug into the pile of dead leaves next to her thigh with her right hand until her fingertips touched the cool surface of the switchblade she had buried there.
A few moments later, the flakes of acorn stopped falling. Kayla had no idea how long she waited afterwards. It could have been a few seconds, minutes, or even an hour. Finally, a series of tiny scratching noises came from behind her. The noises were followed by the squirrel itself, which appeared right next to Kayla’s face, standing horizontally on the tree trunk itself as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Kayla kept her breathing steady and slow as the squirrel regarded her with a curious, almost human air. She even blinked slowly and made sure not to look into the creature’s beady little eyes.
The squirrel must have decided that Kayla wasn’t a threat, because it dropped onto her shoulder, its little claws digging into her shirt, then her skin. She was sure it was going to make a mark, but that wasn’t a valid concern at the moment. The squirrel half slid, half leapt down Kayla’s shirt, landing first on her bare knee, then the empty ground between her splayed legs.
Kayla curled the fingers of her right hand around the handle of the hidden switchblade. The squirrel was now investigating the fabric of her khaki pants. It climbed onto her left thigh, its bushy tail waving behind it as it moved like ribbons on the end of a kite. Meanwhile, Kayla lifted her empty hand, her fingers spreading towards the squirrel like the jaws of a steel trap. The oblivious squirrel simply scampered off her leg and back onto the space between her legs.
It was now or never.
The squirrel let out a squeak of outrage as Kayla’s hand tightened around its bushy tail and yanked it off the ground. It clawed erratically at the air surrounding it, snarling and chattering madly until Kayla slammed it against the ground once, twice, three times. At each moment of impact the squirrel’s movements grew weaker and less frantic, until at last it was too stunned to fight back at all.
Kayla got into a kneeling position, her joints creaking like rusted door hinges. The squirrel was still dangling from her left hand, her switchblade gripped in the other. Kayla dropped the squirrel onto the ground in front of her and held it down when it twitched feebly, fighting for its life one last time.
She raised the switchblade, paused… then stabbed viciously downwards.

***

“Do you really think she’s alright?” Kayla’s mother whispered. Kayla remained lying sideways on the couch, keeping her eyes closed and her breathing even to keep up the pretense of sleeping. She wished that her mother hadn’t offered to let Kayla use her lap as a pillow; she was already having a difficult time pretending to be asleep, and the shifting pressure under her cheek really didn’t help. Still, the feeling of her mother stroking her hair more than made up for that.
“I… I don’t know,” Kayla’s father admitted. His hoarse voice floated over to Kayla from the other side of the room. “She keeps saying nothing happened, but the marks on her neck…”
For a second, Kayla’s mother stopped stroking Kayla’s hair, and Kayla could feel her mother’s legs trembling under her cheek. A cool breeze hit her bare skin as her mother drew some of her loose hair away from her throat. Kayla heard a sharp intake of breath, then her hair was returned to its original position.
“Do you think she was attacked?” her mother said, the angst clear in her voice.
“I have no idea. The police said they found her hunched up in the corner of the room with my cellphone in her hand. They said it was a good thing she stayed calm long enough to call 911—“
“But what exactly happened?”
“I just—I don’t know. Kayla won’t say anything, but the police say it was an accidental death. The robber tried to get at something on top of the shelf, the lamp fell down, it killed him. End of story.”
“But the bruises…”
“I know—I mean, I don’t know.”
There was a short period of silence, so tense that Kayla could feel the electric charge in the air.
“How the hell did he get in here in the first place?” Kayla’s mother said at last, breaking the silence. “Don’t we have an alarm? How is it that we had a burglar in our house and we didn’t even know until the police rang our doorbell at two in the morning?”
“There was something wrong with our security system. There’s a guy coming to check on them on Thursday, but we might have to file a lawsuit.”
“Thursday? So you mean that until Thursday, the house will be completely unprotected?!” Kayla’s mother was no longer whispering. Her voice had risen to a high-pitched shriek. At that exact moment, Kayla’s left leg, which was pinned under her right, began tingling slightly.
“We’ll stay in a hotel or something until then. Calm down, you’ll wake Kayla up.”
Another silence. Kayla’s mother stopped stroking Kayla’s hair, much to her disappointment. The tingling was getting worse.
“…I think we should move,” Kayla’s mother said, whispering again.
“What?”
“Think about it, Kayla’s only twelve! This place—she’s not going to be able to live here anymore, not after what happened, and neither am I. And I don’t want Sophie growing up in a haunted house.”
The tingling had transitioned into an intense buzzing that was concentrated mostly on the sole of Kayla’s foot. She had to bite back the urge to move her feet, kick something, or at least curl her toes.
“Where would we go?”
“I don’t know, somewhere safer. A smaller town. Near nature, maybe?”
“Near nature?”
“I don’t know, somewhere with a lot of trees—“
Kayla’s foot jerked outwards, hitting one of the sofa pillows. The crackling, tickling sensation amplified, and Kayla had to clench her eyes shut and her teeth together to keep from swearing in front of her parents. Of course, by that point, both of her parents were instantly alert.
“Kayla?” her father said. Kayla opened her eyes and found him getting up from a plush armchair across the room.
“Are you okay honey?” When Kayla looked upwards, towards the ceiling, her mother’s face was there, looming over her.
“Foot’s asleep,” Kayla responded, pulling herself up into a sitting position, wincing every time a shock of static ran through her leg. She was suddenly tired, even though she’d only been pretending to be asleep for the last half hour. Her mother’s hands flitted around her, like bees hovering around a clump of flowers. A bit dismissively, Kayla pushed her mother’s arms away and got up by herself, trying her best to keep her left leg off the floor. It didn’t work; the buzzing continued.
“Kayla.”
“Hm?” Kayla said as she turned, hopping clumsily on one foot to face her father. He was still standing in front of his armchair, his facial expression a mix of uncertainty, and a tiny bit of—fear?
“Are you really okay?” Kayla couldn’t help but notice her father’s voice cracking in the middle of the sentence. She swallowed.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. I’m fine.”
Before anyone could challenge he statement, Kayla hobbled out of the living room, half hopping, half limping.
Th-thump, th-thump, her footsteps went as she made her way up the stairs, trying not to leave her left sneaker on the floor for more than a fraction of a second. It sounded almost like the beating of a heart.
As soon as Kayla reached the open doorway of her dark room, she kicked her shoes into an empty corner. She considered changing into her pajamas, but she really didn’t have a problem with sleeping in jeans at the moment. She made her way towards the welcoming bed with its silky white sheets and springy mattress.
Suddenly, as Kayla took a step, she felt something hard and plastic under the sole of her right sock. As her foot slid forwards, she flailed her arms, managing to get ahold of the backrest of a nearby chair and barely keeping herself from falling flat on her back. She stayed paralyzed in that awkward position for some time, her right leg stretched out in front of her, her left foot planted against the floor, her right hand gripping the chair and her left arm simply frozen in the air. To Kayla, it was as though she were doing the tango with the chair as her dance partner.
Kayla slowly, carefully stood back up, making sure not to step on any other miscellaneous objects lying around the room. As she did, her eyes were drawn to a pair of open scissors that were lying on the ground a few feet ahead. It didn’t take much to figure out that it was the cause of her recent troubles.
When Kayla picked the scissors up, she noticed that they were sharp. Really, really sharp. She must have stepped on the blue plastic handles, because if she hadn’t, she could have seriously hurt herself.
Or… could she have hurt herself? Where was the proof? Maybe the scissors weren’t that sharp; maybe they were pretty dull. On the other hand, if they really were sharp enough to break skin, Kayla wasn’t the only one who could have injured herself. If her mother, father, or even Sophie had walked into the room before Kayla had, they might not have been as lucky as Kayla was. At just the right angle, the open scissor blades could have cut through the sole of someone’s foot. If the wound was deep enough, it could possibly tear through a bit of muscle, maybe even a major vein. And if that was the case, the luckless owner of said foot might have fallen backwards, like Kayla had, hitting their head on the floor. The floor was carpeted, so that might not be too much of a problem… But if they had happened—just happened—to strike their temple against the chair Kayla had been holding earlier—
Kayla blinked. Her eyes refocused, and she found herself staring numbly at the wall. That was strange. Kayla wasn’t usually the type of person to zone out, not even at school. She looked down.
And nearly screamed.
One of the scissor blades was pressed against the palm of her left hand, the silver surface reflecting the patterns of creases that were drawn across her skin. It took a moment to comprehend that she was the one holding the scissors, that she had been about to slit her own palm.
Panicking, Kayla jerked her left hand away from the menacing blade, balling it into a fist to staunch a wound that wasn’t there. At the same time she flung the scissors away from her with her right hand, letting it hit the wall, bounce off, and land on top of her desk.
Her feet moving of their own accord, Kayla sprinted towards her bed, back towards her original destination. When she reached it, she literally leapt into the covers, getting tangled in the separate layered sheets until she was curled up in a messy cocoon of linens.
What was happening to her? Why were there so many foreign thoughts in her head? And why did they scare her so much?
Right before Kayla fell asleep, it occurred to her that her foot had finally stopped buzzing.

***

The leaves fluttered down onto the little patch of uncovered dirt like bits of too-big confetti. When Kayla finished sprinkling them onto the little grave she’d made for the squirrel, the tomb was so well concealed that even Kayla herself couldn’t tell exactly where it was. The only thing left to do was to wash the crusting, dried blood off of her hands and legs—not to mention her switchblade, which was sitting contentedly in the back pocket of her shorts.
Kayla turned around and began walking through the forest, not quite sure where she was going. She knew that eventually, she’d run into a path that she could take back home. She’d done this so many times within the past few years that she didn’t even worry about the fact that the sun had just set, meaning she’d have to find her way back in semi-darkness.
Four murders. Four animals killed within the span of three weeks: two squirrels, a chipmunk, and a robin. Kayla was more than a little troubled, and given the kind of life she led, that meant a lot.
What worried her wasn’t the number of deaths; it was the frequency. The part of Kayla that wanted to harm the people and animals around her usually stayed quiet for a week or two after each successful hunt, but that time span had been slowly waning within the last month. In fact, she had buried the chipmunk only five days ago. Hopefully, this pattern wouldn’t continue at such an alarming rate.
Kayla was sixteen, which meant she only had two years left until she graduated and became a legal adult. If she could endure this torment for just two more years, she could simply leave it all behind; her family, her home, her town—maybe even society in general. She could retreat somewhere without a lot of people—near nature, and trees. And animals. A forest or mountain so secluded that she wouldn’t be bothered ever again for the rest of her life. She could live off the wilderness, or maybe she’d get an easy job, like… writing. That sounded good. Writers were supposed to be weird; no one would suspect a writer living by herself in the middle of the woods, right? Nobody would ever know, especially her family.
But to do that, she had to make it to eighteen first. As Kayla’s feet found the smooth surface of an asphalt road and the treetops disappeared above her, she wondered if that was ever going to happen.



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