My name is Lisa Brooks and I’m a twisted psycho. I wasn’t always a total nutcase. Before the accident, I thought I was doing pretty okay.
My family moved to Shadyside in February. It took a little while to adjust to a new house, a new town, and a new high school. That’s normal, right?
I had some hard times. I was lonely at first. I missed my friends back in Shaker Heights. Shadyside High was big and confusing, and most everyone I met had been going there forever and already had a group of friends.
I’d walk down the long halls to class, and everyone was laughing and talking, and sometimes I felt as if I didn’t exist. I’m a little shy, and it’s not easy for me to go up to someone I don’t know and just start talking. So I felt kind of invisible my first few weeks there.
But by April, I was beginning to feel at home. I was making friends. Saralynn O’Brien and I were hanging out a lot. We seemed to have the same sense of humor and the same bad attitude about guys and school. We both thought high school was basically a crock—something you had to get through so your real life could start. And we both thought guys were an inferior species, inferior but necessary.
Yes. Necessary. I even had a boyfriend by April. Nate Goodman. I met him when I walked out of the cafeteria, bumped him from behind at the top of the stairs, and sent him tumbling headfirst to the bottom. I had my eyes on my phone and didn’t even see him.
Luckily, Nate is a pretty slick acrobat. He managed to somersault most of the way. He had a few cuts that were bleeding a little, but he didn’t break his neck.
Of course I went tearing down the stairs to make sure he was okay. He sat there shaking his head. I think he was dazed a little. I huddled over him. “Are you okay?”
“I was better a few seconds ago,” he said.
I apologized at least a hundred times and helped pull him to his feet. I felt terrible. At least a dozen kids stopped to stare at us.
He wiped blood off his forehead with the back of his hand.
“Did you break anything?” I asked.
“Yes. The land-speed record for stair falling,” he replied.
“I’m glad you have a sense of humor,” I said.
Nate is a good-looking dude. He’s tall and lanky. He has straight black hair that he’s always brushing back from his forehead, round dark brown eyes, and an easy smile that makes a dimple appear on his right cheek.
“You’re Lisa, right?” He studied me. “Saralynn told me about you. She didn’t warn me you were dangerous.”
I gave him a look. “Yes, I’m very dangerous.” I guess that was my idea of flirting. I had pulled him to his feet. Now I realized I was still holding onto his arm. “How do you know Saralynn?”
He wiped more blood off his forehead with the sleeve of his black T-shirt. “We grew up near each other. On the same block.”
“You’re a senior, right?” I said. My phone beeped in my jeans pocket. A text. I ignored it.
He squinted at me. “How do you know that?”
I shrugged. “Saralynn might have mentioned it to me.”
Saralynn and I are juniors. I hate that word, but it’s awkward to say you’re in eleventh grade. “You need to see the nurse,” I said. “That cut on your forehead is kinda bad.”
He nodded. “I didn’t plan to give blood today.” He said it like an old-time movie vampire.
I laughed. “You make a good vampire. Saralynn told me you’re into scary movies and horror.”
“Yeah, I collect posters and comics and masks and stuff,” he said. “You seem to know a lot about me.”
I shrugged again. I could feel my face growing hot. It was true. Saralynn and I did talk about him a lot. Ever since we watched him read a long Edgar Allan Poe poem at the senior talent show. I thought he was hot. Strange but hot.
I mean, Edgar Allan Poe? Seriously?
The bell rang. We were going to be late for fifth period.
I had a strong feeling about him. Like some kind of laser force field pulling me toward him. A hundred years ago, I think they called it love at first sight. Cornball music would be playing with lots of violins.
What I mean to say is that I liked the way he looked at me, and I liked talking to him. I even thought he looked cool with a line of blood leaking across his forehead.
“Nice bumping into you,” I said.
He nodded. “Funny. Remind me to laugh.”
Nate and I have been hanging out ever since. Sometimes it’s just the two of us. Sometimes it was like the night of April 12, when we went to the hamburger hangout, Lefty’s, with Saralynn and Nate’s friend Isaac Brenner.
Yes, I remember the exact date. April 12. The night of the accident. The night of so much horror. The night I turned into an insane lunatic.
“Is that a real word?” Isaac asked. “Vomitorium?”
“Mr. Hammer explained it to us,” Saralynn said. “In Drama class. They had these aisles in theaters. Like in Roman times. For the audience to leave the theater quickly. They were called vomitoriums. In Latin, it meant spew forth.”
Isaac scratched his curly black hair. “You mean the audiences puked their guts out in the aisles?”
“No. That’s a mistake people make,” Saralynn told him. “Vomitoriums didn’t have anything to do with vomiting.”
I rolled my eyes. “Can we talk about something else? I mean, we came here to eat cheeseburgers, right? Why do we have to talk about vomitoriums?”
Nate nodded agreement. We were sitting in a wide, red vinyl booth in the back of the restaurant. He had his arm around my shoulders. Saralynn and Isaac sat facing us.
“’Cuz that’s what the lunchroom looked like yesterday,” Isaac said. “Kids were heaving all over the place. It was totally sick.”
Nate’s hand squeezed my shoulder. “Does anyone know what made those kids all toss their lunch?”
“Maybe the food?” Isaac said.
We laughed. Isaac is a total joker. He always knows the dumbest thing to say.
“It’s still a mystery,” Saralynn said. “Someone said they all had the mac and cheese. But what could go wrong with mac and cheese?”
Yesterday had been a bad day at school. A dozen kids had to be sent to the emergency room at Shadyside General. But this puke talk was making me queasy.
I was glad when the waitress came back to the booth to take our order. I recognized her from school. Rachel Martin. She is a senior, but we are in the same Politics and Government class.
“What’s the special tonight?” Isaac asked her.
She blinked. “Cheeseburgers.”
“That was the special last night,” Isaac said.
Rachel poked him with the eraser on her pencil. “You’re very sharp, Isaac.”
“You shouldn’t poke the customers,” Isaac said, rubbing his shoulder. “Didn’t Lefty tell you that?”
We all looked to the window that opened into the kitchen. We could see Lefty’s back. He was at the grill, frying up cheeseburgers.
“Lefty said it was okay to poke you,” Rachel said.
Isaac jumped up. “Really? I didn’t know you liked me. Should we go to your place or mine?”
Saralynn pulled him back to the seat. “Ha ha. Funny.”
“We’ll have the usual,” Nate told Rachel.
She scribbled something on her little pad. Then she poked Isaac again with the pencil, turned, and headed to the kitchen.
Nate slid his hand from behind my back. “Okay, phones on the table, guys.” He slid his phone from his jeans pocket and set it down in the middle of the table.
The rest of us pulled out our phones and stacked them on top of Nate’s in a neat pile.
“Hey, make sure Isaac didn’t turn off his ringer,” Saralynn said.
Nate pulled Isaac’s phone from the pile and examined it.
“You guys really think I’d cheat?” Isaac asked, pretending to be hurt.
“Yes!” all three of us answered.
Nate moved the switch on Isaac’s phone. He stared accusingly across the table. “You did have your ringer switched off.”
Isaac raised his right hand. “Accident. I swear. Total accident.”
This was a serious tradition we had. We piled the phones on the table. First phone to ring? The owner had to pay for dinner.
I was usually the loser. That’s because my mom and dad are total pests. They’re your basic helicopter parents, hovering over me wherever I go. They call me constantly. They pretend they have a question they want to ask. But they’re really just checking up on me.
When I don’t pick up, they leave long voicemails. I mean, seriously. Who listens to voicemails?
At my old school I had a boyfriend they didn’t like. Just because he was out of school and he had a tattoo sleeve on his right arm. He wasn’t a bad guy, but they couldn’t see beyond the tattoos.
I think he’s the reason they don’t trust me now.
Do they like Nate? I haven’t asked them. I really don’t care.
“What’s up with your band?” Nate asked Isaac. Isaac has a rock band called The Black Holes. They say they are a Metallica cover band, but it’s hard to tell when you listen to them.
Isaac had been shuffling the ketchup and mustard dispensers. Suddenly, he squeezed them at Nate. Nate dodged away. A spray of ketchup and mustard splashed the table.
“You really are a ten-year-old,” Saralynn said, shaking her head.
“Sorry,” Isaac said. “I didn’t mean to squeeze them. Really. Thinking about my band gets me all tense.” He grabbed some napkins and dabbed at the stains on the table.
“What’s your problem?” Nate asked.
“We suck,” Isaac said. He tugged at his thick mop of black hair. “We totally suck.”
“Tell us something new,” Saralynn said.
Isaac ignored her. “We have a gig Saturday night. At the Hothouse. You know. That club on Park almost to the River Road? And the dudes haven’t learned any of the music. I can’t even get them all to a rehearsal at the same time.”
“We heard you at the senior talent show last month,” Nate said. “You sucked then.”
Isaac shook his head. “We’ve had a whole month to get even more sucky. It’s a horror show, Nate. Seriously. You could put us in your horror collection. Right next to Evil Dead II.”
Nate had at least two hundred horror films on DVD. Last weekend, he forced us all to watch Evil Dead II. It was his all-time favorite. Especially the flying eyeball scene.
Rachel brought us our cheeseburgers and fries. She started to set down the plates, then stopped. “Who spilled ketchup and mustard on the table?”
“Three guesses,” Saralynn said.
Rachel stared at Isaac for a long moment. She laughed. Everyone likes Isaac. He’s short and a little chubby, with a tangled nest of black hair and brown eyes that crinkle up when he smiles. Isaac is always making jokes and interrupting classes with his wisecracks. He says he has a desperate need for attention. I can’t tell if that’s another one of his jokes or not.
He’s very smart. I don’t think he studies very hard, but he’s a straight-A student. And he learned to speak Mandarin. He says he wants to go to China for a year before he starts college.
Nate says Isaac wants to go to China just to get away from his band.
“Speaking of horror movies…” Saralynn started.
We were all into our cheeseburgers now. Lefty makes them juicy and piles on the lettuce and tomato and pickles.
“I have to do a video for Film class,” Saralynn continued. “And I think we should do our own horror movie. Maybe in your attic, Nate. With all your totally gross horror masks?”
Nate swallowed a chunk of cheeseburger. He had juice running down his chin. I mopped it up with a paper napkin. “Sounds cool,” he told Saralynn. “Do you have a script?”
“I have some ideas,” she said. “But if we could use some of your props and masks and posters … it would be awesome.”
“How about a vampire movie?” Isaac said. “My cousin works in a medical lab. I can probably get buckets of blood from him.”
“I’m thinking something more sophisticated,” Saralynn said. “Something paranormal.”
“You’ll still need blood,” Isaac said.
Nate turned to me. “Lisa, you want to be in it?”
I shrugged. “Sure. Why not? But you know me. I’m not into horror. I mean, I really don’t get it. What’s the fun of being scared?”
Nate sighed. “You’re hopeless.”
“Everyone likes to be scared,” Saralynn said. “It’s like a basic human thing.”
“Guess I’m not human,” I said. “I always think horror movies are dumb.”
Nate squeezed my arm. “I’ll show you some movies that will change your mind.”
“I’ll tell you something scary,” I said. “I sneaked out tonight. I’m not supposed to be here.”
Saralynn set down her cheeseburger. “Lisa, you had to sneak out? It’s Friday night. Why didn’t your parents want you to go out?”
“Because they’re jerks,” I said. “I’m supposed to be in my room writing thank-you notes for my Sweet Sixteen party. Like that can’t wait till tomorrow. I’m serious. My parents treat me like a total child.”
Isaac pulled the pickles from his burger and jammed them into his mouth. “Wish my parents would treat me like a child,” he muttered.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“They don’t know I exist. No one ever says, ‘Where are you going, Isaac?’ Or ‘What are you doing? What’s up?’ All they care about is their golf scores and their friends at the country club.”
“You’re lucky,” I said. “My parents are always in my face.”
I raised my eyes to the front of the restaurant and let out a startled cry. “See what I mean?”
My dad stood just inside the door. He had his shiny blue hoodie open over a Cleveland Indians T-shirt. His wavy brown hair was unbrushed and stood up in tufts on his head. His eyes surveyed the restaurant until he found me. He stomped past some girls waiting for a table, making his way to our booth.
“Dad—what are you doing here?” My cry made some heads turn around.
My dad is tall and good-looking, with reddish brown hair and pale blue eyes in a tanned face. Mom says he looks like a young Clint Eastwood because of the lines down his cheeks and his hard expression.
I look more like my mother. Her parents came from Denmark. We’re blonde and pale, tall and kind of bony.
Dad stopped a few feet from the booth. His hands were balled into fists at his sides. He’s not violent at all. He does that when he’s tense. He had bright red circles darkening his cheeks.
“Lisa, you promised to stay home,” he said. He kept his blue eyes locked on me. I don’t think he noticed that there were others at the table.
My heart started to pound in my chest. Please don’t embarrass me in front of my new friends.
“Come on,” Dad said, motioning for me to get up. “Mom and Morty are in the car.”
I wanted to scream. But I forced my voice to stay low and steady. “I’ll come home later, Dad.”
He shook his head. “No. Now.”
I pointed to my plate. “I haven’t finished my cheeseburger.”
“Hey, Mr. Brooks,” Nate broke in. “I can drive Lisa home right after we eat.”
Dad finally turned away from me. “Thanks, Nate. But we need Lisa to come home now.” He raised his eyes to Saralynn and Isaac. “Sorry to interrupt your dinner.”
He suddenly appeared embarrassed. As if he realized he’d gone too far. He’s not a beast or anything. He’s actually very reasonable most of the time.
I decided it would be easier to go with him rather than cause a big scene. I did sneak out of the house, after all. But I should be able to decide when I can go out with my friends. Like the thank-you cards couldn’t wait a day or two?
Muttering under my breath, I squeezed past Nate and climbed out of the booth. I kept my eyes down and didn’t look at my father.
“Do you have a jacket or something?” he asked. “It’s pretty windy out.”
“You’re going to tell me how to dress now?” I snapped.
I waved goodbye to the others. They all flashed me sympathetic looks. They probably thought my dad was weird, following me to the restaurant.
I stormed angrily past him to the door and stepped outside. It was a blustery, cold night. It felt more like March than April. I was wearing a long-sleeved top over a short skirt and black tights. The wind brushed my hair straight back.
I spotted our Camry at the curb near the corner, ran to it, and dove into the backseat. As soon as I arrived, Morty started to wag his tail and pant like crazy. He bounced across the seat to me and began to give my face a ferocious tongue bath.
“Morty—down! Get off me!” I cried, laughing. My face is very ticklish. His tongue felt like sandpaper. “Stop! Morty! Give me a break!”
Morty is a big white sheepdog mix. My parents gave him to me for my birthday. He goes everywhere we go. He thinks he’s a little puppy. He’s always jumping on me and slobbering his tongue over my face.
I finally pushed him back. I wiped my cheeks with the sleeve of my top.
“I’m very disappointed in you,” Mom said from the front passenger seat without turning around.
“It’s not a big deal,” I said. I could feel my anger grow. I had a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Following me to Lefty’s was a real invasion.
“I’m not eight years old,” I said.
“Then don’t act it.” Mom still didn’t turn around. She’s very soft-spoken. And she doesn’t like scenes.
I’m the one in the family with the hot temper.
Dad pulled the car away from the curb. He still hadn’t said a word. He squealed into a turn onto Park Drive and headed for home. We live on the Village Road, about half a mile from the salon where Mom is a hairdresser.
“Slow down, Jimmy,” Mom told him.
“Don’t tell me how to drive,” he snapped.
Now we were all snapping at each other. My fault, right?
I heard a pattering sound and saw that it had started to rain. Raindrops sparkled on the windshield in the light from an oncoming car.
“Slow down,” Mom repeated, through gritted teeth. “The road is slippery.”
“Lisa, we have to be able to trust you,” Dad said.
“You can trust me,” I said. “You had no right to—”
“How can we trust you when you lied to us and sneaked out of the house?” Dad said.
“I shouldn’t have to sneak out,” I told him. “Why did I sneak out? Because you’re both impossible. You totally embarrassed me in front of my friends. Did you even think about that?”
“Jimmy, you went through a red light,” Mom said. “Concentrate on your driving. We can have a family discussion when we get home.”
“Oh, no,” I groaned. “There won’t be any family discussion. I—”
I stopped. And then I screamed: “Turn around! Turn around! I left my phone on the table.” I pounded the back of Dad’s seat. “Turn around!”
Dad spun the wheel. The car swerved.
Blinding yellow light blazed across the windshield.
I saw the sparkling raindrops. Like jewels in the bright light.
I felt a hard jolt. It tossed me forward, then back.
I felt the jolt and then heard the crash. An explosion of metal and glass.
In the bright light, I saw Dad’s head snap forward. Saw his forehead slam into the steering wheel.
Still swerving. The car was still moving. The light seemed to be all around us, tossing us like on a bright ocean wave.
I saw Dad’s head snap. And then I heard a crack and knew it was the crack of his skull. I knew it. Knew it.
I heard his skull crack, saw his face split open, saw dark blood rise up like a fountain and then pour down his forehead.
My head jerked to the side. The back door flew open. I heard a powerful rush of wind. I saw Morty leap out.
Morty, come back—
And then the pain hit me. The pain shot down the back of my neck. The pain swept over me. My chest … my legs … my head. Blinding pain.
I’m blind.… No … I’m dead.
The bright light lifted. I sank … sank into a deep blackness.
Then the light returned.
Pale, watery light with dark forms floating across it. Moving blurs. Like gazing into a camera totally out of focus.
I heard a murmur of voices, nearby but too soft to understand any words. I gazed up at the shifting light, struggling to squint away the gauzy curtain that kept me from seeing clearly.
As I blinked and squinted, the pain grew stronger. My head throbbed. I felt a painful throbbing at my temples. I tried to turn my head, but a sharp stab of pain forced me to stop.
“Should I increase it?” A woman’s voice came from somewhere behind me. “It’s already set near maximum.”
It took me so long to realize I was in a bed.
On my back in a hospital bed.
The light billowed and pulsed and began to fade. The tide going out. Evening over the water.
I lay on the shore watching the sunset.
No. That was wrong. I wasn’t thinking clearly.
I was on my back, staring up at the circles of light on the ceiling. Yes. I forced myself to focus.
And now I could see the thick orange tube stuck into my wrist. And a narrow window with the blinds half-drawn. My hands at my sides on the white linen sheet.
Ignoring the pain, I turned my head and saw a bed across from me. I gasped as my dad came into focus. Yes. I remembered the accident now. The crash and the shatter of metal and glass and the hard jolt of the collision.
I remembered the accident. And now I stared at my dad in the bed across from me. He went in and out of focus, clear and then a blur. His head—it was slumped forward. Bright red blood poured down his face.
And the steering wheel—
—The shaft of the steering wheel was jammed into his forehead.
The steering wheel poked out of his head. The blood flowed all around it and puddled on the floor.
He didn’t move. He just slumped forward on the bed, with the blood-spattered steering wheel stuck deep in his head.
Where were the nurses? Where were the doctors?
I turned away. I couldn’t bear to watch. And I opened my mouth in a shrill wail of horror. “Help him! Somebody help him!”
My shrill screams made my throat hurt. The room spun crazily around me.
My mother’s face slid into view above me. She appeared even paler than usual, as if her skin was white paper tight against her cheeks.
She blinked several times. I saw tears form in her eyes. “Lisa? You’re awake? Oh, thank goodness!”
Lifting my head, I saw a gray-haired man in a green lab coat step up behind her. He had a clipboard in one hand. A stethoscope swung on his chest as he moved.
“Dad!” I screamed. “Take care of Dad!”
Neither of them turned around. They narrowed their eyes at me.
I turned my gaze to the bed across from me. “Dad?”
The bed was empty.
Mom placed a hand on my shoulder. “Lisa, why were you screaming?” I saw that her other arm was in a cast inside a blue sling.
“I-I thought I saw Dad,” I stammered. Again, the room started to spin. “In that bed. I saw him so clearly. He was bleeding. I mean, his head was down and blood was pouring … and no one was helping him. No one.”
The gray-haired man edged my mother to the side. He peered down at me with silvery eyes behind black-framed glasses. He had thick, arched eyebrows that looked like fat white caterpillars. “I’m Dr. Martino,” he said. “Lisa, I’m glad you’ve come around so quickly. You’ve been out since last night.”
“I’ve been out?” I glanced at the window. Orange sunlight filled the bottom half. Afternoon sunlight?
“You’ve had a serious concussion,” Dr. Martino said. His breath smelled of coffee. Light reflected on his glasses and hid his eyes. “You may have nightmares and even hallucinations for a while. Your brain had a nasty jolt.”
I shut my eyes. Everything hurt. My whole body. Even my eyelids.
“Hallucinations?” I said. I opened my eyes. “You mean just now when I saw my dad in the bed?”
The doctor nodded. Beside him, Mom let out a sob. She cut it off quickly. She never likes to show emotion. It’s a Scandinavian thing, I think.
“I really thought I saw him,” I said, my throat suddenly tight. “I can’t believe I was hallucinating.”
“We will have to keep you here,” Dr. Martino said. “Perhaps for a week or more. Internal bleeding is something we have to watch for. We need to keep a close watch for that. You may suffer other hallucinations. I feel I must warn you.”
I only half-heard his words. He kept fading in and out. His eyebrows seemed to move on their own as if they were alive.
I twisted my head toward Mom. “But—Dad? Where is Dad? Is he okay?”
Mom bit her bottom lip. She took a breath before she replied. “No, Lisa. I’m sorry,” she whispered. “He … he’s not okay.”