viernes, 13 de abril de 2018

Party Games

INTRODUCTION

The Fear Street woods stretch for hundreds of acres at the eastern end of the town of Shadyside. Tall, leafy maple and sycamore trees, centuries old, make the woods shadowy and cool, even on the sunniest days.
The woods are beautiful, fragrant, and quiet. But few Shadyside residents would ever hike or picnic there.
Maybe they know the story of the two girls who were found in the woods—with all their bones missing.
Or maybe they know the odd fact that no birds ever venture into these woods or perch on the trees. Most people take that as a warning.
Or maybe it’s because everyone in town has heard the unexplained, inhuman howls and shrieks that echo off the tall trees late at night.
Everyone in the pleasant, suburban town of Shadyside knows about the Fear family, early settlers of the town, who practiced the black arts and were cursed with a history of untold evil. The woods—and the winding street that bears their name—are places to be avoided by all.
Shadyside High senior Rachel Martin has lived in Shadyside her whole life. She should know better than to venture off with Brendan Fear to an all-night party at his family summer home on Fear Island. She should know there are risks when you get involved with a Fear. But sometimes romance gets in the way of common sense.
Besides, all those scary Fear family stories are ancient history—aren’t they?
Aren’t they?
Rachel looks forward to a dream weekend. But she is about to learn that Fear Street is where your darkest nightmares live.
—R. L. Stine

PART ONE

1.
THE INVITATION

I saw Brendan Fear walk into the diner where I worked with some of his friends, but I had no idea how my life would change that night. As I wiped down a table, I followed him with my eyes as he led his three friends down the narrow aisle to the booth in the back corner.
How could such a normal scene lead to so much horror—and even murder?
I knew the kids who were with Brendan. I’m not in the same crowd, but we’re all seniors at Shadyside High. Ha. Same crowd. That’s kind of a laugh. Face facts. I have a few good friends, but I definitely don’t have a crowd.
My name is Rachel Martin, and I’m seventeen. I have this after-school waitress job at Lefty’s, a hangout a few blocks from the high school. And yes, it’s a teeny-tiny bit awkward to wait on the kids I see in school all day.
But I’m sure that’s just me. No one ever makes a comment or a joke about it. But sometimes it makes me uncomfortable.
I guess I’m not the most relaxed person on the planet. Mom says I’m strung tighter than a tennis racket. My sister, Beth, always insists that’s not true. She says I’m just sensitive.
I sure miss Beth. She went off to Oberlin in September. Beth got a scholarship for her flute playing. She’s the smart one and the talented one in the family.
We have always been so close. She said she’d Skype me every night. But I haven’t heard from her in weeks.
The kitchen bell rang, the signal that someone’s food was ready. I collected some dirty plates from a table and squeezed through the crush of kids at the counter to get to the kitchen.
Lefty’s is small and always hot and steamy, no matter what the weather is outside. When I get home after work, I have to shower for a long time to get the fried grease smell of hamburgers and French fries off my skin and out of my hair.
But this place is definitely the most popular hangout for Shadyside High kids, partly because it’s so close to school. And because it’s The Home of the Two-Dollar Double Cheeseburger.
I don’t know who thought that up, but it was genius.
I saw my friend Amy O’Brien walk in. She waved, but I didn’t have time to go say hello to her. Ellen, the other waitress, called in sick, and I was covering the whole restaurant.
I carried some cheeseburgers to a table near the front. Then I picked up four menus to take to Brendan Fear’s table. He and his friends were all talking at once, leaning toward each other over the table, glancing around as if they didn’t want to be overheard. Very intense.
They all stopped talking as I stepped up to them.
I saw Kerry Reacher, who is our All-State forward on the basketball team. He was wearing his maroon-and-white team jacket. He’s so lanky, his legs stretched out of the booth. His white sneakers had to be at least size 12 or a 14.
Patti Berger sat next to him. Patti is a sweet-looking dark-haired girl, tiny, like a little doll, with a whispery doll voice and dimples to die for. She’s so adorable, you want to kill her. Except she’s the nicest person on earth, friendly and warm.
Patti and I grew up together because our moms are best friends. We’re not really in the same crowd at school. But we’re still happy to see each other whenever our families get together.
Patti is about as tall as a fourth grader. Seriously. I mean, she’s got to be two feet shorter than Kerry. But they’re always together. They say they’re just good friends. But everyone sees them holding hands, lip-locked in the halls. I guess the friends thing is some kind of private joke.
Next to Brendan, Eric Finn was drumming on the tabletop with two fingers. Eric is a big, bouncy teddy bear of a dude, with wavy blond hair, a round freckled face, booming voice, and a loud, hee-haw donkey laugh. He’s one of those guys who just likes to laugh and party.
I’ve always thought it was totally weird that he and Brendan Fear are such good buddies. They’re like total opposites. But they’ve been friends since elementary school.
Brendan has wavy black hair. He is pale and serious-looking. He has this shy smile, but you don’t see it very often, and he speaks very quietly. I like his eyes. They’re soft brown and warm, kind of crinkly, and when they lock on you, it’s like he’s seeing into your brain.
Uh-oh. Does that give you a hint that I’ve had a crush on Brendan Fear since eighth grade?
He dresses in black jeans and black T-shirts with video game logos on the front. He’s the school brainiac, but he’s totally into games.
He and Eric and some of his other friends play games for hours. World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto and all kinds of fantasy and car-racing games. That’s all they talk about at school. And someone told me that Brendan programs his own games and is working with some guys to develop an online gaming site.
I walked up to Brendan’s booth with the menus tucked under the arm of my red-and-white-checked uniform. “Whoa.” I tripped over Kerry’s big shoes, and stumbled into the table.
Awesome start.
Brendan grabbed my arms and helped stand me up. “Rachel, you okay?” His dark eyes peered into mine.
I could feel my face go hot. I liked the way he said my name.
“I’ll move over if you want to sit with us,” Eric said. “Or you can sit on my lap?”
Kerry and Patti laughed.
“That would be a thrill,” I said. “But would you give me another job when I’m fired?”
He flashed me a devilish grin. “I could think of something.”
“Give Rachel a break,” Patti told Eric. “Can’t you see she’s busy?”
“She and I could get busy,” Eric said.
Patti gave him a playful slap. “Eric, don’t you ever stop joking?”
“Who’s joking?”
Eric and I have been teasing each other since first grade. He’s always flirting with me, but he flirts with every girl he sees. No one ever takes him seriously because he’s never serious.
I handed the menus out to them.
“You work here every day after school?” Brendan asked.
I nodded. “Yeah.” I brushed my hair off my forehead with one hand. I could feel sweat on my forehead. I knew I didn’t look my best.
“Till when?” Brendan asked. His eyes were studying me.
“Till ten.”
“Whoa. Long day. When do you do your homework?”
I shrugged. “Whenever.”
“What’s homework?” Eric chimed in. “Should I try it?”
“You wouldn’t like it,” Patti told him.
Brendan kept studying me, like he had something on his mind.
“Waitress? Could we have a check?” A woman at the table behind me tapped my shoulder. It startled me, and I jumped.
“Sure. Just a sec,” I said. The door slammed as another bunch of Shadyside kids came in. The diner was getting really crowded.
I turned back to Brendan. “Do you guys know what you want?” I asked.
“Do you have cheeseburgers here?” Eric asked, grinning at me again.
Totally dumb joke.
“No one ever asked for that before,” I said. “I’ll have to check.”
Kerry and Patti laughed. “I’ll come back in a few minutes,” I said. I glanced back and saw Brendan’s eyes following me as I walked away.
I scribbled out the check for Table 4. I had to tear up the first one and start again because I was thinking about Brendan Fear, and my hand was actually trembling a little. Doesn’t take much to get me excited.
I mean, those were definitely meaningful looks he was flashing me.
Rachel, he was just trying to make you feel better since you nearly fell into his lap.
Was I imagining the meaningful looks? Face facts. I’m not the most confident person in the world. I think I look okay. I’m not Red Carpet beautiful or anything. I have straight blonde hair, which I usually pull back into a simple ponytail, pale blue eyes, and a nice smile. I think my nose is crooked. And I have sort of a square chin, which I hate. When I’m feeling really low, I think my face looks like an ax blade with eyes.
But Beth says I’m really pretty. She says I look like Reese Witherspoon. She always knows how to cheer me up.
I watched Brendan and his friends talking so intensely. Even Eric had a serious expression on his face. What could they be talking about?
The kitchen bell rang. I hurried to the window to pick up the food. Lefty squinted out at me from the kitchen. His narrow face was bright red and bathed in sweat. He always wears a white baseball cap backward over his bald head.
“You okay, Rachel?”
“Busy night,” I said. “But I’m handling it. I—”
Lefty didn’t wait to hear my answer. He had turned back to the fry griddle.
I went back to work. So far, I’d made it through with only a few mix-ups.
The diner had emptied out a bit when Brendan and his friends got up to leave. They smiled and nodded to me as they made their way to the door.
“Would you like a tip?” Eric said.
“Sure,” I replied.
“Look both ways before crossing the street.” He laughed at his own dumb joke.
I was surprised when Brendan stayed back and pulled me aside. Again, he kept his eyes on me as if trying to read my mind.
Maybe he has this intense stare for everyone. He probably doesn’t even realize it.
I could feel my chest get a little fluttery. “Was everything okay?” I asked.
He nodded. “Sure.” He shifted his weight. He suddenly looked very uncomfortable. “So … you work here every night?”
“Not always. It depends on who else can work. Sometimes I’m here on Saturday, too. I need to earn some money to help my family. Things have been kind of tight for them, and I wanted to … you know … pitch in.”
Too much information, Rachel.
He nodded and scratched his dark hair. “You’re in my World Government class, right?”
“Yes,” I said. “Mrs. Rigby. She’s funny. I like her.”
“Some guys think she’s really hot,” he said. He flashed the shy grin.
Someone spilled a Coke at a table near the counter. I heard the glass shatter on the floor. Some kids laughed.
“I wanted to ask you something,” Brendan said. He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. “I’m having this birthday party, see. It’s my eighteenth. On Saturday.”
“Happy birthday,” I said. Awkward.
“My family has this huge old summer house on Fear Island. You know. In the middle of the lake? We’re opening it up for my party. It’s going to be like an overnight thing. We’re going to party all night.”
The kitchen bell rang. More cheeseburgers to pick up.
Brendan leaned forward. “Think you could come?”
Best day ever?
This Saturday?” I said. My voice came out a little higher than normal.
He nodded. “I’m sending a boat to pick everyone up at the lake dock at the end of Fear Street at two.”
“Yes,” I said. “I can come. Hey, thanks for inviting me.”
“It’s going to be an awesome party,” he said. “Lots of games.”
Lefty banged the bell a few more times.
“I have to get back to work,” I said.
Brendan nodded. “See you Saturday.” And then he reached out his finger and wiped a drop of sweat off the tip of my nose.
My mouth fell open as he turned and strode to the door.
I could still feel the touch of his finger on my nose. I started to the food window. Brendan Fear just invited me to his birthday party.
I stepped up to the counter, but a hand grabbed my wrist and tugged me back.
And a voice whispered in my ear, “Rachel—don’t go.”

2.
THE WARNING

I turned and tugged my wrist free. “Don’t go,” Amy O’Brien repeated.
I’d forgotten she was still in the restaurant. Amy is my best friend. We’ve been friends ever since our sophomore year overnight when we both got lost in the woods and had to be rescued by Mr. Singletary, our homeroom teacher.
Poor guy. I think we gave him a total breakdown that night. He couldn’t stop shaking for a week. I guess he thought we were eaten by wolves or something.
Being totally lost at night in the woods is an awesome way to start a friendship. You already know you’re both hopeless idiots. Amy and I have been BFFs ever since.
Amy is short and a little chubby, with scads of coppery curls and green cat eyes and creamy skin to die for. She loves the color red and always has a red scarf around her neck or a red top or vest. And she wears this bright red lipstick, called Wildfire, which her mother says makes her look like a slut. But Amy says red is her trademark.
She squeezed my wrist again. “I heard everything, Rach. Please. Don’t go.”
“Amy, I have to pick up these plates,” I said. I took the food plates off the window counter. I could see Lefty staring at me from the kitchen. I turned and started to carry them to Booth 8.
Amy followed me, pushing her way through a group of men in blue work uniforms waiting for a table. “Rachel, what did you tell him? Did you tell him you’d go?”
I set the plates down and brought the customers ketchup and mustard from the service table behind their booth. I turned to Amy, who was impatiently plucking at the buttons on the front of her red wool jacket.
“Of course I said yes, Amy.”
“Shut up. You said yes to a sleepover at Brendan Fear’s house?”
“It’s not a sleepover. It’s a birthday party.”
“An all-night birthday party, right?”
I sighed. “Amy, I can’t talk now. I’m the only one waitressing tonight. I have to help Lefty close up at ten. Want to come over when I’m done?”
“I’ll finish my cheeseburger and wait for you. We have to talk. I can’t believe you said yes.” She walked back to her stool at the counter, shaking her head.
I knew that Amy didn’t like Brendan, but I wasn’t sure why. If she had some reason she didn’t want me to go to his party, I knew I’d hear about it later. Amy isn’t the type to keep her opinions to herself. She’s kind of judgmental. But she’s smart, and she’s usually right.
Only a half hour till closing, but the time seemed to drag on for hours. Finally, everyone had paid up and left. Silence. Except for the sound of Lefty scraping down the grill in the kitchen. I wiped the tables and brought the last of the dirty dishes to the sink. I checked the time on my phone as I stepped out of the diner. It was a little after ten thirty.
It was a cold October night. The frosty air felt good against my hot face. I took some deep breaths, happy to be out of the steamy restaurant. A pale half-moon floated high in the sky above snakes of gray cloud.
Amy waited for me on the corner, her red jacket buttoned to the collar. She had pulled on a red wool cap and wool gloves. She squinted at me. “Wow. You must be tired. You look like roadkill.”
“Don’t hold back,” I said. “Tell me what you really think.”
She was right. I was that special kind of tired. The kind where you’re so exhausted, even your hair hurts. I had a layer of dried sweat on my skin, and I could smell the fry grease in my hair.
I shifted my backpack on my shoulders. I was supposed to work on two chapters in my science notebook tonight. But now, forget about it. Amy probably wouldn’t go home till midnight.
We crossed Division Street, empty except for a UPS truck making a late stop. It was a short walk to my house, only three blocks away. My legs ached and my back felt stiff. I’d been standing up since four o’clock.
Don’t complain, Rachel. You made more than a hundred dollars in tips tonight.
I planned to turn most of it over to my parents. They were having tough times. My dad was laid off last year from his job as director of a big investment company. It took him a long time to find a new job. Now he’s working as a shift manager at the Walmart in Waynesbridge.
My mom still hasn’t recovered from a really bad case of Lyme disease. She’s been home for three months and still feels weak and exhausted all the time.
A strong gust of wind pushed Amy and me back as we started to cross Front Street. Dead leaves danced in a perfect circle around our feet.
“Go ahead,” I said. “Let me have it. Give me your lecture about why I shouldn’t go to Brendan Fear’s party, even though it’s going to be awesome.”
“Awesome?” She made a snorting sound. “Have you Googled the word geek? You can read about Brendan.”
“I think he’s … hot. Seriously.”
Amy blinked. “Hot? He’s totally weird. He spends all his time playing video games with that big goofball Eric Finn.”
I shook my head. “Amy, you just don’t get it. Like, hello—it’s the twenty-first century. Geeks rule.”
“But, Rachel—”
“Brendan doesn’t just play games. He designs his own games, and he does all the programming. He’s like a genius. And … don’t you like the way his eyes crinkle up when he smiles?”
“Forget his eyes,” Amy replied, adjusting her hat in the wind. “What are we talking about here? I don’t care if you think he’s hot or not. He’s a Fear.”
I brushed a leaf from my hair and shielded my eyes from headlights as a car sped past. “Oh, wow. I can’t believe you’re going to bring up the Fear stuff. Do you like ancient history much?”
“It’s not ancient history, Rach.” Her green eyes flared. “There’s a curse on the Fear family.”
I laughed. I gave her a shove, making her stumble off the sidewalk. “Do you believe in vampires, too? Hey, look—two zombies just drove past in that car.”
“You’re so not funny, Rachel. Everyone in town knows about the Fears. And everyone knows the stories are true. The street that’s named after them, Fear Street, where they all used to live.… You’ve heard the horrible things that happened there.”
“Yes, everyone knows those old stories,” I said, rolling my eyes.
She pulled up her jacket collar. “Listen to me, Rach. Brendan Fear’s ancestors were witches or sorcerers or something. They had evil powers.”
I laughed again. “Amy, give me a break. I really don’t think Brendan Fear is a witch.”
Her red lips formed a pout. “You just want to laugh at me. I’m trying to be your friend here. Am I stupid? Is that what you think? Go ahead. Tell me I’m stupid.”
“No, you’re not stupid,” I said. “It’s just—”
“Didn’t we learn all those frightening stories about the Fears in school?” she interrupted as we crossed the street onto my block. “Remember? In sixth grade?”
“Amy, Mr. Gruder told us all those stories because it was Halloween. He was trying to scare us.”
“Well, he scared me. And I believed them.”
I didn’t know what to say. I wished Amy would stop. I knew she was into fantasy novels, and she was always dragging me to horror movies. But I never thought she believed in all that spooky stuff.
Everyone in town knows the stories about the Fear family. But that all happened a long time ago. I mean, Brendan’s father, Oliver Fear, is an investment banker, not an evil sorcerer. He’s like a billionaire or something.
He built a huge stone mansion, totally awesome-looking, with windows that reach up the whole side of the house, and waterfalls, and fountains all around. It’s a tourist attraction. Seriously. People drive for miles to park in front of it and take pictures.
The moon drifted behind clouds as we crossed the street. Darkness washed over us. I felt a shiver run down my back. “I really think you’re going overboard about the Fear family, Amy. Okay. Brendan is shy and he pretty much keeps to himself, and he’s really into video games. That’s no reason—”
“I just have a hunch,” she said. “I have a very bad feeling about this. Rachel, you really want to be with Brendan Fear and his weird friends all night, all alone on that little island?”
I shrugged. “Seriously. What could happen?”
She shrugged. “Let’s change the subject. Did you finally break up with Mac?”
I sighed. Thinking about Mac Garland made my stomach tighten. For weeks, I thought I really cared about him. Now I felt only dread when someone said his name. “I … I’ve given him lots of hints.”
Amy frowned at me. “Hints? Like what?”
“Well … I changed my Facebook profile from In a Relationship to It’s Complicated.
“That’s subtle.”
“And I don’t answer his texts or calls.”
She stuck out an arm to block my path. “But you didn’t just say it to him? You didn’t say, I don’t want to go out with you anymore?”
“Well…”
“You didn’t say, get lost. Take a hike. Have a nice life. Go die.”
“Huh? No. Of course not,” I said. “Wow, Amy, you’re really harsh tonight.”
“You have to tell him,” she said. “You have to confront him.”
I shook my head. “I actually tried, but he … he got real scary. He started pounding his fist on the wall and cursing under his breath and … I really thought he might hurt me.”
“Mac is a creep. I know I’ve asked you this before—but why did you start seeing him in the first place?”
I shrugged. “Because he asked me?”
Amy shook her head. “You just liked the idea of hanging with the bad boy. Someone dangerous.”
“Yeah. Maybe I was bored. I admit it.”
“Well, after Johnny Gruen, I don’t blame you.”
“Now you’re going to dump on Johnny?”
“He’s too boring to even discuss.”
I laughed. “Just because he collects coins doesn’t make him boring.”
“Collecting coins doesn’t make him boring. Talking about collecting coins makes him boring.” Amy frowned. “I thought we were discussing Mac. Are you really too afraid of him to tell him you’re breaking up?”
“Well … a little bit, maybe. You know Mac. When he gets angry … sometimes he loses it.”
Amy rolled her eyes. “Well, I can’t tell him for you. I think—”
I didn’t let her finish. I grabbed Amy’s arm and let out a sharp cry. “Look!” I pointed.
Amy squinted into the darkness. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“My house. The front door. Amy, something’s very wrong. The front door—it’s wide open.”

3.
MYSTERY OF THE OPEN DOOR

“Relax, Rach. Maybe the wind—”
“No!” I cut her off. “You know my dad is a nut about locking the doors at night. He even makes sure the windows are locked.”
I realized I was still gripping her arm. I let go and went running to the house. My shoes slid on the wet grass as I hurtled up the front yard.
I stopped on the front step and peered into the hall. Total darkness. As my eyes adjusted, I could see dim light washing in from the kitchen in the back. Dad always left a kitchen light on for me because I usually came in around the back.
I grabbed the railing and stared inside. My rapid breaths made puffs of steam rise in front of my face. Did someone break into our house?
I heard Amy step up behind me. “Rachel? You see anything?”
I shook my head. I stepped into the house. It was warm inside and smelled of the roast chicken my mother made for dinner. “Mom? Dad?” My voice came out in a hoarse whisper.
They weren’t up. They’ve been going to bed earlier ever since Mom got Lyme disease.
My shoes scraped on the hardwood floor. I took a step, then another. I stopped and Amy bumped into me from behind.
“Oh. Sorry. Rachel, I don’t hear anything. I think maybe…”
I clicked on a living room lamp. I guess I expected the room to be torn apart. I expected a prowler. Why else would the door be left wide open?
But everything seemed in its place. I saw two small ice-cream dishes on the side table next to the couch. My parents are ice-cream freaks. They are constantly trying new flavors. They talk about ice cream as if it’s some kind of exotic gourmet treat.
My mom’s glasses were on a couch cushion, next to a couple of magazines. “Everything seems okay,” I whispered.
A sudden hum made me jump. It took me a few seconds to realize it was just the fridge starting up in the kitchen.
I tiptoed down the hall. Stopped outside the bathroom. Was the intruder lurking in there? I flashed on the light. The room was empty. No one in the kitchen, either.
The back of my neck tingled. A chill made my shoulders tighten.
Something is wrong. I feel it. Something has happened here.
“Amy, wait in the living room,” I whispered. “I’m going to wake up my parents.”
She nodded. “I think it was the wind, Rach. Really. Your parents are okay.”
Her words didn’t calm me down. I stepped into the back hall. Our house is ranch-style, all one floor. Their room was next to mine at the end of the hall. I was breathing hard as I reached their door. A ceiling light at the end of the hall sent pale yellow light over me.
Were they awake? I pressed my ear against the door and listened. Silence.
“Hey, Mom? Dad?” I said softly. I knocked with the knuckles on two fingers.
Silence.
Something horrible has happened to my parents.
“Mom? Dad?” I called, louder this time. I knocked harder, then didn’t wait. I grabbed the knob, pushed the door open, and burst inside.
The room was dark. Gray light filtered in from the twin windows against the far wall. I heard a stirring. A groan.
“Rachel? Is that you?” Mom’s voice, hoarse with sleep.
A bed table lamp flashed on. Dad lay on his side. He turned and sat up blinking. Mom squinted at me, covers up to her chin.
“Rachel? What’s wrong?” Dad asked.
“I … uh…” I hesitated for a moment. I felt a rush of relief seeing they were okay. “The front door…” I stammered finally. “It was open.”
Dad scratched his balding head. He turned and started to climb out of bed. He’s big. He looks like a bear with his furry chest. He sleeps only in pajama bottoms. “I know,” he said. “I left it unlocked for you. In case you wanted to come in the front.”
“You … you don’t understand,” I said. “It was wide open. The door was wide open.”
“What?” Dad jumped to his feet. He squinted at me. “No way. I closed it carefully. I remember. I started to lock it. Then I changed my mind.”
“Did you hear anything?” I asked. “Did you hear anyone come in or anything?”
“We went to bed early,” Mom said. “I wasn’t feeling very well, and—”
“I didn’t hear anything,” Dad said. “But, of course, I’m a heavy sleeper. Mom and I had a little wine with dinner and—”
“Rachel? Is everything okay?” Amy called from the front.
Dad blinked. “You didn’t tell us anyone was here.”
“It’s just Amy,” I said. I stepped into the hallway and called to her. “It’s okay, Amy.”
Dad shook his head. “There’s no way that door could just fly open. Let me put my robe on, and I’ll go check it.”
I walked out into the hall and crossed to my room. I clicked on the ceiling light. The room looked just as I left it.
Was someone hiding in the closet? I hesitated for a few seconds, then slid the door open. My eyes glanced over the pile of dirty clothes I’d tossed on the closet floor. No. No one in there.
I returned to Amy in the living room. “False alarm,” I said. “There’s no intruder.”
“It’s way windy,” she said. “I’ll bet the wind did blow the door open.”
Dad came bustling past me, tying the belt on his striped flannel robe. He nodded hello to Amy and stomped past her.
I followed him to the front door. He opened it and closed it several times. Then he scratched his stubbly face. “The latch is working okay. I don’t get it.”
“Well, at least no one broke in,” Amy said.
Dad clicked the lock a few times. “Seems fine.”
“I’d better go. It’s late,” Amy said.
I nodded. “Okay. Are you planning to continue your lecture about Brendan Fear tomorrow at school?”
“It wasn’t a lecture, Rachel. I’m just trying to save you from a terrible weekend.”
“Amy, you’re not jealous, are you?” I said. “I don’t know why I was invited, and you weren’t.”
She sighed. “Rachel, trust me. I’m not jealous. I’m just being smart. Even if the stories about the Fears are just folklore … folklore is based on something real … something that really happened.”
Dad was still fiddling with the front door lock. His robe had come open, revealing a wide view of his hairy chest. Amy slipped past him onto the front stoop. “’Night. Catch you tomorrow.” She turned and trotted down the front lawn.
Dad closed the door behind her. He clicked the lock. “Works fine.” He scratched his stubbly chin again. “A mystery, I guess.” He turned to me. “How was the restaurant?”
“Busy,” I said. “I’m totally wrecked. And I smell like French fry grease. Goodnight. I need a very long shower and shampoo.”
But when I got into my room, I dropped onto the edge of my bed, yawning. My legs ached from standing for so many hours. My back hurt, too. I decided if I took a shower now it might wake me up. And I wanted to go straight to sleep.
I tossed my clothes on the floor and pulled on a long nightshirt. Then I clicked off the ceiling light and moved through the darkness to my bed.
I couldn’t stop yawning. I’d never felt so weary and exhausted. I pulled the covers back and slid into bed. The sheets felt cozy and warm. I slid lower in the bed.
My right foot bumped something under the covers. My toes rubbed against something lumpy and hard. Prickly fur tickled the bottom of my foot.
At first I thought it was just a wrinkle in the sheet or blanket. But my foot pressed against it. It felt hard. Furry and hard.
My breath caught in my throat. I pulled myself up. Flashed on the bed table lamp. Slid my feet out. Some dark fur was stuck to my toes.
“Huh?” I jumped out of bed and jerked the covers down.
And opened my mouth in a scream of horror as I stared at the dead, decaying rat in my bed.

4.
IS MAC A PSYCHO?

I knew it was Mac. It had to be Mac.
What a childish and obnoxious way to pay me back for dumping him. He crept into our house through the front door and slipped the rat in my bed. What a psycho. What a sociopath.
Mac transferred to Shadyside High last year. I knew he had a bad reputation. I heard he’d been suspended from his old school for fighting. I’d seen his violent temper.
But I also thought he was a good guy at heart. He was kind at times and very soft-spoken, even shy. He had a tender side he didn’t let many people see. Yes, he was very possessive, even though we’d only been seeing each other for a few weeks. And he resented the time I spent with Amy and my other friends.
But I kind of thought that meant he cared.
Stupid me.
Amy warned me about him right from the start. She said I was just looking for the opposite to my old boyfriend. She didn’t like Mac’s bursts of anger, the way he started to curse and carry on at the tiniest frustration. The way he always tried to act tougher than everyone else.
Now Mac was obviously out to prove Amy right.
Okay. Okay. He was angry that I stopped answering his calls or his texts. That I ignored him when he tried to stop me at school. That I changed my Facebook page and told everyone that he and I were over.
Angry enough to sneak into my house and tuck a dead rat in my bed.
Sick. Totally sick.
My room became a blur. I focused on the darkness outside my window. Stared hard and tried to slow my rapid heartbeats.
Mom and Dad must have heard my scream. They came bursting into my room. Mom’s hair was wild about her head. It looked like a tossed-up ocean wave. They both came in blinking and muttering. But their eyes went wide when they saw the dead creature stretched out on its side on my sheets.
“Ohhh.” Mom covered her mouth and made a gagging sound.
Dad stepped up to the bed and stared down as if he’d never seen a rat before. “How … how did this get here?” He turned to me. “Do you think the open door…?” His voice trailed off. He knew that was crazy.
“I don’t know,” I said. I didn’t want to accuse Mac. I didn’t want to get into the whole thing.
My parents are good, understanding people. But ever since I was little, I’ve always preferred to keep things to myself and deal with them on my own. Even when I was a little kid, I didn’t want to share what I’d done in school that day. I guess I’m weird that way. And, of course, I always had Beth to confide in. I always felt more comfortable telling things to my sister.
Mom turned so she wouldn’t have to look at the rat. She’s the squeamish one in our family. “Probably came from your closet,” she said. “I’ve been telling you it’s a rat’s nest.”
“Is that supposed to be a joke?” I snapped.
She shook her head. “No. I’m serious. That mountain of dirty clothes…”
“I’ll call the exterminator in the morning,” Dad said.
“I have to get out of here,” Mom said. Her whole body shuddered. She hugged the front of her nightgown. “The smell … it’s making me sick. Rachel, do you want to come to the kitchen and have some tea or something?”
“No,” I said. I sighed. “I just want to get to sleep. I’m so tired, I want to cry.”
“I’ll get some gloves and carry the rat out to the garbage,” Dad said. “Then we can change the sheets.” He shook his head. “I still don’t understand.…”
“Me neither,” I said softly.

But I thought, Mac, you can frighten me. But you can’t ruin my life. I’m going to Brendan Fear’s birthday party. It’s going to be the greatest all-night party ever. Brendan invited me, and I’m going. You’re history, Mac. I’m just glad I found out what a psycho you are. Really. I’m glad.

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