Girl of Nightmares


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CHAPTER ONE


I think I killed a girl who looked like this once.


Yeah. Her name was Emily Danagger. She'd been murdered in her early teens, by a contractor working on her parents' house. Her body was stuffed into the attic wall and plastered over.


I blink and mutter a vague answer to whatever question the girl next to me just asked. Emily's cheekbones were higher. And the nose is different. But the shape of the face is so similar, it's like I'm staring at the girl I tracked into the upstairs guest room. It took the better part of an hour, hacking with the athame at wall after wall as she seeped out of it, quietly trying to get behind me.


"I love monster movies," says the girl beside me whose name I can't remember. "Jigsaw and Jason are definitely my favorites. What about you?"


"I don't much care for monster movies," I reply, and don't mention that neither Jigsaw nor Jason is technically a monster. "I like explosions, special effects."


Cait Hecht. That's this girl's name. She's another junior at Winston Churchill. She has hazel eyes, sort of too big for her face, but pretty. I don't know what color Emily Danagger's eyes were. By the time I met her, all the blood had leaked out of them. I remember her face, pale but not sightless, materializing through faded flower-print wallpaper. Now it seems dumb, but at the time it was the most intense game of dead-girl whack-a-mole ever. I was covered in sweat. It was a long time ago, when I was younger and more easily rattled. It would still be years before I'd go up against ghosts of any real strength-ghosts like Anna Korlov, the girl who could have torn out my spine anytime she liked, but wound up saving me instead.


I'm sitting in the corner booth of a coffee shop off Bay Street. Carmel's across from me with two of her friends, Jo and Chad, who I think have been a couple since seventh grade. Gross. Beside me, Cait Hecht is supposed to be my date. We just saw a movie; I don't remember what it was about but I think there were giant dogs in it. She's talking to me with oversized gestures, cocked eyebrows, and teeth made perfect by a childhood full of retainers, trying to keep my attention. But all I can think is how much she looks like Emily Danagger, except far less interesting.


"So," she says awkwardly, "how's your coffee?"


"It's good," I reply. I try to smile. None of this is her fault. Carmel's the one who talked me into this farce, and I'm the one who went along with it to shut her up . I feel like an ass for wasting Cait's time. I feel like a bigger ass for secretly comparing her to a dead girl I killed four years ago.


The conversation stalls. I take a long drink of my coffee, which really is good. Full of sugar and whipped cream and hazelnut. Under the table, Carmel kicks me and I almost spill it down my chin. When I look up she's talking to Jo and Chad, but she meant to do it. I'm not being a proper date. There's a tic starting underneath her left eye.


I briefly contemplate making polite conversation. But I don't want to encourage this, or lead Cait on. It's a mystery why she wanted to go out with me anyway. After what happened to Mike, Will, and Chase last year-Mike getting murdered by Anna, and Will and Chase eaten by the ghost that killed my father-I'm the pariah of Winston Churchill. I was never linked to their murders, but everyone suspects. They know that those guys hated me, and that they ended up dead.


There are actual theories about what might have happened, big, swirling rumors that circulate and grow before finally reaching epically ridiculous proportions and dying off. It was drugs, people whisper. No, no, it was an underground sex ring. Cas was supplying them with amphetamines so they could perform better. He's like a druggie pimp.


People pass me in the halls and avoid my eyes. They whisper in my wake. Sometimes I second-guess my decision to finish high school in Thunder Bay. I can't stand that these idiots have all these theories, most of them outlandish to the extreme, yet none of them have thought to mention the ghost story that they all knew. No one has ever talked about Anna Dressed in Blood. That, at least, would be a rumor worth listening to.


Some days, I open my mouth to tell my mom to get ready, to find us another house in another city where I could be hunting any number of the murderous dead. We'd have packed up months ago had it not been for Thomas and Carmel. Despite all efforts to the contrary, I've come to rely on Thomas Sabin and Carmel Jones. It's weird to think that the girl across the table, giving me secret dagger eyes, started out as just a mark. Just a way to know the town. It's weird to think that I once saw Thomas, my best friend, as an annoying, psychic tagalong.
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