INTENSITY IN TEN CITIES, Y’ALL! To paraphrase Cypress Hills, last week we understood how we could just KILL A MAN! After considering all of your, um, highly creative, detailed, and not at all frightening suggestions (srsly, take a look at those comments), most of y’all chose to cover up the murder. Because pleading self-defense with two corroborating witnesses in some I Know What You Did Last Summer pact doesn’t pile on enough felonies. (Though I shouldn’t judge; I personally chose to leave no witnesses, working title CYOA: Let the Bodies Hit the Floor. But that may have been out of laziness.)

P.S. This is gonna be QUITE lengthy. But you weren’t planning to do work this morning anyway, right?

Chapter 14: All I Need in This Life of Sin

Silas and Sam look down in abject horror, while your strained breaths disrupt the otherwise suffocating silence.

… lifeless body… sprayed in blood… And again. And again…

Bewildered, you stare at your trembling hands. And again … Out of your periphery, you see Sam’s frantic hand gestures, while Silas stays still, his eyes never leaving you. Words erupt from her mouth; you’ve never seen her this animated before. But you don’t hear a sound. … sprayed in blood…

She’s in front of you now, kneeling. He remains motionless. You can’t look away from your hands. … lifeless body… And again…

Sam’s speaking to you. “… Caitlin, please… ” And now you’re fixated on Mr. Crane. What used to be Mr. Crane. “… need a plan… ” Oh, that’s Sam again. … And again… You should probably start paying attention. “… self-defense.”

“What?” Rasping, you stir from your haze. “No. No cops. I…” You don’t dare give the words life. … lifeless…

Sam looks to Silas with a soundless plea, which goes unanswered. She takes a moment to consider her next words. “They’ll understand. Mr. Crane was a really bad guy; we’ve got more than enough proof. And we’ll both stand by you every step of the way, in any way we can.” When she glances at Silas this time, the uncertainty in her gaze has been replaced by fierce determination. To protect you.

Tears well in your eyes. You’re touched by her loyalty, but you know that’s not why you’re crying. Now that your clarity has finally been restored, you can’t think of anything other than that lifeless body. Lifeless by your hands. “I can’t,” you quietly plead. “What I’ve done…”

“OK,” Sam resigns. “It’s your choice, and… I’ll support you no matter what. But, Caitlin — we still have to figure out our next move. Even if we don’t go to the police, they’ll still find the body eventually.”

Silas finally chimes in. “So let ’em.”

* * *

The door chimes open. A slight draft grazes the back of your neck. The breeze is refreshing but surprising; you’re still not used to hair this short. Or this colour.

“Sit anywhere you like.” You gesture the coffee pot in your hands to the available booths — of which there are many, since the lunch rush just passed.

You’re pouring refills for the regulars perched on bar stools when the TV screen catches your eye.

…continuing coverage of the Kayla Peters case. The eighteen-year-old went missing last month, with her body found ten days ago. A group of hikers discovered her body in a riverbed some 700 miles downstream of the theatre camp where she was last seen.

Kayla. You still can’t believe what happened to her. To have her life ended so senselessly by an unhinged maniac… Your best friend may have had her faults, but she didn’t deserve that. No one does.

…raided the home of primary suspect Daniel Crane, the victim’s high school drama teacher. His personal laptop reveals a sexual relationship with Peters, based on illicit photographs and videos that may have been taken without the victim’s consent.

The FBI will need to verify the time stamps on those files before pressing charges of production of child pornography against the accused. Either way, Crane, a known sex offender in Arizona, will be charged with possession…

What the news doesn’t mention is that one of those sex tapes was leaked and went viral over the weekend. You chastize yourself for being so grim, but you can’t help thinking that Kayla got in death what she craved in life: to be known and watched the world over.

Crane is also facing charges for additional murders, as well as extortion and wrongful imprisonment. Police are still canvassing the woods where, yesterday afternoon, park rangers discovered the remains of Grant and Cynthia Peters, the parents of Kayla Peters.

That, you hadn’t seen coming. Ironically, it’s Crane’s sinister depravities that really help sell your fabricated story.

The Peterses’ financial records show large sums of money, presumably for ransom, being withdrawn during Week 2 of Kayla’s disappearance. But the autopsy indicates that the victim was already deceased at this point, so Crane may have had no intention of letting any of the Peterses live.

Crane has also been identified as the owner of the storage unit that the senior Peterses are believed to have been held captive in. Along with trace amounts of blood belonging to both parents, the storage unit contained a second laptop with numerous voice recordings of each of them. Crane reportedly used these recordings to make phone calls that maintained the ruse of Grant and Cynthia extending their vacation in Paris.

But the content and the access date of one recording conflict with the known timeline. Police believe that this discrepancy is due to one of the amateur investigations into Kayla’s disappearance — namely, by the victim’s best friend, Caitlin Landry.

You suppress a flinch at the sound of your name. Your old name. You’d known that it would come up more than you’d want it to as this case unraveled, but this was still an unwelcome surprise.

…Police received a tip to check the house from Kayla Peters’ boyfriend, Dylan Corbetti. Corbetti was also a student of Crane’s, and had suspected the drama teacher of wrongdoing.

Dylan:  I always knew he was a creep, and I was pretty sure he was messing around with Kayla. He didn’t come to school for like over a week, so I went over there to — I went to his home, but I thought I’d just find photos or Kayla’s things or something, you know?

***

“OK,” you say with more certainty than you’ve ever had in your life. “I’m in.”

Silas gives a slight nod, and you can practically hear the gears churning. “Sam? I haven’t told you anything yet that the whole world won’t be finding out. You’ve still got plausible deniability.”

Looking over at you, Sam takes a deep breath. “No. I said I’d stand by you every step of the way, and I meant it.”

“All right. But the only way we can pull this off is if we all have complete trust in each other.” His eyes linger on you. Just as quickly, as if he suddenly remembered the precarious state of your relationship, he looks away. “Do you trust me?”

***

Police credit Corbetti’s curiosity and persistence as the key in uncovering the gruesome scene. Crane’s nearest neighbour is almost a mile away and he had stopped his mail service, so the stench emitting from the house would have otherwise gone unnoticed for weeks.

***

“This is insane!” Sam hisses. “I might have more confidence in his plan if he didn’t learn it from TV!”

Silas shoots back. “Complete trust, remember? Besides, my roommate’s a chem major, and he Mythbusters-ed it. And seems to me, I’M the only one putting myself at risk right now, so — “

“ENOUGH!” you interject. You look from one to the other. “Look, I can’t do this without you. EITHER of you. And Sam — I love you, but shut up. Silas, just keep your head down and hurry, OK?”

***

Please be advised that the following story and images may be disturbing to some viewers.

When police searched Crane’s basement, they found several storage bins filled with an unknown fluid. Chemical analysis of the fluid and stray hairs found near the bins both suggest that Crane used a corrosive acid to decompose Caitlin Landry’s body.

***

Sam dumps her wares next to the makeshift tarp. “Here’s some handsaws from his tool shed. Why he has more than one, I don’t even wanna know. But, um, if it’s cool with you guys, I’d rather clean the upstairs than stay here.”

You give her a grateful but weary smile. Though the real work has barely begun.

Both you and Silas are still for seconds that span eons. At last, you hear the clatter of metal against metal; Silas has chosen his instrument.

You don’t look. You faintly hear the first brush of saw against skin. Then the sound is muted. Until steady drips upon plastic that grow into a trickle.

Silas’ blade stops. Then starts again. The timbre has changed. Dull. Harsh. Bone, you think.

He pauses again. “You don’t have to be here for this, you know.”

YOU don’t have to be here, is what you don’t say. Instead, you pick up a saw of your own. “It’ll go a lot faster if you had help.”

***

Although highly unusual, there is precedence for the same killer being inconsistent in the disposal methods of victims. One homicide expert says that the kills were likely not premeditated, but the attempts to hide the bodies are similar in their level of attention.

Newly obtained surveillance video shows Crane breaking into Roosevelt High School to obtain hydrofluoric acid for…

Good thing Crane had the same build as Silas. And even better that their similarities ended there. Well, except for that whole inappropriate interest in younger girls thing. But at least Silas can barely order a drink in a bar, whereas Crane is — was — twice your age.

Daniel Crane remains missing, along with the millions of dollars he extorted from the Peterses. Prior to his disappearance, Crane requested funding advances for his theatre production; that money has vanished as well. If you have any information on his whereabouts, please contact…

You had always known that Kayla’s parents were loaded, but you hadn’t known the extent. But the thought of Kayla’s death — and Mr. Crane’s — benefitting your new life still makes you a bit queasy.

Oh great. Now the segment on you is airing again. Luckily, you’ve always shied from the forefront, so the only photos that the media have of you are woefully outdated. Funny to think how you’re only a few weeks removed from trying to take your turn in the spotlight. And now you want nothing more than for the world to forget Caitlin Landry. You know you want to.

…a person of interest in Landry’s disappearance, for writing a threatening note found among the victim’s belongings.

Alexandria:  It was all a big misunderstanding, that’s all. Caitlin was a dear friend of mine, and she was always so supportive of my career in theatre. The note was just a harmless joke between friends.

Coming up next: Caitlin Landry’s parents, on their daughter’s tragic demise…

You look away. Your fists are clenched, nails digging into your palms. STOP IT. Don’t you dare cry. But you made your choice, knowing full well who and what you’d be leaving behind. And even if you could have stayed… how would you be able to face them knowing what you did?

The rest of the afternoon crawls by. You’re clearing a table when the shop bell announces the arrival of another customer. You turn around. Oh. Not another customer.

“I’m going on my break now,” you tell one of the other waitresses. Or maybe you told the coat rack. You can’t really think of anything other than the part of your old life that you’re allowed to keep.

You slide into the empty side of the booth. “Hi.” The word barely escapes your lips.

Silas smiles. “Hi back.”

The two of you sit in comforting silence. You don’t know where to begin. Fortunately, you don’t have to.

He places a messenger bag on the table. “A gift from our friend.”

Sam. Your face breaks into a smile. Inside the bag are a stack of elastic-bound documents and several rolls of cash.

“Forty,” he tells you. “More than enough to get you to the rendezvous. The rest is still being cleaned.”

“And I’m assuming this was your idea?” You hold up your new driver licence for Landry Louise Taylor.

Smirking, he lowers his voice (into quite a sexy rumble, you might add). “Well if you don’t like it, you could always change it.”

You roll your eyes, but the wide grin on your face is betraying you. When you regain composure, you focus on more important matters. “And how are things going with you?”

Silas counts off. “Got out of my lease. Got my own care package. Paper was more than happy to revoke my internship, since the lead reporter already took over the story anyway. And now it’s just a matter of time.”

You inhale, gripping the edge of the table. “So this is happening.”

“Yeah,” he says softly. “Yeah, it is.”

You finally notice that Silas has one arm casually resting on the top of the booth seat, and the other along the end of table. His fingers are tantalizingly close to yours.

You force yourself to get up. “I should get back to work.”

Silas nods. “Yeah. I should get going anyway. Long drive.”

He stays until the end of your shift.

* * *

You wake with a start. You sit up, heart still pounding against your chest. It’s been over a year and more than 9000 miles, but the memories keep resurfacing. And again. And again. And again.

The sheets rustle. “Bad dream again?” asks a groggy Silas. Ever since the two of you dropped the act and moved into the same room a few weeks ago, it’s been impossible to keep your restless nights hidden from him.

“Yeah,” you reply. “Go back to sleep. At least one of us should get some rest tonight.”

Silas gets out of bed. The glow of moonlight illuminates just enough for you to see his lean and unclothed body. (Just because you get to see it all the time, doesn’t mean you enjoy the view any less.) “Nah,” he says, ruining your fun by putting on a pair of pants. “I’ll go make us some tea.”

“I’ll be there in a sec,” you call after him as he leaves the bedroom.

You put on a thin sweater and walk out onto the beach. Hugging your arms, you watch the waves clash against the shore. And you recall the night that everything changed.

***

“Thanks so much for getting me,” Kayla says as she enters your car. “Theatre camp was SUCH a bust. They confiscated my phone and everything. And there were absolutely NO hot guys.”

“Don’t you already have one of those?” you tease.

She’s typing away on her cell. “Well, that doesn’t mean I can’t look.”

Kayla tells you all about theatre camp on the way back to town. When she’s not constantly interrupted by her phone, that is.

You give her a glance. “D.C. again?” you ask, referring to the name that keeps popping up on her screen.

“Yeah,” she replies. “So sweet. Dylan really missed me while I was gone.”

You spot Dylan walking along the sidewalk. “Oh, there he is now. Why’s he hanging out with Steven Pruett?”

“What?” Her voice does a poor job of concealing her surprise. “Um, hang on. Pull over, OK? I’ll just be a sec.”

After Kayla hops out of the car, you luck out and find parking right away. You’re rounding the corner to where Dylan was, when their voices halt your step.

Him first. “… Don’t you get it? WE’RE OVER! We’ve been over for months, and we were barely together to begin with!”

Her now. “This new photo of mine begs to differ. And if you have any sense, you’ll continue to honour our agreement.”

Steve. “What agreement?”

Her. “This doesn’t concern you, Tom Brady. Loverboy knows. And he’s not going to do anything stupid. RIGHT?”

Mumbling. Then footsteps heading your way. You wipe the puzzled look off your face and step out to meet Kayla.

“Hey!” She’s calling upon her acting abilities to appear calm, but her tapping foot gives away her annoyance. “Why’d you stop? I told you I wouldn’t be long.”

You suppress the questions that you’re dying to ask. She’ll tell you on her own, right? “Oh. I thought we’d be hanging out with Dylan.”

“No, no,” she insists. “Tonight is strictly bestie time. Just thought I’d get a few hugs in before Girls’ Night.”

“OK,” you say unconvincingly. “Let’s head to your house then.”

You’re two streets away when Kayla makes a realization. “Ah, dang it. I totally left my favourite sweater back at camp.”

Pulling over, you suggest calling the camp director in the morning. She’s insistent on going back tonight.

But won’t the doors be locked? “Please,” she scoffs. “Like a locked door has ever stopped me before.”

You remain unswayed. “Caitlin, please,” she begs. “It’s been a really long day, and having it would really help.”

You can’t believe you’re actually considering this. “I don’t know… I’d really be pushing it with my curfew.” Not to mention the extra gas money that you don’t have. 

“Please?” She gives you her brightest smile. “It’d also let me spend more time with my best friend.”

Sighing, you relent and turn around. Kayla dominates the conversation on the drive to theatre camp, but you don’t mind. You’re too busy keeping the car between the speed limit and the ticketing limit.

After maneuvering back up a series of winding roads, you finally pull up to the camp. But all hope of making curfew is gone. And it’s a bit chilly, so you go to grab your jacket from the trunk.

You’re still staring at the trunk when Kayla emerges empty-handed. “Wasn’t there,” she calls out. “Don’t know where it could have gone.”

You toss Kayla’s bag to the ground, freeing the sweater trapped beneath it. “You mean this one?”

“Yeah!” She grabs the sweater. “And what’s your damage? I have breakable stuff in there.”

She goes to retrieve her bag, but you slam the trunk shut. “OK, seriously?” she asks incredulously. “Chill.”

“Am I serious?” you shout. A bit louder than you intend to. “Are you freaking kidding me? I’m not the one who dragged our asses back out here for something that we had all along!”

“It was an honest mistake, OK?” she answers sheepishly. “I really thought I left it here.”

Your temper continues to rise. “So you just had to have your lapdog go back and get it, huh? GAWD, Kayla — you’re so manipulative! You care more about a frigging sweater than you do me!”

“Don’t put words in my mouth. I –” She stops herself and backs away. “You know what? You’re upset. And before we say anything else that we might regret, I’ll give you some time to cool off.”

Kayla turns to walk away, when — THUD! She collapses to the ground, the dirt smothering her screams. She tries to get up, but she can’t. Your knees dig into her back as you bash the rock you’re wielding into her skull.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Until her lifeless body stops resisting underneath you. With as much strength as you can muster, you shove her narcissist of a corpse off the cliff. You throw the rock and her stupid bag after her. Still seething, you stand sprayed in blood as Kayla’s body plunges into the river below. And that’s when the realization slams into you.

“Omigod,” you whisper aloud. “What did I just do?”

Vision blurred with tears, you race home, shattering the speed limit and probably the sound barrier, too. You sneak in through your bedroom window. … smothering her screams… You clamp your hands over your mouth, muffling your hysterical sobs. Your hands. Hands still stained with her blood.

You run to the ensuite bathroom. You jump into the shower, fully dressed. You shed your drenched clothes, and you scrub your skin raw. … sprayed in blood…

Still soaking wet, you pace around your room. You haven’t stopped crying, and now you’re hyperventilating. You take a seat on your bed, but your breathing keeps getting worse. … you bash… seething… smothering… stops resisting…

And then the world goes dark.

***

You tear yourself out of the past, and you follow the sound of laughter to the kitchen.

“What are you doing up?” you ask.

Sam shrugs. “This is when I’m at my most productive. Though the same could be said about you two.”

The three of you hang out until daybreak. Surrounded by so much warmth and love, it’s almost enough to make you forget this intense, lurking fear. That fear you get every time your emotions flare. The fear that your rage is lying in wait, to return one day to take Silas and Sam too.

Almost.

THE END

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she’s been overseeing all things FYA Book Club since 2013.