At 16, Angeline was the most beautiful girl in her school. She was the most popular, the smartest, the best-dressed and, above and beyond all the rest, the nicest. She didn't bitch. She didn't gossip. She was simply kind to all, and, in return, was loved by all. And it helped that she was two grades ahead and could help in almost any subject. She would have graduated at the end of the year.
The first day of school always felt like a return to her element. She knew the building pretty well by now – she'd begun taking advanced courses in seventh grade. She liked it there. She knew all the librarians and teachers, even the janitorial and cafeteria staff. She felt almost as if it was her school.
The other kids greeted her and her special friend Leah giving her a big hug and a hand-woven bag from Mexico. Leah's parents liked to travel in the summer. Angeline was happy for her friend.
She made her way down the hall to her first class, light-weight plaid skirt flaring around her legs and blazer flapping open. And then something almost unprecedented happened.
She tripped. Angeline, the girl who had been in ballet since she was three and gymnastics since she was six, tripped in the hallway.
Her bag broke her fall and nothing was seriously hurt, but it was still a bit of a shock. What had she tripped on, anyway? She had seen nothing there that would have knocked her over.
But no, there was something. Something she should have noticed.
Kneeling on the floor before a locker, heavy orthopedic shoes jutting into the hallway, was a girl. She looked new, a freshman maybe, or a transfer.
Angeline brushed herself off and stood up. She put on a smile for the girl.
"Hi," she said. "I don't think we've met. My name's Angeline. Angeline Evans. What's yours?"
The girl looked slowly up at her. The girl's eyes were largely hidden behind thick, plastic glasses and her hair was cut short like a boy's. She wore the school uniform, but it was obviously second hand and didn't fit her very well. She was almost androgynous – puberty obviously hadn't fully kicked in for her yet, at least not so you could see it.
"I-I'm sorry," she stuttered. She stood up awkwardly, using the locker door. "My name's… Magda Kaufmann." She attempted a smile and failed miserably. "I'm… I'm new here."
"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you," said Angeline. She took the girl's hand and shook it. Magda. She suspected that she would see the girl again. "Is there any way I can help you? Do you need directions to a class or anything?"
"Um, I'm supposed to be in English, I think." Standing up, Magda was taller than Angeline, and rail-thin. She held her shoulders in a slight stoop, as if constantly embarrassed.
"That's where I'm going," said Angeline, smiling. "Come on, you can follow me."
The girl made another attempt at a smile and picked up her bag – a tattered collection of illegible patches and old nylon. "Thanks, Miss Evans."
"Just call me Angeline."
Magda ended up following her around most of the day. It turned out that they had all the same classes, and Magda had signed up for the drama club, too.
"I want to try to be more outgoing," she said.
"Well, drama club will help you."
When she went home that afternoon, though, Angeline felt almost as if she'd caught a cold. Her chest felt tight. She chalked it up to the early cold spell and carried on.
The first two weeks went wonderfully. Everything was going just as it should. Soon, the Homecoming committee would begin meeting to discuss the dance. The drama club was already working on the Christmas play. Angeline had a cough and a runny nose, but that didn't stop her. Magda, also, began to dog her steps somewhat, but she didn't mind. The girl would soon find her place in the school. She would soon fall in with her own group, as all the other new kids did.
The school year progressed into October. Magda continued to stay close. She accosted Angeline in the hallways, asking for help, was invariably present at the study sessions Angeline held in the local library and even began calling to ask for help or companionship. Angeline felt sorry for her. Magda was like a mistreated stray, unreasonably attached to the first person to treat her well. Angeline had heard rumors around the school: Mr. Kauffmann supposedly worked for the government and was often absent for incredibly long stretches; Mrs. Kauffmann was an alcoholic with a penchant for all-night debauches with the pool boys and gardeners; and Magda's older brother, it had been darkly hinted in gym, liked to touch her the wrong way. Angeline made a point of not giving credence to the rumors and treated Magda exactly the same way she treated everyone else – with kindness and courtesy. But the girl was beginning to be a drag and Angeline felt physically ill, as if in the throes of an allergic reaction, or with a cold that just wouldn't go away. She felt cold all the time.
She hadn't expected Magda to come to Homecoming, though in retrospect she should have known it. Why would the girl stay home if she had an excuse not to, if even some of the rumors were true? She came alone, dressed in cheap black jersey and plastic shoes that looked uncomfortable.
Angeline was having a good time with her friends, and her date – the captain of both the fencing and debate teams – was treating her like a princess. But she couldn't help but look over at Magda, standing uncomfortably in her corner. The poor girl was taller than half the boys at the school, and looked almost like she might be one of the pretty ones in drag. She had tried to put on makeup, but hadn't done a good job – her eyeliner was too heavy and dark, and the red lipstick she'd smeared on was the wrong shade.
She wasn't sure whether it was pity or something else, but almost without thinking Angeline found herself making her way around behind the refreshment table to Magda's lonely corner.
"Are you all right?" Angeline asked.
The taller girl looked blankly out at the dance floor, at the cheerleaders strutting their stuff for the footballers and the Goth kids talking about Vampire: The Masquerade in the corner opposite. "I'm fine," she said.
Angeline could tell she didn't mean it. "If there's anything you want to talk to me about, just say it."
Magda turned to her, eyes suddenly streaming. "Come with me."
Angeline followed the other girl out of the gym to the ladies' room, and – with a twinge of discomfort – to the handicapped stall. Once there, locked under the fluorescent light with the dirty tile, Magda turned to her.
"My brother tried to… he… Look." Eyeliner streaming, Magda pulled up her skirt and peeled down her stockings (the wrong color for her skin). At the tops of her thighs were several large, dark bruises that looked like they had come from almost man-sized fingers. Magda's legs were very white. "He tried to force…"
"Oh, God," said Angeline, bending a little closer. She tried to avoid looking at Magda's graying, flowered underpants. "Magda, have you told anyone about this?"
"No," the girl said, sobbing slightly. "It was… it was this m-morning and he came in and… and…"
"Don't cry," said Angeline. She pulled Magda's stockings back up and smoothed her dress back down. The girl flopped in her arms like an old rag doll. Angeline leaned in the corner, arms around Magda from behind. "It'll be all right. I'll help you find… I'll help you fix this. Has this happened before?"
Magda nodded, still facing away.
"Magda, you don't have to take this," Angeline said. "You should report him. You should… You should…"
Magda turned around, eye makeup in long strings of tears over her cheeks, lipstick smeared at the corners.
"I don't want to," she said. "But I… I almost…" She rested one hand on the tile above and behind Angeline's head. She bent very close to the other girl. "I almost like it."
"Oh, Magda," said Angeline, rubbing the taller girl's spine. "Oh, poor Magda."
"Yes," said Magda, leaning into Angeline's neck. "Poor Magda." She wrapped her free arm around Angeline's waist. Unthinking, Angeline planted a kiss on Magda's exposed neck. "Poor Magda."
"Yes," said Magda, collapsing at the knees. "I… Angeline, I… I love…" She felt her face brush Angeline's breastbone, felt their hands moving over each other's bodies. Magda wanted, she wanted so much, though what it was or how to get it was beyond her. Angeline knew this. She bent over, enfolding, touching, holding. Magda cried and whispered "I'm sorry" as she kissed Angeline's stomach, touched her legs, felt her hands on her back and in her hair.
Angeline closed her eyes.
When she woke up, she was in the hospital. She remembered nothing from the night before, except Magda. And then, what had happened in the bathroom…
She didn't like to think of that.
She felt so weak. Her legs felt heavy and her hands felt clumsy and unlikely to work. She was having trouble focusing, but she could see that her mother was next to her.
"Mom? What happened?"
Mrs. Evans pursed her lips and looked sad. "A girl named Magda found you in the bathroom. You were passed out. Angeline, is there something I need to know about?"
"What? No. I mean… No. Nothing. You mean drugs? No! God." Angeline didn't want to talk about what had happened with Magda. She didn't know why she'd done it, why she'd let Magda do it. She should have known better. But she couldn't help but wonder where this lethargy had come from.
"They say you'll be able to leave later today, if you feel better," Mrs. Evans went on, taking a book from her bag.
Angeline did return home that day, though she was out of school for almost a week. Magda called her almost every day. The conversations usually began with Magda pleading for Angeline to return to school, and ended with both of them apologizing for what had happened. Angeline didn't ask any more about Magda's brother. The whole night was difficult for her to think about.
What exactly had they done, in the school bathroom?
Angeline put it out of her mind. She still felt somewhat weak at school, but she felt about as happy as she was before. Magda seemed brighter – as if she had gained better hair or posture somehow – and that made Angeline feel a little better.
But Magda still clung to her at school, and called her regularly while out of classes. Angeline was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the girl's attentions, especially after what happened (or didn't) in the bathroom that night. Magda had also begun asking if they could meet sometime, outside school. She always suggested someplace relatively safe, like the mall or the library, but Angeline felt somehow uncomfortable around Magda. She wondered when she tall girl would make her own friends, instead of simply following Angeline around.
Finally, though, Angeline Evans caved to the pressure. She promised to meet Magda at the movies.
The theatre was dark and Angeline was tired. Honestly, she probably didn't have time to meet up with Magda now – she had been out of school for a while and was still trying to catch up with missed work before the end of the semester. She didn't even care much about seeing the movie – some chick flick or other. Angeline wasn't really interested in movies.
She didn't see Magda at first and stood awkwardly by the theatre door, peering around in the light from the commercials. Finally, she caught a glimpse of the girl way up in the back.
Taking the steps two at a time – she didn't want to be there; she wasn't comfortable being around Magda anymore – she took a seat next to the other girl.
Immediately, Magda turned.
"I'm so glad to see you," she said, taking Angeline's hand and giving her a weak smile. "It's weird – I don't feel like we've really spent any time together in school."
"Sure." Angeline forced a smile and turned to look at the screen. Magda offered her some popcorn. Angeline took a handful and tried to forget about her seat mate. She didn't want to be there. Not now.
Not with Magda.
"Is there something wrong?" Magda asked.
"No, no," Angeline said quickly. She watched dully as a vast warning from the Film Ratings Board informed them that this film was rated PG-13 for "brief strong language and sexual content." The words barely registered in Angeline's mind.
"You seem upset," Magda said. The music for the opening credits was loud. "What's wrong? Is it… Is it what happened in…" She made a nervous gesture.
Angeline said nothing, but scooped up another handful of popcorn.
"If it is, I mean, I just… I don't know what happened. I was so scared and so… I mean, I didn't know what do. Not after… after my brother…"
Angeline turned to her suddenly. "I don't know if we can be friends anymore," she said. Her voice was stiff, and it hurt to see Magda's face fall like that – the poor girl was obviously so mixed up and messed up already – but Angeline felt that she couldn't spend time with her anymore. "Not after what's happened." She coughed, her throat rattling. Magda, seemingly on instinct, reached over and patted her on the back. Angeling pulled away from her.
"Seriously," she said. "I can't hang out with you any more. It doesn't feel right. I'm sorry."
Magda stared at the screen for a moment. Jennifer Aniston was breaking up with her boyfriend, but it didn't really matter. She turned back to Angeline.
"Let's… let's go outside for a moment."
The hall outside the theatre was deserted. When they reached it, Angeline leaned against the wall. She noticed that her hands were trembling and she felt like she'd just finished running a long way. Magda stood in front of her, popcorn clutched to her chest. Angeline noticed that she'd stopped wearing her glasses.
"So." Magda actually sounded wrathful. Angeline hadn't thought that could happen. "You don't want to hang out with me any more, just because of this stupid thing that happened? It doesn't matter, Angeline. Nothing happened between us. You comforted me when I needed it, that's all."
Angeline coughed again and took a deep breath. She put her hands in her pockets to try to stop them from trembling so much. "That's not it, though. It's not. Something else happened, Magda. I was in the hospital for two days after that. Why would that happen? I don't know what we did," and it disturbed her that she couldn't remember, "but everything's changed. I'll help you in school, if you need it, but I can't hang out with you like this. You can't keep calling me."
Magda face darkened. The tall girl drew in a long shuddering breath. She seemed, somehow, immensely powerful just then.
"That's fine," she said, after a long moment. "That's fine. Can you… can you take me? I don't have a ride."
"Sure." They left the theatre and climbed into Angeline's burgundy Chevy. Magda turned on the radio and sat back in the front seat, a disgusted look on her face.
"Where do you live?" Angeline asked.
"237 East Shusterman," Magda said quietly, her upper lip curling slightly as she spoke.
Angeline drove her there in silence, letting the radio babble pointlessly.
East Shusterman was a tree-lined street not far from where Angeline lived, though she didn't Magda that. She parked in front of 237 – a fairly large, blue-and-white house that looked like it would have a nice garden in the summer – and turned off the car.
"Here you go," she said, not looking at Magda.
"Thanks." Suddenly, Magda turned to her.
"What?" Angeline tried to read the girl's expression, and what she saw surprised her.
"Just give me this," Magda whispered. She leaned across the front seat, very quickly, and pulled Angeline close by the back of the neck. Roughly, quickly, she smashed her lips into Angeline's, forcing her tongue into the blonde girl's mouth.
Angeline struggled, but couldn't fight Magda off. She felt so sick, so tired. She didn't want this. She tasted, of all things, dirt. She wanted to go to sleep. She wished she'd never met Magda Kauffmann.
"That's all," said Magda, pulling away. In one smooth movement, she climbed out of the car.
Angeline wavered for a moment. Vaguely, she thought that it would be best not to drive like this, but she was close to home. She re-started the car and forced herself to remain awake long enough to reach her house.
When she came in, Mrs. Evans looked up from what she was working on.
"Angeline?" she called from the living room. "I thought you went to the movies."
"I don't feel very good," Angeline mumbled, panting heavily as she climbed the stairs. She felt so old, so sick. "I'm going to bed."
"O-Okay," Mrs. Evan's called to her. "Come get me if you need me."
Angeline shut the door to her room and stood there, wavering. Just taking a breath seemed like too much to ask. She forced herself to her bed, stumbling out of her sneakers and jeans as she crossed the room, then crawled under the covers.
She fell asleep almost immediately, and stayed that way for the rest of the day and into the next. When she didn't wake up for school the next day, Mrs. Evans took her to the hospital.
Once again, Angeline woke up in a hospital bed. She felt horrible, and there was a bad taste in her mouth that she didn't think had anything to do with sleeping.
Her mother was standing over her, smiling slightly.
Mrs. Evans sat down at the edge of the bed.
"How long was I…"
"Three days," Mrs. Evans replied.
Angeline swore under her breath. "Mom, I think I'm sick."
"Do they… What do I have?" She couldn't help but laugh a little at the foolish sound of her own words.
Mrs. Evans' face darkened suddenly. "Honey, relax for a minute. And don't think you have to lie to me – at this point, it doesn't matter what you did. I want you to tell me the truth."
"Mom, what is it?"
Mrs. Evans stroked her daughter's hair. "Angel – Angeline, you haven't… made love to anyone you don't know very well?"
"What?" Angeline almost laughed. "Mom, no."
"And you haven't… You haven't been using… needles, have you?"
"No. Mom, I wouldn't lie to you about this. Especially not now." It took her a while to get the words out, unless she spoke very softly.
They treated her for mono, and told her to stay out of school for a while. Her teachers sent home her homework and her reading assignments and Leah – whom she hadn't spent much time with during the year – sent her a get-well card.
It was all right for the first few days. She was getting caught up on some of her homework, when she felt well enough to work on it, and sleeping a lot. She almost started to feel okay.
Then Magda called.
She apologized for her behavior, in the theatre and in the car. She said that, even if they couldn't be friends, maybe they could at least keep in touch. She asked if Angeline was all right.
"Not really," she replied.
"I'm so sorry!" Magda had cried into the phone. "Is there anything I can do?"
"No. I'll see at school."
By the time Angeline was better – and she didn't feel that much better, but at least she could summon the energy to move now – it was Christmas break. She met up with a couple of friends once to have coffee at the bookstore, and told her mom not to let Magda call her anymore. But her friends weren't the same. They wanted to know why she was spending so much time away from them, and she couldn't bring herself to say that it was because she was trying to avoid Magda. The meeting ended in an argument, and she didn't hear much from any of her friends again.
Angeline was beginning to wonder why, every time she and Magda were close, she suffered so much. She didn't want to risk letting it out to Magda, but she had to find out what was going on. She didn't want to hurt the girl, but she was beginning to wonder if the things she'd said in the bathroom were true. Angeline decided, privately, to pay a visit.
The trees along East Shusterman were raw and barren, and a little light snow was rotting into the brown grass. 237 was decked in icicle lights, and the porch light was friendly and golden.
Angeline knocked, then leaned against the wall and shivered. She wondered what was going on, and what was going to happen. She felt ill, and the area above her thighs felt sore. It was hard to breathe, but she thought that was probably just the cold.
Finally, the door opened.
Mrs. Kauffmann was somewhat heavyset, with salt-and-pepper hair and a frazzled demeanor. When she saw Angeline, she stopped and stared for a moment.
"Who are you?" she finally asked.
"My name's Angeline. I wanted to ask you about your daughter."
Mrs. Kauffmann's eyes widened. "I don't… I don't have a daughter." She made to close the door.
Angeline stopped her. "But, at my school… There's a girl named Magda. She says she lives here."
Mrs. Kauffmann's mouth pulled downwards abruptly, and her eyebrows drew closer together. "I don't know what kind of person you are, but Magda is dead."
"What? Mrs. Kauffmann, wait, I just…"
The door slammed in her face.
Angeline turned and began to walk back to her car. What did this mean? What did it make Magda, if Mrs. Kauffmann said she was dead?
Angeline had just climbed back into the driver's seat – God, she was so tired and sore – when she glanced over at the house again. The porch light had been turned off, but the icicle lights glowed eerily. She reached to turn on the radio – and a leather-gloved hand grasped her wrist.
Magda was sitting in the passenger seat. She looked different from the last time, somehow. It nothing nameable or quantifiable, but there seemed to be an aura of power about her, something more alluring than anything before. Angeline could only groan.
"What did you do that for?" Magda asked. "You made my mom cry, you know that?"
"She said you were dead. She said you don't live there anymore." Angeline refused to look at Magda anymore. She felt ill. The soreness between her hipbones was throbbing and swirling. She didn't want to deal with this now.
"She never loved me very much," Magda said quietly. "No, never." She grasped Angeline's face suddenly and, much as the blonde girl didn't want to see her, forced their faces closer. "I don't want to lose you, Angeline. I don't want to fight with you any more."
"I never," Angeline whispered, feeling bile in her throat, "I never want to see you again."
"How can you say such things?" Magda was so close to her now, breathing into Angeline's mouth. Her other hand was on Angeline's thigh. "You know you don't mean them."
"I do…" But Angeline didn't get any further. Magda bit down suddenly on her lip, pulled them suddenly close as skin. She forced Angeline down – and it was so uncomfortable in the interrupted space of the front seat – kissed her hard, touched her harder, caressed her until caresses came to blows and Angeline's lips were bleeding from the bites.
And for the third time in that terrible year, everything went black for Angeline Evans.
This time, though, she didn't wake up in the hospital. She woke up in a cemetery.
She was leaning against the wall of a mausoleum, next to a small, gray headstone. She felt horrible – like something that had died, been re-animated, then tossed against a wall. The place between her hipbones was cramped and twisted-feeling, and she knew she must have bruises all up one leg and across the small of her back. She could feel dried blood and new scabs on her lips. And she was freezing cold. The light was the frail pink of winter dawn. She must have been there all night.
She crawled up the mausoleum wall, trying not to scream from the cramps in her hips. She was just about to stumble out and try to figure out where she was when she saw the name on the headstone next to her.
Born January 23, 1989 – Died August 3, 200…
Angeline doubled over, spewing bile on the faint snow. Mrs. Kauffmann was telling the truth.
The vomit turned into a cough half-way through, and Angeline found she was unable to stop. It hurt, it rattled her chest and clenched at her heart, or at least, it felt that way. She felt something warm in her mouth, something wet and metallic. She coughed again, and blood splattered the snow, the mausoleum, and the little gray headstone.
Angeline was trembling now. She didn't know how she'd come to the cemetery, but she wanted to get out. She was sick now, really, truly unwell. There was something in her, or something necessary had been removed, and she could feel it.
Stumbling, almost falling over with cramps and coughing, she made her way out of the cemetery. She found a pay phone and called her mother.
"Angel, honey, where have you been? You've been out all night!"
"It's really… Mom, can you come get me? I feel like… I don't want to…"
"Yes, but honey, where are you?"
"At the cemetery on…" She squinted down the block at the street sign. "West 14th. I'm under the arch."
"Okay, honey, I'll be right down there. Just wait right there and for God's sake, try not to get too cold."
"Thanks, mom. And mom?"
"I'm a mess. Don't be too upset."
"I'll be right there."
Angeline wavered and sagged down onto the concrete steps to the cemetery. An older man, apparently a care-taker, shot her a dirty look. Angeline didn't care.
It made no sense that Magda was dead. And what was more, that she had died three weeks before the start of the school term. Did she actually have anything to do with Angeline's suddenly failing health?
What had happened in the school bathroom?
What had happened outside the Kauffmanns' house the first time?
And what had happened the day before?
Ten minutes after Angeline had called, Mrs. Evans' car appeared in front of the cemetery gates. She climbed out and came around the car to where Angeline sat. She began to look around, seemingly unaware of Angeline's presence. The way she would have politely ignored some vagrant.
Mrs. Evans looked down at her with displeasure, but her expression softened rapidly into something approaching despair. "Angeline! Oh my God, what did you do? What happened?"
"I… I don't know." She knew her mom wouldn't buy her admittedly crazy story about a dead girl appearing in her car and assaulting her, then somehow ferrying her to the cemetery.
"We're going to the hospital," Mrs. Evans said. "Come on, come get in the car."
Angeline clung to her mother's arm and collapsed in the front seat of the car. Out of habit, she flipped down the mirror and took a good look at herself.
She felt sick. She looked sick. There was blood and bile on her lips, stuck on the scabs from what Magda had done. She was pale and shaking madly and her eyes were ringed with dark gray shadows that had a strange, pearly sheen. Her lips, nose and fingers were whitish at the edges. Her clothes were ragged and felt strange. She could see how her mother would mistake her for a vagrant.
Her mother was talking, but Angeline wasn't listening. She was staring out the window at something that had caught her eye.
A tall, dark-haired girl, standing on a corner and talking to a smaller, paler one. The small one seemed nervous about being there, but the dark haired girl was being very friendly and was about to take the small girl down an alley. Angeline felt that she knew what was being said, and she certainly knew who the tall, dark girl was.
The car had come to a stop at a traffic light. Hurriedly, Angeline rolled down the window.
"Angeline, what are you doing?" her mother cried. Angeline didn't listen.
"Hey, Magda!" she called.
The tall, dark girl looked up at her, face twisting into a snarl.
"Stay the hell away from girls you don't know!" Angeline turned her attention to the little one. "And you! Stay away from Magda Kauffmann!"
Magda was coming closer to the car, but Angeline rolled up the window just as her mother started driving again. Magda simply stood in the middle of the road, cars honking as they drove around her. Her face was contorted into a look of malice and resentment. Angeline couldn't help but laugh a little.
The small blonde was nowhere to be seen.
At the hospital, they treated Angeline for mild frostbite, but got very worried when she complained of the pain she'd been feeling in her lower torso. They ran a few tests, and came back with the news that something large and malignant was eating her from the bottom up, and that it had made its way all the way to her lungs, which was why she had been coughing blood.
They started giving her treatments for it, which made her feel worse, though they swore up and down that it was helping. Her mother camped out in the waiting room.
Angeline wasn't sleeping well.
She didn't like that Magda was still running around. She didn't like it that Magda had been making moves on another girl – a strange combination of fear and jealousy, but either way, it made her uncomfortable. She didn't want anyone else to have to go through what was happening to her (whatever it may have been), but at the same time she had a strange, insistent feeling in the back of her head that said "Magda is mine, all mine, mine mine mine and I won't give her up to anyone else."
She thought about it a lot, when she wasn't sleeping or trying persuade her mom that she really did feel better today. She tried to string together what had happened, how Magda's every intimacy had weakened her. She had fainted after what they had done in the bathroom, had had mono after the tonguing kiss and now, after Magda's assault, she had this. She knew that Magda was dead, and tried to figure out what that might have meant. But it was hard. She had difficulty staying awake, and she couldn't seem to focus her thoughts for very long. Added to that, she couldn't write things down very easily – they had something dripping into her right arm.
Still, she found a thread in the story of what had happened, found the thread and followed its logic ruthlessly. It took her almost two weeks to figure it out. When she did, she asked her mother for help.
Mrs. Evans was frightened of her daughter, though she would never have said as much. Angeline knew it was true. She had undergone such a transformation, in just a few weeks. She was weak from the various therapies and hairless from the same, her movements were twitching and querulous and she knew she must look much older, or at least significantly worse. She was fairly certain that the last time the doctor had had a "private chat" with her mother, he had said that she would die. She put it out of her mind and tried to pull the blanket higher. Her mother did it for her.
"Mom?" she asked. Her voice was so different.
"What is it, honey?"
"I need you to call a friend of mine," she said. "I want to… say goodbye."
She told her mother Magda's number, the one the girl had used every time she'd called Angeline. She told her mother what to say, and that when Magda arrived the two of them would need to be alone.
And, to Angeline's surprise, Magda came. She looked markedly different from the awkwardly androgynous creature from the first day at school. All the little changes that had taken place over the last few months seemed to have had an incredible cumulative effect. She looked taller, prettier and much more self-confident. She wore better clothes, too.
"Angeline," she said, when she came in. She looked genuinely concerned. "I just heard… Your mom just called…"
"Stop it." Angeline didn't want to play games. She was dying. She didn't have time. "I know what you are, and I want you to stop it."
Magda's face suddenly took on a mock-sorrowful expression, so different from the façade of earnesty she'd worn just a moment before. "I'm not the suicidal type," she said, taking a few languid steps closer to Angeline's head. She leaned closer. "Not bloody likely."
"And I'm not the type," Angeline breathed, "to let you do this kind of thing."
"What kind of thing? Trying to survive?"
Angeline fell silent for a moment and leaned back against the pillows. She had to do this, but how? She didn't even know if it would work.
"What changed you?" she asked, finally. "What made you like this?"
Magda grinned like a pyro in a fireworks store. She bent even closer, sitting down on the hospital bed. "What made you like this?" Her teeth were small and white but Angeline could smell dirt on her breath, somehow. "I may already be dead, but you'll die a worm."
Angeline shook her head weakly, feeling air against her scalp. She would never get used to that. "No. Never mind. I just want one thing." She smiled, just to herself. This was the endgame. This was what she should have known would happen. "Come closer."
Magda leaned in a little closer, supporting herself on one hand.
And then Angeline told her what they both knew.
This is what Mrs. Evans saw when she came back into the room, after hearing a scream. Her daughter lay still and pale as death in the bed, still but for the wild, gasping breaths she drew in, over and over. There was blood on her mouth, blood on her blankets, blood splattered on the walls – blood everywhere. Angeline's hands were drenched in it, her scalp was sticky with it, the metal railings on her bed dripping it languorously onto the equally-soaked tile floor. It wasn't like blood Mrs. Evans had seen before. It had a tooth to it, grit, as if dirt had been mixed in. Their seemed to be more grit the closer she went to the corner furthest from the bed.
And then Mrs. Evans followed the trail of blood – closer to mud at this point, there was so much grit in it – and found a small, shriveled thing in the corner, like an old fetish made from mud and sticks. There was a little dark hair clinging to it, and what looked like fingernails sticking out of it.
She didn't take the time to look at the fetish carefully; she was too worried about her daughter. Angeline's breathing was coming in fast, harsh gasps, and she was trembling now. Her hands were shaking, her lips were shaking. Mrs. Evans hesitated for a moment, looking at the blood in the room and at her daughter quivering form, then leaned out into the hallway and shouted for a doctor. Then she crouched by her daughter's side. She could tell that Angeline was trying to say something.
"What is it, Angel?" Mrs. Evans asked. Her face was a mask of preemptive grief.
Angeline turned, still quivering but less violently now, to look at her mother. "It's over now, Mom," she whispered, in a voice Mrs. Evans barely heard. "I… I love you."
Mrs. Evans protested, held her daughter, kissed her through the blood. But Angeline ceased to tremble, ceased to move.
Ceased, eventually, to breathe.
This is a story that was later told over a CCTV camera and a hospital monitor, that didn't come to light until after its teller was buried and its audience had disappeared. This is a story that was told by a dying girl to her beautiful friend, by an angel to a vampire, by a worm to a dead girl.
This is what was said.
You were always alone. I know that. You were always alone, because you weren't lying about your brother and the kids at school weren't lying about your dad.
They lied about your mom. That wasn't true. I know that. You loved her a lot, didn't you? She was the only one who was really kind to you, the only one who tried to protect you, ever. But you were running with the wrong crowd, at first – I'm just guessing here, just guessing, but I can see you're nodding and I'm right aren't I? – and you knew that was dangerous. You did things that you knew were dangerous because you hated your father and your brother. But you didn't want to hurt your mother, so you made sure that if something happened, you wouldn't go away completely.
You did a deal, didn't you, did a deal with someone you shouldn't have known, and that person promised that you would come back. You made sure that it would happen.
Then you died, somehow, doing something stupid probably – you lay down in the road, or played chicken with a train – you're nodding again, you think it's so subtle but I can see it. And when you died, you came back like the deal said you would. But it wasn't like you thought it would be. You didn't care about your mom, and you had this hunger, this need and you were weak as I am now. You knew, instinctively, what you had to do.
You went back to school after it started. You found someone strong, someone you would use. You found me. I'm not being vain, but I know… I know I was the kind of person, then…
You met me, and knew that I had what you needed. You had to find a way to get it, but you knew also that you had to wait or I would be worried. So you waited until the dance, renewed some bruises your brother had left, and then you tricked me into coming to the toilet with you. Again, you think I can't see it, but I know that look in your eyes and you know I'm right.
From then on it was easy – you could just sap me when you needed it, drink up what I needed to become a little more like yourself, but better… You're better than you were before you died, aren't you? You're stronger because you don't have all those problems on you, and because you don't have to live at home anymore, you've got the run of the town. Maybe you've had other girls – you have, I can see it.
And that's what I really… What I really don't like. Because you came to me first. And in a way – I don't get it, but anyway – in a way, that makes you mine.
And now I'm going to ask you to come closer to me, because there's something I want to give you… yes… yes!