It’s autumn, and all the dead girls are kneeling in the yard. The sun is orange, low in the sky. It is Afternoon Contrition.
Heather doesn’t know what year it is. She died in 1987: fucked out on a camp cot, sticky and unprepared. Not that anyone can prepare for a masked man and a screwdriver through the ear, but at least Mike didn’t have his tits out. At least he got the chance to run.
Of course, Mike didn’t make it, either. Harper confirmed it, but Heather already knew: she’s been around long enough to know what kind of people survive the night. But Mike isn’t at the house. None of the boys are. It’s only the dead girls and the angel, walking between them, judging.
The angel is made from marble, and inexplicable, white feathers trail in his wake. He stands above her, perfect, glorious. “Heather. Will you repent?”
Heather spits in his face. Or, she thinks about it. A year ago, she would have done—had done—without regret.
“Repent, Heather. If you are pure of heart, you will be forgiven.”
Heather will never be forgiven. Rarely anyone is, no matter how sorry they are, how broken, how pure they try to be. The only girls who leave this house are not girls at all but puppets, limp, folded flaps of cloth that only expand into the shape the angel makes them.
Heather’s afraid to be forgiven.
The new girl arrives at dinner. Megan barely glances up—another dead white girl, not exactly news, and she hates the introductory stories: I had sex, and I died. I did drugs, and I died. I’m black, and I died.
There are twelve girls at the house—thirteen now—and eleven of them are white. “Pretty standard,” Harper had said when she’d arrived, pale and shaking and bleeding from the back. “As victims, white people outnumber PoC, like, 10-1. Course, that’s just cause the final girl is always white, so all her white parents, teachers, and buddies die too, along with her one black friend, or the Asian stoner who brought the music.”
Megan had been the one black friend. Funny, to think that’s all she boiled down to.
“They called yours the Waco Cheerleader Massacre,” Harper had continued, though Megan hadn’t asked. “Only three victims were cheerleaders, though, and that’s including you.”
“Sure, she made it. Final girl. Brave little toaster.”
That’s good, at least. Mostly that’s good.
“Looks like the Welcome Wagon’s arrived,” Heather says sourly, stabbing her lasagna. Megan glances up and sees Cindy greeting the new girl. She’d welcomed Megan, too, once upon a time, answered all her questions, showed her the bathrooms, the meal room, the open graves. And when Midnight Penance had come, Cindy ran without looking back.
Megan doesn’t blame her. It’s the instinct. It still takes over, even after all this time.
Glass breaks, and Megan’s breath catches—but it’s only Harper, staring at the new girl. Milk and broken shards all around her feet.
The new girl steps forward. “Harper?”
“But.” Harper pushes up her glasses, like that might make someone else appear. “You should have survived. I did the research. Why didn’t you survive?”
The new girl has red hair, and a hole in the back of her head. Impaled, probably.
“I did survive,” the new girl says, crying. “I survived, and I died anyway.”
Harper makes Abby a cup of tea. It’s a soothing liquid, the universal sign for calm the hell down, and Abby thinks it’d be a lot more successful if the girl who made it hadn’t taken a fire axe to the back exactly one year ago.
It had been Abby’s ex-boyfriend who’d killed Harper. He’d killed eleven people, actually, but not Abby—Abby had shot Ethan three times in the chest and then once in the head, just to make sure. They had to give Abby a lot of tea that night. But she came through it, she survived, she went to therapy six times a week and moved away to college so she could start fresh—
—Only to find someone wearing Ethan’s reptilian mask in her dorm. She opened her mouth to scream. He shoved a piece of rebar through it.
Abby sits on a sofa, sips her tea, and waits for it to make sense.
The tan girl with the Farrah hair—Cindy, Abby thinks, or Cathy—is sitting near her feet, peering up, uncomfortably close. Her eyes are fine china blue and blink inconsistently, like a broken doll. “Did you start doing drugs? Or have sex?”
“I told you,” Harper says impatiently. “Sex doesn’t matter anymore. The first documented non-virgin to survive a killing spree was back in 1981, and final girls have regularly survived losing their virginity since 1996.”
“1995,” a cheerleader says. There are three different cheerleaders here. This one is tall and black and wearing a red crop top uniform. Abby notices a frayed yellow cord around the girl’s wrist. There’s blood spattered all over it.
“Really?” Harper asks, surprised. “I thought—”
“You must have done something wrong,” Cindy/Cathy says. “You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Abby snaps, even though she’s not always sure that’s true. She knows what people said, after Ethan. She knows how they looked at her. “Anyway, I don’t even know where here is.”
She turns to Harper, the only familiar face. They’d never been friends, but they’d held hands under the bleachers, shaking as Ethan killed the Homecoming Queen. “You said, you said this was Purgatory, but I—”
A girl laughs. She has blonde crimped hair and heavy eyeliner and a bloody ear she keeps tugging on. “This is Hell,” the girl says. “Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
“It’s Purgatory,” Cindy/Cathy hisses. “If we repent, if we’re forgiven—”
The lights flicker, and suddenly several girls are on their feet. “What is it?” Abby asks. “What’s happening?”
Cindy/Cathy smiles with her wet, broken doll eyes.
“Penance,” she says.
Heather is the first to die that night. A girl falls, running through the woods, and Heather stops to help her. She takes a knife to the spine for it.
Harper waits until another girl screams in the distance, then climbs down the tree and steps around Heather’s body. Staying in the tree indefinitely never works; she’s tried it before. She’s tried everything before. Nothing works.
She goes back to the house and finds Abby in the kitchen, clinging to the telephone. Her eyes are showing too much white. “Somebody answered it. Somebody—but the line—”
“Yeah, it does that,” Harper says. The phone is a sick joke, one that new girls always fall for. Harper had, anyway, dialing 911 with bloody fingertips, like there was a police unit waiting for the call. Roger that, on route to the afterlife.
She assumes it’s the angel on the other end, phone in one hand, knife in the other—although the killers, while varying in height, weight, mask, and preferred weapon, all rather noticeably lack wings. Maybe angels shapeshift with the moon, like lycanthropes. The moon is always full here.
“It’s a contest,” Harper explains. She rummages through the drawers until she finds a steak knife, like that will help. “You have to survive until dawn. If you’re the final girl, you get to leave.”
Cindy staggers into the kitchen, covered in too much blood. She’s dead, even if she doesn’t know it yet. Abby screams when Cindy hits the floor.
“Don’t worry,” Harper says. “She’ll be fine in the morning. We all will.”
“Wait,” Abby says, as Harper turns to leave. “Can’t we, can’t you—please, Harper. Help me.”
Harper closes her eyes. Opens them. Looks at the girl she daydreamed about in math class, the girl she once gave a Harry Potter valentine to, the girl who couldn’t love her back.
“How’d that turn out for me last time?” Harper asks, and when Abby can’t answer, leaves her behind.
There is nothing. There is darkness. Not even darkness. Void.
Cindy gasps, searching for air and only finding a mouthful of dirt to swallow. Loose, moist soil—she’s covered in it, coated in it. She’s breathing in her grave.
She fights back, struggling up, frantically pushing towards the surface—and cold, stone fingers take her by the hand, lift her up and out of the ground. There are no wounds to her stomach, only old ones to her chest that will never heal.
“Rejoice, Cynthia,” the angel says. “You have been chosen for Resurrection. Another chance you’ll have to join God in his Kingdom.”
Cindy has lost count of how many chances she’s been given, over the past forty years.
“Thank you,” Cindy says, weeping. “Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . ”
Breakfast is oatmeal, fresh fruit, and yogurt. Megan gets an extra piece of pineapple for being the last girl to die.
“I don’t like pineapple anyway,” Heather says, dumping the fruit on Megan’s plate. Megan doesn’t call her on the lie. Heather will turn anything into an argument these days.
“Anyway,” Heather continues. “At least I wasn’t standing in front of a window, like an amateur.” She glares at Abby. “How did you even survive your actual massacre?”
Abby flinches. “This happens every night?”
“Yup. It’s Resurrection, then oatmeal. Tuna sandwiches, then Contrition. Lasagna, then Penance. The angel runs a tight, blood-spattered ship. I swear, if I could just order some fucking pizza, it wouldn’t—oh. Oh, tell me you went for the phone. You did, didn’t you? That’s so precious—”
“Lay off,” Harper says. “Everyone goes for the phone or the car the first night.”
Megan had run for the car and ended up with a slit throat. Again. She eats her second piece of pineapple. It tastes like the oatmeal, which tastes like the tuna, which tastes like graveyard dirt when you close your eyes.
“Besides,” Harper says, “you wanna talk amateur moves? How about helping up Beth?”
Megan blinks. Heather doesn’t even like Beth. Not that Heather likes anyone. Still—
“Sure, I helped her,” Heather says, shrugging. “That’s what heroines do, right?” She grins, no teeth. “Only the virtuous survive, isn’t that the lesson? Only the brave? How about it, Abby? Didn’t you at least try to help Harper back in the day?”
Abby pushes away from the table violently. Her bowl of oatmeal nearly upturns. Harper watches, something like regret in her eyes . . . but she doesn’t chase after her.
Megan knows something about what real survivor girls do. She doesn’t say anything.
Heather laughs and grabs Abby’s pineapple. “Christ, she’s easy,” Heather says. “Hey, does the pineapple taste especially good to anyone else today?”
Abby cries through Contrition. Harper tries not to look at her, instead staring straight through the angel as he cradles her face with his cold, stone hand. “Are you ready to live in the Kingdom of God, Harper? Are you ready to be forgiven?”
She is. She’s exhausted of dying, of the constant, unshakable fear. She’s already confessed so many petty sins, what’s that word Catholics use—venial. Stealing candy. Selling papers. Sneaking out to the library, researching anything Google couldn’t tell her, about serial killers, survivor girls, dead girls, her mother. Dad didn’t talk about her mother. He wouldn’t tell Harper how many times she’d been stabbed.
The Chronicle had told her, though: twenty-seven. Was Mom somewhere in a house like this? Had she repented? Had she been forgiven?
Harper wants to be forgiven, and yet . . .
Her eyes slide to Abby, helplessly; Abby, who’d been a B student with a great laugh, who’d once literally helped a little old lady cross a street. Abby, whose mother had never been tragically murdered, who sometimes smelled liked pot and cheated on her vegetarianism whenever chicken nuggets came around.
Abby, who Harper had shoved out of the way and taken an axe to the back for her trouble.
Abby had always been the frontrunner, the only possible Final Girl. It didn’t matter that Harper had been an A student who didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, who cried anytime she saw an animal cruelty commercial. It didn’t matter because statistics didn’t lie, and survivor girls, they were always straight.
“No,” Harper says, because that’s not something she wants to ask forgiveness for, not yet.
That night, Cindy doesn’t run.
There’s a warning behind her, palms frantically slapping against the window. She ignores it. “You’re doing God’s work,” Cindy tells the killer. “I’ll wait for your judgment.”
The killer is tall, taller than he was last night. He walks slowly, like the masked men of her time, not like the ones who take limbs first and lives later. This killer will draw nothing out. He has a job to do, and Cindy, she is the job.
Still, when he steps toward her, knife raised, her lungs—they stop working altogether because they know, because they remember, and they want no part of this self-sacrifice. Her lungs are not courageous. They do not care if she makes it to the Kingdom of Heaven. They only want to keep breathing; they only want to survive.
The killer knows about her lungs, of course; he knows about all the traitorous bits inside of her: her heart, beating too fast, her stomach, cramped up tight. It’s no surprise when he judges her unworthy, when the knife plunges into her chest.
She will begin again tomorrow. The angel, he will give her another chance. Cindy will be forgiven someday, she knows.
But that’s not what her lungs know, as she chokes on blood.
“She’s such—who’s that fucking dumb? It doesn’t work, nothing works, and she’s just—she—”
“Heather,” Megan interrupts, stepping around Cindy’s body. “Why do you even care?”
Heather doesn’t care. Or she shouldn’t. She closes Cindy’s blue eyes for absolutely no reason at all, then slaps her across the face and tells her that she’s a fucktarded Jesus whore who’s too dumb to live. Heather may be crying. She does that sometimes. It doesn’t mean anything.
Megan is holding two pokers. She offers one to Heather, warily. Megan has always been wary, even by dead girl standards. Some of the girls are friends and some are enemies, but Megan has always held herself apart, just on the outside, watching. Megan very rarely cries.
Heather looks down at Cindy. “She used to be different, you know. When I got here, she was a whole other person. Not . . . ”
“A fucktarded Jesus whore?”
“ . . . Broken.”
Megan raises an eyebrow at Heather’s tear-stained face and bloody knees. “I think we’re all pretty broken.”
But they’re not, not like Cindy. Not like the cloth girls, the forgiven. Lisa survived the night not long after Heather first arrived, and Mary and Chris were already half out of their minds, but Cindy . . .
“She was my friend,” Heather says quietly, and then the killer appears.
He doesn’t walk through the doorway. He just appears, and Heather barely pulls Megan back in time. “Get out of here!” she yells, pushing Megan behind her.
“Go!” Heather says, and Megan goes, scrambling out the window while Heather swings the poker at the killer’s head. He staggers, but gets back up. Killers always get back up. It’s not a fight she can win.
That’s not why she fights.
She swings and swings, her fifth crack knocking the mask to the floor. She falters, and that’s all it takes: his knife is now inside her.
“Mike,” Heather whispers.
Mike pulls out the knife, cradles her. Stabs the blade through her ear.
It takes Abby a long time, remembering how to breathe. The other girls catch their breath with ease while she shudders by her grave, coughing up mouthful after mouthful of dirt. Abby still needs practice at Resurrection.
By the time she heads inside, everyone’s already at breakfast. Some have showered, but most are just eating their oatmeal and strawberries with their grave dust still clinging to them. Harper, she sees, has two strawberries.
This is what Abby will be doing for—for forever. She will eat strawberries and confess and die. She will crawl out of the ground and be put back into it. She will crawl out of the ground—she will crawl out of the ground—
“Hey.” Harper takes her by the arm, leads her to one of the tables. “It’s okay. Just breathe through it.”
It’s not okay; it’s not. This is forever—
“Just breathe, Abby.”
It’s a long time before she can.
Someone’s grabbed her a breakfast tray. Abby drags her spoon through the oatmeal. If she vomits, Heather will be merciless. She knows what mean girls are like.
But Heather is staring blankly at her breakfast. Beside her, Megan frowns. “Hey,” she says. “What’s with you?”
Heather doesn’t move.
Cindy leans across the table. “Heather? Have you finally seen the light?”
Heather laughs. She’s also crying, which Abby finds unnerving. “I saw him. I saw his face.”
“The killer?” Harper asks. “Was it the angel?”
Heather shakes her head. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand. It can’t, it wasn’t, but now—”
Megan takes Heather’s hand. “Hey. Look at me.”
Heather looks at her.
“You knew him? You knew the killer?”
Heather blinks. “It was Mike. My boyfriend, or. We weren’t serious, but we were screwing around when the killer . . . the camp. 1987. He killed me. He killed me? Mike didn’t kill me, but he killed me.”
Everyone stares at her. Then they turn to Harper.
“Mike Kaminsky died in 1987,” Harper says. She doesn’t even have to think about it. “The Camp Chastain killer was a disfigured lunatic who escaped from a mental asylum and murdered eight people, including Heather and Mike.”
“Lunatic?” Abby asks. “Isn’t that kind of—”
“The ’80s were big on mommy issues, deformities, and revenge,” Harper says. “A compassionate understanding of mental illness, not so much.”
“So maybe this guy didn’t do it,” Megan says. “Maybe the research is wrong.”
“Hey. Do I tell you how to spell things or kick really high? My research is solid.”
Megan shrugs. “It’s been wrong before.”
Harper resists the urge to throw her oatmeal at Megan’s indifferent face. It’s not like she’s just casually insulting Harper’s life’s work or anything. “Okay, maybe I missed that your BFF was some secret slut—”
“Harper,” Cindy chides, presumably because only the angel gets to call anyone a slut.
“—but missing a frame-up job? That’s something else. Trust me: this guy was guilty as hell.”
“Well, maybe Mike was in on it,” Abby suggests. “Maybe they were partners?”
And Harper likes Abby, she really does, but who even thinks like that? How would a stoner jock with no tragic backstory or otherwise notable family history somehow team up with a random mental patient who only happened to escape that night because of a freak electrical storm, anyway?
“Serial killers didn’t start teaming up until the ’90s,” Harper says, instead of calling her childhood crush an idiot. “And Mike wasn’t evil. He just . . . died.”
“Well, he seems pretty fucking evil now,” Heather says. Mascara drips down her face, and it looks like war paint. “If he wasn’t the killer then, why is he the killer now?”
“Maybe he wasn’t,” Megan says.
“Fuck you. I know what I saw. I’m not crazy.”
“I’m sure that’s not what Megan meant,” Harper says, even though that’s obviously what Megan meant. “He did act like an ’80s slasher. Maybe it’s generational, a learned behavior. Kill as you saw others killed. Kill as you yourself were killed. And it’s obviously not Mike every night, so maybe . . . well, we’ve all wondered, haven’t we? Where the dead boys go?”
“You think they become killers?” Abby asked. “Why?”
“Well,” Heather says, pushing up from the table, hands shaking but jaw set. “There’s someone we can ask about that.”
Heather attacks the angel like she does pretty much everything: whole-heartedly, and without much forethought. In all the years Megan’s been here, she’s never seen anyone try to hurt him before. Try to run, yes. Attempt suicide, yes. But no one has ever punched the angel, has thrown their entire body into it, screaming with thirty years worth of accumulated fury and grief. There’s something almost . . . religious . . . about the experience.
Of course, the angel is still made from marble, so he barely sways back, while Heather breaks her hand.
Cindy pulls her away. Heather’s bent over, cradling broken, bleeding fingers. Red drips over the autumn leaves. “Who are the killers?”
“They are servants of God, as are we—”
“Bullshit. Was it Mike, last night?”
“Their mortal lives are unimpor—”
“Was it Mike?”
The angel looks at her calmly. “Yes.”
“He—what about Steve? Rick—”
“Will a list help you achieve redemption?” The angel begins reciting names, although Megan doesn’t recognize any at first, not until Jesse.
The first time he’d kissed her, it had been under the full moon. She wonders how he’d killed her, when he’d killed her. How many times he had killed her.
“So, it’s true,” Megan says. Her voice sounds distant to her own ears. “The boys are always killers, and the girls are always killed.”
“Different punishments must be given,” the angel says. “Different lessons must be learned.”
Heather laughs. “Yeah? What’s Mike’s lesson? How to kill efficiently? Creatively?” She tugs her ear. “Nostalgically?”
“Mike’s penance is not your penance,” the angel says, and turns back to the open graves. “You will learn nothing from this, any of you. We will speak of your sins at Contrition.”
He moves towards the shovel, and Heather breaks free, grabbing it first and throwing it behind her. “I think we should talk about sin now.”
The angel tilts his head. “Do you wish to confess?”
“No, I know why I’m here, and fuck you, fuck you if you think you can make me sorry.” Heather spits in his face, and then blinks. Grins viciously and does it again.
The angel ignores the saliva dripping down his stone cheek. “If you do not wish to—”
“I want you to tell me why they’re here.” Heather looks around wildly, points at Abby. “That bitch, start with her. She was good enough to survive Round 1. Why not Round 2? What sin did she commit to condemn her to this?”
Abby shrinks back. She looks at Harper, then away.
“You left her,” Megan says. She’s surprised it took her so long to realize it. “You left Harper behind, didn’t you?”
“No,” Harper says, stepping forward. “No, I pushed her out of the way. I did that. That’s not on her.”
Abby doesn’t look up. “You died because—”
“No,” Harper says again. “Look, the other night, I didn’t mean it, okay? I don’t regret it, saving you. I loved you. Since, like, second grade and macaroni necklaces, I loved you, or, or something like love, anyway. You know that, right? You know how I felt?”
Abby nods. “I know, I knew. But I’m not, I’m sorry—”
“I know,” Harper says. “That’s okay. You don’t owe me for that.”
Abby finally meets her eyes. “You died for me.”
Harper shrugs. “If it makes you feel better, I was always going to die.”
“Oh, I didn’t—you were sick?”
Harper closes her eyes, probably so she doesn’t roll them. “I’m talking statistics, Abby, not disease. Research doesn’t lie. Geeks are more mainstream these days, and a dead mom, well, that gets you a little leeway to be weird. But a lesbian, you know. That’s just not survivor girl material.”
Harper keeps trying to smile. “I always knew. I tried not to be one, for a while, and then I thought maybe I could live some other kind of story. But stats don’t lie.”
“They lie,” Megan says. “Harper, they lie all the time.”
Harper looks at her, tired. “You keep insulting my research.”
“Not your research,” Megan says. “The facts.”
“Facts are facts.”
“Not if you know how to spin them. Not if there aren’t any witnesses left behind.”
“She left me,” Megan says. “Jen left me behind.”
They’d been friends since fifth grade. No one was the bad girl. No one was the good girl. Megan was a cheerleader, a reader. She’d lost her virginity at fifteen. She sang, mostly at church. Jen didn’t go to church. She wasn’t a morning person. She ran canned food drives at the school, and had sex with her boyfriend in the boy’s locker room. Jen gave Megan a friendship bracelet when they were twelve, and Megan wore it every day.
Megan fell by the pool, while the killer was chasing them, and Jen looked back, and there was time, there was time.
But the instinct took over. Jen ran, and Megan died.
“I don’t blame her,” Megan says, even though she had, bitterly, for the first few years. “But they said she was a hero, right? Brave, you said. I think that’s just what everyone needed her to be. And the dead—you know who Brad Marsh was?”
“Jen’s classmate,” Harper says.
“Her cheerleading coach.”
“What about me?”
“You’re Megan King.”
“But who was I?”
Harper inhales. “Jen Markham’s best friend.”
Megan smiles. Fingers the bloody, yellow bracelet around her wrist. “And all this time,” she says, “I thought she was my best friend.”
For a long moment, there’s silence, only the rustling of dead leaves and white feathers in the wind. Cindy looks to the angel for guidance, but he only watches them impassively, unfeeling. Unconcerned.
No, she reminds herself. No, he only wants us to discover our own answers, our own Redemption. He watches us with love.
Because he has to love them, he has to, or else—
Heather turns on Abby. “Is that what they said about you, princess? That you were somehow better?”
Abby begins to cry, and Harper steps in front of her, a knight clad in a plaid shirt and tight, ripped jeans. “Jesus, would you stop being a bitch for two seconds and listen?”
Heather grins. Cindy knows that grin. She steps between them, squeezing Heather’s shoulder gently.
“Enough,” she says. “Who are you trying to hurt?”
Heather’s mouth opens, but she doesn’t answer, which is answer enough. Heather has never known herself.
“You must be calm,” Cindy says. “This is not the way we find Redemption.”
Abruptly, Heather pushes Cindy off. “We? We? The fuck you even need redemption for, Cindy?”
Cindy looks down. “You’ve heard my Contrition many times.”
Heather snorts. “Yeah, yeah. Big Bad Cindy has sex on the couch while the kids are asleep. So the fuck what?”
“It was wrong,” Cindy hisses.
“Yeah,” Heather agrees. “You’re a lousy fucking babysitter. You definitely deserved to get fired. Getting murdered, though? Getting murdered for forty fucking years?”
“Seems like overkill,” Harper says, and a few other girls nod.
It’s—no. No, they’re wrong, of course they’re wrong. If she didn’t deserve to be here, then she wouldn’t be here. Maybe she’d thought differently once, that she’d been punished enough for such a simple sin—but that was just the Devil in her mind again, traitorous as her lungs. She belongs here. She has to.
“I was irresponsible,” Cindy says. “Wicked. I was—”
“Sixteen,” Megan says.
“No,” Cindy says, even though that’s true. “I’m—I’m—”
“Bad?” Heather asks. “Please. You don’t know the first thing about being a bad girl.”
“You do,” Megan says, and Heather laughs.
“Oh yeah. Drinking, drugs . . . I was a total mega slut, sucked and fucked my way through the football team, the hockey team, hell, the debate team. I’m not sorry for any of it.” She turns to the angel. “You hear me? I’m not sorry for shit!”
“You need redemption, Heather,” the angel says.
But it’s Megan, not Heather, who says it.
Heather laughs uneasily. “Look, I appreciate this whole dead sisterhood solidarity, or whatever, but I’m not like you guys, okay? I get why I’m here.”
“You’re here to be forgiven,” Cindy says. “We’re all—”
“You don’t need forgiveness, you fucking cow, don’t you get that yet?”
“You don’t get it,” Harper says, sounding stunned. “Both of you. All of us.”
“The fuck are you—”
“Why did you save my life last night?” Megan asks.
Heather blinks. “Because—because to survive the—”
“No,” Megan says. “You don’t want forgiveness, remember? You have nothing to prove, so why the sacrifice? Why the bravery?”
“What’s to fear?” Heather’s grin keeps slipping at the edges. “It’s not bravery if you’re guaranteed resurrection.”
But she’s wrong about that, Cindy knows. The fear stays in your bones. Your body knows to be afraid. Your body remembers everything.
“You saved someone else, right?” Abby asks, and Beth nods. In fact, all the girls do. “Sounds like the kind of thing a final girl does.”
“Or is supposed to,” Megan says.
“I didn’t save anyone,” Heather reminds them.
Cindy looks at Heather’s ruined ear and realizes, “You didn’t get the chance.”
But if Heather hadn’t died so quickly, wouldn’t she have tried? Cindy thinks maybe she would have—and that means something, that’s important, surely that’s more important to God than sex or drugs or whatever else Heather had done wrong. What if Cindy has been wrong all these years? What if she’s been the weak one, the wicked one, all along?
She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know. She looks to the angel, but he’s still just standing there, removed, unmoved.
“I’m not a good girl,” Heather says, shaking. “I’m not.”
“What’s a good girl?” Abby asks, and for the first time in years, Cindy isn’t sure.
“If you’re trying to make a point,” Heather says, “why don’t you just fucking make it?”
Abby isn’t trying to make a point. She honestly doesn’t know. The qualifications keep shifting. At first, she’d been a good girl: that poor thing, that brave thing, what a dreadful tragedy to befall her, and then—
“Why did you love me?” she asks Harper.
“Because . . . I don’t know.” Harper shrugs. “You helped me with that necklace, and you have red hair and freckles, and you thought Hufflepuff was superior to Gryffindor, even though Ravenclaw clearly trumps all, and you, you’re you. I don’t know, I don’t really understand what you’re asking.”
“You died because you loved me.”
“Look, we already—”
“You didn’t kill anyone because you loved me,” Abby says.
What a tragedy, they said, but what causes something like that, what so drastically changes a good, young man—someone with a top GPA, someone going places—into a killer? Why was he so obsessed with his ex-girlfriend? How did he fall so desperately in love? She was pretty, but she wasn’t beautiful. She was nice, but she wasn’t a saint. All those people he killed for her. What did she do to him? What did she do?
“Is that my contrition?” Abby asks the angel. “Am I being punished for Ethan’s sins?”
“Ethan’s penance is not your penance.”
“But that’s why I’m here, right?” There’s something inside Abby now, something shaking, impatiently waiting to explode. “Because I led him down the dark path, because I tempted him to sin, because he killed all those people for me?”
“That’s stupid,” Harper says, even as the angel says, “Yes.”
Different lessons must be learned, the angel had said.
Harper can’t stop thinking it; everything else around her is a sort of buzz, a white noise that she can feel just underneath her skin. Different lessons must be learned, and Harper, she must be a pretty slow learner after all, because only now does she finally, finally understand what the angel has been trying to teach her all along: that being selfless is meaningless if you’re a slut, that it’s more important to be white than to be brave, that a girl will be punished and repent for a boy’s sins, that the boy is never to blame. And this whole thing, this WHOLE THING—
“It’s fucking Adam and Eve,” Harper breathes, and then she’s crying, and Cindy’s on her knees, and Megan’s making the first real facial expression Harper’s ever seen her make. And then Abby’s screaming, something wordless and furious.
Abby is launching herself at the angel, swinging the shovel at his head.
White slivers of stone fly through the air, barely more than a small handful of dust . . . but that dust is wet, and coated with blood. The angel lifts his hand to the thin crack in his cheek, and his lips part as his fingertips come away red.
“But . . . ” the angel says, and winces.
Heather inhales, or gasps, or chokes.
It hurts; it feels like her lungs are collapsing, it feels like—no, that’s not what it feels like at all. It feels like her lungs are expanding, that they’ve been shuttered for years and she’s only just remembered how to breathe.
The angel can bleed, so long as you hit hard enough. He can feel. He can feel pain.
And he didn’t know—
—But Heather does.
Now she does, and now they do too. She can see it on the dead girls’ faces. They know what it means, to feel pain. They know what they have the power to do.
No one is kneeling in the yard anymore.
“You can’t,” the angel says, but Heather can, so she takes the shovel and slams it straight into his face.
Blood bursts from his nose. He staggers back, and makes a sound from the back of his throat like glass shattering into pieces. “You can’t,” he says again. “Another will come. This isn’t the way to Redemption—”
But then they’re on him, the shovel passing from girl to girl, slamming it into his throat and chest and kneecaps, everywhere blood and chunks of stone. They’re speaking, sometimes screaming, out of breath and overlapping one another, their voices individual and somehow one.
“We are not your fucking cloth girls.”
Heather slams the shovel down, shattering the angel’s wings.
“Our penance is now your penance. But we’re teaching you something new.”
Harper shoves the angel, off-balance, into one of the open graves.
“We reject your Kingdom of God, your Redemption. We will not repent.”
Cindy shovels dirt and listens, unmoved, to the angel’s glass screams.
“We’re done paying for someone else’s sins. It’s your turn to seek salvation.”
Abby stays the shovel, and forces the angel to climb out of the grave on crumbling hands and knees.
“When the dead boys come, when your friends come, when God comes, don’t fight the instinct.”
Megan pushes the angel forward through the autumn leaves and raises the shovel over her head.
“Now, angel. Now, it’s your turn. Go. Run.”