The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

April Henry

Henry Holt / Christy Ottaviano Books

CHAPTER 1
DAY 1, 4:51 P.M.
 
 
I wake up.
But wake up isn’t quite right. That implies sleeping. A bed. A pillow.
I come to.
Instead of a pillow, my right cheek is pressed against something hard, rough, and gritty. A worn wood floor.
My mouth tastes like old pennies. Blood. With my eyes still closed, I gently touch my teeth with my tongue. One of them feels loose. The inside of my mouth is shredded and sore. My head aches and there’s a faint buzzing in one ear.
And something is wrong with my left hand. The tips of my pinkie and ring finger throb with every beat of my heart. The pain is sharp and red.
Two men are talking, their voices a low murmur. Something about no one coming for me. Something about it’s too late.
I decide to keep my eyes closed. Not to move. I’m not sure I could anyway. It’s not only my tooth that feels wrong.
Footsteps move closer to me. A shoe kicks me in the ribs. Not very hard. More like a nudge. Still, I don’t allow myself to react. Through slitted eyes, I see two pairs of men’s shoes. One pair of brown boots and one pair of red-brown dress shoes that shade to black on the toes. A distant part of me thinks the color is called oxblood.
“She doesn’t know anything,” a man says. He doesn’t sound angry or even upset. It’s a simple statement of fact.
I realize he’s right. I don’t know anything. What’s wrong with me, where I am, who they are. And when I try to think about who I am, what I get is: nothing. A big gray hole. All I know for sure is that I must be in trouble.
“I need to get back to Portland and follow our leads there,” the other man says. “You need to take care of things here. Take her out back and finish her off.”
“But she’s just a kid,” the first man says. His tone is not quite so neutral now.
“A kid?” The second man’s voice hardens. “If she talks to the cops, she could get us both sent to death row. It’s either her or us. It’s that simple.” His footsteps move away from me. “Call me when you’re done.”
The other man nudges me with his foot again. A little harder this time.
Behind me, I hear a door open and close.
“Come on. Get up.” With a sigh, he leans over and grabs me under my arms. Grunting, he hauls me up from behind. His breath smells bitter, like coffee. I try to keep my body limp, but when my left hand brushes the floor, the pain in my fingers is an electric shock. My legs stiffen and he pulls me to my feet.
“That’s right,” he says, nudging me forward while still holding me up. “We’re going to take a little walk.”
Since he already knows that I’m conscious, I figure I can open my eyes halfway. We’re in what looks like a cabin, with knotty pine walls and a black wood-burning stove. Yellow stuffing spills from sliced cushions on an old plaid couch and a green high-backed chair. Books lie splayed below an emptied bookcase. Someone was obviously looking for something, but I don’t know what, and I don’t know if they found it. Past the red-and-white-checkered curtains lie nothing but fir trees.
With the guy’s arm clamped around my shoulders, I stumble past a table with four wood chairs. One of them is turned away from the table. Ropes loosely encircle the arms. A pair of bloody pliers sits on the table next to what seems like two silver-white chips mostly painted pink.
I look down at my limp left hand. Pink polish on three of the nails. The tips of the last two fingers are wet and red where nails used to be.
I think I know where I was before I ended up on the floor.
I keep every step small and shuffling so that he’s half carrying me. It’s not easy because he’s not much bigger than me, maybe five foot nine. The guy mutters under his breath, but that’s all. Maybe he doesn’t want to get to where we are going any more than I do. The back door is about twenty feet away.
Outside, a car starts up and then drives away. The only other sounds are the wind in the trees outside and the man grunting every now and then as he tries to make my body walk in a straight line.
Wherever we are, I think we’re alone. It’s just me and this guy. And once he manages to get me out the door, he’ll follow instructions.
He’ll finish me off.
Kill me.


 
Text copyright © 2013 by April Henry