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Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
THE LIGHTS ARE HARSH, more white than yellow, like nothing found in nature, even though nature harbors so many harsh things. The girl sitting under the lights is still a teenager. Most of the time, she looks older, but today, she looks young and scared, blue eyes blinking like a doll.
The host asked her to tell her side of the story. She told it, with her chin raised. It was the first time she could really be sure people were listening. Now it’s the final question.
The host—the one who secured the interview, the one who wanted it badly enough to be the highest bidder—looks at the girl, serious. Maybe she sees something she didn’t at first. How the girl is a bit rough around the edges, if you look closely. Her skirt a bit too short, her legs bare, no pantyhose. Her lips too red. And those eyes, like the lights. Like nothing found in nature.
“What do you want people around the world to know about you that they don’t already? What’s the one thing you’d like to tell everyone who has followed your story?”
The girl sucks in a breath, holds it there. It’s something she must have thought about so many times, the words rolling in her head, sometimes calm, sometimes a tidal wave. When she answers, her voice is a crescendo, getting louder. She looks straight into the camera. She gets the last word.
“Don’t believe everything you read,” she says. “Don’t believe everything you hear. Make up your own mind about me.”
THE COLDCLIFF TRIBUNE
August 19, 2019
Princeton student dead after hiking accident
By Julie Kerr
The body of Mark Forrester, a 20-year-old Princeton student, was found in Claymore Creek on Saturday morning. Forrester had been hiking the Mayflower Trail with his girlfriend, Tabitha Cousins, 17, late Friday afternoon. Cousins stated that Forrester wanted to hike to the trail’s renowned but dangerous lookout point, popularly known as “the Split,” to see the sunset. But once at the top, he lost his footing and fell, plummeting almost 40 feet down.
“It was terrifying,” Cousins said. “One second he was looking over the edge, then he was just gone.”
Neither Cousins nor Forrester were experienced hikers. The Mayflower Trail, extending eight miles, is marked with signs warning hikers about the dangers of ascending to the lookout point. It is advised that only experienced hikers make the attempt.
Cousins was the first to report the incident in the early hours of Saturday morning, after she found her way out of the woods in the dark. “I kept calling for help,” she said. “But nobody was around to hear me. I was so scared.”
Forrester’s death brings the death toll in Queen Anne’s Woods to seven since the first was recorded in 1916. The Split was referred to as “Suicide Sledge” during the 1960s, when three female cult members jumped as part of a suicide pact. The last death to occur at the Split before now was in October 1989, when teenagers Ernest Malling and Desiree Hind went into the woods for a camping trip. Hind reported Malling missing the next day, after she claimed he went off on his own, but his body wasn’t found until two days later. No foul play could be proven, but Malling’s family maintained that they were certain Hind was involved.
A team of police divers found Forrester’s body. He is survived by his mother and father, longtime Coldcliff residents, and his older brother.
YOU HEARD THE STORY ON THE NEWS. A girl and a boy went into the woods. The girl carried a picnic basket. The boy wore bright yellow running shoes. They weren’t planning to be out past dark, but the sky was pitch black when the girl found her way back, without the picnic basket and without the boy. The boy was discovered the next morning, floating facedown in Claymore Creek, his yellow running shoes obscured by hazy water.
You heard that it was a tragedy, that the boy had his entire life in front of him. That he was returning to Princeton on a swimming scholarship. Mark the Shark, his pool nickname. Soon enough, you’ll be going to his funeral with everybody else.
You’ve been following her online. Maybe you knew the suspicion was bound to trail her like a cape. After all, there are plenty of holes in her story. But there are holes in everyone else’s version, too.
Maybe you know her—you might have gone to a party with her. She liked those. Or maybe you just stalked her on Instagram and saw all the selfies, her #nofilter face, all lipstick and electric-blue eyes. Maybe she was a bitch to you once. (She probably was a bitch to you once, and maybe you deserved it.)
But now you’re going to learn all sides of this story. You’ll find out what really happened, from the people who know and love her, and from those who know her but wish they didn’t. Here lie the facts. Once you have them, you’ll be equipped to decide for yourself. Guilty or not guilty. If you think she did it, you’ll wonder if she’s going to get away with it.
If you think she didn’t, you’ll wonder why she was in the woods that late at all.
“ELLE, IT’S ABOUT MARK.”
I barely recognize her voice. This isn’t the first time she has called at 2 a.m.—she’s nocturnal, awake when the rest of us are drooling into our pillowcases. This isn’t the first time she has called and sounded scared. This isn’t the first time she has started with Elle, it’s about Mark. The fights are getting more intense, the days between an argument getting shorter. She never used to call—it was always a text. But lately she needs to hear my voice. Or needs me to hear hers.
“What did he do now?” I snap up in my bed, pushing sweaty hair out of my face. “Where are you?”
“What? Fell where?”
“In the woods, Elle.”
“On what? Is he okay?” Hopefully, he didn’t break anything. Mark the Shark needs all body parts intact for his illustrious swimming career. Even though that isn’t going so well anymore—You ruined my life, I heard him tell Tabby at my last party. A conversation she denied ever happened when I asked her about it later.
Tabby never lied to me before Mark came along. Even though I didn’t pay her the same courtesy.
“This is serious, Elle.” Her voice trails off. “He’s not okay. He’s…”
I know it before she says it, by the weight of her silence. I know it.
And for a terrible few seconds, or maybe longer, I’m relieved.
Copyright © 2020 by Laurie Flynn.