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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Lonely Dead

April Henry

Square Fish

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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 4:15 P.M.

NOT MAKING SENSE


Would anyone even hear me scream if something bad happened back in this wooded corner of Gabriel Park? Aside from the occasional dog walker, I rarely meet anyone on this path. A couple of months ago I did see a homeless guy crawl out of a dirty tent set up underneath a rhododendron, but I just walked faster and he didn’t make eye contact.

It’s a bleak fall day, close to sunset. Cutting through the park is the fastest route from the city bus stop to the apartment I share with my grandpa. In Portland, only elementary and middle school kids ride school buses. Once you’re in high school, you have to take TriMet, the city transit system. Even if none of the stops are close to where you live.

After crossing the small wooden bridge over the stream, I pick up my pace as I enter the trees. My footfalls are muffled by the hard-beaten earth of the twisty path, spotted with puddles from yesterday’s rain.

This section isn’t like the rest of the park. No grass, no basketball courts, no paved paths, no playground equipment. Just towering evergreens, the way Portland must have looked two hundred years ago. The slanted late-afternoon light reveals a million shades of green and brown. Yellow-green ferns spring from the rust-colored needles blanketing the dark brown earth. The tree trunks are covered with velvety emerald moss, and the gray-green-needled branches of the trees slice the darkening sky.

It’s hard to believe I’m in the middle of a city. This could be the fairy-tale forest where Little Red Riding Hood met the wolf, or Hansel and Gretel came across the witch’s house. Back here, I’ve seen coyotes slink into the shadows, and once I even spotted a black-tailed deer bounding away into the trees.

As I round a corner, a girl calls out, “Adele?” Even though I can’t quite place it, her voice is familiar. I stop. I don’t see anyone, but I’m not nervous. I’m afraid of homeless guys, of drunk guys, of guys who might try to drag me into the bushes. Not of some girl who knows my name.

“Adele?” she calls again.

A flash of movement on my left. I squint in the gathering darkness. Through a gap in the branches, I see a girl sitting cross-legged under the green skirts of a tree, her back against the trunk. She lifts her hand and wiggles her fingers.

Tori Rasmussen. And for some reason, she’s pretending she’s not mad at me.

I start walking again. Whatever Tori wants to say, I don’t want to hear it. Especially not after what happened—what I did—Saturday night. I don’t want to be anywhere near her.

“No! Don’t leave, Adele,” she calls. “Please! Talk to me.”

Against my better judgment, I turn back and push my way through the branches. One slaps me wetly in the face. I stop about ten feet from her. As usual, I feel hulking next to Tori, who’s built like a sprite.

“What.” I don’t phrase it like a question.

“Adele?” Tori repeats. She looks both surprised and happy. Which doesn’t make sense. The last time I saw her, she was screaming at me to get out of her sight.

“What are you doing here, anyway?” Tori lives a couple of miles from here, up in the West Hills in a house that’s probably bigger than my whole apartment building. Why is she hanging out at the park? She wasn’t even at school today. I know, because I looked, ready to duck out of sight. I couldn’t avoid her friends, though. I saw the looks they shot me, the way they whispered behind their hands and rolled their eyes.

Tori isn’t dressed like she’s been out running or walking a dog. In fact, she isn’t dressed for the weather at all. Now that I’ve stopped moving, I can feel the chilly November air even through my coat. Tori is wearing a peacock-blue halter dress that sets off her red hair and pale shoulders. Just looking at her bare legs and arms makes me shiver.

The thing is, I know that dress. It’s the one Tori was wearing Saturday night. Which was nearly forty-eight hours ago. When I left her house, Tori and Luke were still fighting. Maybe they ended up in his car, driving around and arguing, and she eventually got out in a huff. And now she’s hiding out to teach him some kind of lesson.

But for nearly two days? And how did she get here? Her bare feet are perfectly clean and white, her toes painted the same iridescent sheen as her dress.

She tilts her head to one side but doesn’t answer my question. “You can hear me.”

“Yeah,” I say slowly. She’s not making sense. “Are you okay, Tori? Aren’t you cold?”

Her snub nose crinkles in confusion. “No. I’m not feeling much of anything.”

So Tori’s drunk. Or on drugs. My breath is hanging in a cloud. If it isn’t freezing now, it will be as soon as the last light leaves.

“Even though I’m still furious with you, I’m just glad you’re talking to me.” She presses her lips together and shakes her head. “I’ve been calling and calling, and no one hears me.”

Only then do I see it. A gray rope of mist falls from the back of her head like a braid. The other end disappears into the ground where she’s sitting, a small rise of freshly turned earth surrounded by decades of reddish-brown pine needles.

On the nape of my neck, the hair rises. Next to Tori’s thigh, a big toe is poking out from the dirt. The toe is grayish, and the nail is painted a familiar blue-green. The prickling spreads down my arms.

That rise is a grave.

And that grave? It’s Tori’s.

She’s dead. But she doesn’t know it.


Copyright © 2019 by April Henry