You know that feeling you get when someone’s watching you? But you can’t see them? The hairs on the back of my neck prickle as I make my slap dash attempt at a turkey sandwich.
Mum’s upstairs and Dad’s at work. I shake my head. There’s no one here. I guess that’s what you get when you secretly watch an 18-horror movie when you’re twelve. Still, I slide the butter knife off the counter quietly, slowly. This is ridiculous. There’s no psycho serial killer behind me. Besides, this has got to be the bluntest knife in the world. I’m barely even five foot—and that’s including my thick soled DMs. What do I think I’m going to do? Butter them to death?
I whip around and the knife falls limp in my hand as I breathe a sigh of relief. “Dad? I thought you left for work like, an hour ago.”
Sunlight streams in through the window behind him, giving him an almost fuzzy look, like his lines aren’t sharp enough to hold everything in place. It must be the glint in my eyes.
“Beth,” he says quietly. He’s dressed for work in his shiny black loafers and crisp white shirt. He’s wearing the gaudy blue and yellow pineapple tie Mum gave him for Christmas last year and his head is tilted to the side, staring at me.
He looks the same as usual. Why do I feel like this isn’t normal then? Like something super weird is happening. It’s got to be the strange light. It’s messing with my eyes, and that’s messing with the rest of me.
“What’s wrong, dad?” I put the knife back and place my free hand on my hip. “You only look at me like that when something’s wrong.”
It’s true. Out of both of my parents, Dad’s the one who breaks out the ‘we need to talk’ conversations. I’ve got all his looks cataloged and memorised. This is absolutely the look he pulls out when he’s super upset over something and doesn’t know how to bring it up. Like when the neighbours ran over my cat when I was eight after she got out by accident.
“I just wanted to make sure you know I will always love you,” Dad whispers. Which is mega weird. A slight tingle tiptoes down my spine, and I let out a heavy breath. He gives me a smile, but there’s no true light in it.
“I know I’ve got that Maths test tomorrow, but these are kind of big theatrics, don’t you think?” This is the weirdest talk I’ve ever got from him. “I probably won’t even fail it. I actually studied this time.”
Another chill crystallises in my backbone. I gaze at my sandwich, which is not looking anywhere near as tasty as it had before Dad showed up. In fact, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get it down now even if I tried. It would just turn into a wad of clay in my dry throat and get stuck there.
I turn back to Dad, but he’s gone.
“Dad?” I frown.
I hear a car’s engine in the driveway. I guess he left for work. Huh. He didn’t even say goodbye. I run to the window and press my face against the glass. It’s a pretty, summer day. His car isn’t anywhere to be seen . . . But a different car has pulled onto the gravel drive.
A police car!
“Mum,” I call out, “The police are here!”
Mum comes out of the bedroom. “What are you talking about, Beth?”
Someone knocks on the front door. I point towards it. “The police are here, Mum.”
She purses her lips together and moves towards the door, pausing with her palm to the handle. Mum takes a deep breath and pulls the door open. “Can I help you?”
The man on the other side is short and squat, with a thick beard and heavy dark sunglasses on. He pulls the sunglasses off, and he puts them in the front pocket of his blue uniform shirt.
“Miss,” he says. “I’m sorry. There’s been an accident.”
My gut plummets to the floor. Dad.
Chapter One: Beth Death
Four Years Later
“What are you staring at, ‘Beth Death’?”
Freya flips her perfectly smooth blonde mane like the ass she is. She’s Jessica’s older sister. They’re both super pretty––okay, Jessica is beyond ultra pretty––but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re also both super ultra jerks.
I continue to stare, like a rabbit trapped in headlights. My lips might even be hanging a little bit open. It’s hard to tell. I will say this: I was absolutely not staring at Freya until she spoke to me. Now, I’m caught in that same siren spell everyone else always seems to fall into around her.
“I’m sorry, I’m not into girls,” Freya continues, “especially someone all black-and-white like a living Instagram filter. And neither is my sister, so you can stop that daydream. She wouldn’t give someone like you the time of day.”
Well, maybe not the same siren spell as everyone else. They’re all wrapped up in how pretty and popular Freya is. It’s more the kind of spell where you can’t believe something is happening. Like a train about to crash, and you know it’s about to hit the wall, but you just can’t bring yourself to turn away.
“I think it must be mandatory for their weird family,” says her equally annoying, Barbie-wannabe buddy, Lucy. “Dress like a corpse and maybe it’ll get your dad’s attention. . .”
Her cronies all snigger, like some weird cult with perfect blonde hair and pink manicured nails. Their giggles fill the air like a fork scratching a plate. My eyes dart around the hallway. Luckily, it’s the end of the day, and most kids have gone back to their boarding rooms.
One of the other girls nods eagerly. “You’re so totally right, Lucy. No one would dress like that willingly. Daddy issues.”
Anger surges through me. It’s this hot flash that builds up in the back of my chest and shoots straight through my fingers, a harsh cutting wave of heat. There’s no quicker way to absolutely make me lose my cool than bringing up my family.
For one, he is NOT my dad, and for two, Freya and her sister Jessica may be the prettiest girls in the school, but they are certainly NOT my type. Under their superficial beauty there’s nothing beneath. I’ve got no idea why everyone at this school is always climbing all over them. Just because they’ve got nice hair, that doesn’t make them goddesses or anything.
I bet if you cut open their skulls there would be just pink fluff inside. Totally useless, completely uninteresting, and really irritating. The kind of pink fluff with glitter that gets absolutely everywhere and on everything.
God, living next to a funeral home is making me way too morbid.
Lucy says, “You’re totally right, Freya. I think she was staring at your arse!”
The other girl snickers, pressing a hand to her mouth. “Creepy. Who knows what she would do to a person!”
My head is about to boil; steam is practically coming out of my ears. The smart thing to do would be to hold my tongue and go the other way, but it’s hard to be smart when you’re brain dead after a boring day at school. Plus, she’s literally right there, staring at me. My tongue is loose. My temper is hot. I can feel the words slowly breaking free.
“I wouldn’t want you. You’re like the end pieces of a loaf of bread. Everyone’s touched you, but nobody wants you. And I was staring at you because I was trying to imagine you with a personality.”
I seriously, one hundred percent had not been staring at her. Okay, I might find myself staring at her sister a bit too much in class. But not Freya. She’s just trying to start something on purpose, and I’m feeding into it the way I always do. I can’t help it. Freya always gets under my skin, like a horde of ants that pinch and bite and snip at you until you totally lose it.
Freya looks completely unbothered by the comment. If anything, I can tell she’s been waiting for it. Like, she probably had this all figured out and knew exactly what she was going to get out of me losing my temper.
Her mouth curls into a smile. The corners of her eyes scrunch up. Freya is wearing pink eyeshadow. It’s got glitter in it. Totally perfectly applied, and the exact same shade as her pink lipstick. Everything about her is pink, and glittering. The whole group has the same look and matching rolled up school skirts—so short you can practically see what they had for breakfast.
“Oh, I have a great personality. How many emo kids does it take to screw in a lightbulb? None, they all sit in the dark and cry. Are you going to cry, ‘Beth Death’?” There’s a curl to her words when she says it, a little sharp up tick like she thinks she’s the funniest thing in the world. Like that joke is going to make anyone laugh.
Well, it does make her cronies laugh, but they don’t count as people. They’re more like the things you grow in tubes to mimic each other.
“She looks like she’s been crying already,” says Lucy, with another tittering laugh. It can’t be her real laugh, right? I mean, there’s no way she’s actually got a laugh that grating.
The third girl––whose name I can never remember––laughs too. It’s practically identical to Lucy’s. They must practice laughing the same. “That or her make up looks that bad because she puts it on in the dark.”
“I think you’re right,” says Freya.
The insults are childish and stupid. Plus, I’ve heard them about a thousand times already. But they get to me anyway. I can’t help it. I’m tired and in a bad mood, and it’s hard not to get upset over something like this, no matter how many times you hear the same thing being spat out at you. If they want to call me Beth Death, then I’ll give them Beth Death!
“Why don’t you just drop dead Freya!” is the best response I can muster as I stomp away in my DM boots before they see the angry tears in my eyes. The last thing I want to do is give them even more of a reason to make fun of me. And I’m not about to let them see me cry after they cracked those jokes. No way, no how, just not happening. Their laughter is almost haunting as it follows me out school. I can’t stop thinking about how much I hate them . . . especially Freya.
* * *
I’m still stomping when I get home. Well, I say home, but it doesn’t feel like it yet, even after eight months. My stepdad’s place might be bigger and nicer, but our old place was way better, with just Mum and I. There was a garden out front, and I had my own bathroom, too, where now I’ve got to share.
Besides, our old house didn’t have a funeral parlour attached to it, labelling me ‘Beth Death’ at this shitty school I’ve been transferred to last month. It might be a super posh private school, but that doesn’t mean the kids are any less mean. And the way I accessorise my uniform and doing my first art project on tomb stone rubbings just added flames to the fire.
The joke’s on them, though. I actually like it. ‘Beth Death’ has a ring to it, you know? It’s fitting and it keeps people away. Plus, I have to admit, I am slightly obsessed with death since I swear I saw my dad that day after he died. But that’s just not possible. I did a tonne of research and apparently your brain hallucinates in times of stress. It’s normal––I’m not crazy.
It took pretty much all I had not to spend the whole walk home actually worrying about whether my make up looked okay or not. I even checked out my eye liner.
What a way to end a crappy day at school. Like getting a dollop of soured ice cream on top of a weevil-filled cake. I can practically taste my bad mood on the back of my tongue.
I storm into the house, not bothering to go into the kitchen where I know my stepdad is lingering. Is he cooking? No clue. Doubt it. I hope not. He’s not nearly as good a cook as he claims to be. Instead, I stamp my way up the stairs and down the hall, towards my bedroom. The front of my door has been plastered in as many signs and stickers as I could get, all of them some variation of a warning or KEEP OUT sign.
Not that anyone listens to them. Not anymore, at least. My privacy levels dropped down to zero the moment we moved out here. Thinking about that just gets me even more upset. I desperately need something to help myself chill out a little bit.
My gaze sweeps through my bedroom, taking in the stacked and folded laundry on the end of my dresser––waiting to be put away––and the growing pile of dirty clothes at the foot of my bed that I sling my uniform onto as I get changed. I’ve tried to make my room as dark as possible, but Mum drew the line at painting the walls black, so they’re still the same rosy cream shade as when we moved in.
I don’t get it. If I wanted my room to be dark, what problem was that going to cause? It wasn’t like they had to sleep in here. Ugh. Freya has my mood seriously jacked over. I need to get my head on straight, before I spend the whole evening simmering like a pot someone forgot to take off the burner.
And there’s only one sure fire way to put me in a better mood on a day like this.
I crank up the volume on my Bluetooth speaker and select my bad mood play list on my phone which starts to play ‘Rain’ by The Cult––which is far too often relevant for our English weather. As soon as the music is up and running, I drop backwards onto the bed, throwing my arms out to the side. My feet hang off the foot of the mattress, but I don’t bother to scoot up the rest of the way so I can lay on the bed properly.
“Beth! How many times have we told you to stop playing your music so loud?” My stepdad’s voice ruins the song. “And what have we told you about clomping up the stairs like that.”
Is he standing outside of my bedroom door, or just in the hallway? I can’t tell. My hands press over my face, and I give a low groan, digging my fingers into the skin just above my eyebrows.
Just because he works with dead people shouldn’t mean the living can’t make any noise. But he’s got all kinds of hang up’s with making sure that the house stays quiet and presentable. Maybe that’s why Mum wouldn’t let me paint my walls black.
Maybe it was too unpresentable for him.
And if he only knew that one of the reasons I have to turn up my music so loud is, I swear I hear voices coming from his stupid funeral home. Damn my vivid imagination. Like, I know there’s no one in the funeral home but him. And if he’s in the house, then there’s no one out there. Well no one alive. But sometimes I’ll pass by the door that leads to it, and I swear I hear people whispering in there. It’s really freaky. One of those things that bothers you, even when you know it’s not real.
I turn my music a single digit quieter as a token effort and sink back on my bed with my eyes closed.
A fight with the school’s most popular girl and my stepdad all in one day. In life, some days you will be the pigeon and on other days you will be the statue. This is definitely one of the latter.
Chapter Two: A Deathly Silence
Why don’t you drop dead Freya!
The words echo in my head. A totally lousy rating on the burn scale. What am I, in primary school? Yeah, maybe not my best moment, but I’m not going to apologize. That’s what I decide as I head towards the school. Freya doesn’t deserve an apology for anything.
Besides, she’s the one that started the whole fight yesterday. If she had just left me alone, then none of that would have been said. So, if anything, I’m the one that should get an apology.
Fat chance that is going to happen. I doubt Freya’s ever said the words I’m sorry to anyone her whole life. She’s sure not going to start by saying them to me.
I walk as quickly as I can in my clunky boots. Late for school, I curse myself for, once again, taking too long to apply my black eyeliner this morning. I can’t leave home without it, though. I have my Beth Death image to live up to. Plus, I want to look as different from those prissy popular girls as possible.
I tug my faux leather jacket tighter in the crisp morning air. My breath comes out in white puffs like the time I tried one of my stepdad’s cigarettes. It’s way colder out than I had been expecting, but whatever. I like my faux leather jacket, even if it’s not like, the best at keeping me toasty.