It was only a prank. A childish act of revenge. Nothing more than a stupid throwaway comment I contributed to the social media universe in the heat of the moment. I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble.
The situation, it just... spiralled out of control.
Sixty-nine characters (including spaces), that’s all it took to ruin the lives of so many...
...and cause the death of one.
If only they’d taken note of the hashtag at the end of my sentence.
It told the social networking world that my post was nothing more than a casual remark, and definitely not a proven fact. If only they’d opened their eyes, if only they’d stopped to think, if only they’d stepped back and realised I was JUST SAYING...
...then nobody would have taken the post so seriously.
And Aimee Taylor would still be alive.
It was Aimee’s mother who made the shocking (no, actually, make it totally gut-wrenching) discovery that particular morning. Poor woman. I’m guessing it played out something like this...
Aimee Taylor’s mother posted a family of impatient knocks upon the parent side of her teenage daughter’s bedroom door. ‘Aimee!’ she hollered through the wooden barrier. ‘Just because you’re off school at the moment, it doesn’t mean you can doss in bed all day.’
Mrs Taylor waited for a response. Any response. A grunt, an mmm, a keep your hair on, anything. None of the usual suspects turned up to the party. Instead, she was met by the cold, stark nothingness of silence. A second round of knocks followed, harder this time, those of the cross and irritated variety.
‘Aimee! Ignoring my words won’t make me go away.’
Again, zero response.
That’s it, no more Mrs Nice Mother. She barged into Aimee’s domain and marched over to the motionless human shape which resided beneath its duvet cocoon. ‘Get out of that bed right now! You can help me with the housework.’
Met by further defiance from her daughter, Mrs Taylor tore the duvet free of the bed. Aimee lay in silence, eyes closed, body inactive, out for the count. Typical lazy teenager.
Cue the employment of rough nudges. ‘Aimee.’ Followed by a series of sharp prods. ‘Aimee!’ Prod, nudge, prod. ‘I’m not going to tell you again, young lady.’ More nudging, more prodding. ‘Don’t you dare pretend you’re asleep. I’ve had quite enough of –’
Her sudden pause heavied the air, the ice-cold, foreboding halt owed to the bottle of pills taking pride of place on the bedside cabinet. The very same bottle of pills Mrs Taylor had been prescribed by her doctor for her current bout of insomnia. What the hell was her medication doing in her daughter’s bedroom? Then oh, God, fearing the worst, but hoping her grave prediction was so very wrong, she grabbed the bottle and gave it a shake.
Argh, wearing the contorted face of bulge-eyed horror, Mrs Taylor snatched the girl by both shoulders, shake, shake, shake! ‘You stupid girl! How many pills have you taken?’ Upon each rigorous shudder, Aimee’s head flopped forwards and backwards, the proverbial rag doll. ‘Aimee, can you hear me? How many have you swallowed?’
Reaching the point of irrepressible hysterics, the mother switched to and fro between shaking her daughter’s limp frame and tapping her pallid cheeks, struggling to free the cataleptic teen from the bottomless abyss of pitch-black unconsciousness.
Still, there came no response.
‘Speak to me! Please! Oh, God, no!’
The hurried, heavy footsteps of a man signalled the arrival of Aimee’s father into the room. ‘What the hell’s going on?’
‘Call an ambulance!’
‘Why, what’s happened?’
‘Just do it! Now!’
As Aimee’s father thundered down the stairs on a mission to locate his elusive mobile phone, the sobbing, whimpering, snivelling Mrs Taylor cradled her daughter within a cage of arms and refused to let go. This parent was adamant, if the Grim Reaper turned up right now to collect the soul of her only child, he’d have a bloody good fight on his hands.
However, little did she know, it was far too late to save Aimee Taylor.
Death had already been and gone.
#NOW (The present day)
I’ve finally been granted my wish. I’m famous.
But not in a good way.
Notoriety on an inflated scale doesn’t always come hand in hand with mass adoration, as I’ve now discovered... the hard way. In the fame game sense, I’m currently more known and recognised than infamous and celebrated. You see, I recently played the starring role in a news story. A big news story. In fact, totally humungous, featured all over the internet, in newspapers, on the radio, on national TV, the works. Oh, yes, my sole claim to fame doubles up as the worst blunder of my life. Like, totally ever.
*Insert facepalm here.*
No, actually, make that a double facepalm.
It’s true. I (the just-turned-sixteen-year-old known as Mallory Finch) have screwed up everything. In the crippling wake of Hurricane Mallory, way too many people around me have been left emotionally gasping and flapping like landed fish. This is the very reason why I now find myself with a rucksack hooked over my shoulder, creeping out of the front door of my parents’ house at idiot o’clock, roughly translated as either 3.00AM in the absolute dead of night or 3.00AM in the very genesis of morning, delete as appropriate.
Under cover of the shadowy gloom of this moonless night (or morning), I sneak out of the front garden and along the pavement towards a red car parked a short distance down the street. The driver, Ian Jenkins, is all set to take me to the remote and faraway destination of Anywherebuthereville.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. I’m running away from home.
Hah, this plan is mad, so mad. I hardly know the guy, yet here I am, sneaking away with him like some kind of desperate lovesick freak. Ah, but before you go thinking I’m a slutty skank or something, there’s no romance or seediness involved. There wouldn’t be. Ian is in his early thirties. By schoolgirl standards, this guy is bordering on ancient. And besides, my recent online posting of a spiteful untruth concerning a fellow pupil and somebody much older got me into this mess in the first place. Allowing history to repeat itself is not part of my immediate agenda.
In my heart, I don’t want to run away. This is my home. It’s where I belong. But recent events have left me with no choice. Disappearing without a trace is the only viable solution. With the idiot called Mallory Finch out of the picture, all the poor souls who have fallen victim to the crushing aftershock of my terrible, terrible lie will be free to heal their wounds and steer their fractured lives back on track again.
Then oh, I suddenly stop dead in my tracks. Something is holding me back. No, no, no, aborting my plan can’t happen. I won’t allow it. I close my eyes as tight as I can manage in a desperate attempt to relegate all guilt, fears and doubts concerning exactly what I’m leaving behind (my family, my home, my way of life) to the darkest recess of my mind. This is a difficult situation. My toughest decision ever. I must be strong. I must keep moving forward.
I. Must. Keep. Moving. Forward.
And then I’m on the move again, practically tip-toeing down the street, careful not to invite the threat of unwanted eyes behind twitching curtains. Nobody must see me leave. Nobody must know until after the event. Nobody.
At last, after what seems like a zillion years of soundless trekking, I reach my waiting method of escape. I open the passenger door, but pause once more, the annoying voice of reason attempting to quash my plans.
Ian picks up on my sudden hesitation. ‘Mallory, are you sure you want to do this? If you’ve changed your mind, you can always turn around and go home. Nobody will ever know.’
‘No,’ I respond, resolute, determined, climbing inside the vehicle and landing my rucksack in the footwell. And as I buckle up, I look at Ian and say, ‘We stick to the plan.’
Ian tips a nod. He sparks up the engine and puts the car into gear, gently pulling away so as not to wake the sleeping.
‘Ian, will you promise me one thing?’
He throws me a curious glance. ‘Sure.’
‘Promise me you won’t bring up what happened. What I did.’ I shudder at the thought of my recent sin. ‘This is a clean slate for me. A fresh new start. Please tell me you understand.’
He thinks about it, then replies, ‘I understand. And yes. I promise.’
My smile has gratitude written all over it.
As the vehicle gradually gathers pace, I peer over my shoulder, offering the street where I’ve lived my entire life one final farewell glance. Oh, God, this is so heartbreaking. I am truly remorseful for all the trouble I’ve caused. But even so, I doubt anybody in this town will be sorry to see me disappear into the night, into the unknown, into the deepest, darkest abyss of oblivion.
‘Good riddance to bad rubbish,’ that’s what they’ll all chant tomorrow morning, even my parents, yes, my own flesh and blood, regarding the mysterious disappearance of Mallory Finch, public enemy number one.
#THEN (Before the lie)
Before I was famous (sort of), before certain events prompted an idiot like me to even consider posting such a vicious comment online (facepalm time), and before the damning media reports about the remark in question and its devastating aftershock had been force-fed to the hungry masses, my appointed role in the great scheme of things was fuzzy-grey background girl. That is, just another blurred face in a very large crowd, blending unseen and unloved into the blandest of backdrops, a colourless individual far removed from any true standing or significance, and definitely unworthy of the precious gift of popularity.
Prior to the incident (my terrible, terrible lie), nobody took any notice of fuzzy-grey background girls. Why? Simple. Not interesting enough. Not one single fuzzy-grey background girl in the long history of female background fuzziness had ever been big news.
Well, at least not until the day which changed everything. Forever.
Ah, but the day in question hadn’t happened yet, leaving me blissfully ignorant amid my current fuzzy-grey background girl status.
‘Hey, Malls, are you going to Aimee Taylor’s party tonight?’
The question had fallen out of the permanently grinning mouth of Veronica Braithwaite, the thoroughly deserving winner of this year’s Most Scatty Schoolfriend of Mallory Finch award. Of course, Veronica knew nothing about both her nomination and subsequent win of the coveted yet totally fictitious prize. The glittering annual red carpet ceremony existed exclusively in my head.
‘I’m giving it a miss,’ I responded, shaking my head.
‘Malls, this party will be totally mental,’ Veronica chirped in her usual over-excited way, picking up the second trophy of the day of Most Annoyingly Gushing Schoolfriend of Mallory Finch. ‘Aimee will have the entire house to herself. Her parents are jetting off for the weekend to their villa in Spain. How mad is that?’
‘The truth is, Veronica, I don’t think Aimee has any intention of inviting me.’
‘Why not?’ my friend asked.
‘I’m not important enough. I’m a fuzzy-grey background girl.’
‘What’s with all this fuzzy-grey backing girl stuff?’
‘Background girl,’ I made a firm point of correcting. ‘My job is to be fuzzy and grey and blend into the background, not bag the golden ticket to a wild party.’
The shrill of the school bell then signalled the end of the lunchtime break. The two of us fell into a dutiful line as a snail’s pace exodus of pupils ambled despondent and zombie-like across the school yard towards the main building.
‘Why are you always so hard on yourself?’ asked Veronica, unable to get her head around my downcast attitude.
‘Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nobody seems to like me, so I guess that’s why I don’t think much of myself either.’
‘Oh, Malls, don’t be silly. Lots of people like you.’
‘No, they don’t. Not in the same way they like Aimee Taylor.’
‘What is your problem with that girl? You two used to be such good mates.’
‘We were more than mates. Aimee was my total bestie.’
A wistful smile appeared on my face as I remembered the good times all those years ago; vivid recollections of birds chirping for the love of summer while two young children giggled with glee, one named Mallory, one named Aimee, charging through grassy meadows dotted with floral vibrancy.
‘We were inseparable,’ I murmured, waving goodbye to my short-lived honey-glazed nostalgia. ‘But not anymore. We haven’t been friends for a long time.’
I sit in silence, staring out through the windscreen of Ian’s car. An indigo blanket of stars gracefully steps aside to allow a lighter sheet of grey-blue to take to the stage. As if by magic, off-white clouds begin to appear. And on the distant horizon, a pale orange sun peers shyly over a dense thicket of trees. Ah, the eternal daily theatre of a breaking morning sky. I’d enjoy this stunning performance of Mother Nature if I didn’t feel like crap inside.
My body is numb, save for a dull, niggling ache in my gut. This is so bizarre, so surreal, like it isn’t me, like it’s all happening to somebody else, like I’m reading a novel or watching a drama unfold on TV. Oh, God, I can’t believe I’ve left everything behind. But I have. This is real. I’ve given it all up. It’s all gone. I’m... empty. Is this how every despised loser feels when they run away from home? Will I always feel this way? Will I forever carry this weighty burden?
I glance at the clock on the dashboard. 6.02AM. We’ve been travelling now for just over three hours. It seems longer. I am bored of this monotonous motorway, an endless grey expanse of concrete and tarmac, flanked on both sides by scurrying smudges of green. Are we there yet? No, we are most certainly not.
‘Why did you do it?’ Ian asks out of the blue, his first spoken words since we made our escape from a slumbering street a trio of hours beforehand. ‘Why post that particular comment online?’
Oh, here we go. I blow out a jaded sigh, unwilling to play the role of consenting interviewee. ‘I thought we’d agreed not to mention anything about what happened.’
‘Yes, I know, but...’ And that’s where he chooses to park his mouth.
His curious hiatus prompts me to cast intrigued eyes. ‘But what?’
‘Just wondering why you felt the need to involve him.’
My response is not formed of words. I simply offer an impassive shrug of the shoulders.
‘Had he done something to hurt you?’ comes his next question.
‘He didn’t have anything to do with it.’
‘Then why include him in the comment?’
‘Can you please turn on the radio?’ I request, abrupt and curt, eager to terminate this unwelcome inquisition.
And now it’s his turn to blow out a sigh. ‘All I’m asking is –’
‘Stop it! I’m fed up with having to justify myself.’
‘Yes, but if you –’
‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ My simmering glare says it all. Time to give up.
Surrendering, Ian fires up the car stereo. A radio DJ, way too boisterous for this ungodly hour, introduces the brand new track from the latest flavour of the month female pop star. Beats, bass and irritating warbles pour into the vehicle. For a while, nothing is said. Until –
‘Mallory, you still haven’t told me where we’re actually heading. I can’t just follow your vague directions all day without knowing our final destination. It’s ridiculous.’
‘I’m not telling you. Not yet anyway. I can’t risk it. I mean, what if we stop off somewhere and you call somebody, letting them know where to find me?’
‘You’ve got to believe me, I won’t do that. I told you, I’m on your side.’
His sincere face does a pretty good job of backing up his claim. However, I offer zero response. Instead, behind a wall of silence, I face forward, eyes fixed on the road ahead.
Then comes Ian’s last-ditch attempt at extracting information. ‘At least give me a clue.’
I enter a brief phase of deliberation, after which I reply, ‘Let’s just say, we’re going to the last place I was truly happy in my life.’