In her third floor attic bedroom Nicole Pearson did what she usually did at midnight. She lay
motionless in bed and waited for the movie inside her head to unfold. She had turned sixteen
a week before, on the same day her sophomore year of high school ended. Her room was lit
by a dozen candles. She got candles now for all her presents. Everyone knew she liked
Downstairs her brother and his fat friend were playing Nintendo with Raymond.
They’d had pizza, and Raymond was drinking beer. Raymond was nineteen. Her brother was
eleven. Nicole didn’t like her brother, and his fat friend made her want to be cruel to him.
The candles lobbed strange shadows against the walls. The room was different
tonight. The flames wavered as if from a breeze. But there was no breeze. It was dead hot, the
air throughout the town a puddle at everyone’s feet. She knew what the wavering flames
meant. Queen Thibodeaux was about to appear. Queen had cursed her when she’d found her
stealing from old Mrs. Tuchman. Queen took care of Mrs. Tuchman and hired Nicole so she
could have a Sunday break. Nicole had betrayed her. Everyone knew Queen practiced
voodoo. She wondered what Queen’s curse would do to her.
She couldn’t breathe or think. Moments earlier, Raymond had been holding her head
down in the puddle of air, and she was still drowning and burning up at the same time.
The air conditioners had browned out, but not where her father was. He was
comfortable and cool, showing off his penis to a woman in Manassas. He spent most of his
time there. He’d be wearing the robe he liked, walking around with his cellular phone. He tied it
so it parted in two open Vs. The rightside-up V showed enough of his chest to prove he wasn’t
fat. The upside-down V showed his patterned boxer shorts. Except now of course. He would
be dangling out in front of the new girlfriend, proud of his daddy thing, probably calling it
that when he stuck it into her, telling her to say, Oh honey, mommy loves your big daddy
thing. She knew that’s how they talked from the porno movie Raymond made her watch.
She heard pistol shots outside.They must have finished with Nintendo and now
Raymond was showing off being a policeman again. She heard the choking giggles of her
brother’s friend. She wished Raymond would shoot him in the stomach and splatter all his fat.
And then point the gun at her brother until he shit his pants. That’s all, not kill him, just make
She had started disliking her brother about a year ago when she overheard a teacher
complaining about her lazy husband: “Well, what should I have expected? All boys grow up
to be like their fathers.” She had looked more closely at him and begun to see the signs.
Her mother was dead six years already. She died of breast cancer just as Nicole’s own
breasts began alarming her with their bulges. For a long time she was sure she had cancer, too,
but there was no one to tell. Her mother’s family had money and now her dad was happy to
have it. He was spending the money on something, but not on her. She wanted to go to
Foxfire Academy for Girls but her father said no, it was too expensive. She went to the public
Jane Ellen Corel was the only one there as smart as her and now that she was dead
Nicole could be gracious and allow Jane Ellen to be the smarter.
She was naked. It was hot, still so hot at midnight. The sheet on the bed was wet from
her sweat. Maybe she was sweating so much because of Queen’s curse. She didn’t care. She
wanted to sweat more. She wanted the whole sheet to get soaked. Earlier when Raymond had
come upstairs to fuck her, she’d kept her clothes on and just pulled down her shorts. He didn’t
seem to mind. He was in a hurry. He was rough and getting violent, like the video game he
was rushing back to. He had a finger in her anus and he was hurting her. Each time he added
something. She was afraid for next time. Using the patrol car, Raymond traveled every week
to the GNC store in Manassas and bought a supply of creatine. It was something new for
muscles. When he said “cretin” instead of cre-a-tine she wished she didn’t know he was
mispronouncing it. She wanted to believe she was sucking a smart man’s dick, sucking a
future president or the next poet laureate, or just a man who could see inside her and fall in
love. Raymond liked to yank her head back and stick it in her mouth like he was forcing her.
His fingers twisted the necklace she had stolen from old Mrs. Tuchman, choking her.
After she washed Raymond off herself, she lit the candles and lay down and waited
for it to come. The movie tonight was of her own death. It included the suffering that Queen’s
curse had caused. The frequent movies of her death were always in the end unsatisfying
because only a single mourner ever grieved for her — herself. Not Raymond. Not anyone at
school. She could not, even in her furthest imaginings, make her brother and father act sad
Whenever she died, she rose above herself and hovered near the ceiling. She could
choose to look down upon the stillness of Nicole Pearson, or float into other rooms and
watch. Tonight she drifted out the window and let the sky release her. She liked the way she
felt. A slight rustling in the air was the only thing that gave her away as she traveled across the
land and followed the river to Mrs. Tuchman’s house. Mrs. Tuchman was a wisp in her chair.
Her head hung down. The TV was on. The old lady was asleep. It was Sunday, Queen’s day
off, the day that Nicole Pearson used to work. She floated upstairs. Nicole Pearson was in
Mrs. Tuchman’s bedroom. From above she watched herself fingering the items in the jewelry
box. Don’t do it, Nicole, she tried to warn. Queen Thibodeaux found out and chased Nicole
from the house, a curse overtaking her.
Raymond had taken her to the back seat of his patrol car and said he loved her. He
said I love you like a boy says, I didn’t do it, I swear I didn’t. I love you, he said. She thought
they would make out, that she would be kissed, really kissed, for the first time; but his finger
was already inside her before his tongue darted into her mouth.
She flew out an open window, away from the Tuchman house. She traveled home.
Even up so high she heard the voice, calling to her from the woods. Jane Ellen Corel’s head
hadn’t been found yet, but the voice was calling to Nicole and she was getting close. Beyond
the woods was Lannie Davis’ house, her closest neighbor. In the summer she couldn’t see the
house at all. In the winter just barely. Jane Ellen Corel was somewhere in there, in the woods
or right there in the Davis house, maybe in the basement or in the tub. Jane Ellen’s mouth was
still moving and her voice was calling to her, to Nicole specifically, because she and Jane
Ellen were on the same wavelength, the only smart ones in the school. She was hearing Jane
Ellen’s voice and it was like when her bedroom door was shut and her dad or brother was
yelling but the door played tricks with the noise. One night last week, as soon as she’d begun
floating she’d heard the voice, so loud and desperate that she’d gone through the woods to
Lannie Davis’ house and knocked. Lannie would understand. She taught at Foxfire where
Nicole and Jane Ellen should have been. Lannie Davis was young and pretty. Nicole knocked
on the door. Then she remembered: Lannie had gone to Florida, her dad was having an
operation. She knew right then who had done it, who had killed Jane Ellen. It was the man
answering the door. He said he was Lannie Davis’ first cousin. She knew he was a crazy man,
that he didn’t belong there. She knew he had broken in and decided to stay. She knew he
would kill lots of people before they found him. That was okay; she didn’t care. Her finger
dug at the flakes of sperm in her navel, a leftover from another Raymond idea.
The crazy man said he was Lannie Davis’ first cousin but he wasn’t. She played along.
She knew he was the man who had killed Jane Ellen Corel. She knew he would kill her, too,
and she wanted to cry out, Hurry up hurry up go ahead! Nicole saw his murders radiating
from the house like spokes from a wheel. Jane Ellen was the first spoke and she’d be the
Jane Ellen had been in her French class. They were both in third-year French even
though they were only sophomores. One day Jane Ellen was there. The next day she was not.
Jane Ellen Corel was a virgin, Nicole knew she was. Nicole saw him taking Jane Ellen’s hand,
saying he loved her, speaking to her in French. He said I want to fuck you in French and Jane
Ellen Corel had listened to him the way Nicole listened to Raymond.
Each day Nicole went to the Davis house and rang the doorbell. The crazy man would
come to the door, and invite her in for dinner. Nicole stayed and stayed and let him cook for
her. All the while, Hurry up hurry up! was crying out inside her. But he was a gourmet cook;
he needed to arrange his killing like an expensive meal. She was pleased in a way. She was
good enough for him. Pretty enough, smart enough. He had cooked for Jane Ellen, had read
to her in French, and arranged everything just right. Only then had it been time to kill her.
Maybe it happened over a candlelight dinner. It had taken a lot of cooking and reading and
romancing before they both felt good enough to go through with it. That’s why it had taken a
week before Jane Ellen’s torso was found. Soon it would be time to kill Nicole, too, but after a
little break. The crazy man needed to get his strength back. He was going to say the same
things to Nicole that he had said to Jane Ellen, and Nicole could help him, not like Jane Ellen,
the virgin. Nicole had been through it before, a man’s dick inside her and all the pretending
to make it feel good. She knew all the bad words in French — it was the first thing she learned
— but she wanted to hear them, she wanted to hear them right up to the end. She wanted to
hear French, French and nothing else. The words were better than anything. The words would
make her go blind like the crazy man pumping inside her just before he went through with it.
Good evening, she said to the crazy man. Is it too late to drop in? Is it time to kill me