My heart was doing something I didn’t like. I swallowed and repeated my question. “What did they sacrifice?”
Rae pressed her oversized lips in a line. “A cat.”
“A cat?” My tension broke, and a laugh, or something like it, squeezed out of me. For a second there … all that bullshit about deserted schools and the dead of night … but Rae’s whole story was ridiculous. Next she’d be telling me that’s why the feral cats had taken over the school. As payback, or because they were spooks, or because they now had to haunt the place where the first had been slain. Demon cats. Devil cats. Ooooo-oooo.
Rae got angry. “They slit its throat. Or rather, Sandy did. You think that’s funny?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And then she died.”
“Well, duh, that’s what happens when your throat gets slit.” I felt buoyant. My lungs had lost their tightness.
“Not the cat,” Rae said sharply. “Sandy.”
Nuh-uh, she wasn’t getting me again. “Oh, please.”
“And her soul … it fed the power. Made it grow stronger.”
“You are so full of it,” I said.
“And that’s what created the Bitches.” Rae got to her feet. “That’s why you like them, because you have no choice.”
“Why wasn’t it in the papers?” I asked. “Why wasn’t the school shut down?”
She looked at me in a way that was supposed to make me think she felt sorry for me. She huffed out of the room, taking Alicia’s brush with her.
“It’s not funny, Jane,” Alicia said angrily. “It’s, like, witchcraft. Real witchcraft.”
“Only it’s not witchcraft, it’s Bitchcraft,” I said. I giggled at my wit, but Alicia didn’t crack a smile.
“You need to stay clear of them,” she said.
I leaned back on my elbows and crossed one foot over the other. I let my head drop back so that the ends of my hair grazed the carpet. “Thanks, Alicia. I’ll take it under advisement.”
Later that night, I phoned Phil.
“Janie!” he said, his voice all happy. “Hey!”
“Mom said you called last night. Sorry I didn’t call back.” Which was true, in a general sort of way, but I wasn’t worried because I knew Phil wouldn’t hold a grudge. “So what’s up?”
“Not much,” he said. “Just wanted to tell you how hot you looked in that blue dress you wore.”
“Ha, ha,” I said. This was the kind of thing Phil did, throw out a compliment in a joking way so that it didn’t have to mean anything. Because “hot” was such a stud-boy word, and Phil was so not a stud.
“I mean it,” he said. “I wanted to tell you at school, only I didn’t want the other guys to notice and start slobbering all over you.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. These days Phil and I were more out-of-school friends, anyway. Partly because our classes didn’t overlap, but also because when we were in school, Phil had other stuff to worry about, like guys dumping his lunch and giving him flats. Phil was kind of scrawny, and he liked science more than sports, which made him an obvious target. Plus, he’d never developed that cynical veneer that Crestview guys thought was all important. Phil was an eager beaver in a school that didn’t give a damn.
I sat on my bed and kicked off my shoes. I lay back and stared at the ceiling, at the frosted-glass light fixture that had been there since the dawn of time. Dead bugs made dark splotches in its center. “So want to hear something weird?”
“I’m going to a party Friday night. With the Bitches. Isn’t that insane?”
“Whoa,” Phil said. “Hold on there, filly.”
“I know. It’s crazy. Unless it’s a joke—do you think it’s a joke?”
Because that was the angle Alicia had taken, after I failed to be suitably cowed by the Bitchcraft theory. I’d told her about Kyle’s party, and she’d shifted tactics, saying, “But what if it’s one of those ‘ugly’ parties, where whoever brings the ugliest date wins?” She bit at a cuticle. “You’re not seriously going to go, are you?”
Phil’s voice pulled me back. “I hope you’re planning on filling me in, because I have zero clue what you’re talking about.”
“Right. Sorry.” I rolled onto my side, switching the phone to my unsquished ear. I told him everything except for Rae’s mumbo-jumbo, then said, “But why would they pick me? That’s the part that makes no sense. Unless I’m their ugly date. Am I? Am I their ugly date?”
“Geez, Janie, are you blind?” Phil said. “You’re so beautiful, you make my teeth ache.”
“Be serious. I’m, like, socially retarded. Especially compared to Keisha and Bitsy and Mary Bryan.”
He fell silent. He was probably getting a hard-on thinking about them, which was surprisingly depressing. Even though I knew Phil was a boy, and all boys liked the Bitches, I was used to him liking only me.
“Keisha and Bitsy are way beyond hot,” he finally said, “and I’d be lying if I said I’d throw them out of my bed. And Mary Bryan’s an absolute sweetheart. She’s got French at the same time as I have geometry, and our rooms are right across from each other. Sometimes I catch myself just … watching for her, you know?”
I nodded. For some dumb reason I was afraid I was going to cry.
“But none of them holds a candle to you, Janie. Want to know why?”
“Because you’re a good person,” he said. “Because you try to do the right thing.”
“I do? Like when?”
“Come on, don’t be so hard on yourself.”
I wanted to ask again, because I really wanted to know. But even with Phil, I couldn’t be that pathetic.
“I should go,” I said. “I should make myself go to bed.”
“Yeah, me too. See you tomorrow?”
“Uh-huh. I’ll be the one rescuing kitty cats and saving the world.”
“Super Janie,” he said. “You could wear a T-shirt with a big red J.”
“A leotard, like Wonder Woman. With huge red undies.”
He laughed, and I pressed the off button on my phone.
In bed, as shadows played on my walls, my thoughts spiraled back to Rae’s story about four girls who would do anything to be popular. Silly, stupid story—yet in the dark, even stupid stories misbehaved.
I remembered something Mom told me once, about two girls in her hometown. They’d snuck to a cemetery late at night, because they’d heard that if you stuck a knife into a fresh-laid grave, its ghost would rise from the dead. One of the girls knelt on the grave and plunged the knife deep. She tried to stand up, but she couldn’t, and she screamed that the ghost had grabbed her. The other girl fled, and when she returned with her parents, she found her friend collapsed over the grave, no longer breathing. She’d stabbed her nightgown when she’d stabbed the grave, pinning herself to the ground. Her panic overcame her, which meant she’d basically died of fright.
Although, come on. As I replayed the story in my head, I realized that it couldn’t have really happened. What teenager has ever died of fright? It was just a story Mom passed on after hearing it from a friend, from someone whose brother’s cousin’s fiancé had actually known the two girls. Or whatever. It was a story Mom told me for fun, to make goose bumps prick my arms.
But stories couldn’t hurt you.
I imagined four girls giggling as they made their way to Crestview’s empty storage room, the beams of their flashlights skittering off the walls.
And then, at some point, the giggling would have stopped.
I dreamed of cats, of sharp claws tapping through darkened halls.
Wednesday was a waste. Thursday was a bigger waste. In the daylight hours Rae’s story faded to just a whisper, but the fact of the Bitches remained, making me hyperaware of everything I did. How I held myself, how I talked, how I laughed. And all because of the remote possibility that one of the Bitches might be around to notice.