12. The 13th Annual Talent Show

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A full moon spotlighted the old football field. It sat before us, stark gray and brittle. As its grass stirred, I heard the moan of worn floorboards and the creak of tired hinges.

"Creepy," said Ash.

Nip licked his blood-spattered lips. "You can say that again."

"Creepy."

"Come on." I rolled Bitchmaster forward, the amp heavy on my legs. "This thing weighs a ton."

Nip switched hands on the Gibson's case. "You can say that again."

But I didn't say anything. None of us did. We crossed the old football field in silence, the grass crunching beneath us like bones between teeth. Before entering the woods I looked back to Widow's Peak, but the mountain was gone.

The night had swallowed it whole, along with whatever darkness it held.

The Bear Den roared.

Kory Yenders took a dramatic bow on the bandstand, arms stretched out on either side, hands falling limp. The basketball hoops had been retracted to the ceiling, and everything was dim but his spot on the stage. Five hundred mouths hollered from the shadows of the bleachers.

"He's going to win," said Nip. "He's definitely going to win."

"You said the same thing about that gay Katy Perry cover," Ash said.

"That was before."

I added, "And that juggling act. You were all about that."

"I never knew anybody could do six balls at once."

"Ash juggles that many all the time. With her mouth."

She gave me a looking-the-other-way punch to the ribs. We were huddled in a curtained area set up off to the side for upcoming performers. It had been crowded an hour ago, but now only the three of us were there, peeking out through the gap between the velvety cloth and the gymnasium wall. As the applause finally died down for Kory Yenders and his comedy act, the principal took the stage. She cleared her throat into the microphone and took a steadying breath. "Well, I never in all my time imagined laughing could hurt so bad, but whooh boy, does this stitch in my side prove me wrong!"

Kory leaned over to share the microphone, his voice mucked up with sheepishness. "Real sorry about that, Miss Werther—"

"Miss?" Ash snorted. "She's like 70 years old."

"—I hope this doesn't mean I have detention with you again."

Ballistic cheers from the crowd.

"Of course not, Kory," said the principal. "Of course not. You're detention will be with Mr. Richards."

"Mr. Richards?" Kory covered his mouth with his trademark two fingers. "But he's not nearly as nice as you are."

Ash fake-vomited into my lap. I scooped up the fake vomit in one big handful and chucked it at the stage as Kory strutted off to cat whistles and cries of more, more, more.

"He's definitely going to win," Nip said, his face stiff behind a mask of corpse paint. He was wearing a black shirt with the left sleeve scissored crudely off. From his throat dangled one of the three upside-down crosses Ash had bought for us. Hers rested in the cleavage of her black, studded corset. Mine hung down under my open leather jacket, cool on my bare chest. I could feel my heartbeat against the metal.

"For our final performance of the evening, we have Ash and Joel and . . . Nip?" The principal squinted at her sheet. "The three of them will be . . . upping the irons?" She glanced at our hiding place, then back to the audience. "All right then. Let's get it underway, shall we?"

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