Chapter Eighteen

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Sleeping Beauty

From where I stand, it looks like she could be sleeping.

Her lashes are long and, in the heavy wind, they flicker amongst themselves as though she's in the middle of an important dream. Mara lies on her back, head slanted as that notorious dark hair spills across the muddy floor.

If she were to open her eyes, she'd see the rays of sun that attempt to shine through the treetops and how the leaves fall from their branches above – red, yellow and orange like fire. It would be beautiful, a picture from a late September postcard.

Except, Mara's eyes aren't going to open. That much, I know.

There are cracks in her mirror of sleep, her mirror of perfection, starting from those blue fingertips and ending in the pool of blood that drips from the back of her head. I watch the stillness of her chest, heart in my throat as I realise that hers is no longer beating.

Those honey glazed eyes are forever sealed shut and, as I stand here watching over, I'm almost convinced that this is a nightmare of my own making. Because this can't be real, right? I must still be in bed, and the anonymous note spooked me so much that my imagination conjured up, well, this. Whatever this is.

My fingernails dig into my palms and I bite my lips so hard that the cut from last night bursts back open. The bitter taste of blood pools in my mouth and I swallow hard, waiting for the moment that this all goes away and I wake up in bed, ready to finally start the day.

Except, that doesn't happen.

I wait and wait, but the morning breeze continues to lull through my hair, picking up speed and then slowing down like waves in a stormy sea. My wrist continues to remind me of its injury and colourful spots flash before my eyes like static on a TV.

Gritting my teeth, I look down at it to see blotches of purple and pink rising to the surface of my skin. The joint is swollen like a balloon and every time I try to move my fingers, a sharp pain lances across my arm.

Is it broken? I've never injured myself like this before, so I wouldn't recognise the signs – but, if the pain rejuvenating throughout my arm were to tell me anything, it's that I definitely need to see a doctor. A rush of air escapes my lips as I glance up, unable to continue looking.

I'm going to be sick. I know it.

I've never broken a bone. I've never seen a dead body. How did my morning turn into this? By my count, that's two deaths in under a week. What the hell have I stepped in to?

What did any of us do to deserve this? What did Mara do to deserve this?

I scan the woods surrounding me, trying to ignore the panic welling within me like a fast-flowing dam. I should go find someone. We need to call the police. An ambulance. Whoever the hell you call when things like this happen.

Tears stinging in my eyes, I turn away from Mara. Mara, who I only met two days ago. Mara, whose beauty Eden and I so selfishly hated for a while. Why did we have to be so petty, so stupid? I could've taken the time to get to know her, but now it's too late – it's always too late.

Panicked, I take a step back and turn towards the library. With each movement I continue to take, my stomach drops like shards of ice. It feels wrong leaving her alone here, like I'm abandoning a lost child or puppy.

What did Mara feel in her last few moments? Fear? Pain? Or was it relief? No. I shake my head. I can't think about that. Not now. Not when I know better. I bite my lip, focusing instead on the sharp jolt of pain that races through my nerves. Last year, after Daisy died, her pain and last moments were all I thought about.

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