Chapter Twenty-Three

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Red and Dead

'Oh, my god.'

A squeaky voice makes me jump as I snatch a hand back to my chest, cradling it like a new born as something hot and wet trickles through my fingertips.

'Oh, god, please tell me you're not dead. Haley – you're not dead, right? Are you okay? Oh, god, you're bleeding. There's so much blood.'

I look up at Ellie, mouth agape.

Through the fog, I see that her cheeks are flushed, muscles tense. The knife, still holding remnants of blood, drops to the floor, clattering by our feet.

Ellie reaches out to grip my forearms, eyes wide and red hair spilling over her shoulders as her fingertips hold me like pincers.

I shake her off, ice spreading through my veins as I flex my bandaged wrist. It seeps with crimson liquid and shoots of pain whirl up my arm in protest.

I grit my teeth, unable to keep the glare from my eyes.

'No, Ellie. I'm not dead,' I deadpan. 'Not gonna lie, though, a little fed up of being Woodcreek's punching bag.' My eyes drift to the knife, narrowing into little slits. 'Why the hell are you carrying that around? And don't tell me you're planning a mass murder. I think I've had enough bad news for one week.'

'A mass murder?' She shakes her head. 'God, no. More like trying to avoid being in one.' I give her a blank look and she rubs a hand across her face before meeting my eyes. 'Seriously, Haley, things are scary at the moment. Two people have died and...'

Ellie breaks off, silence filling the gap like water in a hole. The fog presses against us tightly.

'And what?' I ask.

'Nothing,' she replies, casting her eyes to the floor.

There's something in her gaze that I can't decipher, but before I have the chance to ask what else is wrong, she opens her mouth.

'I just mean that I'm scared. Two people have died and my flatmates aren't exactly the nicest of people. That's why I'm here. I couldn't stand being in that house anymore so I thought it'd be nice to see you and Eden.'

I try not to roll my eyes.

'Yeah, and the two people who died are both connected to me,' I hiss. 'If anyone should be scared, it should be me, but I'm not going to start walking around with a knife in my hand. That's insane. You could have just called us and we'd have met you half way. Doing this actually puts you in risk of turning into the murderer.'

She bites her lip.

'I tried to call you. You weren't answering. I just wanted to get out of there. I've been getting weird messages and –'

'– Wait, what?'

My stomach rocks and it feels like I'm going to be sick. Suddenly, time is going very slowly. I think back to the party last Friday, the note I found in my bag. It still sits in my drawer and I haven't used the bag since, afraid that if I touch it, another message will miraculously appear.

'What kind of messages?' I ask, a part of me not wanting to know.

Ellie shakes her head. 'I'm sure it's nothing. Funny story, actually. On the second day of being here, I accidentally ate my flatmate Gia's cookies. She's held a grudge ever since – apparently, it's this special kind of cookie you can't get in Colorado. Didn't taste any special to me, but she's been messing around with me ever since.'

Ellie pauses, brows knitting together.

'When I think about it,'she says, 'it's not such a funny story after all.'

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