The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Page 1


Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.

—Walt Whitman

Tana woke lying in a bathtub. Her legs were drawn up, her cheek pressed against the cold metal of the faucet. A slow drip had soaked the fabric on her shoulder and wetted locks of her hair. The rest of her, including her clothes, was still completely dry, which was kind of a relief. Her neck felt stiff; her shoulders ached. She looked up dazedly at the ceiling, at the blots of mold grown into Rorschach patterns. For a moment, she felt completely disoriented. Then she scrambled up onto her knees, skin sliding on the enamel, and pushed aside the shower curtain.

The sink was piled with plastic cups, beer bottles, and askew hand towels. Bright, buttery late summer sunlight streamed in from a small window above the toilet, interrupted only by the swinging shadows made by the garland of garlic hung above it.

A party. Right. She’d been at a sundown party. “Ugh,” she said, her fingers on the curtain to steady herself, popping three rings off the rod with her weight. Her temples throbbed dully.

She remembered getting ready, putting on the jangling bracelets that still chimed together when she moved and the steel-toed oxblood boots that took forever to lace and were mysteriously no longer on her feet. Remembered the way she’d lined her foggy blue eyes in shimmering black and kissed her mirror for luck. Everything got a little blurry after that.

Levering herself up, Tana stumbled to the faucet and splashed water on her face. Her makeup was smudged, lipstick smeared across her cheek, mascara spread like a stain. The white baby doll dress she’d borrowed out of her mother’s closet was ripped at the sleeve. Her black hair was a tangled mess that finger-combing didn’t do a lot to fix. She looked like a dissipated mime.

The truth was that she was pretty sure she’d passed out in the bathroom while avoiding her ex, Aidan, and his new girlfriend. Before that there’d been some playing of a drinking game called The Lady or The Tiger, where you bet on whether a tossed coin would come up heads (lady) or tails (tiger). If you picked wrong, you had to do a shot. After that came a lot of dancing and some more swigs from a bottle of whiskey. Aidan had urged Tana to make out with his sulky-mouthed, strawberry-haired girlfriend, the one who was wearing around her throat a dog collar she’d found in the mudroom. He said it would be like an eclipse of the sun and the moon in the sky, a marriage of all things dark and light. You mean an eclipse of the sun and moon in your pants, Tana had told him, but he’d been doggedly, infuriatingly persistent. And as the whiskey sang through her blood and sweat slicked her skin, a dangerously familiar recklessness filled her. With a face like a wicked cherub, Aidan had always been hard to say no to. Worse, he knew it.

Sighing, Tana opened the bathroom door—not even locked, so people could have been coming in and out all night with her right there, behind the shower curtain, and how humiliating was that?—and padded out into the hall. The smell of spilled beer filled the air, along with something else, something metallic and charnel-sweet. The television was on in the other room, and she could hear the low voice of a newscaster as she walked toward the kitchen. Lance’s parents didn’t care about his having sundown parties at their old farmhouse, so he had one almost every weekend, locking the doors at dusk and keeping them barred until dawn. She’d been to plenty, and the mornings were always full of shouting and showers, boiling coffee and trying to hack together breakfast from a couple of eggs and scraps of toast.

And long lines for the two small bathrooms, with people beating on the doors if you took too long. Everyone needed to pee, take a shower, and change clothes. Surely that would have woken her.

But if she had slept through it and everyone was already out at a diner, they would be laughing it up. Joking about her unconscious in the tub and whatever they’d done in that bathroom while she was asleep, plus maybe photos, all kinds of stupid stuff that she’d have to hear repeated over and over once school started. She was just lucky they hadn’t markered a mustache on her.

If Pauline had been at the party, none of this would have happened. When they got wasted, they usually curled up underneath the dining room table, limbs draped over each other like kittens in a basket, and no boy in the world, not even Aidan, was bold enough to face Pauline’s razor tongue. But Pauline was away at drama camp, and Tana had been bored, so she’d gone to the party alone.

The kitchen was empty, spilled booze and orange soda pooling on the countertops and being soaked up by a smattering of potato chips. Tana was reaching for the coffeepot when, across the black-and-white linoleum floor, just on the other side of the door frame to the living room, she saw a hand, its fingers stretched out as if in sleep. She relaxed. No one was awake yet—that was all. Maybe she was the first one up, although when she thought back to the sun streaking through the bathroom window, it had seemed high in the sky.

The longer she gazed at the hand, though, the more she noticed that it seemed oddly pale, the skin around the fingernails bluish. Tana’s heart started to thud, her body reacting before her mind caught up. She slowly set the pot back on the counter and forced herself to cross the kitchen floor, step by careful step, until she was over the threshold to the living room.

Then she had to force herself not to scream.

The tan carpet was stiff and black with stripes of dried blood, spattered like a Jackson Pollock canvas. The walls were streaked with it, handprints smearing their dingy beige surfaces. And the bodies. Dozens of bodies. People she’d seen every day since kindergarten, people whom she’d played tag with and cried over and kissed were lying at odd angles, their bodies pale and cold, their eyes staring like rows of dolls in a shop window.

The hand near Tana’s foot belonged to Imogen, a pretty, plump, pink-haired girl who was planning to go to art school next year. Her lips were slightly apart, and her navy anchor-print sundress rode up so that her thighs were visible. She appeared to have been caught as she was trying to crawl away, one arm extended and the other gripping the carpet. Tana reeled back, then braced to go farther into the room.

Otta’s, Ilaina’s, and Jon’s bodies were piled together. They’d just gotten back from summer cheer camp and had started the party off with a series of backflips in the backyard just before sunset, as mosquitoes buzzed through the warm breeze. Now dried blood crusted on their clothing like rust, tinting their hair, dotting their skin like freckles. Their eyes were locked open, the pupils gone cloudy.

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