From the mesmerizing Carniepunk anthology, a vampire short story from New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine-the author who brought you the immensely popular Morganville Vampires series.
When Kiley learns firsthand what evil lurks in the heart of her boyfriend, he'll learn about the Cold Girl, and her penchant for retribution.
Release date: September 8, 2014
Publisher: Pocket Star
Print pages: 60
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Carniepunk: The Cold Girl
“?The Cold Girl”
It took me two days to die. On the first night, I met Madame Laida, and on the second night, I met the Cold Girl.
And this is how it happened.
This is me. I’m Kiley. I’m sixteen, and I have good taste in clothes and mostly crap taste in boys; I’m kinda pretty, I guess, but that never mattered really, because I’ve been in love since I was about eight with Jamie Pierson.
Oh, Jamie’s pretty, too, in that boy kind of way: glossy black hair, really blue eyes, perfect skin. When he first smiled at me, I fell head over heels in love. It took me about two years to convince him to even hold hands with me, but by twelve we were kissing, and by fourteen we were officially In Love, with all the doves and bells ringing and sparkles from heaven. Cue the music, bring up the credits, the story’s over and we all live happily ever after.
Or at least, I thought that was the story. I mean, not that my friends didn’t try to tell me. Marina, she was my best friend until I was fifteen, but we had a blowup slap fight about Jamie and how he was treating me. I thought she just didn’t understand him. I thought she was a liar when she said he was a douchebag. By then, Marina was my last friend; everybody else had already shrugged, moved on, figured me for a lost cause.
Smithfield isn’t exactly a metropolis; it’s stuck in the middle of nowhere, and any kind of diversion is welcome. Still, the arrival of a creaky, ancient carnival was something new. I’d thought Smithfield had long been scratched off all the traveling-show lists, but this one looked to be just barely surviving anyway. Even the flyers for it posted around town looked old, not just in design, but even the paper they were printed on.
Still, some of us didn’t care about quality; when word went around school that day that a carnival was setting up outside of town, the quality of the entertainment was the last thing on our minds. We just wanted a good time: some cotton candy, some rides, some screams, some cheesy fun.
At least, I did. And I texted Jamie instantly from my last class of the day. CRNVL 2NITE?
And Jamie texted back thirty seconds later: Y.
So. It was a date.
I called my mom to tell her that I wouldn’t be home until late because I was going to the movies with Marina. (She never checked; she just assumed that once a friend, always a friend, and I was careful to never use Marina for anything that would bring on awkward parental phone calls.) Mom didn’t worry. You didn’t much in Smithfield. Little town, comfortable, boring, nothing ever going on here, right? Why do you care if your sixteen-year-old goes to the movies with a friend?
But I’m here to tell you . . . maybe you should.
School let out at 3:30, but I had band practice after, so it wasn’t until 5:00 when I was at the curb, and the late fall afternoon was getting crisply cool by the time Jamie rolled up in his car. It was black, and shiny, but it wasn’t new—he just loved it more than anything else in his life, except (I supposed) me. I put my clarinet in the backseat, on the floorboard, because he’d yelled at me before when I’d put it on the seat (“You’ll scuff up the leather, what’s wrong with you?”) and ducked into the passenger side.
“Hey,” I said, and he bent over for a quick, almost nonexistent kiss.
“Hey,” he said. “Let’s go, the guys are already there.”
I didn’t know it then, but Jamie was already bored stupid with me, his dumb grade-school crush, and I was too in love to notice. He hardly even looked at me; his attention was on the road as he roared out of the parking lot and onto the street before I’d even had a chance to buckle my seat belt. I did it quick, because I knew the local cops would be on the lookout for anything Jamie did wrong; they didn’t like him. I didn’t understand why—he was such a good guy!
Stupid, I know, right?
Smithfield was a six-stoplight town in any direction from the school, which was more or less in the center. At each stoplight, instead of talking to me or even glancing at me, Jamie pulled out his cell phone and would watch . . . something. I couldn’t see what it was because he had some kind of privacy screen filter over the screen, so you had to be looking straight on to see what was displayed. He was smiling, though, and it wasn’t a nice smile. It was tight, hard, and a little disturbing.
I tried, though. “Hey, how was your biology class? Did you pass the test?”
“You could say that,” he said, and the smirk got deeper. “Even though Mr. Harrison doesn’t think so. Dumbass.”
“So . . . you didn’t pass?”
“I got a D. Good enough.”
A grade of D wasn’t passing, and he knew it, but he just shrugged as if it didn’t matter. And he kept on smiling.
Dropping the phone on the seat between us (it was one of those long bench seats, the way old cars sometimes have), he gunned it when the light shifted to green. I had taken my phone out too. We had matching ones—isn’t that sweet?—except mine had a little crystal dangle on it. Suddenly he hit the brakes hard and I yelped, dropped my phone, and grabbed for the dashboard as the seat belt slammed hard against my chest. His phone slid off the seat and fell, too, bouncing on the floorboard.
“Shit!” Jamie spat, and tried to fish around for it beneath the wheel. “Get it, Kiley!”
He’d braked for some old grandma who was going twenty in a thirty that he’d been blasting through at fifty, so now he whipped the wheel hard over and roared past the other car. He didn’t flip her off, but I could see he thought about it.
I unlocked my seat belt and crawled under the dash. Two phones. I grabbed them both and backed out, settled back in the seat, and buckled up.
“Um . . .” I showed Jamie his phone. A giant crack ran across it, like lightning. He cussed—a lot—and slammed his hand into the dashboard; his face got very red, and then, suddenly, he got real quiet. He took the phone and put it in his jacket pocket.
“I’ll sync it up when I get home,” he said. “No problem.”
“Okay.” My voice sounded small. He scared me when he was angry, but this was almost as bad. All of a sudden switching from fury to utter calm? Weird, and wrong. I fumbled for something to make it sound better.
“You know, they can get stuff off your phone at the store, import your contacts and transfer—”
“I just need my photos and vids,” he said. “All the rest of it is bullshit anyway. Contacts?” Jamie laughed, and it sounded bitter. “Jesus, Kiley. How many people do we know, anyway? How hard is it to keep track in this ass crack of a town?”
Well, he was kind of right about that. I only had maybe five people in my contacts these days, since I’d deleted Marina. I’d thought he had lots, though. Jamie was popular, right? He seemed to be, anyway, but I guessed over the last year maybe not as much.
I shut up, because Jamie clearly wasn’t in any mood to hear me try to make things better. I hastily shoved my own phone into my pocket and sat quietly for the next few blocks and stoplights.
Finally, we were out of town, into empty flatlands. The carnival was in the empty parking lot of a long-shut-down superstore, and in the falling night you could see the glow of the flashing lights a long ways off. Traffic wasn’t much to speak of in Smithfield, but there were more cars on the road than I’d expected, and they were all heading to the same place we were.
Jamie turned the car into the parking lot and found a spot near the back, in the dark. He always parked out of the way. No door dings that way. I unbuckled and scrambled out of the car, but by the time I’d emerged he was already six steps ahead of me, walking toward the registration booth.
The flashing multicolored lights (some were burned out) distracted from the overall crappy look of the booth; the red-and-yellow canvas was dirty, the countertop was cracked and ancient, the plastic shield was scratched, and the middle-aged woman sitting on the other side really needed to lay off the red hair dye. That, and the way-too-heavy makeup, made her look desperate.
So did the way she eyed my boyfriend—like she knew him, or at least had expected him. She got this strange little smile . . . and then she turned her head and looked at me, and her eyes—I could have sworn they changed color. Just for a second.
I stepped closer to him and took his hand, but he shook me off impatiently and reached for his wallet. He asked how much and the woman pointed at the sign pasted on the plastic as if she was way too exhausted to answer that stupid question one more time. Jamie peeled off bills and passed them over and got a couple of strings of generic tear-off tickets in return. He handed me some, turned, and walked into the carnival. I could tell he was still pissed off about the phone, but honestly, it hadn’t been my fault, it hadn’t.
It only took about half an hour before we ran out of tickets, because the prices on the skeevy games were ridiculous, and I’d wanted to ride the Ferris wheel so Jamie would have a chance to kiss me (he didn’t). After that, Jamie went off to buy more tickets. He was gone a long time, long enough that I bought myself a hot chocolate and sat down at one of the splintered wooden tables set up next to the concession stand.
“Hey,” said a tentative voice.
I looked up. There was a boy standing there. I knew him, I guess; he looked familiar, anyway, but there wasn’t really much to recognize about him. A round, bland sort of face, nothing to make you pay much attention.
“Hey,” I replied, and got out my phone, just in case I was going to need to look busy.
“Um, I’m Matt. I’m in your English class,” he said. “You’re Kiley, right? Just wanted to say hi.”
“Hi.” I felt strange about this, and worried—not about the boy, about Jamie coming back and finding him here. “Sorry, um, I have to get this.”
I pretended to get a call and held the phone up to my ear. The kid probably knew it was a lie, and rude, but he just nodded, put his hands in his pockets, and walked off, head down.
I felt a little bad about it, but truthfully, he shouldn’t be talking to me. Jamie didn’t like it when boys came around, even if they were harmless.
Since I had the phone out anyway, I figured I’d better check my messages. I turned it on and felt a weird, almost world-shifting shock.
This wasn’t my phone.
I didn’t realize it at first . . . I expected to see my apps and background, but instead I got sports scores and game apps and a pinup-girl background.
This was Jamie’s phone.
I understood then: somehow the dangle that should have been there had snapped off my phone when it fell in the car. My phone had been the one that had broken, and I’d picked up Jamie’s by accident.
Well, he would be happy, I thought, that his phone was okay after all. Mine was no big loss.
I waited for him to come back, but he didn’t. I knew his swipe code. He hadn’t shared it with me, but I’d seen him put it in often enough on the keypad.
As I entered the numbers slowly, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to do this.
His phone accepted the passcode. I waited some more.
Eventually, though I knew it was wrong, I couldn’t resist looking through his call lists—you know, to see who else might have been calling and texting him.
Boring. His besties, mostly. Nothing drama-worthy.
He did have a lot of pictures and video on there, which was what he’d been so worried about losing. I thought at first the pictures were of me, and some were—but not all of them.
Some were of girls I didn’t know.
I hesitated over the first video, my heart pounding now, the aftertaste of hot chocolate turning sour in my mouth.
I shouldn’t, I thought. He’ll kill me.
But I had to do it. I had to know if he was cheating on me.
The girl in the video looked like me, kind of—dirty-blond hair caught up in a messy knot at the back of her neck. The video showed her laughing and teasing whoever was holding the camera, and then the phone got put down, angled, and Jamie slipped onto the screen with her.
I felt sick and dizzy, and almost shut off the phone.
Maybe I should have. Maybe if I had, none of this would have happened . . . but maybe that would have actually been worse, in the end.
I sat there with my cooling hot cocoa on the table in front of me, rooted to the spot, holding his phone with both hands as I watched him kiss this nameless blond whore, and I wanted to kill her for trying to take him away from me because I needed Jamie, I needed him. . . .
And then Jamie put his hands around her neck and started to squeeze.
I honestly thought it was a joke, or something kinky, I really did. I thought: maybe it was some amateur movie or something, and it was all just acting, and at the end they’d laugh and it would all be okay.
But I couldn’t believe that, not really. For one thing, the camera stayed on the girl’s face, and she was scared. Really scared. Her skin turned redder, redder; her eyes got bigger and bloodshot; and she clawed at Jamie’s hands and wrists, slapped at him weakly, and her eyes rolled up in her head so they were all white, and he kept on choking her—tighter, tighter, and her mouth was open and her tongue was swollen and purple. . . .
And then, right when I knew she was dead, he let her fall back. And he laughed. And started stripping off her clothes.
Like undressing a doll. Like posing one too.
And then he unzipped his jeans and knelt down.
And I couldn’t help it. I watched all the way to the end, and when it finished, I felt empty. It was like I’d died, too, like I’d had all the life squeezed out of me. All I felt was dizzy, and all I heard was a vast, ringing silence.
I couldn’t think what I was going to do. I couldn’t think at all.
I put his phone away with shaking hands. The bright, cheap carnival lights around me whirled and blinked, and the dirty, chipped rides spun, and people screamed and screamed, and I wanted to run but I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know where to go.
I found myself staring at a banner that flapped in the cold night breeze overhead. On it was a girl as white as ice, apparently frozen, except that her eyes were open and bright silver. It said, SEE THE COLD GIRL! DEAD AND YET SHE LIVES!
I stared hard at it, until my eyes started to water, because it was almost like it was alive, that face. Almost like it was looking at me out of that banner.
I was still focused on it when Jamie crept up behind me, grabbed me around the waist, and swung me—and I screamed and he laughed, and laughed, and it sounded just like the laughter in the cell phone, cruel and lazy and awful.
I pushed Jamie away and screamed again. Loud. It didn’t matter; my cry was lost in all the noise from the roller coaster rocketing by, trailing the eerie yells of those trapped on it.
He hadn’t come alone. There were a bunch of boys with him.
I pushed him back again when he tried to take hold of me, and he stumbled back, tripped over his buddy Alan’s feet, and fell down.
“What the hell, Kiley?” he said, and shook off the hands of some of the rest of his crew who were trying to help him up. There were six or seven of them, all kind of the same, the way cliques tend to be; his gang were all tall, good-looking guys. Not jocks, because none of them really cared enough about working at anything to be jocks; not nerds, because they weren’t really smart. Just the good-looking upper average of the high school set. They did what Jamie said.
“?’Sup with your bitch, man?” Alan asked. “Where’d the attitude come from?”
Jamie had a kind of cold, black gravity to him when he was angry, and I could feel it now, tilting the world in his direction. His posse drew tighter around him as he stood.
“What the hell?” he repeated, and came right up on me, shoving me against the hard wooden block of the table. It hurt, and a splinter dug into my butt, but I didn’t move. I didn’t fight back. I never did. I froze, staring into that pretty, cold face, and tried to think what to say. The world had ended—my world—and words just seemed useless now. But I couldn’t accuse him. I couldn’t.
“You scared me,” I whispered instead.
That made him smile, like it pleased him to hear it.
“Scared you,” he said. “Wow. I didn’t know you scared that easy, Kiles. Jeez, it’s the middle of the carnival. Nothing’s going to happen to you here.”
No, it would happen somewhere private. Somewhere dark. Somewhere isolated. Like that girl. He’d left her somewhere, naked and dead, face swollen, eyes bugged out and staring in terror at the dark.
I glanced up as the banner flapped again, with a sound like snapping bones, and for a second I was confused. It should have had the Cold Girl on it, but this time it instead had a fortune-teller on it, with the words MADAME LAIDA KNOWS ALL.
“Hey!” Jamie snapped his fingers in front of my face. “What’s wrong with you? If you’ve got good drugs, you’re supposed to share.”
His boys laughed. I said nothing, just stared at him. He looked so normal. Just like the old Jamie, the one that had existed before I’d seen what was on his cell phone . . . only it wasn’t him, it wasn’t the one I’d loved so much it hurt.
That Jamie had never really existed at all. I didn’t know who this one was, and he terrified me.
“Awww, come on, don’t look at me like that. You know I’d never hurt you, baby,” he said, and kissed me. I wanted to gag. And scream. And cry. Something chilly had settled over me and soaked into my bones, turned them into fragile ice. I knew I’d never really feel warm again.
“Hey, hey, Kiley? You okay?”
“Okay,” I said. I didn’t mean it. It was an empty set of sounds that stood in for screaming. He stared at me, frowning, and I knew he didn’t believe me. He turned and glanced around, and Alan locked eyes with him.
I knew that I’d shown him too much, and my heart started running faster, faster, faster.
“Hey,” Jamie said, in a very different kind of tone. “Let me use your phone a second, okay?”
“My—my phone?” I stared at him stupidly. The lump of it in my pocket seemed hot, as if it might sear right through my skin. “Um—I left it in your car.”
“You did?” He smiled, wide and easy, but when he looked back at me, his eyes were flat and dark. “Well, that was stupid. What if it gets stolen?”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Stupid. Sorry. I—I can go get it—”
“No.” He nodded at Alan, reached in his pocket, and fished out the keys, which he tossed to his best friend. “Alan’ll get it. How about you and me go on a ride while he’s gone?”
“A ride?” My brain felt numbed, and with his posse standing around him, I felt like a rabbit cornered by a pack of wild dogs. No way out.
“Yeah, Kiley, a ride. What, you don’t speak Carnival?” He brandished a long tail of tickets in one hand and grabbed me by the arm with the other. “Just you and me, in the dark. Won’t that be fun? Maybe you’ll have time to give me a little something before it’s over.”
“Let go of her,” a voice said from behind me. An old man’s voice this time.
Jamie looked past me and did an exaggerated double take so fake, nobody could mistake it for anything else.
“Hey, look, guys, it’s Coach Lame-ass. Oh, shit, sorry, I meant Coach Lamar. Sorry, sir.”
I glanced back and saw the boys’ baseball coach standing there, holding a hot dog dripping with relish in one hand and a soda in the other. Beside him was a woman about his age, who I guessed was Mrs. Lame-ass. The coach was fireplug-wide and short and totally ugly, with his balding head and pug nose and muddy-brown eyes, and I’d called him “Coach Lame-ass,” too, lots of times, but just now I was so grateful to him that I wanted to sob.
He was staring straight at Jamie, and it came to me with a shock that the tight expression on his face was genuine disgust. He didn’t like my boyfriend. Not at all. Not ever.
“I said, let her go,” the coach said. His wife murmured something to him, looking worried, but he shook her off and put his hot dog and Coke down on the table. I noticed, finally, that he had kids with him, too—a girl about ten, and a boy about twelve. They looked worried too. “Now, Pierson.”
“No offense, Coach, but this ain’t school,” Jamie said. He sounded pleasant enough, but his grip tightened around my arm, and it hurt enough to leave bruises. “Tell him you’re fine, Kiley.”
I’m not, I thought. God, please, just let me go. . . .
But I knew he would never do that. Jamie knew, somehow, that I had seen what was on his phone. I couldn’t hide it. I couldn’t disguise the terror and horror.
If he let me go, it would only be to let me run into the dark, where there’d be no one to hear, and no one to see except the camera lens when he caught up to me.
So I licked my lips and I said, “I’m fine, sir.” If I could stay here, in the lights, I had a chance of finding someone who could help me. Not Coach Lame-ass; they’d beat him to a pulp, and his wife and kids too. “Don’t worry about me.”
“Yeah, what she said,” Jamie said. “C’mon, Kiley, let’s go get on a ride while Alan comes back with your phone.”
The other boys looked at me like I was a piece of dead meat as Jamie tugged me away, heading for the haunted-house ride. It was a cheap tin thing, creaking as the cars moved through it; a giant, peeling illustration of the grim reaper loomed down over the lines queuing up for it. I looked over my shoulder as we left Coach Lamar and his family behind. Jamie’s posse hadn’t drifted off, like I’d hoped; they had taken over one side of the long table.
Coach was watching us go, still frowning, and his wife was whispering to him. He finally, reluctantly, sat down with his kids.
There were other people from school around the carnival, but nobody paid attention to me, only to Jamie, who got smiles and nods. I wasn’t popular, I wasn’t unpopular. I was wallpaper—which was a good thing, since it normally meant people left me alone, but a bad thing, because I was invisible, and right now I desperately needed people to see. I felt hollowed out inside, and not only did no one notice, most likely no one would have cared even if they had.
I saw Vanessa Seers, with her glossy perfect hair and makeup and shoes, and her coterie of giggling BFFs. Vanessa made eyes at Jamie and he made them back, watching her as she headed off for some other part of the carnival. The Geek Squad came past us in a tight knot, jabbering to each other about books and DVDs and some lame-ass anime festival they were going to. I even saw Ruth Sheldon and Lyle Garrett, the local brains, who held down the top end of the bell curve. They were holding hands. Nerd love.
I saw Matt, who’d talked to me before, but he was deep in conversation with some other girl I couldn’t remember, and he never glanced over to see how much trouble I was in.
My brain felt like it was melting, and I was so cold I shivered constantly. I needed to do something, and I knew that; but part of me, the survival part, just wouldn’t let me. It was convinced that if I stayed quiet, passive, this would all go away. It was stupid, but I couldn’t seem to summon up anything but a bone-deep conviction that somehow, if I didn’t fight him, it would all be okay.
You need to scream and fight him, some very tiny part of me, the brave part, said. People are here. They can help you. They can call the police!
But my brain shied away from the whole idea of the police—God, no, I couldn’t even think about it. I didn’t know who the girl was, and maybe—maybe—somebody had just sent him the video, right? Maybe it wasn’t Jamie on there at all and I’d gotten it all wrong. Maybe it was some other guy. Maybe it was faked. What would happen if it really was some kind of movie, and I was making a big deal out of nothing?
Then why did he keep it? Why would he want to see that again, and show it to his friends?
I couldn’t think about it; it made me want to throw up. I licked my lips and said, “I need to go to the bathroom, Jamie.”
“Can’t,” he said. “We’ll lose our place in line.”
That was crap, and we both knew it; the lines were maybe ten people at most, and moved fast. I tried to pull free, but he yanked me closer still.
“Listen,” he said softly, in a deadly cool voice. “Alan’s coming back with your phone. Don’t go running off, okay?”
I stared hard at the blinking, flashing, gyrating carnival lights until everything just melted into a meaningless sea of sparkles, trying not to think about anything, wishing I was dead, wishing I’d never picked up Jamie’s phone at all.
But I had, and that would never, ever change.
My boyfriend’s a monster. Did that make me a monster too? I knew girls who covered up for their guys, lied for them to the cops, all that kind of stuff; but it was for dumb stunts or minor crimes, not . . . not this. If I told somebody, would it make me a snitch? Would everybody hate me? His friends would, all his handsome tall buds. Their girlfriends would hate me on principle for ratting him out. Half the rest of the girls in school thought Jamie was totally cute, and they’d loathe me for telling lies about him, even if the proof came out. They’d never believe it anyway.
If I could just get away somehow, I could go home. Talk to Mom. No—I could just imagine how that would work. She’d go to Jamie’s mom, and then Jamie would find out, and . . . My imagination just stopped there, because I couldn’t honestly think what would happen next. And maybe I just didn’t want to think about it.
I stared at the man running the dark ride as we drew closer and closer. Jamie’s grip on my arm never loosened, and I knew by now it would be flowering black bruises under the skin.
And I knew, with a sick feeling of anger, that Jamie probably liked it that he was hurting me. So I studied the carnie running the ride. He was a big guy, muscular, shaved head, tattoos running up his neck and down his flexing arms. He didn’t smile; customer service was not in his job description. He looked bored, and distant, and he just went through the mechanical process of loading people in the seats, strapping them down, and operating the ride controls. The machinery looked ancient, and in a weird way, so did he. Maybe it was how he moved, because his face seemed young.
It was his eyes that aged him, I decided. Old, angry eyes. And when they met mine, they flashed red. Blood red.
A new chill washed over me, like being hit by an unexpected bucket of water. It was as if something had slapped me with an ice-cold hand and said, Wake up.
And then we were at the front of the line.
Jamie climbed into the seat that was open, and to do it, he let go of me . . . and I stepped
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...