Burn It Down

Author: Chloe Liz

Content Warnings: Bullying, Violence, Themes of SA, Homophobia

Tarot Cards: The Star, Justice, The Fool

Edith hated parties. They made her skin crawl. All the false smiles and glass eyes that distracted from social daggers in the back…

Listen to me. I sound like my Gothic Lit professor. Ugh.

There were a dozen students here, all from the small literature department at Felton University. They held an end-of-year retreat in the rainy mountains of Washington every year. They’d been up here all weekend – no technology, no internet. Just writing and nature, communing with the spirits of scholars of the past, and “making life-long friends.” That’s what the retreat flyer had promised, anyway. Edith had, so far, only managed the writing part. Alone. She wasn’t sure she’d actually pass the class. Professor Mullin had called her into his office last week and ushered her to the overstuffed velvet couch, clucking questions about how she was doing “with everything.”  He sat close enough that she wanted to choke on his aggressive cologne.

Mullin said he was concerned that her last piece, “wasn’t helpful to her mental and emotional situation.”  In fairness, it was an essay about grey walls. The ones inside the psych ward that her parents had put her in after the fire that burned down their family home. All evidence pointed to Edith starting the fire. The investigator said her sister may have gotten out because they didn’t find any remains. But Edith could still hear the screams when things got too quiet. No one had seen Theresa since that night. And Edith’s parents wouldn’t speak to her anymore out of grief and anger at what they thought they knew she’d done. Writing was one of the only ways she could get the ghosts to sit still. 

Edith knew her piece was cliché as hell. It ended with blood-red walls charring away to reveal a laughing devil sprite with fairy wings under the stained hospital tile. But Dr. Mullin’s overly affected concern was punctuated by a hand left too long on her shoulder. Edith had laughed in his face, removed the hand with two fingers as if it was a used tissue, and left the meeting without a word. She hadn’t turned in an assignment since.

Like he cares what’s actually going on with my mental and emotional situation.

Mullin was here tonight, holding court. There were a couple of underclassmen on the retreat that he’d hand-picked “because of how advanced they were.” Edith couldn’t help but notice they were all pretty girls. Most of them hung on his every word. Their male counterparts were trying to get a word in edgewise with the department head and were having no luck. They flashed the girls looks that could kill while they nursed their craft beers. Outside, the Wealdport, Washington weather had turned nasty. Rain pelted the windows, and with the house located so far up the mountain, Edith was sure they’d all have to put up with each other for an extra day or two due to washed-out roads. 

Edith shook her head, looking down on all of them from her perch on the balcony.  She took a long sip from her pocket flask. That was the other thing that helped manage the ghosts. The doctors at the psychiatric hospital had warned her about substance abuse after a major life trauma, but Edith had decided long ago to pick her battles. This was not one she had the energy to fight. She let the bitter liquid burn down her throat. She only had so much willpower.

Besides, won’t this make me a better writer?  For when I write all those thrilling work emails at my normal grown-up job. 

“Hey!”  A sloshy sorority girl bumped into Edith. “Whatdya think you’re doin’ – brooding up here like you’re better than all of us.” 

It was Madison Parker, the head of Alpha Delta Xi. Edith hated Greek life, but she was a legacy and it had meant everything to her mother that she had rushed. 

“You’ll need these girls for the rest of your life, Edi!”, Mom had said. Yeah, right.

Edith hadn’t seen Madison since the day the sisters voted to kick her out of the house for character violations; They couldn’t have a high-profile arsonist tarnishing their reputation and “risking the Alpha charter”. Edith had been couch surfing ever since. 

Madison leaned on Edith’s cold shoulder – willfully clueless –  and looked out over the party. The room was one of the old, classic cherry wood halls that were the hallmark of the university building style. Felton U’s founders desperately wished it was one of the true Ivy’s and they had hired the architects to match that aspiration. Gothic arches reached up to stars carved in the top of their eaves as if urging young minds to stretch and dream. The gathered students were all dressed in college-cocktail-chic – something you could borrow from your rich best friend, or fully intended to take back to Neman Marcus the next day. 

Edith, in stark contrast, was in a black hoodie and jeans. 

“Why don’t you like us, Edi?” Madison sloshed. 

“Because you call me Edi.”

“Can’t I have a nickname for you? We’re graduating together  – we’ve been through so much together! We’re sisters!” Madison was now hanging on Edith’s arm. Edith held it out from her body a few inches, stiff and uninviting. 

“Get off me, Madison.”

“Awww, hon. I thought this ‘s the kind of thing you liked.” She clung to Edith tighter and trailed a finger along Edith’s arm, leaning in too close to whisper. “If you’re down to get dirty with anyone it gives you an edge on normal girls.” 

“Madison.” Edith gripped her flask harder. “Get your hands off me.”

Madison smiled, her giggle caustic against Edith’s neck. “Oh no! ‘D you think it was a secret? Oh honeybunny – Charise told the whole house that night you tried to kiss her freshman year. Why d’you think no one ever wanted to share a room with you? And that was even before everyone knew about your ‘fiery accident’ and your poor little sis – ” 

Edith took a swig from her flask and then smashed it into Madison’s face. There was a satisfying snap as it connected with Madison’s perfect nose and red polka dots of blood bloomed down her flowy white top.

“‘You fuckin’ bitch!” Madison stumbled back, hand over her gushing nose. At the last second Edith grabbed her collar. 

“I’m not playing this stupid Oh-please-like-me game with you. I don’t like you. You seem stubbornly resistant to internalizing that, so lemme spell it out.”

Madison was sputtering behind tears of pain and indignation.

“I’m not the one -”

“You are the one. For four years, every time somebody tossed their judgmental bullshit my way, you’re the one who fanned the flames.”

“None of that was about you!”

“Oh, no. You talking shit about my life to everyone, that wasn’t about my reputation, no, it was about yours.” Madison shook her head, still trying to stop the nosebleed.  “Or – oh yeah! It was about the house!” Edith let go of Madison’s collar, her voice rise in mock concern. “Think of the Alpha house reputation! Do you dumb cunts workshop this mean girl shit, or do you just whistle past how cliche you sound and pretend you’re fooling anybody into thinking that you care about sisterhood.” 

Edith was backing Madison to the edge of the staircase. She didn’t get the upper hand much with people like Madison and she was going to milk the moment for all it was worth.

“You want to know the dumbest part, though? If you really believed I was capable of burning my home to the ground, of murdering my sister, I’d be the last person you’d want to piss off, right?”

Edith’s face was now inches from Madison’s. Madison’s eyes went wide as the fact sunk in that she had seriously miscalculated this situation. She tried to slap at Edith, who just crooked a smile and caught her arm.

“I warned you not to put hands on me again, Mads.”

And Edith let go. 

Madison teetered in the air for a second. Then, hands seemingly from nowhere caught her before she had stumbled down more than one stair. 

“Um – hey – is everything ok here?”

Edith had dropped her victim into the arms of one of the sophomores on the trip. Rose was surprised to be catching Madison, but she met Edith’s eyes with concern…for Edith. Her dark brown hair was tied in a romantic half-pony with a bow, and her pink dress glowed in the light of hundreds of fake candles all around the room. 

“This looks intense.” 

Rose and Edith had run into each other in the cafeteria a couple of times. Edith liked how Rose always had a book. She didn’t read on her phone. She always had an actual book in her hand – like a pleasure reading book. Usually something about folklore or local urban myths. Imagine that. Reading for fun in college. More than once, Rose had broken into whispered class conversations about Edith’s situation with a random fact that would completely derail the gossip train. “Did you know that you can get salmonella poisoning from anything? Especially lettuce. It’s the water content. That’s why I always say a carb a day keeps you from dying from preventable, diet food-related diseases.” 

The girls at Felton thought she was weird. Edith thought she was nice.

And suddenly Edith wished it was anyone else who had been there to catch Madison and observe the seething mess that was Edith Jamison right now. 

Ohmigod. I have a stupid crush on a stupid sophomore. 

Edith didn’t want to be involved with someone so obviously nice. Nice people don’t deserve to be hurt. It was way easier to jump from hookup to one-night stand to library quickie with the lacrosse guys or a business major. Those guys would give you a simple, predictable time that required no explaining to anyone, and then they never called you again. That suited Edith just fine. 

Rose helped Madison to her feet. Madison, still trying to stem the flow of blood from her nose and tears of fury from her eyes, retreated without a word to the group downstairs. 

“What are you doing?” Edith snapped, turning to face Rose with as much huff as she could muster. 

“I don’t know. It looked like you could use some help.”

“I had everything under control. But, thanks for helping with that finale. It definitely elevated my point.”

Rose tilted her head sympathetically.

“Intimidating the valedictorian isn’t gonna make them like you.”

“I don’t want them to like me. I want them to leave me alone.”

“Then why did you come on the department retreat?”

Edith sighed and took another swig. “Honestly? I thought I’d be allowed to skip this stupid part and just focus on writing. It’s good for someone like me. Therapeutic.”

“Is that why you’re a writing major?”

Edith sighed. She had picked it before, when everything was still possibilities and hope. Even if Theresa was the perfect child who had outgrown all their imaginary stories, Edith still harbored a wish to return to a time when life was more interesting than tests and career fairs and endless resume building. She’d been excited to dive deeply into the stories that had animated her and her sister’s earliest memories. They had spent hours together behind the house picking up the pieces of half-remembered stories their parents read them at night. They wove the storylines together in elaborate games. Tess drove the wonder, but Edith was eager to follow. They would save kingdoms and tame dragons, discover new lands and meet fairies – 

No…not fairies. There should have never been fairies.

They would meet friends, real and imagined and the games grew and grew until one day, they just… stopped. Theresa wasn’t interested in stick wars and treasure hunting anymore. She wanted to stay inside with Mom and learn about cooking and how the washing machine worked. Of course, Mom thought that was great. But Edith? Edith had lost her best friend. It was like a whole new person had taken over…

“You should write about your sister.”

“Excuse me?” 

“Your sister. The one that died in the fire.” There was not a hint of sarcasm or meanness in Rose’s tone. She looked concerned but also curious. “That’s why they are all obsessed with you. You know. It’s Professor Mullen’s favorite pop quiz fact – all of the best writers have tragic backstories. You have an actual real-life trauma to write from.” Rose gestured with her hand at the group of mingling writers below. “They have a hard time figuring out whether or not it’s trauma if you can’t get a new car for Christmas because Daddy’s golden parachute from his latest corporate raid hasn’t paid out yet.”

Edith frowned at Rose, then broke into a grin. “Are you being mean and snarky about your fellow classmates?”

“I – well – actually, most of them can be nice, they’re just scared of you. But I did save you from having to let the Queen Bee down easy so – you’re welcome!” Rose bobbed a little curtsy and Edith shook her head. 

“Charming and kind.” Edith took a swig from her flask and offered it to Rose, who cautiously took it, sniffed the top, and recoiled. 

“Tequila? Straight??”

“There was half a handle left over from Taco Tuesday.”

“No, no. This ends in a headache, and regret. We are getting you an actual drink. Come on!”

And with that Rose grabbed Edith’s hand and they were skipping down the stairs. Well, Rose was skipping down the stairs. Edith plodded behind her, trying not to trip. At the foot of the stairs, Edith pulled her hand out of Rose’s, who turned, concern returning to her face. 

“I really am good with Discount Hernando’s, here.” Edith shook the flask. 

Rose looked unimpressed. “You drink that stuff willingly?”

“You don’t?” Edith let out a slow breath and shook her head, “Look. You’re…You’re fabulous, and so you should enjoy the night and the people here who you find ‘nice,’ and I’m just going to hang by the door until we’re allowed to leave.”

Rose crossed her arms in a pout. “That is unacceptable. You can’t be sad drunk by yourself.”

“First of all, I’m not -”

“You wait right there. I’m grabbing us drinks, and then we’re wandering the off-limits hallways!”

Before Edith could say anything more, Rose was gone. 

The gaggle around Dr. Mullin had dispersed a bit. A few guys were sulking by the bar and Madison was regaling whoever would listen with her version of what happened to her nose. Mullin was on his way down the hallway, walking straight towards Edith with a bleach-blonde junior named Ava giggling on his arm. He gave Edith a cold look and she smirked back and gave him a middle finger.  Ava glared at Edith as they passed. 

“Stop it, weirdo,” she mouthed at Edith before fluttering her attention back to the professor. 

Voices drew Edith’s attention back to the main hall. Connor, a built American Lit major who moonlighted as a JV lacrosse player, was brooding at Ava’s retreating figure. His buddy – I wanna say Matt? – appeared at his side. 

“You ok?”

Connor rubbed a hand through his hair and down the back of his neck. “I hate this, man. I just don’t know how the fuck to get ahead in this department.”

Matt gave his friend a look. “Connor – you’re doing fine, dude -”

“I don’t want to be doing fine. I want the recognition I deserve. Is that so unreasonable?” Connor was violently peeling peanuts from the fingerbowl at the bar, their shells crumbling into dust on the counter.  “I’m the best writer in our class. We all know it. I’m in talks with publishers already, and the best I can scrape from Mullin is a B+? That tweed-wearing son of a bitch gives me an 88 while he’s hitting on my girl? My GPA isn’t enough, he wants to fuck her too?”

“You know Mads wouldn’t do you like that, man, that’s so cliche.”

“I don’t care if she does it or not, bro. That doesn’t matter. It’s the disrespect that matters. It’s fuckin’ bullshit. It’s like he doesn’t even realize Felton is our pond now. We’re the Alphas on this campus. Not washed-up dad-bod has-bins like him. He’s a bad stereotype of a horny professor, playing games he aged out of to feel something. God, I could just fucking…Ugh!”

Matt motioned the bartender for two waters. “Our pond, dude? Are you seriously talking like your characters now?”

“Shut up, I’m talking. It’s not even fair to the girls! How is it good for them to have to deal with this kind of…harassment?” He popped a massacred peanut into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “Cause that’s what he’s doing. Harassing our girls.”

“Well. They’re not all our -”

Connor broke in, completely lost in his train of thought, “This is it. This is how the patriarchy all the girls bitch about gets a bad name, man. You can’t trade A’s for hand jobs. You can’t even ask. It’s just not fair. To anybody!  Them, you and me…”

Matt frowned and offered his friend a glass of water. “I don’t think that’s coming out how you mean -”

Connor shook his head and brought his fist down scattering the last few peanut survivors everywhere,  “No. That’s exactly what I mean. We have to stand up to this shit. We can’t let him keep doing this.”

Matt scratched the back of his head, “Umm. I mean, do you wanna…cancel him or something? My Tik Tok has like twenty thousand followers, we could…”

Connor’s eyes were flashing. He slammed the water like it was a shot. He looked at it – he had definitely expected a shot – and he took off down the hall after Dr. Mullin. 

Matt trailed behind. “Come on man – what are you even gonna say? He’s got tenure! And probably has your publishers on speed dial!”

Their voices grew dimmer as marched out of sight.

Well, this is gonna end well.

A hand tapped Edith’s shoulder and she turned to see Rose holding two drinks. 

“Daiquiri?” Rose grinned, “I thought about making it strawberry but figured you’d prefer it rum-forward.”

Edith stowed her flask and accepted the suspiciously clear beverage. “Fancy. Ooof. And stiff, fantastic.”

“Actually, did you know that this is basically the same thing as Grog?”


“Yeah! British sailors in the 1700s used to drink their rum with citrus juice and sugar cane to keep away scurvy.” Rose sipped at her drink. “Everyone makes fun of it as a girly drink, but this is the original pirate cocktail.”

Edith was about to make a Johnny Depp joke when Rose grabbed her arm and pulled her down the hall.

“And so fortified, the intrepid explorers made their way down the ominous hallway towards – oh – who knows what fresh horrors awaited them!” Rose hissed in Edith’s ear.

Edith choked. Rose laughed and clapped her on the back. 

“See? Social drinking is way better than sad drinking.”

As they made their way down the hall the lights began to flicker. 

“Oohhhhh,” Rose intoned the quivering lament of a cartoon ghost. “What if this house is haunted?  Have you ever seen a ghost?”

Edith pushed Rose back to arm’s length, “No. And I hope I never do.”

“But what if it was a helpful friendly ghost? Or one that just needed your help?” Rose grinned sheepishly. “I know it’s dumb, but I always wished that those stories we grew up on were real, you know? What if magic things were real? What if, like, Ghosthunters tried talking to their ‘ghosts’‘ to see what they wanted instead of just assuming they were bad?” 

Edith downed the last of her drink as the lights waivered with another gust of rainstorm wind. 

“Rose, If I start seeing ghosts, someone is gonna put me back in the padded room.”

Rose stilled at that. “I’m sorry. I guess that’s fair.” 

They walked in silence for a moment. Edith took in the beautiful craftsmanship of the hallway that was quickly winding them lost in the old mansion. Wood paneling framed portraits of long-forgotten scholars who peered down at the girls like so many Scooby-Doo props. 

“Shhh! Do you hear that?” Rose had her finger to her lips in a hushing motion, and Edith, distracted by the portraits, ran right into her. 

Edith listened and heard… “Is someone crying?”

Rose flashed a smile back at Edith, “If I find a ghost, I promise we can keep it our secret!”

Rose tiptoed towards the sound. It was just a couple of doors down. Rose slowly pushed the door open revealing a classic billiards library with floor-to-ceiling shelves, marble busts, and an oversized writing desk. On the sofa, by a blazing fireplace, sat Ava. She was sobbing but startled when Rose pushed her head in. 

“Fuck. Go away!” Ava tried to wipe the tears away and steady her breathing.

Rose completely ignored her words and ran to Ava with outstretched arms. 

“What’s the matter? What happened?”

Edith looked around the room. They were alone.  “Let me guess- Our esteemed professor got just a little too handsy?”

Ava burst back into tears. Rose wrapped Ava in a massive bear hug and while the blond girl struggled for a moment, she eventually just relaxed into Rose and the tears came even harder. 

Edith’s eyes flashed, a fury bubbling up in her that surprised her but felt good, right. “This is absolutely ridiculous. I’m over it.” 

She turned heel and stomped back through the doorway, and called back to Rose, “I’m going to go get some help!” And then under her breath, “And maybe I’ll finally get to punch him in his smug face.”

Edith was definitely feeling the effects of her now mostly-empty flask, and the daiquiri she’d, in hindsight foolishly, piled on top of it. She looked up the hallway and down –shit – and had no idea which direction would take her back to the group. 

It’s gotta all lead back to the main room eventually. Probably. I hope.

She picked a direction and started jogging down the hallway. The portraits glared down at her, flickering as the overhead lighting struggled against the storm outside. Suddenly there was a gap in the wall. A gap that Edith didn’t recognize. 

Definitely the wrong way.

She came up short and peered down a servant’s stair, and jumped, cursing.  

At the bottom, crumpled in a heap on the old stone flooring, was Doctor Mullin. A pool of too much blood was spreading out from his head. 

Oh. Balls. 

Edith heard the scream and had just enough time to turn and see Madison pointing at her. Then white light and pain flashed through her head and everything went black. 


Edith woke to her least favorite sound: Other people talking about her. 

“When she was holding me at the top of the stairs I thought I was going to literally die!  She’s completely unhinged. If I hadn’t been taking those Tai Chi classes I don’t know how I would have gotten away.” 

Edith cracked her eyes open. Her wrists were tied to the arms of an old wooden armchair with duct tape. She tried to lick her lips only to find tape across her mouth as well. From under her eyelids, she could see all of the students gathered around. Connor was holding Madison protectively by the shoulders and Madison had Ava’s hand in a vice grip. The sound of zippers drew her attention and she saw Matt on his knees going through her suitcase. 

That’s not good. 

Edith dropped the pretense of sleep and kicked her feet in Matt’s direction. He was too far away but the motion drew everyone’s attention and a tense silence fell across the room. 

“Thank you.” Ava hung up her cell and fixed her tear-streaked gaze on Edith. “The police say it’s gonna be a while before they can get here. The road up to us has washed out.”

Edith shook her head, but Ava just mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.”

“Well, that’s just fine,” Connor said, looking around the room. “We have everything under control. All we need to do is stay together and keep her in that chair.” He motioned to Edith.

Edith wished she were close enough to kick him right in his smug balls. But she stayed still. 

No point in feeding the crazy murder girl persona now

Edith searched the group for anyone who didn’t seem all in on the vigilante justice train.  Surely Rose – nice, kind, wants-to-meet-ghosts Rose – wouldn’t be down with this. But Rose was nowhere to be seen. 


Madison and Ava were commiserating while the boys stood with their arms crossed looking like prison guards.

Oh, well. You had a good run. But, with your bad attitude, ending up back in a cell was probably inevitable. 

Matt rose from Edith’s bag with open hands. “There’s nothing dangerous, man. I really don’t know about this. Can’t we let the cops – ” 

Connor left Madison with Ava and roughly pulled Matt towards a corner. Edith couldn’t make out what they were saying but Connor clearly thought he needed to keep Matt on his side. 

Suddenly, the lights went out completely. Someone screamed. Edith heard feet scrambling and bodies banging into each other. People grabbed their phones to get some light. Something sharp poked one wrist, and then the other and a hand snaked into hers. 

Dear god, please let this not be a ghost. 

Edith went with it and turned out of the chair, following the invisible figure in front of her. Light swiped over her and she ducked. 

“Hey! She’s gone! Connor!” Someone had gotten their phone flashlight to work. But it was too late. 

Several doors down the hallway, Edith’s guide swung her through a doorway and pulled the door closed behind them. With a click, they found themselves very close. A stack of toilet paper rolls cascaded down on Edith’s head. 

“Ow!” Rose’s face burst into view, lit by her phone’s screen. She pushed away the broom handle that had poked her in her side. 

Edith pulled the duct tape off her mouth. “Thanks.”


“But why? How do you know it’s not me?” 

Rose held up a beat-up leather journal. Edith’s face darkened and she grabbed at it. Rose didn’t try to pull it away. Edith cradled the book to her chest. 

“I heard the commotion in the hall after you left. The guys said something about searching your things to find anything dangerous and I just thought, well, a journal might not be great evidence, but it could sure work up a room full of drunk college students.” Rose looked down at her hands. “This fell out of it.” She handed Edith a single sheet of 8×11 paper folded in half. Edith knew exactly what it was. It was one of her psych evals. She wasn’t supposed to have it. 

SESSION NOTES: E. Jamison has been making steady progress in addressing the delusional jealousy directed at her sister. Jamison noted today that she felt that the pressure to measure up to her “perfect” sister was simply too much and she offered to write a letter to her parents taking responsibility for her actions in burning down the house. When asked whether she still feels that her sister is a Fetch left by the fey, Jamison stated that she is embarrassed that she had to hide behind such a story rather than deal with her real feelings. I am very encouraged by her progress and recommend outpatient treatment starting next week. 

All around the typewritten note were red pen scrawls in Edith’s handwriting: LIES! LIAR! COWARD! REMEMBER!

Rose looked at Edith, no fear in her eyes. “I think you went through something awful. But I don’t think that makes you a murderer.” 

Edith tucked the page back into her journal. 

“And I think I have a way to prove you’re innocent this time!”

Outside the door, voices drifted down the hall. Voices accompanied by angry feet. And the lights popped on, cutting a line of light across their feet. Edith pressed a finger to her lips and the two girls stood as still as they could while their pursuers passed. Holding her breath, Edith was extra aware of how close she was to Rose. She imagined she could hear Rose’s heart beating…

Not the time, Edith! 

“We need to get to the control room!” Rose whispered.

“The what?”

“The control room! This is a historic university building. There’s cameras in a lot of places to be sure we don’t break anything important or whatever.” Rose cracked the door, pointing up, and sure enough, there was a camera in the hallway. “If we can get to the control room we can get the footage and prove you’re innocent!” 

Edith looked up at the camera and then back at Rose. She took Rose’s hand and squeezed. “Thank you.”

The lights flickered as Rose poked her head into the hallway. No footsteps and the voices seemed distant. 

“C’mon!” She and Edith emerged from their hiding place and padded quietly down the hall.  The old floorboards let out random groans that trailed faint breadcrumbs of noise behind them. Edith winced at each creak. 

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” She asked.

“I think it’s just past the library where we found Ava. There were server noises coming from a room two doors down.” Rose turned a corner and abruptly dropped Edith’s hand. “Hi, Matt!”  

Edith pulled up short, pressing her back flat against the wall. Rose stepped out from the hallway, blocking Matt’s path. 

“You should be back with the main group. We can’t find Edith.”

“Me, neither. It’s tricky with the lights going in and out.” As if on cue, the lights blacked out. Matt swore. 

“Here, lemme help you!” Rose swung her phone flashlight up, directly into Matt’s eyes. 

“Urgh – Rose! Watch it!” 

“Oh no! I’m so sorry. Hold on -” Rose had taken Matt’s arm and turned him so his back was to the hall where Edith waited. “Did you know that there’s a national flashlight day on December 21st every year? To remind people to have an emergency plan in case they get stuck in bad weather…” 

Matt was rubbing his eyes, but Rose flashed him with her phone again as she spoke. Edith listened as Matt grumbled and Rose delivered a tirade of flashlight trivia.

Edith poked her head into the hall when their voices receded enough. It was dark but the room she was looking for should be just a few yards to the left. She padded quietly across the hall and her fingers found the doorknob she was looking for. She turned it and winced as the door creaked. Edith listened but heard no footsteps or voices – just the receding echoes of Matt as Rose hit him again with the beam of the flashlight. She slipped in and closed the door behind her just as the lights came back on. 

Sure enough, the server room had a little computer screen with pretty good coverage of the building. Edith could see most of the students still in the main room.  A handful of people were in the halls. She could see Matt getting very frustrated with Rose. He finally stormed off and Rose glanced up at the camera and grinned, giving a big two thumbs up. 

Edith let out a little chuckle and started poking around the screen. A few clicks revealed the scan function and she started clicking through the footage of the library. She scrolled the video feed, rolling it back to Ava’s entrance with Professor Mullin. 

They were talking and Ava was flirting with him – laughing too hard at some joke, hands lingering on coat sleeves. As they talked, the tubby old man straightened his spine. He whispered something in her ear and she giggled nervously, shaking her head. He grabbed her wrist and Edith gritted her teeth. Ava was clearly not into it but he started pushing hard – backing her up to the desk – 

Oh, get out, hon. 

Mullin’s free hand clapped down on Ava’s throat, pushing her back just as Connor opened the door. Edith could almost hear his cry as he grabbed a heavy bust, smashing it into the side of Mullin’s head. The professor fell just as Matt came in. Ava sat on the desk, stunned. Matt put both hands on his head. Connor just looked at the bust in his hand. It was shaking. He took a deep breath, steadying himself. Connor said something to Ava, who opened her purse and pulled out a pack of wet wipes. Connor held the bust out to her. She shook her head, recoiling as if he was handing her a snake. He shoved it in her direction and gestured at the body. 

Ava pulled her phone out of her purse and Conner grabbed it from her, shaking his head and gesticulating angrily. Ava’s face crumpled into tears as he loomed over her with the bloody bust. 

Matt put his hand on Connor’s arm, trying to quiet the situation. He gestured to the body and the door – offering Connor a solution. Connor backed off Ava, placated. Matt gestured to her wipes again and she nodded, taking the bust gingerly. She started cleaning it as the two boys lifted Mullin’s body, carrying it out of the camera’s view.  

Edith switched to another view – the hallway with the staircase – and watched as they dumped Mullin down the stairs. Matt patted his friend on the shoulder. Connor seemed to have calmed down. Then Matt looked up, directly into the camera lens. He put a hand to his mouth and Connor looked up, new rage blooming on his face as he saw the recording device capturing their every move. He put his hands over his face and ran out of the frame, leaving Matt there with his head in his hands. 

Returning to the library, Ava had cleaned and returned the bust to where it originally stood by the door. The floor was tile, so she had cleaned that too, but now was holding the bloody wipes uncertainly. Connor stormed in. Seeing the wipes in her hand he grabbed them roughly and threw them into the fireplace. Seconds later they burst into flames. Connor stood, his back to the camera, his shoulders rising and falling as he tried to bring his breathing under control. When he turned his eyes caught the light with a strange red flair. He pulled Ava’s phone from the pocket where he had stashed it and stalked over to her. She shrank back onto the desk for the second time that night. Edith couldn’t hear what Connor was saying but the body language was clear as a bell. 

You call the police and you’re dead, Ava.

Ava nodded her head and flinched as he threw the phone onto the desk beside her. She stood there, crying as the firelight cast flickering shadows across the room.

Edith furrowed her brow. Wait…I don’t remember that being lit before he got there. Did he have a lighter?  She played the footage back to when he threw the wipes in. 

He throws the wipes in. Then…just fire? 

A sound behind her brought Edith back to the present. She turned her head slightly, expecting to see Rose. It wasn’t Rose. She spun around as Connor froze, hands up and out just at the level of her neck. They regarded each other for a moment. Wary. Edith could see fear in his eyes as they flicked from her to the bank of screens. Something was wrong with his face. It looked like he was stuck between bursting into tears and snarling at her. 

“I saw what you did.” Edith put every ounce of sympathy that she could into her tone, trying to calm a cornered animal. “And…I can’t really blame you.” 

“I can’t have a manslaughter charge on my record. That will ruin everything for me.”

“I’m sure the cops will watch this and see that it was just self-defense.” 

His lip twitched and the red flair that Edith had seen in the camera seemed to glint again in his eyes. 

“No. No. I moved the body and then Madison saw you with it so… It’s perfect. Those tapes have to go. Get out of my way.”

Edith planted her feet. 


Actual red flashed in Connors’s eyes and his fingers closed around her throat and lifted her off the ground before she could fully register that he had moved. The snarl had won out on his face and it pulled at his mouth as he leered at her. 

“You all just want what’s mine!”

Edith grabbed at his arm, trying to pull herself up for air. What is this boy on?

“Fortunately for me, you have ‘crazy’ written all over you.” He slammed Edith against the wall, propping her there while he bent over the keypad. “I’m a great storyteller, after all. And crazy bitch snaps and murders grabass professor just…works.”

Edith’s fingers had found a small purchase on his hand. She pulled herself up enough to get a breath. 

Connor tried to drag the footage to the trash icon, only to be met with the Password screen. He growled and typed in, “1234.” 






Connor slammed a fist down onto the keyboard dropping Edith. Her knees gave out as she gasped for air, moving one hand to the pocket with her flask. “You’re literally a rich white boy. You’re going to be fine!”

Connor lunged at her, letting out an inhuman noise, but Edith was waiting for it. She swung her flask at Connor’s face. He ducked and tackled her against the wall again. Edith was plenty scrappy, but the physics were not in her favor, to say nothing of whatever juice Connor was riding that seemed to have him entirely hulked out. She writhed under him as he pinned both arms and brought his nose uncomfortably close to hers. His eyes were now definitely glowing red.

“Connor,” She gasped, “what’s is wrong with you!?”

Suddenly, he winced. Rose was standing behind him in the doorway. She’d kicked him hard between the legs. 

But he looked more angry than pained. Connor cracked his neck, an animalistic growl rising from his chest. 

“I’m gonna let you have that one for free, but you’d better be gone when I turn around.” He released Edith’s empty hand and wrenched her flask away, before turning to look back at the bank of servers. 

Edith shared Rose’s confused look. That definitely should have worked. 

“You know, Edith. It’s a shame you and I are never gonna get to talk about what really happened with your sister. Because…well. You know. Wealdport is a weird place. And if you look in the right places, you can pick up some pretty cool tricks.” He let go, eyes glowing that unnatural shade of red. Edith collapsed on the floor, Rose diving in to help her back up. “You really should have asked the fairies to make a deal instead of trying to burn them out of your house.”

Edith’s eyes went wide but Rose was already pulling her to the door. 

Connor grinned, and his eyes burned like coals, his voice rasping strangely. “Looks like ‘crazy arson girl’ is gonna do it again.” And he dropped Edith’s flask on the servers, spoke a word that was definitely not English, and a fireball fell from his free hand onto the alcohol streaming down the electronics. Everything started burning. 

Rose heaved and she and Edith were out the door just as Connor lunged for them. Rose slammed the door shut, blocking it closed with a big chair. Rose plopped down in the chair with a look of supreme satisfaction on her face. Edith looked at Rose in horror. 

“Oh come on – I’m not gonna leave him in there. I just think he could do with a good scare.” 

The girls could hear banging on the door and smoke was starting to coil up from under the door. 

“But the footage!”

“Usually these things have a backup somewhere. And if not -” Rose held up her phone revealing a voice recording app. “I’ve got his own words confessing to the murder – And trying to stick you with it.” 

Police sirens wailed up through the windows and blue and red lights cut through the water drops running down the old glass panes opposite where Edith and Rose sat. Downstairs, the door opened and they could hear hysterical students rushing out to greet the cop cars that were pulling in. 

Another round of banging, this time accompanied by choked expletives, brought Rose to her feet. She elbowed through the glass covering the fire extinguisher and motioned Edith to push the chair aside. The door flew open and Connor fell through, choking. Rose hit him in the face with a blast from the extinguisher, eliciting more sputters and gargled curses.

“Oops. Sorry! You were on fire, there.”  She regarded him for a moment, then hit him heavily and heartily with the fire extinguisher, driving him into the ground and momentarily halting his writhing. “And I saw a spider.”

She stepped around him and doused the flaming servers in white foam. 

Edith watched. Speechless. Rose turned with a triumphant grin and took in the balled-up figure on the floor. 

“Looks like his deal didn’t include magic lungs. I wonder if he asked them for just, murder-hobo strength, or more like general magic and he gave himself murder-hobo strength. Probably magic because he dropped that fireball on all that Hernando.”

This was a lot to take in. “No. It was my -”

“Edith, your booze did not just explode.”

“No. I suppose not. But that stuff is really cheap and really really shitty.”

“He looked awful there at the end though. I wonder if his whole deal was driving him crazy. The books say they can do that. Something about trafficking in powers beyond the mortal ken or something like that. Oh! But, do you know what this means?”

Edith blinked. This means a whole lot of things.

 “It means I need a new flask. I’m naming the next one. Hernando. It seems only right. ”

“No! It means you’re not crazy.”

Edith struggled for something to say, to deflect, to prickle this lovely person away from her dark lonely self. But instead, she just let out a sigh and felt a weight lift off her shoulders. Then Rose hugged her. And Edith….allowed it.