Now Entering Addamsville – Francesca Zappia

George Masrell’s house went up in flames at 2:59 a.m. on a frost-tipped October morning. Masrell was eighty, lived alone on the northeast side of town, and spent his days cleaning the bathrooms at Addamsville High. He was liked in the way outdoor art installations are liked: for his quirks and his reliable permanence. His permanence ended while Addamsville slept. In an hour or two, news crews would arrive, suburbanites would wake for their morning routines, and stories would begin to form. How it happened. Why it happened. Whether or not Masrell would—or was already—haunting the ashes of his house or the hallways of the high school, because Addamsville was so obsessed with its ghosts it couldn’t even hold off for a couple of hours after an old man died. I was the first one to know something had happened, because at 2:55 that morning, all the ghosts in town looked to the northeast, toward Masrell’s house. In the street and in yards, peering out windows and patrolling the sidewalks. They stopped. They turned. They stared.

Mom had always told me to pay attention when the ghosts reacted, because they rarely reacted to things in our world but they always reacted to things in theirs. I paused in the driveway, skin crawling on the back of my neck. Then I heard footsteps coming toward me, and a faint voice said, “Zora?” It was 2:56 when I jumped inside a plastic garbage can to hide from my cousin. I stifled my breath with the fraying hood of my sweatshirt so I could track her footsteps coming toward me. The can had wheels on one side and wasn’t designed to hold a hundred and sixty pounds of living human on a sloped driveway, so I had to shift on the damp bag of trash to keep the whole thing from tipping over. The smell stung my nose. Bootheels tapped lightly on the asphalt. She, like everyone else in town, couldn’t see our spectral neighbors and wouldn’t have noticed anything was wrong. “Zora?” Her whisper trailed through the cold darkness. I pressed my lips together to keep the swearing and the gagging inside.

Trust her to be out at this time of the morning, doing her research. The footsteps moved around the can and stopped. The strap of her backpack rustled against her peacoat. “Zora? Are you—please don’t tell me you got in there.” She would never hide in the trash, the elitist. She only hid in luxury cars and walk-in closets. She sighed, paused, and then said somewhat reluctantly, “I’m on my period and my mom brought out the bathroom garbage today.” I shot off the bag. The can tilted on its wheels, spun, and crashed down the driveway, spilling me out on the asphalt with a disgraceful squawk. The black trash bag tangled around my legs.

I kicked it away, growling, as I got my bearings and scrambled to my feet. “Gross!” I hissed at her. “So gross!” Artemis put her hands on her hips and gave me her best look of disapproval. Her shiny blond hair was pulled back in a stick-straight ponytail, and her eyes looked like black pools in the automatic light above her garage. I glanced up at the towering Victorian—none of the lights had come on inside at the sound of the disturbance, thankfully, which meant my Aunt Greta was still asleep. The ghosts had disappeared from the driveway and the yard. “Periods are not gross,” Artemis said. “They’re natural. And the waste has to go somewhere.” “I have them, too, and I say they’re gross.

” “Why are you hiding in our garbage cans? You’re not rooting through our garbage, are you? If you need food or something, just ask, my mom isn’t as bad as you think—” “Oh my god, how poor do you think I am?” I pulled my messenger bag back into place on my shoulder, swiped the trash water off the flap, and began backing down the driveway. I never felt grungier than when I was standing next to Artemis, and soaking in garbage did not help. “I don’t need to dig in your trash. And if you tell your mom I was here, I’ll cut all your hair off. I know where you sleep.” She rolled her eyes and followed me. I walked faster. Artemis and her mother lived at the top of a hill on the southwest side, where they could oversee all parts of Addamsville: the town to the north, the woods to the west, the bluffs and the mines to the east, and Addams Lake to the south. This meant their twisting driveway, descending through the broad maples and oaks that dotted their front lawn, made my escape fromArtemis more difficult than I would have liked. The ghosts had all trailed to the street, their forms shivering and disappearing into the shadows of houses and trees.

Hiding from something I hadn’t seen yet. “Why are you out so early in the morning?” Artemis asked, tailing me as I dipped onto the lawn and skirted around a particularly gnarly maple tree. “Why were you all the way up at my house? And where is your car? Are you hunting again? I’ve been trying to talk to you about that—I know what happened was awful, but this is so important, and if you’re back on the hunt, I can help you even better than before.” I didn’t say anything. She could follow me for a while, at least as long as we were on the safe streets lit by warm wrought-iron lampposts, but once we hit the east side of town, her propriety would keep her from going any farther. We reached the sidewalk and I turned east. “This is kind of creepy, Zora, you know that? What are you doing? If you’re hunting, you should have told me. You shouldn’t do it by yourself. People might think you’re stealing. You aren’t stealing, are you?” My shoulders prickled.

I’d been very careful about what hours of the morning I conducted my business. From two to four a.m., Addamsville was as silent as it would ever get, inhabited only by the dead, and since the weather had taken a turn, the hours and my freedom to roam unnoticed grew longer. If people caught me skulking around when it was dark, of course they would think I was doing something illegal—I was Zora Novak, after all, arsonist and delinquent. “Zora, come on, I don’t want to call the police on you.” I stopped, teeth clenched together, and turned. She stopped, too, and for the first time that night she met my stare with a look of trepidation. Besides our height, the only similarity between us was our eyes, and I’d spent a lot of time learning how to make mine as terrifying as possible. Even when I tried to soften my expression, it didn’t always work.

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. “I wasn’t going to break into your house. I wasn’t stealing from anyone. And I’m not hunting.” Her chin turtled into her cashmere scarf. “Then what were you doing?” “You’re not going to believe me if I tell you.” “I might. I believe a lot of things, after all.” She held up the Moleskine notebook she’d been carrying under one arm. It was the notebook she always wrote in, the one that held all of Addamsville’s stories.

“Why are you out this early?” I asked. “Are you hunting alone?” “Kind of. Not hunting, exactly, just researching. I wanted to check a few locations before the Dead Men Walking crew gets here tomorrow.” She checked her phone. “Well, today, I guess. I don’t know where they’re filming, and I wanted to make sure the hot spots were safe for them. It’s not going to do anyone any good if they run into a firestarter while they’re here. Now will you please tell me what you’re doing?” I thought of not telling her. Going home to my sister and a shower and what little sleep I could get before school.

Artemis wouldn’t call the cops on me, whether or not she knew why I was out here. She wasn’t a troublemaker, and she wasn’t one to report troublemakers, especially me. She kept her nose deep in her ghost research and minded her own business. But I had no doubt she would tell her mother, and that was worse than her calling the cops. “The mums by your front porch looked ratty,” I said. “So?” I sighed, undid the flap of my messenger bag, and turned it upside down. Flower trimmings scattered to the sidewalk along with a few crumpled geometry worksheets, an empty light bulb package, and a handful of pens. I picked up the pens, the worksheet, and the cardboard packaging and shoved them back into the bag. Artemis’s eyebrows knotted in confusion. “You pruned our mums?” “They looked ratty,” I repeated, glancing around.

Almost all the ghosts were gone. “Will you leave me alone now?” “But—why—” Then her expression lifted, and a manicured finger shot out to point at me. “It’s you! You’re the one who’s been going around fixing things for people and cleaning their yards and—” “Keep it down!” I darted toward her, hoping to shut her up; my sudden movement seemed to do the trick. The old Victorian houses on her street were all far back from the road and hidden by trees, so at least there was no one around to hear us. “Don’t tell anyone! You’ll get me arrested.” Artemis’s brows furrowed again. “Is this supposed to be some kind of repentance?” she asked, head cocked with a historian’s curiosity. “For what? You didn’t set the fires a year ago. And besides, people won’t forgive you if they don’t know you’re the one doing all the nice things for them.” “I tried asking,” I said, “but surprise, nobody wants help from a Novak.

Is that enough explanation for you? Go away.” I flicked my hand, peppering her with the garbage water, and started east again. Bootsteps clopped up the sidewalk behind me. “Zora, wait! The hunting—Addamsville needs more help than just pruned mums—” I spun, the old anger bubbling in my throat. She didn’t understand how this worked, between her family and mine. She didn’t understand what hunting firestarters took from you. And she didn’t understand me. The northeast sky stopped me. A pillar of smoke curled into the air, visible only because of the floodlights of the distant junkyard polluting the dark behind it. Artemis stopped, too, her hand inches from my arm.

“What is that?” she asked. There was only one thing it could be. I had never set a fire that gave off that much smoke, but I’d seen it on television and in pictures. It spilled black and angry from the doors and windows of houses while their roofs caved in and their walls cracked. It was the fire of buildings being devoured. My heart skittered into the lowest reaches of my chest. The blistering heat. The deadly light. The stumps on my ring and pinkie fingers of my right hand ached under their prosthetics. The wail of a fire truck started on the opposite side of town.

I took off. Away from Artemis, away from the wide-open spaces where I might be seen. Had I been thinking straight at the time, I might have turned to Artemis and calmly confirmed her as my alibi. I might not have immediately run away from her. I might have paid more attention to the ghosts, because for them all to disappear as they had meant there was something very wrong going on in their world. It meant there was a firestarter nearby. But I never thought straight when it came to fire. Losing two fingers because of it will do that to you. So I ran until I was alone, until I met the protective covering of the trees and hills of the east side, where the trailer park nestled quietly in the early morning. There were no dead here, though there should have been.

They’d made themselves scarce. I hiked up the curving trail to the top of the bluffs to find the Novak trailer sitting dark and still. Artemis hadn’t followed. The trees hid the town from here, but sirens still rang in my ears. They’d rattle in my head until six a.m., when I pretended to wake up and found my sister Sadie watching the news. Milk from her cereal spoon dripped unnoticed onto her thick afghan. The reporter standing before the blackened ruins of Masrell’s house detailed the two-and-a-half-hour struggle of the firefighters who extinguished the inferno and the unfortunate scene they’d found inside. George Masrell was dead.

The fire had burned too fast and too hot to have started accidentally. The police were now looking for an arsonist. The people of Addamsville would know what this meant. Who had a record of setting fires? Who had shown disregard and even outright disdain for other locals in the past? Who might have had a slight beef with George Masrell because he yelled at her for dumping cold coffee in the school trash a couple of times? I’d been the center of an Addamsville story before, but never like this. 2 Addamsville was a small town where everyone knew everyone, and everyone’s parents knew everyone else’s parents, and grandparents, and great grandparents, and all the way back to the founding of the town at the dawn of mankind. We were big enough for our own movie theater, a CVS pharmacy, and a dog park, otherwise known as the Happiest Place on Earth. There was a poor part of town and a rich part of town, and one part never let the other forget where it stood. If you had been here long enough, your last name was a status symbol. It was currency. I was a Novak, and we paid in blood money.

Our trailer was the only one in town not in the trailer park. Sadie told me it was once, before I was born, but then Mom got tired of our neighbors and worked some magic to get it moved to the bluffs, where we could hide in the trees and on clear days look down at Addams Lake. When the town council tried to get Mom to move it back, they found Dad standing by the front door, leaning on his wood axe and chomping what looked like a lot of tobacco but was actually a cheek of Sour Apple Big League Chew, and Mom squatting on top of the trailer. I like to imagine that was what frightened them off: Mom on the roof like an evil crow, dark hair damp with early spring mist, black eyes flashing in the gloom of the trees. Maybe they didn’t see her until she moved. It was only a scare tactic, of course, but Mom was known around town as a weirdo anyway, so the story grew. She was a witch. She saw ghosts. No one really believed that, and she didn’t want them to, because it was true. I used to walk with her to Momo’s General Store at town center, where she’d explain the dead to me and buy me fresh-sliced Colby cheese to eat on the way home, and the owner, Maurice Moseley, looked at us like we’d crawled out of the sewers.

There and back, passersby stared at Mom as we walked. There’s that Dasree Novak, they’d say. Get the children away before she steals their youth. Mom was already famous. The story of Mom and Aunt Greta, the Aberdeen girls, who disappeared in Black Creek Woods as children and returned months later unharmed and without memories, was one of the jewels in Addamsville’s crown of creepy tales. As an adult, Mom often wandered the town at night. Hunting, but no one knew that. She didn’t have friends. She only had us. When she went missing in the woods the second time, a lot of people said they felt terrible for us and hoped she came back safe, but I think they expected it out of her.

Dad was a little better. He didn’t see ghosts and no one thought he did, and while his marriage to Mom planted doubt in plenty of minds, his charm let him wiggle past it. Even if you started out on the wrong side of unsure about him, by the end of the conversation he’d have you handing over your wallet and keys for safekeeping. Despite the questionable reputations of the Novaks who had lived in Addamsville before us, most people considered Dad a pretty nice guy. That was because no one realized he was also the slickest thief east of the Mississippi, and his fingers were stickier than flypaper in June. That got out a year after Mom’s second disappearance, when I was fifteen and he was sent to prison for an elaborate Ponzi scheme, and any tolerance or sympathy our family might have found burned up in the blazing inferno of town judgment. So then you had me and Sadie. Sadie, five years older, had gone through high school as Sadie, Queen of the Undying and leader of the Birdies, the local gang of juvenile delinquents. She still had her favorite pair of combat boots, though they hadn’t seen the light of day in many a moon. Like Mom, Sadie scared most people who looked at her just by the soulless depths of her eyes, and unlike Dad, she owned a temper that could raze small buildings.

Now her hair was brown instead of black, and she kept it cut to her chin. She liked afghans, cheap drugstore reading glasses, and sweatpants that had words like TOUGH and FUN stenciled across the butt. She had never seen ghosts or firestarters, and Mom had never told her about them. She worked in Harrisburg, the larger town about thirty minutes to the northeast. People in Harrisburg didn’t care about the families of Addamsville, though Lazarus and Dasree Novak’s names came up occasionally, and Sadie had to deflect interest before someone made too many connections. “I love our parents, really,” she told me one night as her unquenchable anger battled her need for sleep over her bowl of instant ramen, “but Jesus, all my good customers will leave if they find out who we are. I’ll end up cutting hair for the people who run true-crime podcasts.” I was born Sadie 2.0: Zora Edition. I stole her dye and colored a fat swatch of my hair platinum blonde.

I found a chain to wear around my wrist so I clanked when I walked. I annoyed her until she finally taught me how to do makeup like hers. I learned how to turn my eyes into soul-sucking pits of terror. On top of all that, I could see the dead, and Mom knew it. She taught me what they were. How they worked. She taught me that it was her job to protect the living and the dead against firestarters, the creatures that killed with fire and fed off the human spirit. I wasn’t allowed to tell Dad or Sadie about this, because they wouldn’t understand. I improved on Sadie in other ways, too. I mean, if you want to use the word improved.

You could also call it evolving further into the Novak stereotype. I was taller, I was smarter, and I was angrier. And when your mom disappears, your dad goes to jail, and the whole town hates you on sight, sometimes you get it in your head to start doing stupid things to ease that anger. Stupid things like hunting firestarters alone. 3 The morning of the Masrell fire, I arrived at school smelling vaguely of water that has been sitting too long on the trash from a teenage girl’s bathroom. There had been no time for a shower after Sadie saw the news; she spent the next hour freaking out, trying to get ready for work at the same time she grilled me about where I had been. “You were out again, weren’t you?” she’d said, combing frantically at the tangles on the ends of her hair, working her way up the strands. “You didn’t take the Chevelle, but I know you were, because otherwise you’d be yelling about how you were asleep the whole time.” I could have pointed out that there was no way she could ever really know because she slept like a rock, but she was right, so all I said was, “When it happened, I was with Artemis. I have an alibi.

” “With Artemis? Like, our cousin Artemis?” “Do you know another Artemis?” “What were you doing?” “Trying to get away from her. I swear I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t even near Masrell’s house.” Sadie had given me a skeptical look, then seemed to remember that she still had her reading glasses on and tossed them onto the countertop in our trailer’s kitchen nook before she reached for her shoes. “The police are going to be looking for the person who did this—” “I know, I heard the television.” “—which means they’re going to want to talk to you. Tell them the truth—” “Yes, that’s what I was already planning to do.” “—because if they find out you’re lying, it’s only going to be worse. Okay? Ugh, that stupid TV crew coming here today; their fans are going to be all over the place, and they’ll make this fire even bigger news than it would have been otherwise. And Dad is coming home soon.

What’s he going to say when he finds out?” She had stopped with only one shoe on and rubbed her forehead. “He shouldn’t have to deal with this now, not so soon after getting out—” I didn’t know why she was protecting him; it was partially his fault the town would blame this on us. But Sadie’s steamroller tendencies only got worse when let loose, and they were already making me grind my teeth. I couldn’t afford to be angry, so I said, “He won’t have to deal with it, because I didn’t do anything. If I have to talk to the cops I will, and I’ll tell them the truth. It’s not difficult. Go to work and chill out.” “Chill out” wasn’t in Sadie’s vocabulary, especially if she was outside the trailer, but she did relent and leave for Harrisburg. That left me to cover myself in deodorant and dollar-store body spray and head to school, knowing there was no way on god’s green earth I’d be overlooked by any police officer. Addamsville sits in a curved basin of green hills in southern Indiana, bordered to the east by the bluffs and to the west by the thick crush of Black Creek Woods, which skirt the base of Piper Mountain.

Handack Street and Valleywine Road, the two roads into town, intersect at a jackknife, making an arrowhead that points south toward the blue expanse of Addams Lake. The side streets crisscross in a neat little lattice pattern, littered with cute tourist shops and local landmarks. Toss a rock and you’ll hit a historical house. In the winter, the homeowners compete to see who has the best Christmas light display. In the spring, families in their Sunday best crawl from their homes like the undead to talk about the weather. In the summer, kids develop sunburns while splashing around in the lake. And now, in the fall, the trees turn all shades of gold and red, and the haunted hayride goes up in the Denfords’ cornfield. To the tourists, Addamsville was a pretty painting on the wall, and all its ugly parts had been cropped out of the frame. My mom’s 1970 Chevelle, prowling the streets like a rusty shadow, destroyed the ambiance nicely. This wasn’t any black-and-white 1970 Chevelle.

This was Dasree Novak’s 1970 Chevelle, and everyone knew it. Pitch-black with two thick white stripes running down the hood. Rust eating at its underbelly. Growling like an angry alligator. Mom had done something to it to make it resistant to fire —like Mom and me—and she’d made it her first weapon against firestarters. I had no idea what she’d done to it, or how, but I imagined it added to the town’s mystique for the tourists. Look, the haunted Chevelle! Run if you see it—the driver hates tourists. There was once a time when the Chevelle made me fiercely happy, like I was ripping an oily, ragged hole in that pretty painting. But in the past year, the Chevelle had felt more like a beacon drawing all eyes to me wherever I went, from both the living and the dead. I needed a car, though, and Sadie wouldn’t let me drive her old Camry, we didn’t have any other vehicles, and none of us would ever in a million years sell or trade it in.

It was the one beloved thing of Mom’s we still had. A police cruiser with a dent in the fender sat outside the front entrance of the high school, so I curled around the parking lot and hid the Chevelle on the other side, between the gym and the football field. A quarterback with an Addamsville jersey circa 1960 watched me from the other side of the field’s chain-link fence, but the two linebackers normally with him were gone. The bell for first period had already rung; the hallways were empty, and though I managed to keep my face straight, my pulse jumped and my battered coffee thermos rattled in my hand. Teenagers texting on iPhones passed, unsuspecting, by teenagers listening to Walkmans. George Masrell had yelled at me just yesterday for dumping my coffee in the trash can outside the janitor’s office. He’d had a spot on his collar and he smelled like the soap from the restrooms. He was dead now. I went to the janitor’s office to check. The only ghost there was old Principal Harris, fading around the edges like a blurry photo, looking down the English hallway.

He turned to stare at me, the way they all did, as if he expected something from me. “Do you know what happened to Masrell?” I asked. Principal Harris floated a little to the left, then back. Trying to figure out what had happened was difficult when your suspects couldn’t communicate. I left the good principal there and hurried on. For the past few years I had a litany of excuses prepared for tardiness to class. Not because I was out hunting firestarters, though; I just thought school was stupid. I’d forgotten them all by the time I made it to first period geometry, and that left me standing in the doorway with twenty-eight pairs of eyes on me. Mr. Gerwijk paused midsentence at the whiteboard, his mouth slightly open.

“What?” I snapped. “Zora,” Gerwijk said, “you were called to the office several minutes ago.” At least I still had my sunglasses on. Fear shows in the eyes. There’s no point walking slowly to your doom; if you know it’s coming, you might as well jump into the dragon’s mouth. As I passed the library, one of the student aides stepped out carrying a stack of books and saw me. She squeaked and dropped the books in her rush to get back through the library doors. “Are you serious?” I yelled back to her. I’d never set anything on fire. Firestarters did.

Creatures with bodies like black tar, sharp claws and bird talons, horns curving over their heads and red pinpricks for eyes. If they were allowed to run free for too long, they could possess human bodies and hide inside them. The easiest way to find a firestarter was to pay attention when the ghosts acted strangely—or to follow the fires. After you found them, the solution was straightforward: lure them into the open, run them over with the Chevelle, and chop their heads off. Incapacitate, behead. It was the way Mom had done it, so it was the way I did it. But one time last year, just one time, I let a firestarter get the better of me. I was found unconscious in the Denfords’ cornfield with two fingers cut off and my head sliced open, and half the field was up in flames. From then on it was Zora Novak, arsonist, and no one in Addamsville would believe differently. I stomped on to the office.

If there was another firestarter in town, I had more to worry about than just clearing my name. Principal Sutherland—the current, living principal—stood by the administrative assistant’s desk in the front office with two of Addamsville’s three cops, one stout and brown-skinned and one lanky and pale. They saw me through the office windows before I walked in, and I knew, I knew, I was right screwed. “Stormin’ Norman and Captain Jack,” I said as I pushed my way through the office doors. “What can I help you gentlemen with?” Norm Newall—the short, grumpy cop with the little notebook—and Jack Lansing—the tall, redcheeked one—both shuffled on the spot, but for different reasons. One in obvious impending frustration, the other in discomfort. “Enough, Miss Novak,” Principal Sutherland said. I hadn’t even been flippant. “Officers Newall and Lansing would like to speak to you. You’ll go into my office.

Since you’re eighteen, you don’t need a parent or guardian present.” I didn’t move. “Speak to me about what?” Here’s a thing about cops: always make them tell you what they’re coming after you for. Never guess. It makes you seem more suspicious. “Don’t play with us, Novak,” said Norm. “Haven’t you seen the news today?” “Which part?” “About George Masrell,” Jack said, and Norm scowled at him. “Please, into my office.” Principal Sutherland’s tone was short. I pushed my sunglasses on top of my head—maybe some fear would make them believe me—as I followed them into the office “We all know you like to set fires on public property,” Norm said to me as I dropped into a straight-backed chair in front of Principal Sutherland’s desk.

Norm and Jack flanked the door. “We haven’t had an arson like this in town for plenty long enough, and lines can be drawn.” “I didn’t set any fires,” I said. All three adults gave me that look, the one that says they know you’re full of it. They had no real evidence I set any of the fires from the last firestarter, but they were damn sure the cornfield had been my doing, and my amputated fingers were all the evidence they needed. I rubbed my forehead. “Seriously. Even if I had done it then—which I didn’t—I wouldn’t do it now.” I held up my right hand. I wore the black gloves on both hands, but the ring and pinkie fingers on my right stood up, stiff and odd, when the other fingers curled.

“I don’t do fire.” The look softened, but not a lot. People feel sorry for you when two of your fingers get cut off and your head gets sliced open, but they don’t feel too sorry if they think it was your fault. “We’re not accusin’ you of anything, Zora,” Jack said, “but we’ve been checkin’ the school security tapes for the past few hours, and you’re the last person Mr. Masrell talked to on ’em. Outside the janitor’s office yesterday, after school let out.” “Yes, I did. He was yelling at me for throwing away coffee and making the hallway smell like Starbucks. I don’t even drink Starbucks. Too expensive.

” “And you yelled back?” “Of course I did! He was being a jerk.” “Was he only yellin’ at you about the coffee, Zora?” Jack said. “Seems like a lot to get that angry over.” “All he yelled about was coffee,” I said, “but no, he was probably angry at me about, like, the fact that I exist.” “What do you mean?” “My dad took all his money, like he did to everyone else in this town. You might have heard about it. Was a bit of a headline.” Okay, that was a little sarcastic. Norm stood in stony silence. Jack looked uncomfortable.

Dad was in prison, so it wasn’t like they could do anything else to him. Finally Norm said, “Can you tell us what you did from the time you spoke to Mr. Masrell yesterday to the time you arrived at school this morning?” Well, here it was. “After the coffee thing, I left school and went to the dog park for a while. Then I went to work for the rest of the night. Captain Jack here knows—he stopped by for the Chocolate Killer Sundae.” Jack beamed. Norm glared at him. “It’s fall,” Norm said. “What are you doing getting ice cream? It’s too cold.

” “They only serve it till the end of October.” Jack shrugged. “Gotta get it while it’s there.” Norm made a noise of discontent and turned back to me. “Why were you at the dog park?” I shifted in my seat and crossed my arms. “Because I like dogs.” “What time did you leave there?” “Around five.” “And when did you get to work?” “Five ten.” “Was there anyone there who can confirm that?” “Yeah, everyone else working that night. Hal, Mads, Lorelei.

They’re all working tonight, too. And Bach was there. He ordered his usual; we talked for a bit. Ask him.” “Bach. Forester’s Bach? You friends with him?” “We don’t hang out.” “What about after work?” “I went home and watched Cheers.” I paused for a heartbeat, glancing between Jack and Norm, thinking how I probably still smelled like trash. “Then I waited until Sadie fell asleep, then went out. I was on the west side of town until three a.

m., fixing porch lights and pruning flowers. Around three I went home and went to bed. My alarm went off this morning, I ate breakfast, got dressed, and came to school.” All three adults stared. “Excuse me?” Norm said. “You admit you were out last night?” “You know the person who’s been going around fixing things for people overnight? Broken fences, lights, things like that? That’s me.” Norm and Jack looked at each other. “Can anyone confirm this? “My cousin Artemis.” “Greta’s daughter?” “Do you know another Artemis?” I snapped, then took a sharp breath and forced down my rising annoyance.

“I was passing her house as she came home from some ghost hunt. We talked for a bit and noticed the fire—we could see it. I can give you a list of all the things I did last night, and you can go check with the owners of the houses. I promise you I couldn’t have been on the east side.” Norm looked at Principal Sutherland. “I’ll have them call her down,” she said, ducking out of the room to tell the office assistant, then returning. “Let’s assume you’re telling the truth for now,” Norm said. “Why were you late getting here today?” I shrugged. “Sadie kept me. You know, giving me a speech about being a good person and doing the right things.

” “Speakin’ of your sister,” Jack said, “we’ve tried contacting her. Do you know when she’ll be home?” “She gets off work around five today, but she might go out with her boyfriend after that.” “Who’s her boyfriend?” “Grim.” Norm and Jack both looked confused for a moment. Then Norm scowled. Jack snapped his fingers and said, “You mean Gavin Grimshaw?” “That’s the one.” A look flashed across Norm’s face that made me suspect Grim was another of their suspects. If an eerie, overcast day could take human form, it would look a lot like Grim. Despite all his melancholy, Grimmie wasn’t dangerous. Weird for sure, but docile as a rag doll and sweet as all get out. And he was one of the few people who could get Sadie out of the trailer. “Could you tell me your sister’s or Mr. Grimshaw’s whereabouts yesterday evening?” Norm said. Even Sadie wasn’t immune to this witch hunt. Although she, too, had been known to commit the occasional misdemeanor, Grim was pure as a dove. “I don’t know what they were doing while I was at work,” I said, “but after that they watched TV with me. They passed out before I did. Around nine thirty.” I folded my arms and clenched my jaw to keep everything else inside. I wanted to say so many things. I wanted words to make them understand. That I would never do something like this, and neither would Sadie. That despite what happened to Mom, and what Dad did afterward, Sadie and I weren’t bad people. No anger or ranting or threat would make them believe it. So I pushed down the burn in my chest, forced myself to unfold my arms, and said, “I didn’t like him very much, but I’m sorry this happened to Mr. Masrell. I didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t like fire now”—my voice shook—“and I don’t want to hurt people.” They stonewalled me, all three of them, with faces that said clearly that my past was still counting against me. I understood why I was their first suspect. I’d be my first suspect, too, if I was running the case. But did they have to make it so obvious they were coming after me because I was me? Finally Norm broke the silence. “Do you know anyone else who might have done this, or had a problem with Masrell?” Anyone who had a problem with Masrell and could make all the ghosts on a street flee for cover? “As far as I know, nobody’s set a house on fire since Hermit Forester,” I said. “Have you talked to him yet?” Jack’s expression turned sour. That was all the answer I needed. “We’re going to find out who did this,” Norm said, flipping his notebook closed and stuffing it in his breast pocket. “A man died last night, and all this town can talk about is ghost hunters and television shows. If you know or find out anything about what happened, you come tell us. Understand? Anything.” “Understood.” “I need to speak to the officers now, Zora,” Principal Sutherland said. “I want you to go straight back to first period. If you don’t, I will find out, and you’ll have detention for the rest of the semester.” I stopped outside the office with my skin tingling. Artemis was in the waiting area. Her phone was open on her lap and her fingers flipped through the pages of her Moleskine notebook. Of course she couldn’t use the regular-ass spiral notebooks. She had to get the pretty, expensive ones for her ghost research. She didn’t look tired at all. She looked like a princess with a fairy godmother who could magic her into made-up cleanliness every morning. “Hey, slugger, you’re up.” She looked at me. She had more fat on her cheeks than I did, but Dad always said he could see the family resemblance because we both kind of looked like our moms. The Aberdeen girls. Her pretty cherubic face sank into a scowl. “What did you tell them about last night?” I glanced around; the office assistant was in the break room, making coffee. “I told them the truth. They want to confirm with you. And probably talk to you because you’re into death, or whatever.” “I’m not into death.” Any of the sympathy that had tempered Artemis’s reactions to me this morning was gone. “I’m into uncovering the history of this town, you effing raccoon.” She stood and snapped her notebook shut. “You still say ‘effing’?” Artemis rolled her eyes and strode past me. “I don’t have time for this. The Dead Men Walking crew is coming this afternoon, and I have about a million things I need to put together before they get here. I know you don’t care about protecting anyone, but I do.” “They’re still coming? After Masrell?” “Of course. You think my mom would stop a nationally aired television show from filming in town?” So Sadie was right—they were still going to bring Dead Men Walking here, which meant the show’s fans would come, too, and the story of Masrell’s murder would spread. The last time firestarter attacks had hit headlines this big was thirty years ago, when Hermit Forester was still out and active. “Whatever.” I pushed the office door open. “See you, buttface.” “You’re the worst,” Artemis called back. Instead of going straight back to class, I stopped in the restroom and shut myself in the third stall. The first stall was occupied by a blank-faced girl in a floral-print dress, staring into the toilet and flickering at her edges. I needed the second stall as a buffer. If the police thought Artemis might know something more about me than where I’d been last night, they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Artemis and I were branches of a tree that had forked off in wildly different directions. Sometimes we weren’t part of the same tree at all. Sometimes I thought maybe we weren’t even the same species. Artemis was into death, but not the way I’d implied. She’d been trained by her mother to help me hunt the way Aunt Greta had once helped my mom, though she could only sense the presence of ghosts, not see them. She’d been mentioned on the local news a few times for her research into historical sites around Addamsville and Harrisburg. Just looking at her, with her cashmere scarves and sleek, shiny hair and designer boots, you’d never guess she was into the supernatural at all. She looked more like a social media star. No one would ever suspect Artemis of arson, despite that she’d been out last night, too. Even if they never found any evidence I’d set the fire at Masrell’s house, they’d still suspect me, because fire and Novak were the only things most people knew about me. They never tried to dig deeper, even when I went straight up to their doors and asked if they’d like me to show them myself. I slumped against the scuffed stall wall. A rising tension headache pounded in my temple. Artemis was right. Protecting people was more important than what the town thought of me. It was exactly what Mom would have said, if she was around. I uncurled my right hand; only then did the prosthetics look natural under the glove. If Mom was around, I wouldn’t have lost any fingers. If Mom was around, she could tell me how to handle all of this, what to say, where to start. But it had been five years since she disappeared. There was no telling when she would come back, which meant I had to deal with this firestarter myself before it hurt anyone else.

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