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The Box in the Woods: Chapter 30

THE MOON WAS HIGH OVER THE LAKE. THERE WERE BUGSOF COURSE, thousands of them, but the four people sitting side by side on the dock didn’t care. They swatted and slapped at them occasionally, but it made no real impact. The natural bug spray that Janelle had brought along only seemed to amuse them.

“I don’t know about you,” David said after the silence had grown too long, “but I’m bored now.”

He reached for the bottle and gave himself another spritz of the sticky, citronella-sweet bug spray.

It had been an hour since Stevie and her friends had been dismissed by Sergeant Graves. There would be days ahead of this, of statements, of forms and conversations. But for tonight, they were done, and they had offered themselves up to the bugs as food.

“Okay,” Nate finally said. “Why?”

“Why what?” Stevie said.

“Didn’t you tell us you had the diary?”

“I’m sorry,” Stevie said, sighing. “I had to do it that way. See, all the stuff with Allison—aside from the food dye—that’s all guesswork. The thing that tied Allison’s death to Patty was the diary. If Patty thought I didn’t have the diary, she had to be really, really curious about this big gathering that was happening. I had to be sure she would go, and I had to be sure she was going to be genuinely shocked. I needed to startle her so badly that she might freak out and start talking on camera in front of people. I had to make sure she really thought she was safe up until the last second before I got out the diary.”

“What do you think will happen to her?” Janelle said.

“A lot of it will be hard to prove,” Stevie said, “but there are some things out there. There are traffic cameras in town at the stoplights, so they’ll be able to see if she left the bakery early that morning. They can look for the shell casings in the woods and see if they match her gun. That may be the thing that really gets her—shooting at us.”

“The documentary won’t help,” Nate said. “She’s going to be the ugly kind of famous once they see her reaction to what you said.”

“Sometimes bad people get away with it,” David added. “But I feel like this one won’t. This town is mad.”

Something whooshed just over their heads. Stevie flinched.

“Bat,” Janelle said. “They’re here to feast on all these insects.”

“I’ll take that as a sign,” Nate said, standing and stretching. “I’m going to go write.”

The other three turned to look at him.

“What?” he said.

“You know what,” Stevie replied.

“I had some ideas, that’s all. Since that kid has been following me around, telling me I don’t know my own book. Anyway. Do your thing.”

He walked off back toward the camp.

“That kid was right,” Stevie said. “The kid told me he was going to make Nate get back to work on the book, and he did it. He . . . annoyed him into it.”

“And I . . .” Janelle also stood. “. . . am going to go talk to Vi. I’ll see you back at the cabin.”

This left David and Stevie.

“So,” David said after a long moment.

“So,” she replied, looking down at her legs.

It was time to talk, which she was bad at. This kind of talking, anyway. The feeling, apologizing, heartfelt kind of talking. Breaking-down-murder talking was one thing—this kind was actually scary.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She spat it out—flung the sentence away from her.

“I knew what I signed up for with you. We aren’t like the other children.”

Stevie scratched at the exposed skin at the top of the cast, near her elbow.

“Yeah, well . . .” Words had not failed her when she was talking about crime. Crime was easy—this was the hard stuff. “What are you going to do? About this England thing.”

“Well, you’ll be at Ellingham,” he said. “Busy. Too busy for me.”

“Stop it.”

“No,” he said. “I mean it. You just got famous again. You solved the Box in the Woods murders.”

“Yeah, but . . .”

“I’m just saying. You’ll be at school anyway. And I’m not going to lie, the idea of someone my dad can’t stand sending me to college is pretty tempting. It would feel good . . .”

but hung somewhere between the moon and the lake.

“. . . for a day or two. But that’s the part of me that’s like him. The part that thinks everything is a competition, everything is about winning, and having enemies. And in the end all I’d be doing is taking money from another person who wanted to buy me. The guy isn’t asking for anything—he’s nice—but he’s also sticking it to his enemy. I don’t want my life to be about that anymore. So . . . I’m not taking his offer or his money.”

Stevie’s head shot up and she looked at him eagerly.

“I have a little in savings,” he said, “and I can get a loan. I don’t have enough for a year, but I can do a semester. There’s a program I’ve already applied to. Not super long. Maybe you can come to England for the break. They have crimes there. Lots of them. Everybody’s getting murdered all the time. Jack the Ripper—did they solve that one?”

“No,” Stevie said. “There are a few suspects, but part of the problem is that Jack the Ripper is more of a media creation than a . . .”

He moved closer, leaning his body into hers, careful not to put pressure on her broken arm.

“This is why I love you,” he said, “you murder-obsessed freak.”


“Yeah,” he said in response to the unvoiced question. “I just confessed, and I’m ready to do the time.”

The lake was still but for the buzzing of the bugs and the gentle swoosh of the bats. Behind them, there was the sound of laughter from the campers and distant singing of campfire songs. But Stevie did not hear them. She was so engrossed in the kissing that everything else was blocked out, including the water snake that slid behind them and slipped into the silent waters of the lake.

Sometimes, it’s better not to know.


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