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Killing Mr. Griffin

Lois Duncan

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  Table of Contents

  Q&A with the Author

  Copyright Page

  “There are a lot of smart authors, and a lot of authors who write reasonably well. Lois Duncan is smart, writes darn good books and is one of the most entertaining authors in America.”

  —Walter Dean Myers, Printz award–winning author of Monster and Dope Sick

  “She knows what you did last summer. She knows how to find that secret evil in her characters’ hearts, evil that she turns into throat-clutching suspense in book after book. Does anyone write scarier books than Lois Duncan? I don’t think so.”

  —R. L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series

  “I couldn’t be more pleased that Lois Duncan’s books will now reach a new generation of readers.”

  —Judy Blume, author of Forever and Tiger Eyes

  “Lois Duncan has always been one of my biggest inspirations. I gobbled up her novels, reading them again and again and scaring myself over and over. She’s a master of suspense, so prepare to be dazzled and spooked!”

  —Sara Shepard, author of the Pretty Little Liars series

  “Lois Duncan’s books kept me up many a late night reading under the covers with a flashlight!”

  —Wendy Mass, author of A Mango-Shaped Space, Leap Day and Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall

  “Lois Duncan is the patron saint of all things awesome.”

  —Jenny Han, author of The Summer I Turned Pretty series

  “Duncan is one of the smartest, funniest and most terrifying writers around—a writer that a generation of girls LOVED to tatters, while learning to never read her books without another friend to scream with handy.”

  —Lizzie Skurnick, author of Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading

  “Haunting and suspenseful—Duncan’s writing captures everything fun about reading!”

  —Suzanne Young, author of The Naughty List series and A Need So Beautiful

  “In middle school and high school, I loved Lois Duncan’s novels. I still do. I particularly remember Killing Mr. Griffin, which took my breath away. I couldn’t quite believe a writer could do that. I feel extremely grateful to Lois Duncan for taking unprecedented risks, challenging preconceptions and changing the young adult field forever.”

  —Erica S. Perl, author of Vintage Veronica

  “Killing Mr. Griffin taught me a lot about writing. Thrilling stuff. It was one of the most requested and enjoyed books I taught with my students. I think it’s influenced most of my writing since.”

  —Gail Giles, author of Right Behind You and Dark Song

  “If ever a writer’s work should be brought before each new generation of young readers, it is that of Lois Duncan.The grace with which she has led her life—a life that included a tragedy that would have brought most of us to our knees—is reflected in her writing, particularly in I Know What You Did Last Summer.Her stories, like Lois herself, are ageless.”

  —Chris Crutcher, author of Angry Management, Deadline and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

  “Lois Duncan’s thrillers have a timeless quality about them. They are good stories, very well told, that also happen to illuminate both the heroic and dark parts of growing up.”

  —Marc Talbert, author of Dead Birds Singing, A Sunburned Prayer and Heart of a Jaguar

  “We are your students, present, past and future,” Mark told him, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly.… “We are representatives of every poor kid who has ever walked into your dungeon of a classroom. We come to bring you ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ We’re here to deliver revenge.”

  To my brother, Bill Steinmetz


  It was a wild, windy, southwestern spring when the idea of killing Mr. Griffin occurred to them.

  As she crossed the playing field to reach the school building, Susan McConnell leaned into the wind and cupped her hands around the edges of her glasses to keep the blowing red dust from filling her eyes. Tumbleweeds swept past her like small, furry animals, rushing to pile in drifts against the fence that separated the field from the parking lot. Theparked cars all had their windows up as though againsta rainstorm. In the distance, the rugged Sandia Mountains rose in faint outline, almost obscured by the pinkish haze.

  I hate spring, Susan told herself vehemently. I hate dust and wind. I wish we lived somewhere else. Someday—

  It was a word she used often—someday.

  “Someday,” she had said at the breakfast table that very morning, “someday I’m going to live in a cabin on the shore of a lake where everything is peaceful and green and the only sound is lapping water.”

  As soon as the words were out she had longed to snatch them back again.

  “How are you going to pay the property taxes?” her father had asked in his usual reasonable way. “Lakeshore property doesn’t come cheap, you know. Somebody’s going to have to finance that lovely green nest of yours.”

  “A rich husband!” her brother Craig had shouted, and the twins, who were seven, had broken into jeers and laughter.

  “Not too soon, I hope,” her mother had said, turning from the stove with the frying pan in her hand. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure. That’s what my grandmother always said. There’s plenty of time for everything.”

  “For being an old maid?” the twin named Kevin had offered, giggling.

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” Mrs. McConnell had told him. “Nobody is ever an old maid these days. The term is ‘single person.’ Now, who wants eggs?”

  Someday, Susan had thought, sinking lower in her chair, someday I am going to move out of this house and away from this family. I’ll live all alone in a place where I can read and write and think, and the only time I’ll ever come here is for Christmas.

  “Are you going to be a single person, Sue?” the twin named Alex had asked with false innocence, jabbing his brother with his elbow, and Craig had grinned with maddening twelve-year-old self-assurance and said, “You’ve got to go out on dates before you get married, and Sue hasn’t even started that yet.”

  “All things in good time,” Mrs. McConnell had told them mildly, and Mr. McConnell had said, “Speaking of property taxes—” and they had been off on another subject.

  And Susan, with her eyes on her plate, had told herself silently, someday—someday—

  The dust stung the sides of her face, filling her nose and coating her lips. With a whir and a flutter, half a dozen sheets of notebook paper went flying past her like strange, white birds released suddenly from the confinement of their cage.

  “Grab them!” somebody shouted. “Get them before they go over the fence!”

  Susan turned to see David Ruggles running toward her, the slightness and delicacy of his bone structure giving him the framework of a kite with his blue Windbreaker billowing out beneath his arms, the wind seeming to lift and carry him. He sailed by her, grabbing frantically for the escaping papers, and Susan dropped her hands from their protective encasement of her glasses and snatched wildly at the air.

  The paper she was trying for lurched suddenly to the ground in front of her, and her foot came down upon it, grinding it into the dirt. Susan stooped and snatched it up.

  “It’s torn!” The dirty imprint of her shoe was stamped irrevocably in its center. “I’m sorry.”

  “It doesn’t matter.” David shrugged his shoulders and reached to take the paper from her hand. “The rest of it’s blown away anyhow. One ripped page isn’t going to make any difference. If it’s not all there, Griffin won’t take any of it.”

  “Is it a song for Ophelia?”

  “Yeah. It’s supposed to be, but I’m sure Griffin would have called it something
else. I haven’t done anything right for him yet.”

  “Neither have I. I don’t think anyone has.” Susan fell into step beside him, her heart lifting suddenly, her depression disappearing. The wind wasn’t so bad after all,for it had blown this luck upon her, the unbelievable, undreamed-of event of herself, Susan McConnell, entering the halls of Del Norte High School side by side with beautiful, popular David Ruggles, president of the senior class.

  For the last year of her life, Susan had dreamed about David every night, at least every night in which she could remember having a dream. In some of the dreams he smiled at her, the open, sweet, heart-clenching smile that belonged to him alone. In others they sat and talked for hour after hour, sharing with each other private thoughts and longings. Never yet had there been a dream in which they walked shoulder to shoulder into English class with everyone, even Betsy Cline, turning to stare, to envy, to wonder.

  When they reached the door to the building, David struggled with it, pulling with all the weight of his slight frame as the wind forced it closed. For a moment it seemed it would be a draw, but in the end David won, and he and Susan staggered into the crowded hallway where numerous other red-faced, wind-torn students laughed, jostled, shoved tangled hair out of their faces and shouted things like, “So much for my hair!” and “Look what the wind just blew in!”

  Susan took off her glasses and wiped the dust from the lenses with the front of her blouse. By the time she put them back on, David had moved away from her. She started to press forward to regain her place beside him, but others had already fallen into it. Mark Kinney: lean, expressionless, cool. Jeff Garrett: big, loud, broad-shouldered.

  “Hey, Dave, where were you last night, man?” Jeff asked. “We looked for you after the game.”

  “I had to miss it. Sorry. Three hours’ worth of homework.”

  “Two of them for Griffin’s class, I’ll bet.”

  “A lot of good it did me. Whole stupid assignment blew out of my hands on the way in here—”

  They were too far ahead of her now for her to hear them, and Susan accepted defeat. It didn’t really matter anyway. Walking into class beside David Ruggles would have been a farce and everyone would have known it. Another girl might have pulled it off, someone with more sophistication than she, someone used to walking beside attractive boys and chatting gaily and smiling disarmingly. The only attractive boys Susan ever walked beside were named McConnell, and most of the time she hated all three of them.

  Oh, well, she thought wryly, at least I stepped on his paper. That’s more than has ever happened before. Next time we meet he’ll know who I am—the girl with the dirty shoes. Alex’s question came back to her—“Are you going to be a single person, Sue?” No. Yes. Probably—wasn’t that an appropriate fate for someone like Susan McConnell? Someone with a handsome father and a gorgeous, vivacious mother, whose looks had all been poured into three dreadful, handsome, smart-ass little boys?But that was for now. Things did sometimes change. Someday—Someday, what? Her boniness would blossom into curves? She would get contact lenses? She who had been told by not one, not two, but three different doctors that her corneas weren’t shaped right to allow her to wear them? Someday she would turn into a heart-stopping beauty overnight? Is that what would happen?

  Why did she keep trying to fool herself by thinking “someday” when the word was actually “never”?

  Morosely, Susan let the tide of bodies sweep her on down the hall and to the door of Room 117. She paused in the doorway long enough to glance about the room. The boys were there ahead of her, David already in his accustomed seat, three from the back in the fifth row, Jeff blocking the center aisle as he stood by Mark’s desk, continuing their conversation.

  In the seat in front of David, Betsy Cline turned and said something in a low-pitched, conspiratorial manner. David smiled and nodded.

  Sure that she would be unable to wedge herself past Jeff and too shy to ask him to move, Susan entered the room along the side aisle in order to approach her desk from the opposite direction. She smiled tentatively at two girls in the front of the row, but they were talking to each other and did not seem to notice her, so she let her eyes shift away from them and clung tightly to the smile, as though it had not been for them at all but for some private joke that had come suddenly into her mind. She smiled all the way up the aisle, only letting her face relax when she had slipped into her seat.

  She glanced up at the wall clock at the front of the room. Two minutes to nine. Two minutes for friends to chatter to each other while Susan stared at her desktop.

  Why was it that some people—girls like Betsy, for instance—were noticed and spoken to and appreciated without ever making the slightest effort? It was not all looks, certainly. When you analyzed Betsy, she was not really pretty—she had a round, snub-nosed, pussycat face and short, muscular, cheerleader legs and a sprinkling of freckles. But ask anyone, even the newest of the freshmen, “Who is that girl over there?” and the answer you got would be, “That’s Betsy Cline. Doesn’t everyone know her?”

  The large hand on the wall clock snapped forward with an inaudible click. One minute now until class time. Susan opened her purse and rummaged through it, pretending to be looking for something important. It was easier than simply sitting or than trying again with the smile routine. In other classes it was not quite as difficult. For one thing, she was a straight-A student and people had questions to ask her about homework. Here, in English Literature and Composition, there was no such thing as an A student. With all her effort she was earning B’s. Even so, it was more than most of the other students were getting. The mid-semester exam had been a disaster for everyone, and it was rumored that the final was being constructed so that it would be impossible for even the brightest student topass.

  “Griffin must be lying awake at night,” Jeff Garrett had commented yesterday in the cafeteria. “He’s trying to think of questions that don’t have answers.” His voice had rung through the room, and everyone had started laughing, knowing whom he was talking about, even if they had missed hearing the name.

  Susan dug into the open purse and drew out a felt pen, a stick of gum, a dime and two pennies. She examined them with affected interest before letting them fall back again.

  The hand of the clock moved forward one final click. The bell rang. And Mr. Griffin stepped through the doorway into the classroom, pulling the door shut behind him.

  The day had officially begun.

  Never once could Susan recall a morning when Mr. Griffin had not been there standing in front of them at the precise moment the bell stopped ringing. Other teachers might saunter in late, delayed in the teachers’ lounge for a last drag on a cigarette or a final swallow of morning coffee. Other teachers might pause in the hall to secure a button or tie a shoestring. Other teachers might sometimes not appear at all while unorganized substitutes stumbled over their lesson plans and finally gave up and let everybody out early.

  But Mr. Griffin was always there, as reliable as the bell itself, stiff and straight in a navy blue suit, white shirt and tie, his dark hair slicked flat against his head, his mouth firm and uncompromising beneath the small, neatly trimmed mustache.

  His eyes moved steadily up and down the rows, taking a silent roll call as the buzz of conversation dwindled and faded to silence.

  “Good morning, class,” he said.

  Susan answered automatically, her voice joining the uneasy chorus.

  “Good morning, Mr. Griffin.”

  “Please take out your homework assignments and pass them to the front. Miss Cline, will you collect them, please?”

  Susan opened her folder and withdrew the sheets of paper on which she had printed the verses she had composed the night before.

  In the seat behind her, Jeff raised his hand.

  “Mr. Garrett?”

  “I don’t have mine finished yet, Mr. Griffin. There was a basketball game last night, and I was one of the starters.”

  “That must have
created a great problem for you, Mr. Garrett.”

  “I couldn’t very well skip the game, could I?” Jeff said. “The team was counting on me. We were playing Eldorado.”

  “Basketball is indeed an important reason for attending high school,” Mr. Griffin said in an expressionless voice. “The ability to drop balls through baskets will serve you well in life. It may keep your wrists limber into old age.

  “Mr. Ruggles, your hand is raised. Do you have a similar disclosure to make?”

  “I did the assignment, sir,” David said. “It blew out of my notebook. I’ll redo it tonight.”

  “I have never accepted late papers on windy days. Miss Cline?”

  “I didn’t understand the assignment,” Betsy said. Her eyes were wide and worried. “How can anybody write a final song for Ophelia when she’s already said everything there is to say? All that about rosemary being for remembrance and everything? Nothing happens to her after that except she drowns.”

  “There are those who might consider suicide an event of some importance in a young woman’s life,” Mr. Griffin said drily. “Are there any other comments?” The room was silent. “Then will those of you who were able to find some final words for poor Ophelia please pass them forward?”

  At least we don’t have to read them aloud, Susan thought in relief. That was a possibility she had not thought about last night when she sat at the desk in her room, letting the words pour from her. There, caught by the magic of the painful story, she had let herself become Ophelia—lonely, alienated from the world, sickened with the hopelessness of her love, gazing into the depths of the water that would soon become her grave.

  Only this morning, as she was leaving the house, had the horrible thought occurred to her—What if he makes us read the songs in class? There was no way that she could have done that. Too much of Susan lay exposed in the neatly printed verses, intermixed with the persona of Ophelia.

  Now she scanned her words again—

  Where the daisies laugh and blow,