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There's Someone Inside Your House

Stephanie Perkins

  For Jarrod, best friend & true love

  People live through such pain only once;

  pain comes again, but it finds a tougher surface.


  The Song of the Lark




































  The egg-shaped timer was on the welcome mat when she came home.

  Haley Whitehall glanced over her shoulder, as if expecting someone behind her. Far in the distance, a red combine rolled through the sallow cornfields. Her father. Harvest time. Her mother was still at work, too, a dental technician at the only practice in town. Which one of them had left it here? The decaying porch boards sagged and splintered beneath Haley’s shifting weight as she picked up the timer. It rattled in her hand. The day had been cold, but the plastic eggshell was warm. Faintly so.

  Her phone rang. It was Brooke, of course.

  “How’s the blood?” Haley asked.

  Her best friend groaned. “A nightmare.”

  Haley went inside, and the screen door banged closed behind her. “Any chance that means Ms. Colfax will drop it?” She marched straight to the kitchen, slinging her backpack onto its black-and-white checkerboard floor. Sustenance. This afternoon’s rehearsal had been particularly grueling.

  “Never.” Brooke snorted. “She’ll never drop it. Who needs common sense when you have ambition?”

  Haley set the timer back on the countertop—where it belonged—and opened the refrigerator. “Normally, I’d argue for ambition. But. I’m really not looking forward to being drowned in corn syrup.”

  “If I had the money, I’d buy the professional-grade stuff myself. Cleaning up the auditorium will be hell, even with all the tarps and plastic sheeting.”

  Most theatrical productions of Sweeney Todd used at least some amount of fake blood—razors with hidden squeeze bulbs, gel capsules in the mouth, false clothing-fronts to conceal bloodstained doubles underneath. Additional mayhem could be implied with red curtains or red lights or a frenzied crescendo of screaming violins.

  Unfortunately, their high school’s musical director, Ms. Colfax, had an unquenchable zeal for drama by all its definitions. Last year’s production of Peter Pan, for which she’d rented actual flying harnesses all the way from New York City, had resulted in the broken bones of both Wendy and Michael Darling. This year, Ms. Colfax didn’t just want the demon barber to slit his customers’ throats. She wanted to shower the first three rows with their blood. She referred to this section of the auditorium as the “Splatter Belt.”

  Brooke was the stage manager. An honor, for sure, but it came with the impossible task of trying to steer Ms. Colfax toward sanity.

  It wasn’t going well.

  Haley held the phone to her ear with her shoulder as she loaded her arms with packages of deli-sliced turkey and provolone, a bag of prewashed lettuce, and jar of Miracle Whip. “Shayna must be flipping her shit.”

  “Shayna is definitely flipping her shit,” Brooke said.

  Shayna was their temperamental—often volatile—costume designer. It was hard enough to find decent costumes in rural Nebraska with a budget of zero, but now she had to deal with bloodstain removal on top of it.

  “Poor Shayna.” Haley dumped the ingredients onto the counter. She grabbed the closest loaf of bread, wheat with some kind of herb, which her mother had baked the night before. Her mother baked to relax. She used a bread maker, but still. It was nice.

  “Poor Brooke,” Brooke said.

  “Poor Brooke,” Haley agreed.

  “And how was Jonathan today? Any better?”

  Haley hesitated. “You didn’t hear him?”

  “I was running splatter tests in the parking lot.”

  Haley was playing Mrs. Lovett, and Shayna’s boyfriend, Jonathan, was playing Sweeney, the female and male leads. Still only a junior, Haley had been getting leads in drama club and solos in show choir for the last two years. Both as a performer and powerful contralto, she was simply better than her peers. A natural. Impossible to overlook.

  Jonathan was . . . above average. And he was charismatic, which helped his stage presence. However, this particular musical was well beyond his capabilities. He’d been struggling with “Epiphany,” his most challenging solo song, for weeks. His transitions held all the smoothness of someone stumbling across a bull snake in a tool shed, but even those were nothing compared to the way that he’d been massacring his duets.

  Brooke seemed to sense Haley’s reluctance to gossip. “Oh, come on. If you don’t spill, you’ll only make me feel guilty for venting about everybody else.”

  “It’s just . . .” Haley spread a gloppy coat of Miracle Whip onto the bread and then tossed the dirty butter knife into the sink. She’d wash it off later. “We spent the entire rehearsal on ‘A Little Priest.’ And not even the whole thing! The same few bars, over and over and over. For two freaking hours.”


  “You know that part where we sing different lines simultaneously? And our voices are supposed to be, like, tumbling over each other in excitement?”

  “When Sweeney finally figured out that Mrs. Lovett wants to dispose of his victims by baking their flesh into her pies?” Brooke’s voice was a wicked grin.

  “It was a disaster.” Haley carried her plate into the living room, but she didn’t sit. She paced. “I don’t think Jonathan can do it. I mean, I seriously think his brain can’t do it. He can sing in unison, he can sing harmony—”

  “Sort of.”

  “Sort of,” Haley conceded. “But if someone else is singing different words? He keeps stopping and restarting. Like he’s trying to work through an aneurysm.”

  Brooke laughed.

  “It’s why I left early. I felt like such a bitch, but God. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

  “No one would ever call you a bitch.”

  Haley swallowed a huge bite of turkey. It was a balancing act—cradling the phone, holding the plate, eating the sandwich, pacing the room—but she didn’t notice. She was worried. “Jonathan would.”

  “Jonathan shouldn’t have gotten the part.”

  “Do you think I should call him and apologize?”

  “No. No. Why?”

  “For being short with him.”

  “It’s not your fault he can’t handle Sondheim.”

  This was true, but Haley still felt ashamed for getting so frustrated. For walking out of rehearsal. She plopped onto the ancient corduroy couch, one of the many relics from when the farmhouse had belonged to her grandparents, and sighed. Brooke said something else in best-friend solidarity, but Haley’s phone chose that moment to do its usual th

  “What’d you say? My connection is going in and out.”

  “So call me from the landline.”

  Haley glanced at the cordless, which was perched on an end table only a few feet away. Too much effort. “It’s fine now,” she lied.

  Brooke circled the conversation back around to her current hardships as stage manager, and Haley allowed herself to drift away. She could only hear a third of Brooke’s ranting, anyway. The rest was static.

  She stared out the windows and finished her sandwich. The sun hung low on the horizon. It shone through the cornfields, making the brittle stalks appear soft and dull. Her father was still out there. Somewhere. This time of year, he didn’t let a single ray go to waste. The world looked abandoned. It was the opposite of the loud, colorful, enthusiastic group of people she’d left behind at school. She should have stuck it out. She hated the quiet isolation that permeated her house. It was exhausting in its own way.

  Haley made sympathetic noises into the phone—though she had no idea what she was sympathizing with—and stood. She walked her plate back to the kitchen, rinsed off the crumbs, and popped open the dishwasher.

  The only thing inside it was a dirty butter knife.

  Haley glanced at the sink, which was empty. A frown appeared between her brows. She put the plate into the dishwasher and shook her head.

  “Even if we can get the sprayer working,” Brooke was saying, their connection suddenly clear, “I’m not sure enough people will even want to sit in the first three rows. I mean, who goes to the theater to wear ponchos and get drenched in blood?”

  Haley sensed that her friend needed vocal reassurance. “It’s Halloween weekend. People will buy the tickets. They’ll think it’s fun.” She took a step toward the stairs—toward her bedroom—and her sneaker connected with a small, hard object. It shot across the floor tiles, skidding and rattling and clattering and clanging, until it smacked into the bottom of the pantry.

  It was the egg timer.

  Haley’s heart stopped. Just for a moment.

  An uneasy prickling grew under her skin as she moved toward the pantry door, which one of her parents had left ajar. She pushed it closed with her fingertips and then picked up the timer, slowly. As if it were heavy. She could have sworn she’d set it on the countertop, but she must have dropped it to the floor along with her backpack.

  “. . . still listening?”

  The voice barely reached her ears. “Sorry?”

  “I asked if you were still listening to me.”

  “Sorry,” Haley said again. She stared at the timer. “I must be more tired than I thought. I think I’m gonna crash until my mom gets home.”

  They hung up, and Haley shoved the phone into the front right pocket of her jeans. She placed the timer back on the countertop. The timer was smooth and white. Innocuous. Haley couldn’t pinpoint why, exactly, but the damn thing unsettled her.

  She trekked upstairs and went directly to bed, collapsing in a weary heap, kicking off her sneakers, too drained to unlace them. The phone jabbed at her hip. She pulled it from her pocket and slung it onto her nightstand. The setting sun pierced through her window at a perfect, irritating angle, and she winced and rolled over.

  She fell asleep instantly.

  Haley startled awake. Her heart was pounding, and the house was dark.

  She exhaled—a long, unclenching, diaphragm-deep breath. And that was when her brain processed the noise. The noise that had woken her up.


  Haley’s blood chilled. She rolled over to face the nightstand. Her phone was gone, and in its place, right at eye level, was the egg timer.

  It went off.


  The next morning, the entire school was buzzing about two things: the brutal slaying of Haley Whitehall and Ollie Larsson’s newly pinkened hair.

  “You’d think they’d care less about the hair,” Makani said.

  “This is Osborne, Nebraska.” Her friend Darby sucked up the last drops of his gas station iced coffee. “Population: twenty-six hundred. A boy with pink hair is as scandalous as the death of a beloved student.”

  They stared through Darby’s windshield and across the parking lot to where Ollie was leaning against the brick wall of the front office. He was reading a paperback and pointedly ignoring the whispers—and not-whispers—of the other students.

  “I heard her throat was slit in three places.” Makani paused. The car’s windows were down, so she lowered her voice. “Carved up to look like a smiley face.”

  The straw dropped from Darby’s mouth. “That’s awful. Who told you that?”

  She shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s just what I heard.”

  “Oh God. And the day hasn’t even begun.”

  A long face with kohl-blackened eyes popped up beside the passenger-side window. “Well, I heard—”

  Makani jumped. “Jesus, Alex.”

  “—that Ollie is the one who did it. And that he used her blood to dye his hair.”

  Makani and Darby stared at her, agape.

  “I’m kidding. Obviously.” She opened the back door, tossed in her trumpet case, and slid inside. The car was their morning hangout. “But someone here will say it.”

  There was too much truth in her joke. Makani winced.

  Alex kicked the back of Makani’s seat with a royal-blue combat boot. An exclamation point. “I don’t believe it. You still have a thing for him, don’t you?”

  Unfortunately, yes.

  Of course she still had a thing for Ollie.

  From the moment Makani Young arrived in Nebraska, she couldn’t keep her eyes off him. He was, without a doubt, the strangest-looking guy at Osborne High. But that also made him the most interesting. Ollie had a skinny frame with hip bones that jutted out in a way that reminded her of sex, and cheekbones so prominent they reminded her of a skull—the illusion of which was enhanced by his blond, invisible eyebrows. He always wore dark jeans and a plain, black T-shirt. A silver ring—a thin hoop in the center of his bottom lip—was his only adornment. He kind of looked like a skeleton.

  Makani tilted her head. But maybe less so, now that his white-blond hair was a shocking hot pink.

  “I remember when you had a thing for him,” Darby said to Alex.

  “Yeah, like, in eighth grade. Until I realized he’s a fulltime loner. He’s not interested in going out with anyone who attends this school.” With a rare and embarrassed afterthought, Alex grimaced. “Sorry, Makani.”

  Makani and Ollie had hooked up last summer. Sort of. Thankfully, the only people who knew about it were sitting here in Darby’s car.

  “It’s fine,” Makani said, because it was easier than saying it wasn’t.

  There were a lot of rumors about Ollie: that he only slept with older women; that he only slept with older men; that he sold opioids stolen from his brother’s police station; that he once almost drowned in the shallow part of the river. That—when he was rescued—he was both blind drunk and buck naked.

  Then again, their school was small. There were rumors about everyone.

  Makani knew better than to believe any of them outright. Rumors, even the true ones, never told a complete story. She avoided most of her classmates for that very reason. Self-preservation. Recognizing a similarly dismal soul, Darby and Alex had taken her in when she’d been forced to relocate from Hawaii midway through her junior year. Her parents were embattled in an ugly divorce, so they’d shipped her off to live with her grandmother for some normalcy.

  Normalcy. With her grandmother. In the middle of nowhere.

  At least, that’s how Makani told the story to her friends. And, much like a rumor, it did contain a kernel of truth. It was just missing the rest of the cob.

  Her parents had never paid much attention to her, even in the best of times, and they’d only recently separated when the incident at the beach occurred. After that . . . they couldn’t look at her at all anymore. She didn’t like looking at herself, either.
  She deserved this exile.

  Now it was mid-October, and Makani had been in Osborne for almost a year. She was a senior, and so were Darby and Alex. Their mutual interest was counting down the days until graduation. Makani wasn’t sure where she’d go next, but she certainly wasn’t staying here.

  “Can we return to the important subject?” Darby asked. “Haley is dead. And no one knows who killed her, and that freaks my shit out.”

  “I thought you didn’t like Haley,” Alex said, pulling her dyed-black hair into a complicated twist that required a large number of chunky plastic barrettes. She was the closest thing their school had to a Goth, if you didn’t count Ollie.

  Makani didn’t.

  Their exteriors were both comprised of black clothing and thin, pointy body parts, but Alex was hard and aggressive. She demanded to be noticed. While Ollie was as soft and silent as the night sky.

  “I didn’t dislike Haley.” Darby tucked his thumbs under his suspenders, which he wore every day along with a plaid shirt and sensible trousers. He was short and stocky, and he dressed like a dapper old man.

  Darby had been assigned female at birth, and though his legal name was still Justine Darby, he’d socially transitioned during his freshman year. If their school didn’t like a boy with pink hair, Makani could only imagine how long it’d taken for them to get used to the “girl” who was actually a boy. They mostly left him alone now, though there were still side-glances. Narrowed eyes and pinched mouths.

  “I didn’t know her,” Darby continued. “She seemed nice enough.”

  Alex snapped in a barrette that resembled an evil Hello Kitty. “Isn’t it weird how the moment someone dies everyone becomes her bestest friend?”

  Darby scowled. “I didn’t say that. Jeez.”

  Makani let them bicker it out before stepping in. She always did. “Do you think one of her parents did it? I’ve heard in cases like this, it’s usually a family member.”

  “Or a boyfriend,” Darby said. “Was she dating anyone?”

  Makani and Alex shrugged.

  All three stared at their passing classmates and fell into an unusual silence. “It’s sad,” Darby finally said. “It’s just . . . terrible.”