Author's Note: In 2013, I read a local news story about a teenage girl who had taken her life due to the unrelenting torments of her classmates on social media. The story haunted me for weeks and, as I started researching similar tragedies, it became clear to me how precarious the life of a teenager has become.
I grew up in the seventies and eighties, when bullying was something that happened on a playground or a locker room. Today, bullies can literally tear someone's life apart day and night, amplifying and spreading their cruelty online. I think about my nine year old daughter, and how it would feel to watch her slowly die on the inside until one day she just slipped away. It's a sickening thing to imagine.
I don't know what the answer is, but if you or someone you know needs help, Crisis Chat is a national suicide prevention lifeline that connects with people through text. My neighbors in Vermont can reach out to the Howard Center, or you can dial 2-1-1 for immediate support.
The following story is about evil kids who use social media to kill people. In that respect, it is inspired by true events, but that's where the similarity ends. Any characters that bear a resemblance to actual people is coincidental...and unfortunate.
Stay human, friends.
Emma tapped the smiley face into the chat app on AskMe.com. She lay on her softy downy bed with the phone trembling in her fingers, heels kicking the wall with excitement. Muted gunfire came through the carpet, sounds of her dad relaxing in front of some old Arnold Swartzenegger movie downstairs. Her mother was sitting beside him, petting the iPad and filling her calendar with volunteer work for the charity de jour. Emma had to stay at least somewhat cognizant of their locations within the house. Even if they were clueless idiots, she needed to be careful. She and her friends had purchased fake email addresses to set up their Ask accounts, along with an app that scrambles your IP address on remote servers. Their digital footprints were covered, for now, but people were always a threat. Next fall, Emma would be a senior, and she didn’t intend to spend it in a juvenile detention center.
Emma’s big toe picked at the edge of the Taylor Swift poster on the wall. She loved Taylor Swift, mostly because the two them looked alike. Those hazel-green eyes seemed to look on Emma now with something like envy when Nadia’s thumbnail face popped up on her phone.
Emma: Got her!!! :)))! Little bitch said she’d do it! She’s eating a bunch of pills tonight! Nighty-nighty cybil :)
Nadia: Cybil was mine! I convinced her sign up on Ask. That one belongs to me!
Emma: Nope. Remember, whoever talks to her last wins. If she doesn’t chicken out, that will be five for me.
Nadia: You can’t take all the credit. I’m the one who found her…we’ve all been working on her.
Emma: Rules, bitch. Know em.
Nadia: How do you do it? What did you say??
Emma: I never tell.
Nadia: Yeah, right. C’mon!
Emma: It was easy. I just asked…
Nadia: Asked what?
Emma: I asked why are you still alive? Fucking loser couldn’t think of one good reason, so she agreed to do it. I sent her some links to help her choose the method.
Nadia: If she chickens out, you get no points.
Emma: If she chickens out, I will fucking skin her. My suggestions tonight will seem like an act of mercy.
Nadia: Oh you are fucking EVIL gf! :))))
Emma: Make sure everyone keeps their mouths shut! Anyone who talks will become my enemy. Spread the word plz. And delete these texts.
A hard rap came at the door and Emma closed the app with lightning quickness. “What!” she shouted.
Emma’s mom poked her head tentatively inside the room. “Everything alright, sweetie?”
“What are you doing?” Her mom’s brow dimpled a bit, signaling what she was really asking.
Emma shrugged, trying to look bored and apathetic. “Nadia and I were just going over an essay we have to write for class.”
“Really?? What’s it about?” her mother chirped with way too much enthusiasm.
“The power of suggestion. If you want something, sometimes all you have to do is ask,” Emma replied, and smiled back.
The news of Cybil Newblum’s death raced through Champlain Union High in no time. Emma could see it on everyone’s faces the moment she walked through the wide glass doors. The teachers would react the same way they always did, the same looks of pallor and dumb-struck wonder on their faces, gathering in mini-conferences in the halls, shaking their heads at each other, unable to believe it had happened again. Another girl had taken her own life. The student’s reactions would be more varied – a disaffected shrug or complete emotional devastation, and everything in between. Emma hung her coat in her locker and observed it all with wry satisfaction. She could almost see texts zing through the air like paper airplanes. Cold, chapped fingers tap, tap, tapping, and all she had to do was sit back and watch.
There would be posters and candle light vigils, sensitivity workshops and parent-teacher conferences; there would be bad poetry on the lawn and graffiti on the walls. Emma herself had scrawled a memorial on the bathroom wall to the last girl she’d convinced to kill herself. It said: Rachel Portman is dead. But her ugly skirt from Penny’s lives forever. Yes, there would be fundraisers of baked goods and protests from groups like “Mother’s Against Cyber Bullying.” These dim stay-at-home-moms pulled together whenever Emma and her friends helped another loser exit the oxygen pool. They barked at school administrators, demanding action, and within a month they would be back to worrying about finding the right gortex hoodie for power-walking when the temperatures dip below forty, and Emma would still be there, at the top of the food chain in little Waterford, Vermont, with her hot clothes and perfect shoes and winter trips to St. Thomas. She used to be just popular, but after a while popularity got old – she wanted to be a legend. And after some carefully planned moves, Emma had achieved what no other girl could.
She decided who in the school lived or died.
Emma stepped into the ladies room and found Nadia standing there with Trudy, chatting in hushed tones. They jumped when the door opened and Emma took delight at the way the talk stopped as she approached.
“Whussup bitches,” Emma said, her gleaming teeth forming into a sharp grin.
“Have you heard?” Trudy asked her. She looked pale and shaken, which surprised Emma.
“About Newblum? Of course, I heard! I’d dig a hole and put her in myself, if I could.”
“No, it’s something else,” Nadia said. She looked like shit, as well. Mascara clung to her lashes like chimney soot, and bruised circles hugged her eyes. She wore a topaz pendant on a silver chain around her neck and one finger twisted it restlessly.
“Am I supposed to fucking guess?” Emma said, her smile melting. “Speak!”
“No one is on Ask,” Trudy said. “Everyone is gone. Their accounts are deleted.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“It’s true,” Trudy insisted. “See for yourself!”
“Have you checked it this morning?” Nadia asked.
Emma tossed back a lock of curly blonde hair and dug into her white leather purse, retrieving her phone. “I went running this morning.”
“See for yourself,” Trudy repeated.
Emma opened the Ask app and brushed through it with her thumb. She shook her head, frowning. “It’s got to be a glitch. People don’t just abandon a network overnight.”
“There is one from CU still active – the new girl who starts today,” Trudy said. “The only thing on her profile, other than name and school, is a web address: DeathChat.com.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s like Ask, only you ask questions to dead people you know,” Nadia said, her voice had fallen to a whisper. “And they reply back.”
Emma threw her head back and laughed. “That’s stupid enough to be a hit around here. I love it!!”
“What’s the new chick’s name?” Emma asked. “And what homeroom is she in? I’d like to make an acquaintance. Give her a tour of how things are done around here.”
“Name’s Margaret Alby. She’s in Harris’s room,” Nadia replied, her finger still twisting away. “Be careful, Emma. I – I don’t know anything about her, but something isn’t right. With her, I mean. I know that.”
“You worry too much,” Emma laughed and went to leave, turning around at the door. “I can’t wait to set up an account on Dead-whatever-dot-com. I’d like to ask Cybil how the fires of hell are treating those split ends.” Emma picked up a strand of her golden, strawberry blonde hair and waved it goodbye to the other girls.
The gymnasium percolated with the squeak of rubber soles and slapping of basketballs on the hardwood floor. The JV team raced about, running drills, trying not to notice Emma as she stood by the girl’s locker room door. She’d gotten there ten minutes earlier and just barely caught sight of Margaret before she trotted off into the locker room. Emma had been delighted to see that she wasn’t much to look at. Pale and tall with greasy black hair that hung listlessly below her shoulder blades. Another Goth loser who wears too much mascara and writes depressing song lyrics on her notebooks, sulking about the bourgeois world she was born into.
This is going to be fun, Emma smiled.
Behind her the door opened and closed, opened and closed. Girls came out in two’s and three’s, laughing and chatting and flipping their freshly washed hair off their shoulders. Then the parade stopped. No one else came out. She checked her phone and saw that she’d been standing here for almost twenty minutes. In another five the bell would ring, alerting the students they were now officially late to their next class. She didn’t want this encounter rushed, so she pushed through the door and went inside.
A long corridor ran alongside the gray tiled wall. Steam from the showers hung in the air on the right and lockers lined up in U shaped sections on the left. Emma paused and listened. One locker door slammed shut up ahead.
She walked up the rows. And turned where she heard the locker slam.
Sitting on the benches were five or six girls, all staring intently at their phones. In the center of them all Margaret sat casually with her own phone in her lap, but she wasn’t looking at it. She looked at Emma as if she’d been waiting for her. Her eyes were a chilly wolf-gray, almost silver in the colorless light from the panel windows above them. Margaret smiled.
“Hi, Emma,” she said. “I thought you’d never join us.”
Emma tried to say something, but the words caught in her throat. The other girls hadn’t even looked up to acknowledge her presence. Emma Gardener, leader of their school, was standing right in front of them and not one looked up. Rage fell on her like a heavy cloak, and with it came an emotion she was far less used to. The beginnings of fear.
“You,” Emma said, sweeping her eyes across the other girls. “Put your fucking phones down and get out of here. Now.”
But they ignored her. Polished thumbnails pushed the screens around, tapping here and there, and with each passing second, Margaret’s smile grew wider.
“They’re busy setting up their profiles,” she said. “You should too. There are some people who’d like to talk to you.”
Emma stepped into their semi-circle, glaring down at the new girl. “Listen bitch. I don’t know what you are talking about, but we’d better get a few things straight right now. I –”
“’own this school,’” Margaret finished for her. “Yeah, I know. And it’s a nice school, too. The culture is a little stiff – people seem…edgy – but things will loosen up.” Margaret held her phone out in front of her, a midnight blue Samsung 5x. “Go ahead and set up your profile. You can use mine if you want.”
“Yeah, Emma.” One of the other girls stood up. “Set it up.”
Two others stood up, and then they were all standing and saying, almost chanting: “Set it up, Emma. Come on.”
Emma backed away from them. Behind her she heard the slow plink of water from the shower heads hit the checkered tile. It sounded like mini-explosions at her feet.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you all,” Emma said, straining to keep the emotion out of her voice. Her eyes narrowed and she managed a grim smile of her own. “But you can be sure this isn’t over.”
“Oh, no,” Margaret replied. “It’s just beginning.” Her smile was like a half moon in a midnight sky, cold and lifeless.
Emma turned and left and all the way to the door they started chanting again. Set it up, Emma. It’s fun. Set up your profile. Emma made it out of the gym before she broke into a run.
Later that day she sat in Mrs. Packard’s Biology class. Way in the back. It was halfway through the class and everyone was unusually attentive. Most days, you could hear stifled snickering at some whispered joke or hidden texting around the class – none of that today. It was as if the entire class had decided to become biology majors overnight, everyone except Emma and Nadia who wrinkled their faces at this newfound ass-kissiness among their peers. Nadia sat at the desk on Emma’s left, and in front of her was a favorite target of theirs – Laura Blake. Laura was a normal girl in most respects. She had friends and she dressed okay, but she played violin in the school string ensemble, and one day she played a lengthy solo in front of the entire high school during a Christmas concert. She played beautifully and when it was over she stood up to thunderous applause. The next day, Emma and her friends found Laura walking home with her violin case in hand. They circled her like wolves.
Betcha think your hot shit with your little fiddle don’t you? You think you’re better than me cuz you’re a band fag? Hey bitches, check it out! It’s Yo Yo Blake!
Laura did not correct them on the fact that Yo Yo Ma was a cellist.
The girls took her violin and tossed it down the steep bank toward the Lamoille River, where it came to rest on a skim of thin black ice. Without saying a word, Laura started down the bank and Emma shoved her, laughing as she watched the girl tumble down through the snow and dead leaves to the bottom. The next day Laura had scratches on her face, and a brand new name – Yo-Yo. She was a favorite of Emma’s because, no matter what they did, the girl never fought back. Emma and Nadia had not chosen Laura or any of her geek friends as a target for Ask…yet. Today, Emma decided to fuck with her a little.
“Hey Nadia! Nadia!” Emma whispered with just the right volume. “I’ll bet Yo-Yo is going to take that stupid fiddle to the prom. What do you think?”
Nadia snickered and replied, “Not only that, she’ll stay out all night with it. Take it to the backseat of her mom’s car!”
Both of them laughed and dug in some more, watching for a reaction from Laura. A shift in her posture, a twitch in her cheek muscle, or, better yet, tears. They’d been working on Laura for a while now, at least two months, and at this stage it took much less effort to stoke the fire, but Laura sat straight and relaxed, looking pleasantly on the teacher. An arrow of irritation shot through Emma’s gut and she decided right then that Laura would be the next one to be Asked.
Why are you still alive, you pathetic little cunt? Emma growled on the inside. She glanced at Nadia and saw the same confusion and uncertainty that she herself felt – something had changed, and it wasn’t good – and seeing this weakness on her friend’s face only enraged her more. At the front of the room Mrs. Packard was droning on about family and class and phyla, and Emma stayed still as a panther until the teacher’s back turned. She reached over to grab a length of the nasty little bitch’s hair and, without turning around or even looking her way, Laura caught her by the wrist. Her grip felt cold and stronger than steel, and with one quick move she wrenched it clockwise. Emma gasped in shock in pain as she fell forward out of her seat, banging her knee on the hard tile floor. Laura released her wrist, picked up her pen and went back to taking notes, never once looking at her attacker. The room fell silent and Emma, still on her knees with hair hanging in her face, looked up to see all the students staring at her – staring and smiling.
“Why are you still alive, Miss Gardner?” Mrs. Packard asked with her back turned to the class. She was scrawling on the chalkboard.
“Wh-what?” Emma asked as she slid back into her seat. Her arm throbbed and her knee felt like it was screaming.
Mrs. Packard turned around and planted one hand on her hip, her trademark gesture of irritation. “I said, ‘Can you tell us about phyla. Please.’”
“I…” Emma swallowed hard. “I can’t.”
“Maybe if you stayed in your seat and paid attention things might be different, would you agree?”
“Yes,” Emma replied. Her face burned with humiliation. Her classmates were no longer looking at her, the moment of true amusement now passed, but she could feel them looking at her in other ways. She felt miniature, no bigger than the pens in their hands, squirming helplessly as their gleeful eyes looked down on her.
Mrs. Packard threw the question to someone else and just then a note landed on Emma’s desk, folded into a tight square. She looked around to see where it came from and no one gave her eye contact. She unfolded the note.
Set it up, it said.
That night, Emma sat on the floor of her bedroom with her Macbook in her lap. She felt embarrassed, confused and alarmed. Her classmates had changed, literally overnight – everyone except herself, Nadia and Trudy – and the incident in Packard’s class seemed to hint at what was to come. All day long she tried to assert her dominance in the usual ways, but no one paid her any mind. The people she used to torment now just sat and listened to the teachers and when the bell rang they pulled out their phones and went right to DeathChat. She could see it from where she sat.
Only then did they appear to notice Emma. They looked up from their screens and stared at her with disgust and pity. It made her want to scream in their stupid, fucking faces. Who are YOU to look at me that way? Who are YOU??
Now she sat on the floor with her fleece nightie on, even though it was only seven o’clock. Her back rested against the bed frame. A glass of strawberry milk with a bendy straw sat on a book beside her. She looked down at the DeathChat registration page. It was creepy all right – vague human shapes pressed through a dark misty background like tombstones.
She pressed the first key, tentatively, feeling the hairs prickle on the back of her neck, then her phone buzzed to life next to her, causing her to jump and nearly spill her milk.
Nadia was calling.
Emma stared at the phone. Her friends never called. Text was always the accepted method of communication. She picked it up, staring at her friend’s profile pic. Was it only a day ago that they’d ruled the school? Before she finished the thought the call went to voicemail. She continued to hold the phone until it buzzed again, telling her the message was ready. She thumbed to voicemail, hit the playback button, and raised it to her ear.
She heard the muffled thump of the phone hitting a countertop, then Nadia’s voice roared into the ear piece, shaking with hysterics. “Emmaaa…Emma, are you there!” She paused as a racheting sob seized her throat. “You have to listen to me…I…I signed up on DeathChat and…oh God, Emma they’re here! All of them! Cybil, Rachael…and I think…”
Emma held the phone away from her ear, her neatly manicured nails pressed tight against the case. It trembled in her hand as Nadia’s tiny hysterical voice bellowed out.
“They’re asking me to do things and I…I can’t get them to stop! Oh fuck, Emma, call me. CALL ME NOW!”
The call ended and she continued to stare at the phone, unsure of what to do. When she finally dialed back there was no answer. She tried several times throughout the night, calling, texting. No response. She tried Trudy and got through.
“Prolly broke up with Mike,” Toni texted. “She’s such a drama queen. I can’t understand her when she’s crying either. I’ll bet he dumped her.”
“Maybe,” Emma replied.
The next morning Emma came down the staircase and she found her parents sitting on the sofa, speaking in hushed tones. She paused when she saw the fatigue and worry on their faces. Cups of coffee sat untouched on the table.
Emma looked at their faces and a terrible thought pounced on her mind and she pushed it away…far away…but when her mother spoke it somehow came back.
“Sweetheart,” she said, “come downstairs. Your father and I…we have something to tell you.”
Emma joined them in the living room, sat down on the overstuffed La-Z-Boy, and tried to listen. But when her mother got to the part about how where Nadia’s parents found her – in the bathtub, steak knife in one hand, her phone clutched in the other – Emma had just enough in her to scream before she hit the floor.
The morning of Nadia’s funeral was the coldest day of the spring. Black shoes crunched on salt bleached sidewalks as people hurried from their cars to the heavy oak doors of St. Thomas’s parish. Emma sat with her parents in the back, watching people come in. They blew into their cupped hands and found a seat quickly. Emma was surprised at the people who didn’t show up, especially Trudy. Selfish little bitch, she thought, choking back tears. I can’t believe I’m stuck with her.
The pastor walked to the alter, threw a quick blessing over Nadia’s linen draped casket, and started the service. Halfway through Emma quietly excused herself to the bathroom. She went down the staircase in the front to the basement where bible school classes were held. Long tables lined the hall with fold up chairs pushed against them. A freshly cleaned chalkboard sat under a sliding window, and a golden beam of sunlight fell on a girl sitting at a table with her back to the door. Jet black hair streamed down her shoulders, shining with sunlit dust motes drifting by.
“Hello?” Emma said, walking in. “The service is upstairs if you are looking for –”
“Hey.” Margaret Alby turned around and smiled at her. She placed her phone down on the table. “What’s new?”
“Y-you,” Emma allowed herself to be shocked for one second, then her face darkened. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I came to see how you are doing. This can’t be easy, I know.”
Margaret gave her a sympathetic smile. “If it helps at all, she’s in a better place. In fact, she’s right here.” She held her phone up. “Would you like to ask her something?”
Emma glared down at her, hands shaking at their sides. “After this is over,” she said, “I’m going to find Trudy, and together, we are going to kill you.”
Margaret’s brow dimpled with confusion. “Isn’t that who we are talking about?”
“This is Nadia’s funeral, you bitch!”
“Yeah, I got that, but…I thought you knew.”
Around a stifled smile, Margaret said, “Your girl Trudy signed up for DC this morning. Then she went to her father’s closet and got his handgun. She put it between those cute little braids, and blew her brains all over her MacBook Air.
Emma walked through a valley of unspeakable beauty. Green trees drooped over a gentle mist that played around her toes. Honey colored sunlight looped through the clean air, lighting the majestic landscape before her. She looked down at herself and saw she was wearing her nightgown. She giggled and walked on.
Pressed into the grassy field ahead was a pond, smoother than ice. A brown mare stood beside it, lapping gently from the edge. When the horse raised her long neck, water dripping from her soot colored nose, Emma petted her cheek gently. She looked down at the water and saw shapes moving across the surface.
Am I dreaming? she asked herself. Thoughts rose to the surface of her mind slow and lazy, just as the images in the smooth dark water began to brighten. She could see her parents sitting on the sofa in their living room, their faces just slightly blurred by the water’s skin. They talked, although Emma couldn’t hear, but their faces said everything. They were worried, almost terrified, both of them snatching glances up the staircase toward Emma’s room. Her mother picked up her cell phone off the coffee table and started tapping on it. Her father leaned over her shoulder for a look.
They gave me a pill…to help me sleep, Emma realized. A hazy memory, leeching in. She watched her parents tap on the phone together and a crushing sense of dread fell over her. No Mom…don’t go there…don’t…
She squatted by the water, watching as their faces turned gray. Her mother put the phone down on the table and sat back, eyes staring blank and lifeless while her father got up from the sofa. He returned a moment later carrying a coil of yellow nylon rope, the same he’d used for countless years to haul the family Christmas tree home from Handy’s Tree Farm in Vergennes. He unspooled several yards of rope, then a stiff wind swept over the water and they vanished.
A harsh thud behind her made her jump. She turned and saw that the mare had collapsed on the ground. She leaned in for a closer look. It looked like it had been dead for months. Maggots played on the skin peeled back from her ribs. The eyes were gone, replaced by crusted bloody pits. As if to confirm this, a crow fluttered down onto its neck and started to peck at the right eye socket. Emma shrieked and rocked back onto her butt, scaring the bird away. Then another muted sound shook the ground…
Emma jerked awake in her bed. She looked around at her room, blinking away sleep, her lips smacking and trying to drive away the cottony taste the pills left in her mouth. She was dressed in the jeans and sweater she’d changed into after the funeral. Cold afternoon sunlight shined in her window, and the baseboard heater ticked like a mouse pawing at wood. She kicked her legs over the side of the bed and pushed herself to her feet. She felt weak, disoriented. Something about her dream, something had fallen and it was bad. She tried to remember…
“Mom?” she called as she staggered through the door. “Dad? I’m awake.”
Nothing but silence as she approached the top of the staircase. Her foot took a tentative step down. It was powder blue with little snowmen on it. Her mother had tucked them into her stocking last Christmas.
“Dad??” she almost shouted. “Say something!”
She willed her feet to keep moving and eventually the living room came into view. She saw four legs swinging gently in the air like human wind chimes, and Emma shook her head in disgust.
“You know how I feel about that! What are you two trying to pull, huh?”
She went over to the TV, turned it on, and found Terminator 2 on. “There, Dad, now isn’t that better? You shouldn’t spend so much time staring at your phone.”
She walked over and wrapped the remote with his fingers, which were already cold and stiffening. The plastic wand dropped uselessly from his hand when she let go.
“And you, Mom. I’ve got something for you too.” Emma walked to the loveseat and gathered the half-finished scarf mother had been knitting, along with the needles and ball of yarn. She folded her mom’s arms over it. “You get busy and finish this. It’s cold out there, you know.”
It fell to the floor in a loose heap as Emma walked off, calling out, “I’m going out for a while, okay? I’ll be home before dinner.”
The nylon rope creaked against the ceiling beam in response.
“Seeya later!” Emma called, as she pulled her coat on in the mudroom.
The world outside was calm as a windless lake. Emma walked up Floral Avenue, pushing through the puffs of steam billowing from her mouth. She zipped her coat up tighter and pushed her face into it. She passed the Thompson house, where a car was running inside an enclosed garage. Further down the street, Francis and Harriet Goldman, an old couple that had lived in Waterford since Moses was a boy, sat together on the porch swing, a shotgun cradled in Francis’s arms. Their brains were drying on the weathered-gray clapboard siding behind them. Emma could see an iPhone resting in Harriet’s mittened hand, and she wondered, with some amusement, how the woman could possibly know how to use the phone, much less get around a social media site.
Minutes later, she found herself standing in front of Champlain Union High. The buses were all parked in the garage adjacent to the faculty lot. The soccer field beyond was deserted. A breeze kicked up and scattered papers across the front lawn. Today is Wednesday, Emma thought. They’ll be serving pizza and chicken nuggets for lunch.
She tested the heavy glass doors at the entrance. They were open. She let herself in and walked down the hall, the heavy scrape of her shoes echoing ahead of her. Here and there she saw a few bodies. Mrs. Browning, the eleventh grade trig teacher was slumped across her desk with a pistol in her hand. A large white gash in the chalkboard sat like a bite mark where the bullet exited her head and spread her brains across the definition of PI. Emma walked on. She came to Mrs. Harris’s homeroom and saw the door was open slightly. She peeked inside. Margaret Alby was standing at the chalkboard, writing in neat vertical columns. Emma came in and sat at a desk in the center of the room, and saw that she was writing names, names of the girls Emma and her friends had convinced to kill themselves. Over and over, she wrote them all: Rachel Portman, Cybil Newblum, Sheri Townshend, Mary O’Donnell…
“Hi, Emma!” Margaret said as she turned around. Her hair looked so dark against her pale skin it seemed to melt into the black sweater she wore. She walked over and sat at a desk beside her. “How’s the family?”
Emma’s whole body started to shake uncontrollably. Tears pelted her hands. She saw that her fingernails were chipped and cracked, which made her cry harder. “Why are you doing this?” she asked in the small polite voice of a little girl.
“Oh, I can’t take credit for this. Wish I could. You are responsible for all of it. You and your friends. No one is good enough to exist in your world, isn’t that right? You showed them the door, Emma. All I did was open it.”
Emma’s voice broke through her strangled sobbing. “I can’t do this anymore. I want them all back. Can you bring them back?”
“Can you bring them back?” Margaret repeated in a mocking voice. “Jesus, how did you make it to eleventh grade? You dumb fucking blondes always ask this. Maybe if I put it in a tweet you’ll understand: Death is permanent, Emma. Permanent. It cannot be taken back.”
Emma lowered her face into her hands and bawled. Her body felt like it was shrinking under the weight of her grief.
“’Why are you still alive?’ That’s what you asked them. That was your knockout punch. Your coup de mort. Well, Emma. You did an even better job than you’d hoped for. Everyone who wasn’t good enough is gone. Now it’s just you.”
Margaret reached over and touched her hand. “You’ll get used to it. Hell, you always wanted to be queen of the school! Look at you now! No one can touch you. And that includes you. If you try to swallow some pills or jump off a bridge or take a bath with a razor, like your friend Nadia, it will hurt, but you won’t die. No matter how hard you try, you cannot kill yourself. It’s a consolation prize for all your hard work.”
Margaret stood up and stretched. “And I think it’s time for me to go, as well. There’s another girl somewhere who needs a little self-discovery, just like you. So I must be going now.”
“NO! Please don’t leave me here alone!” Emma reached out and grabbed her arm. It felt ice cold even through her sweater sleeve.
Margaret’s eyes gleamed. “I’m not leaving you alone, Emma. Here.” She reached into Emma’s coat pocket and withdrew her iPhone. She placed it on the desk. Emma looked at the device as if she’d never seen one before, a rectangle of plastic wrapped in a zebra colored case.
“Go ahead and sign in,” Margaret said. “There are some people there who would love to keep you company.”
Margaret left the room and shut the door behind her while Emma stared at the phone in her hands. With trembling fingers, she scrolled to the DeathChat app and signed up. She knew which names would pop up even before they did. Rachel Portman, Cybil Newblum, Sheri Townshend, Mary O’Donnell...they were all online.
Before she could think of a question to ask, they all replied with the same response: