- Pages: 384 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
- ISBN: 9780593625453
An Excerpt From
One Last Breath
Usually, it's the soft sound of the knife that wakes me. The noise it makes when it slices through the canvas. Like a whisper. I roll over to ask Celeste what it was that she said, but she can't answer because she's already dead. Staring and bloody.
So I run.
Other times when I imagine myself as Bailey, it's the crunch of leaves or the snap of a twig that makes me sit up straight in my sleeping bag.
I stare into the dark, not realizing that the rest of my life can be measured in minutes.
Even in my dreams, though, that night always ends the same way. With me dead. Floating on the surface of the spring. I fade into the blackness, my hair spreading out around me in a sea of blood, without ever knowing that Celeste and I have become the most famous citizens of Mount Orange, Florida.
But then I wake up. Take a deep breath. Hear the hum of the air conditioner. I count the old glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling and feel the softness of clean sheets against my skin. I inhale the mountain breeze dryer sheets my mother uses, even though neither of us have ever even seen a mountain in real life. Every time, I'm hit with this rush of relief. Because I'm not Bailey.
I'm not Celeste, either.
And instead of bleeding out in the water, right now I'm standing on the courthouse lawn while the high school choir sings a memorial song for two long-buried girls who have always felt more alive to me than any of the people standing here dripping in the late-May heat.
I squint and glance up toward the sky. All that smooth, endless blue reminds me of the surface of the freshwater springs that lie right outside the city limits. It's the perfect day to be free diving out at Hidden Glen, but I felt like I had to be here. So did everyone else, I guess.
Downtown Mount Orange is a three-block strip of insurance offices, real estate offices, and four or five junk stores that like to be called "antique shops." Other than the memorials to Bailey and Celeste scattered around town, and the old crime scene out at Hidden Glen Springs where they died, the only real things of interest are an old-fashioned ice cream parlor called The Cone Zone and a beauty salon called Kurl Up and Dye. Every business sports a dark green awning out front, and big planters of ferns and pink hibiscus line the sidewalks. It would be picturesque, probably, if you didn't live here.
But I do.
I wipe at my sweaty forehead and glance up at the Florida flag flying over the courthouse.
My home state is known for four things.
And serial killers.
There's Ted Bundy. Danny Rolling. Aileen Wuornos. The legendary Glades Reaper. He's maybe the worst of the worst. The things he did were so unspeakable that the mention of that name is enough to stop a conversation in its tracks. The original Florida boogeyman.
But I'm not thinking about him as I stand in the baking afternoon sun, struggling to fill my lungs with thick, wet air that feels more like warm oatmeal than anything else.
On a little stage at the front of the crowd, our illustrious mayor, Knox, is rambling on about the new memorial fountain in the town square. I'm not thinking about him, either, though.
I'm thinking about Bailey and Celeste again, our own local horror story.
The anniversary of the murders out at Hidden Glen is coming up in just a few weeks. It happened almost twenty years ago, but it's clear that nobody has forgotten about what went down out there that night, because everyone has gathered here in the hellish heat to see yet another memorial dedicated to our dead girls.
When we were little, my friends and I used to pretend to be them. We didn't understand that they were dead. Murdered. We only knew they were famous, their pictures framed in our school hallways and their names written on plaques all over town.
Once we understood the gruesome truth, we found other games to play. But I never lost my fascination with Bailey and Celeste.
When I reenact the murders in my mind, I always play her role. It's her eyes I see it all unfold through. Her panic that swells in my chest. Her last moments that play over and over in my head.
I look around the crowd. There are a lot of true-crime people here today. A couple hundred, at least. Podcasters and writers. Plus their fans, creepy murder enthusiasts who travel the country visiting beautiful places where ugly things happened. These are the kind of weirdos who get off on playing detective as they pore over clues on internet forums, and there are so many more of them than any normal person would think. That's why we need another memorial. Because the lines get too long at the first five. The murder ghouls might have to wait a few seconds to snap their selfies, which might piss them off. And we can't have our guests leaving town dissatisfied. What if they didn't stay for pie at the diner and antique shopping on Dickson Street? That would be a real tragedy for this town.
I glare at a woman who steps right in front of me, blocking my view. She doesn't even offer up an "excuse me" or a "sorry." She's too busy fanning herself with her hat as sweat soaks through the back of her fancy silk blouse. She's an out-of-towner. I can tell because they're always dressed too formally. The uniform of choice in Mount Orange is shorts and a swimsuit paired with flip-flops. Put on anything else, and you're gonna stand out.
It isn't only the tourists who turned out today. There are plenty of locals, too. I wave at some girls I know from school. And the lady who cuts my hair. But my eyes keep searching the crowd until they land on Celeste's mom. She skipped the last few memorial dedications, but today she's standing off to one side, staring up at the courthouse windows. When the mayor points her out, the crowd offers up a polite round of applause for the murder victim's mother. Her shoulders tighten, but her face never changes, and she never looks anywhere but up at those empty second-floor windows.
Knox is bellowing from the podium now, giving his best impersonation of a Southern Baptist preacher getting really worked up on this Sunday afternoon. "This mystery will be solved," he promises us, one hand raised skyward like he's waving a Bible. "The guilty will be punished! Someone knows who did this. And nothing stays a secret forever. The killer is someone's son. Someone's father. Someone's brother." He pauses for effect. "Maybe even yours."
Read more about this book and author