- Author: Kate Doughty
Book online «The Follower Kate Doughty (general ebook reader .txt) 📖». Author Kate Doughty
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To my parents, whose warnings about the dangers of social media have clearly been taken to heart
The cassette slips out of Alex’s trembling hands and clatters to the floor. She dives for it, and when she picks it up, her hands are still shaking. She whips around, half-convinced that she’s being watched, but the third-floor hallway is empty. She reaches back into the house’s ancient dumbwaiter—a favorite hiding spot—and pulls out a tape recorder.
Below her, she can hear the soft noise of the radio and the occasional clatter as her mother makes dinner for Frank. Normal sounds. Homey sounds. Sounds that don’t fit with how off she feels. The stairs behind her go down, down, down all the way to the first floor, where her mother is blissfully unaware of Alex’s terror, humming and making pasta and waiting for Alex’s father to get home from work. She doesn’t believe Alex. No one does.
The hallway is empty but Alex still feels too exposed. So she climbs the staircase up to the fourth floor of the mansion. The turret room.
A small bed is tucked into a nook, overhung with a pink tulle awning. The walls are covered in paintings of the flora and fauna of upstate New York; the bay window looks out onto a beautiful view ending in the faint silhouettes of far-off mountains.
Alex sees none of this. Instead she crouches down and fumbles with the tape player, ready to listen. Listen for—something she can’t quite place. Some kind of proof of what she suspects. Of the danger that she is in.
She stands up and goes to the door. Locks it.
Alex sits on the floor, inserts a blank white tape into the recorder with a familiar snick, and presses Play.
A loud thump echoes from below. The hair on Alex’s arms prickles. “Mom?” she asks, her voice quiet and shaky. Something feels strange; something is wrong.
“Dad?” It’s not until her voice comes out that Alex realizes how close she is to crying. Maybe he is home. Maybe . . . She rushes to the open window, leaning out and scanning for his car in the driveway below.
Alex chokes off a scream.
Her mother is in the driveway. But it isn’t her mother, because Mom’s eyes aren’t glassy like that; Mom’s limbs don’t bend in that way, jointless and broken, like a rag doll’s. Mom isn’t bleeding from a gash in her chest—she can’t be, because Mom is in the kitchen, making lasagna and singing to herself . . .
Except the house is quiet. Quiet except for one soft noise behind Alex. A soft noise that Alex can’t hear over her panicked breathing, over the terror of seeing Mom like that, so far down below, so still that she can’t possibly be real.
The soft click of the dead bolt unlocking.
Alex is still staring down at her mother when something slams into her from behind. She lurches forward and the cassette player falls to the floor. Buttons mash; Record pops up in place of Play.
For one long second, Alex is in the air. Weightless.
And then she is not.
The sound of Alex’s impact fades into a still, thick silence. Inside the turret room, the door is locked once more. The sound of footsteps—normal now, not the catlike quiet it had once been—slowly fades as they descend toward the two bodies on the pavement. In the space before the sirens, the screams, a father’s cries of anguish, there is only one noise. One noise, so soft that it would be impossible to catch unless someone knew it was there. Unless someone was listening, very closely, for it.
The click-a click-a of a cassette reaching the end of its tape.
Cecily’s laugh echoes across the lawn.
“No, not like that,” says Rudy. “Laugh prettier.”
Cecily stops laughing and glares at Rudy.
“Just a few more,” Amber coaxes from behind the camera. She needs just one more good picture of her sister. “Leg out, back arched, label to camera—”
Cecily repositions herself and smiles warmly up at Amber’s phone. Amber can’t stop herself from thinking how gorgeous Cecily is. Tanned skin, waves of blond hair, tiny waist. Crystal glass raised in celebration. Behind her, party lights twinkle on the patio. The suits and bright cocktail dresses of far-off guests fade into the background as she extends one pointed foot—a trick to make her legs look even longer—and pops a hip to maximize the effect of her skintight dress.
“Perfect,” Rudy says. “And . . . laugh. But pretty this time!”
“Ignore him. And don’t laugh; cough,” Amber instructs. It’s one of her tricks; the secret to a “candid” laughter pic. Amber knows all the tricks to a good Instagram picture by now. After all, it’s been the Cole family’s livelihood for years. She’s already contemplating the best filter to use: probably Evanscene or Nightglow. Party lights surround Cecily like a halo. It’s perfect