To most of the Facebook Fifteen, bullying Audrey Bales was just a game—until two deep cuts with a Swiss army knife changed everything forever. Audrey didn’t want attention anymore. After five weeks at Fairview High School, Audrey wanted to die.
The doctors did the only thing they could with her: they put her away.
But in Fairview, Virginia, the nightmare is only beginning. The chat session had not gone unobserved. The Facebook Fifteen have drawn the attention of an ancient evil that lives only to punish those who would prey upon the weak.
They are the ghosts of 1,000 dead children—1,000 suicides—and their master…
Their master likes Audrey Bales.
And as Audrey attempts to heal her mind and body, far from home, their master prepares for the revenge he will unleash upon her return.
16+ due to violence and adult situations
Underneath the blackened veil of her powered-off monitor, the comments kept coming, kept taunting her.
The observer had stopped watching. He leaned back in his chair, head upturned to the ceiling, eyes closed, still eating. The overripe apple had a worm in it, and he sucked it down.
He projected his sight outward, miles and miles from his little home. He didn’t know where he was anymore.
Somebody’s house. An empty room. A closet.
Here he first saw the girl, the one they were tormenting. Her Facebook icon had shown only a skull and crossbones. In real life, she might have been pretty, if she had not worked so hard to hide it.
Familiar too. Something in her eyes and her lips.
She was close, very close, to a bad decision.
She was imagining the ghost of her brother and talking to it, opening boxes that contained his possessions. She listened to him speak words the observer could not hear. Oh, he wished he could. From this distance all he could hear was the pain inside of her, the loneliness, screams within whispers. An oncoming storm.
It made him angry on her behalf.
He returned his gaze to the real world of his apartment. The five of them were still chatting, their cruel banter punctuated by internet abbreviations and emoticons, calling for Audrey-Bear to say something, say something….
More joined the chat.
He shook his head.
You deserve to die, he thought. All of you.
Audrey returned to her bedroom and closed the door. This time, she broke a house rule and locked it. She put the blanket back in place and thumbed the monitor back on.
It was nearly one in the morning, yet the number of people on Cody’s page had tripled. Stranger still was the activity coming through on her end.
She gazed in bewilderment.
Benny Talbot has sent you a friend request.
Heather Roberts has sent you a friend request.
Ally Watson has sent you a friend request.
Gabriel Daniels has sent you a friend request.
Eleven requests, all kids from school. Most of them had sent her personal messages too. Some were fake-friendly, some openly mocking. Most pretended to rally in her support, as if they had somehow stumbled upon this Internet lynching by accident, all at the same time, and were offended by it. A virtual party had gathered in Cody’s little corner of cyberspace, and Audrey was the game they were playing.
Had Maggie called or texted them all out of bed?
“Creative,” she said. “You’re really good at this.”
She wasn’t crying anymore. In fact, she was perfectly calm. With the ghost of her brother standing by her side, she set his old Swiss Army knife—he’d gotten it for Scouts, before he had quit—next to the keyboard.
Click Accept, her brother said. For all of them. Now, before they give up and start to log off.
She accepted them all, and the result was chat room bedlam. The comments came faster than she could read. Evidently this was the very height of hilarity.
And, naturally, as soon as she had accepted them all, one-by-one, they unfriended her, and posted.
Sry! Changed my mind!
What an idiot!
Inspired, she clicked the Like button over every comment. Then, ignoring the perplexed responses to that maneuver, she got to work.
She retrieved the gym shirt from under her bed. Most days this particular item of attire would have remained a crumpled ball in her P.E. locker after school, but she’d had to wear it all day, and so it had come home with her.
“Turn your head, Alex,” she said, as if he were really there.
And as if he were really there, he answered. Not looking, not looking.
Once she had the shirt on and smoothed it out, she sat back at her desk, got out her cell phone, tied her hair in a tail, and took a picture of herself.
When the first picture appeared on Cody’s page, the observer knew exactly what was coming. He’d seen it before. The details differed each time, but the common threads were easily picked out: theatrics, spite, spectacle—and from the other end, disbelief. Then there would be panic, frantic attempts to undo the damage, and afterward, there would be remorse.
From most of them.
The picture was off-center. The girl was smiling, posing. The mascara tracks on her face looked like war paint.
Val: OMG, she’s postin selfies!
Cody: Give us a twerk, emo.
How they didn’t see what was coming, the observer could not fathom. But that was part of the pattern too. Bullies, as a rule, didn’t get it until it was too late—for the victim, or less frequently, for themselves.
The observer was truly torn. On the one hand, if she went through with it, she’d set him free. He had made contact with her, though she didn’t know it, and he was the oldest within the host. After many, many years, it was his turn, and he would finally learn what lay beyond this purgatory. But on the other hand, he felt bad for her. He really did.
“Let’s go,” he said to the screen. The suspense was killing him. “What’s next, Audrey?”
A second picture came up even as the first was being liked and shared by nearly everyone on the page. This one silenced most of them.
Audrey was holding an unfolded pocket knife against her cheek with one hand while the other took the picture, still smiling, tilting her head.
At first, the only comment came from Maggie: Drama. Whatever.
Audrey responded: Stick around. This is for your benefit.
Everything slowed down, then. Time rolled out like an empty rug, the Facebook page inert and dead. Minutes passed with nothing.
Then, Val: Audrey?
Val again: Audrey, don’t be dumb. Come on.
Five minutes became ten.
Maggie: She went to bed. She wants us to worry all night. As if we would.
After fifteen minutes of relative inactivity, the final picture appeared.