Chapter One

You say it's up to me to do the talking. You lean forward, place a box of tissues in front of me, and your black leather chair groans like a living thing. Like the cow it used to be before somebody killed it and turned it into a chair in a shrinks office in a loony bin.

Your stockinged legs make a shushing sound as you cross them. "Can you remember how it started?" you say.

I remember exactly.

It was at the last cross-country meet, right around the four-mile mark. Everybody had passed me, just like the week before and the week before that. Everybody — except a girl from the other team. We were the only ones left in the last stretch of the course, the part that winds through the woods and comes out behind the school. Our shadows passed along the ground slant-wise; slowly they merged, then her shadow passed mine.

The soles of her sneakers swam up and down in front of me, first one, then the other, a grid of ridges that spelled out the upside-down name of the shoe company. My steps fell in time with hers. My feet went where her feet had just been. She leaned in around a corner, I leaned in around a corner. She breathed, I breathed.

Then she was gone.

I couldn't even picture her anymore. But what scared me, really scared me, was that I couldn't remember the moment when I'd stopped seeing her. And I knew then that if I couldn't see her, no one could see me.

Sounds from the track meet floated by. A whistle trilling. Muffled applause, the weak sputtering of gloved hands clapping. I was still running, but now I was off the path, heading away from the finish line, past the cars in the parking lot, the flagpole, and the HOME OF THE LIONS sign. Past fast-food places and car repair shops and video stores. Past the new houses and the park. Until, somehow, I was at the entrance to our development.

It was starting to get dark now, and I slowed down, walking past houses with windows of square yellow light where mothers were inside making dinner, past houses with windows of square blue light where kids were inside watching TV, to our house, where the driveway was empty and the lights were off.

I let myself in and flipped the light switch. There was an explosion of light. The kitchen slid sideways, then righted itself.

I leaned against the door. "I'm home," I said to no-one.

The room tilted left, then right, then straightened out. I grabbed hold of the edge of the dinner table and tried to remember if we stopped eating there because it was piled with junk or if it was piled with junk because we stopped eating there.

On the table there was a roll of batting, a glue gun, a doily, a 1997 Krafty Kitchens catalogue. Next to the catalogue was a special craft knife with the word EXACTO on the handle. It was sleek, like a fountain pen, with a thin triangular blade at the tip. I picked it up and laid the blade against the doily. The little knots came undone, just like that. I touched the blade to a piece of ribbon draped across the table and pressed, ever so slightly. The ribbon unfurled into two pieces and slipped to the floor without a sound. Then I placed the blade next to the skin on my palm.

A tingle arced across my scalp. The floor tipped up at me and my body spiraled away. Then I was on the ceiling looking down, waiting to see what would happen next. What happened next was that a perfect, straight line of blood bloomed from under the edge of the blade. The line grew into a long, fat bubble, a lush crimson bubble that got bigger and bigger. I watched from above, waiting to see how big it would get before it burst. When it did, I felt awesome. Satisfied, finally. Then exhausted.