The Darkest Night

That night was the longest, most terrifying night of my life… well, at least at the time. I’d been scared before, so many times since JTG had first come into our lives… but that night at the mines… that was something else altogether. I thought we were going to die. I thought Steven was going to take us one at a time and torture us to death. I felt it in my bones… but it didn’t happen. We survived and we were left with nothing but unanswered questions.

How? How could Steven have been JTG? He was our friend. We trusted him. We all trusted him. Still, it didn’t really matter. All of our questions could be answered later, after all. The game was over and we had won. Or so we thought. We had gathered together, my friends Clara and Mary and I, while we waited for something to happen. For the police to come talk to us, or for our parents to arrive… something. That something turned out to be our other friend, Snow, coming over to join us.  

“Hey,” said Snow, giving us a little wave as she approached us. “Hell of a night, huh?”

“Yeah,” said Mary, her voice quiet. Mary typically was soft spoken, but that night she was even more so. “Are you…?”

“Okay?” Snow asked, arching her eyebrows. “No.  Not after today, no. I will be, though. We all will be now.”

“So Jackson really shot Steven?” Clara asked. “The police said, but we weren’t sure if…”

“He did,” said Snow softly. “He did it to save me. Steven was going to kill me. If Jackson hadn’t done what he did…  I hate it, but…”

“I don’t,” I said fiercely. I didn’t hate it and I didn’t care. I was glad Steven was dead. After everything he had done to us, everything he had put us through… I didn’t feel an ounce of remorse. He had betrayed us, tortured us… he had killed Sara. That son of a bitch had murdered our friend and I was positively giddy that he had paid with his life. “Steven did this to us. He killed Dennis. He killed Sara, he…"

“Steven didn’t kill Sara,” said Snow firmly. “Trust me on that one.” Wait… what? Of course Steven had killed Sara. We’d known it for months. We had been sure that JTG had killed Sara, so why would Snow say he hadn’t? If they had talked… Had Steven told her something? Had he told her he wasn’t the one who killed her? If so, why was she so certain Steven had told her the truth? It didn’t make a lot of sense I was on the verge of telling her so when Clara spoke up.

"Snow, if JTG didn't kill Sara... then who did?" Clara asked, her eyes wide with fear. Snow shook her head.

"I don't know who stabbed Sara, but Steven swore it wasn't him. He never lied to us, so I believe him. It wasn't him." Well, that answered that. Snow had a point, too. Steven didn’t lie. He used the truth to torment us. Then again, Steven did lie. He lied exceptionally well. He’d been lying to us for months, years even. He knew how to lie and manipulate, so what proof was there that he hadn’t killed Sara? I couldn’t know, but I wasn’t nearly as convinced as Snow seemed to be that Steven wasn’t the murderer.

"But then that means... there's another killer in Mistbrook Falls," said Mary. "Who? ​Why?"

"A question for tomorrow, I think. There are still too many secrets left in this town. Too many mysteries... too many lies," said Snow.

"Snow, I..." Mary began, but Snow shook her head.

"We'll talk about it tomorrow," she said, wiping a tear from her eye. "We can talk about it all tomorrow." Mary nodded, but she was clearly upset. I hadn’t paid much attention to their conversation. Despite the fact that there may or my not still be a killer on the loose, it had just hit me in that moment. The game was over. JTG was gone, dead. It was all over. We were free.

“It’s really over, isn’t it?” I choked out, my voice breaking as I began to cry. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t hold back the tears. I felt real happiness for the first time in months and the feeling overwhelmed me. “I mean, it’s really over? He’s gone, I… I never really thought…”

“It’s over, Nik,” said Snow. My friends gathered around me, surrounding me with warmth and love. I’ll always love those girls, no matter what happens. That’s just what we do. When one of us breaks down, the others shield us from the darkness. This time though, they weren’t protecting me. This time, as we sobbed together in the icy cold night air, we were crying with relief. The last few months had beaten us down. We were exhausted, weak, and desperate for the end. The end had finally come and we would survive. We had beaten JTG. We had won.

 “I just can’t believe it’s over,” said Clara, smiling around at us as we broke apart. “I mean… JTG really is gone. I can’t believe it. We… actually survived the game.”

That’s when our phones chimed. I knew, before I even looked at my phone, I knew. I knew who the text was from and I wanted to die. I couldn’t go on. I didn’t have the strength to keep going. I knew it was from JTG, but it just… it couldn’t be.

“Oh my God,” Clara gasped as she looked at her phone.

“It can’t be,” I whispered desperately. “It can’t be.”

“Does this mean…” Mary trailed off aimlessly, her ability to speak seemingly taken by the words on her screen.

The game’s not over until I say it is,” Snow read aloud. The next words she spoke sent a chill down my spine. I’d already read them, I knew what it said… but hearing it spoken aloud was terrifying. “I’m still here, bitches, and I know everything. JTG.”

The words hung in the air over the four of us like a thundercloud. It was impossible. Steven was dead. Jackson had shot him. He was dead, so that meant… it meant…

“Steven wasn’t working alone,” Mary whispered, the desperation heavy in her voice. “He… he had a partner, or… or something, he must have.”

“It makes sense,” said Clara. “All the things he did? Halloween, being everywhere… there’s no way one person did all of that. We should have seen this coming.”

“Steven never mentioned a helper,” Snow said thoughtfully. “It sounded like he was working alone, but… I don’t know. It would make sense, but if there’s someone else, then… I don’t even know where to start.”

“We never expected Steven to turn on us,” I reminded them. “We’ll just—” I broke off when I noticed Jackson limping over to us. He had an expression of pure terror on his face. I knew he must have gotten the same text that we did.

“Jackson? What are you doing up?” Snow exclaimed when she saw him. “You were shot!”

“In the shoulder,” said Jackson dismissively. “That’s not important right now.”

“Steven wasn’t working alone,” said Mary, holding out her phone. “I guess you got the same text we did?”

“What? No, I… I don’t know, I haven’t checked my phone,” said Jackson breathlessly. “No, I just remembered something. Do you remember the storm? The night we spent at the school? JTG sent me and Steven a text saying to meet him under the bleachers. We went out there in the rain for over an hour, but JTG never showed up.”

“Yeah, we remember,” said Clara. “It was the same night that JTG… attacked Snow. But Steven was with us all night, so…”

“JTG was attacking Snow at the same time Steven and I were out under the bleachers,” sad Jackson. “It couldn’t have been him. He left me for maybe ten minutes the whole night. He said he was going to circle the football field in case JTG was lurking somewhere nearby. I didn’t think anything of it, but… well, maybe he was talking to whoever went to attack Snow.”

“It’s possible,” said Snow. “Anything is possible at this point.”

“What are we going to tell the police?” I asked uncertainly, my throat dry. I hadn’t thought about it up until that point, but the police were going to question us. If JTG was still out there then she wouldn’t be happy with us if we started telling the truth about her. But if we were to lie then we’d only be digging ourselves into a deeper hole. Still, I didn’t see another option and I told them so. “I mean, we can’t exactly tell the truth now, can we?”

“If we do that JTG won’t be too happy with us,” said Clara dryly. “The game’s not over until she says it is, right?”

“Steven called us all here,” said Snow quietly, her gaze fixed on the ground. She was clearly thinking hard. It’s what Snow did best. She was the smartest of us all and although she had been wrong before, her plan would be as good as anything the rest of us could have come up with. I’d follow Snow no matter what she said. Over a cliff if she asked me to. We all would.

“Steven said he had a surprise for us,” said Snow. “He was our friend and we trusted him and… and then he tried to kill us. We don’t mention JTG at all. As far as we’re concerned, all of this started tonight.”

“So… we lie?” Jackson asked nervously.

“We… omit a few details,” said Snow delicately. “Steven did call us all here. We did trust him and he was our friend. Oh, and he also really did try to kill us. We’re just not saying anything about the rest of it.”

“Great,” said Mary weakly. “What could possibly go wrong?”

I shook my head wearily. What could possibly go wrong? Hmm, what indeed? Tired and distraught, I turned and stared out at the police line where a crowd of townspeople had started to gather. Noel, Kayla, and Ariana were standing amongst them, looking on with frightened expressions on their faces. I wasn’t surprised to not see my own parents there. Snow and Clara had parents that actually loved them. I was not so lucky. I was only nearly murdered, after all. So what? That’s just another day in Mistbrook Falls, right? Who cares? My parents certainly wouldn’t.

I was being harsh and I knew it, but I didn’t care all that much. I wasn’t being unfair. They didn’t care. They never cared. Why would that night be any different? Most kids would never truly wish they were adopted. I did every single day. At least then maybe, somewhere out in the world, I might have a parent that actually wanted me… instead of two who wished I’d never been born.

My musings were interrupted by a police officer coming over to us and informing us that we would all be taken down to the police station so we could be questioned about what had happened. To say that I was scared would be a massive understatement. I trusted Snow and her plan, but it was a very shaky plan. We had no way to know what we would be asked, so it would be only too easy for one of us to contradict the other. Unfortunately, we had little time to organize our lie because we were quickly ushered into the back of MFPD police car. Jackson was being taken to the hospital first to have his gunshot wound properly treated. He would be questioned later.

We couldn’t talk about it as we were driven across town since the officer driving would overhear. In fact, none of us seemed to wait to speak at all as the patrol car accelerated away from the abandoned mine. Unable to bear the silence, I dug into my pocket and took out my cell and earphones. I hit shuffle on my music playlist, settled back in my seat and closed my eyes as the first song began to play.

First things first
I'mma say all the words inside my head
I'm fired up and tired of the way that things have been, oh ooh
The way that things have been, oh ooh

Second things second
Don't you tell me what you think that I could be
I'm the one at the sail, I'm the master of my sea, oh ooh
The master of my sea, oh ooh

I was broken from a young age
Taking my sulking to the masses
Writing my poems for the few
That look at me, took to me, shook to me, feeling me
Singing from heartache from the pain
Taking my message from the veins
Speaking my lesson from the brain
Seeing the beauty through the...

Mary nudged me with her elbow and I jerked in surprise. She was holding her phone out to me with a text message she had typed shining on the screen.

What are we going to say? I shrugged, giving her a look of uncertainty. What were we supposed to say? Any of us? If we made a mistake, if we contradicted each other everything would fall apart. But trapped in that car, we couldn’t talk about it. We couldn’t discuss it as we were guided into a waiting area in the police station, nor in the waiting area itself as we were never left alone. Instead, we were watched over by a police officer until our parents arrived. Well, Clara and Snow’s parents anyway. Mine and Mary’s had not yet made an appearance. Again, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I suppose it didn’t.

My friends were taken to be questioned one at a time, while the rest of us sat in silence in the waiting area. Snow went first, leaving Kayla and Ariana sitting alone on the opposite side of the room talking together in low voices. Clara and Noel sat next to them, unspeaking. Noel had her arms wrapped tightly around her daughter as though her very life depended on the blonde girl never leaving her embrace. As much as I hated to admit it, I would have given almost anything to be held like that by a parent. I never had been, not in my short sixteen years. I doubted I ever would.

Mary sat next to me on the opposite side of the room. She was staring blankly at the far wall, her expression unreadable. I imagined my own expression was similar to hers. I was trying my damnedest not to think. I didn’t want to think. My life… our lives… everything had gone so wrong. I understood, so clearly, why Snow had been driven to try taking her own life. I couldn’t blame her as I had thought about it myself. It would have been easier than this. But I couldn’t do it. There’s no way I could check out and leave the girls, my sisters, to fight this fight alone. We were a team and I had to stick with them. I didn’t blame Snow for her choice, but it wasn’t one that I could make.

Growing bored and more nervous by the second, I pushed my earphones back into my ears and pressed play on my phone again. At the very least I could listen to some music to kill some time and hopefully ease my nerves.

Third things third
Send a prayer to the ones up above
All the hate that you've heard has turned your spirit to a dove, oh ooh
Your spirit up above, oh ooh

I was choking in the crowd
Building my rain up in the cloud
Falling like ashes to the ground
Hoping my feelings, they would drown
But they never did, ever lived, ebbing and flowing
Inhibited, limited
Till it broke open and rained down
And rained down, like...

Mary was taken away when Snow returned a half hour later. Another half hour had passed before Mary came back and Clara went for questioning. It was well after midnight before the officer returned with Clara and asked for me. Mary’s parents had arrived while Clara was being questioned, but still my own hadn’t come. I’d like to say I wasn’t hurt. I wish I could say I wasn’t scared and desperate to be comforted by my warm, loving parents, but I couldn’t. I was a sixteen-year-old girl that was about to be questioned about a murder and had to lie. I was terrified and no one was there for me.

I left the waiting room and followed the officer down the hall to Interrogation Room A. I shuddered at the word ‘interrogation’. I knew we weren’t technically in trouble. The police just wanted to know what had happened. They wanted the truth… which was exactly what we couldn’t give them. The only thing that calmed me was that when the door opened, it was Snow’s cousin Sophia that came into the room. She smiled reassuringly at me as she sat down on the opposite side of the small metal table in the middle of the room.

“Sorry to keep you waiting so long, Nikki,” said Sophia gently. “I’m the only detective in the office tonight. Everyone else is going through that mine with a fine tooth comb. Anyway… how are you feeling? Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

“I’m fine,” I lied. I needed a lot of things, but nothing Sophia could give me. “I just want to go home.”

“Well, we’ll try to get you out of here and into bed as quickly as possible,” Sophia told me quietly. “I just need to ask you a few questions first.” She opened her folder and I visibly stiffened. I couldn’t screw this up.

“So, you received a call from Steven telling you to meet him at the old mine tonight? Is that correct?”

“Yes,” I said, deciding it was best not to elaborate. If I kept my answers short and concise there was less opportunity to contradict my friends.

“Did he tell you what he wanted?” Sophia asked. “Did he say why he wanted you to go up there? That seems like an odd place to meet.”

“No, just… just that he wanted all of us to come meet him,” I replied, silently praying that none of the others had said anything differently. If they had…

“So you go up to the mines with Clara and Mary and… what happened, exactly?”

“He attacked us… knocked us out,” I said, trying to be as vague as I could without seeming suspicious. “He locked me, Clara, Mary, and Jackson off by ourselves but he took Snow deeper into the mine. He… he tortured her for a long time, I… I could hear her screaming…” That part was completely true. We had heard Snow screaming and for the rest of my life I would never forget that sound. I can’t begin to imagine how much pain she must have been in… how scared she must have been. I didn’t want to know.

“Yes, I… she told me about that,” said Sophia thickly. “She’s okay, I think, she just… I’ve known that girl since she was three years old, so to hear her tell me what that… what Steven did to her, I…” Sophia broke off and cleared her throat. “That’s not why we’re here. I’m sorry, I know you want to go home so we’ll make this quick.”

“No, it’s okay,” I said quickly. “Snow is your cousin! Of course this is hard for you. It’s hard for me… for all of us.”

“Thank you, Nikki,” said Sophia, sounding quite grateful. “This has been a tough… well, last few months. Anyway, what happened next?”

“Well, we managed to escape the room Steven trapped us in,” I explained. “Jackson went off to try to find Steven and Snow. The rest of us tried to find the exit and while we were walking we heard the gunshot. That’s really all I know. I never talked to Steven or anything. I don’t even know why he did this.” That was also true. I didn’t know why Steven had done all of this. I could only assume that Snow knew more than the rest of us did, but I couldn’t be sure. She hadn’t had time to tell us everything that had happened.

“We have some idea why,” said Sophia. My heart dropped into my stomach. What did she know? “We’ve spoken to Steven’s parents and we’ve learned some rather… well, disturbing details. I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but given the circumstances… Steven has been in therapy for much of his life for a number of mental and behavioral disorders. His doctors had him on a pretty intense cocktail of medications to help him with his obsessive and at times violent tendencies. We suspect, although we won’t know for sure until the autopsy is complete, that Steven stopped taking his medication. There’s still a lot we don’t know and this investigation is far from over, but we have a place to start.”

Holy shit! Steven was, quite literally, crazy. In some ways it made sense, but in others I wasn’t so sure. There were still so many questions and for the first time since this all started, the police were involved. JTG’s game had just become that much more dangerous.

“What… what about Jackson?” I asked, giving voice to one of my fears. “Are his parents going to—”

“Press charges?” Sophia asked. “No. They are not. Given the circumstances, it’s pretty clear that Jackson did what he had to do to protect himself and Snow. We’ll know more once I get to question Jackson, but I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”

My mind was going in a million different directions at once, and I found it quite hard to think straight. Luckily, Sophia only had a few more simple questions to ask and then we were finished. She thanked me as she ushered me into the hall, promising to call if she had any additional questions.  

Sophia hurried away down the hall, leaving me standing there alone. I was shaken by the interview, but in the end it seemed to have gone well. It didn’t appear that we were in any trouble, nor did the police seem to have any knowledge of JTG. Those were both very good things. Deciding I could only stand around stupidly in the corridor, the gray walls pressing in on me, for so long before I started looking suspicious so I set off back to the waiting area. I had barely taken three steps before my friends appeared around the corner and rushed toward me.

“Oh, you’re done,” said Mary when she, Clara, and Snow reached me. “How’d it go? Did she ask you about…” Mary trialed off, her eyes locked on a point over my shoulder. I turned to look and saw a very tall man dressed in a fine suit walking toward us from the direction Sophia had gone. His deep brown eyes were narrowed as he marched toward us.

“Clara… Nikki… Mary… and Snow,” the man said, his deep gravelly voice startling all four of us. My friends and I all took an involuntary step back from the man. He intimidated the hell out of us.

“I’m sorry, do we know you?” Clara asked him, glancing at the rest of us uncertainly.

“I’m Agent Morales,” said the man. “Agent Daniel Morales, FBI.” He held out his badge for us. “I’m going to need to talk with each of you.”

“We were just interviewed by a detective,” said Snow. “Why is the FBI investigating what happened tonight? I’m pretty sure this isn’t normally a case that would require federal assistance.”

“I’m not investigating the events of tonight,” said Morales dismissively. “I’m investigating the death of Miranda Sinclair. I understand you had a… complicated relationship with the victim.” I have never in my life seen four girls look more guilty than we did in that moment. I’m surprised Morales didn’t arrest us right then and there. Why was the FBI investigating Miranda’s death? The police believed her death was accidental. No one had ever even questioned it, so why now? That was an abundantly stupid question for me to ask. There was only one reason and my friends and I all knew exactly what it was.

“We... we all talked to the police the night Miranda died,” said Clara nervously. “Everyone at the campground did.”

“And I fully intend to go over all of your statements,” said Morales firmly. “You see, my office received a call from the Mistbrook Falls Police Department earlier this evening. They were just provided with new evidence about this case. It’s no longer a case of an accidental death. It’s a murder.” He looked all four of us over and turned to walk away. He paused and turned back to us. “But you can rest assured that I will find out what happened that summer.”

As Morales turned and strode away, the police station’s overhead speakers suddenly burst to life and my heart dropped into my stomach.

Pain!
You made me a, you made me a believer, believer
Pain!
You break me down, you build me up, believer, believer
Pain!
Oh let the bullets fly, oh let them rain
My life, my love, my drive, it came from...
Pain!
You made me a, you made me a believer, believer

Last things last
By the grace of the fire and the flames
You're the face of the future, the blood in my veins, oh ooh
The blood in my veins, oh ooh
But they never did, ever lived, ebbing and flowing
Inhibited, limited
Till it broke open and rained down
And rained down, like...

Pain!
You made me a, you made me a believer, believer
Pain!
You break me down, you build me up, believer, believer
Pain!
Oh let the bullets fly, oh let them rain
My life, my love, my drive, it came from...
Pain!
You made me a, you made me a believer, believer

If the others noticed my look of shock, they made no mention of it. It was JTG, it had to be. She must have known, but how? Another stupid question. JTG knew everything. She always had. She always would. And now… now we had a new enemy, one we couldn’t fight if we wanted to.

“Do you… do you think he knows about…” Mary began uncertainly.

“Of course not,” said Clara earnestly. “How could he?”

“You did not just ask that,” said Snow dryly. “How else? You-know-who must have told him.” As if to prove the point, Clara’s phone began to vibrate in her pocket while the rest of ours chirped and chimed. Wordlessly, we all took out our phones and looked down at the screens.

Now things are going to get interesting. Your move. Game on, bitches --JTG