Click HERE for Part One, and check below the story for an audio recording by Lady Spookaria and As the Raven Dreams.

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Mallory’s note came while I was on my lunch break. It was folded up and stuffed into an unmarked envelope, not sealed or stamped. Someone had dropped it on my desk without bothering to let me know.

    I opened the letter and read it over, taking the occasional sip from my peppermint mocha. (My coworkers mock me for choosing Starbucks over the local places, and I always remind them that unlike most people in the office, I wasn’t a Seattle native.) The letter was written in a scratchy, unprofessional hand, indecipherable in some places, but I got the gist of it: my life was in grave danger, I had to find a safe place to hide, someone was out to kill me, signed, Mallory Hankins, dated 11/22/17. I didn’t know the name, and the fact that she knew mine meant nothing to me – I was back on the clock, and I had Excel spreadsheets to look over.

    The next time I checked my phone, I swallowed quickly to avoid a visible reaction. It was a notification from YouTube – one of several I’d received recently – heralding a new trailer for the documentary. I knew Google wasn’t trying to push my buttons specifically – they had taken note of my search history, those late-night drunken excavations into the pop culture phenomenon I try to ignore while sober – but I couldn’t help feeling victimized every time I saw that same notification (EYES OF A KILLER: THE MACKENZIE WEAVER STORY (2018) | OFFICIAL TRAILER #3) pop up at the top of my screen. Fuck YouTube.

    After clocking out at six and returning some of my coworkers’ snide remarks in kind, I put on my gloves and scarf and stepped into the frigid Washington evening.

    The apartment complex I lived in at the time was expensive, in the upper-middle-nice part of town: double-digit stories, plants in the lobby, the kind of place that would have employed a doorman in a time before society began eschewing those types of dehumanizing occupations. It was the kind of apartment I never thought I’d be able to afford, growing up in a small Midwestern town – but things had gotten a lot better for me, after they got worse.

    There was a guy sitting outside my unit, crosslegged on the floor and staring at the opposite wall. He wore cheap shoes, what looked like second-hand clothes, and a shoulderbag. When he looked up at me, I saw he had dark hair and a vaguely Italian – maybe Spanish – complexion.

    “Sophie?” he said. “Rogers?”

    I ignored him and went to the door, producing my keys. He wasn’t buying the act though, and jumped to his feet.

    “Sophie Rogers,” he said. “I’m Emilio Clarke. I’m friends with Mallory Hankins.”

    That was the confirmation I’d been dreading: the namedrop that meant I couldn’t rightly keep ignoring him. “What can I help you with?” I asked, aiming for a polite, customer service tone: the kind of tone that would have sent my skin crawling a few years earlier.

    “Did you get our note?” he asked. Emilio had a panicked sort of look in his eyes that I didn’t think was situational: he was a nervous guy, in perpetuity.

    “Yes,” I replied, slowly shifting my keys in my hand so they stuck out between my fingers. There was very little crime in my neighborhood, but this looked like the start of a kidnapping situation and I didn’t like it.

    “So…” Emilio spread his hands and I stepped back. “What do you think?”

    “What do I think about the vaguely-worded note about how my life is in danger from someone I’ve never heard of?” I replied. “Is that what you’re asking me?”

    “I know it’s weird,” Emilio admitted, not looking me in the eyes. “But this is serious. Can I come in?”

    “No,” I snapped.

    “Will you at least come meet with me and Mallory?” he asked. “We can meet wherever you want, in a public place – but we really need to talk.”

    “Listen,” I said. “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.” Holy shit, I thought: I sounded like a real grownup. “Why don’t you call my office and have my secretary set something up?” I didn’t have a secretary, of course, but he didn’t need to know that. I stepped past him and stuck my key into the lock.

    “This is about Mackenzie Weaver,” he said from behind me.

    I paused, took a breath, and turned around. “So you’re one of those people,” I said.

    “One of what people?”

    “A fan.” I knew better than anyone how Mackenzie Weaver had invaded the public consciousness over the last few years, how her string of killings across the country were still being all but ignored by the police but had developed into a bit of a national obsession. It seemed like, these days, every time someone was killed with a sharp object it was blamed on the girl who had slaughtered my friends almost five years earlier. There was very little in the way of hard evidence that Mackenzie Weaver had come back to life and was on a revenge streak against her former classmates – and if anyone wanted to point out that several of my high school friends had indeed been murdered, well, their facts wouldn’t be able to penetrate the cold shield of denial I’d managed to build up. “You tracked me down and you want to drag me into the whole conspiracy thing. Well thank you, Emilio, but I’m not interested.”

    “It isn’t…like that,” Emilio said, and I could tell he was struggling to find the right words. “Mackenzie is real. I’ve seen her.”

    “You’ve seen cosplayers and crazy fans,” I told him. “People are hyped about the movie. But Mackenzie’s dead. I watched her die. Nothing can bring her back from getting shot in the head.”

    “Something did bring her back,” Emilio said. “And she killed a bunch of people who I think were your friends.”

    “No,” I said waving him off and opening my door. “No thank you.”

    “Rose Williams?” Emilio suggested. “Eddie Majors? Jimmy Eldredge?”

    I paused, trying to force myself to go inside and shut the door.

    Emilio’s voice was very quiet as he added, “Kimberly White?”

    I knew those names – of course I knew those names, I had spent my entire childhood with those people. I had grown up beside them, played with them, gone to school with them, and stood beside them in horror as Mackenzie killed seventeen people. Were they dead? I didn’t know. Or, more accurately, I didn’t want to know.

    Everything hinged on this – my job, my apartment, my rapidly-expanding savings account, even my potential relationship with the Starbucks barista I was like eighty percent sure wasn’t gay. I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t open my mind to the possibility that any of this was real.

    But in the end, my decision was made by Emilio – this strange twenty-something-year-old guy I’d never met before. Quietly, behind my back, he murmured a quick “Please,” and the utter despondence in that single word convinced me that, if he was lying, he didn’t know it.

    “Fine,” I said, turning around and locking the door. “I’ll give you an hour.”

    Emilio thanked me profusely and called his friend. I stood in the door and scrolled through my phone: aside from the first twelve months of the Trump presidency and the recent Star Wars film, Eyes of a Killer seemed to be one of the most common points of discussion on social media. Everywhere I looked, Instagram and Twitter were plastered with photos of a model dressed in Mackenzie’s traditional style: a World War I tank splatter mask, with its slatted eyes and chainmail concealing her neck. Some corners of the Internet had rewritten Mackenzie to be some kind of feminist icon, while others had turned her into a sex symbol. Both disgusting.

    When he got a hold of Mallory, Emilio asked where I wanted to go. I suggested the local coffee shop around the corner – when in Rome and all that – and we headed out. He offered to pay for my peppermint mocha, but I ended up paying for both: I was doing very well for myself, and Emilio looked like he’d seen better days. When I met Mallory, I realized he wasn’t alone in this.

    She was in her early twenties – same as us – and wore a baggy flannel shirt, ripped jeans, and work boots. Her hair was the color of straw and looked like it hadn’t been brushed in a few days; when she spoke, I noticed she was missing a tooth on the top.

    “It’s good to meet you in real life,” Mallory told me as we sat down at one of the window booths. She had ordered a coffee with one and two. “I mean I’ve seen you on Facebook but I’m glad we got here in time.”

    “In time for what?” I asked, knowing I didn’t really want the answer.

    Mallory took a deep breath. She and Emilio exchanged a look. “You…probably know that Mackenzie has been in the media a lot recently,” he said. “They’re making a movie about her.”

    “It’s a documentary,” I replied. “I keep getting the trailer recommended to me.”

    “I’m sorry, I’m sure that sucks,” he said. I made a sound of sarcastic agreement.

    “So you know about the murders,” Mallory put in. She had a sort of nervous, hyperactive force that was throwing me off-guard; her voice bore traces of a Midwestern accent, the kind I probably had before I managed to slip into a more generic American dialect.

    “Yes,” I replied, keeping my voice calm. “I was there.”

    My new friends exchanged another look. “Not…those murders,” Emilio said.

    “I know,” I snapped. Despite my best efforts to distance myself from my home town and the people therein – for both Mackenzie-related reasons and otherwise – I had accidentally caught something online about Kimberly White’s death the previous summer. I had done my best to ignore the articles and sympathy posts about the girl I had once considered little more than an acquaintance, but I wasn’t able to ignore the lingering doubts that surrounded her death.

    “Do you believe in her?” Mallory asked. She always had a weird, half-smile tugging at the corner of her mouth when she spoke, and I didn’t like it.

    “Look,” I replied, “Someone killed Kimberly White. That’s all I know.”

    “Not just her,” Emilio jumped in. “Rose Williams, Jimmy Eldredge, Eddie Majors, Derek Hawser – ”

    “I get it!” I shot at him. Then, leaning my face in my hands and letting out a deep breath, “I get it. I know what people say about Mackenzie and my classmates. But it’s just stupid Internet rumors. Mackenzie didn’t…come back to life.”

    Our booth was silent for a long moment. Neither of them knew how to respond. Then Mallory spoke up, in what seemed like an unusually serious tone. “But I saw her,” she said. “I was there with Kimberly when it happened.”

    I looked up and met her eyes, expecting to decide once and for all that these two were just crazy Mackenzie Weaver fangirls; but what I saw behind her freckled face was nothing but sober, muted determination.

    “We met on a mission trip with my church,” Mallory explained. “She told me all about what happened, and later she showed up at my parents’ ranch. And…Mackenzie was also there.”

    I said nothing. I just watched the memories and emotions play out across Mallory’s face.

    “I tried to save her. Like, I shot Mackenzie with a shotgun, but it didn’t do anything. Then Kimberly decided she couldn’t keep running, and she just kinda…” She looked up at me. “…let it happen.”

    I took a long drink from my mocha, just for something to do with my hands.

    “The same thing happened to me,” Emilio murmured. “It was Rose Williams. I met her in college two years ago – ”

    “Three years ago,” Mallory corrected him.

    “Three years ago,” he agreed. “I don’t know why I keep doing that. Anyways I met Rose in college, and she…I don’t know. I guess we were friends. She was my only friend. When she started talking about Mackenzie, I thought she was crazy – till I found her. Dead. And Mackenzie was there. She didn’t do anything to me, she just walked away and I called the cops.”

    “This is insane…” I heard myself saying.

    “I know,” Mallory replied. “But we both saw her. Then we found each other on this website for people who’ve seen ghosts and stuff, and we decided we had to do something to help everyone who’s left.”

    “How many,” I murmured, not looking at them.

    “How many…?” Emilio repeated, then realized what I was talking about. “Oh, um…we’ve counted six, so far, but there might have been more. There isn’t a lot of information about her victims. Three more were killed in your home town this year, but we think that might’ve been a copycat killer.”

    “And no one’s noticed?” I demanded, grasping for anything that could poke a hole in their story. “The cops aren’t looking for some kind of serial killer murdering my classmates?”

    “There isn’t a lot of evidence,” Mallory admitted. “We think maybe the cops are keeping it all secret cause they don’t wanna admit there’s anything supernatural going on.”

    It didn’t matter, I knew – whether or not Mackenzie had dug herself back up from Hell, someone was killing my classmates in a very real and irreversible way. At least nine of the people I’d grown up with had died since Mackenzie’s original rampage, stripped of their lives and left to rot. Something inside me was distancing myself from them – implying that I was somehow immune, that this could never happen to me – which I knew was stupid. Moving to the big city, lucking out on a high-paying job and a high-end apartment, didn’t change who I really was deep down: a simple Midwestern girl who’d had the great misfortune of being born in the year 1995, putting her square in the same class as Mackenzie Weaver.

    “Who,” I asked, knowing and trying to forget that the farther I strayed into Mallory’s and Emilio’s world of insanity, the closer I came to losing everything I’d built for myself. “Who’s gone.”

    “You know about Johnny Trevor,” Emilio guessed. I nodded: Mackenzie’s boyfriend had been the first death, the one I tried the hardest to ignore. His murder with a sharp weapon at his college up in Maine had been the progenitor of everything, the event that led to a worldwide urban legend. “We think Rose was the second one. Derek Hawser was killed the year after that in Oklahoma.”

    I nodded. I had never much cared for Derek Hawser – boorish, misogynistic, known for screwing everything with a pulse – but it was weird knowing he was no longer out there somewhere, hamming it up at Hooters or whatever he would be doing if he’d survived. “Who else?”

    “Eddie Majors,” Emilio said. “This was back in 2015, so they weren’t covering up her murders yet. We found a friend of his who saw it happen – a guy named David Berger. Eddie drove to Rhode Island to see David, but Mackenzie caught up with him.”

    “We’ve been talking to David on Facebook,” Mallory put in. “He’s helped us do some research, but he doesn’t wanna be on the road with us. He says it’s cause he wants to finish college but I think he’s scared.”

    I nodded again. Eddie Majors was a weird, scrawny kid, one of those guys who was way too interested in conspiracy theories. Even before Mackenzie. “Who else.”

    “Jimmy Eldredge,” Emilio said. “He also moved to Maine, but he wasn’t going to college like Johnny. He was working on a farm or something and she tracked him down.”

    I hadn’t known Jimmy very well – he was one of the more stereotypically Midwestern kids in our class, so it made sense if he’d ended up in another rural area.

    “Then Kimberly,” Emilio added, gesturing towards Mallory. “That was last summer.”

    “Some people said they saw her in New York City a couple months ago,” Mallory added, “But we haven’t figured out if she killed anyone.”

    “She’s basically only on the radar right before she kills someone,” Emilio said, “But we’ve tapped into the network of people who are on the lookout for this kind of thing, and a couple of them have been talking about local sightings. As far as we can tell, she’s headed northwest – and you’re her only classmate up here.”

    “She can drive?” I asked. I didn’t know what this undead version of my old acquaintance was supposed to be, really, or what her capabilities were. Did she still function like a living person? Did she need to eat? or sleep? or even breathe?

    “She’s walking,” Mallory replied.

    “As far as we can tell, she moves at the speed of a normal person,” Emilio explained. “We’ve mapped out all the places she’d been sighted recently, and we think she’ll be in Seattle before Christmas.”

    I swallowed. Christmas was in three days.

    “So…what,” I said, feeling the foot drop in my mind. “What do you want me to do.”

    “Stick with us,” Mallory replied, that unhinged fire lighting up again in her eyes. “We’ve been waiting a long time to fuck her up.”

    “Well, she’s only been waiting six months,” Emilio said. It may have been an attempt at humor, but his voice had little to no inflection. “I’ve been waiting two and a half years.”

    “Three and a half years,” Mallory corrected him.

    “Right.” Emilio rubbed his eyes. “Time flies when you’re hunting a zombie.”

    Somehow, Mallory and Emilio convinced me to let them stay in my apartment. Somehow, I allowed them to set up their gun case on my kitchen table. Somehow, I found myself believing their story, though it was the last thing I wanted to do: all of this, I told myself, this life, this job, this apartment, even my sleek new accent, it would all mean nothing if I was dead. And once Mackenzie was dealt with, I promised myself, I would go back to living my decently successful life and look forward to my mid-twenties without all of this hanging over my head.

    On the night of Christmas Eve – which I’d planned on spending alone, after the office party let out – we sat on the bench outside Pioneer Square, all of us nervous, all of us half-hoping Mackenzie would and wouldn’t show. Emilio was wrapped up in a winter coat and scarf: he had grown up in a warmer climate, I had discovered. Mallory and I were chilly, but used to it: she was from Centennial, Wyoming, just a quick drive from my and Mackenzie’s home town.

    The crowds of young Seattleites were out in full force, most of them drunk, many of them wearing Santa hats or other indications of the season. From somewhere nearby, music was blaring out into the street: Merry Xmas Everybody, a particularly grating seasonal ditty.

    Emilio chainsmoked Cherry Bomb cigarettes as we sat there, watching the partygoers come and go from the Jimmy John’s and Domino’s across the way, their low-budget Christmas Eve dinners in hand. There weren’t too many bars in this neighborhood – the food industry was dominated by Chinatown, just a few blocks over – but with the way my fellow Seattleites were trudging awkwardly through the snow and slipping on the ice, I could tell the majority of them had pregammed their night out.

    “Why are we out here?” I asked after a while. “Shouldn’t we go somewhere with fewer people?”

    “She’s not gonna make herself visible,” Emilio explained. “She didn’t want everyone to notice her the way they have.”

    “That’s what we think,” Mallory added.

    I held my gloved hands together between my knees. My cheeks were burning with the glow of frigid air. I wished I’d worn a hat.

    “So,” I murmured. “Rose Williams.”

    “Yeah,” Emilio replied.

    The ambient music had changed to All I Want for Christmas is You. No, I thought: All I want for Christmas is for you to be a hoax.

    “Were you two a couple?” I asked. Emilio looked at me sharply, then realized I wasn’t talking about Mallory.

    “No,” he replied. “Honestly, she…kinda pissed me off. She was really self-centered.” He made a quick Sign of the Cross, that in my mind opened up questions about his own pre-Mackenzie backstory.

    “She was always like that,” I replied. “Was she always fashionably late?”

    “Yes!” Emilio cried, and despite the situation, he smiled for the first time since I’d known him. “We would make plans and she’d keep me waiting for literally hours. One time I had to stand outside her apartment in the snow for twenty minutes cause she was taking a shower and hadn’t told me.”

    I smiled too. Rose had pulled that crap on me the couple times we’d hung out in high school, and I didn’t miss it. But I felt okay talking about her: it was therapeutic, honestly, knowing that if she was taken before her time, she could at least live on in our memories.

    I wasn’t going to bring up Kimberly White though. I remembered her as the sweetest, most innocent Christian girl I’d ever met: the epitome of upstanding, forward-thinking, and what the adults in my town referred to as having a good head on her shoulders. I didn’t want to picture Kimberly being run through with Mackenzie’s now-iconic cutlass, or how her warm and welcoming parents had reacted to the news.

    “Do you think this is common?” I asked. Across the street, a guy in an elf hat slipped on the ice and landed hard. “Coming back to life?”

    “She’s probably not the only one,” Emilio admitted. “But if anyone has come back from the grave, they don’t wear a mask and use a cutlass. Mackenzie matters to us because we have a personal connection, but she matters to the Internet because she has a cool look. They don’t care that she’s killed real, innocent people, and they definitely don’t care about us.”

    He was right, I realized, watching the crowds mill about and use the birth of Christ as an excuse to get rowdy and intoxicated: none of them cared. They loved Mackenzie the same way they loved John Wayne Gacy: she was a pop culture icon to them, not a bloodthirsty killer. And we – her victims – were just props to them. Just plot points in her narrative.

The crowd on the sidewalk across from us thinned out for a moment. There was a break in the forward momentum, a long second where my view down the street wasn’t blocked by jostling and giggling humans – and then, stepping out from the shadows and seeming to drag some of them along with her, she was there.

    “Fuck!” I yelled: a word that I’d mostly learned to exclude from my lexicon after moving up in the world. I jumped to my feet, nearly slipped on the ice, and recovered.

    The others jumped up a split second later, Emilio throwing his cigarette to the asphalt. Our eyes were trained across the street, frozen on the lone figure that stood at the mouth of the next one over. She wore a leather jacket and battered jeans; just like in the alleged photos I’d seen, just like in the trailer for the documentary, just like she had appeared in my nightmares, she wore a mask of brown leather and chainmail. Her hair looked just like it had the day she’d killed my friends in school, but now it was broken by a putrid wound that stretched back across her skull, the dried blood and muscle glistening in the light of the streetlamps.

    Another crowd of people walked past her. She seemed to flicker in and out of existence as she was blocked by living, moving people; one of them noticed her standing there and shouted something that sounded like encouragement. He paused in front of her, doing something, touching her – she didn’t move, and as the crowd dissipated down the street, I saw the drunk man had taken the Santa Claus hat off his own head and put it on Mackenzie’s. She wore the hat, silently, an inconsistent addition to her horrifying appearance, a contradictory decision like a T-shirt in church.

    Then, she was gone: she disappeared, back into the shadows.

    “We have to go,” Emilio hissed, and as one we turned and plunged into the foot of snow that circled Pioneer Square.

    “Do you have your gun?” Mallory shouted at him as we fled, running as fast as we could across the icy cobblestones.

    “Yeah!” he yelled back. They had only brought one handgun, I remembered, my lungs starting to burn, and I hadn’t allowed Mallory to walk around Seattle with a shotgun. Why hadn’t they brought another handgun? I thought desperately as we ran onto the First Avenue sidewalk.

    Mallory took the lead, pushing people out of the way and ignoring their shouts as she led us north and turned onto Cherry Street, where we skidded to a halt on the crowded sidewalk.

    “Where do we go?” Mallory cried. I realized she was looking at me.

    “What?” I shouted. “I don’t know!”

    “You live here!” she reminded me. “Where can we go to hide?”

    “Why didn’t you plan this out ahead of time!” I demanded. I threw a quick glance down Cherry, and saw, farther down, by the Starbucks, Mackenzie Weaver come around the corner and head directly for us. She wasn’t running: she was weaving in and out of the assembled crowds at a steady pace, moving under streetlamps and back into the darkness. Wasn’t she supposed to have a cutlass? I thought wildly. Where was her cutlass? “Come on!” I yelled, turning and dashing back down Cherry Street. Farther down, I thought I heard shouted encouragements from drunk Seattleites: they liked her costume.

    We ran through the city, stopping only to catch our breath. She still wasn’t running, when she appeared behind us, but she must have known the city better than I did: every time we turned around, she was there, a quarter-mile behind us, her combat boots crunching through the dirty snow as she neared.

    We reached a lesser part of town, what must have been half an hour later. Slipping into a side street, we paused, all three of us panting for breath.

    “What are we gonna do?” I demanded. “You have guns!”

    “We can’t risk hurting anyone!” Emilio cried.

    “Then why did we come out into the city?”

    “What d’you want me to say?” Emilio yelled. “That we didn’t plan this out well enough? We’ve never done this before!”

    “In here,” Mallory said, gesturing towards a door in the nearest building. The sign outside advertised it as some kind of bar.

    “Do we want to go inside?” Emilio asked.

    “We need to regroup!” she insisted, opening the door and ushering us through.

    The bar was packed with the same twenty- and thirty-somethings who crowded the streets. None of them paid us any mind, focusing on their drinks and their friends.

    We found a table near the back, piled high with empty plates and dirty silverware. We sat down, all ready to leap up at a moment’s notice.

    “I don’t think she’ll come in here,” Mallory said, talking loud above the roar of the crowd and the radio blaring Baby It’s Cold Outside.

    “You’ve been wrong about everything,” I snapped. “We can’t just keep running, we have to do something!”

    She turned to look at me, and I thought she was going to argue – but her face was curious, almost surprised.

    “What,” I said.

    “That’s what Kimberly didn’t get,” Mallory said. “She didn’t get that she could stop running without just giving up.”

    “Yeah, well,” I replied. “I have a life I’d like to get back to.”

    “This might be a bad time,” Emilio said, standing up, “But I have to pee.”

    “Jesus Christ,” I said, but there wasn’t much of an argument to be made. When you gotta go, you gotta go.

“We should get out of the city,” I said, after Emilio had plunged into the crowd. It never occurred to me then to call the police, and now I know it wouldn’t have made a difference. “We can drive out into the country and wait for her, where there’s no one who can get hurt.” By this point, the song had changed to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: a slow, sad piece that contrasted heavily with the general atmosphere of the bar.

    Mallory said nothing for a long time. When she spoke, I could barely hear her: “I don’t wanna do that.”

    “Why not?” I replied. “If we can get across the water, we can take some time to get ready. We can swing by the apartment and pick up the – ”

    “I don’t wanna die alone,” Mallory said.

    I paused. It was the first time in the two days I’d known her that Mallory had expressed any implication of cowardice, or even the very human need for self-preservation: she had seemed ready to throw herself fully into protecting me and killing Mackenzie, even if it meant her own life.

    “Kimberly died alone,” she continued, not looking at me. “I was with her, but she made me leave so she could face Mackenzie by herself. And I…” She rubbed a hand across her face, and I realized there were tears in her eyes. “I can’t believe I did that. I just left her there, and now she’s dead.”

    I put a hand on Mallory’s and she looked up at me. “You did what you could,” I said, not remotely knowing if this was true. “Kimberly wanted an out, but she wasn’t a fighter. She never was. We talked about Mackenzie after it happened, y’know – Kimberly was always nice to everyone, and she couldn’t understand why some people were cruel. Or killers.” This was a lie: I don’t think I talked to Kimberly once after Mackenzie’s rampage, but this was what Mallory needed to hear. “I know the world is dark and horrible most of the time,” I concluded, “And I’m not gonna give in to it. I have a life here, one I’d really like to continue living. And you’ve shown me there’s a chance.”

    Mallory nodded, still not convinced – but I could tell my words were having something like the desired effect.

    “And you’re not going to die alone,” I continued. “Maybe you will die – maybe we’ll all die – but we’re gonna do it together.”

    Just as the radio switched to Last Christmas, the door swung open and a cheer rang out through the crowd.

    We stood up on instinct, and through the mass of moving and yelling bodies I could just make out the Santa hat, with its pompom tip flopping around, riding above a mask of brown leather.

    “Hey, Mackenzie!” someone yelled near the door.

    “Looking good!” someone else shouted.

    Mackenzie made her way through the crowd, moving slowly, shoving barflies aside as she came towards us.

    “Come on!” I yelled, grabbing Mallory’s hand and pushing towards the rear of the building.

    We left through the back door, into a dark alley full of trash and snow. Without looking back, I dragged Mallory to the mouth of the alley and we came out onto a street I didn’t recognize. The crowds were thinner out here, and I could still hear the noise from the bar.

    “Shit!” Mallory cried. “Emilio!”

    Reality hit me square in the face and without thinking, I ran down the sidewalk and towards the front of the building. Mackenzie must be behind us, I thought: she must have followed us through the back door, and now we were leading her in an insane, murderous ring-around-the-rosie through the bar. But Emilio was still inside. He was fine. He had to be.

    We burst through the front door, knowing we were walking into danger blind. I pushed through the patrons, most of them much bigger than me, and froze when I saw the door of the men’s room creaking open.

    I felt Mallory stop short behind me. Neither of us breathed as the door swung open, slowly, the creaking of its hinges silent in the crowded bar but seeming to clang in my mind like mourning bells.

    The figure that stepped out of the bathroom was smaller than Emilio, hardly dressed for the weather, the slatted eyes of her mask trained on us before she could possibly have seen we were there.

    This time, the cutlass I’d seen in so many movie trailers and pieces of fan art was clutched tightly in one hand, its curved blade leading her out of the small room, crimson blood dripping down its length and puddling on the floor.

    “No,” Mallory whispered behind me.

    Mackenzie stopped, the door swinging shut behind her. She stared at me with her wooden eyes, and everything I knew about her came flooding back in an instant. Her father’s name was George. She lived on Spruce Street. She was a B-average student with the unsettling habit of totally shutting down once in a while, leading her classmates to theorize on her mental wellbeing. She was an acquaintance, a friend of a few other friends, and most of her classmates held a moderately positive view of her as a person. She’d worn a necklace shaped like a yew tree for most of senior year: a gift from her now-dead boyfriend, Johnny Trevor. She had worn another mask, once, years ago: a masquerade mask, in theme for junior year homecoming. The mask she wore now wasn’t made of cheap white plastic: it was made of hard, brown leather, the bottom half a curtain of chainmail. Somewhere, somehow, she had lost a chunk of the leather on one cheek, and in the bright lights of the bar I could see what lay beneath: skin, pale white and mottled with cold blue veins, lips that had been ripped off and now exposed two rows of grinning white teeth.

    “Run,” I said, my voice very low, as she stepped towards us. Then, turning and shoving Mallory as hard as I could: “Run!”

    As we left the bar, the cheers and whoops from inside turned to cries of terror, the drunk patrons just noticing the blood dripping from who they thought was an off-season cosplayer. Some of them were past the point of blacking out, I knew: but somehow, I thought, they would all remember this.

    “There’s no more time!” I cried as we ran down the sidewalk. My lungs and legs were on fire, but I couldn’t stop. Not for anything. “We have to do it now!”

    “Where?” Mallory cried, and I caught her meaning: we couldn’t risk anyone seeing us, much less someone getting hurt. The Mackenzie Weaver cosplayers and fan artists didn’t care about us, her actual victims, but we weren’t going to play their game. We couldn’t let her kill anyone else.

    “Kerry Park!” I cried, knowing we weren’t too far away.

    Mallory didn’t argue. She followed me as I led her, alternating between running and power walking, to the outskirts of town, past small skyscrapers that faded into apartment complexes and finally into residential houses, set vertically in the sides of the hills. Snow began to fall, to our horror: the sweat froze on our cheeks and the clomping of our boots on the sidewalk faded into a crunch crunch sound as the world was blanketed in sugar.

    We ran – and walked – for what felt like hours, uphill through the dark and the falling snow, before we reached Highland Drive. Mercifully, Kerry Park was all but deserted at this late hour on the eve of America’s favorite day off.

    We came to a stop at the railing, and despite everything I heard Mallory gasp at the view it offered. Seattle laid out in front of us, Elliot Bay at the bottom of the hill and beyond it, the iconic skyline topped with the Space Needle, rising above the city like an extraterrestrial craft come to warn us of the future. An inch of snow had built up across Kerry Park and we could see, across the bay, that Seattle was likewise painted white.

    “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” I panted, holding onto the rail and struggling to catch my breath. I kept glancing behind us, past the cubical monument in the center of the park, off to the darkened street I knew Mackenzie would come walking down in an impossibly short amount of time.

    “Yeah…” Mallory said, in the same wondrous tone I had used the first time I came to the panoramic stage. She had grown up in a small Midwestern town, same as me – we had both been forced out by Mackenzie Weaver, Mallory to pursue and destroy her, me to wipe her from my memory.

    Mallory reached into her jacket and pulled out the handgun she’d brought from my apartment. She rested it on the railing, not taking her eyes off the glowing monuments of the city. Tiny drops of glass sparkled in her hair, and her lips trembled in the cold.

    “Do you think you can kill her?” I asked.

    “I don’t know,” she admitted.

    “What if you shoot her in the head?”

    “I tried that,” she admitted, and her voice felt far away. “I blew off part of her mask. But I didn’t try shooting her in the brain at close range.” She knocked her gun against the railing a couple times. “Maybe if I had, Kimberly would still be here.”

    “Don’t think about that,” I encouraged her. “Kimberly’s gone, but I’m still here. And I’m staying with you till the end.”

    Mallory took a deep breath. “She’s here,” she said, and when I turned around I saw she was right: the lone figure on the street behind us, her blond hair and the fur on her hat glowing in the ambient light of the city, was approaching from a quarter-mile away.

    “Get ready,” I said.

    “I am ready,” Mallory replied, turning and leaning her back against the rail. She pulled the slide on her gun with wet fingers. “But you…”

    “I what?” I said, painfully aware that I didn’t have a weapon.

    Mallory stared into the darkness for a long moment, at her sworn enemy approaching from the distance. Snow was swirling around Mackenzie in the dark, the wind carving out a path for her to reach us. The cutlass was in her hand, and as she grew closer I could see Emilio’s blood, black against the silvery blade. Mallory’s friend. My friend, if only for a short time. He was the second friend she’d seen murdered this year – and somehow, that seemed more significant than my experience watching Mackenzie kill thirteen students and four faculty members. They hadn’t been my friends, not really – and as soon as I got my diploma, I booked it out of Wyoming, out of the Midwest, trying whatever I could to forget about what happened, to move past Mackenzie and, as the man once said, shake the dust of this crummy little town off my feet. Mallory had no connection to Mackenzie – she’d been thrust into this life by the friendship of Kimberly White. She could have just walked away. If she had – if Emilio had – then she wouldn’t be standing in the dark and the snow, waiting to kill the already-dead. But she hadn’t walked away. She had thrown herself into this life, knowing exactly how it would end.

    “Leave,” Mallory said. Mackenzie was no more than a hundred meters away, her leather jacket slick with melting snowflakes.

    “What?”

    “Leave!” she hissed, holding the gun between both hands. “I’ll hold her off.”

    I made a sound of disbelief. “What did I just say to you?” I returned. “I’m not going to leave you!”

    Mallory looked at me, and I realized that old insane fire had come back to her eyes: whatever facet of her personality had been trampled on with Emilio’s death had returned with a vengeance. She, like Mackenzie, was out for blood.

    “You were right,” she said. “Kimberly wasn’t a fighter. But I am. I grew up on a ranch for God’s sakes – I know how to fight and shoot. I can do this, Sophie, and if I can’t – then you have to do it for me.”

    “I can’t just leave you here!” I insisted.

    “Yes you can!” she cried. “Go and get out of the city! Get out of the state! Get far enough away that Mackenzie forgets about you and moves on to one of your other classmates. And when she does, I want you to be there with more guns and more friends. If this is where I die, then I need you to avenge me. And Emilio. And Kimberly. You got it?”

    “No,” I said.

    Mallory let out a breath and let the gun drop to her side. She stepped closer to me and put a hand on my arm. She was trembling. “I got this,” she said. “I’m gonna do what Kimberly couldn’t, and I’m gonna stop her.”

    “You can’t,” I said: not the best choice of words.

    “Maybe not,” Mallory admitted. “But you can. You and all your other classmates, and maybe Dave Berger, and whoever else you can find. You can trap her and dog pile her till she’s just a puddle of zombie juice on the ground. Okay?”

    “Okay,” I heard myself repeat. I couldn’t do it. There was no way, this night could not end with me abandoning my only friend in the world.

    “Then go!” Mallory cried, shoving me with one hand. I stumbled back across the ice and when I recovered, Mallory had assumed a defensive stance, her handgun pointed directly at the approaching killer.

    I turned and ran, not thinking about it, not letting myself admit what I was doing. I was terrified, and I was relieved, and I was devastated: but I pushed all these emotions from my mind as I dashed across Kerry Park, the snow soaking into my clothes and the icy breeze cutting into my face.

    When I stepped onto Highland Drive, crossing over someone’s front yard, I turned around. Mallory was standing there, just past the monument, and Mackenzie was on top of her. I stifled a scream as the girl in the mask raised her cutlass to strike.

    A shot rang out through the park, through the neighborhood, maybe echoing across the bay into the city. Mackenzie fell back, a new bullethole in her shirt: Mallory had missed her head. She shot again, and Mackenzie stumbled – but she recovered instantly, sweeping her cutlass and knocking the gun from Mallory’s hand. It disappeared over the edge of the cliff, and Mackenzie swung again, bringing her cutlass up and slashing my friend across the face.

    Go! I heard her voice in my mind. Go and get out of the city! I want you to be there with more guns and more friends.

    I couldn’t. I couldn’t run away like a coward and leave her to die, mere minutes after her partner and friend was killed in a grungy bar bathroom. I couldn’t do that to Mallory, or to Emilio, or to Kimberly.

    But I could do it for the others: for the hundred-and-forty-odd classmates I’d grown up beside. Charlie Huller. Desmond Bain. Lacy Bernier. The children I’d played with who had become the teenagers I drank with and the young adults I ignored in a desperate attempt to forget my roots. They were still alive. And they were in the dark.

    So I ran. I ran down Highland Drive, as fast as I could through the treacherous ice and snow, all their faces and all their traits and all our interactions flooding my memories. They were all real people. And they all needed my help.

    Mackenzie didn’t come for me after that night, and I don’t know how she could have: I never spent much time in any one place. And if she tracks me down where I am now, she’ll have to face an army of adversaries more formidable than a few drunk Seattleites.

    My days now begin at five a.m, even on weekends. I’m no longer permitted a quick stop at Starbucks for a peppermint mocha before I get the day started – and I’m no longer granted the comfort of my own desk, my own belongings, or even a shared break room. There are no breaks to be had where I’m headed.

    They said I would be able to grow my hair back out once I’m fully enlisted – as long as I keep it in a tight bun – but I don’t think I’m going to: shaving it off gave me focus, direction, a reminder that I’m not screwing around anymore. Every time I look at myself in the mirror and see an athletic, nearly-bald woman in a yellow T-shirt and blue shorts, I remember the girl I used to be: pretty, outgoing, with an underlying sense of melancholy due to events she would rather not talk about. I had run from myself, become someone I wasn’t, trying to carve out a life that didn’t involve the people from my hometown or the urban legends they may have spawned. I can’t say that Seaman Rogers feels right as a name, or may ever feel right – I can’t say that this is where I wanted to be at this point in my life, sharing a berth with dozens of men and a handful of women, wearing a uniform and spending my days being screamed at by drill instructors. But this is a new life I’m living, one where I will never be alone, never unprotected.

    And when my four years of indentured servitude are over, when I’m finally able to walk the streets of America as a civilian once again, I’ll be prepared: I will possess all the physical stamina, mental sharpness, and combat skills expected of a sailor in the United States Navy. And I will use all these newfound abilities to accomplish the one goal that’s been on my mind every waking moment since that night in Kerry Park.

    I’m going to kill Mackenzie Weaver. For good.