She was going to start walking again when a shadow appeared before her. Screaming in fear, she lost her footing and fell backwards, narrowly avoiding an oar that fell a few inches from her head. A cry of rage echoed when Julie tried to get up as soon as possible. She was still unable to see the face of her attacker, but she preferred not to stick around too long to find out. Her feet skidded in the dewy grass and she was unable to avoid the second blow. The paddle reached hard her left shoulder. She screamed in pain, rolling on the side. Wincing in pain, she looked up. She saw Rachel’s face contorted with rage. Julie rolled again on the side to avoid the third blow. Without wasting time, she dealt her a violent blow on the shin with her heel, giving her a little time to get back to get on her feet. She avoided the paddle another time and, taking momentum, she lunged at Rachel as a football player. She slammed her down violently. Rachel’s head hit the ground with force. Confused, the young girl moaned without making any effort to get up. Julie ran. She could hear the growl behind her. Her heart was pounding heavily in her chest. She ran as fast as she could, clutching her sore shoulder.
There was nobody left around the fire. But where were they? Christopher and Philip had returned to the cottage to take things to eat and drink. But the others… Rachel… If she came back, where Joel, Dominique and Nancy were? Severe shortness of breath caught her attention. Rachel appeared before Julie. Her tousled hair made her look like a jellyfish. A demented gleam shone in her eyes. Julie took a step back. As if she had read her mind, Rachel told her with a calm tone:
“My plan could very well work if Dominique had died earlier and you were in the cottage with all the other assholes. But now, everything is finally perfect.”
“It’s possible. Who knows? No one really knows me.”
“Where are Joel and Nancy? You were with them!”
“Ah! I don’t know exactly where I left them. Somewhere down the road, I guess.”
Julie’s heart jumped in her chest while images flooded in her mind.
“And there was a lot of blood when I left.”
The tone of her voice was detached, as if everything was normal. And she continued with the same tone:
“They only got what they deserved!”
“Dominique’s your friend… What have you done to her?”
Rachel looked at her, her smile widening.
“Did you know it’s very easy to cause a car accident?”
“My God… Tell me this isn’t true…”
“And why not? You refuse to accept the reality?”
“But why? They didn’t do anything to you!”
Rachel rolled her eyes and pouted.
“But it’s so obvious! There’s only you who still don’t understand a thing! You see? If you had wisely followed the rest of the gang in the cottage, you would already know why.”
“Dominique is your best friend!” Julie screamed, almost hysterical. “I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to hurt her. And the police will find out what happened to her!”
“They will not find anything.”
The young girl’s blood froze in her veins. Why they won’t find anything? Someone was watching them… Right? She finally understood what Rachel meant. She had engineered everything from the beginning, of course. She was responsible for the attack against Dominique. If they were really friends, how far was she willing to go to achieve her goals? A shiver ran down her back when she saw again the same light shine in her cold eyes.
“You have completely lost your mind…”
“Really? That’s what you think?”
She pouted like a teenager who doesn’t get what she wants at first. She began to twist a lock of hair around her finger, a small mean smile on her lips. She laughed, slowly walking towards the girl.
“I must say that I worked very hard to find you. And it really hasn’t been easy to do!”
Julie still didn’t understand what she meant. She said she was looking for them. She mentioned a particular group. The young girl searched her memory to know what they could possibly have done to make her… like that… Seeing that she didn’t answer anything, Rachel continued to talk to her. She acted as if she was reciting a text learned by heart.
“I’ve always had a lot of memory. I searched through all my photos and all my childhood memories to find each of you.”
“But what do you mean?”
The mean smile widened on Rachel’s face. She grimly added:
“Once upon a time there was a very shy little girl who spent all her time with her parents. She had no friends. Her father was her best friend and she loved him. One day, her mother had the stupid idea to attend a show for the whole family. But an event came to destroy the peaceful life of the little girl. On the evening of the performance, a horrible accident took her parents away forever.”
“Do you remember this story? I haven’t forgotten what happened. The smell of burnt flesh mixed with smoke and dust… It was really horrible.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because my father died, crushed under the rubble in the damn theater.”
“He’s dead because of you!”
“You’re completely crazy! You’re accusing us of having caused the death of your father when we were just children? We haven’t started the fire!”
“You really don’t understand,” Rachel spat. “You don’t have caused the collapse of the building or even the fire. I know it very well!”
While talking, she walked toward Julie who sought an escape plan.
“All of you have fled like cowards!”
“We were too young to do something…”
“That’s not a reason! You’ve seen us. So you could have run for help! Some assistance could well have saved him! He didn’t die right away. He still could survive the collapse if you did the right thing.”
“And you? What did you do to help him?”
Rachel stopped suddenly.
“What do you mean?”
“Tell me what you have done to help him,” Julie attacked to destabilize her. “As far as I know, you were there too. You could have run for help.”
Her words had the effect she wanted. Rachel began to breathe faster, a little jerky. She seemed to think about what she had told her, searching her memory. But Julie refused to stay there. She kept imaging Nancy somewhere along the road. And someone had to pay. She had to attack where it might really hurt. Now she knew one of her weaknesses. She only had to use it intelligently.
“You let him die.”
“N-No…! I stayed with him…”
“It hasn’t saved him, isn’t it? He died because you did nothing to help him.”
“No! I held his hand, praying for someone to help me to get him out. I stayed only for him!”
“Maybe, but he’s still dead. Instead of holding his hand, you could have grabbed someone to ask for help. So what did you do when your father was dying? Just hold his hand. You were unable to save him.”
“Shut up! He died and it’s YOUR fault!”
“But you were there too! You didn’t go get help for your father and he died because of YOU! It’s because of you!”
Rachel screamed with rage before rushing on Julie, hands stretched forward. Julie managed to avoid her attack to bludgeon a nudge in the back, knocking her flat on the ground. Then she ran to the cottage. She wanted to know where the others were. She was horrified to see Karen lying at the foot of the stairs. She knelt beside her. Her friend was still breathing. There was blood on her left temple, but she would survive. Philip was in the dining room while Christopher was facing the floor. Matthew was unconscious in the living room and Maxim had been struck near the small bathroom on the ground floor. How had she done it all without alerting the others?
Her quick tour had just told her that all her friends were alive. Now she had to find help. Looking up, she saw Rachel standing in front of the back door, a bad grin on her lips.
“Let’s finish it,” she threw, motioning toward her.
“It’s possible. But you are the cause of all my troubles and you will all pay.”
“You’re not going to get away with it.”
“Really? This is really what you think?”
“Our families will look for you, you know. Unlike you, we all have families who love us.”
Rachel’s mile disappeared from her face. Julie was still trying to provoke her to gain a little time. She had to think of a plan and she has to do it quickly. She always dreamed of hitting Rachel when they were in the same school. Now she had the chance! The blows she gave her didn’t seem to have any effect on her. So she was going to hit her harder.
“But you don’t even have a mother.”
“She never mattered to me.”
“Where did you go after the fire?”
“Since when do you care about my life? You were NEVER interested by me! I didn’t fit with your little world of perfect girls in school! Not even one of you wanted to play with me. I was always alone.”
Julie could see the hatred in her eyes. Rachel didn’t just hate them: she sentenced them to death!
“My aunt took me according to my father’s last will.”
“So that’s why you disappeared…”
“I had to change my name because my father was suspected of incest, but it wasn’t true! He loved me! My aunt didn’t want to hear anything about him after his death. She didn’t want me either. Except she didn’t really have a choice.”
“So it was true…”
“Social services should have minded their own business instead of coming to annoy us!”
“They wanted to help you!”
Rachel threw her head back in a hearty laugh that froze Julie with terror. Her father had indeed abused her as a child, but she didn’t thought about it that way. She saw it as a mark of affection from him, perhaps love. How could she even think that her father loved her? She should be angry at him, not at them. Maxim was right about what he was saying. But it didn’t change a thing now. Julie just wanted to get over with this and find her friends before getting back to her little life.
“What did you do to Dominique? Your best friend?”
“A huge blessing for everyone! Nobody can stand a girl like her!”
Yet they had spent many hours together. Why had she done it if she found her so painful? Rachel laughed, making her shiver again.
“I used her. I needed a way to get close to you.”
“Close… to us?”
“I so wanted to be your friend! I was very lucky that you were still friends! But again, you don’t let anyone into your inner circle.”
“Why did you come back?”
“There was so much to do!”
She hastened to explain that her aunt wanted her away from this entire story and this town. She tried to make her forget the past. All her past, her childhood. Rachel rubbed her head, smiling foolishly. She spoke without really looking at Julie. She dropped the paddle and looked up at the young girl.
“But I couldn’t forget. I don’t to do it either.”
“You wanted to be our friend… Why?”
“It didn’t work. So I had to content myself by being your enemy during all this time.”
“Shit! She was the most unbearable girl I even met! She spent all her time whining that she didn’t want this or she wanted that…”
“It didn’t seem to affect you so much, however…”
“Did you ever take painkillers? I’m taking them regularly since I live with my aunt.”
“This was the only way you can bear her?”
“She made me crazy!”
Sorry, but I think you were already there before you knew her. She didn’t leave Rachel from her sight. This girl was very unstable. She could start laughing and screaming before jumping to her throat. She had to stay on guard to act very quickly. She waited a moment before asking:
“And Joel? He’s from out of town. Why not let him go?”
Rachel shrugged, saying on a detach tone that he merely was a collateral damage.
“He was here. That’s it.”
Hearing those words, Julie felt her lower lip begin to tremble. Her last mental powers left her. Rachel really planned to kill all of them. The young girl seemed to think a moment, twisting again a strand of hair around her finger. Her eyes were still empty. She has been gone for a while.
“He was there at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“I know! Anyone would be after having the same experience as me! My father died and nobody helped him to survive!”
Julie took a deep breath, channeling her own anger and put it to good use.
“So don’t come here and complain!” she cried. “You just killed my friends, damn it! And you did it without thinking about it! You have no excuse!”
Julie took a defiant tone. If Rachel attacked her again, she could respond much more quickly. The provocation was again her best asset. She was still in pain because of her shoulder and her legs refused to support her as they normally do. But she shouldn’t lose her main objective: to destabilize Rachel’s mental state. She must succeed.
“Now I can follow my plan since you’re here,” Rachel said.
“Your plan? You seriously need help… What do you mean?”
“It’s simple!” Rachel replied, smiling foolishly again. “A kind of accidental fire will ravage the entire cottage. So awesome! Like an offering to honor the memory of my father. Of course, I’m the only survivor of this horrible tragedy after I managed to emerge unscathed from a car accident. The perfect plan, right?”
She looked at the girl with an innocent look, a huge smile on her lips.
“You’ve always been a bitch,” Julie attacked.
Rachel screamed, raising the paddle above her head. Julie threw herself again on her and pinned her to the ground, hoping to knock her against the floor at the same time. Her attack had the desired effect. Rachel stood motionless, lying on the ground. Julie had to take the opportunity to knock her down. She looked around, looking for something to attach her securely. She heard a low moan. Turning, she saw Philip attempting to get up. She hastened to join him. She asked him how he felt. He looked around, confused. He had no time to respond. The oar hit him hard on the head and he sank back on the ground, unconscious. Julie spun quickly, holding her leg to make her fell on her back. Rachel screamed even louder, infuriating as ever. Julie tried to get away, but her assailant grabbed her by the ankle. The young girl found herself lying on her stomach, seeing stars. Rachel jumped on her. Seizing her by her hair, she lifted her head and then hit her against the floor repeatedly. Julie felt dizzy and her head was now hurting her. She stretched her arms back and dug her nails in Rachel’s wrists to let her go. She was able to free herself. She rolled painfully on the side. She took the oar and turned as quickly as possible, striking Rachel on the left side of the head with all the strength she had left. The blood began to flow down her face. Julie grabbed the paddle more firmly and sent it directly into her stomach. Rachel faltered before she collapsed, gasping.
“You’re so annoying!” Julie spat.
Rachel raised her bloody face toward her, smiling.
“Same to you, bitch!”
They looked at each other’s eyes for a brief moment. Julie was seething. I’ll break your face, bitch! She threw herself on Rachel, screaming. She wouldn’t stoop to the same level as her, but she must act if she wanted to survive. After all, Rachel was planning to kill them all. Finding herself over her, Julie began to hit her. She didn’t feel the tears of rage running down her cheeks. Rachel eventually retaliated. Julie found herself on her back, moaning in pain. She crawled up the stairs, fleeing as quickly as possible. She couldn’t do anything against Rachel. It was obvious.
“Come here, bitch!” the latter ordered her.
Julie climbed the stairs on her hands and knees. She couldn’t stay there. Rachel stood up slowly, still dizzy. When they found themselves in front of one another, they looked at each other without saying anything. Images flooded in Julie’s mind. She began to imagine Nancy, lying in the wrecked car on the side of a country road lost in the middle of nowhere.
“It’s you who have hidden the pictures in Joel and Philip’s stuffs, isn’t it?”
Rachel’s smile widened.
“Too bad you found the first one. It would have been such beautiful fireworks!”
“It fell from his bag after the game. I’ve got nothing to do with it. Same thing for the jacket. And Joel…”
Julie kept imagine Nancy. She couldn’t let Rachel get away with this as if everything was okay, doing nothing. Using again in the little strength she had left, she swung her right fist to her jaw. Rachel lost her footing and fell backward down the stairs. Julie looked at her fall the stairs in disbelief. She was out of breath and completely exhausted. Leaning against the railing, she tried to get up. Rachel found herself practically lying on top of Karen. Julie slowly descended the stairs to repel her with a sudden kick. A quick glance told her that Rachel was now unconscious.