Rianne stopped abruptly. Some guy collided with her shoulder and growled, “Learn how to walk, bitch.” He stomped past her: hoodie, beanie, baggy jeans. Could’ve been anybody. Didn’t matter, because Rianne’s best friend Kendra stood by her locker, talking to Hailey Halloway.
Kendra was laughing and leaning toward Hailey like Hailey was the most hilarious thing ever. Sure, Hailey was hilarious, but not in the way you’d laugh at to her actual face. The other way.
Rianne couldn’t just walk up to them; Hailey Halloway was the cheerleading captain, probably the most popular girl in school, and Rianne was nobody.
But she couldn’t stand there in the middle of the hallway like an idiot, either. She sidled toward the drinking fountain, but Hailey spotted her. Her eyes flicked past Kendra to meet Rianne’s stare. Just for an instant. Then she looked back at Kendra. The big, fake smile on her face never wavered.
Hailey said, loud enough for Rianne to hear, “It’s gonna be super fun, Kendra! See you tonight!”
She flipped her long, perfect hair and swanned off, leaving Kendra hugging her books and grinning so hard her cheeks had to hurt. Rianne headed straight for Kendra, and watched that smile fall from Kendra’s face like a suicide.
“What the hell?” Rianne said.
“Rianne, come on.”
“No, you come on.”
Kendra lowered her books, shifting them to her left arm. “She invited me to a thing tonight. It’s nothing. It’s dumb.”
“It’s Wednesday,” said Rianne. She knew she sounded like her mom, and sure enough, Kendra rolled her eyes. Rianne added, “So? Tell me. What did you agree to do?”
“For Hailey?” Kendra said. “I’m not doing anything for her.”
Rianne glared. “Hailey Halloway, just randomly decided to invite you to her thing?”
Anger sparked in Kendra’s eyes, but then she relented and sighed. “We’re in the same study group for European History. We kinda got to know each other.”
“What, now you’re going to tell me she’s not so bad?”
“Don’t be like that, Rianne.”
“Hailey’s okay,” Kendra said. “She’s nice. If I can get in good with her and her friends, maybe they’ll go easy on both of us.”
“What is Hailey making you do, Kendra? Write her midterm essay?”
Kendra laughed. “That would just be cruel to Hailey.”
Rianne didn’t laugh along with her.
“She and a bunch of her friends are going out to the cemetery tonight,” Kendra said. “She wants me to take a look under Black Maggie’s hood. I told you. It’s dumb.”
Rianne felt the blood rush from her face and her hands, leaving her cold and shaky.
“She’s just gonna haze me a little,” Kendra continued, then her eyes widened. “Rianne. Oh my God. Do not tell me you believe in that stupid story.” Kendra wiggled the fingers of her free hand in Rianne’s face. “Woooooh! Spooook-eee!”
“People die.” Rianne felt like she was talking through a mouthful of cotton balls.
“Who? What people? It’s always some friend of somebody’s cousin. It’s never anybody that anybody actually knows.”
“I don’t want you going out to the cemetery.”
Kendra’s eyes got a hard, glittering look, and Rianne’s stomach twisted.
”I just don’t want you to go,” Rianne said. “Kendra. Please.”
Old Black Maggie, waiting by the tree.
Old Black Maggie, are you waiting for me?
Poor Black Maggie, died from a cold.
Poor Black Maggie, wants someone to hold.
Cold Black Maggie, sitting all alone.
Cold Black Maggie, turning into stone.
At first, Rianne felt bad for hating Hailey. It had been easy to hate Hailey while Hailey was still laughing. While she was telling Rianne that Kendra was pranking both of them, and she’d be in school by lunchtime.
By Monday, for sure. The best prank ever.
Then Hailey stopped laughing. She would appear, silently and stealthily, next to Rianne in the hall. And then she would clutch Rianne by the arm, her nails digging into Rianne’s flesh.
“I swear to God, Rianne. I swear it was just a joke.”
“I know,” Rianne would say. “I know that. You told me that.”
Like twenty times already. Rianne had gone past being annoyed, and past being creeped out, and right back to hating Hailey again, and Rianne found a savage comfort in the fact that some things never changed after all.
“I didn’t want anything to happen to Kendra. I liked Kendra.”
Rianne wrenched her arm out of Hailey’s grip, wincing as Hailey’s nails scraped her skin. She skipped her last two classes, and took the bus to the cemetery, even though she knew it was stupid. Black Maggie was an old stone statue, and a stupid jump-rope rhyme. Nothing more.
Black Maggie was easy to find. The statue sat under a spreading elm tree, just past the turn of the cemetery drive. If you didn’t know Black Maggie was there, she seemed to swoop out at you from the trees. She sat on a black marble bench, a black marble woman draped in a cloak with a hood so deep that, unless the light was just right, you had to step very close to see her face. If you dared.
She’d first seen Black Maggie at her Aunt Verna’s funeral. That day had been overcast, bitterly raw and windy; and Black Maggie had sat under her skeletal tree like the specter of death, as if to say, Someday, Rianne, perhaps someday soon… it will be you lying under the ground, with the dirt piled on top of you.
Rianne had cried, even though she was twelve. Everybody except her mother had assumed she was crying for her dead Aunt Verna.
She walked up the gentle slope of the hill, her boots crunching on fallen leaves and loose bits of gravel. The afternoon light poured like honey through the trees and seeped between the gravestones, casting long shadows. The cemetery drive turned, and Rianne’s chest squeezed with superstitious fear. Black Maggie sat there just like she’d always sat, shrouded in shadow, even on a sunny afternoon.
There was nothing here. Kendra wasn’t here. The police had already been and gone days ago, and there was nothing. Just dead people under the dead autumn grass. Rianne wanted something. Some explanation. Some closure. But, that was too much to ask from a mute stone monument.
She walked closer to the statue. For the first time, she wondered about the original Maggie, who had inspired the hooded statue. It must have cost a lot of money. Someone must have loved Maggie very much, and mourned her deeply.
Rianne glanced down at the tarnished brass plaque at the base of the statue.
Esther Rose C–
A drift of dead leaves hid the rest. Disappointment, and a strange, sad anger swept over Rianne like clouds across the sun; for the first time since Kendra’s disappearance, tears burned in her eyes. Black Maggie’s name wasn’t even Maggie.
She bent to sweep away the dead leaves and uncovered the tip of a foot protruding from the hem Black Maggie’s marble cloak. With slow-dawning, dreamlike horror, she realized she was looking at a sneaker. A perfectly sculpted black marble sneaker. One of the laces had come undone, and hung down the side of the shoe. The frayed end of the marble lace lay just a few inches from the brass plaque.
Rianne stepped closer. This could not be. Grief was making her crazy. Grief, and her own childhood terror. This was only what she expected to see. What she wanted to see. Yes. Of course. Her foot struck the edge of the marble base, and she stumbled. She threw out a hand, and caught her balance on Black Maggie’s stone knee, which was warm from the sun.
Rianne snatched back, and collided with something hard behind her. Flowing blackness rose to blot out the cemetery road and the gravestones and the blue autumn sky. Stone arms tightened around Rianne, and pulled her close. Close enough for her to see, at long last, what lay in the deep shadows under Black Maggie’s hood: a marble sculpture of Kendra’s face, frozen forever in her last scream.