On the first day, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng took the long route to school, passing, along her way, the familiar grove that stretched out behind the new, bloody-red bricks like an unwashed cape. As she passed, oblivious, absorbed entirely in the digital drama unfolding on her phone at 7:30 AM, a figure loped out of the trees, followed by another, and another. Without issue, they melted into the school-bound student-procession, and all the while Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng stared down, never raising her head, not even in the crosswalk.

As first block began, and the teacher began to call names, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng studied her classmates, taking in the faces of friends and friends of friends and crushes—ah yes, there was Toby, who had been dating Mari over the summer. They’d broken up over text; Mari said it was mutual, which probably means that it wasn’t. Toby didn’t look too out of sorts, so Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsying let her eyes keep roving over the class. Jordan, one of her cousin’s friends: an excellent chess player, apparently, not that Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng would know much about the strategies of chess. And then there were the new faces, three of them, and they were parked right next to her.

“What is your name?” one of the new girls asked. She cocked her head and kept staring. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng smiled brightly.

“My name’s Anna-Marie Helsyng!” she announced, just as the teacher called,


“Present,” Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng answered, and then, turning back to her new friend, added, “but you can just call me Anna!”

The three girls nodded, and smiled in unison.

“You can call me Violet,” the first said to her.

“You may call me Chrysanthemum.”

“Call me Laurel.”

Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng grinned. Violet took her hand and said, “Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, we are going to be very, very good friends."


“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, get our kickball from over the fence,” Chrysanthemum told her. They were frolicking in the courtyard, and Laurel had sent the kickball on a graceful arc, across the fence that marked school grounds and into the surrounding wood.

They told her they were transfer students, but nothing more than that; Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng had been told not to pry into the business of others. She got along well with her new friends and found herself spending more and more time with the three.

At Chrysanthemum’s ushering, she got up from braiding Violet’s hair, much to the latter’s indignation, and strolled across the courtyard. Unquestioningly, almost mechanically, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng scrambled over the fence, and with a dog-keen sense, rooted out the kickball from where it had landed. Feeling quite proud of herself, she walked back through the woods at a leisurely pace, brushing her hand against tall ferns and low-hanging leaves.

As Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng approached the fence, Chrysanthemum reached up and took the ball from her. With nary a word of thanks, she and Laurel resumed their kickball game. Violet called out to her, “Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, come here and finish my hair!”

“I told you,” she called back, “you can just call me Anna!”

Violet laughed, and repeated, “come here, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng.” And so she went; she could do nothing else.


“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, do our home-work assignments,” Laurel, Violet, and Chrysanthemum said when she met up with them after last block. She was a bit surprised; when it came to homework, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng wasn’t the most responsible student. But she was far from lazy, and far from inattentive, so she obliged her friends, leading them to the library and settling in for a long afternoon.

She moved through the problems with an ease and grace her own homework-undertaking had never assumed. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng wondered, really, what must they have done at that other school, if these early-year questions posed so much trouble. Laurel read over her shoulder, and if Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng had been able to turn her head from her task for a moment, she might have seen Laurel’s lips softly sounding out the syllables.


“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, steal the unit test.” Violet smirked at Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, and it was almost a dare. The noise of the cafeteria swelled behind them and Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng felt years of Honor Roll pride fall away as she nodded. She could do nothing else.

The door of the copy room was ajar, and a few blurry figures moved beyond the stained windowpane. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng waited all through seventh block, crouched catlike by the door until a figure passed through and she had to make a pretense of walking to the water fountain at the other end of the hallway. Midway through eighth block—she’d have to tell Dr. Elix she was at the nurse, or something, she could think of it later, after her task was done—the room emptied, the last lethargic teacher clicking off the light and shutting the door with a hastily broken finality. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng watched the hall empty before turning the handle and slipping inside the copy room.

She didn’t want to chance anyone seeing the light, so she stumbled through the dark among the shadowy shapes of the copy machines, peering blindly at the stacks of paper that littered the tables and the floor. She felt a tiny tug in her mind, felt her eyes drawn repeatedly to a certain stack on the second-left table. Shrugging, wanting nothing but to fulfill Violet’s request, she scooped it up in her arms and reentered the lonely second-floor hallway. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng blinked as the fluorescent light stabbed at her eyes before focusing on the papers she held. Unit Test, 80 copies, Deerworthy rm. 108, the small post-it note on the stack proclaimed. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng reached a hand out and shut the copy room door again and went to go find Violet, Laurel, and Chrysanthemum.

Mx. Deerworthy was more distressed than angry about the missing tests, and blamed the copy room, and then the other teachers before walking up and down the rows of students with an air of defeated malcontent. As they came down Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s row, Chrysanthemum leaned over and murmured, “Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, don’t say a word.”

When Mx. Deerworthy leaned over, eyes still teary despite their put-on anger, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng opened her mouth, but no sound issued forth. She closed it again and trained her eyes on her desk. Mx. Deerworthy moved on, and behind their back, Violet smirked.


“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng,” Laurel whispered conspiratorially, “go kill the class pet. It’s for a prank.” Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, Laurel, Chrysanthemum, and Violet were huddled underneath the second east staircase during sixth block, their lunch hour. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng sighed, a tad perturbed by the instruction, but she couldn’t say no to her friends’ demand. She tried, once, but found her head nodding despite the signal to shake it in dissent.

Mx. Deerworthy’s classroom door was locked, but with an uncanny, unfamiliar deftness, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng worked a bobby pin in the lock until the door swung open with a hollow creak. Violet, Chrysanthemum, and Laurel waited in the doorway. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng maneuvered into the classroom, winding through the rows and tables. When she reached the class pet’s cage, she undid the latch, and carefully reached in.

Its body was small in her hands, its breath coming so fast as she held it gently. It sat there, complacent; Mx. Deerworthy had been sure to socialize the animal daily; it had grown used to being handled. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng hovered over the cage, holding the small creature gently. And then less so. In the small, nearly-silent room, there was the sound of toast crunching in someone’s teeth.

In the doorway, Violet, Chrysanthemum, and Laurel were shrouded in shadow. It took Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng a moment to recognize them as she turned, the furry lump still clutched in her hand. Laurel extended a hand, relived Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng of her burden. The three girls nodded, smiled in unison.


“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, give this to Mx. Deerworthy.” At lunch, Laurel had a dreadful coughing fit, sounding like a cat with an extraordinarily stubborn hairball. Once she caught her breath, Laurel had pressed something into Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s hand and sent her off down the hall.

This time, the locked door Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng faced was that of the teachers’ lounge. She knocked, and Mx. Deerworthy answered. They had been devastated about the class pet once they figured out the furry lump snoozing in the cage was stuffed with cotton and had asked all the students to be on the lookout for the “poor darling” the rest of the day.

“Anna? What’s this?”

“Here,” Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng said, passing the object to her teacher. Mx. Deerworthy studied it, horror filling in their expression. It was larger than an owl pellet, but about that shape. It was all small bones, packed in dreadfully familiar fur. Mx. Deerworthy gasped, clutched it tighter. It broke, bones slipping through their fingers to the floor.

Dutifully, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng backed away and retreated to the courtyard, where Laurel, Violet, and Chrysanthemum were waiting.


“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, stay with us over winter break!” Violet instructed. It was the last week before holidays, and Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng was braiding Laurel’s hair. It was too cold for the courtyard, so they had huddled up beneath the stairwell.

“Of course,” Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng replied. Her fingers moved swiftly and mechanically through Laurel’s hair. Chrysanthemum was humming a tune, her hands tangled in Violet’s hair, mirroring Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s in Laurel’s.

They led Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng to a country house, a good half-day’s travel north of the school district. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng had packed in the middle of the night, as Chrysanthemum told her to be ready to leave at dawn. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng hadn’t been able to speak to her parents about the trip before she left; they worked late, and often slept in past noon.

She called them on the road, and the conversation was a predictable tirade of anger and threats of grounding. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng winced but couldn’t bring herself to ask Laurel to turn the car around. Her mother sighed, exasperated.

“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng,” she said, and Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng tensed for an order, “you are never to go away overnight without talking to us ever again, do you understand?”

“Yes, mom,” Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng said, relieved. Her mother only ever used her full name in moments of anger, and she had assumed the next words would be far harsher. “See you at home.”


“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, go kill and skin a deer for dinner.” The house was warmer than Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng thought it would be, but she reasoned that maybe that’s how winter weather was up here—she wasn’t from the area, after all. Violet, Chrysanthemum and Laurel didn’t explain when she asked about the weather, just laughed and told her to follow them deeper into the vibrant, thriving woods.

Chrysanthemum’s request roused Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng from her thinking. She shook her head to clear it and yawned. Her body, aching from so many forest ventures, protested as she rose to her feet. Begrudgingly, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng took the skinning knife from Chrysanthemum’s hands and trooped to the door.

Once she was in the woods, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng stopped. She shook her head, looked back at the house. Her mother always said she had an impeccable sense of direction. Or no, maybe she said incompetent. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng wondered how she was supposed to find a deer, never mind kill and skin it. But then, some wide-eyed inhuman sense spotted a deer, and Chrysanthemum’s directive knocked the thoughts from Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s mind.

The deer twitched as Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng drove the skinning knife into its leg and twisted. It took several stabs (shoulder, eye, leg again) for it to finally still. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng wiped her brow, smearing blood into her hair. She sat down criss-cross-applesauce on the damp leaves and mindlessly began to slice into the deer’s flesh. Above her, in the windless evening, the trees quaked with distress and crepuscular critters. Night circled the forest and closed in as Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng finished skinning the corpse.

Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng was an Amazonian figure as she emerged from the forest with the deer slung over her shoulders. As she crossed the threshold between the forest and the yard, she felt suddenly very, very cold, and the deer was so very heavy. She stumbled, and Violet was there, taking the deer, taking her hand. Warmth spread through Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, and she smiled gratefully at Violet and thought no more of the moment of ice.


“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, wake up.” Violet’s lips were right by her ear, and she lay a hand on Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s arm as she violently jerked awake. Laurel, Violet, and Chrysanthemum were hovering over her bed, each wearing an identical mischievous grin.

Sleepily, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng sat up. “Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, come with us,” Laurel beckoned, pulling Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng to her feet. They led her outside and through the woods to another estate. Laurel, Chrysanthemum, and Violet halted at the edge of the forest, and Chrysanthemum pressed a dagger into Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s hand.

“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, listen very carefully,” Chrysanthemum said.

“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, you will enter the house,” Laurel said next.

“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, you will find the baby’s room.”

“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, you will bring the baby to us.”

“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, go now.”

Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng strode toward the house, keeping quiet as she could, observing the late hour. The cold hit her as soon as she passed the treeline, but she could not stop. She approached a window, and, some unknown instinct repeating the stunt from Mx. Deerworthy’s door, unlocked it with a bobby pin. She slithered inside the house, bare feet landing on soft, carpeted floors. Quietly, she slipped through the estate, searching. The baby’s room was painted a soft, pastel green. Single-minded, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng crept toward the crib. She carefully lifted the baby and held it gently, minding the blade in her other hand. She retraced her steps and snuck back out the window. As she moved across the yard, shivering, the baby awoke and screamed. Sounds from the house now, and Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng kept running. She turned back as she reached the treeline, and saw the silhouette of two people in the room she had just emptied.

When she had stepped into the forest, Violet, Chrysanthemum, and Laurel drew her in further, away from the lights of the house. Their hands on her arms, warming her up. Groggy, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng held out the baby to Laurel. Laurel shook her head.

“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, take out the baby’s heart.” Violet tapped the hand that still clutched the dagger. Automatically, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng lifted her hand to strike.

After, Violet, Chrysanthemum and Laurel put something else into the baby’s empty chest. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng didn’t get a good look at whatever it was, but it was an eerie, twisted green, nearly glowing against the lush backdrop of the forest. She had been looking down at her red hands, every few moments bringing them up to her stained teeth and lips. Laurel held up the baby to the dark ceiling of the canopy and cocked her head, as if considering something. She smiled, and gently placed a hand on the baby’s already healing chest.

“Laura Mildred Kiltch,” Laurel murmured to the baby, placing it softly on the ground, “go back home, and wait.”

As the baby crawled dazed and automatically in the direction of the house, Violet placed a hand on Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s shoulder and led her away, back toward the edge of the forest. Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng felt something beginning to unfurl behind her solar plexus.

“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng,” Violet murmured, bringing Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s bloody fingertips to her equally bloody lips, “forget about the baby.”


“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng, walk with me this morning.” Violet took Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s hand and led her out of the house, into the surrounding forest. The woods were quiet, a far cry from Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s home and the nightly litany of “Anna-Marie, go to your room; Anna-Marie, do the dishes; Anna-Marie, eat your broccoli, Anna-Marie—”

Violet brought up a hand to stroke Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s hair and bring her out of her thoughts. “Thank you, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng,” she said. It was odd, Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng thought; none of the others had ever thanked her for completing their requests. Not that she minded, but still, an odd occurrence. She and Violet walked on, deeper into the woods. The now-familiar canopy of the forest near the house shifted as they moved, not that Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng was paying much mind to anything but keeping up with Violet. The very faint sound of the schoolyard reached her ears, and Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng looked up to find a far more familiar canopy stretching above her head. Violet halted and squeezed her hand. The chill of winter began to encroach, and Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng was cast into memory, trying to recall the blurry night of the break-in. She remembered the window, a child’s room, the cold. Violet’s fingertips on her lips. Violet had both of Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s hands now, and she squeezed them gently. Something shuddered and shifted and sprouted in the cavity of Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s ribcage. She looked away from the ominously shaking canopy and back at Violet.

“Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng,” Violet said, releasing her hands—and in the cavity that should have held Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng’s heart, something that was a twisted, eerie, glowing green, something that had been waiting and waiting and awoke with the taste of blood stretched up, up, up—“stand here a while and grow.” Anna-Marie Jacqueline Helsyng opened her mouth to speak and the sapling shot up her throat and stretched toward the sun in a choking, sputtering puff of leaves.