Wyoming Changed Everything

Submitted into Contest #200 in response to: Write a story that includes the line “my lips are sealed.”... view prompt


Coming of Age Mystery Fiction

“Djya hear about the new girl?” he whispered over my shoulder. 

“Huh?” I looked up from my notebook, only slightly to keep from being noticed by Mr. Hamilton. He didn’t play around when it came to class disruptions. “Uh-uh,” I answered under my breath with an almost imperceptible shake of my head as I kept a covert eye on our teacher.

“Yeah, I heard she—”

We both froze as Mr. Hamilton looked up from his work and leveled his gaze in our direction. My eyes shot down to my workbook. Pure reflex. I knew better than to make eye contact. Andrew, not so much.

“Mr. Burrows.” 

I could hear Andrew, behind me, suck his breath in and hold it. 

“Do you have a question?”

He answered in a tight chested, shaky cadence. “No, sir. Sorry, Mr. Hamilton.”

Mr. Hamilton shot a scolding stare over the top of his glasses, the entire class watching from their peripheries. After a tense moment Mr. Hamilton returned his attention to his work, and with a hushed sigh of relief we returned to ours.

Even after the bell rang the students shuffled out silently until reaching the threshold of the classroom door. Andrew and I laughed off the tense period and headed to our lockers. We were practically neighbors. We swapped our texts for other texts and headed over to the science hall. 

“Hey, Andrew.” I had almost forgotten all about it.

“Hmm?” He gave me a nod.

“What were you gonna tell me in class?”

“Huh?” he asked, sidetracked by a gaggle of giggling girls. 

“Something about the new girl.”

He snapped his head around at me. “Oh yeah. Dude. The new girl in Math. You noticed her, right?” He didn't wait for me to answer. Of course, I had. “She’s from Ohio, or”—He thought for a moment—” Iowa, or something.”

“Wow. That’s pretty crazy.” I threw a little flat sarcasm in there, just to remind him that he sucked at telling stories. Which he did. “Iowa.” I slowly shook my head in feigned amazement.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said impatiently, and threw me a sneer and shot a short burst of air between his lips. He slapped me on the front of my shoulder with the back of his hand to reset the story. “Anyways, Dude. Get this; I heard her entire family got hacked up by some serial killer and she barely escaped, and they never caught him and that’s why she moved out here.”

I listened with a dubious sideward appraisal before rolling my eyes. “You're stupid.”

He hit me in the shoulder again. “Naw. For real.”

I nodded along. “Oh, yeah? Who told you, Snifter?” Snifter’s real name was Alex Snoufler. He was a shop class kid with a penchant for sniffing glue as a gag and telling tall tales.

“Naw, man. Essex told me.”

I frumpled my chin, raised my brows, and leveled a doubtful gaze on him. “You were hanging out with Sara Essex?”

He shrugged and held up his splay-fingered palms, his thumbs still tucked into his backpack straps. “No. I mean, I heard her telling Melissa and them.” 

By “Melissa and them” he meant Sara Essex, Melissa Hertz, and the rest of the girls that all hang out in that cheer crew, and by "heard” he meant he was sitting at the table next to theirs at lunch, eavesdropping.

“Sounds pretty crazy.” I pictured the new girl sitting in class. She was one row to my right and four desks up. Pretty. Dark haired. Quiet. Not your-family-just-got-hacked-up kind of quiet, though. She answered a few questions, got a few right, and seemed to have a relatively cheery demeanor under her reserved almost invisible persona. 

“Whatever.” He wasn't going to spend time convincing me, and besides we were at the science hall and had to go our separate ways. I took a left to the auditoriums for AP, and he took a right, heading to the bungalows reserved for kids who were in their second and third years of fundamental refreshers. He gave me a final backhanded slap on the shoulder as he turned to go. “Signing on tonight?”

I wanted nothing more than to get home and take a deep dive into some online annihilation, but Chem was kicking my butt. I couldn’t picture myself getting another sweet headshot for at least two weeks. “Naw, Chem for days.” I held up the notebooks I was unable to fit in my backpack as evidence.

He gave me a wave as he took off.

Andrew could stretch a truth or take a thing out of context, but he wasn’t the kind of guy to just make up some nutty thing, like the new girl surviving some crazy serial killer attack. He must have thought he overheard something he didn’t. 

Mr. Fritzen marched into class, exactly on time, and meticulously placed his materials on the desk next to the podium. Without a word he began writing the test prompts on the whiteboard. It wasn’t exactly a groan, but a unison inhale of disappointment followed by the shuffle of papers and quiet exhales of acceptance. Silent introductions in Fritzen’s Chem meant group tests. I can kind of roll with anything, but I have to admit, they were the worst. 

I put my textbooks away and pulled out my notes, my notebook, my testbook, and an extra book in case my rough drafts didn’t work out. Fritz stood at the desk, hands behind his back, and surveyed the students as they each came forward to decipher his encrypted schematic and take their places in their assigned groups. 

I hopped up, leaving my backpack at my seat and hustled down the stairs. Looking at the chart was just a formality. I was always in Blue Group. Smart enough to get it, but not smart enough for Green. I glanced at the diagram just to be sure, saw my name instantly, and turned to take my usual seat. I stuttered a quick step as I found my seat filled. Tanya Fineman. She was such a cheer squad girl that I would often forget that she was also super smart. She was part of Sara and Melissa’s crew. I didn’t talk to her much. She was usually assigned to Red Group, which felt like you were dumb in this class, but in Fritz’s sixth period Chem, no one was a dum-dum. It just felt like it sometimes.

We rolled out a pretty well-organized response and analysis, and the best part was I didn’t have to present. Neither did Tanya. We sat next to each other watching our teammates drone through the material. I could already tell we were going to get a B. If we were lucky. That’s the worst part of the group test. 

Tanya and I exchanged a quick glance during an especially dull part of the presentation. We watched a little longer before I leaned forward and lightly tapped her shoulder. “Hey.”

She lifted a half-nod as she kept her eyes on the orators.

“You know that new girl?”

She turned to meet my gaze with an inquiring tilt of her head.

“I’ve got her in Math.” I put my hand to my chin as I pretended to search for her name, and then pretended equally as convincingly to misremember it. But not too far off. “Macey?”

“Lacey,” she corrected as she turned her attention back to the presentation. 

“Yeah, that’s right. Lacey.” I leaned in closer. “Burrows told me he heard her whole family got murdered by a serial killer.”

She paused for a second, seemingly watching the presentation for a moment before turning around half-way in her chair and leaning over confidentially. She whispered against her cupped hand. “Yeah, I heard some psycho killed her whole family and a bunch of cops before they got him, and she barely escaped. They don’t even know how she survived.” She turned to meet my incredulous stare, scoffed, shrugged, and crossed her arms. “Look it up, then.”

I nodded in agreement. 

I waited until Red Group was presenting to start googling. First and last. Idaho or Iowa or Ohio. Here's the thing that I thought would really narrow it down: Serial killing. Turns out there are a lot more serial killings per state than you would probably guess. I dredged through archives of publications, the thought that Andrew could have been wildly off with the state, in the back of my head as I searched. 

The closest I got was a story about a sixteen-year-old named Stacey Miller, from Indiana, whose family was killed during a home invasion and miraculously survived. The culprits had also escaped. The only pictures were of the Tanner home and looming profiles of the town sign, as well as a couple pics of Cooperton County’s Sheriff, August Campbell. 

When the bell rang and the instant clattering began, I waved a hand to Tanya. “Hey.”

She turned an impatient eye.

“Who told you about that serial killer girl?”

She pouted in thought, “I don’t know,” and then popped her lips. “Hiller was talking about it,” she nodded in conclusion and turned to go.

I stopped her with a touch of her elbow. “Where was she from again?”

She paused for a second and then waved impatiently and shrugged. “Wyoming?” she half-asked as she left.  

I returned a tightlipped smile and adjusted my search parameters as I milled out of class. Wyoming changed everything. Now the closest article was a home invasion, family murdered, but now it was Girl Miraculously Escapes House Fire Horror.

Normally at the end of Chem I would go to study hall, sign in, work for a half-hour, which is all I really needed, and Ben would adjust my time, so I got my credits. I did the same for him when I ran check-ins. Today I spent five minutes scribbling around for a while and headed down to the football field. Ben gave me a begrudging nod as I left. I shrugged it off. What are you gonna do? You’ve gotta leave early some days.

Football practice was in full swing when I arrived at the bleachers on the east end of the field. Hiller was sitting on the edge of one of the front benches, deeply engaged in practice. Despite his size and good looks, he was often sitting on the bench. Mostly because of his lack of natural ability. I sidled up to the end of the bleachers and watched the team practice a few drills. Adam noticed me and gave me a nod. I nodded back, casually, and watched a few more plays. A whistle blew. A football tumbled my way, and I neatly punted it back onto the field. The corner caught it and shot me a point as he tossed the ball back into play.

“Nice kick.” Hiller called, sizing me up as he clapped a football. 

I shrugged. “Yeah, I’m a pretty great kicker.”

Hiller laughed and raised the football. “Catch.” He tossed an off-kilter spiral to my outside. I nabbed it with a reach, managed to not drop my bag, and threw a smooth underhand toss back. He fumbled the ball and shot it a scowl as it bounced away before lumbering off the bench and juggling it into submission. He smiled at me and gave it a fake pump with a huff and decided not to throw it again. I chuckled and raised a hand and we both turned back to watch practice.

After a few more plays I turned to him as casually as possible despite my deep curiosity. “Hey, Hiller.”

He raised an eyebrow and his chin.

“You know that new girl? The one that arrived this week from Idaho, or… Wyoming, or something?”

Hiller nodded, knowingly, as he turned his attention back to his practicing peers. “Sure. The serial killer girl.”

I nodded. “Yeah, her.” I turned back to watch the players drill as well. “Where’d you hear those crazy rumors from?” I asked, despite the fact that I already had a pretty good idea. Hiller’s mom was Principal Greenman’s secretary and had the inside scoop on all the students.

He flashed me a suspicious squint, probably wondering why I was so obviously beating around the bush. “You know how word gets around. And from what I heard it ain’t a rumor.”

I jutted my lower lip in surprise. “Wow. That’s a pretty crazy story. She survived some sort of serial killer attack after a bunch of cops got killed as well.” I considered for a moment and then asked. “How do you think she survived such a crazy situation?”

He turned to me with a serious, confidential stare and leaned over as he lowered his voice. “I heard she burned the house down around the killer, her family, and the cops still inside.” He widened his eyes to convey the craziness. “Just torched them all.”

I silently mouthed the word “wow”.

He nodded in agreement.

“Hiller, get your ass in here,” Coach Kipler called impatiently from the field.

Hiller forgot all about me and bumbled onto the field.

I watched a few more drills before I left.

I had spent so much time beating around the bush with Hiller that I had missed the bus. Which didn’t really bother me, I kind of preferred to walk home. It was a short mile and half under the canopy of the elms that lined the suburban sidewalks on the east end of town.

I meandered through the alleys of the shop buildings and around the outskirts of the fields of baseball diamonds and track. I crossed the backroad that led behind the school and took a left on Sycamore. As I reached the corner, I heard a rustle behind me and turned to see what it might be. Nothing. Just a dogwood bush swaying in the breeze, its leaves flashing like sequins in the dappled light.


I nearly jumped out of my shoes and turned to the sound, my hands up in defense. “Geezus.”

It was her. Lacy Tanner, smiling up at me mischievously. She laughed and gave me a shrug. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you so bad.” She leveled an appraising examination. “You sure are a jumpy fella… Ben, right?”

I took a deep breath, my heart still pounding. “Mm-hm,” I nodded. “Everyone calls me Cam.”

She scrunched her face in confusion.

“It’s my middle name.”

“Your middle name’s Cam?”

“Cameron,” I admitted. 

She nodded.

“Well,” I gestured up the street, “Guess I’ll see ya later. Gotta get home and change my pants.”

She snorted and tilted her head. “You headed up this way?” She gestures the same direction up the street. “Mind if I walk with you?” 

My shrug said I was indifferent, the surprised expression on my face said anything but. “Sure.”

“I’m Lacey,” she said as we started down the street. 

“Nice to meet you, Lacey. You new in town?”


“That’s cool. Where’d you come from?”



She giggled. “It’s outside of Chicago.”

“Illinois,” I said in realization under my breath.

She laughed again, “Wow. You’re good at geography too.”

I gave her a humored sneer. 

She returned it.

We walked a few steps in silence before she broke it. “I heard your buddy whispering to you in Math class.”

“Oh?” I held my hands out in a shrug, opening my mouth in a look of dumb innocence. “I don’t know—.”

“Relax, it’s cool.” she pulled the straps of her backpack tighter. “I figure everyone’s probably talking about me.”

“Is,” I hesitated, wondering if I should ask, “Is it—”

“Is it true?” She finished for me. “I don’t know. What have you heard?”

“I, uh, I,” It seemed too crazy to say out loud.

“Did you hear that my family was killed by a serial killer?” she said as she watched me.

I nodded apologetically.

“And that I escaped by burning my house down with everyone trapped inside?”

I continued to nod.

She considered for a moment with a finger to her frumpled chin. “I guess it’s not all the way they say.”

I raised my chin in anticipation.

She smirked up at me. “I don’t know. I guess I could tell you…”

I nodded along.

“... but then I’d have to kill you.”

I grimaced and performed an exaggerated, comical tug at my collar. “Geez, I don’t know.”

She huffed a laugh and narrowed an appraising gaze on me. “I guess I could tell you.”

I nodded.

“You have to promise not to tell anyone.”

“Ok,” I said immediately.

She laughed again. “You promise?”

“I promise.”

“You swear?”

I held my hand up in oath. “My lips are sealed.”

She examined me again and then shrugged like she didn’t have anything to lose. “It’s all true.”

I listened, wide-eyed. 

“Except for one thing.”

My eyes widened further.

“There never was any killer.

I squinted in confusion.

She smirked. “It was me.”

I squinted deeper and hunched, thinking I must have misheard.

“I did it. I killed everyone, and no one ever suspected a thing.”

I had come to a stop without realizing it, my mouth agape. 

She took a deep breath and seemed to grow lighter as she rocked from toe to heel. She smiled up at me. “Wow. Thanks. That felt really good to get off my chest.”

I continued to stare at her. 

She smiled warmly and bounced a final time on her toes. “Whelp, nice to meet you, Cameron. See ya around.” She gave a wave as she bounced across the street and disappeared around the corner. 

I stood on the edge of the sidewalk, frozen, staring at the corner she had disappeared around.

June 02, 2023 23:28

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