The music thumped just a little too loud, the lights flashed a little too bright, each room was just a bit too crowded. Sasha drifted out of the kitchen to the outskirts of the living room, shifting the red solo cup from hand to hand, the cheap beer gone flat and unwanted. She scanned the room for her friend, Claire, but she could not be found among the crowd. With a sigh, Sasha slipped through the other guests, writhing to the music, and resisted the urge to snap at each drunk teenager that bumped into her. Finally, she broke free from the room when she reached the basement stairs, hurrying down to meet the voices drifting upwards. The music became blessedly quiet, and the air wasn’t heated with the cramp of bodies. It was all the more relieving when a familiar voice called her name from the other side of the room, where Sasha spotted Claire among a small group seated on a circle of couches and loveseats. She crossed the room easily, only having to dodge the rowdy boys playing pool.
“There you are! We were just about to play truth or dare, you, like, have to join us!” her friend said from her seat at the end of one of the couches.
“Actually, I was hoping we could leave, I haven’t studied for our history final yet and I don’t want to be here all night.” Claire frowned and twisted the beaded necklace she wore.
“Don’t have a cow, it’s still early, we’ll split soon.” The boy beside Claire leaned over then, sliding his arm over her shoulders.
“C’mon babe, you said you’d stay for a while.” He looked up at Sasha, his nose wrinkling in annoyance. “Just get a ride with someone else.” Sasha never did like Claire’s boyfriend; Jared, a football player that thought far too highly of himself, and seemed to think that, because she was his girlfriend, he was in control of Claire. Not to mention everyone suspected he was older than 18, as he claimed. She ignored him.
“Everyone here is too drunk to go anywhere. If you won’t leave, give me your keys and find your own ride home.”
“You don’t get to just leave with her car,” Jared answered for her with a sneer. Claire nodded emphatically, sending her bright earrings swinging.
“Just play one round with us and we’ll go. Cross my heart,” the girl promised solemnly, giving Sasha no other option than to reluctantly agree. As she perched on the arm of the couch, Jared caught the group’s attention, and the game began.
“Jessica,” Jared started, looking pointedly at a girl that sat across the circle. “Truth or dare?”
“Truth,” she answered, pulling at her frizzy hair with a nervous giggle.
“Who in this circle would you do?” Everyone waited intently as Jessica blushed, stammered the start of a few words, and finally coughed out an answer.
“Brian.” The circle erupted in cheers or jabs, and Sasha’s gaze drifted over to the named boy, who looked thoroughly disgusted. Though she felt a small amount of pity for Jessica, she laughed along with the rest of them. Claire announced it was her turn next, grinning at Nick, a goth kid whose boots made up his entire personality.
“Truth or dare, Nick?”
“Let me give you another ear piercing.” Nick merely shrugged.
The ordeal of Claire piercing Nick’s ear took much longer than it should have, had the participants not been tipsy, and a majority of the group insisted on trailing Claire as she retrieved ice and searched for a needle. A few guests had left by the time everyone was seated again. It was Sasha’s turn then.
“Johnny, truth or dare?’ she asked the boy on the opposite couch. He shook out the cuffs of his leather jackets and flashed her a smile.
“Are you going to ask anyone to prom?”
“Well, I was thinking about this one righteous chic with a blue blazer,” he answered, flicking his brows up. Sasha glanced down quickly at her bright blue sleeves and smiled back at him, then the game was continuing. The girl in the seat to Sasha’s left asked Brian if he would get back with his ex were he given the opportunity (yes) and the next girl, Megan, dared Jared to take off his shirt (who was more than happy to oblige). During that time, Johnny and another girl in the circle dismissed themselves from the game. Nicole inspected the circle closely before training her steady gaze on Michael, a boy who spent more time fiddling with computers than he did talking with people.
“Truth or dare?”
“Truth.” Nicole sucked her lower lip between her teeth and an odd look came over her eyes.
“Have you ever...hurt anyone?”
“Yeah, but he deserved it.” Michael answered firmly, crossing his arms. Sasha shifted where she sat. What the hell did he mean by that? What made it all the more unsettling was that no one else seemed to react to his answer. She leaned over to whisper her concern to Claire, but before she could open her mouth, Tony was asking Sasha truth or dare.
“Dare,” she decided, making a mental note to ask Claire about Michael later.
“I dare you to chug this.” Tony stood, took a step across the space between them, and shoved the cup he had been holding into her hand.
“What even is this?” she asked skeptically, setting down her old drink.
“It’s just beer, don’t be such a square,” he rolled his eyes, pushing up the glasses that had slipped down his nose.
“That’s it? Fine.” Sasha knocked back the drink and Jessica waited to take her turn until Tony had taken his seat again. Once more giggling nervously, she asked Nicole what she wrote about in her journal, which she was often seen carrying around or scribbling in. She revealed she kept tabs on many students from Cherry Creek High, recording bits of gossip she overheard, secrets she was told or picked up in passing, events she witnessed that one might not want remembered. Sasha eyed Nicole carefully then, beginning to sift through her memories, wondering if she had any incriminating information against her. Nicole keeping to herself was beginning to make more sense, and her habit of staring seemed all the more intrusive. Nick’s bleak gaze slid to Claire after a moment.
“Truth or dare?”
“Dare,” she chose cheerfully, seemingly unaffected by what their classmates had been revealing.
“I dare you to shave your head.” The girls in the group all gasped, protesting such an unfair dare, telling Nick to pick something else, though Claire seemed to be deliberating silently.
“I’ll do one side,” she finally answered. The goth boy nodded, agreeing to the compromise.
“Claire you can’t! Your mom might literally kill you,” she warned the other girl, who only seemed mildly troubled by the idea.
“I’ll part it differently when I’m at home, she won’t know,” Claire said, attempting a reassuring smile, though she wouldn’t meet Sasha’s eyes.
“Yes, she will! You don’t have to go along with every stupid dare.”
“Let her do what she wants,” Jared interjected, frowning.
“God, don’t be such a wet blanket. What fun is truth or dare if you don’t actually play?” said Claire, turning her back on Sasha. “I’ll do it.”
“I’ll go find a razor,” Jared volunteered, standing and passing out of the circle, shooting Sasha a glare. She frowned back at him. With a pause in the game, the group started up conversations, but with her attention no longer trained on the questions and answers from everyone, Sasha realized the boys that had been playing pool were gone, and the murmur of conversation from upstairs had quieted.
“That dare is bogus, you shouldn’t have agreed to it,” she tried again, hoping without Jared present Claire might start to see reason, but her friend crossed her arms, her annoyance growing more apparent.
“I’m doing it, and you can’t change my mind. It’s not like they’re asking you to shave your hair, so lay off,” she snapped, again outright ignoring her by turning away, striking up a conversation with Michael. When Jared returned, he came with an electric razor dangling from his hand, a horrible smile parting his lips. Sasha watched, horrified, as Nick took the razor, plugged it in, and waved Claire over. The truth or dare players cheered when he took the razor to her head and the first chunks of her hair fell at their feet. Sasha turned, unable to watch, and found Nicole coming down the stairs with two drinks in her hands. She hadn’t even noticed her leave.
“You seem troubled,” Nicole muttered, holding out one of the red cups to Sasha, who accepted it gladly.
“No shit! Claire’s making a horrible decision,” she grumbled, taking a long swig of her drink. It tasted different from the beer she’d had earlier in the night, but she didn’t dwell on it.
“Well if she regrets it, it’s her problem. She seemed pretty happy to do it though.” Nicole lifted a hand to her own hair, tugging at the choppy, blonde ends. The glint in her eyes, and the way she watched the crowd around Claire, made Sasha wonder if Nicole would be willing to mutilate her own hair for a chance in the spotlight. The two watched quietly from the back of the group for a moment until the buzzing of the razor stopped and a hush fell across everyone.
“So?” Claire asked tentatively, a tremor in her voice where she had sounded so sure before. “How does it look?” Nicole produced a mirror from a pocket in her trench coat and pushed forward. Through the parted group Sasha caught sight of Claire as she took the mirror and, turning it to herself, clapped a hand to her mouth. Sasha expected her friend to be as horrified as she was, but when her friend dropped her hand, she was beaming.
“Oh my God, it’s kinda killer!” she squealed, peering into the mirror while running a hand over her newly shaved hair. She handed the mirror back to Nicole and stepped past the others to stand in front of Sasha, the set of her smile stubborn, her hands on her hips.
“See, I knew it would turn out fine,” she insisted.
“Whatever,” Sasha mumbled, unsure if “fine” was the right word. As the group returned to their seats, Sasha was now tempted to physically drag Claire from the party so they could go home. Instead, she said nothing as Brian took his turn, who asked Megan what she would do, if she could do anything, to get even with the girls who had messed with her throughout middle school. She told everyone that she’d like the chance to blackmail her tormentors, perhaps exploit their own insecurities, until they were on the bottom of the social food chain themselves. Sasha, troubled by Megan’s desire for revenge, became even more uneasy when Jared told her such a thing wasn’t entirely impossible, a wicked grin slashed across his face. Michael chose Tony next, who picked truth, and asked him what his darkest secret was. He thought for a long moment.
“I once slept with a girl just to get free comic books at that store by the school,” he admitted, though the cheers that went up from the guys quickly turned his apprehension to pride. Finally, it was Jared’s turn again.
“Sasha, truth or dare?”
“Dare,” she chose again, unsure she wanted anyone in this group learning a single secret from her. The awful smirk on Jared’s face turned more sinister.
“Strip for us.” For Sasha, that was the last straw.
“What the hell? No! Alright Claire, we stayed for a round, let’s leave.” Sasha stood, ready to storm from the room, but a wave of dizziness came over her, causing her to sway on her feet. When she made for the exit, Brian’s large form blocked her path. Confused and disoriented, she turned to ask Claire to tell him to move, but as she did so, Brian’s hands closed around her wrists, pinning them behind her back. She tried to struggle, to demand he let her go, ask what was happening, but her mind had suddenly gone foggy, her vision blurred at the edges. She mumbled a few incoherent words before Nick rose and struck her across the head with the razor still in his hands, knocking her unconscious..
The world came back in pieces, first with the smell of pine, then the chill of the night air. When Sasha finally managed to open her eyes, she found herself looking at the wood slats of a ceiling. The pounding in her head dulled the questions running through her thoughts to an unintelligible buzz, but voices only a few feet away cut through her confusion.
“I’m not sure I can do it,” a voice whispered. Claire?
“It’s way too late to back out now. Do it quick and get it over with,” a male voice replied. Footsteps creaked towards her, and a moment later Jared was looming over her.
“Shit, she’s awake now, you waited too long,” he snapped over his shoulder. Fighting the sharp pain shooting through her skull, Sasha struggled to stand, but her efforts were halted when Jared grabbed her arm and hauled her to her feet himself. She searched her surroundings frantically for an escape. She appeared to be in a treehouse, with tree branches visible through the open windows, and no exit other than a square whole cut in the wooden floor to the far left
“Do it now,” he ordered and, as she struggled to free herself, Sasha caught the glint of a knife in Claire’s hand.
“No, Claire, don’t listen to him. I don’t know why you’re doing this, we’re friends!”
“Jared’s a better friend,” Claire mumbled, edging toward her. “I’m sorry, Sasha, really, I didn’t want it to be you, but he said it had to be.” She continued forward, and when Claire stepped into the moonlight slanting into the tree house, Sasha saw the tears streaming down her cheeks. But Claire's grip on the kitchen knife did not loosen. Without thinking, and with no real plan, Sasha gave Jared a swift kick to the shin. He cursed and lost focus just long enough for her to wrench her arms free and lunge for the hole in the floor. She tumbled through the air for a breath before hitting the ground with a jarring thud. Sasha ignored the searing pain that tore through her arm and scrambled off the forest floor, taking off at a stumbling run in what she hoped was the direction of the house. She heard yelling and cursing behind her, the crash of brush as she was pursued, but continued on until she spotted the house lights through the trees. Running across the yard to the house, Sasha came to a skidding halt as realization came crashing in. She wouldn't be safe in that house, not when the truth or dare players were still there, when they were in on this plot. She stumbled back a step and veered right to the side of the house, running through her very limited options of escape, vowing that if she survived she would never go to a party again. Her scattered plotting was interrupted as she slammed into someone, who caught her in their arms. She panicked, writhing to get free, but paused when the person spoke.
“Oh my God, are you ok? I came back for my jacket and saw them dragging you out of the house. I didn’t know what was going on so I called the police, what happened?” Sasha could only shake her head, frightened tears coming in full force now that she was no longer in immediate danger. Refusing to return to the house, Johnny hurried Sasha to his car, where they waited for the police to arrive.
A week later, Sasha came sleepily down the stairs, shuffling into the kitchen to pour herself a bowl of cereal. After plunking herself down on the couch in her living room, she switched on the T.V. and flicked through the channels, though not much was on that Sunday morning. Sasha paused and sat up straighter as she landed on the news. Pictures of her classmates were lined up on the screen. She turned up the volume, shoving a spoonful of cheerios into her mouth.
“Last week, seven highschoolers from Cherry Creek were questioned about the drugging and assault of their classmate, Sasha Evans, and just last night they were taken into custody and placed under arrest. After several interviews and investigation by the local police department, they have all confessed to a variety of crimes including theft, blackmail, the reselling of illegal drugs, and even attempted murder. A majority claim they did so under the direction of one Jared Fletcher, though he has not been seen since last weekend’s events. Please contact your local police if you or anyone you know has seen this man.” Jared's most recent yearbook picture filled the screen, looking as innocent as any other highschooler. One would never guess the horrors he was capable of, nor what he might do if he were to remain free. Sasha changed the channel as the news reporter began going into detail about that night, not wanting to relive a single moment. She hoped that wherever Jared was at that moment, he knew that justice would be someday served.
Less than a month had passed since the night of the party, but it was far from Jared’s mind as he strolled into the administration building of Rocky Mountain High School.
“Good afternoon, how can I help you?” asked the woman at the front desk.
“I’m here to enroll? My name’s Mike Dwyer.”