By Samantha Arthurs |

“Let’s play truth or dare!”

A collective groan went up from the group of girls gathered in Margie’s basement, all of them seventeen years old and too mature now for kiddy games like truth or dare and spin the bottle. Though none of them seemed impressed with the idea, it was Elsie who spoke up. She fancied herself the unofficial leader of their friendship circle, shaking her head a little as she voiced her displeasure.

“We aren’t little kids, Margie. What’s next? Light as a feather? Come on. There has to be something else we can do tonight! Your parents have a liquor cabinet, don’t they?” She inquired, a titter passing through the others at the idea of having actual alcohol.

Margie gave Elsie a nasty look at the suggestion, lip curling up a bit. “It’s locked. They aren’t stupid, you know. There are nine teenage girls in their basement, you really think they’d lave the liquor cabinet wide open? Plus, there’s nothing wrong with truth or dare. It’s just a game, and it’s something to do.”

“I wouldn’t mind playing.”

The words came out softly, barely even audible, and they all turned to look at the who had uttered them. Sylvia was new to their group, having moved to town at the beginning of the fall semester. They had immediately welcomed her in, and though she was quiet, she had seamlessly become part of the group. A thumbs up from Sylvia was enough to get Elsie to cave, though she still quietly complained that it was indeed a game for babies.

The game started, and they went around the circle one by one, accepting either truth or dare. The questions were fairly mundane, mostly about who liked who at school or how far they’d each gone with a boy. The dares were just as mild, silly things like running around the backyard in just a nightgown or prank calling one of their teachers.

By the time they reached Sylvia the group was in hysterics, cracking up over the last dare which had required a girl named Judy to call their science teacher, a nerdy man who was balding on top, and heavy breathe into the phone. Finally, they calmed down, and Elsie focused on Sylvia.

“Alright, new girl. Truth or dare?” She asked, wiggling her fingers at the other girl with a wide grin on her face.

“Hmm…truth,” Sylvia decided, smiling back as she hugged her pillow against her stomach. “At least for this first time.”

Elsie took a moment to think, the grin on her face going from teasing to a bit sinister, eyes zeroed in on the girl across from her. She had a very good question in mind, and she was ready to pounce if she thought that the new girl wasn’t actually telling the truth. “Alright, Sylvia. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

Sylvia hugged the pillow a little tighter, staring at some point on the wall over Elsie’s shoulder as she contemplated. “The worst thing I’ve ever done….I was six years old. You see, I had this little brother, Kyle…”

Sylvia hated Kyle from the moment his parents brought him home from the hospital. She was six when he was born, and from that moment on she felt forgotten. Everything became about the baby, his wants, and his needs. She wasn’t necessarily neglected, but in her child’s mind she most certainly felt like it. She was always being told to quiet down, don’t wake the baby. It was always Sylvia stop that, Sylvia do this, and the resentment built up quickly. By the time her baby brother was five months old, she didn’t think she could take much more.

It was wearing hard on her parents too; anyone could see that. Her father’s office job didn’t offer more than a week of paternity leave, and since it was summer Sylvia wasn’t in school, so her mother had to tend to both her and the infant on her own. Mother was worn to a frazzle, dark circles beneath her eyes from lack of sleep as Kyle had colic and was up all night screaming bloody murder. Sylvia was an early riser, so when she got up at six every morning like clockwork, so did mother.

The day that it happened was a Tuesday, and mother had put Kyle in his crib for a nap. She herself fell asleep draped across the bed in the master bedroom where she had been folding laundry, out hard from two days of very little rest. Sylvia was the only one awake, eating an ice pop and watching Scooby Doo on the living room sofa. When Kyle began to cry, his low and pitiful cry that meant he had a loaded diaper, she waited for mother to rouse up and tend to him. Only, well, she didn’t.

Realizing that mother wasn’t coming, and that Kyle was working up to a full-on tantrum, Sylvia abandoned her show and went to the nursery. Her little brother was flailing his arms and legs, face screwed up and beet red. A wave of anger overcame her as she stared at him, reaching through the bars of his crib to give him a hard pinch on one chubby leg. That really made him cry, but it made her feel very satisfied.

“I hate you,” she muttered, still staring at him. “I wish you’d never even been born.”

Kyle’s reaction was to flail and cry even more, and that’s when something in Sylvia completely broke. Climbing up into the crib, she knelt beside her brother and looked around. Babies his age couldn’t sleep with blankets or pillows, but at the far end of the crib there was a stuffed bear that meemaw had sent him. She grabbed it and, without hesitation, shoved it over his little red face. She pressed down hard, stifling his cries into the fur of the stuffed animal. The harder she pushed, the less he flailed, until finally he stopped moving altogether.

Removing the bear, Sylvia stared down at Kyle who was now blue instead of red, one eye opened and one eye shut and body unmoving. She put the bear back and climbed from the crib, exiting the nursery and shutting the door behind her. She went back to her show, and that’s where she was an hour later when she heard her mother begin to scream as she discovered Kyle dead in his crib bed.

The girls all stared at Sylvia in horror, mouths agape as they took in what she had just told them. She had told it so matter-of-factly, as though it wasn’t a big deal. None of them knew what to say, and they were all now a bit afraid of their new friend. If she could kill her own infant brother as a child, then what else was she capable of?

“So,” Elsie said after a minute of drawn out, agonizing silence. “Are we really sure that liquor cabinet is locked?”

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