Juliet the Maniac by Juliet Escoria
Ambitious, talented fourteen-year-old honors student Juliet is poised for success at her Southern California high school. However, she soon finds herself on an increasingly frightening spiral of drug use, self-harm, and mental illness that lands her in a remote therapeutic boarding school, where she must ultimately find the inner strength to survive.
WHY I’M SCARED OF BIRDS
I always took a shortcut through a vacant field. It had been undeveloped for years, a blank square behind the mall at the top of the hill, before you got to the stucco apartments. Once the plants in it had been green and pretty, tall grass with bushes and wildflowers. It didn’t look like that anymore. Everything had turned chalky and gray. The dead grass crinkled when I stepped on it. At the far end of the field, there was a whole flock of crows, dozens of black marks like a pox.
I expected them to fly away as I got closer, but they didn’t move. They were black, black, black all over, claws to beak, and I felt their black-bead eyes following me.
I decided to sit down in the dirt, try to get the shadows to go away by willing myself solid and impassive like a tree. But the shadows caught up with me, and there were more of them now, shifting from shapes into pieces of people. Disembodied limbs, screeching mouths, long rotted hair. Ghosts. Wanting something from me, for me to do something, as if I could break their suffering and deliver them to heaven. They were saying something but all talking at once, and I couldn’t make out what they said. The crows were still watching me. They began to caw. They were all trying to tell me something. They were all trying to tell me what to do. The sun shone through the thick clouds, a yellow blob in the sky.
My heart beat faster, faster until it was just one long thrum. The molecules around my head buzzed, the crows cackled, the shadows clung at me, and all of it was cloaked in doom. The poison in me was spreading, burning like bile in my veins, dismantling cells and becoming contagious. It would spread into my parents, into Nicole. The only way to get the evil out, to exorcise the ghosts, was to choke it. To choke myself. It was the only way. I stood up and it began pouring rain.
When I got home, I was soaked. My parents were getting ready to leave for dinner. They seemed surprised to see me, surprised that I was soaking wet. “I didn’t know it was raining,” my dad said. A new Mexican restaurant had opened up near the gas station. “Do you want to come?” my mom asked. I told her no. “Are you OK? You look sick,” she said. I said I was fine. I was just tired, I was just cold and wet. I said I would take a hot shower. They left.
The Other Thing took over, pushing me into the bathroom. I watched my hand take out my medicine—Tegretol, Wellbutrin. The pills poured onto the counter in a neat pile. It didn’t seem like enough. I walked into the kitchen, the tiny cupboard where my mom kept the vitamins and headache medicine. There was a big bottle of Tylenol from Costco. There was a smaller bottle of Benadryl too. I set both of them down on the counter. I grabbed one of the kitchen chairs. I dragged it in front of the fridge. There was a bunch of liquor bottles on top. I grabbed the gin. I stepped down, got a tall glass. I poured the gin into it until it was full. I didn’t put the bottle back. I took the glass and the pill bottles and went into the bathroom. I poured the Tylenol and Benadryl out next to the other pills, threw all of the bottles in the trash. They looked pretty—the white of the Tylenol and Tegretol mixed with the bright pink and red of the other pills. I grabbed a handful, shoved them in my mouth, swallowed them with the gin, until it was all gone. They went down my throat so easy it was like they belonged there.
I went into my bedroom. The lights were off and the room was very dark. I lay down on the bed. My eyelids grew heavy and I closed them. Everything felt thick and dumb. I think I fell asleep. I dreamt I was tied, my hands behind my back, my feet together. Someone had lit me on fire. The flame that burned me was very white and very hot, but it didn’t hurt. I couldn’t see anything else but flames. I lost place of my body. I became the fire.
And then my dad was shaking me. I opened my eyes and the fire 50 was gone. He was sitting on the bed, over me. It looked like there were three of him. My mother was over his shoulder. There were three of her too. Her face glistened, I think she was crying, and the tears glowed, brilliant as stars.
The next thing I knew, I was in the car. My mother was in the backseat with me. My face was against the window, the glass cool on my cheek. She kept on saying my name over and over, her hand grabbing my arm. It seemed too difficult to answer her and so I didn’t. We were on the freeway and the other car lights went by in streaks and blurs, like lines of fire.
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