Girls of Little Hope by Dale Halvorsen and Sam Beckbessinger
“Sharp as a DIY-piercing, with a fierce punk heart – I loved the hell out of this.”
“A dark, strange, and joyful book about sticking by your best friends in the face of a monstrous world.”
“A tremendously confident, thrilling debut… I stayed up all night to finish it”
—Alex de Campi, Eisner Award nominated author of Bad Girls
“A comfortingly creepy reminder that friendships are the greatest adventure, and that we’re never in this alone.”
—Nechama Brodie, author of Three Bodies
Girls of Little Hope by Dale Halvorsen and Sam Beckbessinger Excerpt!!
SATURDAY, 21 SEPTEMBER 1996
I’m in the medical examination room at the Little Hope Police Department. Donna keeps saying it in her mind, over and over. Her brain can’t grasp it, it keeps wriggling from her like an eel. Maybe if she says the words enough times, it might start to feel real. I’m in the medical examination room at the Little Hope Police Department. Over on the adjacent table, Rae seems to be having the same problem. She has a grin on her face the size of the moon, teeth bared, eyes crinkled in glee. This is not the appropriate response for where they are, in the medical examination room at the Little Hope Police Department, and Donna fights the urge to grab her and shake the grin off. It’s too much, to be here, to have lived through what they have just lived through.
Although, if she’s honest, she’s not even sure exactly what it is they’ve lived through.
It is two days now since she came stumbling into consciousness. Literally, stumbling. Rae half-carrying, half-dragging her along a deer path, deeper into the darkness of the woods. No idea where she was, what was happening. Rae was hysterical, babbling that they had to run, her hair wet, her face streaked with mud.
The last thing she remembers before that is climbing over some boulders towards Ronnie Gaskins’s cave, Rae’s dark bob bouncing up ahead. In between those two moments is blank, a film strip badly spliced. It’s not amnesia, everything else is still there. She knows who she is. And she knows where she is: I’m in the medical examination room at the Little Hope Police Department. That’s a start. Hold on to that.
Rae turns to her, brown eyes sparkling from the fluorescent lights, squinting and squeezed from that too-big smile. It must be that she’s just struggling to press down the panic. Find the right emotions. Or… maybe it’s what Rae remembers, and she doesn’t. Maybe Rae understands how lucky they are to be alive.
The doctor asked them several times if they wouldn’t prefer to let her examine them separately, but they refused to be separated. They’d had to drag a second examination table in from another room.
Rae’s grin seems to be spooking the doctor. She won’t make eye contact with either of them, but she keeps repeating their names, tacking them onto the end of every sentence as she narrates her actions.
“I’m going to take samples from under your fingernails now, Donna.”
“I’m going to check your wrists for bruises, Tammy-Rae.”
“I’m taking some photographs now, Donna.”
“I just need a bit of blood for the lab, Donna.”
Probably something she learned in a textbook about how to calm the traumatised. Remind them they are more than a victim, they are a full human being. But Donna does not feel
like a full human being right now, no siree; she feels like she’s had a chunk lopped off her. Worse, she feels like the chunk that’s been lopped off. Isn’t it starfish, where if you chop off a leg, it can grow into a whole new starfish? That’s what she feels like: a wriggling leg trying to remember how to be a person.
The hospital gown feels scratchy against her skin. Their clothes are already sealed up in a paper evidence bag, balanced carefully on the counter to be checked for hair and semen. Some scrap that can speak for them, in place of their stubborn muteness.
The doctor leans over her to photograph a mud-smear on her waist that she has no memory of getting. She smells of fruity perfume and antiseptic. Donna can make out the shape of an
oversized engagement ring through her blue surgical gloves.
Not a doctor, Donna notices. FORENSIC NURSE: CARLA MENDEZ, according to the small plastic badge pinned to her white coat. Donna’s never seen her before, and she’s pretty sure
she knows everyone in this town. They must have driven her up from Sacramento. Is Sacramento big enough to employ someone to do this full-time, comb over the bodies of girls who’ve been missing and are now found, to try to catalogue exactly the ways they’ve been violated? Seems like a weird profession. There’s probably more to the job, but on this, the strangest night of her life, Donna can’t bring herself to imagine what.
At least it’s not Dr Abrams, the town’s skeevy family doctor, who looks for any excuse to get you to lift your shirt and breathes too deeply when he holds the stethoscope against your
ribs. That’s something to be grateful for, that it’s no one who knows her, no one who could look into her eyes and see how much is missing. What should she be feeling right now? Grief? Terror? That’s what everyone around her seems to want. They seem to want her to be sobbing or screaming. But each breath feels wonderful, cold and tickling her nose, the soft rise of her chest under the thin hospital gown. It’s all just too absurd, to be lying here, reminding herself over and over again that she’s in the medical examination room of the Little Hope Police Department like that’s supposed to mean something.
Sacramento’s more than an hour away. They must have called Nurse Mendez just after they were found. There are no windows in this room so it’s hard to tell exactly, but it can’t be
long since they stumbled into Louanne Martin’s diner, Rae screaming for help. It was dawn. Louanne was the only person there, lining up condiments on the melamine counter before
the breakfast rush. She clasped her chest at the sight of them, sending bottles of watered-down ketchup careening across the floor, splashing bright red across the tiles like some kind of high-fructose crime scene.
That can’t have been more than a couple of hours ago. Maybe more. Time seems to be loping past her in chunks. Like there’s an absence inside of her, a hole that things keep slipping through.
She has no sense of how long they were missing. It must have been a few days at least, judging from how Louanne gasped when she saw them, and the posters plastered up all around town. She saw them earlier, her nose pressed up against the window of the
police car that drove them here. Her own face on every wall, every street light. HAVE YOU SEEN THESE GIRLS?
“I’m just checking for injuries, Donna,” trills Nurse Mendez, running gloved hands gently down her arm. She frowns at a spot of bright red on her elbow and reaches for a swab. Donna starts to tell her not to worry, it’s just ketchup, but she’s afraid she’ll laugh. She lets the nurse swab it and slip it into a baggie, which joins the growing pile on the steel trolley.
Actually, as far as she can tell, Donna doesn’t have a scratch on her anywhere. Like this might be some elaborate prank they’re playing on everyone.
She needs to get her face under control before she ends up grinning like Rae, leering like a loon, scaring everyone. She focuses on trying to freeze her face, keeps repeating, I am in
the medical examination room at the Little Hope Police Department in her mind. The paint has chipped off and been painted over the metal bars lining the examination table, coarse beneath the pads of her thumbs. The air is heavy in her lungs, anchoring her back to her body. Cold in her throat. Breathe. Just breathe. Remember where you are.
Rae’s mom gave them something for the shock, two little pills, oblong and powdery. She said it might make them feel a little sleepy. Sleepy’s the last thing Donna feels. It’s like
somebody stuck jumper cables inside her brain, like her whole body is buzzing and dangerous to touch.
Her dad asked if he could take her home, let her wash, let her sleep a while. But no, there’s too much to do. They need to catalogue and sample her. Her whole body is a clue, a
crime scene. This is the grim admin of trauma. A trauma she can’t even remember.
There are… fragments, maybe. Vague outlines of memories through the white mist of her brain. Crunching sounds in the darkness. The iron smell of blood. Something cold and wet on her face. And something else, nagging at her consciousness, like a memory she’s not ready to look at yet.
Nurse Mendez guides Rae’s feet into stirrups and begins to lubricate a speculum. “This might feel a little cold, Tammy-Rae.” She pauses to look at the white scars laddering their way up Rae’s thighs, but those are old.
Donna glances back at her. Rae, her best friend, her blood sister. A stranger to her now, that skeletal grin twisting her features, knees sprawled apart under a thin sheet, her normally
glossy dark bob matted against her head with grime and sweat and leaves. She looks like a feral thing. Something that doesn’t belong here, here in the shiny white and chrome medical
examination room at the Little Hope Police Department.
“You look like a Troll doll,” Donna tries to say. But the words come out slurred. “Ulook like a traw-daw.” Rae barely glances at her. Donna supposes she probably doesn’t look much better herself.
Nurse Mendez ducks under the sheet draped across Rae’s knees. Rae flinches, hisses through her bared teeth. She’s crying, tears sliding over her smile.
“We’re OK,” Donna says, the words clearer now.
But are they? She can’t be sure. If she could just remember what happened, maybe then she’d know.
Rae turns her head away from her. Donna’s not sure if she’s hiding the tears or the maniac grin.
There’s a shriek from outside. A woman screaming. A muffled thump, raised voices, heavy footsteps pounding up the passageway. She recognises Chief Pittman’s voice, yelling that
she can’t be down here. More shouting. A crash, and Marybeth Larkin falls through the doors to the examining room.
“Where is she?” Her face is red. A pink coat pulled on over flannel Minnie Mouse pyjamas, bottle-blonde hair tumbling out of its bun. It’s the first time Donna’s ever seen her without
make-up, and she looks much older than her thirty-three years.
Nurse Mendez pulls her head out from under the sheet, nearly falling off her stool in shock.
Donna feels her body cringing, trying to make itself smaller. She doesn’t want this, not now. Not here.
Chief Pittman runs in and grabs Marybeth, holding her tight. “Please, Marybeth. This is a medical room. Let’s talk in my office.”
“Where is she?” Marybeth yells again. “Where’s my Katie?” She snarls and tries to fight her way out of his grip, but the chief has her tight. She collapses against him, her face crumpling into helpless, angry tears. “You left her. You left her behind. Where is she? Please just tell me, where…” And then she can’t speak any more. She leans against Chief Pittman and sobs.
Oh yes, the absence. Part of what her brain has been working so hard not to remember. That she and Rae are here, found, grinning and sobbing and scaring people in the medical examination room at the Little Hope Police Department.
But Kat, Kat is still gone.
Three girls went into the woods. Only two came back, covered in blood and with no memory of what happened.
Being fifteen is tough, tougher when you live in a boring-ass small town in 1996. Donna, Rae and Kat keep each other sane with the fervour of teen friendships, zine-making and some amateur sleuthing. Their hunt will lead them to a hidden cave from which only two of them return alive. As the police investigate, Rae and Donna will have to return to the cave where they discover a secret so shattering that no-one who encounters it will ever be the same.
About Sam Beckbessinger
Sam Beckbessinger is the bestselling author of Manage Your Money Like a F-cking Grownup, sold in five countries. She was one of the writers on Serial Box’s and Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Playing With Fire serialised novel. She’s also written several episodes for animated kids’ TV show, Team Jay, and the comedy series Jungle Beat, which has been broadcast in over 180 countries. Sam was a Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders at Yale University in 2014, and is a partner and co-founder of two financial technology businesses. She is South African but now lives in the English countryside with her cat, Sir Digby Chicken Caeasar III, who is an idiot.
Dale Halvorsen (aka Joey Hi-Fi) is a writer, internationally award-winning book cover designer, graphic designer, and Illustrator. # LivingTheSlashieLIfe. He dreams of writing more books as opposed to just putting covers on them. He is also proudly autistic.