#Murdertrending – Gretchen McNeil

THE INSTANT DEE GUERRERA peeled open her eyelids and gazed around the dimly lit warehouse, she knew she was screwed. Fifty million people are about to watch me die. She lay on the concrete floor, its chill permeating her clothes, and recalled the insanity that had landed her here. Three weeks ago, the most important things in her life had been college applications and securing a date to the prom. Then the body, the trial. She’d hardly had time to process what had happened before she’d found herself sitting in a courtroom, listening to a jury find her guilty of firstdegree murder. Was that this morning? Yesterday? Dee tried to remember how much time had passed since the verdict, but her mind was fuzzy, her breathing labored as if she’d been drugged…. The bailiff. As the judge read her sentence, she’d heard the bailiff come up behind her. She’d expected to be escorted back to her cell, but instead felt a hand on her wrist, a pinch on her arm. It must have been a needle. She’d been rendered unconscious before they hauled her off to Alcatraz 2.0 Alcatraz 2.0

She’d heard the judge say it, but she still could hardly believe it. That sentence was usually reserved for the most infamous of convicted killers: mobsters, mass murderers, terrorists, assassins. They were notorious. They were dangerous. They got good ratings. Dee was just a seventeen-year-old nobody who couldn’t even throw a punch, let alone stay alive long enough on Alcatraz 2.0 to gain a cult following. Yet here she was, about to be the star attraction on the number-one live-streaming show in the country. Yay? Alcatraz 2.0, the suburban island in the San Francisco Bay where convicted murderers were hunted down by government-sanctioned serial killers for America’s amusement, had been the brainchild of an anonymous television mogul known only as The Postman. When a former reality “star” was elected president of the United States, The Postman had used his clout to sell the federal government on the idea of capital punishment as entertainment. Broadcasting the over-the-top theatrics of The Postman’s psychotic killers—each with their own thematic brand of murder—not only reminded citizens of what awaited them if they broke the law, but kept them glued to their screens, where they were less likely to break said laws in the first place.

The Postman app had been a runaway success. Fans could watch 24/7, cycling through a range of live camera feeds from all over the island: inmates at “home” in their apartments, at “work” on Alcatraz 2.0’s Main Street, and, of course, the murders. A double-doorbell notification alerted users of a kill in progress, which they could watch live or in a variety of replays on the app. Users “spiked” videos to show their appreciation, and before long, all The Postman’s killers had their own fandoms, forums, merch, video games, and RPGs, plus the lucrative betting markets, all controlled by Postman Enterprises, Inc. The Postman’s killers were media-driven celebrities, just like the president, though they were faceless, masked. There were even conspiracy-theory web series devoted to speculation about the killers’ secret identities. Were the Hardy Girls actually minivan-driving soccer moms? Didn’t Gassy Al’s voice sound like the announcer on The Price Is Right? The whole thing was fucking nuts. But while all of Dee’s friends and even her stepsister, Monica, had been obsessed with The Postman, Dee had refused to watch. In fact, just hearing the telltale Ding-dong! Ding-dong! notification triggered a full-on PTSD panic attack as Dee internalized the inmate’s fear and instantly relived the six days she’d spent trapped in a white windowless room by a deranged kidnapper when she was eleven years old.

So yeah, Dee loathed everything about The Postman, even if technically it was justice served. That had been the main selling point of The Postman—justice. But was it really delivered? Dee’s trial for Monica’s murder had been a complete joke, from dubious DNA evidence to a psychiatrist who’d only interviewed Dee once, then testified that she suffered from a deep-seated jealousy of and hatred for her stepsister. Total bullshit. But the jury didn’t think so, which had landed Dee in one of The Postman’s kill rooms. Dee had thought she’d get at least a few weeks to settle into her life on the island. Didn’t most inmates hang around for a while until the audience became invested in their stories, personas, jobs, and intra-island relationships? Crap. Dee should have paid more attention to The Postman app when she’d had the chance. At least then she’d have some knowledge of what she was in for. Now she’d have to rely on what she’d learned from Monica, or picked up during her trial, when she’d been forced to watch a nonstop Alcatraz 2.

0 feed in her prison cell. Well, she knew one thing for sure: one of The Postman’s psychos was about to shed her blood. Who would it be? Would she end up as the main ingredient in one of Hannah Ball’s cannibalistic casseroles? Or starring in a Cecil B. DeViolent splatterporn re-creation of Gone with the Wind? Was Gucci Hangman at that very moment constructing a designer noose for her neck, expertly crafted to match her complexion and outfit and the latest trends from New York Fashion Week while it slowly strangled the life out of her? Or was Molly Mauler about to flood the room with water and piranhas and make her choose death by suffocation or mastication? No, wait. She’d seen Molly kill with piranhas just last week. A bank robber who’d knocked off a security guard or something. So no piranhas. Jellyfish, maybe? Or sea snakes? Was that even a thing? With a heavy sigh, Dee pushed herself to her feet and took stock of her situation. She glanced down at her clothes and realized that her orange prison jumpsuit had been replaced by a floor-length ball gown of iridescent pale blue tulle and satin, with a pair of clear Lucite kitten heels on her feet. An outfit fit for a princess, which meant… “Crap.

” She was about to be Prince Slycer’s next victim. Slycer was the worst. Not only did he chase his victims through booby-trap-riddled mazes, but he made them dress up like cartoon princesses while he hunted them down and skewered them with an arsenal of increasingly large and bizarre cake knives. Dee spun around, looking for the mirror— Slycer always left one for his victims—to see what twisted fairy tale she was about to relive. The cracked pane was ten feet away, hanging from a rusty nail on the wall. Blue dress, black choker, elbow-length gloves, matching sparkly headband. And her dark brown hair had been twisted up into a bun. “Cinderella?” A blond housemaid. Seriously? He couldn’t even pick a brunette? This sucks on so many levels. Slycer’s last victim had been done up as Rapunzel, complete with an elaborately long wig that the poor girl kept tripping over as Slycer came in for the kill.

Monica had been obsessed with her death, watching it over and over again as Rapunzel crawled away, pathetically begging for mercy. Immediately #SlowCrawl trended on The Postman feed as millions of people critiqued Rapunzel’s performance. What would Dee’s death include? #ExplodingPumpkins? #KillerMice? So freaking humiliating. Bad enough she was seconds away from getting a twelve-inch blade through the sternum, but she had to trend as well? Still, Dee knew better than to fight back. There would be no escape, no appeal. There never was after an Alcatraz 2.0 sentence. And Dee didn’t stand a chance against The Postman’s killers. Even badass MMA fighter Nancy Wu had only lasted four months. No, the most Dee could hope for was to put on a good show in her final moments, maybe sell some merchandise from The Postman’s e-store to help her dad and stepmom with the legal bills.

So, best-case scenario: T-shirts depicting her mangled corpse, a smartphone case sporting her skewered Cinderella silhouette and the hashtag #ADeathIsAWishYourHeartMakes, a shot glass shaped like a cracked glass slipper. The world was so messed up. Footsteps broke the silence of the warehouse, jarring Dee back to reality. It’s starting. Glancing around, Dee saw that she was in a small chamber, walls on all four sides, lit by a single spare bulb suspended above her head. In each shadowy corner, a red dot of light indicated a live camera filming her every move, and to either side dark, narrow corridors snaked off in opposite directions. Slycer’s footsteps were coming from her right, which meant she was supposed to run the other way. Like a good convicted killer. Because maybe you really are one. “Stop it!” Dee said out loud, clenching her fists by her side.

“You didn’t kill Monica.” It wasn’t the first time that doubt about her innocence had nagged at her. Doctors had warned Dee’s dad that she might have been more scarred from her childhood-abduction trauma than anyone realized, and then, after hearing Dr. Farooq’s testimony… Dee’s eyes welled up, and she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood as she tried to fight back the tears. You didn’t kill her, she repeated silently. No matter what they say. And then something snapped. Why should Dee be the victim here? The country wanted to see blood, but why did it have to be hers? Prince Slycer had brutally murdered dozens of people, which in Dee’s mind made him more deserving of justice served. Besides, if she died, there would be no one left to find Monica’s actual killer. That was something worth fighting for, wasn’t it? Dee didn’t run.

She didn’t flee blindly down the pitch-black hallway, stumbling toward whatever sadistic traps Slycer had laid for her. Instead, Dee grabbed the only thing she could use as a weapon —the mirror. She ripped it off the wall, the decrepit nail on which it had hung clanking to the concrete floor, and waited beneath the single suspended lightbulb. A figure emerged from the corridor. Prince Slycer was dressed all in white: crisp straight-leg pants, shiny patent-leather shoes, and a wide-shouldered coat bedecked with gold buttons and matching epaulets. He was Cinderella’s prince, just like the cartoon character Dee had loved growing up. But instead of a glass slipper, he gripped a nasty serrated knife in his hand, and his face was obscured by an enormous pair of night-vision goggles. Oh, so he’ll be able to see in the pitch-black maze, but I won’t. Coward. It seemed so cheap, so ridiculously lopsided.

A kitten versus a cheetah. Except that Dee had seen enough Hollywood blockbusters to know that this cheetah had a weakness. Prince Slycer stared at Dee from the shadows, head cocked to the side, as if he was confused by her lack of abject panic. She wondered if he was worried about the ranking of this video. Prince Slycer was pretty popular, but even he wanted to make sure each and every kill got a high number of spikes to up his profit-sharing potential. So Dee’s refusal to play along had to be worrisome. Good. Fuck this guy. I’m not a toy. He flicked his head toward the opposite corridor, prompting Dee to run, but there was no way in hell she would plunge recklessly into the darkness.

She shook her head defiantly from side to side. Prince Slycer sighed, epaulets sagging as his shoulders drooped. The body language reeked of irritation, though he never said a word. This time he pointed the blade at the hallway, like a parent punishing a child. Go to your room. Now. “Screw you,” Dee said. That did it. Prince Slycer lowered his chin, his goggled eyes boring a hole right through her, and marched across the room. Dee barely had time to react.

She took two steps back until the mirror was directly under the light; then she angled it to reflect the overhead bulb and aimed the concentrated beam at Prince Slycer’s night-vision goggles. “Shit!” she heard him say, although it sounded more like “shite,” as if he spoke with an accent. No one had ever heard Prince Slycer’s voice, and Dee imagined that #SlycerSpeaks would be trending within seconds. But she didn’t have time to ponder the newest megahit hashtag: Slycer shielded his eyes with his arm and charged. Dee dodged just as he slashed at her face with the menacing blade, missing her by inches. She darted out of the way and kicked at the pristine white legs of his costume. He stumbled, and as Dee swung around, she cracked the mirror against the back of his head. Prince Slycer sprawled onto the floor, momentarily flailing his arms and legs, and then all was deathly still. Except for the blood pooling beneath his body. Well, shit.

DEE STOOD FROZEN, MIRROR in hand, staring down at the body of Prince Slycer. What the hell had she just done? Every single one of The Postman’s killers would be after her now, not just for sport, but for revenge. Maybe two or three of them would capture her at once—she’d be skewered by one of Robin’s Hood’s arrows while Gassy Al asphyxiated her with hydrogen cyanide. She heard a noise, the soft patter of footsteps, as if someone was moving through one of the corridors. What if the rest of The Postman’s killers were in the warehouse with her right now? As if in answer, the power suddenly switched on, flooding the dingy space with an aggressive amount of artificial light. Dee blinked and spun around, searching for an escape route as she expected a half dozen maniacs to assault her all at once. Instead, a lanky guy about her age with carefully tousled blond hair and more teeth than one person’s mouth should be able to accommodate entered the room the same way Slycer had come. “Well, I’d say you just became the most notorious girl in the entire bloody world,” he said in a crisp British accent. “Stay away from me!” Dee cried, holding the mirror in front of her like a shield. “Or—or I’ll kill you, too.

” The Brit paused, and his unnaturally blue eyes scanned her from head to toe. Then he gestured to one corner of the room. “Don’t worry. They’ve stopped filming.” Dee’s eyes drifted up to the cameras. The red lights had all gone dark. “Oh.” Was that a good thing? Not a good thing? Damn it, why hadn’t she paid more attention to this stupid app? “And you didn’t exactly kill him, now, did you?” he continued, as if scolding her. “I mean, he fell on his own sword, so to speak.” Dee’s grip on the mirror tightened.

He’d been watching. Holy shit, was this The Postman himself? The Brit nodded at Slycer’s body. “I’m not one of them, if that’s what you’re worried about.” He smiled, inviting her trust, but Dee hesitated. Point in his favor: there was no way this guy was old enough to be a successful Hollywood producer like The Postman was rumored to be. Point against: dude was literally hanging around, waiting to watch Dee get murdered. And since she’d survived, maybe he was there to finish the job? Either way, his appearance in the warehouse wasn’t exactly trust-inducing. She needed to stay on her guard. “Who are you?” Instead of answering, Blondy McBrit crouched beside Prince Slycer’s body, surveying the corpse. “Brilliant.

I haven’t seen anything like this since Nancy Wu round-kicked the Caped Capuchin into a broken neck.” He whistled low. “When The Postman finds out, it’ll do his nut.” “Is that good?” His carefree attitude was disarming. He smiled knowingly. “All the Painiacs will be after you.” “Shit.” He arched an eyebrow. “What do you think?” About him? About the fact that, by some bizarre turn of fate, she was still alive? About the ten other serial killers who were about to be unleashed on her? He pushed himself to his feet and stepped closer, skillfully maneuvering around Slycer’s coagulating blood. “‘Painiacs,’” he repeated.

“It’s a portmanteau of my own invention. ‘Pain’ plus ‘maniacs.’ Do you think it’ll catch on, or should I get more of a Postman reference in there, like ‘Postmaniacs’? Except I’m using ‘Postmantics’ for the fans, so that might be confusing.” “Umm…” His face dropped, disappointed at Dee’s lack of approval. “It’s a work in progress.” Was he for real? “There’s a dead guy in a pool of his own blood two feet away and you’re worried about your hashtag?” Blondy McBrit sighed. “Sorry. I forgot. This is all new for you. Personally, I abhor violence, but after a while you get callous.

” A while? “How long have you been here?” “Seven months, one week, three days,” he said without hesitating. Dee’s eyes grew wide. She’d never heard of anyone surviving that long on Alcatraz 2.0 “Don’t be impressed,” he said, reading her reaction. “My case is in appeal, so I’m off-limits for the moment. That miscarriage of justice you Americans call a trial was over so quickly they didn’t get a chance to find out to whom I’m related.” Dee arched an eyebrow. “The Queen?” Blondy McBrit snorted. “Look at you! ‘The Queen?’” he mocked in falsetto. “Certainly not.

But my mother’s cousin’s first husband is the second assistant to the foreign minister. He’s filed an appeal on my behalf due to diplomatic immunity.” “Oh.” It was a plausible story, but he could also be full of shit and this was just another trap on Alcatraz 2.0 I’m not taking any chances. “Actually,” Blondy McBrit continued, “I’m surprised he’s helping me at all, based on my conviction.” Dee took a step away, eyeing Slycer’s body. If this guy lunged at her, maybe she could flip it over, pull the knife out of Slycer’s gut, and use it to defend herself. “What did you do?” His face was unreadable. “I was convicted of murdering my parents.

” See? Don’t trust anyone on this island. It was a good mantra. Dee was in a maximum-security prison, so in addition to The Postman’s government-sanctioned killers, all her fellow inmates had committed heinous crimes. She was literally surrounded by murderers. “I loved my parents.” His blue eyes narrowed; his affable manner vanished. “As much as you loved your…sister, was it?” “Stepsister,” Dee snapped. Then she paused. “How did you know that?” Blondy McBrit stepped between Dee and Slycer’s body and reached into his pocket. Dee stiffened, her eyes darting toward the far corridor.

Was he going to pull out a weapon? She couldn’t reach Slycer’s knife now, but maybe if she chucked the mirror at Blondy’s face, she’d have time to run for her life? But instead of the murderous glint of a recently sharpened blade, Dee saw a folded piece of paper in his hand. “‘Dee Guerrera,’” he said, reading from the page. “‘Convicted of premeditated murder in the first degree. Victim: Monica Patterson, seventeen. Stepsister.’” The image of Monica’s strangled face, purple and swollen, flashed before Dee’s eyes. She’d been the one to find the body, the one to call 911 as she desperately tried to administer first aid, even though she knew by the stiffness of her limbs that Monica was beyond help. “I didn’t kill her.” She had no idea why she felt the need to proclaim her innocence to this stranger, but the words just came flying out of her mouth before she could stop them. “Of course you didn’t.

We’re all innocent on Alcatraz two-point-oh.” Sarcasm dripped from every word. He didn’t believe her for a hot second. But instead of saying he thought she was full of shit, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his black corduroy jacket. “Shall we go?” Dee glanced from the Brit to Slycer’s body. Was this a trap? “I’m not going anywhere with you.” He tilted his head to the side, just as Slycer had when Dee had refused to run into the maze. “Whyever not?” His earnestness threw Dee off. “I…” I think you might be a psychotic killer? I don’t trust you no matter how cute your accent is? “I don’t even know who you are.” “Oh!” He smiled, his eyes warm and crinkly.

“Sorry. I’m Nyles.” He paused, as if that was enough explanation. It wasn’t. “And you’re here right now because…?” “Because my Alcatraz-mandated job is to introduce new inmates to life on the island. I get a note like this one,” he said, dangling the refolded paper in the air, “shoved under my door in the morning, telling me where to meet the newbies. Though it’s usually just at the gate to the guard station. This is the first time I was instructed to go to a Painiac’s kill room. Must have been an administrative mistake or something. I mean, why would you need an orientation if you weren’t going to survive your first hour on the island? Anyway, I almost didn’t show.

Can you believe it?” He chuckled as if he’d made a hilarious joke. “Yeah,” she said, her voice flat. “Funny.” “I would have missed the death of Prince Slycer,” Nyles continued, either not picking up on her sarcasm or ignoring it. “That would have been a tragedy, Dee. By the by, is that short for Dorothy? Deirdre?” What were they, best friends? “No.” “Ah, I see.” Nyles gazed at her for a moment, then shrugged. “Come along, then.” Dee still didn’t trust him.

If she followed, would she round a corner and run directly into a Cinderella-themed booby trap of sentient rodents, pumpkin time bombs, and projectile glass shards? Then again, her other options were to find her own way out of the murderous maze, or stay with Slycer’s body until someone else got to her. Neither was particularly tempting. “Where are we going?” Nyles’s smile widened, flashing his oversize teeth. “Fancy an ice cream?” SAN FRANCISCO’S SUNSHINE WAS underwhelming. Though the sky was vivid blue, dotted with puffy wisps of clouds that stretched like chubby fingers from the west, the sun gave off zero warmth, and Dee’s skin prickled beneath the thin fabric of her Cinderella gown. It was the total opposite of November in Los Angeles, where it was probably seventy-five and sunny, and Dee’s crappy costume would have been adequate protection from the elements. Did I seriously just compare the benefits of a penal colony versus my hometown in terms of a princess costume? As if this day could get weirder. Except it had. Though Dee had watched the endless live stream from her holding cell, she hadn’t fully appreciated the creepiness of Alcatraz 2.0 until she stepped outside the warehouse.

The prison had been established on a man-made island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, connected to a natural outcropping of rock that had served as the midway point for the old Bay Bridge. Once known as Treasure Island, it had been built for a world’s fair almost a century earlier, then transformed first into a military installation and then into a series of Hollywood soundstages, before finally being redeveloped for housing. But once the tunnel was built to connect San Francisco to the East Bay, and the Bay Bridge was demolished, the island had been abandoned. Until The Postman purchased it. The heavy creep factor came from the island’s infrastructure, which had been retained when it was transformed into a prison. Duplexes, storefronts, library, warehouses—all the remnants of its former glory had been shined up and repurposed. Now convicted murderers like Dee worked pedestrian jobs, lived in traditional homes, and did everyday crap like cooking meals, navigating neighbors, and, oh, trying to stay alive as long as possible before they were ambushed, kidnapped, and brutally executed while the entire world watched. It was fucking surreal. Nyles had fallen quiet. He’d seemed edgy since they’d stepped outside the decrepit warehouse, moving quickly down the wide, deserted street as his eyes continually darted from side to side.

This part of the island was packed with enormous structures of corrugated metal and waterlogged wood, mostly ruined. Some were missing roofs; others had entire chunks of siding stripped away. Even the air smelled musty and rotten. And though the neighborhood looked vaguely familiar, as Dee hurried to keep up with Nyles’s long strides, she noticed that there were no cameras around. Based on what she’d seen of The Postman app, she had half expected there to be cameras everywhere: attached to fences, mounted on streetlamps, lining the tops of buildings. Instead, the only ornaments in this dilapidated industrial wasteland were the dozens of black crows perched atop the warehouse roofs, stoic and unmoving. Nyles sped onward, past an abandoned gas station with a hand-painted sign on one boarded-up window reading DON’T FEED THE BIRDS. So there were rules on Alcatraz 2.0 after all? Good to know. “I’ll introduce you to your job first,” Nyles said, breaking the silence as they rounded a corner onto Main Street.

A row of brightly painted shops stretched down both sides. “So you can meet your coworkers.” Dee cringed. “Coworkers?” Translation: The convicted killers I’ll have to hang out with every day. “Everyone has a job on Alcatraz,” Nyles said. He cast a sly glance at her. “Even a princess.” “Ha-ha,” Dee replied without an ounce of humor in her voice. “It won’t be anything complicated, I can assure you,” he said cheerfully, as if he were giving her the rundown on her new after-school job at the mall. “Normal hours, ten to five and all that.

” Nothing about this place was normal. “And if I don’t show up?” “That’s your choice.” Nyles shrugged. “But no work means no money on your island debit card. Which means you can’t buy food.” “Good reason to show up.” Nyles smiled. “Isn’t it?” He shot another clandestine look at her, eyes sweeping down from her sparkly headband to her dress, and just for a second, the happy-go-lucky façade slipped away, revealing a significantly more somber expression. Then he turned, and it was gone. “Anyway,” he continued, his tone light and airy, “we’ll have to get to the Barracks before dark.

We do not want to be out after the sun goes down. That’s usually when the Painiacs…” He paused, musing over the word, then shook his head. “That’s usually when the killers strike. Unless it’s a foggy day. Or rainy. Or an eclipse, I suppose.” He stopped and faced her. “Basically, only be outside with the sun.” “Noted.” Nyles pointed to a quaint structure across the street that looked like a converted cottage.

“So we’ve got the stationery store there, library next door. Farther down there’s the bodega—that’s where you’ll buy groceries and whatnot—the hair salon, and the gym.” “So I can look good and get in shape for my murder?” Nyles smiled, his blue eyes bright with amusement. “Quite.” He shifted his gaze to a spot above Dee’s head. “Here we are, then.” They stood in front of an old-timey ice-cream parlor complete with pink-striped awning and hand-painted lettering on the window. “‘I Scream’?” Dee said, reading the name of the shop. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” “You’ll find an abundance of dark humor on the island.

” Nyles pushed open the glass door. Above, a silver bell tinkled an announcement of their arrival. Dee followed him inside and felt as if she’d stepped back in time. The black-and-whitecheckered floor was dotted with ornate wrought-iron tables, painted white, with matching chairs. The walls, like the awning outside, were bubble-gum pink, and crammed with sepia-toned photographs of ice-cream parlors from ages past. Pink stools lined the front of a counter that held jars of neon candy, lollipops, and jelly beans, plus a refrigerated display of ice-cream flavors. It was neat and cheerful and totally fucked up. Because, just like in Slycer’s maze, Dee quickly noted the cameras affixed to the ceiling in each corner of the shop: rounded black mounds, surveying the entire room. A chill ran down her spine. Four red lights, one in each camera dome, were all pointed directly at her.

“I’m back!” Nyles called out to no one in particular. A door on the far wall, camouflaged by pink toile wallpaper, swung open, and an attractive, heavily made-up girl appeared in the doorway. Dee recognized her immediately: Griselda Sinclair. Griselda had a huge fan base, and every time the feed switched to her apartment or to a shot of her working out in the gym, the fan comments that ran up the side of the screen would explode. She even had her own hashtags—#ConjugalVisitsForGriselda and #GriseldaIWantYouInMyPants—because the fans were super classy like that. But Griselda seemed happy to play the role of Alcatraz 2.0 hottie. She wore a plaid miniskirt paired with combat boots that laced to the knee, plus an off-the-shoulder midriff shirt that exposed a black lace bra strap on her right shoulder, and her long dishwater-blond hair had been flat-ironed stick straight. She paused in the doorway while she smoothed down her hair and tucked it behind both ears. Then she pulled on the right sleeve of her shirt, shifting it so far off her shoulder that it practically exposed side boob, ran her tongue over her teeth to check for stray lipstick, and stepped into the shop.

It was like watching an actress backstage before she made her entrance, and as Dee saw the red dots of the cameras swivel in Griselda’s direction, she realized that was exactly what she had witnessed. “You’re the only person on this island stupid enough to be wandering around the warehouse district this close to nightfall,” Griselda said. “It’s touching to know you care, Gris.” Nyles tossed a white plastic card onto the counter, then reached into a large glass jar and snagged a piece of red licorice. She picked up the card and swiped it through some kind of electronic reader, then slid it back to Nyles. “I see you’ve brought the newbie.” “Ah yes.” Nyles bowed low with a flourish of his licorice. “Griselda Sinclair, may I present your new coworker, Dee Guerrera.” “H-hey,” Dee stuttered, trying to sound casual.

She didn’t want any of these people to see her fear. But Griselda made no attempt at friendliness. She folded her arms across her chest and examined Dee from head to toe. “So we’re stuck with Cinderella Survivor, huh?” “Who?” Dee asked. Nyles’s eyes grew wide with excitement. “Is that what they’re calling her?” Griselda nodded toward the front of the shop. “See for yourself.” Mounted on the wall above the door was a large, flat monitor. One half of the screen showed several small boxes, rotating slowly through a variety of camera feeds. The other half showed strangely familiar night-vision footage of a girl in a long dress holding a mirror, and in the upper right-hand corner of the screen she saw a symbol that she immediately recognized: PEI in red block letters, the bottom of the P extending into the spine of the E and tail of the I.

The logo for Postman Enterprises, Inc. It took Dee several seconds to realize that she was watching a replay of her first moments in Slycer’s maze. Beside the video, the comments feed scrolled at a breakneck pace, but even at that speed, Dee caught the same hashtag used over and over again: #CinderellaSurvivor. “Our little princess has twenty million spikes,” Griselda said flatly. Nyles whistled low as if impressed, but Dee was pretty sure it wasn’t a good thing. “What does that mean?” Griselda smiled sweetly, exposing a perfect dimple in her right cheek. “It means, Princess, that you won’t last a week.” THE POSTMAN GLARED AT the monitor, teeth clenched so hard they ached, while the one they were calling Cinderella Survivor slowly lowered herself into a wrought-iron chair at I Scream. She killed Slycer. At first The Postman didn’t believe it—much like the fans, who peppered the comments feed with incredulity and intricate conspiracy theories.

It seemed too bizarre. A teenager with a mirror just took out The Postman’s number-one killer? Impossible. But it wasn’t. The Postman had seen Slycer’s corpse, felt the pulseless body already stiff and cold before the guards arrived to haul it away. The blood had stopped pouring from the wound by then; the pool was sticky and thick. And while all of that could have been attributed to the special effects frequently employed by The Postman’s killers to fake out their victims, this time the blood and the corpse and the death were real. “And now I have her all to myself,” The Postman said out loud, though there was no one to hear. “Voice command!” The voice-recognition control panel beeped twice to acknowledge activation. “Engage autodetect on camera banks thirty-two through thirty-seven.” Cinderella Survivor would be leaving for the Barracks soon, and The Postman wanted to make sure that every single moment of her time on Alcatraz 2.

0 was covered. “You won’t be out of my sight for a moment.” She was the only priority. So many months of planning, all destroyed in an instant. No one’s time on Alcatraz 2.0 was particularly pleasant, but the moment Slycer’s body hit the floor, Dee’s fate was sealed. She’d be broken, tortured, begging for the end. And she’d watch anyone she cared about die.

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