Thu
Mar 21 2013 6:00am

You Know What You Have To Do (Excerpt)

Bonnie Shimko

In an interesting turn for YA, meet Maggie in You Know What You Have to Do by Bonnie Shimko, out know from Amazon Children's Publishers:

This quirky, appealing YA novel turns formulaic teen fiction on its head as funny, fiesty fifteen year-old Mary Magdeline (otherwise known as Maggie) suddenly faces more than the usual typical YA concerns: a voice in her head that is telling her to kill people. Not just kill anyone– each time it’s someone who has done something terrible to someone Maggie knows. She tries to resist the voice, yet in each case her action rights a wrong, saving the life of the person who had been mistreated, or making that person’s life better.

 

You know what you have to do.

 

I will always carry the guilt for what I’ve done. Most days the memories sleep in a dark corner of my mind, but sometimes they wake up and remind me of what a vile person I am. My shrink, Dr. Scott, thinks I’m just anxious and that with therapy I’ll be as good as new. I don’t even know what good as new feels like because the bad thoughts have been in me forever.

You’d never know from looking at me, though. I’m over there—the tall, skinny, strawberry-blond girl with glasses sitting at the loser table in the Allenburg High School cafeteria. My name is Mary-Magdalene Feigenbaum. No, really. I’m serious. My mother is what you might call a little weird. Plus, she’s a professional worrier, so when I was born, she put a lot of thought into what she should call me.

Number one: she wanted people to sit up and take notice when I tell them who I am. She scored A plus on that one. Two: she thinks hyphenated names are highbrow. She must not have thought about Patty-Ann Thurston, the full-grown woman who pedals around town on her gigantic blue tricycle and lifts her shirt for anybody who’ll buy her a soda—“A-Peek-for-a-Pepsi Patty” is what the creeps call her. Three: my mother’s afraid of death and thinks the religious types have the best chance of getting into heaven since they can unload their sins before they croak. And even though she hasn’t seen the inside of a church since I’ve known her, she chose the name of the most heavy-duty saint she could think of and slapped it on me, which I’m pretty sure is child abuse. Just thinking about it makes my head hurt.

My mother calls me Mary-Magdalene—no exceptions! Most adults call me Mary. My stepfather calls me Mare. The kids at school and my shrink call me Maggie—which is okay for now. But in three years, when I’m eighteen, I’m going to change my name to Alexandra. I think it has a very nice ring to it. A girl could wear a name like that anywhere—even to work as a zoo veterinarian after she graduates from Cornell.

“Let’s get outta here,” Abigail Flute says as she stuffs her napkin and straw paper into the milk carton on her tray which is still piled high with mystery casserole and anemic-looking string beans. “I have to get my essay from my locker before English.”

“I have to get mine, too,” I reply. I grab what’s left of my bag lunch, toss it in the trash can on the way out of the cafeteria, and follow Abigail to the sophomore lockers.

Abigail’s been my best friend since eighth grade when her family moved to Allenburg—really my only friend, if you don’t count Lester Pint, the class genius who lives at the end of my street, follows me around like a hungry kitten, and slips love notes through the ventilation slots of my locker. Lester’s okay, I just wish he didn’t like me in a girlfriend way. I’ve known him forever, and he’s more like a brother to me than anything. I don’t have the heart to tell him to cool it, though, because I know he’d be crushed.

Abigail’s father is the high school principal and her mother teaches math, so Abigail has a double dose of misery to deal with. On top of that, she has to wear a retainer that makes her look like a frog and talk weird. It’s funny, though—she doesn’t even seem to realize that she’s a geek. Or maybe she just doesn’t care. Anyway, nobody picks on her because of who her parents are. I don’t care that I’m a geek either. In fact, I don’t want to be popular, so we’re both pretty much invisible, which is fine with me. The fewer people I get close to the better.

***

I love you once. I love you twice. I love you more than cats love mice. As I shove Lester Pint’s latest note in my pants pocket, I think how his poems turned silly and upbeat as soon as his father died. His mother came alive, too, and now spends most of her time working in her flower garden instead of hiding behind closed drapes. Word around town was that Mr. Pint pummeled her even worse than he did his son.

Earlier this year, Lester was standing with me by the school fence until it was time to go in. When I asked him why he looked so angry, he told me how his father, a semifamous artist, had tied his cocker spaniel puppy up in a burlap bag and tossed it into their swimming pool because it had chewed a package
of expensive new brushes the UPS guy left on their front step. I thought Lester was making it up, but when I saw the tears in his eyes, I knew he was telling the truth. Then I heard mumbl-ing in my head, and it startled me. I covered my ears and tried to will it away. Until that moment, the only bad thoughts I’d
had were how I’d like to yell at Mr. Burdock, our history teacher, for giving us so much homework and then actually tell him how lame his stupid comb-over looks and that it would take more than three strands of hair to camouflage his bald head.

But when Lester told me how his father spent most of his time in his studio behind their house drinking himself into a stupor and then beating his mother to a pulp, a stabbing pain pierced my brain and then a real voice came—a man’s voice—one I’d never heard before. Not scary or mean—more low and patient, like a loving father explaining something important to a daughter. And that voice said, You know what you have to do.

“No, I don’t!” I answered in my mind. “I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

There’s no reason to get upset, the voice replied, gentle. I’ll explain everything step by step—

***

The police investigation ruled it an accident when Mr. Pint’s
studio went up in flames on Halloween night with him passed out cold on the floor inside. They figured he’d dropped a cigarette and started the fire himself.

But they were wrong. After Lester and I had walked home from a party that night at school, he went inside and I continued down the street toward my house. I was nearly there when the pain in my head returned and so did the voice. Haven’t you for-gotten something? it asked in a singsong tone.

“I don’t want to do this,” I answered, my voice trembling. “I just want to go home.”

We planned all this yesterday, the guy in my head said. That creep is abusing your friend and his mother. When I didn’t say anything, he continued. And just think of Lester’s innocent little puppy. A man that vicious shouldn’t be allowed to live. The guy’s voice turned supercalm. Only you can make things right.

The pain in my head had gotten so bad, I could hardly stand it, but I circled around to the back of Lester’s house. Then I entered Mr. Pint’s studio, stepped over his passed-out body, and lit the mess of oily rags he was lying next to with my mother’s lighter. The voice had told me to take it from her purse before I left for the party. As soon as the flames started, I hightailed it out of there, and the headache disappeared.

I often wonder if Mr. Pint woke up and tried to escape like Lester’s poor little puppy must have. Just the thought of it makes me feel sick to my stomach.

***

“Get your essay and let’s go,” Abigail says, tapping me on the shoulder. “We’re gonna be late. I said your name a million times. It’s like you were in a trance or something. Didn’t you hear me?”

I hadn’t heard a thing. “Sorry,” I say, then point to the paper I’m holding. “I’m just a little nervous about reading this thing to the class.”

“I love your stories,” Abigail says on our way to English. “I don’t know how you come up with all that creepy stuff. You must be related to Stephen King or something.”

2 comments
Noblehunter
1. Noblehunter
You Know What You Have To Do

YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.

Star Wars references aside, I liked the excerpt.
Noblehunter
2. Kellen Heller
I liked this and want to read more. Kind of reminds me of Dan Wells "I Am Not a Serial Killer", but I'm hoping it doesn't end up as dark and twisty as that book, actually. Despite evidence to the contrary, I actually don't really want to read books about serial killers or potential serial killers, but I enjoyed the writing of this one, and am hoping it will be something more interesting than just that she is a psycho, so will give this a shot.

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