Murdertrending, p.1

#MurderTrending, page 1

 

#MurderTrending
 


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#MurderTrending


  Copyright © 2018 by Gretchen McNeil

  Designed by Torberg Davern

  Cover design by Marci Senders

  Additional images © Natalia Sheinkin/Shutterstock (people);

  Browndogstudio/Shutterstock (ice cream bar);

  Azuzi/Shutterstock (tiara)

  All rights reserved. Published by Freeform Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Freeform Books, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

  ISBN 978-1-368-01485-4

  Visit www.freeform.com/books

  For John, my heart, who won’t find this creepy

  CONTENTS

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  “Capital punishment should be capital.”

  —THE POSTMAN

  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 first-degree 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 piranh
as. 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.”

 
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