Extract: Tall Bones by Anna Bailey

When a 17 year-old-girl goes missing, the façade of Whistling Ridge, Colorado - a tinder-box of small town rage ruled over by a crazy preacher - is split wide open. Based on the author's first-hand experience of an American smalltown community and religious rage.

 

“IT'S ALL HER FAULT. That’s what they’re saying at school. The corridors smell like glue and cleaning products, and Emma presses herself deep into the corner of the girls’ bathroom, trying to drown out the echo of their voices, knocking back the travel- sized whiskey bottles her mother keeps for trips they never take.

‘Can you believe Emma Alvarez just left her there?’

‘OhmyGod, do you think that’s why she got taken?’

‘She didn’t get taken. She ran away with that gypsy boy.’

‘She did not. I saw him at the diner last week.’

‘Yeah, well, I heard she got eaten by coyotes.’

‘I’d never leave my friend to get eaten by coyotes.’

Her mascara turns her tears black, and she rams her knuckles into her mouth so that nobody can hear her sobbing.

A week after the party at the Tall Bones, Principal Handel holds a special assembly in the gym, where she asks the students of the high school and middle school to keep Abigail in their thoughts and prayers, and to extend their support to her family and friends. Little Jude Blake chews on his lip and sinks into his shirt collar like he hopes nobody will notice him. Emma watches it all through heavy- lidded tipsy eyes and thinks, That’s it. All two of us here. Abigail’s family and friend. There’s no one else who remembers the sight of grass stains on Abi’s socks, sitting out on the old couch at the bottom of the Blakes’ backyard through countless summers; or copying each other’s homework and eating candy that turned their tongues blue. No one else who heard her say, when she was thirteen: ‘I’m going to be an artist.’ Emma had snorted and said, ‘What, in Whistling Ridge?’ and Abi had told her no way, she was going to catch a bus to Denver and never look back. This had seemed very impressive at the time. Abi was like something from a movie. She’d looked wide- eyed at Emma then, and added, ‘You’ll come with me, won’t you?’

Now Emma downs another tiny bottle in the bathroom, and pukes when she gets home.