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BEAUTIFUL MALICE
by Rebecca James

Genre: Suspense, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

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“Thanks, Ben,” Robbie interrupts, his voice loud and cold and sharp with sarcasm. “Thanks for that. But I think we’ve all heard enough now. And thanks, Alice, for asking such an intelligent question. ’Cause that was so interesting, just so great to listen to. I didn’t realize, but now I do, that seedy sex stories are what makes a game fun. Great. Thanks for that, Ben. I’ll try to be as . . . well, as crass as you, when my turn comes.”

Ben blushes a deep red and sucks furiously on his cocktail, and Philippa smothers a horrified, embarrassed laugh in her hand.

“My turn, my turn,” I say, falsely cheerful. I turn to Philippa expectantly, hoping that she’ll help me try to smooth everything out. “Philippa? Truth or dare?”

“Truth,” Philippa says obligingly. “I love truths. Don’t you? I think they’re just hilarious. You can find out some brilliant secrets about people. And I really love hearing the questions people ask, too. They often reveal a lot more about the person asking than the person being asked, don’t you think?”

I smile at Philippa, grateful for her chatter. But it’s hard to come up with something to ask her, and I’m silent for a moment, thinking. 

“Katherine.” Alice laughs. “You haven’t even got a question, have you? Let me go. Come on. One more. I’ll ask you.”

 “But you’ve already had a turn,” Robbie says. “Let Katherine go.” 

“We’re not playing properly, anyway. Really, it should be Ben’s turn. So it doesn’t matter, does it?” Alice says. And it’s clear now that she’s drunk. She’s speaking slowly, carefully, trying hard to enunciate each word, but the slur in her voice is obvious. “And since when did you become such an annoying stickler for the rules, Robbie? Since when did you become such a boring killjoy?”

“‘Killjoy?’” Robbie laughs. “There’s not much joy to be killed here, Alice.”

Alice ignores him and looks at me. “Truth or dare?” she asks. And I hesitate while I decide. I have so many secrets, so many things I don’t want to reveal, but this is only a game, only a bit of fun. And I know that Alice’s dare won’t be something easy or straightforward. “Truth,” I say finally. “I can imagine one of your dares, and I don’t want to run down Main Street tonight naked.”

“Truth,” Alice repeats, slowly, drawing out the vowel sound as if she’s savoring the word. “Are you sure? Are you sure you can be completely honest?”

“I think so. Try me.”

“Okay.” And then she looks at me curiously. “So. Were you glad, deep down? Were you glad to be rid of her? Your perfect sister? Were you secretly glad when she was murdered?”

And it’s suddenly as if everything is coming to me in slow motion, through a hazy fog. I hear Robbie sigh with irritation and tell Alice to stop being a fool. I sense Philippa looking at me, worried, wondering if Alice can possibly be serious. I feel Philippa’s hand on my arm, the concern in her touch.

But I can look only at Alice’s eyes. They are cold, appraising, and her pupils are so large that all I can see is black. Hard and unyielding. Deep. Ruthless. Black.