(9, continued -- first half is on the previous page) Miranda was still staring at her phone when Bridget woke the next morning. Bridget sat up slowly, grimacing at the knots in her back. She’d been relegated to the fold-out cot, with Miranda taking up most of the bed. She pushed her matted hair from her face and blinked at Miranda. “Did you sleep?” Bridget asked hoarsely, struggling out of her oversized nightshirt. “Hm?” Miranda grunted, turning a page. “What time is it?” Bridget leaned over to squint at the microwave. “It’s almost ten.” “Oh, wow.” Miranda set her phone aside and rubbed at her eyes. “I looked up that text…The Queen in Yellow, in English. It’s apparently a play.” “Like a theater play?” “Yeah. It’s really old, though. And a little controversial.” She grabbed the photo. “Performing it is banned in a lot of places and there are only a few copies of the full script that haven’t been lost or destroyed. Juliana and Diana were getting a lot of letters from an archivist at Thalia University…” Bridget fumbled through her bag for a fresh pair of shorts. “Why would anyone want to destroy a play? Plays are fun.” “Not sure. I couldn’t find anyone who’s written about it who’s actually finished the whole thing. They mention something about human sacrifices, but won’t say much else. But there have been riots in cities where it’s been performed, sometimes. Paris, Arkham…people died. Must be some disturbing stuff.” “So…your cousins were reading a scary play?” “Or trying to, at least.” She shrugged. “It sounds to me like they were involved in something shady…maybe even illegal. Mom always said the Kade branch was up to no good. It would explain why they’ve been on the move so much and so hard to get a hold of.” “Should we tell the police?” Miranda scoffed. “Fuck no. We’re gonna get my money and then we’re gonna get the hell out of here. The rest of their business is none of ours.” “I like the sound of that,” Bridget agreed, pulling on her shirt. “You want some breakfast?” Miranda paused. Her eyes finally rose from the phone. “I am pretty hungry.” “I think if we get in early enough, we could beat that rush at the diner.” “Good idea.” She tugged at her waistband. “Think you could get something to-go and just bring it back here for me? I’m pretty sore from all that walking yesterday.” Bridget fidgeted for a moment, but nodded. She plucked up her keys and headed out. The diner was already growing crowded, as though yesterday’s patrons had never left. Bridget was grateful she’d decided to walk over, seeing the overfull parking lot. Overfull from what must have been an extravagant breakfast, two locals were plodding out as Bridget reached the entrance. She held the door for them and though she beamed with her usual cheery smile, they paid her no attention. “Maybe I just don’t have it anymore,” she wondered, watching them go. “I’m not doing this anymore,” shouted a voice. “I’m leaving this crazy fucking place!” As Bridget held the door, a young woman stormed out: the girlfriend she’d seen the night before. She yanked open her purse and reached in for her keys. Bridget shoved the door closed and hurried after her. “Hey—hello—‘scuse me. Hi.” The woman whipped around. Seeing Bridget, she furrowed her brow in confusion. “Are you…look, I don’t know what my boyfriend told you, but I’m not interested.” She turned up her nose at the diner. “Ex-boyfriend.” “What? No. I…I wanted to ask you some, like, advice. I’m not from around here.” “My advice would be to continue not being from around here. Around here is fucked up.” “Yeah, I’ve…it’s kind of a weird town. I was wondering if you knew, like, why, I guess.” She bit her lip. “Not sure I can really help you. My boyfriend moved here a while back…he grew up here and when they offered him some work up at the Whately place…he figured it’d be a good way to live cheap and make some money. He ended up staying longer than he told me he was supposed to and so I came out to maybe move in with him. Make things official.” “Aw, congrats. Wait. Oh.” “Yeah, it’s not working out. I’m leaving.” “Sorry. You said he was working at the Whately farm?” “He does construction.” The girl dug out her car keys and started toward the end of the lot. “The barn, up on the top of the hill…there’s some project going on in there.” Bridget followed, watching attentively. “Place gets deliveries all the time. Vans from some of the shops around town, trucks from some of those bulk stores…earlier this year I started seeing livestock trucks heading up that road. Fuck, with all the animals around here gone, I can’t imagine where they were ordering those from.” “Is your boyfriend…ex-boyfriend…so is he still working up there?” “I don’t know. He goes up there all the time, but he doesn’t bring his tools anymore. And all he talks about are those weekly seminar things. Keeps trying to get me to go.” She opened her car door. “Fuck that. I don’t know what they do up there and I don’t know what they’ve got in that barn, but I don’t fucking want to know. I’m leaving…and you should, too.” She climbed in and shut the door. Bridget watched her peel out and speed away. A flock of crows flapped overhead. The diner doors opened as another handful of patrons emerged and Bridget perked up, her stomach reminding her why she’d come. She squeezed her way through the line, weaving toward the counter, hoping she could place a to-go order and bypass the waiting crowd. She glanced around for the waitress. A clattering plate caught her attention. Bridget pushed past a rotund customer and peered over the counter. On the floor behind it sat the waitress. Three empty plates lay discarded beside her, sticky with syrup. Her eyes were glazed over with pleasure and she leaned back against the cupboards with a hiccup. “Order up,” called one of the cooks, laying a platter in the warming window. “Eggs for table nine.” Grinning, the waitress twisted and reached up, a distended food-baby pushing out against her apron. She seized the platter, sat back down, and set about devouring the eggs.