Issue #16 |

There’s a Hill Out Back Behind the Grade School

brenna mcpeek image for story

On the other side, the hill descends into a thick patch of woods. The adults warn us not to go down there for reasons they can’t or won’t—and don’t—explain. We can but won’t—and don’t—listen. After the last bell rings, we evade teachers and security guards and sprint across the teeming playground. We stutter-run (try not to trip) down the pitch and into the clutches of this week’s make-believe tragedy. After summers spent inhaling Nancy Drew paperbacks at grandparents’ Floridian condos, we’re manifesting mysteries of our own. We are eight and hungry for intrigue. We invent crimes beyond our years, like burgeoning psychopaths, or writers. This week, a girl (the new girl) was kidnapped by a man (the groundskeeper) who, depending on the day, may or may not possess mystical powers. Today, we’re quick to turn him into high fantasy. He has too-long nails and eats spiders for dinner, roly-polies for dessert. He lives in the shack we discover a few skips into the trees. We wrench open the door: a tool shed, stocked with hoes, a shovel, a fresh pack of fishing hooks. We open the hooks, test their pricking power on each other’s soft parts. We find a sleeping pad and blanket on the floor, and take turns lying down on it. This is where the devil kept his victim, one of us, the churchy one, declares as she stares at the ceiling. We check for traces of blood. Collect samples of too-dark dirt, test them at home using expired science kits purchased last Christmas at the Discovery store. We find a hair clip—plastic, shaped like a butterfly. Sparkly, dulled, unhinged. Evidence. Put your sleeve over your hand when you pick it up. Fingerprints. Dust ’em. Dust the place with glitter stolen from the art room and chart constellations of the horror inflicted here. It’s the only way to find the girl we saw on the television this morning. The new girl.


To read this story in its entirety, please purchase a copy of our spring 2023 issue or subscribe to the magazine.

Brenna McPeek earned her MFA in Fiction from Columbia University and she is the co-creator and editor-in-chief of Fatal Flaw literary magazine. Her work has previously been published in Grain, Necessary Fiction, KGB Bar Lit, Isele Magazine, and other publications. She lives in New York.

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