Plus, read the first two chapters
It’s that time of year where every October breeze conjures the feeling of a drafty haunted house, and the leafless trees cast ominous shadows. In the spirit of all things goosebumpy and terrifying, EW is excited to reveal the unsettling trailer for Margot Harrison’s YA thriller, The Killer In Me, out now from Disney-Hyperion (we know — Disney?! But trust us, it’s chilling).
Check out what Harrison has to say about the trailer and her book below. And beneath that, for an even deeper taste of The Killer In Me, read our excerpt of the first two chapters.
Harrison tells EW:
Excerpt from The Killer In Me by Margot Harrison
Sharp spring wind blows from the river as I stand at our town’s last pay phone and punch in the number. My hands shake so hard I drop two of my quarters and have to kneel and scrounge for them in the dark.
At last the long-distance call rings through. A woman’s voice, almost as deep as a man’s, snaps, “Hello?”
Blood thunders in my ears. I don’t know if I can do this.
“Hello? Hello?” She’s about to slam down the phone.
I use a voice I’ve practiced, a little lower than my own. “Mrs. Gustafsson?”
Her voice softens. “Can I help you?”
This is it. No turning back.
“Mrs. Gustafsson,” I whisper into the receiver, “please double-lock your doors and be extra careful for the next couple
of days. Maybe go and stay with relatives. Someone could be watching your house, and I think he means you harm.”
Means you harm. I memorized the wording, ominous yet vague.
I can’t say, He wants to come like a thief in the night and kill you before you can scream, and bury you where you’ll never be found.
A couple seconds of silence. When Mrs. Gustafsson comes back, her voice drips suspicion. “Who’m I speaking to here? Cop? Neighborhood watch? FBI?”
Hang up. Just hang up.
“I can’t tell you,” I say. “Please listen to me. He could be there as soon as Friday.”
“You got an out-of-town number. What do you know about my neighborhood? Are you one of Abby’s girls?”
I should’ve used a burner phone. If anything does happen to the Gustafssons, the cops will look at their call record and see my town.
The receiver feels like it weighs twenty pounds as I hang up. The Sunoco sign glares above me, and the bell on the mini-mart’s door tings, too bright and loud. I’m probably on the security footage. Careless. You know better. My hair’s moist with sweat under the ski hat, my bulky sweatshirt sticking to me. My eyes are wet, too.
I should have said more, but what?
She doesn’t believe me. She won’t take precautions. When he comes for her and her husband, she’ll be at home in bed, sleeping soundly, worried about nothing worse than one of Abby’s girls prank-calling her. Whoever they are.
I know it’s going to happen, and I can’t stop it.
He calls himself the Thief in the Night. He likes to think he’s invisible. That’s why he doesn’t talk, doesn’t torture, doesn’t interact with them until he has to. Like death itself.
“They” are his victims. He calls them “targets.”
First came the old man. Then the homeless guy. The hitchhiker. The lady who ran the campground. The woman in the honky-tonk parking lot.
And now this couple in upstate New York, the Gustafssons.
He found them two Mondays ago when he was in Schenectady for a scale-model conference. He hadn’t planned to get into any trouble there (his private code word for killing somebody is “trouble”). But his eyelids felt gritty, the telltale sign he wouldn’t be able to sleep, and the left lid kept twitching like it sometimes does. He should’ve pinched a couple Ambien from his girlfriend back in Albuquerque, but it was too late now. So he slid the battery out of his phone, took a random exit into a quiet neighborhood of little ranch houses, and went hunting.
He looked for a house with no dog, no kids’ toys, access through the garage, a master bedroom facing away from the street.
He found one.
He hadn’t brought any tools, so everything stayed theoretical. When he hunkered down behind a bare lilac bush and examined the house, he saw it as a puzzle. A mission.
As always, his senses (my senses) heightened as he set the scene. He mapped the course of entry, noticing in passing that
the man silhouetted against the flat-screen TV was heavyset with a sloping gut. A kid’s punch would push the poor bastard over. In a few years, a coronary might get him.
When the Thief came back for the couple, he’d simply speed nature along.
He’d swing back here after the second leg of his trip and chauffeur them to their resting place. The crooked little cabin with the ice-water brook that he’d found on the way here, when he took a wrong turn off the ramp and drove halfway up a mountain.
He spent a few hours there—not planning anything yet, just eating his rest stop takeout and enjoying the desolation. Now he realized it was a good place. It needed someone.
The Thief watched the couple zone out in front of the TV, closing their eyes and ears to reality. Reality is bone-dry, vast, beautiful in its indifference, like the desert where the Thief grew up, or the cold blue sky above it.
Like reality, he’s always here, whether they know it or not. Always waiting.
After I make the pay-phone call to Mrs. Gustafsson, I can’t stop thinking about the house in Schenectady. The garage with a window cracked open; the car sitting inside, unlocked. (He knows how rarely people lock anything.) He was in that garage, but he didn’t shatter the glass panel of the door leading into the house. He needed supplies. And the mood wasn’t quite right.
Maybe he won’t come back.
At nine p.m., I brew a pot of coffee, hoping my mom won’t hear the burping of the old percolator. I want to stay awake so badly that I almost text Warren Witter to see if he’ll sell me a couple Adderall.
Just a few more pills wouldn’t hurt me too much, would they? One more sleepless night? Two?
Thinking about Warren makes me clench up inside. I can already hear the disappointed flinch in his voice as he realizes I’ve relapsed. Really, Nina? You sure?
Warren’s liked me since before the pills. Since before everything.
About a year ago, I first discovered I could use caffeine in drink and pill forms to rev myself awake every night, all night. No longer would I sleep, blissfully unaware, while predators roamed the world. I would be like him—nocturnal.
There were downsides to scoring a victory over my natural sleep patterns. Limited to catnaps in the daytime, I was always either wired or tired, and I once missed a big history test because I passed out under a library table.
That didn’t stop me from wanting stronger uppers than I could get over the counter. In homeroom, I overheard Addison Doucette advising Lauren Grayson on where to get a “little pick-me-up” so she could study all night for her algebra midterm. “Ask Warren Witter. His brothers can get him anything.”
I didn’t believe it at first. Warren’s brothers are bad news, but him dealing drugs? Back in eighth grade, when we were friends for nearly a year, he was a skinny, quiet kid, his nose always stuck in a paperback with a spaceship on the cover.
Warren hadn’t changed much after two years. When I cornered him at his locker and asked about this alleged pick-me-up supply, his face went beet red.
He hid it by bending to adjust his books. “Addy Doucette sent you, huh?”
“Got a big test coming up?”
I was blushing by then, too. “Lots of tests.”
“Yeah-huh. Are you sure you want to get into that shit, Nina?” His eyes looked watery, like I was causing an allergic reaction.
“You’re a great salesman,” I said.
Warren grinned, and the smile reached his narrow, heavy-lidded eyes, which had always struck me as secretive. His long face had filled out since middle school, with cheeks to balance the cheekbones. Maybe another girl, one who didn’t remember how his nose ran all winter in sixth grade and he swiped it with actual cloth handkerchiefs his mom made him bring to school, would have thought his half-shy, half-sly smile was sexy.
“Meet me in the cedars behind the soccer field,” he said.
And he sold me the pills, though each time afterward he asked me if I was sure I wanted them.
Thus began my beautiful—beautifully convenient, anyway—second friendship with Warren Witter, which lasted until my mom found my stash of Adderall and learned I was capable of keeping secrets from her.
How many secrets, she still has no clue.
But I don’t feel like seeing Warren’s disappointment right now. And so I gulp coffee and try to murder sleep.
When I read that line about murdering sleep in Macbeth during freshman English, I thought, God, if only. Then I realized that Shakespeare means Macbeth’s guilty conscience is keeping him awake.
Some people have no conscience, though. And I, for one, would rather do anything than sleep.
I catch a few fitful hours of rest near dawn—not enough to stop my head from pounding with fatigue the next day, or my eyelids from fluttering shut while Ms. Blenner gets irrationally excited about differential equations. I hate how vulnerable I feel when the world goes fuzzy like this, one big blind spot with me at the center. Anyone could surprise me now.
Open your eyes. Pinch yourself. Coward.
When I do text Warren, during third period, I have a new plan. And a jumbo travel mug of crappy cafeteria coffee.
We meet after school in the cedars on the edge of the soccer field. Warren greets me way too enthusiastically, tripping over his words, but when I tell him what I want instead of pills, his expression darkens.
“Nina,” he says, his eyes going to pained slits.
“What? Do you think I’m going to hurt myself?” His expression says, Yeah, maybe, so I cross my arms and try to look angry. “You watch too many PSAs. It’s for protection.”
“Protection, yeah. That’s smart.” But he still looks doubtful. “Look, if you’re worried about something or somebody—maybe I could help?”
It’s hard to see Warren as tough when I still remember him as a shoelace in a camo jacket. That jacket fits tighter now, and the T-shirt underneath shows me slopes of lean muscle, but he’ll never exactly be a hulking menace.
I like how he’s turned out, and I know he feels the same about me, though I wonder why. He needs someone simple and wholesome.
You belong in a Nick Cave song, a cute counselor once told me at summer camp, back before my night terrors ruled out summer camp, flirting, and sleepovers. Kinda disheveled and pale, with those huge eyes of yours. Like the heroine of a murder ballad.
Since then, I’ve learned what “murder ballads” are and how they end—with the pale heroine’s eyes vacant and dead. Warren deserves better than that kind of drama.
Maybe he wants to save me. Life in this town is so freaking boring, and Warren’s a mystery and true-crime nut. He must be desperate for thrills; I have more than I can handle. I could give him a few.
“Somebody stalking you?” he asks, eyes narrow again.
“No,” I say. “I’m going to drive to Schenectady to catch an interstate serial killer.”
Warren tilts his head and nods, waiting for me to continue with what he must think is a deadpan comedy riff. He doesn’t edge away like I’m crazy—good.
“In my secret life, I’m the youngest-ever FBI profiler,” I go on. “I need to check out a tip on an unsub.”
“The FBI didn’t give you a piece?”
“They say I’m too young to pack heat.”
Warren makes his index finger into a gun, fires it, blows off the smoke. “A dame like you is never too young.”
I grin in spite of myself. “So can you get me one? Maybe a thirty-eight?”
“What makes you think I know about guns, Nina Barrows?”
“You live off the grid,” I say, counting reasons on my fingers. “You bring venison jerky to school. Your dad writes letters to the paper about preserving our Second Amendment rights.”
It’s another of our comedy routines: I rib him for being a woodchuck, which is Vermont for “redneck,” and he fires back “bleeding heart” and “tree hugger.” Labels that fit our parents better than us, but don’t really fit anyone.
He says, “News flash: venison is a sustainable protein. If the apocalypse happens, you’ll be lucky to have a hunter on your side. And my dad and I are two different people.”
“So you hate guns.”
“Not that simple.”
“So you like guns. You use them to get sustainable protein, right?”
My boy-relating skills suck. Jocks, preppies, cute hipsters, bad boys—I can barely meet their eyes. Not in a million years could I approach Warren’s older brothers, who are twice his size and have a long history of getting tossed in juvie or the state pen. I’m sure they could get me a gun, no questions asked.
Warren’s still the boy who invites the unpopular girls to dance. Who doesn’t ask the weird girl too many questions when she tells him weird things. Who might help her.
A double murder could happen this week a hundred and sixty-six miles from where we stand, and I can’t let it. Not this time.
“I have a deer rifle, but that and a thirty-eight pistol are about as much alike as you and Kayla Pinkett,” Warren says.
Kayla leads the pep squad. Bouncy ponytail, bouncy C-cups. “Ouch,” I say.
“Hey, I didn’t mean it in a bad way.”
He looks genuinely apologetic, and I feel a stab of something I can’t identify. He likes me. What’s wrong with him?
“Anyway, lucky for you, Nina, we live in a sportsman’s wonderland where guns can be sold freely to anyone over sixteen,” he says. “Your best bet is Tim’s General Store on Route Twelve.”
“I’ll still need to learn to use it.” I know how guns feel in your hand and how it feels to pull the trigger, but the intermediate steps are a blur. For the Thief in the Night, using guns is automatic, not worthy of concentration.
“You’ve never touched a firearm, have you? You’re such a tree hugger, I bet you’ve never even shot somebody in a video game.”
I don’t feel like playing our game right now. “Can you help me, or can’t you?”
“If you come by our place Friday afternoon, I’ll take you to the range. Show you the stance, give you pointers. Wouldn’t want you to shoot any innocent bystanders.”
The Witter place is creepy. It stretches up a hill and down into a long ravine, full of primo body-dumping sites.
But Warren’s safe. I know from the way he twitches when he looks at me, his eyes trying to suss out what I’m thinking. (Could she, just maybe, think it’s hot that I know about guns? If I help her with her stance, will we end up touching? Like, a lot?)
If he were a killer, he wouldn’t wonder or guess. He wouldn’t care what I thought or felt. My story would be his to write.
“You’ll have to drive,” I say. “Meet me here at three.”