By Lara Shelton
Cory was the pretty one. It would have been easy to hate her, but she was also so very very nice. A little Christian girl, raised in a perfect nuclear family, with a gaze as open as uncomprehending as a three-week-old puppy’s. She was always the first girl awake in the morning and the first girl asleep at night. Never mind that her brother liked to cut the tails off of mice and set ants on fire. Cory herself was faultless.
The counselor who stayed in the room with us had passed out. The two of us who still keep in touch agreed at one point that she had been drinking. At one point, that is. Because the story only came out between us once, about ten years later, when we both had been drinking as well. When I tried to bring it up another time, without alcohol, I could feel things getting strained, and could tell that Ellen was going to shut down—that the conversation was going to go someplace our friendship wasn’t strong enough to go. And maybe I was a little scared of how it would make me look, the press on. Because Ellen clearly believed it was some sort of mass hallucination.
It started innocently, as these things do. Cory had the make-up bag, even though make-up was contraband at camp. Of course we all tried to get around it. What about moisturizer? What about moisturizer with a little color in it? What about Chap-stick with a little color in it? What about lip gloss? But Cory had sneaked her make-up bag in, and it was an innocent thing to do.
The campfire story that night, told to us by the counselor who had probably been drinking, had only been remarkable for how inappropriate it was. I distinctly remember the word screwing, and I remember the word whore. As in, “She was caught screwing her boyfriend in his mother’s bed,” and “the word whore found written on the corpse’s forehead, in his mother’s shade of lipstick.”
But other than that, it was pretty standard slasher movie fare. Girl has sex, girl gets murdered, girl haunts woods. We weren’t scared. At least I don’t think so. We were just amped up. And when the counselor passed out Mina remembered Cory’s make-up.
“Come on, Cory,” we all begged. “We know you have it.”
It took a little coaxing, but eventually she brought out the bag. She had hidden it at the foot of her sleeping bag. I remember the bag was as tidy and Christian as Cory herself, a white quilted affair with a gold Clinique label. The inside smelled of a life spent in spotless suburban bedrooms, department stores, and freshly-vacuumed SUVs.
In the absence of a mirror we ended up putting teal eyeshadow on each other, doing each other’s lip stick. The tickle of the mascara brush so close to the eye was the only hint of danger.
After a while we settled down. Cory fell asleep first, as she always did.
I think I had drifted off when I awoke to Lisa leaning over my bed. All of the girls were standing with her, their flashlight beams playing across their faces. “We’re going to make Cory up like a whore,” she said.
I had only the vaguest idea of what a whore looked like, but there was a rabid intensity to their expressions which made me think it would be a good idea to do whatever they said. We slathered on eyeshadow and lipstick. We went thick with the mascara. Cory was a heavy sleeper, and we all knew it, which was why we knew we could get away with it. At the time I remember feeling awful about it, but there was nothing I could do. Cory had somehow become the target of all my adolescent girl anger and frustration.
“When the mother came in and found them screwing,” Lisa said, “she called her a whore.” I found myself nodding. “Because she was.”
“She was a whore,” Mina said.
“And she slashed her throat.” Mina took the lipstick and drew a line across Cory’s neck. At that point the spell was broken. I knew we had crossed a line. Even Mina and Lisa knew it. Lisa tried to wipe the lipstick mark away with the sleeve of her night gown, but Cory stirred when she did this, and we knew we couldn’t finish.
After we turned the lights out again, I knew the murdered girl from the story was in the room with us. She was hiding behind the bunk beds. She was underneath the covers. She was in Cory’s body, and in my own body, as much as out in the woods. I kept going in and out of dreams—one where the door to the cabin opened, one where the mother stood over Cory, about to slash her neck, one where I was lost in the forest and couldn’t find my way back, but a figure in white kept leading me forward. When I got close, she turned and I saw her face in the glare of the flashlight: ghastly and clown-like under all of the eyeshadow and lipstick.
In the morning when I awoke Cory was still in bed, but her face was clean. It wasn’t a mystery how it happened. She always awoke before anyone else. She probably saw her face in the tiny compact, probably saw the slit across her neck, probably went to the water pump with her pristine white washcloth which was always perfectly folded on her little shelf, probably scrubbed all of the make-up off.
The saddest part of this version of events is that she then got back into bed, and pretended to be asleep, with all of her betrayers surrounding her.
The other possibility is that none of this ever happened. Which is more or less what Ellen said when we talked about it ten years later: that we all did things to each other during those two weeks at camp, and that some of them were not nice, but that no single thing was less nice than any other single thing.
When I heard this song about five years ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop in an urban environment, surrounded by warm lights and warmer drinks. But I felt a sudden chill pass through me when I thought about Cory, slipping back into her bunk and knowing that we had all betrayed her. And I thought about that long night in and out of dreams, when I was both the innocent and the whore, both the victim and the murderer.