Sandy is living in a rural town in North Carolina with her mother, her father, and Helen, her sister. Sandy’s always felt like she was in her sister’s shadow: Helen is a talented ballet dancer with a boyfriend and excellent grades, while Sandy is grubby, clumsy, and scatterbrained.
One summer day her neighbor Mike, tells her that his family’s goats have been dying mysteriously: they’ll be fine in the evening, but by morning they’ll have been drained of all fluid in their bodies, leaving them mummified. He claims he saw Helen leaving his barn. Sandy doesn’t believe him.
All the same, Helen’s acting strange: she’s become aloof, but her ballet skills are rapidly improving. She’s begun to display goat-like qualities.
To prove Helen’s innocence, Sandy teams up with Helen’s boyfriend, Jonathon, to investigate the goat killings. Mike joins to prove them wrong. They realize Helen has been possessed by an evil entity that needs goat blood to grow and is using her body as a vessel to transform into a powerful monster. The teens must find a way to defeat the demon without killing Helen.
Because of their skeletal structure, goats always walk on their toes.
Chapter 1: Jeté-ing
Helen’s old ballet shoes are still pretty, even though she’s worn them so hard that there are holes in the toes. It reminds me of a fairy tale I read when I was little: twelve princesses danced so much that they wore through their shoes every night. Against my better judgement, I consider trying them on.
My better judgment wins out, and I throw them into the “toss” bin. I’m not a princess-like girl. If anything, I think I’m probably a little goblin that bothers knights who are trying to do important things, like fighting dragons. I would be embarrassed to try the shoes on, even though there’s nobody else in the garage. Plenty of other stuff gets tossed, too: a hardly-used child-sized catcher’s mitt (from when I tried to join the junior softball league), a pair of bright yellow roller skates (from when I tried to learn how to roller skate), and a busted sewing machine (from that time I tried to learn how to sew). I’m kind of bad at doing things, in general. I always jump from hobby to hobby, but I’m bad at sticking to one thing. Helen got into ballet six years ago when she was ten, and she’s been getting better ever since.
In the end, I’ve gotten rid of a lot of outgrown swim equipment, two little girls’ bikes (to be donated to the local secondhand store), and a lot of Helen’s old junk. She keeps everything. The newspaper that announced her favorite band coming to town last summer, a bunch of her old sketchbooks (long-since forgotten and buried under newer, better drawings). At least I’m not a hoarder.
I sigh and brush dust off the front of my overalls. I’m not going to get any more work done today. I’m about to step into the house and ask Mom to evaluate how I’ve done when she opens the door for me. She’s on the phone, speaking in a low voice. She makes a gesture to indicate that I should leave, but I just shuffle a little bit to the side. She doesn’t seem mad, so I stay.
“Nothing?” Mom asks. “That’s… disturbing. I’m sorry, I haven’t seen anything.”
“Whatcha talkin’ about?” I mouth. Mom shakes her head.
“And you’re sure it wasn’t a coyote? Rob says he heard some in the woods when he went fishing last week.” Mom pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “No, I suppose not. No, no, I don’t think a coyote could do that, either. It’s fine, call me if you need any help.” She hangs up and turns to me with her hands on her hips.
“Cassandra, you know it’s rude to listen,” she says. I shuffle my feet.
“I know,” I say. “But what’s going on?”
“Something killed one of Mrs. Anderson’s goats,” Mom says. “Or someone. She’s been calling around asking if anybody’s seen something suspicious.”
“Probably one of Mr. Davis’s rotten dogs,” I say. I hate those dogs. They’re as big as I am and they always snarl at me. One time, they chased my bike for two blocks before giving up. I was totally sure that I was dog food.
“Apparently, it didn’t look like an animal did it. There wasn’t any blood. They were…” My mother furtively glances to the side. “She said it looked like they were mummified.”
“Gross,” I say, even though I don’t really believe her. Dana Anderson is nuts. Everyone knows it. She thinks her cockatoo is a prophet who told her to find everyone named “Cassie.” Nobody calls me “Cassie,” but Mom made me go to her special dinner anyway. I met this cool girl from the next town over. She had a tattoo of a parakeet, which, naturally, must have been tied into the prophecy.
Anyway, I’m not too scared of some kind of goat-mummifying spirit or whatever it is Mrs. Anderson thinks is after her. Our town is a farming town, but that doesn’t mean that my family is made up of farmers. Dad sells used cars, and Mom stays at home (although she’s been antsy lately, so maybe she’ll start job-hunting soon). Helen works at Bloom City, the new flower shop near the library. Maybe I should get a job. The McDonald’s is hiring. Would I be a good cashier?
Nah, I’d be a crappy cashier. Anyway, none of us are farmers, so who cares?
“She said it got mummified,” I say in the evening. “Wild, right?”
“Poor Mrs. Anderson,” Helen says. She looks genuinely sad. “I know she cares a lot about her animals. This must be hard for her.”
I feel a twinge of guilt. I was so busy thinking about how weird Mrs. Anderson was that I hadn’t even thought about how she might be hurting. That’s another thing Helen is better at than me. Being a nice person.
“Anything else happen today, Sandy?” Helen asks. She’s braiding her long, strawberry-blonde hair. She always does that before bed. She says that keeps it from getting tangled. I should probably do the same thing, but I’m lazy, and if I tie it back, nobody even notices. I think maybe we’d look a lot alike, if I were neater or she were messier. We’re “Irish twins.” She was born only a year before me, so she’s always been more of an equal than an older sibling to me. People mistook us for twins before we hit puberty and she suddenly got all tall and curvy, but I don’t blame them. We’ve got the same hair, and the same droopy brown eyes. Helen’s got a nicer nose than me, I think, but I got freckles, and she didn’t, so that makes it fairer. Either way, we’ve lived in each other’s pockets for a long time.
“I found your old sketchbooks,” I say.
Helen groans. “Tell me you didn’t look through them,” she says.
“You loved those animes, didn’t you? And you liked makin’ them kiss.”
“To be fair, I still like making them kiss. I’m just better at it now.” Helen smiles at me, with her straight white teeth. I suddenly become conscious of my own braces.
“Lonnggg necks, and big ol’ eyes,” I say. “And spider hands.”
Helen throws her plush cat, Nijinsky, at me. It hits me square in the face. That’s Helen-language for “stop that, Sandy, you crummy little goblin.”
“What did you do today?” I ask.
“Jeté,” she says, and buries her face in her pillow dramatically. “Jeté battu, coupé-jeté en tournant, jeté entrelacé… All the jetés, Sandy…” Her voice is muffled. “Actually, that’s not all of them. Also, give me back Mr. Nijinsky.”
“Sorry,” I say, handing back the fuzzy toy cat. I’m terrible with those fancy French terms, but I want to be supportive. “Maybe you won’t have as many juh-tays next time…?”
“No, I just need to practice harder,” Helen says, still buried in her pillow. “My legs hurt a little, but—” Her phone starts ringing. “Oh, it’s Jonathon,” she says, her face breaking into a smile. “I’ve gotta take this.” Helen stands up and practically prances out of the room. So much for her legs hurting.
“I’ll give him your old sketchbooks!” I call, but it’s useless. I’ve already thrown them away, and Helen’s not listening anymore. I hate Jonathon. Interloper. Boyfriends are a waste of time.
Helen’s already gone to Bloom City when I wake up. It’s summer, so we don’t have school. On Tuesdays, and Thursdays, she works. Every other day but Sunday, she practices. No matter what the day is, she’s intense and structured. I groan. What am I going to do today? I don’t want to clean out the garage anymore. Maybe I should just go to the library and pretend that I have something to do. I’ll lurk around the romance novels and try to count the man-nipples, maybe.
“Cassandra!” Mom calls up the stairs. “Come here, honey.”
“On my way!” I yell, tumbling out of bed. I nearly trip over poor Nijinsky, who must have fallen off Helen’s bed (she always puts him next to her pillow when she makes it), as I run out of the room and down the stairs as loudly as I can. I want it to be obvious that I’m coming. I hate it when my mom calls more than once.
“What’s going on?” I ask, before I realize that the front door is open.
“Mike wants to see you,” Mom says, gesturing to the boy standing on our front stoop. He’s a black kid who’s about half a head shorter than I am, with an oversized hoodie, obnoxiously long eyelashes, and a red trucker hat. He has his arms crossed and is glaring at me as though I’m some kind of monster. I know him. We’ve been classmates since forever, since there’s only one school in town, and not enough kids for more than one class a year. We’ve usually been indifferent to each other, so I don’t know why he’s so mad at me.
“’Sup, Mikey?” I ask.
“A lot is “’sup,” Sandy!” he says. Mom awkwardly backs away to let us talk alone. I guess she’s not as into overhearing drama as I am.
“Geez, not so early in the morning,” I say, rubbing my eyes.
“If it’s before noon, it’s early,” I say. “What’s wrong?”
“Two of my family’s dairy goats are dead,” Mike says. “They’re totally dried out. Like, there’s no blood or anything in them.”
“Sorry,” I say, fidgeting a little. “That’s really terrible?”
“How’s your sister?’” Mike asks with an edge of sarcasm. “Just curious. Hey, have you seen any blood on her lately? She been doing any… I don’t know, evil cackling? Satanic rituals?”
“What.” I have no idea what Mike is talking about.
“Holy crap, Sandy, are you stupid!?” Mike says. “I don’t know how she did it, but your sister killed my goats!”