The Last Time I Lied Page 1

Author: Riley Sager

Genres: Thriller , Mystery

This is how it begins.

You wake to sunlight whispering through the trees just outside the window. It’s a faint light, weak and gray at the edges. Dawn still shedding the skin of night. Yet it’s bright enough to make you roll over and face the wall, the mattress creaking beneath you. Within that roll is a moment of disorientation, a split second when you don’t know where you are. It happens sometimes after a deep, dreamless slumber. A temporary amnesia. You see the fine grains of the pine-plank wall, smell the traces of campfire smoke in your hair, and know exactly where you are.

Camp Nightingale.

You close your eyes and try to drop back into sleep, doing your best to ignore the nature noise rising from outside. It’s a jarring, discordant sound—creatures of the night clashing with those of the day. You catch the drumroll of insects, the chirp of birds, a solitary loon letting out one last ghostly call that skates across the lake.

The racket of the outdoors temporarily masks the silence inside. But then a woodpecker’s rat-a-tat-tat subsides into echo, and in that brief lull, you realize how quiet it is. How the only sound you’re aware of is the steady rise and fall of your own sleep-heavy breathing.

Your eyes dart open again as you strain to hear something else—anything else—coming from inside the cabin.

There’s nothing.

The woodpecker starts up again, and its rapid jackhammering tugs you away from the wall to face the rest of the cabin. It’s a small space. Just enough room for two sets of bunk beds, a night table topped by a lantern, and four hickory trunks near the door for storage. Certainly tiny enough for you to be able to tell when it’s empty, which it is.

You fling your gaze to the bunks across from you. The top one is neatly made, the sheets pulled taut. The bottom is the opposite—a tangle of blankets, something lumpy buried beneath them.

You check your watch in the early half-light. It’s a few minutes past 5:00 a.m. Almost an hour until reveille. The revelation brings an undercurrent of panic that hums just beneath your skin, itchy and irritating.

Emergency scenarios trot through your brain. A sudden illness. A frantic call from home. You even try to tell yourself it’s possible the girls had to leave so quickly they couldn’t be bothered to wake you. Or maybe they tried but you couldn’t be roused. Or maybe they did and you can’t remember.

You kneel before the hickory trunks by the door, each one carved with names of campers past, and fling open all of them but yours. The inside of each satin-lined box is stuffed to the brim with clothes and magazines and simple camp crafts. Two of them hold cell phones, turned off, unused for days.

Only one of them took her phone.

You have no idea what that could mean.

The first—and only—logical place you think the girls can be is the latrine, a cedar-walled rectangle just beyond the cabins, planted right at the threshold of the forest. Maybe one of them had to go to the bathroom and the others went with her. It’s happened before. You’ve taken part in similar treks. Huddled together, scurrying along a path lit by a single, shared flashlight.

Yet the perfectly made bed suggests a planned absence. An extended one. Or, worse, that no one had even slept in it the night before.

Still, you open the cabin door and take a nervous step outside. It’s a gray, chilly morning, one that makes you hug yourself for warmth as you head to the latrine. Inside, you check every stall and shower. They’re all empty. The shower walls are dry. So are the sinks.

Back outside, you pause halfway between the latrine and the cabins, your head cocked, straining to hear signs of the girls hidden among all the buzzing and chirping and water gently lapping the lakeshore fifty yards away.

There’s nothing.

The camp itself is completely silent.

A sense of isolation drops onto your shoulders, and for a moment you wonder if the whole camp has cleared out, leaving only you behind. More horrible scenarios fill your thoughts. Cabins emptying in a frenzied, worried rush. You sleeping right through it.

You head back to the cabins, circling them quietly, listening for signs of life. There are twenty cabins in all, laid out in a tidy grid covering a patch of cleared forest. You wind your way around them, fully aware of how ridiculous you look. Dressed in nothing more than a tank top and a pair of boxer shorts, dead pine needles and pathway mulch sticking to your bare feet.

Each cabin is named after a tree. Yours is Dogwood. Next door is Maple. You check the names of each, trying to pick one the girls might have wandered into. You picture an impromptu sleepover. You begin to squint into windows and crack open unlocked doors, scanning the double-decker rows of sleeping girls for signs of additional campers. In one of the cabins—Blue Spruce—you startle a girl awake. She sits up in her bottom bunk, a gasp caught in her throat.

“Sorry,” you whisper before closing the door. “Sorry, sorry.”

You make your way to the other side of the camp, which normally bustles with activity from sunrise until twilight. Right now, though, sunrise is still just a promise, nothing but faint pinkness inching above the horizon. The only activity involves you marching toward the sturdy mess hall. In an hour or so, the scents of coffee and burnt bacon should be wafting from the building. At the moment, there’s no smell of food, no noise.

You try the door. It’s locked.

When you press your face to a window, all you see is a darkened dining room, chairs still stacked atop long rows of tables.