Samantha Harms had always been intrigued by small, measured increments of time: ten seconds, five and a half-minutes, precisely one hour – anything she could count down with a ticking clock.
When she’d cemented an invading force of 500 army men to the driveway of her high school’s ROTC recruiter, her ticking clock had been the rising sun. When she’d inflated the Gorilla Fireworks mascot on the football coach’s back porch, it had been the one minute and thirty-five seconds it took the air compressor to warm up. There were tens of examples, but by the second semester of her senior year at Springwood High, Samantha’s creative engine had stalled out. After three months of nothing, her only ticking clock was the weaning patience of her two best friends: Randall Tesdal and Clark Davey.
“Whaddya got, Harms?” Randall asked. “It’s our senior year. We need a grand finale.”
“The well is dry,” Clark said. “She’s going out with a whimper.”
“Piss off,” she said. “You can’t rush genius.”
But she’d worn out the excuse. She was choking on the pressure of legendary. How could she top the inflatable gorilla? Or the universal remote she’d used to keep the television of their biology teacher (an avowed Scientologist), permanently tuned to the SyFy Channel? Or stealing Dave Standish’s bicycle and mailing it back to him one piece at a time?
When her ideas ran out, Clark and Randall filled the void.
“Let’s crap in a paper bag and switch it out with Jake Foster’s lunch,” Randall said. “He leaves it in his car every morning.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Clark cut in. “Someone would see us. We gotta act at night. Let’s chuck his mountain bike over the Cliffs. We snap a picture and — ”
“Guys,” Samantha said, rolling her eyes. “The Cliffs?”
Clark and Randall were forever wanting to launch things off the Cliffs: a sheer, 200-foot drop from a parking lot on the edge of town. At its base was a twisted graveyard of abandoned bikes, shopping carts, beer bottles – anything someone in a town of 5,000 people might want to get rid of. The Cliffs had been the punch line to a thousand Springwood pranks and petty thefts, and Samantha wanted no part of it.
“What’s wrong with the Cliffs?” Clark asked. “He leaves his bike unlocked every night. We could do this.”
“Any idiot could do it,” she said. “But it’s not interesting. It’s not even a prank. It’s just mean.”
“Apologies, oh great one!” Randall said, shaking his hands like a revivalist preacher. “Tell us! Lead us! Make us whole again!”
She flipped him off, but she had nothing. More accurately, she had no one.
She had ten or more half-formed pranks at the ready, scratched into a leather-bound notebook she kept tucked beneath the mattress in her bedroom. The schemes were accompanied by maps, plan Bs, timetables, and escape routes. But the plan of attack was only half the prank. It was the target she was struggling with. Who among their teachers and fellow students was interesting enough, cruel enough, deserving enough to prank?
Then, two weeks after her conversation with Randall and Clark – it happened.
Samantha stepped out her front door one Wednesday morning and stopped dead halfway across her lawn. Her car, a blue Geo Metro, was plastered with eggs and maple syrup, cocooned in flour. She tried scraping the front windshield, then gave up and drove to school, head hanging out the window. Her hair was icy when she arrived, lips chapped, nostrils frozen.
She didn’t mention the incident to anyone.
At lunch, she monitored Randall and Clark for suspicious behavior. They talked to each other for five minutes before noticing she was there.
“Got anything?” Randall asked.
“Don’t upset the prank deity,” Clark said. “She’ll curse us.”
“Guys,” Samantha said. “I’ve been hit.”
Together, the three of them walked to the parking lot in drizzling rain. Samantha blew heat into her hands as they circled the Geo. Most of the flour had blown away, but syrup zigzagged the windows, egg yolk smeared the hood.
“First time, eh Harms?” Randall asked. ”Not bad, considering what you’ve pulled.”
But Randall was wrong. It was worse than anything she could’ve imagined. In all her years of pranking, she never dreamed her first time would be like this. Standing there, soaking wet and shivering in the Springwood High parking lot, a long-hidden desire revealed itself to her.
Samantha had always wanted an arch nemesis.
Although she’d never before acknowledged the fantasy, she could picture him instantly. He’d wear black and be polite to a fault. He’d speak in a clipped accent. Something European. Probably British. He’d be older. He’d squint into the sun and say things like: You and I are not so different, Samantha Harms. His pranks would be artful. Together, they’d bring townships to their knees.
She looked at the syrup on her car and she wanted to cry.
A few weeks later, Randall found out who’d done the job: a community college freshman named Andy Smeltzer. He’d been a teammate of Samantha’s older brother and thought the Geo still belonged to him.The prank hadn’t even been meant for her.
Randall and Clark were rabid. They pounded plasticware on the lunch table and demanded revenge, spewing plots and strategies. They worked up plans. As often as was necessary, Samantha chimed in. She laughed darkly. She brought out her leather-bound notebook and asked questions like: “How much weight does a two inch steel cable hold?” and “How do you think banks activate the dye packs they use for robberies?”
But what was a clever response to syrup and eggs?
And how could someone be legendary with an arch-nemesis like Andy Smeltzer?
It was April when Samantha pulled into the first of two stalls at the Stop on the Hill gas station. She killed her engine, then rolled down the window. A beater of a blue truck idled at the pump in front of her. She knew the truck. She’d seen pictures of it on Clark and Randall’s phones, blown-up full-color shots embedded in intricate prank schematics. She’d also seen photos of the truck’s owner.
He was on the phone, standing beside his truck — taller than he looked in pictures. He was gangly in his leather jacket, sleeves riding up above his wrists. The jacket was black. His wide forehead and pointed chin gave his face a triangular look and he was unnaturally pale, as if he’d spent the last few years of his teens in a basement. Or England.
“I’ll call you right back,” he said. “Two minutes.” Then he pocketed his phone and walked toward the mini-mart.
At the counter, Andy grabbed a key from the ancient-looking attendant, walked back outside, and disappeared into the bathroom. The lone attendant punched a key on her register and shuffled into the back room – out of sight.
Samantha didn’t see any security cameras. Andy’s keys dangled in the ignition, engine humming.
Samantha got out of her car. She looked down the Stop on the Hill’s driveway and how it sloped onto the straight road ahead, still damp from a recent storm. The reflection of white street lights wobbled on the surface of puddles, shrinking into the distance like signals on an airport runway. The lights stopped at a parking lot which extended to an old metal guardrail Samantha couldn’t see, but knew was there.
Beyond the guardrail, Clark and Randall’s Cliffs.
Samantha watched her breath uncurl from her mouth and did something out of character. With less than a minute left, she gave herself five seconds to think . . . four . . . three . . . two . . .