My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when Iwas murdered on December 6, 1973. In newspaper photos of missing girls from theseventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This wasbefore kids of all races and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in thedaily mail. It was still back when people believed things like that didn'thappen.
In my junior high yearbook I had a quote from a Spanish poet my sister hadturned me on to, Juan Ramón Jiménez. It went like this: "If they give you ruledpaper, write the other way." I chose it both because it expressed my contemptfor my structured surroundings ? la the classroom and because, not being somedopey quote from a rock group, I thought it marked me as literary. I was amember of the Chess Club and Chem Club and burned everything I tried to make inMrs. Delminico's home ec class. My favorite teacher was Mr. Botte, who taughtbiology and liked to animate the frogs and crawfish we had to dissect by makingthem dance in their waxed pans.
I wasn't killed by Mr. Botte, by the way. Don't think every person you'regoing to meet in here is suspect. That's the problem. You never know. Mr. Bottecame to my memorial (as, may I add, did almost the entire junior high schoolIwas never so popular) and cried quite a bit. He had a sick kid. We all knewthis, so when he laughed at his own jokes, which were rusty way before I hadhim, we laughed too, forcing it sometimes just to make him happy. His daughterdied a year and a half after I did. She had leukemia, but I never saw her in myheaven.
My murderer was a man from our neighborhood. My mother liked his borderflowers, and my father talked to him once about fertilizer. My murderer believedin old-fashioned things like eggshells and coffee grounds, which he said his ownmother had used. My father came home smiling, making jokes about how the man'sgarden might be beautiful but it would stink to high heaven once a heat wavehit.
But on December 6, 1973, it was snowing, and I took a shortcut through thecornfield back from the junior high. It was dark out because the days wereshorter in winter, and I remember how the broken cornstalks made my walk moredifficult. The snow was falling lightly, like a flurry of small hands, and I wasbreathing through my nose until it was running so much that I had to open mymouth. Six feet from where Mr. Harvey stood, I stuck my tongue out to taste asnowflake.
"Don't let me startle you," Mr. Harvey said.
Of course, in a cornfield, in the dark, I was startled. After I was dead Ithought about how there had been the light scent of cologne in the air but thatI had not been paying attention, or thought it was coming from one of the housesup ahead.
"Mr. Harvey," I said.
"You're the older Salmon girl, right?"
"How are your folks?"
Although the eldest in my family and good at acing a science quiz, I hadnever felt comfortable with adults.
"Fine," I said. I was cold, but the natural authority of his age, and theadded fact that he was a neighbor and had talked to my father about fertilizer,rooted me to the spot.
"I've built something back here," he said. "Would you like to see?"
"I'm sort of cold, Mr. Harvey," I said, "and my mom likes me home beforedark."
"It's after dark, Susie," he said.
I wish now that I had known this was weird. I had never told him my name. Iguess I thought my father had told him one of the embarrassing anecdotes he sawmerely as loving testaments to his children. My father was the kind of dad whokept a nude photo of you when you were three in the downstairs bathroom, the onethat guests would use. He did this to my little sister, Lindsey, thank God. Atleast I was spared that indignity. But he liked to tell a story about how, onceLindsey was born, I was so jealous that one day while he was on the phone in theother room, I moved down the couchhe could see me from where he stoodandtried to pee on top of Lindsey in her carrier. This story humiliated me everytime he told it, to the pastor of our church, to our neighbor Mrs. Stead, whowas a therapist and whose take on it he wanted to hear, and to everyone who eversaid "Susie has a lot of spunk!"
"Spunk!" my father would say. "Let me tell you about spunk," and he wouldlaunch immediately into his Susie-peed-on-Lindsey story.
But as it turned out, my father had not mentioned us to Mr. Harvey or toldhim the Susie-peed-on-Lindsey story.
Mr. Harvey would later say these words to my mother when he ran into her onthe street: "I heard about the horrible, horrible tragedy. What was yourdaughter's name, again?"
"Susie," my mother said, bracing up under the weight of it, a weight that shenaively hoped might lighten someday, not knowing that it would only go on tohurt in new and varied ways for the rest of her life.
Mr. Harvey told her the usual: "I hope they get the bastard. I'm sorry foryour loss."
I was in my heaven by that time, fitting my limbs together, and couldn'tbelieve his audacity. "The man has no shame," I said to Franny, my intakecounselor. "Exactly," she said, and made her point as simply as that. Therewasn't a lot of bullshit in my heaven.
Mr. Harvey said it would only take a minute, so I followed him a littlefarther into the cornfield, where fewer stalks were broken off because no oneused it as a shortcut to the junior high. My mom had told my baby brother,Buckley, that the corn in the field was inedible when he asked why no one fromthe neighborhood ate it. "The corn is for horses, not humans," she said. "Notdogs?" Buckley asked. "No," my mother answered. "Not dinosaurs?" Buckley asked.And it went like that.
"I've made a little hiding place," said Mr. Harvey.
He stopped and turned to me.
"I don't see anything," I said. I was aware that Mr. Harvey was looking at mestrangely. I'd had older men look at me that way since I'd lost my baby fat, butthey usually didn't lose their marbles over me when I was wearing my royal blueparka and yellow elephant bell-bottoms. His glasses were small and round withgold frames, and his eyes looked out over them and at me.
"You should be more observant, Susie," he said.
I felt like observing my way out of there, but I didn't. Why didn't I? Frannysaid these questions were fruitless: "You didn't and that's that. Don't mull itover. It does no good. You're dead and you have to accept it."
"Try again," Mr. Harvey said, and he squatted down and knocked against theground.
"What's that?" I asked.
My ears were freezing. I wouldn't wear the multicolored cap with the pompomand jingle bells that my mother had made me one Christmas. I had shoved it inthe pocket of my parka instead.
I remember that I went over and stomped on the ground near him. It feltharder even than frozen earth, which was pretty hard.
"It's wood," Mr. Harvey said. "It keeps the entrance from collapsing. Otherthan that it's all made out of earth."
"What is it?" I asked. I was no longer cold or weirded out by the look he hadgiven me. I was like I was in science class: I was curious.
"Come and see."
It was awkward to get into, that much he admitted once we were both insidethe hole. But I was so amazed by how he had made a chimney that would draw smokeout if he ever chose to build a fire that the awkwardness of getting in and outof the hole wasn't even on my mind. You could add to that that escape wasn't aconcept I had any real experience with. The worst I'd had to escape was Artie, astrange-looking kid at school whose father was a mortician. He liked to pretendhe was carrying a needle full of embalming fluid around with him. On hisnotebooks he would draw needles spilling dark drips.
"This is neato!" I said to Mr. Harvey. He could have been the hunchback ofNotre Dame, whom we had read about in French class. I didn't care. I completelyreverted. I was my brother Buckley on our day-trip to the Museum of NaturalHistory in New York, where he'd fallen in love with the huge skeletons ondisplay. I hadn't used the word neato in public since elementaryschool.
"Like taking candy from a baby," Franny said.
I can still see the hole like it was yesterday, and it was. Life is aperpetual yesterday for us. It was the size of a small room, the mud room in ourhouse, say, where we kept our boots and slickers and where Mom had managed tofit a washer and dryer, one on top of the other. I could almost stand up in it,but Mr. Harvey had to stoop. He'd created a bench along the sides of it by theway he'd dug it out. He immediately sat down.
"Look around," he said.
I stared at it in amazement, the dug-out shelf above him where he had placedmatches, a row of batteries, and a battery-powered fluorescent lamp that castthe only light in the rooman eerie light that would make his features hard tosee when he was on top of me.
There was a mirror on the shelf, and a razor and shaving cream. I thoughtthat was odd. Wouldn't he do that at home? But I guess I figured that a man whohad a perfectly good split-level and then built an underground room only half amile away had to be kind of loo-loo. My father had a nice way of describingpeople like him: "The man's a character, that's all."
So I guess I was thinking that Mr. Harvey was a character, and I liked theroom, and it was warm, and I wanted to know how he had built it, what themechanics of the thing were and where he'd learned to do something like that.
But by the time the Gilberts' dog found my elbow three days later and broughtit home with a telling corn husk attached to it, Mr. Harvey had closed it up. Iwas in transit during this. I didn't get to see him sweat it out, remove thewood reinforcement, bag any evidence along with my body parts, except thatelbow. By the time I popped up with enough wherewithal to look down at thegoings-on on Earth, I was more concerned with my family than anything else.
My mother sat on a hard chair by the front door with her mouth open. Her paleface paler than I had ever seen it. Her blue eyes staring. My father was driveninto motion. He wanted to know details and to comb the cornfield along with thecops. I still thank God for a small detective named Len Fenerman. He assignedtwo uniforms to take my dad into town and have him point out all the places I'dhung out with my friends. The uniforms kept my dad busy in one mall for thewhole first day. No one had told Lindsey, who was thirteen and would have beenold enough, or Buckley, who was four and would, to be honest, never fullyunderstand.
Mr. Harvey asked me if I would like a refreshment. That was how he put it. Isaid I had to go home.
"Be polite and have a Coke," he said. "I'm sure the other kids would."
"What other kids?"
"I built this for the kids in the neighborhood. I thought it could be somesort of clubhouse."
I don't think I believed this even then. I thought he was lying, but Ithought it was a pitiful lie. I imagined he was lonely. We had read about menlike him in health class. Men who never married and ate frozen meals every nightand were so afraid of rejection that they didn't even own pets. I felt sorry forhim.
"Okay," I said, "I'll have a Coke."
In a little while he said, "Aren't you warm, Susie? Why don't you take offyour parka."
After this he said, "You're very pretty, Susie."
"Thanks," I said, even though he gave me what my friend Clarissa and I haddubbed the skeevies.
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"No, Mr. Harvey," I said. I swallowed the rest of my Coke, which was a lot,and said, "I got to go, Mr. Harvey. This is a cool place, but I have to go."
He stood up and did his hunchback number by the six dug-in steps that led tothe world. "I don't know why you think you're leaving."
I talked so that I would not have to take in this knowledge: Mr. Harvey wasno character. He made me feel skeevy and icky now that he was blocking thedoor.
"Mr. Harvey, I really have to get home."
"Take off your clothes."
"Take your clothes off," Mr. Harvey said. "I want to check that you're stilla virgin."
"I am, Mr. Harvey," I said.
"I want to make sure. Your parents will thank me."
"They only want good girls," he said.
"Mr. Harvey," I said, "please let me leave."
"You aren't leaving, Susie. You're mine now."
Fitness was not a big thing back then; aerobics was barely a word.Girls were supposed to be soft, and only the girls we suspected were butch couldclimb the ropes at school.
I fought hard. I fought as hard as I could not to let Mr. Harvey hurt me, butmy hard-as-I-could was not hard enough, not even close, and I was soon lyingdown on the ground, in the ground, with him on top of me panting and sweating,having lost his glasses in the struggle.
I was so alive then. I thought it was the worst thing in the world tobe lying flat on my back with a sweating man on top of me. To be trapped insidethe earth and have no one know where I was.
I thought of my mother.
My mother would be checking the dial of the clock on her oven. It was a newoven and she loved that it had a clock on it. "I can time things to the minute,"she told her own mother, a mother who couldn't care less about ovens.
She would be worried, but more angry than worried, at my lateness. As myfather pulled into the garage, she would rush about, fixing him a cocktail, adry sherry, and put on an exasperated face: "You know junior high," she wouldsay. "Maybe it's Spring Fling." "Abigail," my father would say, "how can it beSpring Fling when it's snowing?" Having failed with this, my mother might rushBuckley into the room and say, "Play with your father," while she ducked intothe kitchen and took a nip of sherry for herself.
Mr. Harvey started to press his lips against mine. They were blubbery and wetand I wanted to scream but I was too afraid and too exhausted from the fight. Ihad been kissed once by someone I liked. His name was Ray and he was Indian. Hehad an accent and was dark. I wasn't supposed to like him. Clarissa called hislarge eyes, with their half-closed lids, "freak-a-delic," but he was nice andsmart and helped me cheat on my algebra exam while pretending he hadn't. Hekissed me by my locker the day before we turned in our photos for the yearbook.When the yearbook came out at the end of the summer, I saw that under hispicture he had answered the standard "My heart belongs to" with "Susie Salmon."I guess he had had plans. I remember that his lips were chapped.
"Don't, Mr. Harvey," I managed, and I kept saying that one word a lot.Don't. And I said please a lot too. Franny told me that almosteveryone begged "please" before dying.
"I want you, Susie," he said.
"Please," I said. "Don't," I said. Sometimes I combined them. "Please don't"or "Don't please." It was like insisting that a key works when it doesn't oryelling "I've got it, I've got it, I've got it" as a softball goes sailing overyou into the stands.
But he grew tired of hearing me plead. He reached into the pocket of my parkaand balled up the hat my mother had made me, smashing it into my mouth. The onlysound I made after that was the weak tinkling of bells.
As he kissed his wet lips down my face and neck and then began to shove hishands up under my shirt, I wept. I began to leave my body; I began to inhabitthe air and the silence. I wept and struggled so I would not feel. He rippedopen my pants, not having found the invisible zipper my mother had artfully sewninto their side.
"Big white panties," he said.
I felt huge and bloated. I felt like a sea in which he stood and pissed andshat. I felt the corners of my body were turning in on themselves and out, likein cat's cradle, which I played with Lindsey just to make her happy. He startedworking himself over me.
"Susie! Susie!" I heard my mother calling. "Dinner is ready."
He was inside me. He was grunting.
"We're having string beans and lamb."
I was the mortar, he was the pestle.
"Your brother has a new finger painting, and I made apple crumbcake."
Mr. Harvey made me lie still underneath him and listen to the beating of hisheart and the beating of mine. How mine skipped like a rabbit, and how histhudded, a hammer against cloth. We lay there with our bodies touching, and, asI shook, a powerful knowledge took hold. He had done this thing to me and I hadlived. That was all. I was still breathing. I heard his heart. I smelled hisbreath. The dark earth surrounding us smelled like what it was, moist dirt whereworms and animals lived their daily lives. I could have yelled for hours.
I knew he was going to kill me. I did not realize then that I was an animalalready dying.
"Why don't you get up?" Mr. Harvey said as he rolled to the side and thencrouched over me.
His voice was gentle, encouraging, a lover's voice on a late morning. Asuggestion, not a command.
I could not move. I could not get up.
When I would notwas it only that, only that I would not follow hissuggestion?he leaned to the side and felt, over his head, across the ledgewhere his razor and shaving cream sat. He brought back a knife. Unsheathed, itsmiled at me, curving up in a grin.
He took the hat from my mouth.
"Tell me you love me," he said.
Gently, I did.
The end came anyway.
Excerpted from The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Copyright © 2002 by Alice Sebold. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.