THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ALI
Remember when you learned about omnipotence in English class? It’s when a narrator is all-knowing and can see and hear everything. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? Sort of like being the Wizard of Oz. Imagine what you could do if you were all-knowing. Like when you lost your journal in the locker room—you could see where it went. Or at that party last month: You would know if your boyfriend made out with your rival in the back bedroom or not. You’d be able to decipher secret looks. Hear intimate thoughts. See what’s invisible . . . even improbable.
Four pretty girls in Rosewood wished they were omnipotent, too. But here’s the thing about seeing and knowing everything—sometimes ignorance is safer. Because the closer the girls get to the truth about what happened that fateful night in the Poconos, when Alison DiLaurentis almost killed them and then vanished, the more dangerous their lives will become.
One chilly February night, on a secluded, wooded street in the Pocono Mountains, it was so quiet that you could hear a twig snap, a high-pitched giggle, or a gasp for miles around. But no one was in the area this time of year, which was why Alison DiLaurentis didn’t feel the least bit worried as she and four girls she barely knew stood in a dark, upstairs bedroom in her family’s vacation house. The walls might have been thin, the windows drafty, but no one was around to hear the girls scream. In just a few short minutes, Emily Fields, Spencer Hastings, Aria Montgomery, and Hanna Marin would be dead.
Ali couldn’t wait.
Everything was set. In the past week, Ali had dragged not-guilty Ian Thomas, long dead, to one of the second-floor bedrooms of this house and hidden him in the closet. She’d placed an unconscious Melissa Hastings, Ian’s once-girlfriend, next to his bloated body earlier today. She’d assembled the gasoline, the matches, the boards, and the nails, and called her accomplice to let him know the exact time and final details. And now, finally, she’d coaxed Spencer, Aria, Hanna, and Emily to this house tonight, leading them upstairs into that same bedroom where Ian and Melissa were stashed.
She faced the girls now, hands on her hips, watching them see her as their old friend Alison, a girl they’d loved—though in truth the “Alison” they knew was actually Alison’s sister, Courtney. She’d switched places with the real Alison, sending her twin to the mental hospital and taking over her life. “Let me hypnotize you again for old time’s sake?” she asked, giving them that winning, pleading smile. She knew they’d say yes.
And they did. Ali tried to contain her excitement as they closed their eyes. She counted down from one hundred, pacing around the small bedroom, listening for sounds on the first floor. Unbeknownst to the four others, a boy had sneaked into the house just moments ago. Right now, he was pouring liquid, locking doors, and placing boards against windows. It was all part of the plan.
Ali kept counting down, using a lulling, soothing voice. The girls went still. When Ali was almost to one, she crept out of the room, locked the door from the outside, and slipped a letter under the crack. Then she tiptoed down the stairs and rooted around in her pockets. Her fingers curled around her lucky matchbook. She struck a match, then dropped it on the floor.
Whoosh. Every wall, every exposed beam, and every ancient board game, musty-smelling Audubon Society bird book, and nylon camping tent burst into flames. The air grew pungent with gasoline vapor, and the smoke was so thick, it was difficult to see from one end of a room to the other. Alison listened to the girls’ panicked wails rise through the house. That’s right, bitches, she thought gleefully. Scream and cry all you want, it’s not going to help.
But God, did the fumes reek. Ali pulled her T-shirt over her nose and hurried through the first floor. She looked this way and that for the boy of her dreams, the only person she trusted, but he must have already been headed to their rendezvous point. Quickly, she checked his work on the windows. He’d boarded almost everything up snugly, providing little chance of the others escaping, but she grabbed the hammer he’d left on the windowsill and gave one of the boards an extra pound, just to make sure.
Then she stopped and cocked her head. Was that . . . a thump? A voice? She glared at the ceiling. It sounded like footsteps were clambering down a set of stairs—only, which stairs? She stared at the foyer. No one. She didn’t know the layout of this rambling, old house that well, as her parents had bought it just before Courtney had made the switch and sent her away.
Then something caught her eye, and she whipped around. Through the gray, billowing smoke, five figures rushed toward the kitchen door and out to safety. Ali’s jaw dropped. Lavalike rage burbled in her chest.
The last girl stopped and peered through the haze. Her blue eyes widened. Her blond-red hair was a frizzy cloud around her face. Emily Fields. Emily rushed forward, her face a mix of rage and disbelief, and grabbed Ali by the shoulders. “How could you do this?” she demanded.
Ali wriggled out of Emily’s grip. “I already told you. You bitches ruined my life.”
Emily looked like she’d been slapped. “But . . . I loved you.”
Ali burst out laughing. “You are such a loser, Emily.”
Emily looked away, like she didn’t believe Ali could say such a thing. Ali wanted to shake her. Really? she considered saying. I don’t even know you. Get a freaking life.
But then a huge boom sounded, the pressure driving them apart. Ali’s feet lifted off the ground, and seconds later she landed on her shins so hard, she almost bit clean through her tongue.
When she opened her eyes again, the flames were dancing around her even more hungrily than before. She pushed up to her hands and knees and crawled toward the kitchen door, but Emily had gotten there first. She had one hand around the knob. The other hand held a wooden plank, big enough to bar the door from the outside, keeping Ali in.