Name: Jenny Kaczorowski
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
A shiver ran down Emma’s spine as she watched a cluster of mourners gather around the fresh grave below her. They clung to one another, finding comfort in the knowledge they did not mourn alone.
On either side of her, dark pathways wove between ancient, twisted trees, dividing the cemetery into irregular sections. She shifted her feet and the frozen dew clinging to the grass crackled. The wind shaped her dark hair into softly waving tendrils and she brushed it away from her face with the back of her hand.
She knew she should join the other mourners. She knew they expected her to share in their public display of sorrow.
And she knew she couldn’t.
She felt numb. Far too numb to grieve. The slightest touch, the slightest betrayal of emotion and she would lose everything.
She remained frozen, a silent witness to their grief. She saw every detail in stunning clarity. The lurid green of the indoor-outdoor carpet covering the hole in the ground and the cold, dead smoothness of the coffin containing the mortal remains her best friend. The dull sky, the same colorless grey as her eyes, burned in her mind. Overwhelming sorrow surrounded her, but she refused to absorb any of it.
Her parents were worried. Not that she blamed them. She’d never handled loss well. She’d nearly self-destructed when Gabriel left four years earlier. And he’d only moved away.
Lily was dead.
Unbidden, an image rose before her eyes. She squeezed them shut to block out the terrifying vision, but the nightmare remained. Lily under the surface of the river, a modern Ophelia caught in the current. Her eyes, once to vibrant and full of life, stare back black and empty. Her fair skin stood in sharp contrast against the dark, murky water. Her golden hair spread around her like the rays of a halo in a Renaissance painting.
Emma tried to steady herself, to fight the panic rising in her chest. It was a dream. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t hurt her. She repeated the words drilled into her brain. It’s not real. It can’t hurt me.
After so long, she’d almost learned to believe them.
But this time it was real. Lily had drowned. And Emma knew it wasn’t an accident.
Gabriel eased his body into the kitchen and closed the door behind him. He held his breath until the deadbolt slid into place. His eyes darted around the darkened room, illuminated only by the pale green of the florescent lights under the cabinets.
An empty wine glass stood in the sink, collecting water dripping from the faucet. A droplet hit the glass and he pivoted, ready to react to any real or perceived danger. The rest of the house remained still and silent.
He doubted his clumsy attempt to sneak in had gone unnoticed, yet he didn’t hear the telltale creak of his mother’s bedroom door or the soft padding sound of her footsteps along the hallway. He slipped into the bathroom.
He leaned against the sink and brushed his hair back to check for visible cuts or bruises – anything that might draw his mother’s attention.
He peeled away his shirt and winced as the blood-encrusted fabric covering his back pulled against his skin. Two ragged scars ran along his shoulder blades, bloody and hot to the touch. A bruise spread across his neck, seeping up from his chest and shoulder. He pressed against the dark purple splotch and winced.
He cringed at his mother’s voice. “One minute, Mom. I’m about to take a shower.” He threw a towel over his shoulders and stuck his head into the hallway.
“Are you alright?” Her dark brown eyes, so like his own, scrutinized his face. “I thought I just heard you come in.”
“Late night. Studying.”
“Again?” Her voice sounded sharper than usual.
He held her gaze, but remained silent.
“You’re barely seventeen,” she said.
“I can handle it.”
“What are they doing to you?” she said. She looked small and helpless. Gabriel saw the fear in her eyes and wished he could erase it.
“Please, Mom.” He was afraid she might come too close to the truth and force him into an outright lie.
“I’m trying not to ask too many questions, but please don’t keep shutting me out.”
“I need to do this, Mom. You know that.”
She twisted the slim, gold ring on her left hand. “I talked to Grandma today,” she said. “She invited you to spend the summer with her.”
Gabriel startled. The invitation could only mean one thing.
“I want you to go,” his mother continued. “I want you to leave California.”
“Yeah. Sure. I’ll go,” he said.
“Thank you.” The worried crease in her forehead relaxed.
“Can I get my shower now?” he asked.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You look pale.” She reached out to touch his face and he instinctively pulled back. She dropped her hand and balled it into a fist. “I forget you’re not my little boy anymore.”
“You look more and more like your father everyday.”
“I’m sorry for that.”
“’Night, Mom.” He closed the door and rested his head against it.
What could have happened after so long? What had prompted his grandmother to call him back to Ohio? And how long could he hide the truth from his mother?
The West River cut through the heartland of Ohio, flowing through rolling fields and copses of buckeyes, oaks, and maples before emptying into Lake Erie. Along its banks, white steeples and neat rows of brick storefronts rose from small pockets of humanity.
The City of West River straddled the river, near enough to the lake to endure the whims of its erratic weather, yet far enough to feel landlocked and isolated. It might have slipped into obscurity if not for the college at the center of the town. All at once quaint and progressive, small town values and ivory tower intellectualism mixed and remixed in volatile ways.
The high school near the edge of town reflected the same split personality. Battered pick-ups and shiny Volvos parked side by side and the debate team garnered as much public support as the football team.
The final bell rang, signaling the end of the day and the end of the school year. The school sprang to life, a writhing, groaning beast desperate to break free from its cage.
Emma sat in a secluded corner of the cheerful, chaotic art room. Rather than face the rush of students and teachers jostling to reach the parking lot, she scrubbed and scoured her brushes and arranged her artwork in her portfolio.
Small for sixteen, Emma processed an untamed, spritely beauty more in harmony with the woods outside the school than the mass of students inside. She had the kind of wide eyes and full, rosebud lips of a Victorian fashion plate, yet some uncanny quality about her kept people at a distance. Her grey eyes held no hint of color, no blue or greenish cast. Framed in dark lashes, they seemed too keen, too knowing, as if they could pierce the soul.
She glanced toward her final project – an intricate, Japanese-style brush painting – before heading into the fray again.
A wayward freshman darted past, brushing against her. She flinched as their skin touched. His anxiety washed through her, triggering a vision of the boy pressing a razor blade against his wrist.