Name: Lisa Basso
Genre: YA Paranormal
My insomnia is killing me from the inside out.
The weight of my backpack causes me to stumble, though the only things inside it now are a notebook, a few pens, and a handful of papers with red F’s and notes from teachers wanting me to “see them after class”. This has been going for almost five months now. I know the drill. So I ignore every one of them.
A surge of dizziness hits me. I sway on my feet, watching the Santa Cruz High School crowd thin.
Not in the damn hallway. Anywhere but here.
“Whoa.” A chick I recognize from Geometry stops walking toward her next class. She takes one, two, three steps toward me. In my warped vision the closer she comes, the more her body jerks and jumps. I blink in the hopes she’ll even out. She doesn’t. Her lipstick wavers from orange to purple.
“Doing okay there, Grace?” The guy clasping the girl’s hand leans in. His eyes remind me of a toad’s, too far apart. But then again, the right side of his face is melting, so who am I to judge?
I whip up enough BS to shoo them away before things get worse, though I have no clue what I’ve said. Something about being fine I’m sure. By now I’m gold-metal at convincing people of that. Eventually they turn the corner. The hallway quiets in its empty state. I suck in air like a drowning person who’s just reached the surface. It doesn’t help. I can’t freaking breathe.
The instant my knees hit the ground I know. This is going to be one of those days, the bad ones. I struggle to pick myself up, but the sweat on my palms turns cold, tacking my hand to the faded mauve linoleum. The faint odor of disinfectant and dirty sneakers wafts up, stinging my nostrils.
My pulse thrums erratically in my ears. White film spots my vision.
I can’t control anything anymore. Sleep is such a cruel and distant idea by now that when my energy seeps out, threatening to pull me into unconsciousness, the only thing I can do is wait it out. I slump back against a set of coral half-lockers, butt firmly plastered to the floor.
Only one more period, then I can go home, deal with this in private.
A dark figure by the window catches my eye. The guy’s tall frame casts a shadow across the floor, draping over me like a psychopath in a movie.
I open my mouth to ask him if he’s enjoying the view—my sad idea of a joke—but the sight of him stops me. I grow even colder. He’s dressed all in black, some emo kid possibly hoping to get off on watching my meltdown, but the chill that pricks my spine warns of something different. Something dangerous.
A hood shrouds his face, making him impossible to identify. Harnessing my anger in place of the odd fear which lays bitter on my tongue, I turn a scowl at him.
He ghosts away from the window so fast I swear he hit fast forward, zooming dead at me. He hits the brakes, stopping on a dime mere inches from where I’ve collapsed.
From this close, I notice emo kid is not in black, he’s in shadows. As if they’re cloaked around him, sealing all of him off from the light. A new couple holding hands swerve to avoid us, their eyes follow me as they walk. Just me. I can still see the girl’s horrid purple pants through emo kid’s torso.
The couple enter the second classroom on the right together.
The sweat at the back of my neck subsides and cools. “I don’t know what your problem is, but—” I slap my palm down on what should be his foot to punctuate my annoyance and allow me stand up with some dignity. But my hand smashes the scuffed mauve linoleum with a thwak. I bite back my hiss of pain. Black smoke disperses, wafting up and filling my nostrils with the smell of a thousand trees crackling in a forest fire. Emo kid still stands there, without a freaking foot.
My heart collides with my ribcage. I jerk back, slamming my head into the locker behind me. Pain flares behind my eyes and my long hair tangles in the Master Lock.
Darkness, something blacker than tar hovers over me. The stench of acrid smoke invades me again. This smoky liquid leaves his body and wraps around my wrist. I can’t feel it attach to me, but I see the thick thread that links us.
A cold chill of fear freezes me. For a moment I try to convince myself none of this is real. Sucking in a gulp of burnt air helps me remember my industrial-strength self. The almost-tough-enough person I’ve become in the last five months since my brother, Jake’s death. Determined to land a kick in crazy emo kid’s family jewels, I try to pull my arm away, only I can’t move. My hand is glued to the floor, held there by the shadows. I’m left to watch it swirl up my wrist and around my arm. I grit my teeth, refusing to let out a whimper.
“Grace? Are you okay?” The shadows expand then float away like moths caught by a gust of air. Raf darts across the hall from out of nowhere. The black disperses like smoke, leaving no trace, no proof of its presence.
What. The hell. Was that?
Emo kid, or whatever he was, is gone too.
“Did you fall?” Raf takes my hand and pulls me to my feet. “Or pass out?” Once I’m steady, he drops his hand and wipes it on the bottom of his green polo shirt.
“Uh,” I fight for focus, but my serious lack of sleep pelts me again with the inability to recover from whatever just happened.
“Do you want me to take you—”
Finally my mind jumpstarts. “Not the nurse!” I belt out a little too quick. “I didn’t pass out. Everything’s fine. See?” I try to paste on a smile, but I’m sure it looks more like I’m about to have a dentist check-up. Another major fail.
Raf twists his lips to the side, probably trying to decide whether he believes me or not.
I allow myself to look at him, really look. I hold onto the breath I tend to lose whenever I see his face. His faintly freckled skin, stubbled chin, too amazing lips, and those sea green eyes. The combination causes giddiness to swim in my stomach.
Crap. I suppress the urge to sigh or swoon or embarrass myself with some other super girly action.
Emo kid couldn’t have been real. Get a grip…and stop ogling your second best friend!
The late bell signaling beginning of last period rings.
“Want me to walk you to class?” He asks.
“No, thanks. I’ve got it.” I think.
The way he hangs back while I take control of my feet and push forward tells me this isn’t over. I beat him to the punch before we both end up with detention. “Do me a favor and don’t tell Pen about my hallway sideshow. She worries enough.” The last thing I need is another lecture from Penelope, my very best friend and toughest critic.
Raf sighs so softly I almost don’t hear it. “If you promise to get a good night’s sleep, Pen will never know.”
* * * *