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 the norm off an on for almost five months now. I know the drill. So I ignore every one of them.
I take the long way to…what class? English. That’s right. And the long way is to avoid my Super Nurse best friend. She doesn’t need to see me this bad off. Our lunch visit was more than enough. I don’t need another lecture. Maybe I’ll even sneak out the side door after school. I love her to death, but her home life is bad enough.
My breath feels heavy inside my chest. A surge of dizziness clocks me like a heavyweight punch to the jaw. I sway on my feet, watching the Santa Cruz High School crowd thin.
Not in the hallway. Anywhere but here.
“Whoa.” A girl I recognize from Geometry stops walking toward her next class. She takes two steps toward me. Her body jerks and jumps. I blink in the hopes she’ll even out. She doesn’t.
“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?
The girl’s lipstick wavers from orange to purple while I think up the right thing to say. “No problem guys.” The corner of my lip twitches. “Just dreading Grabowski’s class.” I lie as plain faced as I can, hoping they can’t see the condensation on the back of my neck. Just in case I angle away from them.
“Seriously,” the girl nods, her concern switching to understanding. “That guy gives me the creeps. I can’t believe they let him teach here.” She squeezes the boy’s hand and yanks him away. “Take it easy. See you tomorrow!” She waves over her shoulder before they turn the corner.
The hallway quiets in its empty state. I’ve done a decent job, but acting normal steals all the normal I had left. 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. Gross.
My pulse thrums erratically in my ears. White film spots my vision.
Ride it out. Just ride it out.
But I can’t control anything anymore. I slump back against a set of coral half-lockers, butt firmly plastered to the floor. Sleep is such a cruel idea by now. A distant one.
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 an irregularly long shadow across the floor. It grows, 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 cold. He’s dressed all in black, some emo kid probably hoping to get off on watching my meltdown. But the chill that pricks my spine warns of something different. Something dangerous.
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. The hood over his head shrouds his face, making it impossible to see.
From this close, I notice emo kid isn’t in black, he’s in shadows. As if they’re cloaked around him, sealing him 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,” I swallow, “but—” I slap my palm down on what should be his foot , but my hand smashes the scuffed 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 jackknifes into my ribcage. I jerk back, slamming my head into the locker behind me. Explosions flare behind my eyes and my long hair tangles in the Master Lock.
Darkness, something blacker than tar, hovers above. The stench of acrid smoke attacks my nose again. This weird, 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 sharp 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. Weirded out and 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, shackled 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?” Raf’s voice comes from out of nowhere.
The shadows expand then float away like moths caught by a gust of air. The sound of a train passing by roars for half a second, then The black disperses like smoke, leaving no trace, no proof of its presence. Everything about emo kid is gone.
Raf darts across the hall.
What. The hell. Was that?
“Did you fall?” He 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 the insomnia pelts me again. I’m unable 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 on to 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.