YA Science Fiction/Romance
Death Changes Everything
The lies would end tonight.
No more secrets. No more arguments. No more dodging questions.
My hand strayed from the steering wheel to the front pocket of my jeans. I forced my fingers back to the wheel and tightened them. Get a grip, Kate. It’s piece of paper.
With some pretty damning words scrawled in my sister’s loopy handwriting.
No. There had to be an explanation. Exaggeration was Claire’s specialty. She lived for it. I just needed to find my sister and demand the truth. Tell her I was finished with the weird, cryptic crap. Nothing ever turned out to be as bad or crazy or life-ending as what she made it out to be. Whatever this was, we could work it out together. I should have confronted her the day she began hiding things from me. We never kept any secrets from each other.
My Corolla slid between Claire’s baby blue Beetle and a large silver sedan with tinted windows, claiming the last space in the small parking alcove next to the creek.
The twilight sky began a slow slide into night. Great. If I didn’t hurry I’d be walking by the creek in full dark. I unbuckled and opened my glove compartment. Owner’s manual. GPS. An outdated map of downtown Dallas. A pack of half-eaten gum. And a tiny red flashlight.
Why couldn’t Claire pout at Starbucks or the nail salon? Somewhere light and safe where finding her didn’t require a Mag light.
The small scrap of paper, folded the way I’d found it, went in the glove compartment, the flashlight came out, and I slammed the door closed. I snagged my sweatshirt off the passenger seat and got out of the car.
Another car sat parked on the other side of the sedan. Something small, black, sleek and way too sporty for this part of town. Leaving a car like that here was like flashing in neon, “Key me.”
I pulled the white sweatshirt over my head, locked my car, and shoved the keys in my front pocket. The chill of winter hadn’t quite hit Texas, even though in ten short days we’d be celebrating Christmas. But the wind dropped the temperature enough that I let my sleeves fall over my hands.
The bridge wasn’t too far down the winding creek—just past the solitary street lamp and the huge tree that twisted and bent and practically fell into the water. Halfway there, I realized I left my phone on the dash in the car. I didn’t need it, right? If I couldn’t find her, I’d come back for it.
I switched on the flashlight. Quickly switched it off. Maybe I didn’t want to bring attention to myself. Should I have stayed in the car and texted Claire again? She hadn’t answered the last ten texts I’d left.
The wind picked up. Dead leaves and grass crunched beneath my boots. A tight knot curled deep in my stomach. What would they say when they found me disemboweled and hanging from a tree, a la Scream? Stupid girl left her cell in the car. She deserved it.
If something happened to me, I was going to kill my sister. For making me come out here in the dark. For keeping things from me. For writing those words on the paper.
I kept walking before my imagination took a free for all and I started seeing shadows crouching behind the trees. There were other things more pressing to deal with—real things that stopped my heart quicker than the thought of some psycho with a machete waiting for a random teenage girl to walk by. Claire things. Crazy things. Things my head couldn’t process.
The bridge, Claire’s sanctuary, loomed ahead. The tall wooden structure looked empty, but maybe she was huddled by the base, close to the water. It was darker by the water, so I switched the light back on. The barely-there-sliver of a moon might as well have been MIA for all the light it shared.
“Claire?” It came out a whisper.
No answer, but the wind picked up and rattled the trees around me. Oh yeah, perfect slasher setting. Dumb blonde. No phone. No common sense. I could almost hear the people in the theater screaming, “Run back to the car.”
“Claire?” I boosted my volume.
Still no response.
The third time I said her name, it was on the bottom end of yelling and laced with panic. “Come on. Don’t text me to come here and then be a jerk. I’m already mad at you.” I didn’t sound mad though. I sounded shaky and unsure.
A sliver of fear skipped across my spine and took up residence in my lower back. Why didn’t I just tell Dad like I threatened? Then he’d be out here in the almost dark instead of me.
I angled the light toward the shadowy place under the bridge where she sometimes sat, expecting to see her huddled, crying and agitated and un-Claire-like. “Not funny, okay? Let’s pick up a pizza and go home.”
But she wasn’t there. I shined the light back and forth. Great. My shoulders dropped. I came all the way out here, scared myself to death, and she’d already decided to go home on her own. I shoved the penlight in my pocket and started to turn back to climb up the slope about to combine her name with a curse word—one I never said.
A dark shape caught the corner of my eyes. In the water. Floating next to an old log—no a fallen tree. I snapped the light back on and moved it across the water. For a moment, I paused at the edge of the creek, wasting precious seconds transfixed by her hair and the way the long strands fanned out in wisps and rode the surface of the water in an eerie dance.
Reality struck with the force of a sucker punch—shattering my lungs, knocking my breath across the muddy ravine, and drove me forward.
The flashlight fell out of my hands. I stumbled down the embankment. Sloshed through the icy water. My socks squished inside my shoes.
A tangled mane plastered Claire’s face. I brushed it away with shaky fingers. Then wished I hadn’t. Stationary eyes—one blue, one green—stared at the blue-black sky. She didn’t see me. She didn’t see anything—her pupils were fixed and dilated.
“Come on, Claire!” I slipped my arms under her, locked my fingers together at the top of her chest, and yanked her off the giant branch. Waterlogged jeans clung to my legs like a suit of armor— weighting me down.
“I’m not mad… I swear... I’m sorry...please wake up.” I kept dragging. Pulling. Heaving. Until the effort brought me to my knees. I got back up. Slow steps. Impossible steps. And then her body finally slid across the rocks.
My shoes cleared the water. One final tug and I collapsed on the damp ground and pressed numb fingers against the cold, wet skin on her neck. Where I was supposed to find a pulse.
“Claire?” My hand fell to her chest. I waited. Nothing. “Claire! Don’t leave me. Please.”
911. I had to call 911.
I pictured my cell phone where I’d left it on my dash.
How many precious seconds had I already wasted trying to make sense of what was happening? I tilted Claire’s chin. Her blond hair, dark with water, fed the ground like a soft stream. How much water did she swallow? How long had she been there? What time had she texted me?