Author: Heather Simone
Genre: YA - Paranormal
Title: Barely There
Nothing could’ve prepared me for seeing my own name etched in a cross on the side of the road. The blood drained from my face at the sight of the treated two-by-fours nailed in the shape of a cross. My sophomore picture from last year sat on the ground next to red roses, my favorite yellow carnations, an orange and brown stuffed cat, and several teddy bears. Balloons, tied to the cross, bobbed in the breeze, the helium no longer kept them above the overgrown grass and weeds. Someone had written Phoebe in puff paint on a yellow ribbon attached to the balloons.
Tucking a wayward strand of long brown hair behind my ear, I bent and reached for one of the teddy bears leaning against the cross. My hand tingled as it permeated the stuffed toy. I gasped and tried again, this time with the balloons. My fingers coasted through the ribbons connecting the balloons to the wood. This had to be a dream. Flicking a balloon my fingers tickled their way into its middle while it kept shape.
Taking a deep breath I surveyed the area noting the guardrail had some slight damage to it. My eyes followed a bird flying overhead in a cloudless sky. It swooped over the rushing river below the bridge where tire tracks led from the guardrail into the water.
A cross with my name on it, not being able to touch anything, and the tire tracks combined caused my heart to stutter into overdrive and my breathing to quicken. I always paid attention while driving. I learned my lesson after popping a tire while changing the radio station two weeks after receiving my driver’s license. One more accident and my truck would be gone. That was the threat, and my parents always stuck to their word. Incident free for six months now.
A car sped past plunging into a puddle. Water splashed onto the cross, stuffed animals, and me. My head snapped up watching the car disappear around the bend. That’s it – I would stop someone and ask what happened. San Angelo’s not that big, someone should know.
When the next car rounded the bend I jumped into the middle of the street, waving my arms in the air. My heart hammered as the car approached with no signs of slowing. I hopped up and down, slowly edging closer to the curb. At the last possible moment I jumped out of the way and the car flew by.
The lady driving gave no signs of seeing me. As if I was invisible to her. I ran my fingers through my hair, dry. My clothes shouldn’t be dry after the douse of water they got, yet they were.
Crap! Oh, crap! Maybe she really couldn’t see me. Pacing up and down the hill beside the river I couldn’t remember anything substantial. My memories fused together leaving me bewildered as to which was the most recent. I didn’t remember an accident, or anything bad, the cross just appeared before me.
On the verge of hyperventilating I needed to calm down, then I would find my brother and ask him what was going on. He would know.
I closed my eyes and pictured the garden of waterfalls by the San Angelo Visitor’s Center, my favorite peaceful place to relax. I told myself to breath in and out, slowly, it was all a dream. When my eyes fluttered opened I stood next to one of the waterfalls.
One second I stood by the cross, and the next, miles away at the heart of San Angelo by the Concho River. A little oasis in the middle of West Texas where cotton grew, cattle roamed, and tumble weed actually tumbled across the flat highways, which stretched for miles and disappeared somewhere beyond the horizon.
Shaken to the core, my feet carried me to the banks of the river. A soft, barely noticeable breeze blew past. The water hardly rippled in response which allowed for flat smooth reflective surface. Beautiful.
I glanced into the water, no reflection. The sixteen year old girl with big chocolate eyes everyone recognized as Phoebe did not peer back at me. My shoulders slumped in defeat. How could I be dead and not remember dying?
I gulped back the fear rising inside and took a deep breath to relax.
The sensation of cool fluid eluded me when I stuck my hand in the water. Instead, deep within me a gripping cold rushed from my toes to my neck. Gasping for oxygen I tore at my throat with my free hand as my airway constricted. Stars sparkled at the edges of my vision and I fell onto my back. With my hand out of the water, the icy grip released me and my breathing returned to normal.
My eyes stung – tears threatened to burst free. I blinked them back, refusing their escape.
“Hey, are you okay?” The guy’s voice behind me could have frightened me to death if I wasn’t already dead. It was the only explanation for everything so far. Out of habit I forced the tears away so he wouldn’t see them. Not like he could see me anyways.
My heart sputtered to a stop when I turned around. A guy around my age stood watching me, waiting for me to answer.
“Um, do you need help?” He stepped closer. I stared, no clue what to say. He could see me, talk to me, so maybe I wasn’t dead after all. Hope the size of Texas swelled in my chest.
“You must be new.” His mouth drew into a sympathetic smile. He ran his fingers through his dirty blond waves before sticking his hand into the pocket of his baby blue board shorts.
I opened my mouth to find I could only spit out one word – when I really wanted to ask a bazillion questions. Such as, who are you? How can you see me? Are we dead or alive? What day is it? Do you know what happened to me? Instead the only word that came out was, “New?”
“Yeah, that is what some of us call it. New to the afterlife, or whatever this is.” He shrugged as though it wasn’t a big deal.
“Afterlife,” I grimaced, all hope dissipated. He nodded and took another step, closing the gap between us.
“I’m Finley, but you can call me Fin.” He extended his hand to shake mine. I averted my gaze to his hand and slowly extended my own. The sensation of touching his skin sent warm currents through my body. His hand was the first thing I could grasp all day and I didn’t want to let go. Even when he tried to pull free, I stared at his hand, and held on for dear life.
“This is the part where you tell me your name.” His clear blue eyes sparkled in the light.
“Uh, I’m Phoebe,” I sputtered releasing his hand. Immediately something was missing, his touch, I needed it back.
Fin glanced at the water, then back at me. “I see you have found we don’t have a reflection.”
My eyes dropped to my hand – his touch made me feel so alive. “So, what do we do now?”
He sat by the water’s edge, kicked off his sandals, and patted the ground next to him for me to sit. “Well, that’s up to you.”