Read Wraith Online

Authors: Edie Claire

Wraith

WRAITH

 

Copyright © 2011 by
Edie Claire

 

Digital edition for
Kindle published in 2011 by the author.

 

This book is a work
of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the
writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed
as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or
organizations is entirely coincidental.

 

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used
or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the
author.

 

 

Dedication

 

For Grace, and dancers
everywhere.

Chapter 1

 

I squinted into the sun with one eye to see
sun-bronzed legs and a dripping wet pair of board shorts. The guy attached to
them dropped down onto the sand next to my beach mat and stretched out beside
me. Given that I had never seen him before and didn't have a clue who he was,
you might think I would be intrigued enough to open both my eyes. But I only
needed a peek from the one to know that he was dead.

I closed the eye with a sigh and settled back into
the sun. He looked about my own age, too. I hadn’t even seen any other high
schoolers yet, much less met one, and I’d been scoping out the beach ever since
we arrived. If I didn’t meet anyone during spring break, I’d be stuck trying to
make friends over the summer, which—as any other military brat could tell
you—totally sucks. My mom, dad, and I were set to move to Oahu in June, and if
I didn’t make progress during this house-hunting trip, I’d be a loner from then
till September. 

Hawaii
. The irony was too cruel, really. I
had wanted to move here since forever. All my life, every time a transfer came
up, this was what my fingers had been crossed for. Any time except now, it
would have been perfect. Back then I had gotten hauled off to Biloxi,
Mississippi. San Antonio, Texas. Bangor, Maine. Only in March of my junior
year, when I was happily entrenched in Cheyenne, Wyoming, when I had only one
more year of high school left, and when I had the most awesome friends in the
entire world to spend it with… only
then
had my dad gotten the order.

But I was determined to make the best of it. The sun
was warm, the palm trees were swaying in the brisk ocean wind, and somewhere in
the distance roosters were crowing. (The last was a surprise. Who knew there
were wild chickens in Hawaii?) I
would
meet some of the locals—just as
soon as my parents found a house and we figured out what high school I’d be
going to. In the meantime, I would settle for one friendly, helpful teen,
whether we ended up at the same school or not. The guy lying next to me would
have been a great find, if he hadn’t drowned a decade ago. Or suffocated in a
sand pit. Or whatever.

A thought struck. He couldn’t have died that long
ago, not with those board shorts. They were the same style all the other
surfers on the North Shore were wearing right now.

I opened both eyes, propped up on an elbow, and
studied him. He appeared to be resting after a long, exhausting surf session.
He lay flat on the sand next to me, elbows out, his hands locked behind him to
cradle a head of sea-soaked, dark blond curls. He was lean, built like an
athlete. His face…

I turned my eyes away. What was the point in
torturing myself? He didn’t go to high school here, or anywhere. Even if he
did, no guy who looked like he did would give a girl like me a second look,
much less show me around the island and introduce me to his friends.

I was able to look elsewhere for exactly four
seconds. Then I went back to staring. The guy
was
young—seventeen or eighteen.
Nineteen, tops. He was also downright gorgeous, with the face of an angel and a
body that looked like it had stepped out of an ad for some seriously cool
jeans.

I leaned closer, trying to see what color his eyes
were, but he had them closed against the sun. I wondered if the light had been
just as bright—and shining from the same direction—the day that he had been
here.

How long ago was that? It must have been recently;
maybe even this past winter, when the surf was at its highest. The North
Shore’s winter waves—monstrous swells that often topped twenty feet high—could
be lethal, even for the professionals. And he seemed so…
present
. His
body was near solid enough to have fooled me. Unlike the older shadows, the
transparency wasn’t visible everywhere—it merely floated through him, like
ripples. If I hadn’t seen the blue sole of one of my discarded flip-flops quite
clearly through his left thigh as he lay down, I might not even have suspected.

I watched him doze a moment more, then sighed and
lay back down on my mat. "The cute ones are always dead," I muttered.

The feeling came over me like a cold prickle. The
feeling that I was being watched. I didn’t hear him move. I didn’t feel him
stirring. I wouldn’t anyway, because the shadows can never
move
anything,
except whatever equally nonexistent things they happen to be carrying with
them. But still, when I opened my eyes to find him leaning over me, staring
intently into my face, I was surprised. I was more than surprised. I was
totally freaked.

"What did you say?" he asked.

I sucked in a breath and held it. His voice was a
beautiful baritone—smooth and deep, even if it did crack just a little at the
beginning. He looked at me with a bizarre intensity, as if the words were the
most important he had ever said.  His eyes, for the record, were amazing—green
mixed with a light chestnut brown. At that moment, I would have given anything
to believe he was talking to
me
.

He wasn’t, of course. He had no idea I was even
there. None of the shadows ever did. They appeared, disappeared, and reappeared
on their own time and for their own reasons, reenacting moments of their lives
which often  seemed totally random to me, but which I had always assumed must
have some significance to them. Otherwise, what was the point?

"Were you talking to me?" he asked again.
His voice had dropped to a whisper, his features tense as he waited,
breathlessly, for an answer.

I released my own pent-up breath slowly, then
twisted my head, looking carefully to the right and left. Whatever shadow he
was talking to had to be here somewhere. Why couldn’t I see that one? Could I
be lying on top of her?

I rolled over to the far edge of the mat and sat up.
There was no one in the space I had left. Not even the faintest hint of a
shape. That was odd.

When my gaze went back to him, my heart froze in mid
beat. He was still looking at me. Not at me, where I was
then
, but at
me, where I was
now.
His eyes had followed me.

I jerked my body quickly to one side, then looked
back.

Nobody.

He cocked his head at me quizzically for a moment.
Then his face erupted into a smile. "You don’t think I can see you,"
he announced, as if explaining to himself. "But I can. And you can see me,
too. I knew it!" He leaned closer. "Say something to me. Anything.
Please?"

My heart was no longer frozen. It had melted at the
first sight of his smile, and was now beating so violently I was sure I’d bust
a rib.

"You can
hear me?" I said stupidly,
blinking at him like a deer in headlights. As much as I wanted it to be true, I
hadn’t come to live so comfortably with the shadows without understanding the
rules. I could see and hear them, but they were oblivious to me. They weren’t
real, and they weren’t my concern. If I hadn’t accepted that at an early age, I
would never have slept at night. If I accepted this now, I might never sleep
again.

"Don’t be afraid of me," he said
apologetically. His soft whisper sent an odd, prickly feeling up my spine, and
my shoulders shuddered. "I’m nothing to be afraid of," he continued,
"I swear."

The guy looked almost hurt. Words failed me. I
sputtered and stuttered like an idiot. "I’m not afraid of
you,
exactly. I mean, it’s not that…"

Another smile lit up his face. He had straight white
teeth, perhaps just a trace of dimples. "You have no idea how good it is
to be having a real conversation," he said cheerfully. "I don’t know
how it’s possible, and I don’t care. Just don’t run away from me. Please?"

Was he a mind reader, too? Or had I actually sprung
up, my feet poised to flee?

I looked down.

Yep. I had.

I took in a deep breath. I let it out.
In
.
Out
.
There was no reason to freak. If a guy who looked like this one was talking to
me in real life, then yes—I would be allowed to freak. If some other shadow had
come alive, say one that weighed three hundred pounds and was swinging at me
with a spiked club, then flipping out would be a perfectly reasonable reaction.
But this guy was no threat to me. He couldn’t hurt me. He was just another
shadow.

Chill, girl.

"I’m not going to run away," I said, proud
that my voice had steadied. With as much casual grace as I could muster, I sat
back down on the mat beside him. "You just startled me, that’s all. The
shadows don’t usually… interact. What makes you different? Do you know?"

His brow furrowed. He shook his head, slowly.
"I know absolutely nothing. Except this beach, those waves, and a whole
lot of people who have no idea I’m even here." He grinned at me again.
"Except you."

The shudder returned. I reminded myself, forcefully,
that he was not alive.

"You say you see others like me?" he
questioned, settling himself to face me, his torso propped up on one perfectly
muscled arm. His outstretched fingers sank through the uneven surface of the
sand without stirring it. Down the beach, a female surfer carried a short board
toward the water, and as she passed behind him I could still see her in the
occasional transparent ripple, first through his shoulder, then his chest. To
say this was a distraction to conversation would be an understatement.
"How do you know the difference?" he asked.

I gave my head a little shake to regroup.
"You’re not solid," I explained, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. I
didn’t talk about the shadows. Ever. To anyone. I hadn’t mentioned one thing
about them since I was five years old. "You’re transparent, at least
sometimes. Most of the shadows I see aren’t nearly as solid as you are. They’re
more like wisps—some are barely there at all."

"But they don’t talk to you?" he asked.
"Do they know that you can see them?"

I allowed myself a deeper look in his eyes. My
answers clearly meant a lot to him. He was even more confused than I was.

"They’re not…" I searched for the right
word. The last thing I wanted to do, given his unenviable situation, was hurt
his feelings. "
Present
. They’re not here, with me, on this
particular day. I’m just seeing things that have happened in the past."

He was silent a moment. "Shadows," he
repeated.

"That’s right," I answered softly.

He turned to look toward the ocean, then rubbed his
face in his hands. "I’ve never seen anything like that. I only see a bunch
of normal, living people. And then there’s me."

He didn’t speak again, for a long time. I sat in
silence beside him, listening to the crashing of the giant waves on the nearby
shore, feeling the vibrations of their pounding on the sand. A sudden gust of
wind kicked up, lifting my unruly locks of dark brown, curly hair and whipping
them awkwardly around my face.

His own curls didn’t stir.

He lifted a hand, tentatively, and attempted to
restrain a particularly vicious tangle of curls from pummeling my left eye. I
watched, my breath held, as his hand passed harmlessly, ineffectively, right
through them.

His expression flashed, ever so briefly, of a biting
pain. Then, just as quickly, a poor imitation of his smile returned.

"I guess it’s for sure then," he said, his
tone unnaturally chipper.

"I really am dead."

 

Chapter 2

 

"There you are! I thought you said you wanted
to go to Foodland with me this afternoon."

My mother’s familiar, pleasant, perfectly ordinary
voice knocked me out of the moment like a wrecking ball. I sprang to my feet
and faced her. "What? Oh, right. Is it time already? Sorry—I wasn’t paying
attention."

I leaned down to roll up my beach mat, convinced,
for one steadying second, that my conversation with the surfer had been nothing
but a fantastical dream, inspired by a combination of hot sun, crashing waves,
and jet lag.

My illusions along those lines were shattered when I
saw his foot, which had been standing on the far corner of my mat, lift
graciously out of the way. Never mind that it was both an empty gesture and a
beat too late, as the mat began to slip through his foot the instant I pulled
on it.

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