PROLOGUE

The Ghost Girl

 

 

In the diminishing twilight of a warm summer evening, a girl ran flat-out through the woods.  

Her second-hand sneakers pounded the dry dirt path.  With every step the duffel bag bumping against her back grew heavier.  Her fists punched the air as if it was purposely resisting her.  She gripped a porcelain figurine so tightly her knuckles were white inside work gloves that were too big for her.

A snarl of branches slapped her.  She stumbled but stayed upright, stayed moving.  The salty ocean smell was strong. 

The muscles in her legs burned.  Her lungs felt like someone was pouring sand into them.  Hot tears blurred the trees into a thick curtain that was about to smother her in inescapable blackness.  

Finally, she stumbled into a clearing atop a cliff with a view of the island.  Its lights shimmered like a mirage.  Rocks wide enough to sit on encircled an old overgrown fire pit.  Glass bottles and crushed cans glinted in the grass.  The waves crashing against the base of the cliff sounded like the applause of the opposing team’s fans.  

A boy in a black and red Chicago Bulls t-shirt stood with his back to the sea.  His eyes bulged at the sight of her hurtling out of the trees at him, a flash of arms and teeth and hair.  

At the sight of him, the girl screamed and dropped the figurine.  The boy screamed too, high and shrill as a choirboy.  He tossed what he’d been holding into the air, and scampered behind the nearest sizeable tree.

The girl skidded to a stop.  Panic rushed up her throat—she couldn’t see the figurine on the ground, and there was no time. Shrieking with frustration, she lunged toward the salty air and the sunset.  

The bumpy bark poked the boy roughly through his t-shirt.  His mind raced—where did she come from?  What was she doing here?  Why did she scream at him?

Hearing nothing over his panicked breathing and the pounding of his heart in his chest, the boy peeked around the tree.  

 

She wasn’t there.  

The girl was gone.

He looked around the darkening clearing to the edge—and the cliff dropping away from it.  

“Oh no,” he whispered.  

He jumped at a sound in the trees.  

Footsteps—coming this way fast.

The boy ducked back around the tree, his heart thumping fast as a gym class full of basketballs.    

Twigs snapped and angry, labored breathing entered the clearing.

Terror surged through his bones.  The boy ran blindly into the darkening woods, avoiding the trunks but oblivious to the smaller branches reaching for him.  He fled the desolate clearing and the ghost girl, and the monster that tried to catch her, but missed.

© 2020 Steve McManus