A gentle breeze moves through the trees and gooseflesh creeps up my arms. I look around cautiously, my ears straining for even the slightest sound. Nothing. No dreaded flashes of a ghostly pink dress. No brain-numbing whispering. Just an empty expanse of green, dotted with trees, the stark silhouettes of houses rising behind.
My phone buzzes again, the vibration rippling through the nerve endings in my hand like a low-voltage jolt of electricity. I feel a sudden desire to fling it as far away from me as I can.
Reluctantly, I look down and click on the message.
Turning around, I see Rick, smiling back at me, waiting patiently. A scream of anguish and frustration begins to build deep inside of me and I hear a noise to my right, like the whooshing of wings. Jerking my head to the side, my eyes widen in shock, and I duck, narrowly missing a massive black bird as it sweeps past me, angling upward. I think I hear Rick say something, but his words are drowned out by the sound of my pulse pounding in my ears. I glance up, looking for the bird and see a large, dark shape sweeping past the top of the trees. I have no idea how any of it is connected – the girl, the texts, the bird – but instinctively I know they are. And it isn’t good.
I look at Rick again, the wonder and magic of this evening still singing through my veins, and my shock turns to anger. Hot, fiery, rebellious anger. This will not happen. Not tonight.
Clenching my jaw, I glare up at the sky. LEAVE ME ALONE, I scream in my head. Whatever issues this dead girl has, it has nothing to do with me.
Rick begins walking toward me. “Everything OK, Kat?”
I swallow, gathering my emotions back into a tight bundle. “Fine.” I force a smile onto my face, jogging back to him. “Just Rachel sending me another message.”
I step into the pool of light beneath the streetlamp, anxious to leave the darkness behind. Suddenly, the light flickers, an odd sizzling sound emanating from the globes. I stop and stare, watching as several sparks shoot out the sides. The bird, the largest crow I have ever seen, swoops down from the trees, one shining, jet black eye looking directly at me. Sound disappears and time seems to fold in on itself, slowing to half-speed. The same weightless feeling I’d experienced at school creeps over me, and I tense, fighting off the panic.
I stare at the bird, watching it descend lower and lower. It’s wings beat once, moving slowly down and back up again. Sparks continue to jet from the streetlamp, each brightly pointed flash of light spewing out in a torpid, glowing trail, before dropping slowly and silently to the ground. The bird is nearly on top of me. It sweeps past, close enough that I can feel the rush of air beneath its wings, gently lifting my hair. Then it arcs upward, higher and higher, before turning and diving back toward me again, it’s beak open in a silent cry.
I stand and stare, frozen in place, numb with shock and disbelief. My phone vibrates dully in my palm, and I slowly lower my head. As though acting strictly through muscle memory, my thumb pushes the message button.
I look back up at the bird. Then at the streetlamp. And suddenly, I understand. The obscure text messages melding into clear and precise meaning. But my legs won’t move.
I gasp, inhaling sharply as I struggle to break free of the torpor that has possessed me, and the world abruptly charges back into normal motion, sound and movement taking on a vivid clarity. The bird rushes toward me, it’s head cocked at an odd angle. The sparking and sizzling of the streetlamp grows louder, the globes glowing and flashing like some kind of deranged sparkler on the fourth of July. I take one slow step backward just as the globes explode with a loud bang, hundreds of tiny pieces of glass slicing through the air. I yelp and duck, lunging to the side.