A ghostly voice whispers a haunting message to seventeen-year-old Paige Reed, changing her life forever.
Publisher Rebekkah Ford
Published in Science Fiction & Fantasy
A ghostly voice whispers a haunting message to seventeen-year-old Paige Reed, changing her life forever.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
I never thought I would die at the age of seventeen, so when I received the death message, I was a little freaked out.
It happened on a Friday, late afternoon in March, at my favorite hangout spot–a coffeehouse called Café Nation. Routinely, my friends and I went to Café Nation to sit around, drink coffee, and bullshit about mindless, but entertaining crap. It was a way to decompress and forget about things for a while, like the biology essay due on Monday, or the SAT that was creeping up on us. Café Nation was a place where we could just be ourselves and not have to worry about some adults scrutinizing us because we didn’t fit the wholesome, apple pie a la mode ideology crap we’d heard them talk about. Not that I didn’t respect adults, I totally did. I just wished the ones who judged us so harshly would extend the same courtesy.
Anyway, Matt and I were sitting at our usual table in the far corner of the café, and he was talking nonstop in his caffeinated babble. The silver hoop protruding from his bottom lip seemed to flap a million miles an hour.
I eyed the five empty espresso cups scattered in front of him, hoping he wouldn’t order another one. His jacked-up energy exhausted me.
"The Bible was written by man, not God," he said, going off on one of his religious tangents. Again. He paused, and a devious smile formed on his lips, as if he knew a secret he wasn’t willing to share. "The people who wrote it knew what they were doing."
I loved history, and Matt was a genius when came to it, but lately we’d been having the same conversations about religion and humanity, and I was tired of it. I had no interest in mocking other people’s beliefs. I mean, I wouldn’t want people to mock mine, or me for that matter, which I was painfully aware could easily happen if they’d found out my secret.
"Most people don’t know what the hell is really going on, and they’re easily manipulated, and. . . ."
I tuned him out and thought about what I was going to do on spring break. I’d love to go to Scotland or Ireland. But then again, that would totally suck ass to be crammed in a seat for like ten hours or however long it took to get there. I wondered how much a first class ticket would cost. I took a sip of my latte, tasting the warm, sweet vanilla against my tongue, and that was when it happened.
The voice spoke.
Normally, I would have ignored it like I always did, but it said my name, which it had never done before. And then a harsh grinding noise erupted.
I glanced at Matt who continued on babbling, then my frantic eyes searched the café for any hint of acknowledgment to the voice I’d just heard.
There were a couple skaters sitting on the brown patchwork couch across the room, animatedly talking. The rest of the café was filled with hippies, Goths, and people in suits.
Of course they hadn’t heard it. What was I thinking? It wasn’t like anybody had before.
Then the ghostly voice spoke again, startling me. I flinched, and stared at the dark wood grain on the table as the voice repeated the same cryptic words:
"The arms of death are opening up to you. The name Paige Reed falls from its lips. Tears of sorrow will be shed, bringing you closer to your destiny."
"Paige, what’s wrong?" Matt’s voice sounded distant, like it was tailing the wind from a faraway canyon.
And then my ears rang in a high-pitched noise that was totally annoying. A squealing pig combined with a tiny bell was what it sounded like.
What the hell?
I blinked and jabbed a finger in my ear, wiggling it. Matt was watching me, and when I looked at him, something flickered in his eyes, like a lightning bolt in the clear blue sky. I wasn’t sure what it was, though, because he looked away.
Dropping my hands into my lap, I stared at my fingers as the ringing began to fade. I could feel Matt’s questioning eyes on me. He was waiting for an answer.
My heart pounded.
Nobody knew I’d been receiving cryptic premonitions from a ghostly voice for years. Not even Carrie or Tree (his real name was Jack, but we called him Tree because he was tall and had a bitchin’ Mohawk), my two best friends in the whole world knew. I wished I could tell them, but my fear of them seeing me as a freak prevented me from doing so. So I had to play it cool with Matt, and mask the sudden terror I felt with indifference, an act I had performed many times.
The coffee grinder stopped, and the café resumed its natural hum of chattering patrons.
I slowly breathed in the fresh yummy smell of coffee and shrugged. "Oh, it’s nothing. I was just distracted by a disturbing thought."
Matt leaned forward. I kept a straight face, trying not to waver under his gaze. "What disturbing thought was that?" His words were slow but alive with interest, and his eyes bore into mine as if he were trying to lift the answer out of my mind. It was kind of spooky, but then again, I was a little spooked out.
"Oh, it’s nothing really," I repeated, looking away to avoid his scrutiny, but out the corner of my eye I saw him glowering at me. He ran his fingers through his thick dark hair and grunted.
Great. Now I pissed him off. It was bad enough I had a premonition in front of him, and even worse it had to do with me, and I didn’t know what the hell it meant.
I scanned the café seeking a diversion and saw Ashley at the counter with one of her leg-puppies beside her. She was the cliché of a head varsity cheerleader: blonde, athletic, and snobby. I mean, she was so full of herself it made a person want to throw up. Seriously.
"I think Ken should grow some balls and tell Barbie to piss off," Matt said after Ashley waved an accusing finger in Darren’s (leg-puppy) face, then stomped off to a table beside a window. I looked at him, not realizing he had been watching as well, and he had a sardonic smirk on his face. "But the dumb jock prefers to be whipped, instead of a real man who wouldn’t put up with her shit." He stuck his hand out toward Darren and continued. "If this is a prelude to what men are going to become in the future, the human race is much more slow-witted than I thought."
"That’s kind of harsh," I said, and he shrugged like he didn’t give a crap. I frowned and saw Carrie entering the café. She smiled and waved. Her black hair now had dark red tips that touched her shoulders, and she wore a vintage Cure T-shirt with Robert Smith’s face poking out of her black cargo jacket.
"Do you like it?" She swung her hair from side to side.
"It looks really good on you." I forced a smile, trying my best not to allow my rattled emotions show. But her attention was focused on Matt instead. And when he nodded in approval, she lit up like a Christmas tree. I had to suppress an eye roll. I mean, yeah, she had the hots for him (it was so obvious), but she could at least be more dignified about it.
She snatched a lock of my hair and held it up to hers. "I wanted the tips to be the same color as your hair, and I think it’s pretty close to it."
"So, Carrie, I’ll pick you up at nine tonight, and then we’ll pick Paige up." Matt rose from his seat, not interested in sitting through a conversation about hair color.
I had totally forgotten about going to The Lion’s Den and really wasn’t in the mood to go. What I really wanted to do was try to figure out my premonition before something bad happened. But then again, maybe being around friends would do me some good. And maybe, if I was lucky, it would take away this knot in my stomach. But truthfully, I wasn’t a lucky person.
As we were leaving, Ashley gave us a disgusted look. I ignored her like always, but Matt couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be rude. He leaned behind Darren and wiggled his tongue at her. Ashley’s mouth dropped, clearly surprised at Matt’s bold move. Carrie and I exchanged humorous looks. We pushed past Matt. Carrie grabbed his hand, pulling him with us out the door into the gray, cloudy world. The air had a dank, fishy smell that caused me to wrinkle my nose.
"Did you see the look on her face?" Carrie said, giggling.
Laughing, I nodded. That was one of the fun things about Matt. He had no inhibitions.
Matt smiled and pointed at the window where Ashley sat. "She deserved it, especially with the way she treats Paige."
Right then, a thought occurred to me. What if antagonizing her wasn’t such a good idea. I mean, for the past six months, Ashley had been nothing but rude to me, and I still didn’t know why. It wasn’t like I had ever done anything to her. And yeah, she had been rude to Carrie as well, but for some reason I was her favorite target.
"Maybe you shouldn’t have done that," I said, the raspy part of my voice cracking. It always did that when I was worried, scared, or upset, and I hated it.
They looked at me like I’d grown another head.
"Paige, have you forgotten about the whole Zack situation, and the shit she said about you?" Carrie reminded me.
"No," I said. How could I forget? Ashley had told everybody I was such a loser that my own mother didn’t want to be around me. Then Zack came up to me at the beginning of class and said he couldn’t go out with me because he had to wash his jock strap. My gut twisted when the vision of Ashley and some of my classmates snickering, entered my mind. I had been totally humiliated and wanted to die right there. That night, I’d cried myself to sleep because what she’d said about my mother had slammed me pretty hard.
Carrie pointed a sharp finger at me. "So don’t you go feeling bad for her. She doesn’t deserve your guilt, and don’t forget about the shit she said about me too." She pressed her hands into her hips and glared at me.
"You’re right," I admitted, heading across the street, leaving the rows of shops behind, "but she’s never been mean to you, Matt, so what’s your excuse?"
He kicked a rock. It bounced off the curb into a gutter. "It’s simple. I just don’t like her."
Carrie laughed as if it was the funniest thing she had ever heard. "You’re too funny." She bumped her hip against Matt, totally crushing on him. I wondered if they’d end up dating. I hated feeling like a third wheel and was already starting to feel like one. Thank God we reached my car first.
Almost two years ago on my sixteenth birthday, Mom had bought me a black 1991 Morris Mini Rover. It was her way of telling me she loves me and buying off her own guilt for not being around like a normal mom, which was fine with me. I mean, this car totally rocked, and I wasn’t about to begrudge her intentions behind it.
"I’ll see you guys later." I stepped inside my car, breathing in the vanilla aroma wafting off my Hello Kitty sachet. I flicked it with my finger, and it spun beneath the mirror.
I sat there for a few minutes, watching them walk across the lawn of the courthouse square. The purplish-gray sky and the skeletal black trees around the white courthouse reminded me of a Tim Burton movie. And as I sat there pondering over my premonition, a distinct feeling of being watched came over me. It wasn’t Carrie or Matt. I’d seen them like a minute ago wave good-bye to each other and head in opposite directions. I twisted in my seat and peered out the back window. The street lamps popped on, casting a yellow glow across the zebra-striped crosswalk. A couple with two young kids going inside Tasty Cone were the only people around.
They weren’t watching me.
"Stop being paranoid," I told myself, backing out onto the street. But then I caught a glimpse of somebody darting behind the courthouse, and my heart sank.
I panicked, thinking about the premonition again, wondering if somebody was going to murder me. I mean, it did say the arms of death were opening up to me. So were the arms of death some psycho killer who wanted to torture me? But what about the tears of sorrow bringing me closer to my destiny? That didn’t make sense. If some dude was going to kill me, how could that bring me closer to my destiny?
On the way home, my mind conjured up scenarios of how somebody would try to kill me. When I finally reached the gray and white bungalow style house nestled among cathedral trees, I was home.With a shaky hand I pushed the garage door button. It gave off a loud rattling sound as it slowly crept up, unnerving me. Finally, it jerked to a stop–metal grinding against metal. I parked the car and bolted inside the house. I quickly turned the lights on and stopped in the hallway that divided the kitchen from the living room. The brown couches and matching recliner appeared undisturbed. Beside the flat screen TV was the remote, where I’d left it this morning. I glanced in the kitchen. All four chairs were tucked neatly under the table, and my coffee mug sat on the counter beside the sink. I breathed in the familiar scent of cinnamon and nutmeg while I listened for any movement in the house.
But then I thought I heard a clattering noise outside the front window. I hurried over to it and peeked out the curtains. The street was deserted, except for a cat walking toward the house. Breathing a sigh of relief, I sat on the couch, dropping my head into my hands.
"This isn’t like you," I mumbled to the floor. "You need to get a grip on yourself and forget about these stupid fears."
Yeah, I must try. But damn it. Something wasn’t right. I could feel it in my bones, and it had to do with me. Why? Why couldn’t I be like a normal teenager? What had I ever done to deserve this? Tears collected in my eyes. Taking a deep breath, I ran my fingers through my hair, telling myself again, I must try to forget about it and act like a normal teenager. With determination, I set out to do just that, ignoring the constant gnawing in the back of my brain.
A car horn blared outside. I adjusted my black pleated mini dress, and stepped into my black Mary Jane platform shoes, loving that it boosted my height another inch to five-four. I threw on a dark purple-hooded sweater coat over my dress and lifted my hair up, allowing it to fall down my back.
"You can do this, Paige," I said to the round-faced image in the full-length mirror. My dark red hair sparkled from the glitter product I had put in earlier. I tried to smile to take away the pinch in my mouth. "You’ve been ignoring these premonitions for years. You can at least forget about this one for a while."
The horn blared again, but this time with much more urgency.
"I’m coming," I hollered, rushing out my room, smacking the light switch off.
Downstairs, I grabbed my keys and backpack purse off the kitchen table. I flipped the porch light on and stepped outside. The gray and black stray cat I’d seen earlier was sitting on the porch step, staring at Matt’s jeep. His tail twitched and danced around like he was aggravated. When I walked by him, he leaped off the step, following me to the edge of the lawn. And then my ears began to ring again. I sighed and hopped in Matt’s jeep.
Carrie peeked around the front seat, her eyes gleaming in the dark. "Was that your cat?"
I dropped my keys in my purse, trying to ignore the ringing, and shook my head. "I think he’s a stray." Matt’s jeep smelled like sweaty feet, so I rolled the window down to let some air in.
Cursing under his breath, Matt flipped through radio stations, trying to find a worthy song to listen to. His cd player was broken, forcing him to rely on the radio instead. He stopped on a country song, and we all groaned in unison. Carrie and I looked at each other and shuddered.
"I hope this damn thing doesn’t just get country stations. If it does, I’ll be pissed," he said, turning the knob again. "Yes! Here’s a kick ass song." He nodded his head to the beat.
Carrie turned around in her seat, and I sat back, grateful I wasn’t alone, and the ringing had stopped.
"Wow. This place is really busy tonight," Carrie said, glancing around the crowded parking lot. She pulled the cuffs of her red waistcoat over her hands and shivered against the frigid air. It looked like she had a black lace-up corset underneath it. No wonder she was cold, but at least her long black skirt covered her legs, although the metal zipper that ran up the side of it was probably cold against her skin. I was suddenly thankful I had decided to wear my sweater coat.
"Of course it’s busy." Matt stepped between us and placed a hand on our shoulder. "What else are people going to do in good old Astoria besides clubbing and bar hopping?" He lifted his shoulders when we looked at him, as if to say, "Am I right?"
Astoria, Oregon was a city of ten-thousand people on the Columbia River. I loved Astoria. I loved the tall evergreen and spruce trees, the mountains, the river, the forest, and that it was just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. Astoria was our home.
I flashed him an alluring smile. "I can think of a few things."
Carrie giggled. "You’re bad."
Matt stepped ahead of us and turned around, walking backwards. "Yeah, they’re either doing this"–he made a round circle with his right hand and stuck his left index finger in and out in a rapid motion–"or they’re doing this"–he made a fist with his right hand and jabbed it back and forth near his crotch–"but either way, they’re having fun." He tilted his head to the side; his red and blue spikes shined beneath the yellow glow of the street lamps. Grinning, he waggled his eyebrows.
Carrie and I burst out in laughter.
Up ahead stood The Lion’s Den, dark and menacing, with its fake fog pouring out of the round stone entrance in waves. Bright red and orange lights flashed inside its mouth to the beat of the alternative music we now heard. The ancient brick building held several bars inside the length of it, but The Lion’s Den was dead center and alcohol free.
Matt turned around and sprinted toward the entrance. "C’mon, they’re playing my favorite song." He waved over his shoulder.
The place smelled like wood cleaner and leather and was packed with teenagers. Most of them I knew and were friends with. I spotted Tree right away, on the dance floor across the room, jerking his head to the rhythm of the music, spurts of red and orange lights flashed across his black Mohawk. He saw us and waved.
Carrie pointed to Matt, and we laughed. He looked like he was doing a war dance. Some of the kids joined in, mimicking his moves, reminding me of aborigines. Tree was breaking away from the crowd, heading our way.
"Hey," Tree said, practically yelling over the loud music, totally checking Carrie out.
"Hi, Tree," Carrie said, her eyes still on Matt. "How are you?"
He shifted his weight back and forth. "Good, but these combat boots are hurting my feet." His Mohawk was bone-straight and as tall as my forearm. When he looked at his foot, I saw a fake tattoo of a skull and crossbones on the side of his head. It looked totally awesome. "I guess I should’ve broken them in first," he added.
Carrie tore her eyes away from Matt, and they widened when she dropped her gaze to his feet. "Those are cool boots! Where did you get them?"
Tree smiled. "I ordered them from Cheaper Than Dirt."
"Cool." She turned to me as if Tree wasn’t even there. "Let’s go dance."
"We should go get a locker first," I told her, disappointed she blew Tree off.
"There’s an empty one next to mine," Tree said. "I’ll show you."
I knew Carrie wanted to dance with Matt, so I offered to take her stuff and get us a locker. Tree stood there, staring after her, his face baring his hurt feelings. I hated seeing him like that and made a mental note to talk to Carrie about it. Tree was our best friend and just because she had the hots for Matt, didn’t give her the right to treat Tree that way. I mean, I loved Carrie, but sometimes I wanted to knock some sense into her.
"What’s the locker number beside yours that’s empty?" I asked him when we reached the counter. The kid behind it looked no older than fourteen. His blond hair was spiked up in all different directions, and he wore black eyeliner–thick around his dark eyes.
"It’s number fifty-five," Tree told the kid.
The kid searched through a row of keys on a huge round key ring until he found the right one. I gave him two dollars as he handed me the key, and then we went to the lockers on the back wall beside the entrance. I took my sweater off when I spotted the large white number fifty-five on black metal. Tree opened his locker and grabbed his stuff.
"Are you leaving?" I didn’t want him to go like this–bummed and depressed.
"Yeah, my feet hurt, and I’ve been here for a while already." He glanced over at Carrie dancing with Matt, and then his eyes fell back on mine. They were full of the same disappointment I’d felt earlier, and I wanted to make him feel better.
"Don’t go," I said. "You can dance with me. Maybe she’ll get jealous and realize she still likes you." It was difficult talking to him like this. We had to strain our voices over the music, and I found myself wanting to be in a quieter place.
He shook his head while putting on his leather trench coat and scrunched up his face. "I don’t think so. I know Matt is your friend, but I think he’s a douche bag." He paused. "And if he ever hurts Carrie," he added, his face now clouded with anger, "I’ll beat his ass."
The hostility in his voice surprised me, causing my heart to flutter with jealousy. I mean, nobody cared enough about me to act that way. I looked away, gripped by loneliness.
He placed his hands on my shoulders. "I’d beat his ass if he hurts you too," he said.
I squinted at him and laughed. "You’d use any excuse to beat his ass."
"Yup." He grinned. "Have fun, Ms. Reed. My little fairy."
"Okay, bye." I watched him throw one more glance in Carrie’s direction before heading outside. He towered over a group of kids coming in. All five of them stopped to stare at him, and I couldn’t blame them. He did look like he belonged in a punk band somewhere in Europe.
"Are you going to join us?" Carrie asked, tugging on my arm.
"Yeah, but I need to talk to you about Tree," I said, still feeling bad for him.
"Okay, but later." She took my hand, towing me behind her.
As we made our way through the crowd of moving bodies, my ears started to ring again. Okay, this was seriously getting on my last nerve, but then I reminded myself I was here to have fun and began swaying my hips when we reached Matt. My body automatically moved inside a bubble of energetic sound waves–free and unencumbered. I was no longer the freak, with a mother who showed up when she wanted to and a father who had died when I was four. None of that stuff mattered, because in that moment I was one with the music and the pulsing lights. And as each song changed into pure techno melodies, I became more entranced, closing my eyes, swaying my body to the beat of the music, entering my own world.
Then something strange happened. The people around me were now far below me, and I was tethered to a silver cord attached to my dancing body. I wasn’t scared though, and found myself enjoying this sense of release. I had no worries. Even when I thought about the premonition, the fear I’d felt toward it earlier didn’t touch me. Probably since I knew I wasn’t dead. I mean, hey, the silver cord remained attached to my body, so I was good, right?
As I took in my surroundings, a guy wearing a long black coat caught my attention. He was on the high platform overlooking the floor with his hands gripping the black railing. His hood concealed his face, but he appeared to be watching the people down below.
My eyes swept over the crowd and rested on Matt standing there staring intently on my swaying body. He took a step closer and leaned forward.
Was he sniffing me?
He looked up, searching for something.
At that exact moment, the hooded guy jumped off the platform, over the black railing, and ran to the dance floor. And then Matt’s eyes locked onto mine. They were pale and glowing.
The silvery cord rippled, and then yanked me toward my body, as if I was a balloon being pulled down by an eager child’s grasp. Everything rushed before me: the tables, the crowd of moving heads, and my own head, moving in a figure eight along with my body. I closed my eyes, and collided into a hard, confining surface, and that was the last thing I could remember.
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Rebekkah Ford grew up in a family that dealt with the paranormal. Her parents’ Charles and Geri Wilhelm were the directors of the UFO Investigator's League in Fairfield, Ohio, back in the 1970s. They also investigated ghost hauntings and Bigfoot sightings in addition to UFO’s. Growing up in this type of environment and having the passion for writing is what drove Rebekkah at an early age to write stories dealing with the paranormal. At one point in her life, she thought she wanted to be a journalist, and although she enjoyed writing articles, she quickly discovered her real passion was writing fiction. Her fascination with the paranormal is what led her to write the ‘Beyond the Eyes’ series. Visit her online and read her blog at http://themusingwriter.blogspot.com