Chapter One of SHINE

Shade
 

My phone glowed bright in the dusk-drenched cemetery. But the words on its screen filled me with a dark, heavy dread. 

 
FLIGHT 346: NO STATUS.
 
I reloaded the web page for my boyfriend Zachary's flight, then forced myself to look away. Calm down, Aura. But the black-on-white words left an afterimage floating in my vision. 
 
NO STATUS. Blink. NO STATUS. Blink. NO STATUS.  
 
To obliterate the image, I focused on Logan’s headstone beside me. His birth and death dates were etched in granite, seventeen years and one day apart. But the stone would never mark the date and time most important to me and to everyone Logan had haunted:
 
June 22, nine p.m., when he’d passed on for good. Five minutes ago. After eight months as a ghost, Logan had finally found peace. 
 
A feeling I wouldn’t share until this stupid airline's flight-status page started making sense. 
 
The silence was getting to me. On this hot, still evening, no breeze stirred the trees. The two violet-hued ghosts wandering among nearby graves didn’t speak to me, maybe mired in memories of their own lost loved ones. 
 
I plugged my earbuds into my phone, which automatically started the music player. It shuffled to a song Logan and I had always adored, “Make This Go On Forever.” For the year Logan was my boyfriend, and for the last three months when we were just friends, Snow Patrol was always our band.
 
The final word in the final sentence you ever uttered to me was ‘love.’
 
My throat lumped as I realized that lyric was true. 
 
“Don’t forget me, okay?” Logan’s golden-white glow expanded, erasing the violet from his ghostly form.
 
I laughed, because it was ridiculous. “I’ll never forget you. I’ll never forget your voice or your face or your dumb jokes. And I’ll never forget your love.”
 
He’d hushed me then. I’d thought it was because I’d gotten too cheesy, but now I realized it was because this song lyric had come to life. 
 
Logan filled the silence with one last “I love you, Aura.” Amid a final ethereal embrace, his light faded, then winked out.
 
It already seemed like hours ago. Fear was replacing the peace Logan had left behind. Staring at the phone screen that gave me no answers, I felt more alone than ever.
 
The bouquet of white roses I’d brought seemed to glow against his gray headstone. I pulled out a single bloom to keep for myself. A stray thorn scraped my palm, leaving a thin red stripe but no blood. 
 
The song’s last, quiet chord seemed to call to the handful of stars appearing above. They were a pitiful showing compared to the silver-studded sky-blanket Zachary and I had lain under last night.
 
Hmm. Our star-gazing field was only half an hour from this cemetery north of Baltimore. I longed to return there to feel close to Zachary. But first I wanted to be sure his flight had taken off. 
 
My voice mail alert bleeped. I sighed at Aunt Gina’s half-hour-old message. Why couldn’t she nag me via text like everyone else’s mom did?
 
The music stopped while her message played: 
 
“Aura, it’s eight thirty. Don’t forget we’re getting up at five a.m. for your DMP interview, and we still need to go over what you’re going to tell them about Logan’s concert. I don’t want to be rehearsing in the car on the way to headquarters.”
 
“Fine.” I deleted the message and returned to the browser, which I refreshed again.
 
This time nothing happened. The status page for Zachary’s flight was now blank.
 
“Damn it!” My outburst drew the attention of the nearest ghost, a boy near my age wearing an old-fashioned high-school football uniform, the kind with leather helmets. Since ghosts are captured in the happiest moment of their lives, this guy could’ve been older than his apparent seventeen when he died. I imagined his “best day ever”—winning the state championship while his favorite cheerleader shook her pom-poms just for him.
 
The song switched to the swelling opening strains of Arcade Fire’s “Ready to Start.” The drum slapped my brain and the guitar crunched my nerves. 
 
Propelled by the music, my longing took on an edge. Zachary had been unofficially deported for causing trouble for the DMP. We’d sworn to meet up in Ireland for our birthdays on December 21, in defiance of every obstacle. But I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever see him again.
 
Hell, I didn’t even know if his freaking plane had taken off. All I knew was that in the airport, he and Logan had met for the first and last time.
 
In a fresh browser window, I brought up the airline’s home page again, then thumbed in 346, Zachary’s flight connecting through London on the way to Glasgow, Scotland.
 
The site paused, searching, searching, searching...
 
My grip on the phone grew slippery with sweat. I fidgeted with the seams of my worn black Skechers.
 
What was I worried about? Was I creeped out by the headstones’ lengthening shadows and the slow pacing of the ghosts? Like everyone in the world born after me, I’d lived with ghosts my whole life. They never scared me, unless they turned into the bitter, toxic versions known as shades, which were still pretty rare. 
 
In the corner of my eye, something moved, dark and gray. I yelped and spun around, yanking out my earbuds. A squirrel skittered away to watch me from the top of a low-set headstone. 
 
“I gotta get out of here,” I muttered. “This place is making me crazy.” Clearly, since I was now talking out loud to myself.
 
My phone buzzed, making my heart leap. Maybe it was Zachary with news about his flight.
 
But then it warbled the ringtone assigned to my best friend Megan. The screen said TIFFANY. I’d replaced all my contact names with code versions after the Department of Metaphysicial Purity had confiscated my phone. Last night Zachary and I’d bought new phones, both red, to communicate only with each other.
 
“Hey!” I answered. “Guess who I saw at the cemetery?” Everyone, including me, thought Logan had passed on at his farewell concert two nights ago.
 
“Are you still there?” she blurted.
 
“I was about to leave. Gina’s bugging me to—”
 
“But you’re not driving now?”
 
“No,” I said impatiently. “Aren’t you gonna guess who I saw?”
 
“Aura...you don’t know, do you?”
 
“Know about what?” My laugh was nervous, even though Megan was known to go Maximum Drama over celebrity breakups and cafeteria gossip. “What happened?”
 
“You’re sure you’re not driving.”
 
“Megan! What?”
 
She paused for the length of a shaky breath. “What was Zachary’s flight number?”
 
The world stopped. Even the nearby ghosts seemed to halt in their tracks. 
 
“Why?” I whispered with what felt like my last exhale. 
 
“It just came on the news. A London flight out of BWI. It took off at eight thirty and—it went down. Flight 346.”
 
My body went numb. My eyes fixed on a stranger’s grave across the lane. A pensive angel stared back from her perch on a rose-marble headstone. 
 
“Aura? Are you there? Was that his flight?”
 
I could barely feel my lips part. “Uh-huh.” 
 
“Oh my God.” The last word was a squeak.
 
I swallowed, ready to topple. “Did they—were there any—” The word “survivors” wouldn’t come.
 
“They’re saying there was an explosion. It came down in—” Her voice broke. “Aura, I’m sorry. It came down in pieces.”
 

From Shine
by Jeri Smith-Ready
Simon Pulse
May 2012

Copyright © Jeri Smith-Ready 

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