With Perfect Clarity

With Perfect Clarity

Emma remembers her death with perfect clarity. Brutally murdered in Colorado in the late 1800s, she haunts the house of her death, unable to leave its walls even after the building burns down. In present day 2003, a video store occupies the original site. Emma spends her days watching movies and the living until she meets Ashley, a ghost who remembers nothing about her own recent death. To help Ashley, Emma must relive her own long-ago murder, which she discovers she does not remember with perfect clarity after all.
 
 


Novel Excerpt – Chapter One

 

Being dead is like watching an endless movie — forever observing, but never participating. Sometimes it makes me want to scream — sometimes I do scream. It doesn’t matter whether I do or not. No one can hear me anyway.

There’s a real movie — a ghost story — playing on the television set at the front of the store. I’ve seen it a thousand times. The ghost moves furniture, makes noises, and eventually manages to communicate with the living. But it’s just a movie — none of those things actually work. I’ve tried, over and over and over.

I wrinkle my nose at the screen as I walk by.

My footsteps slow as I pass the end of the row of Action and Adventure DVDs, trailing my fingertips along the wall as I trace the boundaries of my home, my prison, my world. I reach the window and pause, looking out through where my reflection should be, and watch the rain patter on the pavement in front of the store. I miss the chill of raindrops flung against my face by the autumn winds, their refreshing coolness in the sweltering heat of the summer. I wrap my arms around myself, squeezing so tight it hurts. I feel real, but if I were outside the rain would fall right through me.

It’s been a dreary November day — the rain steady, the kind you can walk through quickly without a coat, but if you stay outside too long you’ll be soaked to the skin. It’s been raining like this since early morning, around three o’clock, or maybe four? Now it’s late afternoon; the sky is almost black, and the streetlights thrust harsh, bright beams through the gloom, everything that’s not illuminated made darker in comparison.

A couple passing by stops underneath the oak tree in front of my window, the branches that shaded the store in the summertime now naked and forlorn without their leaves. They’re arguing about something and are both quite animated. The man makes sweeping gestures with his hands, and the woman crosses her arms and taps her right foot. Her high-heeled shoes are pink and have very pointy toes. Very wet pointy toes, now, as she’s standing in a small puddle. I press my nose flat against the glass and wonder what they’re saying. The woman spins around, little streams of water spraying out from the ends of her hair, and marches down the street. Her companion grimaces, then rushes after her.

I step back from the window, my voyeurism unsatisfied by the brief drama, and start walking along the east wall, then jump to the side as a teenage girl plows around the corner in front of me. Her chestnut hair is glossy in the fluorescent light, and her pale face is blank, almost solemn. Her blouse is made from a bright, flowery fabric that seems far too happy for her to wear, and her jeans are a few shades darker than my own. She stomps past me, her footsteps firm. Her eyes slide over me, unseeing. I turn my head and watch her march on by, then I continue on, my own feet soundless as always.

I make my way over to the dark red sofa and plop down, the tangibility of the cushions inflexible against my nonexistent body. If I chose to I could slide right through the sofa instead of rest on top of it. Yet another inexplicable conundrum of being a ghost, like when I feel my heart thump away when I see Matt, even though my physical heart is long gone, rotted in the ground somewhere with the rest of my body. It bothers me to move through things even though I know I’m not real, not in the manner that I used to be, at least. There’s something disturbing about seeing yourself inside something else, even if it makes sense. As much sense as possible, that is. I place my feet on the cushion and stare up at the ceiling, remembering how fresh and bright it looked the last time it was painted. Now, in 2003, it’s worn, tired, the paint dirty and peeling a bit in the corners, just like the rest of the building. Just like me.

I’ve been trapped here for more than a century, unable to leave, unsure if I’ll ever be able to. Things have changed, of course. The original house — his house — is gone, burned to the ground twenty–two years after I died. This house, which has since been converted into a video store, was built a few years later on the same spot, but slightly off center. Apparently I am constrained by the boundaries of the house in which I died, but the new house doesn’t exactly match those boundaries, so I can go a few feet outside the store to the north, but can’t reach the west wall inside.

I remember old stories that told about ghosts needing to accomplish some task before they could move on, so I’ve always supposed I must have something to do, but I can’t seem to determine what it is. I can’t do much in my ethereal state anyway, but I’ve tried everything I can think of, hoping year after year that I’ll figure out whatever it is, hoping that there really is something to be figured out. I’ve attempted to talk to the living, but of course they never hear me. I’ve tried to leave — to escape — but the walls of the old Colorado farmhouse, of my prison, have remained steadfast even though the physical walls turned to ashes long ago. I’ve scoured my memory, going over and over every single thing I can recall from my nineteen years of life, but I haven’t been able to come up with anything I did or didn’t do that would have caused me to be bound here. Revenge or justice seem plausible in the movies, but how can I get revenge or justice when my murderer must be dead himself by now? I can’t tell anyone anything. I can’t leave this place. And I can’t even do half the things ghosts in movies can. So how could I possibly avenge myself?

I squirm around and sit upright, my feet dangling just above the floor. I tug on the hem of my T-shirt so the fabric lies straight. Revenge wouldn’t bring me back to life anyway, so what good would it be? All I want is to move on, to go wherever everyone else goes when they die. I kick my sneakered feet against the sofa, my blows as ineffectual as ever. I sigh and rest my elbow on the arm, propping my head up with my fist. I won’t give up. Someday I’ll figure out what I’m supposed to do. Someday.

Several customers walk by; a short, stout man and his three boys, two of whom are arguing over which movie to rent. I ignore them all, wallowing in my melancholy. The third child ignores them too. He’s playing a portable video game and is completely absorbed. He stops in front of the couch, then sits down on top of me, in me. For a split-second I am him —

… I kick ass at Fighters of Doom! Damn … the batteries are getting low … I hope Mom doesn’t find out I cheated on my math test …

I leap up as quickly as I can, but I still feel sullied. “Get away from me!” I yell. My voice carries across the room, but no one hears me. I bite my lip, stumbling away from the couch where Terry occupies my old spot — Terrence Phillip Jones, but he goes by Terry. He’s in third grade, and he loves peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and —

I’m Emma, not Terry. Emma! I try to shake free of the otherness of his person, his being, even though I know it usually takes a few minutes until I feel like myself again. I shudder and move back to my previous post at the shelf, but even that’s not safe because Terry’s two brothers, who for that brief moment I knew just as well as Terry does —

… Jack and Jerry … twins, both evil … they put dog shit in my bed the other night, and gave me a wedgie on the bus last Tuesday …

— round the corner, arguing full steam. I duck out of their way just in time to avoid being touched again. I hate this! I scratch my head with both hands, raking my scalp with my nails as I try to force the last bits of Terry’s mind out of my own, his thoughts, his memories, his dreams lingering in mine like footsteps in wet grass.

I retreat to the other side of the store and curl up in a little ball on the checkered couch, the comfortable couch, the one I sit on when it’s the middle of the night and I wish with all my might that I could go home. I hear the raindrops from outside, but in my mind the fire crackles in the hearth, warming our little house. Mama puts the kettle on. Papa says to me, in his stern Papa voice, “Fetch some more wood, Emma, my lass.” Freddie giggles, running the toy train Papa carved for him over the wide pine planks of the floor. Lizzie sits in the rocking chair, head bent over her cross-stitch.

Although they are vivid in my memory, I know those days are gone forever. I smack the soft arm of the sofa with my fist, but my intangibility keeps me from having the satisfaction of feeling the stuffing give.

My home is gone. Even if our house is still there, my family isn’t. My parents, my sister, my brother … They’re all dead, and have been for years and years and years. I was murdered in 1873, when Lizzie was fifteen, and Freddie was five. Even if they both lived to be a hundred they’ve been dead for a long, long time.

I lay my head on the back of the couch, the mustiness of the fabric familiar, full of my invisible tears.

~~~~~

After a while I drag myself up and wander back to the front window. The woman with the pointed shoes is on the other side of the street, next to the streetlight by the bookstore. She’s without her companion, and appears a bit more bedraggled, but at least she’s managed to find an umbrella. She paces back and forth, making one call after another on her cell phone. I have no idea what’s wrong, but I entertain myself by coming up with stories. Maybe she’s supposed to meet someone who’s late? Maybe the man she was with earlier was her boyfriend, or her husband, and she’s angry with him? Perhaps she just lost her job and she’s angry with her husband? I craft my imaginary scenarios one by one, discarding each when I think of something new.

The store is pretty quiet. Vicki and Stacia are behind the counter — they’re the only ones working right now. Stacia is short and has long, amazingly straight blonde hair. Vicki has dark brown hair and olive-toned skin. I heard her say once that she’s part Italian and part Seminole, which I guess is a kind of Indian. The Indians who lived here when I was alive were mostly Arapaho and Cheyenne, but I’ve never heard mention of Seminole. Vicki and Stacia are both in their early twenties, which technically makes them older than me, although after being dead for a while, age doesn’t seem all that relevant. Would I be different now if I’d been older when I died? Or if I’d been younger?

I ponder this for the millionth time while I watch Vicki ring up a customer. She’s working here while she gets her nursing degree. Stacia doesn’t think she’s smart enough to go to college, so she’s working here because she doesn’t know what else to do. I know this from listening to them, not from touching them.

There are a few other people in the store — not many, but it should pick up in a bit. I look forward to the busier times. I have to work harder to avoid touching anyone, but having more people around temporarily alleviates the dullness. Edward is here, of course. He’s here just about every day, although he hardly ever rents a movie. He’s in his mid-thirties, or at least I think he is. It’s hard to tell because I’ve never seen him take off his sunglasses, regardless of what time of day it is. He’s a heavyset, unsavory-looking man who rides a Harley and wears leather and chains. He clearly fancies Stacia. He prowls around the store in those heavy leather boots, pretending to look at movies, but I can tell he’s always got one eye on the counter.

There’s also the pale girl I saw earlier. She’s been pacing up and down the aisles for a while. She seems vaguely familiar. I spent most of the morning watching people through the front window, so perhaps I saw her pass by outside. She’s quite pretty, even with that serious look on her face, which makes it odd that Edward hasn’t noticed her, especially since she just walked by him. He’s probably too focused on Stacia. I think he’s figured out her work schedule, because he’s almost always here when she’s working.

I turn back to the window just in time to see the woman across the street get into a car and slam the door; the car speeds away, tires squealing. Yet another snippet of someone else’s life, another mystery for me to wonder about, since I have no life of my own.

I start walking along the wall, trailing my fingers across it. Might as well do my rounds now. Long ago I developed a habit of traversing the boundaries at least once a day. I usually start by tracing them on the ground floor, then the second story. I check out the basement sometimes. I don’t like to go down there, but I make myself just in case a way out miraculously appears. I so hate going down there. I remember every detail of my old prison, even though it doesn’t exist now; the chill of the stone wall underneath my fingers, the earthy scent of the dirt floor, the sound of his feet stomping on the wooden boards above me.

The bells on the front door jingle and I pause, my fingertips still touching the wall. I lean around the shelves and peek over at the counter, hoping that Matt has come in, even though he’s not supposed to be working tonight. It’s not Matt, unfortunately, just a balding, middle-aged man. I sure wish it had been Matt instead. There’s something about him, something irresistibly captivating. I follow him around the store when he’s here, admiring him, watching every move he makes, even when he’s sitting at the counter doing nothing at all. I love listening to his voice, the tones warm and rich and charming no matter what he’s saying. I know it’s ridiculous. He’ll never even be aware of my existence. But I can’t help but feel happy when he’s around, and that’s so unusual that I’ve given myself license to enjoy it.

The pale girl glanced up when the door opened, but now she’s back to pacing the aisles. At least I think that’s what she’s doing. She doesn’t seem to be reading the movie titles; she’s just walking up and down the aisles. She must have gone through them all several times by now. I watch with absent-minded curiosity as she proceeds methodically through the store, row by row, then I move out of her path right before she reaches me.

She stops and looks directly at me, which is, of course, pure coincidence because there’s no way she can see me. Her lashes are long and full, her eyes a golden-brown with little flecks of green; the exact same color Lizzie’s eyes were. Her long hair is lovely, a rich, warm brown with blonde streaks. It’s very pretty, although the blonde bits look a little too evenly spaced to be natural. These days most of the girls color their hair, or else they have something pierced or maybe tattooed. It all seems awfully foolish to me, but apparently this sort of thing is the fashion.

I step to the side, to her left, and her eyes follow me. They can’t, but they do. It’s almost as though she really does see me. I gawk at her for a minute.

“Would you please not stare at me like that?” she asks.

There’s a loud ringing in my ears, as if I have just been smacked on the head. She’s looking directly at me. There’s no one else here. She has to be looking at me. She’s talking to me.

No one has ever seen me, not once in all these years. Yet clearly she does.

I stare at her, my mouth hanging open.

She makes a small, exasperated sound, rolls her eyes, then spins around and marches off.

My entire body is frozen solid. She saw me. I stand there, thunderstruck, as she turns the corner of the nearest aisle and is gone from my sight.

My feet feel as though they’ve grown roots and will never again be willing to move. No one has seen me — and no one has spoken to me — for the 130 years since my death in 1873. But she did! I sway back and forth slightly, staring at the spot where I last saw her. There’s a strange thumping in my chest, and my entire body is buzzing like the bells of an alarm clock.

I rip my feet from their moorings and rush around the corner after her, filled with a desperate need to find her, to follow her — to be seen by her.

The aisle is empty.

I dash to the end of the aisle, turning frantically from left to right. The girl is nowhere to be seen. Where is she? My heart pounds madly away. I lunge to my left and peer down the next row over, but she’s not there. I run from row to row as fast as I can, my steps so unsteady I have to put out a hand to catch myself as I whip around the end of each shelf to see yet another empty aisle. She saw me! I race up the stairs and search the rooms on the second floor, barely avoiding colliding into a man in the Independent Films section. Where is she? I head back down the steps, pausing only to look across the main room, but I don’t see her. I sprint through each aisle, one after another, dodging the few living people who are in the store at this time of day. Finally I come to a halt by the front window. I’m filled with so much energy that I feel I could fly, but I don’t know what to do. Where did she go?

I lean my back against the wall and sink to the floor, hugging my knees to my chest.

I sit there until my breathing slows. Could I have imagined her? Maybe, after all these years, I’m finally going crazy? I sigh, a deep, mighty sigh, and pull myself to my feet, one hand pressed against the wall for balance. I feel unaccountably heavy, as if I’ve suddenly gained a thousand pounds. It’s a tremendous effort just to stand up.

She couldn’t have seen me. No one can.

I stumble blindly across the room, passing row after row of movies, barely managing to keep out of the way of the customers roaming the store. My steps are as slow as an elephant’s. I pause, my fingertips resting on the wall, and look through the doorway into the next room.

She’s standing by Horror.

I can’t tear my eyes from her face. She’s looking right at me — right at me. Her hands are on her hips, and her brow is furrowed. She can’t see me, she can’t! But clearly she does. She must be a ghost too. That’s why Edward wasn’t watching her.

“Stop staring at me!” she demands. Her eyes narrow, and her hands clench into fists. My legs feel all quavery, as though they might give way.

“You’re staring at me, too.” My voice sounds dull and flat. Since my death I’ve spoken to myself, and I’ve said things to the living, knowing no one can hear me no matter how desperately I wish they could. But now that I’m speaking to someone who can hear me I sound hollow, like an echo instead of the original, as if I’ve suddenly become even less real.

“You were staring first.”

The first time another person has spoken to me since my death and we’re arguing with each other. I don’t know what to say to her. There are so many things to say, to ask. I open my mouth, but my tongue is all twisted in knots. I can’t let her leave again. I have to say something.

“Are you —” I stop and clear my throat again. “Are you a ghost?” My chest tightens as I hear my voice break a little.

Her lips purse, and one eyebrow lifts slightly. “What are you talking about?” She fiddles with her necklace, a gold chain with a single diamond. There’s a small mole on her left cheek. She’s not wearing earrings, but there are tiny holes in her ears so I can tell her ears are pierced. She seems so real.

I take a step toward her, drawn as if by a magnet. She has to be a ghost. No one has ever seen me in all the years I’ve been stuck here. And now … I swallow and sidle through the doorway. Now I’m not alone — now I’ll never be alone again!

But how can she not know she’s dead? Perhaps she died in her sleep? I feel suddenly sorry for her, sorry for someone lost like I am, but who doesn’t yet realize that she’s lost.

“I’m a ghost,” I say softly. “If you can see me, then you must be one too.” The poor girl. Although at least I’ll be able to explain things about being a ghost to her.

She narrows her eyes. “That’s ridiculous. I’m not dead. And you aren’t either.” She sounds undaunted, as if she’s not only sure that she’s not a ghost, but she’s also convinced that I’m insane. She takes a step back and looks around. “Are you okay? Are you with someone? Maybe I should get you some help.”

I open my mouth, then realize I don’t know how to respond to her. She marches off to the counter where Stacia sits painting her nails. I follow, feeling my heart thump madly away, hopeful that I won’t be alone any more, yet guilty for wishing this existence on someone else. She has to be a ghost. She just has to be.

“Hello? Does anyone know this woman? She—” The girl glances at me, then turns back to Stacia. “I think she might be lost.” I suppose that’s a diplomatic way to put it. I expected her to say I was crazy.

Stacia holds out her right hand, her bright red nails glistening in the fluorescent light; the lurid color looks like blood. She turns her hand from side to side, shakes her head, and bends to touch one of them up, biting her lower lip as she concentrates on running the brush over her fingernail. The acrid scent of the polish makes my nose tingle; it doesn’t seem to bother Stacia.

“Excuse me,” the pale girl says. She leans over the counter — there’s no way Stacia can miss her. “I said, excuse me!” Her tone is sharp. Stacia puts the brush back in the bottle, screws the lid on tight, then examines her handiwork.

The other girl has to be a ghost, then. Although it’s peculiar that she doesn’t know she is. Can a person die and not notice it?

I clear my throat, which feels as though a million frogs are caught in it.

“She can’t see you.”

The girl glares at me.

“Of course she can. She’s just being rude.” She turns back to Stacia. “Hello, hello? Hey you!” She waves her hand in front of Stacia’s face.

Stacia blows on her nails, then smiles and holds her hands up, all ten fingers splayed out. “Hey, Vicki, I have a great idea for the party!”

I see Edward out of the corner of my eye; he’s leaning against Action and Adventure, pretending to read the back cover of a movie, but it’s obvious he’s really ogling Stacia.

“Yeah? Hold on a minute.” Vicki stomps down from the second floor, lugging a tall stack of DVDs. “I hate when people put the cases back out of order!” As she walks across the room she trips and several of the movies fly on the carpet in front of the counter, right in front of us.

The ghost girl makes a face at Stacia, then looks at Vicki. “Could someone please help me?” she snaps.

Vicki sets what is left of the stack of movies on the counter and bends over to pick up the others. “So what’s your idea?” I step to the side, out of her way. The other girl doesn’t move.

“We should dress up like characters from ‘80s movies!” Stacia replies, then squints at her fingernails.

“What the hell is wrong with you people?” the girl yells, throwing her hands up in the air. She focuses on the stack of movies, clenches her jaw, then thrusts a fist at it. Her fist stops sharp at the edge of the stack, which remains as firm as a stone wall. She freezes, staring at her hand, then begins to poke at the cases with a finger. They don’t move.

“That’s a great idea!” Vicki replies. She’s looking at Stacia through the pale girl, who is staring at her hands as though she’s never seen them before. Vicki drops the rest of the movies on the counter next to the first stack. The plastic cases clatter harshly on the Formica.

“What’s going on?” the other ghost mutters. She pivots, moving as if she’s in slow motion, her eyes unfocused. She stops as she notices a pen that has fallen to the floor, and squats down to pick it up. Without success.

I glance back at Vicki and Stacia. My innards feel as if they’re all twisted around each other. They can’t see this other girl; they really can’t. She is a ghost.

She stands up. She doesn’t look like a ghost. She looks as real as Vicki does. A little whiter, perhaps, but not in a ghostly way. More like someone who hasn’t seen the sun for a while.

For the first time since I died there’s someone who can see me, who can hear me. Someone who knows I exist.

The ghost girl shakes her head, her hazel eyes wet. She blinks. “I don’t understand,” she mutters. She moves a few feet away from the counter, her lower lip trembling as she watches Vicki and Stacia. They chatter away, their voices humming like the sound of a movie playing in the background. I take a step toward her, then stop when I realize my hand is outstretched. I don’t know what will happen if I touch her. Will I become her, like I do with the living?

The bells jingle as someone enters the store. I drop my hand, hoping the other girl didn’t notice. She’d surely think me mad if I tried to explain. But I could explain, if I wanted to — and she’d hear me. I’m not alone!

The ghost girl starts plodding toward the front of the building, her head hanging down low. I follow and realize I want to skip, to jump. I’m still dead, but I feel almost as though I’m alive. I force myself to move at a normal pace as I trail after her, my feet filled with an energy I didn’t know they had. She reaches the window, and I stop a few feet away. I’m not alone anymore!

“Oh my God. They — they didn’t see me, they really didn’t. Why? Why can’t they see me?” She looks down at the windowsill and runs a finger across the painted wood, the once-smooth surface now cracked and worn with age.

I take a deep breath, my glee suddenly replaced by solemnity. Through the window I see the sky has cleared and the moon has appeared, a slim, white sliver fighting to outshine the light of the city below. I feel as if I’ve turned to lead, my energy gone. What can I tell her? I have no comfort to offer, no solace to share. She’s stuck here, now, with me. Forever.

I open my mouth again, then close it without speaking. I am suddenly very aware of my hands. I don’t know what to do with them, so I clasp them together until they hurt. She closes her eyes, the darkness of her long lashes pronounced against her pale skin.

“I don’t understand. This doesn’t make any sense. If I’m dead, why don’t I remember dying?” Her hands are balled into fists so tight that the outline of her collarbone is visible through her sweater. She slams a fist against the wall, and I flinch even though the blow makes no sound. “I don’t want to be dead!”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand either.” I remember dying. I remember the horrible things he did to me, the pain, the fear, the anger, the hatred, the hope … And then the absence of everything, both welcome and terrible. I remember everything. With perfect clarity.

She presses her forehead against the wall, hiding her face in her hands. We stand there in silence, me unsure what to say, unable to give comfort, her grappling with the change in her world. This poor girl! I haven’t spoken with someone for so long, and now I have a companion, but it’s not a situation I would have chosen. Why not someone who’d been a ghost for a while? This girl doesn’t seem to remember her death, so maybe she was lucky and it wasn’t awful like mine. But death is still death.

Without thinking, I reach my hand out to her again, then jerk it back to my chest. I want to touch her; I want to hug her, to console her like I would have Lizzie. But I can’t do it, I just can’t touch anyone. It’s too horrible.

“What’s your name?” I ask instead. My voice trembles a little. I stand up straight. I have to be strong for her. I’ve been dead for a long, long time, but this girl must have just died. I don’t know what I can do, but I’d like to help her. I’d like to make her feel better. If I can.

She uncovers her face, which is now not pale, but pink and blotchy, her skin wet from her tears. “What?”

“I’m Emma.” It’s strange to say my name aloud after so many, many years.

“Ashley,” she whispers. We stand there for a moment, the silence loud and awkward.

“Hey, wait a minute.” Her eyes grow wide, and she perks up, energized. “What day is today?”

Ashley dashes back to the counter, with me trailing close behind. She leans over the counter and looks past Stacia, who stands with her arms crossed while Vicki talks with a freckled fellow near the front door. He seems familiar somehow — perhaps I saw him in the store on another day, or maybe watched him walk by outside. I smile as I think about how wonderful it’s going to be to have someone else here. Someone to watch the living with me, someone to keep me company at night when it rains and I’m scared. Someone to talk to. Someone to be my friend.

Ashley leans over the countertop and squints at the computer screen, then turns to face me, her smile so radiant I can feel my own lips curving up.

“It’s Thursday!” she declares. She tosses her long hair over her shoulder. “I was alive yesterday! I went to school and to volleyball practice and —” She rubs her left temple, scrunching up her eyes for a moment.

I try, unsuccessfully, to recall what volleyball is.

“That’s all I remember.” Her tone softens, and she slumps. “I remember leaving practice, but — but —” She stares at the floor.

I wish I could say something to help her, but of course there’s no way for me to know anything about her death. I was here all day yesterday, as I always am; I spent most of last night on the second floor, reminiscing about home.

“I’m going to find out what happened,” she announces, straightening her shoulders.

Find out? I watch, perplexed, as Ashley marches to the door and reaches her hand out to open it, then jerks back when her hand passes through the frame.

“Wait —” I hear myself whisper. What is she doing? “Ashley, Ashley, don’t —” My voice is soft as a kitten’s meow. She glances at me and grins, then takes a deep breath and leaps through the door.

“No!”

My chest feels as if something has been ripped out of it — where is she going? She’s leaving, leaving me here alone!

I dash to the door and watch her through the glass, my hands pressed flat against its coldness. She’s running down the street, and is already much further away than I can go! I throw myself through the door and plunge onto the porch —

— and then I slam into my wall, the invisible wall of the house I was murdered in. I slump to my knees, my body pressed against my ever-present barrier, my fingers sliding down the old wooden wall I can feel but can’t see. There’s a pain, a horrible, tight awfulness, all the way from my neck down to my stomach. Why was she able to leave the building? Why am I trapped here? Why did she leave me here — alone?

Ashley seems to grow smaller as she moves farther away, her body casting no shadow in spite of the streetlamp. She sprints around the corner by the shoe shop and is gone. If only I could follow her! If only I could help her! If only —

I scream, pounding on the wall with my fists, hammering its implacable surface over and over. Tears run down my cheeks, falling off my face and vanishing like the nothingness that they are. But the wall that isn’t there continues to persist in its solidity for me, and so I remain, trapped as always within its boundaries.

I sink to my knees and sit there for a long time, my tears drying while I ignore the exhaust fumes tickling my nose, the cars moving in and out of the parking lot, the people walking up and down the street, and in and out of the store, talking, shopping, living.

After a while I stand up, turn my back to the night, and head inside, into the fluorescence.

I hope Ashley finds out what she needs to know. I hope it’s something good, as good as it can be, considering. I hope —

I hope she comes back.


Excerpted from With Perfect Clarity.
Copyright © 2013 by Jamie Ferguson.
Published by Blackbird Publishing.
All rights reserved.