Sarah had a secret: she could see auras, halos of color, floating and enveloping everyone. She spun the knob on her locker as Emily skipped up wearing her usual low-cut top and too short skirt. She smiled at the pink cloud curling around Emily, like cotton candy and goodness. Most auras were light and airy, hardly visible to her, wisps and hazes of bright beautiful hues dancing about the owner’s heads and hearts. But some auras clung to their owners, dark and ominous clouds clinging to a shoulder, oozing from ears, or sliding from a mouth. Those scared her, and one in particular terrified her.
Mark was a senior, all-star jock, handsome, and evil to the core, but Sarah couldn’t tell anyone; no one would believe the Homecoming King was anything but a Prince Charming.
“OMG, he’s cute.” Emily swiveled her body, following Mark as he passed by, twirling her hair, her crush pathetically obvious.
“I guess,” Sarah said.
“You’re cray cray. I mean look at those guns and that butt.”
“I don’t know, there’s something about him, besides being a stuck up asshole.”
“I bet he’s not an asshole once you get to know him.”
“I doubt that very much.” Sarah had to admit the jerk had a nice body but that was the only thing likable about him. Today his aura was a dirty gray, swimming in his wake, but she had seen it black as crude oil, inky and malignant. It had been that way after they had lost the football game to the cross-town rival. It had been so plainly visible it surprised her no one else could see it.
“Well, Wesley hangs out with him.”
“Only because they both play football. Wesley is nothing like him.”
Sarah’s world revolved around Wesley. His buttery aura bubbled around him, shades of happiness, and honesty; and she loved him for it. More than anything Sarah wanted him to notice her. She ached for his attention, just the slightest acknowledgment; a nod, a wave, or, even better, a smile. But high school didn’t work that way. She was an outcast and everyone knew it. She hid her ability from everyone, even Emily, and people sensed her difference.
Sarah shared first and fourth period with Wesley but he had no idea she existed. She sat directly behind him in math class and even snuck a sniff of his hair one time as they were passing papers to the front. She walked into class admiring the yellow aura shimmered around him instead of looking where she was going. The class roared with laughter when she tripped over his outstretched legs and fell sprawling to the floor. Wesley jumped up to help her.
“Oh man, I’m so sorry….”
“Sarah, I’m sorry, that was totally my fault.” He kicked his laughing buddy in the shin. “Shut up.” He extended his hand to her.
She looked at the hand she longed to hold so many times and tentatively reached for it, afraid it wasn’t real. His fingers wrapped around hers, warm and strong, and he pulled her to her feet. He held it for a fraction of a second longer than he needed to, inspecting her, an odd look on his face. Then he smiled, the crooked smile she had waited so long for.
“Sarah,” he said again and released her hand.
She blushed and ducked her head as she felt for her desk and slid into her seat accompanied by the snickering of her classmates. Wesley took his seat in front of her and the teacher began the lecture unaware of the magic that had just occurred in Sarah’s life. The rest of the hour soared past her as the teacher’s voice droned on in the background, a jumble of words that bounced off her new bubble of joy.
Later in the lunchroom, Emily bounced up to their table in the corner. “Guess what?”
“What?” Obviously, Sarah’s news about her encounter with Wesley would have to wait.
“Mark asked me to the movies Saturday night!”
“I hope you said no.” This was bad, really bad.
“Of course not, you know I’ve been waiting for this, like, forever.”
“I don’t like him.”
“Yeah, I get that. What did he ever do to you?” Emily snapped her gum.
“Nothing.” Sarah mumbled her answer. What could she say without giving away her secret? She shoved her lunch tray aside and gave Emily a dirty look, her own news put on the back burner. Somehow she had to stop this date. No way was she going to let her best friend be alone with him.
The high school kids spent Friday nights at the Sweet River Bridge, a place anything but sweet to Sarah. She had gone there a couple times, at Emily’s insistence, and had sensed an unevenness in the atmosphere and had refused to walk across its dilapidated deck. The rusted iron girders threatened her from a distance, taunting her, and screaming their treachery. She had watched as her high school companions walked across its forbidding surface, unaware of its illness, nonchalantly tossing their beer bottles off the side, watching them bounce off the rocks below and shatter with accompanying shouts of victory.
Sarah watched with fascination and horror as each individual’s aura morphed when they stepped onto the bridge, each one intensified and exaggerated. But Mark’s scared her more than words could describe. The moment he touched the deck his aura became something new, something vibrant and alive. It clung to him like a shadow, governed by its master, but pulsating and breathing its own life, independent yet reliant. Sarah could distinguish its features nearly identical to Mark’s but sinister and malevolent, waiting on the fringes to do harm.
The bridge and its highway had been abandoned decades ago, rerouted to bypass the canyon completely. The old road was pitted with potholes and overgrown with weeds, but it still made a great place to drag race and shoot holes in abandoned speed limit signs. The bridge’s heavy steel columns sprouted blooms of rust around every bolt and dripped their red blood down the vertical faces. The old girders creaked and groaned when a car dared travel across it, threatening to collapse at any moment.
The river and the remote location made it a favorite hangout for the high school kids. Keggers and bonfires spontaneously erupted at least once a month. Skinny-dippers tiptoed among the boulders scattered along the banks and the bravest partiers leaped screaming from the bridge into the dark and swirling waters. The Sweet River had claimed more than its fair share of lives; its waters treacherous, especially during the spring runoff.
This Friday was no different than any other. Emily dragged Sarah along hoping she would see Mark, and Sarah let herself be persuaded. She had to keep an eye on Emily. This date was a sham. Sarah knew it in her heart. Emily wasn’t Mark’s type. He wouldn’t lower himself to date her. Sarah had seen the look of contempt on his face when he stared at her back, the curl of his lip, and the wrinkle of his nose. Mark’s aura turned black when he looked at Emily. He was up to something, something bad.
Mark arrived in his van as the sun was setting, Wesley riding shotgun. Sarah’s heart skipped a beat when Wesley waved until she realized he wasn’t waving at her. A couple girls behind her giggled as she dropped her hand, embarrassed. Mark drove past them and parked at the top of the hill next to the bridge. Emily hopped off the hood of the car and sauntered up the slope. Mark barely acknowledged her existence and shook her off when she tried to hug his arm.
The Sweet Water Bridge pulled at Mark’s aura, like a kite in the wind it tugged and stretched the shadow. As he approached the bridge, Sarah could see his aura take shape, the malevolence becoming more and more defined. The instant his foot touched the timbers, it came to life. The edges of the shadow lost its fuzziness and grew into something distinct and solid; the head forming its own features, similar to Mark’s but deformed and muted.
Sarah climbed onto a big boulder that overlooked the river, keeping an eye on Mark and Emily, waiting for her opportunity to sneak into his van. As usual, no one said hi or talked to her, but she had grown used to it, sort of. She watched the variety of auras fade in and out as her classmates fooled around on the bridge and, basically, acted like idiots.
“Mind if I sit here, Sarah?” Wesley’s deep voice, so close behind Sarah, made her jump. When he spoke her name it sounded like a fluffy cloud on a hot day, beautiful and soothing.
“Sure, it’s a free country,” Sarah said. “Smooth,” she thought, rolling her eyes at herself. She examined the flecks of mica in the granite surface unable to form words.
“Thanks.” He folded his lanky body and sat beside her on the enormous rock dislodged from the canyon wall millions of years ago. “Sorry about today, tripping you, I mean.”
“Wasn’t your fault, I wasn’t watching where I was going.” And too busy thinking about how his lips would taste.
“Sorry, anyway.” Wesley stretched out on rock and put his hands behind his head. “I love this canyon, but I really don’t like that bridge.”
She jerked her head in his direction. “What do you mean?”
She watched him study the structure with a furrowed brow. After a minute he shrugged. “Don’t know, just seems rickety, and kids die jumping off it.”
“I don’t like it either, not at all.” Sarah pondered his statement, rolling it around in her mind. “You don’t like walking on it, do you?”
Her mouth went dry as his steel-grey eyes bored their way into her soul. “I think you know.” He paused, choosing his words. “I’ve been watching you, Sarah. You… know things about people.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The conversation was getting a bit too personal for her comfort. She started to get up, but he took her hand and pulled her back down to him.
“Yours is silver with white streaks.” She stared at him, speechless. He looked around her, outside of her, along her borders. “You can see them, too, can’t you?”
Sarah’s mouth dropped open. She couldn’t think of what to say. Could the boy she loved share her ability? It didn’t seem possible. She nodded shakily.
“What color is mine?” he asked.
“Yellow, like butter.” She shook her head bewildered. “But if this is true, how can you stand to hang out with him.” She jabbed her thumb at Mark who was hanging over the bridge’s railing spitting on people below him.
“Yeah, he’s an asshole. I like football, and he’s the quarterback. Besides, I need to keep an eye on him. I don’t know about you, but I can’t see them all the time, only when I touch someone. That’s why I acted so surprised when I helped you up after tripping you. I know how gifted silvers are, and I’ve watched your reactions to people. I just put two and two together.” He paused then laughed. “Wow, it feels great to get that out. I’ve been hiding it for so long, even from my parents, especially my parents. They thought I was crazy and for a while I did, too. Then I studied up on it.”
“I didn’t think you knew who I was.” Sarah ducked her head as she felt her face flush.
“I noticed you a long time ago. It just seemed like you wanted to be left alone.”
“I didn’t want you to leave me alone.” Sarah couldn’t believe her nerve. She felt her cheeks flame up again.
“Well, I won’t leave you alone anymore, if that’s alright with you.” Wesley squeezed her hand and smiled as he admired her aura.
“I need your help, Wesley. Mark asked Emily out on a date tomorrow night. He doesn’t even like her, and I’m scared for her. I wish you could see how the bridge changes him. It’s horrible.”
“I’ve caught glimpses of what the bridge can do.”
“He’s wicked, Wesley, the evilest of evils.”
Wesley nodded. “Hey, I have a great idea. You could you go to the movie with me tomorrow night. We can double-date and keep an eye on them.”
Sarah’s world filled with rainbows and kittens. “I would like that.”
Wesley continued to hold her hand as the sun sent its last rays bouncing off the canyon walls. With several beers in their bellies, the jocks were getting rowdy and their hollering had become an echo contest no one could win. Mark was being the usual hotshot bully, shoving his buddies, and picking fights. Sarah watched as one fight in particular heated up. Mark towered over Jerad, his running back, screaming at him, blaming him for a failed pass that had cost them the game. Sarah watched stunned and wide-eyed as Mark’s aura grew and flexed.
“You better get up there, Wesley, he’s losing it.”
Wesley jumped to his feet and dashed up the hill just as Mark charged his teammate, ramming him against the railing, trying to throw him over into the rushing Sweet Water. His aura pulsated; its arms wrapped their oily fists around Jerad’s throat, squeezing until they disappearing into the pale flesh.
“Knock it off, Mark,” Wesley yelled at him.
“Stay out of it, Wes, or you’ll be next. Losing the game was just as much your fault as it was his.” Wesley paused a moment unwilling to set foot on the bridge, then rushed his buddy, wrenching Mark away from Jared.
Wesley flinched and sprung away as if he had been bitten. He backed away, staring at Mark openmouthed, fear in his eyes. Mark’s aura turned its head and hissed at Wesley.
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