Vanessa glanced down at the directions clutched tightly in her hand and shivered. The day was not cold but she was unaccustomed to the raggedness of this district. She loathed the idea of having to shop in this run-down, high-crime area, but since it was the nearest store and she didn’t have a license to drive anywhere else, it was her only option next to starving. As she passed a human-sized bundle lying motionless on the sidewalk, she decided that starving wasn’t an option she intended to embrace.
She made her way to the small convenience store and paused just outside the door. The building was grimy, coated in soot and – she didn’t want to know what else. Just outside the door a young man with scruffy black hair and a coming beard stood, leaning against the building. He didn’t look to be much past her age.
As Vanessa approached, she did her best to hurry past him. A dirt-splotched arm thrust itself before her, blocking her way into the store.
“Excuse me,” Vanessa mumbled timidly, casting her gaze down and inching closer to the moldy concrete of the doorframe.
“What’s a kid like you doing in such a dangerous neighborhood, eh?” the man asked. His voice was gruff but not unfriendly.
“Just getting some food. Is that a crime?”
The man chuckled and shook his head. “Fair enough. Why do you keep pressing yourself into the wall like that? I’m not going to do anything.”
Forgive me for not trusting you, she thought. You look like a thief.
“I know what I look like,” the man mumbled, as if reading her thoughts. “Trust me, I don’t steal. Well…I wouldn’t. Not from you at any rate. The name’s Matt.” He dropped his arm.
Vanessa tried to push her way in, but he moved to block her way once more. She tried not to make a face at the smell wafting from his unwashed skin but fell short of succeeding. “Excuse me,” she growled, trying to make her way into the store once more.
“Lose something?” Matt asked, holding a twenty dollar bill between his index and middle fingers.
Vanessa quickly patted her pockets and, finding them empty, glared at him. “Give it back.”
“I know I said I wouldn’t steal from you. And I wouldn’t. I’d just borrow for a moment. Here.” He handed the bill back to her. “Keep a close eye on that.”
Vanessa clenched the bill into a ball in her fist, assuring access to it was denied to anyone who tried to get it. They’d have to pluck it from her cold, dead fingers. The thought sent a chill through her bones as she reminded herself that in this part of town the situation was rather plausible.
She tried once more to get past and Matt let her through. She scurried into the store, fearfully aware that he had followed her in and was tailing her as she grabbed boxes and bags.
“Can I tell you a secret?” he asked, leaning nearer to her ear. She shrank away from his presence, chilled. “I died last night,” he finished without waiting for her permission to speak.
“Nice try bud.” She moved away from him, basket of food in hand. He followed her over to the register.
“Don’t you believe me?”
“Why should I? What you said is completely illogical!” she retorted, louder than she had intended. The woman in line behind Vanessa cast a strange glance at her and moved down to the second register.
“Good job, now she thinks you’re crazy,” he drawled sarcastically, crossing his arms and tipping his head to indicate the woman who had moved away.
“The line was shorter.”
“Right.” Vanessa narrowed her eyes at his implied disbelief and sharply turned away from him.
“Hey, don’t be like that-”
“Don’t be shocked or scared that you stood up to me,” Matt whispered, “I deserved it.”
Vanessa spun back around to face him. “Stop acting like you can read my thoughts – it’s creepy.”
“Not so much your thoughts as your emotions,” he drawled. “See all these people? Most of them are spirits.”
“Then why can I see them?”
“You have a Gift – isn’t that obvious?”
“So you’re telling me that I’m surrounded by ghosts?” The notion didn’t scare her nearly as much as she thought it should have.
“Not entirely. See there,” he pointed to where a clerk was helping someone find a specific type of pasta noodle. “That clerk was killed in a shooting a few years back. The customer is living.”
“So then why can the customer see the clerk? Does she have the ‘Gift’ too?”
“Nah. The clerk is using his flesh form. You see, when spirits want to connect with the living, they often can make themselves visible for a time. Y’know, to say what needs to be said and all that.”
“That’s so sad.”
“The sad part is that some of the spirits don’t want to move on. Many continue on in the routines they had in life.”
“Like the clerk?”
“Exactly like. But the fact that you can see me is really something special.”
“How so?” Her tone implied that she thought it more of a curse than a blessing.
“You can help me like no one else can. I need to talk to someone-”
“Then why not take on that ‘flesh form’?”
“I can’t. When I died I was in such miserable condition as a human that I was denied that nicety. Please, will you help me?”
“I need to talk to my mom…she needs to know that I’m gone.”
“No way, I’m not going to go gallivanting about with a lunatic with hopes of finding his mother and telling her the hardest thing in the world to say: ‘I’m sorry, but your son is dead.’ Forget it.” She handed the cashier the bill and turned back to face Matt. She met an empty space.
This is another little story written for my high school's Literary Magazine. This scene (or a derivation of it) might star in an upcoming novel. For now, I hope you enjoy it in its original form.