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The Girl with the Yellow Bracelet
I am seventeen. I was a runaway. My body is lying under an overpass on I-65 in the heart of Birmingham. A homeless man in a beanie that smelled like weed and beer decided he would take my backpack. I tried to fight him for it, and I lost. Two stabs to the neck and three to the stomach did it. I didn’t take it very personally; everyone has to fight to survive out here. It’s a bit of a letdown, death. There’s no light, no life flashing before your eyes. You just go. So here I sit on the guardrail of the overpass. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for, maybe a sign, a familiar face, an explanation.
“You’re not going to go anywhere if you keep sitting here watching the cars go by,” rasped a high voice. I glanced over my shoulder at what must have once been a pretty woman. Her skin was sallow and ashen, slightly worn away in some places and missing altogether in others. Thin wisps of hair blonde brushed the harsh protruding bones of her shoulders and her milky eyes, exceptionally sunken in, watched me with pity.
“Who are you?” I questioned. I had seen many other ghosts as I sat here, mostly homeless men and wanderers, but I had never seen this woman.
“My name was Mary,” she breathed as she looked away. “I was going to pick up my little girl from school. I never made it.” The corner of her lip twitched ever so slightly.
“Oh,” I said out of obvious lack of tact.
“I’ve been watching you. You sit here everyday."
"I don't know what else to do," I murmured blankly.
"You have to leave this place," she wheezed.
“I don’t know where to go. I don’t remember,” I said, picking at a piece of skin that was flaking off my arm. Great. Now I'm decomposing.
“Remember!” she wheezed loudly as she gripped my shoulders with her bony fingers. “You have to get away from here! It will eat away at you. This is the place of your death. It picks away at you bit by bit. You have to leave before it’s too late!” An awful rattling cough consumed her. It took her a few moments to regain her composure.
“Too late?” I whimpered. She stared at me for a moment, then released my shoulders and stepped back. I watched her tentatively as she raised her hand to her face. She pressed her fingertips lightly to her cheek, and when she removed them, a piece of rotting flesh fell away.
“I waited too long, and now I can’t go anywhere. I will waste away here,” she spoke softly. “But you can leave. You’re still fresh, still whole. Go.”
“I don’t know where I’m supposed to go. W-what am I supposed to do? I don’t know who I was, where I lived, or who I knew. I-I don’t even know my name!” I stammered. She smiled tenderly, her eyes full of understanding.
“It will come back. It always does,” she breathed. And then she was gone, and I was alone again.
I sat back down on the railing and stared at my toes. Remember! I silently yelled. I squeezed my eyes shut and strained. Slowly a body came into focus, a boy. He was sitting on the steps of a house fumbling a yellow bracelet between his fingers, his eyes somewhere far away.
That’s mine! I realized. That’s my bracelet. He must have stolen it! I stood up quickly. I was irrationally angry, but he had stolen the only thing of mine that I remembered from my previous life. I closed my eyes and focused on my anger. I had seen other ghosts do it when they wanted to apparate or appear somewhere else. I felt the anger bubbling up inside me, threatening to boil over. And then it was gone. I opened my eyes, and I was no longer looking at the interstate. I was in front of a house, the house that belonged to the boy with the bracelet. I walked hesitantly toward the porch, my eyes wandering. Everything seemed so painfully familiar, but no matter how hard I tried, I could remember.
I reached the steps and started up them, glancing around cautiously. Suddenly there was a blur of fur, and a wet nose was pressed against my cheek as I yelped loudly.
“Fin!” I cried as I buried my face in the dog’s sandy fur, hugging him tightly as he barked. I remembered this dog! He belonged to someone I knew well.
“What is it, boy?” called a deep voice as the front door opened
“You!” I yelled as I stood up, Fin padding happily to the boy. “Why do you have my bracelet? Hello, I’m talking to you!”
The boy appeared not to hear me as he bent down to scratch Fin behind the ears, his lips turned upward into a fixed smile. I remembered humans couldn’t see me unless I meant for them to. I closed my eyes and focused.
“Samantha?” the boy choked. I opened my eyes to the wide-eyed boy standing a couple feet from me. I knew he could see me now.
“Samantha,” I repeated. “That’s my name. That’s my name!” I squealed as I began to twirl. It felt so good to remember.
“Samantha!” yelled the boy frantically, his voice cutting through my bliss like a knife. I whirled to a stop facing him.
“You!” I bellowed again. “Who are you? Why do you have that?” I demanded, pointing at his wrist, which bore my bracelet.
“Y-you gave it to me,” he stammered. “H-how are you here? Where have you been? What’s wrong with you? You look so…” he trailed off.
“I gave you that?” I lowered my voice as I gestured to the bracelet again. “When?”
“The day before you left. I still have it,” he replied sullenly.
Left? “Oh,” I breathed as I looked down at my feet. “What’s your name?”
“What’s your name?” I asked again as I looked up into his face. His expression was unreadable.
“Eric,” he replied quietly as he looked away. “What happened to you?”
Eric. Eric. That name felt so familiar. I knew I had spoken it many times. Eric, Eric, Eric. I repeated the name over and over in my mind, hoping that some mental dam would break, and all of my memories of this boy and the girl who owned that yellow bracelet would come flooding back.
“I remember,” I whispered.
“You remember what?” he questioned dazedly.
“You,” I smiled as I closed the distance between us. “Your name is Eric Nathaniel Moore, you have a dog named Fin, you’re an awful driver, you don’t have a favorite color, you know all the words to your entire Pink Spiders album, and you want to be a professional dog walker when you grow up.”
“Yeah,” he smiled back. “Yeah, that’s me.”
“How long have I been gone?”
“Ten months,” he replied. “Ten months to the day actually.”
“Why did I leave?” I questioned further.
“You ran away.”
“Why?” I implored, growing more and more desperate by the moment as I received precious bits of information about my life.
“You hated it there,” he whispered, his concerned-filled eyes sweeping over my face.
“Hated it where?” I pressed frantically as my hands gripped the front of his shirt.
“Why don’t you remember any of this?” he demanded as he backed away. “What happened to you, Sam?” I stared at him, my eyes pleading with him to understand.
“I died,” I whispered. I looked down and began picking at the dry, cracking gray skin on my arm and waited for the retreating footsteps. Instead, I felt arms being wrapped around me, pulling me into an embrace. It felt so strange, so alien. I hadn’t been touched in what felt like ages. He tucked my head under his chin. I let myself fall into him as I began to cry.
“I don’t remember,” I croaked as I sniffed. I felt him smile.
“Your name is Samantha Caroline Ells, you had a cat named Francy that you were allergic to, you were a worse driver than I am, your favorite color was yellow, you knew all of the words to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and you wanted to be a writer when you grow up,” he explained.
“I did?” I sniffed.
“Yeah, you did,” he replied. He dropped his arms and squeezed my hand. “Wait here,” he said as he turned and hurried into his house. He emerged a few moments later with a brown, tattered book.
“Here,” he said, handing the book to me. “It’s yours.”
“What is it?” I asked, taking the book apprehensively.
“Your journal,” he replied. “I-I didn’t read it or anything,” he added quickly. “Your step dad, he was going to throw all of your things out, and I managed to get my hands on it before he could.”
“My step dad?” I whispered as I flipped through the pages delicately. I sat down, cross-legged on the ground, delving into the details of my life.
I had had a cat that I was allergic to, just like Eric had said. I had lived with my mother and deranged step dad who tended to beat her, and I never had the courage to stand up to him. I loved writing poetry and stories. Yellow was indeed my favorite color. Fall was my favorite season, and I loved the colors of the trees. I went to school and had a job, a car, and friends just like every other average teenager. I also had Eric. He had been there for me since I was seven when my dad left. I had loved him.
I looked up from the torn and battered pages into his patient face. He sank to his knees beside me and watched me.
“I remember everything now,” I mumbled quietly. “Everything.” Eric continued watching me anxiously. I took his hand and stared back down at the book. We sat like this until the sun went down.
“Can you stay?” he asked quietly. I looked up at him.
“I don’t think so,” I replied, looking away. “I don’t know where I have to go, really. I just know I can’t stay.”
“Oh,” he breathed. “Why?”
“I don’t really know. I’m kind of new to this, honestly. But I don’t think we can stay here for long. I met this lady. She was rotting away and falling apart. If we stay here too long, we decompose like our bodies, I think.” I lifted my arm to show him my graying skin. “I’m already starting to.”
“How long have you been, um…” he trailed as he struggled to find the right word.
“Dead?” I finished for him.
“Weeks, a month or two maybe. I haven’t kept track,” I replied as I looked down. “You’re dealing with this so calmly.”
“How else am I supposed to deal with it?” he retorted.
“Freak out, pray, wash your house down with holy water, I don’t know,” I grinned. “Anything but act like I’m still me.”
“You are still you. Just a little less lively,” he cracked as he elbowed me.
“Ouch!” I yelled. I swore as I gripped my side.
“What happened?” he cried as he waved his hands over my frantically, not sure what to do. I pulled the side of my shirt
up and glanced down sharply at the place where he had playfully elbowed me. My skin appeared to have been sanded away, my ribs nearly visible under the thin skin.
“I don’t have very long,” I whispered, looking up at him. His expression turned grim, and he suddenly looked much older, like a man who had lived a hundred years. “I need to go.”
“I know,” he replied flatly. He took my hand and helped me to my feet. “Where are you going?”
“To my house,” I answered. “I don’t know why, but it just feels like that’s where I need to be.”
“Here,” he said, slipping the yellow bracelet off.
“What are you doing?” I questioned.
“It’s yours. I’ve just been keeping it safe for you,” he replied. He took my hand, slipping the bracelet onto my wrist. A few layers of my skin flaked away as he did so. He took my other hand and pulled me into a hug.
“I’m scared,” I whispered.
“I know,” he breathed. “But wherever you’re going after here, it’s going to be good. There will be the bluest sky, and the sun will always shine. The clouds really will have silver linings, and you’ll always be happy. You may not even be allergic to cats anymore,” he smiled, though I heard the tears in his voice. I looked up at him.
“I’ll save a place for you,” I whispered as I closed my eyes. “Promise.” He pressed a kiss to my forehead, and then he was gone.
I opened my eyes to a familiar sight. I could see through the kitchen window of my house. There, standing at the sink in her favorite maroon sweater, was my mother. Her long, brown hair was swept up into a messy bun, and her expression was one of a woman who had lost everything she had in the world. She had always been there for me, and I abandoned her. I wanted to reach out and touch her, to tell her how sorry I was for everything, but a voice barked from the living room. My step dad was home.
“Melanie, where’s my beer?” he roared. His voice grated against my nerves, even if they were cold and decomposing.
“I just restocked the fridge,” she called back, sweeping the back of her hand across her forehead.
“And I guess it’s just supposed to magically appear in my hand?” he bellowed. I heard his recliner groan as he heaved himself to his feet and stomped into the kitchen.
“I-I just thought—”
“You thought what? That I was going to get it myself?” he spat. I knew what was going to happen. He raised his fist, rearing back hard, and struck my mother’s delicate jaw, causing her to drop the plate she was scrubbing and sending her stumbling into the counter.
“Don’t you dare touch her!” I roared.
“Who’s there?” he squawked as he whirled around. He couldn’t see me. I drifted in through the window and landed, coming to a stop inches from his repulsive beer gut.
“Hit her again,” I whispered airily, “and give me a reason to rip you to pieces.”
“What the h*** is this, Melanie?” he roared. “Is this some sort of joke?” He grabbed the front of her shirt and lifted her off her feet.
I grabbed the nearest kitchen chair and slammed in into his back. Dropping my mother, he yelped and leapt to the other side of the kitchen, sinking down into a trembling heap.
“Hi, mom,” I grinned sheepishly as I showed myself.
“S-Sam?” she choked, jumping to her feet.
“Yeah, it’s me,” I smiled as I tripped into her arms.
“I thought I’d never see you again,” she whispered, her voice thick with tears.
“I’m here, mom. I’m here,” I comforted her as I held her tight. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
“What is it, honey?”
“Mom, I’m— ”
“Samantha, look out!” my mom shrieked. I whirled around as my step dad raised his favorite gun. I shoved my mom out of the way just as he pulled the trigger. The bullet hit me square in the chest, causing me to stumble. I looked down at the bullet hole.
“Big mistake,” I hissed as I looked back up at him and disappeared. I hit the breaker box, causing the lights to flicker. I threw chairs and smashed dishes against the wall just over his head. I picked the table up and turned it over breaking off one of the legs.
“Stop or I’ll shoot!” he bellowed. I froze. He had my mother by the throat, gun barrel pressed against her temple. He began his maniacal laugh. “I’ve got her now. Ain’t so spooky now, are you?”
“Samantha, just leave!” my mother pleaded.
“Shut the h*** up, Melanie!” he screamed. He began laughing again. His eyes darted from wall to wall, ceiling to floor.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.” His laugh grew louder and louder.
“Sam, go!” she cried.
“Are we not going to show ourselves? All right, then,” he sneered as he cocked the gun.
CRACK! His body slumped to the floor, a puddle of blood pooling around his crushed skull. I dropped the frying pan and gripped my mother, pulling her into my arms and began to sob.
“I’m so sorry,” I choked. “So sorry, so sorry, so sorry.”
“Hush, it’s alright, sweet heart,” she crooned, squeezing me tight. “It’s alright.”
“I killed him, I killed him,” I sobbed as my knees buckled.
“Shh,” she quieted me. “It’s going to be okay, honey. It’ll be okay.” She stroked me hair. She gasped.
“What?” I sniffed as I stepped out of her embrace. She was looking down at her hand.
“It just…fell out,” she murmured. A large chunk of my hair was caught between he fingers. My hand flew to the back of my head.
“Mom, I can’t stay.”
“I know,” she said softly.
“What? You know?”
“Sweetie, you flew through the window and disappeared. I’ve watched my fair share of ghost movies,” she grinned
through her tears. I smiled back at her as I wiped my eyes and felt a furry little body press itself against my leg. I looked down into the little white face of my cat.
“Hey, France,” I croaked as I bent down to scratch the top of her head. She sneezed and grumbled, then turned and padded off down the hallway.
“She missed you, even if she doesn’t act like it. Mean old thing,” my mom chuckled. I smiled as I cherished the brief feeling of normalcy.
“I love you, Mom,” I said, pulling her back into a hug.
“I love you, too, sweetie.”
“I’m sorry I left. I never should have left you here with him,” I apologized as fresh tears began streaming down my face.
“I don’t want to leave you again.”
“Don’t worry about me, honey. I’ll be all right,” she soothed. “I have Francy,” she laughed, and I joined her.
“I’m going to miss you,” I sighed.
“I’ll miss you, too, baby,” she said as she rubbed a hand quickly across my shoulders and stepped back. “Say hi to Nana for me.”
“I will, Mom,” I promised as I kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll save a place for you.”
“I believe you, sweetheart.”
“I love you,” I whispered as I closed my eyes.
When I opened my eyes again, I was back on the overpass. The cars rushed by and whipped my brown hair. I walked up and down the overpass but didn’t see anyone.
“Mary?” I called into the wind. “Mary, I really need your help. Please,” I added.
“Yes?” a voice rasped through the darkness as I whirled around. There Mary stood in all her rotting glory.
“How do you leave, Mary? Where am I supposed to go?” She looked at me for a long while.
“Imagine your perfect Heaven. Your perfect world,” she breathed heavily. An awful cough racked her body as a bit of skin from her throat fell away.
I closed my eyes and imagined that blue sky and ever-shining sun. I imagined silver-lined clouds and a place with no tears. And then I felt the sun's warmth on my graying cheek. I opened my eyes and was blinded by an intense light.
“I see it!” I cried. "I see it." It warmed me from the inside out, head to toe.
“Go, before it’s too late!” she called hoarsely as she was consumed by another fit of coughs that rattled her fragile frame.
“Why do you stay here like this? Come with me,” I urged.
“I can’t,” she smiled sadly. “I stayed here for so long, waiting for my little girl, that my heaven closed for me. But you can still go. Hurry!”
“Thank you,” I turned to her. “Thank you so much.” And then I turned back toward the sun, and I left the world.
If one had been watching at precisely that time, one might have seen a hand caress the side of a mother’s cheek. Or perhaps he or she would have seen a shadow, or was it a trick of the light, ride the breeze through the open window of a boy’s bedroom and place a small, yellow bracelet on his nightstand. Someone might have seen the spirit of a girl bend down to kiss the forehead of the sleeping boy, then saw her turn and soar away into her own personal heaven. If one had been listening, he or she might have heard the lovely whisper of, “I’ll save a place for you.”