I first noticed the girl in History.
Craning my neck to get a better look at the inaccurate clock hanging slightly crooked on the wall behind me, I found myself looking at a girl that had not been in the class when attendance was called.
She was standing with her back and palms of her hands against the wall, looking at my teacher with rapt attention. She was incredibly thin and her lips looked horribly dry. She didn't have a belt on, but when I looked closely I could see that two of her belt loops on her jeans were tied together and created a small bulge beneath her black shirt. It made them hang strangely, the zipper pulled too far to the right.
I was sure she had came on the request of another teacher, and I had failed to notice her come in. Unusual, sure, but not unheard of.
I forgot about her and began to focus on the lesson again, trying to push her small, sad smile out of my head.
I noticed her again when I was walking to my Math class nearly a week later. She stuck out, the one person not wearing a backpack and holding a couple textbooks to their chest. Her lips still looked dry, and she was wearing the same shirt and jeans. They looked clean though.
I paused for a moment and looked at her, trying to figure out what class she could be going to. She looked my age when I saw her face, but she isn't in my grade. We would have been all abuzz about the new girl, and no one has said a word.
She pivots on her heel suddenly, rotating in a split second that looks like it would hurt if I tried. Staring at me with eyes of a color indeterminable from this distance, I'm just able to see the wide cracks of her smile. She has very nice, even teeth from what I can tell.
I start walking quickly, frustrated at her for making me stop. Shaking my head, I try to force her back out.
There's something about this girl that just seems connected to me.
She starts showing up everywhere at school, causing me to pause for a few seconds each time I see her. I don't want her to catch me looking. I don't want her to smile at me.
She's always wearing the same shirt, and I'm starting to wonder if she has any other clothes.
She must be failing all her classes, because she never seems to have school supplies with her. And teachers don't like students who don't have school supplies.
She seems to get closer each time. I didn't notice at first, but then I started noticing that she when she turned up in my classes she drifted farther and farther from the door and closer and closer to me. And she smiles at me quite a bit.
I never see her arrive, and I never see her leave. She just seems to appear and disappear at will.
I haven't quite decided if she's worth mentioning. No one else seems concerned about her. No one seems to really notice her at all, so why am I so concerned?
I wake up on Saturday mornings at about eight, and then I eat breakfast and go for a short walk. Lately my stomach hasn't been working like it is supposed to, and I've been waking up very late because I'm always exhausted. My parents would normally be on my case for that, but they haven't said a word, just watched me. However, I still get up and go for my walk.
I choose to skip breakfast this morning because I feel so dreadful. About three minutes into my walk, I see a figure standing in the middle of the road, watching me.
I stop and turn to look, already knowing what will happen.
She's standing in the middle of the street in a puddle of shade looking like something the shadow coughed up, equal parts darkness and light. She's looking at me with her head turned slightly to one side. Her hair falls down her neck and skims the sides of her face like shards of glass, dark brown and only touching her shoulders. And she's close enough that I can finally see how blue her eyes are.
She sees me looking at her and smiles. Her face seems to crack and shift as she smiles, and her lips bleed slightly.
I feel my breath catch in my throat, tugging itself out of me in sharp, snagging yanks. She's younger then me, she must be because she's not my age and there is no way that she is older then me. But I'm so scared that I'm shaking.
"Stop following me," I tell her. I walk forward a couple of feet, but she's still watching me. The blood remains but the smile is gone.
"I mean it. Stop following me, or I'll tell someone!" I stare at her, feeling my chest expand and deflate as I breathe. I can't see her breathing.
She speaks softly, almost to herself, tipping her head down so that her chin touches her chest. Her hair bunches and shields to the bones of her face from me. It takes so long for her words to reach me that she's disappeared behind some trees before I hear her whispering her words close to my ear.
I don't see her again until the next weekend, after I get back from a doctor's appointment that takes a good portion of the blood I own. My parents leave the house to go get us some groceries, and I'm bunching myself up on the couch with a blanket because I can hardly see straight. Everything curves away from some point in my vision.
It's all warped like a camera setting, and I don't think anything of it when I see her sitting on the chair across from the couch. She's all bunched up in her thinness and her hair is halfway in her eyes.
Blinking a couple of times, I finally register her.
"Didn't I tell you to stay away from me?"
I wait for an answer.
"I believe," she says softly. I see her lips move before I hear her speak.
Her head rotates farther to the side, and she's biting her lip. I can see the blood beginning to well up in the cracks of her skin.
"What are you doing here?"
She takes her teeth out of her lips. "You should drink some water. It'll help."
It isn't an answer, but I blink anyway, trying to clear the dizziness and understand. "What?"
"Also something to eat. That'll help the dizziness." She's still looking at me, and I can see bruise-like shadows under those impossible eyes of hers.
"You know about this?"
I try to sit up better to look at her. "What is it that you remember?"
She smiles finally, and I realize I have been waiting for it. "Of course."
She stands up and walks out of my sight. She's gone before I'm able to turn around to look for her.
She doesn't leave me alone very often, and after her disappearance I've come to understand she's not real. In my sickness, I've come to decide that makes her more real then anyone else.
The day after the blood draw I woke up to find her sitting at my desk, looking at me. She looked so thin and cold and so I invited her to sit under my blankets with me.
"I can't do that."
I sat up to look at her, but my arms were still sore from the needles so I had to settle for a half-sit. "Why's that?"
"I can't get too close yet."
She smiled a sad smile; one that hardly moved the bones of her face into the planes of her eyes. "I get closer every day."
My parents never saw her, even when they stood in the same room at the same time. She always smiled at them though.
Just in case.
I stopped going to school, and my mother stopped going to work. She'd still make phone calls to the office though, while she cooked me soup or made me toast.
The girl never left me alone, even though she didn't seem to have a lot to say.
"When will you get all the way here?"
"Why were you smiling in my class?"
"Because it's the first time I had been in class for a long time."
Sometimes we went hours without saying anything. It didn't take me long to notice that she didn't have to breath.
"Why don't you change your clothes?"
"Because these are the clothes I was wearing when I died."
I stop going to the doctor's office a few weeks after I stop going to school. It doesn't matter anyway.
They gave me a piece of candy and told me they were sorry. They were woefully unprepared for my demise.
"How old were you when you died?"
"I was twelve, I think. I don't remember some things."
"How long have you been dead?"
"Longer then you have been alive."
She follows me to the bathroom when I go to vomit, standing in the doorway awkwardly. It's then that I realize she's only a few feet away.
We're almost as thin as each other now.
When I touch my lips, they are dry.
"Did someone come for you the way you came for me?"
Her face softens a bit, and she seems distant. "Yes."
"Did you like her?"
"I told her to leave me alone. She scared me." She pauses for a second and smiles, turning her head to look at me. She never looks at me when we talk. "You asked what I remembered?"
"Now you know."
My parents don't say goodnight when I go to bed anymore.
They say goodbye.
She doesn't leave me at night.
She doesn't sleep. I wonder what she thinks about.
"Am I your first person?"
My lips bleed a little when I speak, and she narrows her eyes at me as she replies. "Yes."
"Will I come for other people?"
"After a while. You have to wait until you're settled in."
"What do you do while you settle in?"
"You and I," she says, "will have a lot to talk about."
When I wake up the next morning, she's sitting on the edge of my bed.
"You should braid your hair," she tells me, making a rare moment of eye contact.
My hair has been loose for near two weeks, limp and thin. "Why?"
"Because you look like you that way."
"Do you know my name?"
"Of course I do."
"Do you remember your name?"
She pinches her lips together for a second, her face wrinkled in confusion. "Ciara," she says suddenly. "My name is Ciara."
It's been three days since I've had anything more then a little water. Mother and Father are making phone calls. I can't sit up.
Ciara's sitting on the edge of my bed, only a few inches from me.
"Ciara means darkness," I tell her, shivering.
"When I saw you in the street…" I pant, exhausted. "I thought you looked like something the shadows gave birth to."
She smiles at that.
She wakes me up in the middle of the night, moonlight streaking her dark hair.
"You really do look like shadows…What's happening?" I whisper.
I start to cry, suddenly even though I accepted it that day on the doctor's table. "I can't."
"I know. I remember." She looks at me and tries to smile. "But you can."
I'm still crying, trying to hold onto myself, the pain of my mouth and stomach and skin. "I don't want to forget…"
"I won't let you. I won't let you forget." She sits back down next to me. "I promise."
I nod, and dry my face. "Can I braid my hair?"
I finish and just manage to sit up, propped against my headboard and panting. She's still watching me.
"Your name is Juliana. I'll tell you that every day if you need me to."
She looks at me like she's going to cry. "This will be quick, I promise. It won't hurt."
She spreads her arms and wraps them around me in an embrace, touching me for the first time. She's cold. "It won't hurt. I promise."
I just manage to get my arms back before I feel my soul slip out. It leaves through the pupils of my eyes, the undersides of my nails, the cracks in my lips, forced out by the last shuddering beats of my heart.
I died being embraced by the daughter of a shadow.
I was thirteen years old.