Spooked Online - Tracy Sharp

Chapter One

I didn’t mean to steal his secret. Back then, when it all began. But that’s what I did.

I’d been standing in a toy store with my father, looking at cars for my brother’s birthday when the man came up beside us. He stood next to me, and when I looked up at his face, he gave me a smile and a wink before looking back at the cars. Something in him seemed sad to me, and I watched him for a moment, wondering why.

Something strange happened then. An odd, faint, buzzing sound came into my head, and his skin changed from pale white to gray. He looked down at me again, his brows furrowed. In my head I heard him crying, though he wasn’t actually crying at all.

A vision came to me, of him as a boy jumping into a swimming pool, holding a tiny girl in his arms, the colors of a beach ball floating near them seeming too bright in the harsh sunshine.

It wasn’t a secret that she’d drown. The secret was that she’d been pestering him to play with her, following him around as she always had, beach ball almost too big for her to carry. Annoyed, he’d tossed the beach ball into the water so she wouldn’t be able to reach it. She’d stood in front of him, red-faced and wailing, little hands curled into tight fists.

He’d gone through the sliding glass doors to get away from the sound. He went into the living room to tell his mother, but she wasn’t out of the shower yet.

The phone rang. His buddy Joe was on the phone, telling him about the monster truck show coming to town the next weekend. They started making plans. Joe’s dad would take them.

And he forgot all about Lindy.

The secret was that he’d tossed that ball into the pool, and she’d gone to the edge to try to reach it.

Nobody had ever known that he’d tossed the ball into the water, and the guilt had made him sick, clawing at him, day after day. Year after year.

The buzzing in my head became deafening, and a black, filmy substance billowed out of his nose and mouth, floating away from him, toward the store lights.

I stared at him and he stared at me, his skin becoming rosy, glowing. He looked healthy. Better than healthy. He looked wonderful. He smiled the most serene, joyful smile I’d ever seen.

My father had witnessed the astonishing exchange between the stranger and me. Alarmed, he pulled me by the hand from the store as I watched the man and he watched me, a look of awe and complete adoration on his face.

That was the beginning of the most fantastic thing that ever happened to me.

It was also the worst thing to ever happen to me, because it was the day my father sent me away.

***

I didn’t understand why I was being sent away. My mother hugged me fiercely, making tiny keening sounds as her tears soaked my neck.

We drove for a long time. Day turned into night. Finally, we came to a road that led up to a little house on a hilltop. Houses congregated at the bottom of the hill, but this little house stood alone, apart from the others. I could see water below the hill. The ocean.

“This is where I grew up,” my father said, taking my suitcases from the back of the car and placing them on the pebbled ground. He knelt before me, looking me in the eyes while his own watered. “We have to hide you before they take you from us.” He brushed curls from my eyes. “Someday you’ll understand. It’s the only way to keep you safe, love.”

I was to stay with an aunt whom I’d only met one time before. My father’s sister. When I met her, at the wedding of a cousin, I sensed that the rest of the family didn’t quite like her. She made them nervous, because she was different from them.

She was frightening to me, because she seemed rather cold. She didn’t hug me the way my mother and father had, every day of my four years, right until I was sent to live with her. But she was fair and funny, and other than hugs, she gave me what I needed.

When I was feeling blue, or in a dark mood, she’d mostly let me be. But many times she’d do or say things to make me laugh. She’d sing funny songs, or do a crazy