Name: Jessica Becker
Genre: YA Paranormal
Title: The Body Thief
I never should have left the house. I debated this even as I sat shivering on one of the stone-cold benches planted along the perimeter of the fair. I ticked off the reasons in my head. Summer project for school. Babysitting my cousin Hazel. The bodies of dead girls that kept showing up on new moon nights.
Needless to say, this last fact changed the very atmosphere of the fair itself. There were less people here than normal, or at least less females. The truth though: no one knew why teenaged girls tended to die on this night. They weren’t murdered or anything. That would have been easier to understand. And according to the know-it-all neighbor next door, they didn’t die painfully either. The girls just dropped dead. Not violently at all. Just gone. It could happen at home or while waiting for coffee at The Shack. But whenever you heard a story about eleven girls dying in your town, you tended to think about it. And I did. A lot.
In the end, Hazel convinced me to take her to the fair. No amount of card playing or cookie bribes could deter her. She argued that her mom would be closer in case something did happen and that rides and fried ice cream were the perfect distraction. I guess I agreed with her. A little.
It was the last weekend of July and too cold to be considered summer. Peddler’s Fair weekend was a local tradition that wouldn’t be deterred by an untimely “coincidence.” It was erected within the large parking lot in front of Ojai Valley high school. Trees separated us from the main road, but I still had a clear view of the bell tower on the other side. Rows of white tents lined one side of the rectangle with food trucks parked opposite. Roller coasters creaked and whirred around bends and loops. I loved the fair. I loved the food on sticks and games no one ever really won, and the way people raced from one ride to the next. I loved the smell of barbecue and spun sugar intermingled with the sticky sweetness of everything fried. I even loved the awful music pouring from the house of mirrors.
My best friend, Jai Bennet, glanced in my direction with a lopsided grin. He wasn’t fazed by the new moon stories. Jai, who chased creepy stories to thrill some weird fascination. He liked to be scared.
“You okay, Callie?” He asked in his too-concerned voice as he sorted our ride tickets.
“Then stop looking like that,” he said.
I snagged a piece of funnel cake I held balanced on my knees. “Like what?”
“Like you’re going to puke. Like the whole world is about to explode.”
“I’m not.” I fiddled with the ring around my thumb, and watched the reflection of the strung lights flicker in the puddles on the street. Food wrappers littered the ground.
“You’re sitting there like a lump. I thought this was your favorite weekend?”
“Shut up. I’m fine.” I glanced at the clock. The minutes pressed forward. My aunt would close up her tent in the next hour and shepherd us all home. She’d tell us stories of all the people that sought her advice, making her work seem important. For the first time ever, I welcomed my curfew.
Hazel cozied into my shoulder, watching me closely. She probably sensed my restlessness. Hazel wasn’t like other ten year olds. She carried this seriousness within her and rarely spoke. She used big words and read books I could never finish. And she often stared at me like one of her books, like I was some story she was meant to discover.
“Think we’ll know the next one?” I asked Jai. I didn’t look at him. I didn’t want him to see the worry in my eyes.
“It’s not even going to happen.”
“Don’t tell me you’re like every other person that thinks it’s a coincidence.” I said coincidence like it tasted sour in my mouth.
His eyes lit up. “Just stop. Nothing’s going to happen.”
He nudged me in the side.
Maybe he was right. Maybe I worried for nothing. But it would happen somewhere. And how could it be stopped if no one ever saw it coming?
A girl with dark hair and ivory skin sidled up next to Jai. I turned away as she touched his shoulder in a familiar way. Jai laughed and said something into her ear. It could be her.
Hell, it could be me. Well, it could if my skin lightened a couple of shades. And my eyes would have to change color. Most of the girls had blue eyes and mine were decidedly mixed. One brown and one blue. Still.
The girl faced me and raised her eyebrows in recognition. “Oh, you were Raven’s sister, right?” Were. Past tense. As in no longer. Now I was just sister-less. The word pinged inside my head like an annoying reminder. The girl paid no attention. It was just a word after all. Raven’s sister. Even dead, she was my identifying feature.
Jai glanced in my direction, looking almost as if she struck him. The mention of Raven would forever haunt him no matter how much time passed. He didn’t need to hear her name to remember, he had his silver hooked scar on his cheek for that. It faded to almost nothing in the last year. Almost.
I bit my lip and tried not to think of her. I tried not to think of how she fell asleep while driving. I tried not to think of her crumpled car. And I especially tried not to think that she died exactly one month before all this weirdness started. Funny thing though: as soon as you tried not to think of something, then it stuck around for an uncomfortably long time. So, I did what I did best—I avoided eye contact and looked up. I swallowed the knot in my throat and counted to ten.
The girl prattled on and on, and it wasn’t until she said goodbye that I realized I hadn’t heard a word.
“Hey, Callie?” I could tell he had been saying my name for a while by the way his eyebrows pinched together. He pulled a handful of change from his pocket and shook it in his hand like dice. “Want to go on a ride or something? Or get some more food?” He turned towards the row of food trucks lining the street. Teriyaki beef sticks, corn dogs, brisket sandwiches, fried onion blossoms, chocolate covered bacon…
Hazel leaned forward. Her sandy hair fell over her shoulder, matching her hazel eyes completely. She was tanned like a bottle of honey and dotted with freckles across her nose. “I should take Hazel back to my aunt,” I said.
“Do you want me to come with?” He asked. “Winnie said she’d read my palm for five bucks.”
“I just saw someone go into her tent. You should eat or whatever.”
“Alright. I’ll be back then.” Jai smiled and in this light, the scar on his face bloomed silver. He spun on his heel, an almost graceful move considering his height. Jai was freakishly tall. Between that and his aquamarine t-shirt, he made it easy to spot him in the crowds.
Out of the silence, Hazel asked, “Do you see anything?” She pressed her chubby hand into mine and gave a gentle squeeze.