There's a ghost in my lungs And it sighs in my sleep,
Wraps itself around my tongue, as it softly speaks then it walks,
then it walks with my legs
To Fall, To Fall
To Fall, at your feet.
-Florence and the Machine
To Fall, To Fall
To Fall, at your feet.
-Florence and the Machine
Rain dimpled early morning puddles, wide and deep from the constant sprinkle. Esther splashed through them, eyes on her cell, a small pink umbrella held in the crook of her arm. She scrolled through her list of contacts, mentally comparing each to the odd Muninn screen name who, according to Google, was the Norse god Odin's most beloved raven and represented memory. She paused at an intersection and absentmindedly pushed the crosswalk button with her elbow, getting to the last contact, Evalyn Yenettez ,with no epiphany.
Esther wasn’t aware of anyone who knew anything about Norse mythology and the internet hadn’t been very helpful on the specifics; the Wiki page being barely half a screen. As she idly plotted getting into the school library before first period, a shimmer shot across her fingers and caused a blinding light to flare from the cell phone screen. She cringed and lowered the cell, glancing around for the source. Good bet some kid is entertaining himself with his mother's compact. After cautiously scanning a few cars, she shut her phone and shoved it into her satchel. The cross walk sign switched and she stepped into the street. Half way across the shine again flashed before her eyes. She jerked her head away from the sudden light. The ray died out slowly, making her rub at her eyes, and as it did, she noticed a sparkle in her peripheral vision. She pivoted around.
A shimmer, at least as tall as Esther herself, wafted in the cold breeze, raindrops disrupting the slight patterns of muted colors. She stared, blinking hard to get rid of the mirage, but it remained; hovering just a few inches off the ground and moving slowly towards the edge of the side walk where she had been moments ago. She took a step towards it.
Another...thing? Is it real?
A car horn jolted her out of her thoughts and she scurried across the street.
"Sorry! Sorry! I'm sorry!" She paused, leaning onto the streetlight to catch her breath. Ok. That was dumb... Her head lifted at a soft chime to her right. Another glare of light and she faced the street she just crossed, rubbing her eyes. And there it was again. A glistening piece of air, undulating so slowly it was easy to miss, distorting the view behind it, melting the avenue like a sidewalk drawing dosed with rain. The umbrella slipped off her shoulder and she righted it with a jerk. The shimmer pulsed at the sudden movement then wafted from the sidewalk and into the street, colors buffeted by the passing cars, its form waving and moving like water against an invisible oval like barrier. It proved brittle as some of the more enthusiastically swaying pieces of glisten broke off to dissipate in the air like spider webs as it lost contact with the whole.
Is it...following me? Esther backed down the side walk. With a ripple, the shimmer moved forward, faster then before, with an obvious lurch. It’s following me! With a yelp she whirled and pelted up the sidewalk, satchel gripped to her chest.
First shadows, now... water vapor monsters? Why? Go away! Just go away!
She rounded the corner -- a high fence along the side of the avenue covered with a thick mass of ivy signaling the road up to Westin -- and saw a familiar white and blue golf umbrella at the block's edge ahead.
"Ro! Wait!" She picked up speed as Ro jerked to a halt at the corner.
Esther slide to a stop on the slick sidewalk, nearly colliding with Ro. She gasped for air for a few seconds, hands on her knees, umbrella bouncing on the pavement, aware Ro was speaking to her but unable to hear over her own frantically beating heart. One hand on her side, she raised her head, staring past the girl and up at the swollen gray clouds.
"I said, what's the rush?"
Esther bit her lip, still trying to slow her breathing. "Is there...is there something behind me?"
"Did you see anything? Behind me.” Esther waved a hand toward the street. “It's like a...shimmer. In the air. It was almost like it was...following me."
"Do what now?"
"It was like… a heat haze but vertical and it had some...colors...in it." Esther’s voice slowed at Ro's incredulous look.
Ro's eyes glanced over Esther's head and up the sidewalk, and then returned with a hint of concern.
Esther's jaw set and she pushed herself upright. "Forget it."
"Talking about heat hazes stalking you in winter."
"I said forget..." Esther stumbled to a halt, staring at Simon. Oh no! He must have been behind Ro the whole time. "Oh! Sorry!"
The boy's hand twitched as if to steady her, but shot into the pocket of his jacket instead.
"Apparently Si takes the 23 green like me," Ro said by way of explanation. She grinned. "Well, when I make it. But he doesn't tend towards brollies either. So we walked together." She blinked. "Oh, you have yours today."
Esther backed up a bit from Simon. "Monica left it in the stand for me." Her umbrella hit Ro’s and a shower of water splattered Simon. "I’m sorry!”
Simon turned away from the girls and shook his head like a wet dog, sending the offending water flying off thick red hair, and then brushed at the front of his jacket.
“Can’t stay outta the water, eh?” Ro laughed. "Just for that, you two get to share.” She stuck out her tongue and rounded the corner. “Well, come on then!”
Esther glanced at Simon, who’d gone an interesting shade of red. “Well…uh…”
Simon stuck out his hand, still not meeting Esther’s eyes. “I’ll carry it.”
“Huh? Oh!” Esther handed over the umbrella. “You don’t mind carrying a girl’s umbrella?”
“I’m not worried about it,” he said as they caught up to Ro.
“What if those seniors…see?”
He gave a noncommittal, “Humph.”
“If the seniors start making fun of him,” Ro said, walking backward to speak to them, “I can always say at least he was walking a pretty girl to school.”
Simon and Esther immediately became very interested in opposite sides of the avenue.
The three of them traveled up the hill in awkward silence until a sharp jingle came from Ro's school bag.
"Oh, hey! Wait just a sec." Ro dug into her backpack, the ringing growing louder. They paused alongside the ivy.
The sound of spokes chocked with clackers getting louder caught Simon’s attention. He glanced up the road in time to see a bike topping the hill. The rider took his feet off the pedals as the bike gained momentum from the incline, a small passenger on the book-rack behind him whooping with glee.
The bike whizzed up, riding over the gutter and sending a huge wave careening along the sidewalk. Esther yelped and jumped backwards into Simon. He spun in front of her, grabbing her wrist to pull her close and jerking the umbrella down. Dirty water splashed up, only to be caught in the perfectly placed umbrella.
"Alright?" he asked, gaze firmly planted on the ivy beside to her left ear.
His hand left hers and pink nylon skimmed the sidewalk.
"Oh!" Esther caught a glimpse of moving vapor, spinning in the wake of the bike and tumbling down the hill.
"Who the bloody-- Oh." Ro rolled her eyes. She tapped a few keys on her phone then slid it into her pocket. "Figures."
Esther looked over Simon's shoulder, and then moved smartly to the other side of Ro. She heard the other girl sigh.
"Relax, will ya?"
"Whoes that?" Simon asked with a jerk of his chin in the bike’s direction.
Ro glared at the boy who was now slowing in front of Westin’s main gates. "Jacob. And his little sister Leyah."
"One of Tobie's gang?"
"How'd ya guess," Ro muttered, glaring at Esther’s grip on her arm.
In the distance, they could see Jacob hit the brakes. The little girl jumped off the bike and turned to face him, her small arms reaching up. After a quick scan of the Quad, he bent and allowed her to throw her arms around his neck, then straightened quickly.
"Bet she goes to the Wilton Conservatory across the hill," Ro said, watching the little girl bounce into puddles as she walked backwards, waving at her big brother. He gave a nod then hopped back on his bike to zoom through the gates.
"Get 'em young," Esther heard Simon mutter. She thought a moment then asked, "Simon, do you...uh...Do you use AIM?"
Simon's ears flushed a bright red. "Yeah."
"I got your's from Ro," he blurted. "Hopeyoudontmind."
"Oh. No, its fine. I just..."
"Are you coming to the field house for lunch?"
"Yeah I guess so. But Si--"
Esther gazed after his quickly retreating back. "Uhm, ok then." She turned at Ro's chuckle. "What?"
"Better hurry or Lampman will have something to say about you being late. Wouldn't want even more attention, eh?" She nudged her friend, sending drops of rain down from both umbrellas, then hurried after Simon.
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