*Young Adult Paranormal Thriller 13+*
Five minutes into my Calc test, I glanced up and caught the new guy staring.
He sat across the aisle from me, his eyes locked on my glowy, see-through right hand and the pencil that hovered between my fingers, never quite touching them.
I slowly set my pencil on my desk.
His eyes tracked my movements, still staring.
I raised my fingers and gave him a cheesy little wave. Normally, that was enough to make people turn away and try not to notice my ghost hand. But not this guy. Instead, he looked up, straight into my eyes with this way-too-intense gaze.
God, what was his problem? So I had PSS of the right hand. Psyche Sans Soma was a rare birth defect, but most people had at least heard of it. There was stuff about it all over the internet, and Sixty Minutes had done a whole segment on it for Christ's sake. Besides, hadn't anyone taught him that staring was rude?
I curled my fingers into a fist and flipped him off, glaring at him through my own finger.
He raised his eyebrows and finally looked away, but I didn't miss the smirk that played across his lips as he did.
Why were the hot ones always such cocky, self-absorbed douche bags?
Unfortunately, there was no denying he was good-looking. He had dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin; not a tan but the kind that comes with your DNA. And he definitely had a nice body.
He glanced up from his test, caught me checking him out, and smirked even wider than before.
I felt the blush rise to my face and picked up my pencil, but after reading the next question four times, I still didn't know what it said. What kind of a jerk comes into a new town and a new school, and spends the first day of his Calc class trying to make someone else feel like a freak? He was the noob; not me. He was the mid-semester transfer no one knew anything about. And what was his name anyway? Seemed liked it began with a J. Or maybe an M.
At least he'd finally turned his attention away from me, his pencil scratching out answers the way mine should have been.
"Twenty minutes remaining," Mr. G droned from his desk. Great. The test was twenty problems long, and I was only on number five.
The clock on the wall behind Mr. G's ticked louder and louder as I scribbled down answers.
On question seven, my pencil tip snapped, the tiny mouse turd of lead rolling down the incline of my desk and dropping into my lap. I dug out another pencil from the backpack at my feet, and that's when I noticed that my ghost hand felt warm, which was weird. PSS was not temperature sensitive. I'd held my hand over an open flame and stuck it in a bucket of ice, both times on a dare, and never felt a thing.
I rolled the new pencil between my warm ghost fingers. Weird or not, I had a test to finish.
Passion Wainwright, who sat in front of me, got up from her desk and turned in her test. She was done already? Then again, Passion was the best student in the entire senior class. She had to be good at everything because she was the local pastor's daughter. Her parents had named her after The Passion of Christ, this Easter play her church did every year in which Passion always played the Virgin Mary. The part actually fit her pretty well, because despite being blonde and skinny and beautiful, guys did not pursue Passion Wainwright. She wore turtlenecks and long pants, even when it was warm, as if her wardrobe were some kind of "Do Not Enter" sign. She had a permanent parental waiver against changing for gym class because showing skin and wearing vintage nineties gym shorts was against her religion or something. Most days, I just felt sorry for her. Except when she turned in her Calc test with ten minutes to spare.
"Focus, Olivia," I told myself, but the heat in my fingers was bordering on uncomfortable. I could always write with my other hand; I was ambidextrous. But if I switched, New Guy would think he'd made me self-conscious with all his staring. No way was I giving him that satisfaction. I gripped the pencil tighter in my hot little hand and soldiered on.
Passion came back, sat down, and pulled out her Bible for a little light reading.
I flicked a glance at New Guy, but he wasn't there. He was turning in his test. I clutched my pencil and tried to answer question nine. I heard the rustle of New Guy sitting back down and caught a whiff of his cologne or deodorant—the smell of pine overlaid with a faint hint of smoke. It made me think of campfires, which made me think of how much my ghost hand felt like it was roasting over one.
I looked down at it and saw that my fingers were shimmering around the edges. I yanked my hand under my desk, sending my pencil clattering to the floor.
It landed in the aisle and rolled toward New Guy's desk. He put out a foot, trapping it, and kicked it back my direction, his glance following its progress as it came back to me, bumping up against the thick sole of my boot. His eyes rose up my calf to my thigh, then to my lap, stopping at the spot where I was doing my best to hide my hand under my desk.
I followed his gaze, looking down at the pool of blue PSS energy, shapeless and pulsing, writhing at the end of my wrist stump. I looked back up, locking eyes with him.
His expression was unreadable. He didn't look surprised, or afraid, or alarmed. He just looked, his eyes fixed on my wacked-out hand, as if curious to see what it would do next.
I gritted my teeth and tried to focus my PSS back into shape. I was not going to be this guy's personal freak show. I could fix this. It was just mind over matter.
But it didn't work. If anything, the more I tried, the worse it got, expanding and losing even more definition. The burning sensation grew so intense I squeezed my eyes shut against it. All around me, I could hear the scrape and shuffle of students getting up and handing in their tests. I bent over my desk, trying to block my hand from view. For a moment, I thought about getting up and running out of class, but someone would see my hand for sure if I did that. Maybe if I took a deep breath, and calmed down, it would go back to normal on its own.
As if in response to that thought, the pain suddenly eased off.
I opened my eyes.
New Guy was leaning over the edge of his desk, and there seemed to be something wrong with his neck. He kept jerking his head toward Passion. What did he want? An introduction to Virgin Mary the hotty? If so, his timing was utter crap.
"Leave me alone," I mouthed past clenched lips.
He shook his head and gave an exaggerated nod toward Passion again, rolling his eyes in her direction.
This time, I turned and looked.
Something was crawling up Passion's back.
Not just one something. Five somethings. Five elongated, wisp-thin tendrils, winding their way up Passion's chair, climbing her shirt, fluttering at the strands of hair that had escaped from her ponytail, making a moving, barely-perceptible pattern of bluish light on the back of her white turtleneck so faint I could almost convince myself it was an optical illusion.
But it wasn't.
It was my hand, my five fingers stretching impossibly and rising from under the front of my desk, groping the back of Passion Wainwright.
I yanked my wrist toward my body, but it made no difference. I couldn't feel my hand, couldn't control those fingers or call them back.
Passion, intent on her Bible reading, shivered as if she felt a draft and absently brushed an undulating tendril away from her neck.
The thickest finger, the one in the middle, rose up along her spine, stopping at a spot right between her shoulder blades. It held level for a moment, weaving back and forth like some ghostly snake dancing to the tune of an invisible flute. Then it dipped forward, slipping silently through the thin cotton fabric of Passion's shirt and straight into her back.
Passion didn't make a sound as she went limp, her torso gently slanting toward her desk; the tendril of PSS embedded in her back the only thing holding her up.
I didn't make a sound either, didn't move, didn't dare. What if moving made it worse? Oh my God, a voice yammered in my head, you think this could get worse?
I could feel New Guy's eyes boring into the side of my head. Obviously, he could see my PSS skewering Passion. Why didn't he jump up and scream and point? How could he just be sitting there so calmly?
I had to get away. But if I bolted, would my PSS come with me or stretch between my wrist and Passion like some horrible, incriminating rubber band? What would that do to my hand? What would it do to Passion?
I had no idea.
And before I could figure it out, the bell rang.