Della Tsang hadn't ever seen a ghost until she saw her dead cousin zip across the street and duck into the ally. If it hadn't been for the street light spitting out its spray of wattage overhead, she might have missed him.
And if it hadn't been for a scar that ran along his chin, she might have thought it was just someone who looked like Chan. Then again, it was after midnight. But she had spotted the scar. A scar she'd sort of given him when they'd been six, jumping on the trampoline and he'd collided with her head.
Hard-headed Della had been her family nickname after that. Sometimes Della wondered if she'd really been obstinate then, or if the name had just been another thing for her to live up to. Being of Asian descent, there were high expectations, sometimes too high. But because she and her sister were half-white, her father insisted they work twice as hard to prove that their parents' love hadn't tainted the family tree.
A pair of headlights moving down the road pulled Della's attention from the alley where Chan had disappeared. Not that she completely believed it was Chan. Did she?
The car drew nearer, and thinking it was Lee to pick her up, Della stepped off Lisa's front porch, leaving the sound of the party still going on behind her.
At least twice a month, Della and Lee tried to sneak away so they could be together for an entire night. She knew her parents would freak if they knew she and Lee were sleeping together. It wouldn't even matter that they were practically engaged. But at least Lee had gotten a stamp of approval from her father. Luckily, she agreed with him, too. Not that she agreed with her father on everything. However, Lee was everything Della wanted in a boyfriend-hot, popular, smart, and thankfully for her father's sake, Asian. It didn't even bother her that Lee wasn't totally into the party scene.
Stepping off the porch of her best friend's house, she gave the alley one last look. It couldn't have been Chan. She'd attended his funeral less than a year ago-had seen his casket being lowered into the ground. She remembered she hadn't cried. Her father had insisted she not. She wondered if her father would be disappointed if he knew that very night, while alone in bed, she had cried.
When the car drove closer, Della realized she'd been wrong. It wasn't Lee. She watched as the car moved down the street, past the alley. She stood there, staring, suddenly feeling alone in the dark, when her phone beeped with an incoming text. Pulling it out, she read the message. Parents still up. Will b late.
Frowning, she re-pocketed her phone and her gaze shifted back to the alley. What would it hurt to just . . . go check? To prove that ghosts didn't exist.
Moving slowly in the shadows, she neared the alley. The cold of the January night seeped through her leather jacket and the soft tap-tapping of her footsteps seemed loud. No sooner that she cut the corner did she hear yelling. She stopped short. Her breath caught at the sight of the fight -- or out-and-out war -- taking place. The sound of fist hitting flesh filled the cold darkness and she saw bodies being tossed up in the air like ragdolls.
Della might not be familiar in this darker side of life, but she immediately knew what she'd stumbled on. A gang war. Her heart jumped into her throat. She had to get out of here and fast.
She stepped back, but the heel of her shoe twisted and she lost her footing. Her leg shot up in the air and she went down with a loud thud.
Slamming butt first, her hands went back to catch herself. She felt a sharp pain in her palm, no doubt from a piece of glass from a broken beer bottle a few inches away. Winching, she muttered, "Shiae " The one word curse hadn't left her lips, when the dead silence suddenly drew her attention upward. The fighting had stopped and at least six guys, young, about her age, starting moving toward her. Moving oddly, as if . . . Their posture reminded her of a pack of animals, coming to check out their prey.
Della's focus shifted from the group's strange body movements to their eyes. Her heart jolted when she saw their eyes glowing a burnt orange color. Then low growling noises filled the shadows. "What the--"
Before she could finish her sentence, they were upon her. "Human. Yum," one of them said.
Tension filled her chest. "I'm leaving." She jumped to her feet.
Suddenly, she heard footsteps behind her, and knew they had her surrounded. The growling escalated and for second she could swear the sounds weren't human. She turned, hoping to find a path to run, but instantly something grabbed her around her middle and cold wind blasted against her face. She felt dizzy, disoriented, as if she were suddenly traveling at high speeds like a roller coaster. She tried to scream, but no sound came out. Darkness surrounded her and it took a second to realize she had her eyes closed. She tried to open them, but the rush of air coming at her stung so badly she slammed them back shut. What was the hell was happening? Now it felt as if . . . as if she were flying.
Or falling. No, not falling, someone, or something had her.
Her lungs screamed for air, but what she thought was an arm wrapped around her stomachcut off her ability to breathe. She tried to yank herself free, but her efforts were futile. Whoever had her was built of steel, his flesh felt cold, hard. Something wet seemed to ooze from her hand and she realized it was her blood from where she'd cut herself.
Right then the cut started to burn. Burn badly, as if someone had just doused it with rubbing alcohol. The searing pain seemed to follow her arm upwards, all the way to her chest and for a second her heart didn't beat. She gasped hoping to breath, but nothing seemed to get through to her lungs. Refusing to the let fear stop her, she forced the words out, "Let me go, you asshole!"
A jolt shot through her body, her feet hit the ground. The arm released her. Her knees buckled, but she caught herself at the last second and shot her eyes open. Blinking, she tried to focus, but everything appeared blurry.
"Breathe," someone said and she recognized the deep voice. Recognized Chan.
Ghosts did exist?
No, they couldn't.
A couple more seconds and her vision cleared and holy mother of pearls, she was right. Chan stood directly in front of her. Nausea hit. Her a palm still burned. She grabbed her middle, bent over and puked all over the front of her dead cousin.
"Oh, shit!" He lurched back.
She stood upright again and stared, thinking any minute now, she'd wake up. Or maybe it wasn't a dream. Had someone slipped something into her drink tonight? She pressed her palms into her eyes and didn't care that she was probably smearing blood from the cut on her hand all over her face.
When she dropped her hands, Chan stared, only now his black eyes glowed a bright green color.
He jumped back from her. "You're bleeding!"
"You're dead." She pressed her bloody hand on her middle hoping to squelch the nausea and hoping to wipe away the sting.
He pinched his black brows together and stared harder. "Friggin hell! You're turning."
"No, I'm not! I'm standing still. In one spot," she snapped. "Then again, I do feel dizzy." She closed her eyes and then popped them back open.
"You needed help so I . . . I didn't know you'd cut yourself or--"
"I did not need your help, I would have . . . I would have figured something out."
He shook his head. "Still hardheaded, huh?"
She hugged herself. "What just happened? No, what is happening." She looked around and saw they were no longer anywhere near Lisa's house or that dark alley where she'd gone looking for . . . "You're dead, Chan. How can you be here?"
He shook his head and stared at her forehead. "If I'd known you were bleeding, I wouldn't have. . . I should have known you were a carrier. But if I hadn't got you, the dogs would have eating you alive."
She stopped listening and tried to makes sense of the crap that had just happened. She remembered seeing the gang fight, then she fell, and then she'd been surrounded, and . . . "Oh damn, am I dead?"
"No. But you're going to think you're dying in just a bit. You touched me with an open wound. You're virus is turning live now. That's why you feeling like you do." He stopped talking and put his nose in the air. "Damn, the hounds are looking for us. We have to get you out of here." He reached for her and she jumped back.
"Stay away. You've got puke all over you."
"It's your puke."
"I don't care. I don't want it on me. I think--" Whatever she thought went out the mental window. Once again,the wind whipped her hair around her shoulders. Her long strands flipped around so hard, it stung when it slapped against her face.
* * *
Della's head hurt something fierce. Was this her official first hangover? How many beers had she had, only one, right? She never drank more than . . . She opened her eyes, and found herself staring at her bedroom ceiling. She knew it was her bedroom, because she could smell the vanilla scented candles and the Lemon Pledge she'd faithfully polished her furniture with every Friday. And her pillow still smelled like Lee, from when he'd dropped her off at home from school and no one was home. She loved how he smelled.
But how had she gotten home from the. . .
Fragments of memories started forming--Chan, the gang fight, flying.
She jackknifed up. Her head nearly exploded. "Crap," she muttered and told herself it had been a dream.