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Token of Darknessby Amelia Atwater Rhodes
Cooper gave a start. He had been lost in reverie, the content of which had fled his mind the moment Samantha had spoken.
"Necromantic golem," she repeated. "I'm just saying. It's an option." Cooper looked down, and realized he had nicked himself with the knife when she startled him. The cut wasn't bad, but he pulled his hand and the knife away from the counter and the compulsively neat apple slices sitting there.
"You're going to have to clarify for me," he said as he washed the cut and reached for a bandage. "And get off the counter."
"I'm not technically on the counter," she objected, "and I should think it would be the natural answer to our situation."
Cooper shook his head and studied Samantha as he carefully cleaned up after his mishap.
She was petite, standing only a little over five feet tall. She had straight blond hair with silver highlights that looked natural, along with a few streaks of teal that didn't. She was cute, actually, bordering on sexy, a fact that did not seem to be lost on her. Today she was wearing a short, pleated skirt--black with neon pink splotches--and a green and orange striped peasant-style blouse. Beneath the skirt, she wore gray paisley stockings, torn at the bottom to expose most of her bare feet. Her eyes were . . . well, it was hard to tell. They were prismatic. Looking in them almost gave Cooper as much of a headache as today's outfit did.
Cooper had asked Samantha about her clothes at some point over the summer. She had told him she didn't decide what to "wear"--her clothes were no more solid than she was--but admitted that she "liked bright colors." Very bright, apparently.
She certainly looked like she was sitting on the counter, but of course it didn't matter. She could as easily have been standing in the counter, or on the wall or the ceiling. She did things like that sometimes, defying the laws of physics without seeming to notice or care.
If she had been alive, it probably would have been considered a health hazard when she walked through the food, but since she was a ghost and not dripping ectoplasm, it was only annoying. And only to Cooper, because no one but him seemed able to see her. Even when she lay in the middle of the pastries display case as if it were Snow White's glass coffin, everyone else was oblivious to her presence, including Cooper's father, who owned the shop.
"Seriously," she insisted now, apparently not ready to let this idea drop. "Golem."
He rolled his eyes. "I assume you mean for you."
"And I assume you mean I should make one, so you can . . . take it over, or whatever."
"It's not possession if it's a golem, since they don't have souls, right?" she said, making him wince at the way her voice echoed when she got excited. "And it's not a zombie or anything since you'd be making it and not using a dead person."
"You wouldn't be able to sit on the ceiling anymore if you actually had a body," he pointed out.
She paused, chewing her lip, then shrugged, and fell halfway through the counter before finding her feet on the floor. "I wouldn't be able to sit on the ceiling, but I'd be able to . . . to curl up on a cold night, wrapped in a blanket, with a mug of raspberryhot cocoa. So, what do you say?"
"I say I don't know how to make a golem, necromantic or otherwise."
"You use clay, duh!"
"Where do you get this stuff?" he asked. "Clay. Okay. And then . . . ?"
"Then . . . then . . . I want a body! I'm sick of this non-corporeal crap. Check out the library's occult section. Check out Harry Potter. I don't care!"
With the last outburst, Samantha flickered like a candle flame going out and disappeared. Cooper shrugged and turned back to see if the apples were salvageable. He wasn't worried about Samantha. She often disappeared, and always came back. Maybe he should have been concerned about himself since he was the only person who could see her, but he wasn't. He knew better than to tell anyone else about her, though; they would probably lock him away in a padded room somewhere. Could he really blame them?
The fact of the matter was, he was being haunted by the color-coordination-challenged ghost of a teenage girl. She had appeared by his bedside when he had woken in a hospital last July, and neither of them knew why.
He finished cutting the apples and started laying them into tarts. The work was soothing, mechanical. His father was in the next room, kneading bread dough; occasionally, his soft humming reached as far as this room, but mostly it was quiet, the way Cooper liked it. He appreciated the routine of waking up at four in the morning, getting to the shop by four-thirty to bake bread and pastries and brew the coffee before they opened at seven. Then--at least on weekdays, like today--he hung up his apron as his father spoke to the first of the morning's customers, rolled down his sleeves, and trudged fifteen minutes to school.
Before this summer, he would have laughed at the guy he was now: quiet, reserved, and living very much in his own head, instead of constantly surrounded by outgoing friends who only managed by sheer luck not to get kicked out of every public place they entered.
It was only the fourth day of his senior year of high school. It was going to be a long year, and not because the day started when he had already been awake for more than three hours . . . often longer. . . .
The problem was, he couldn't find it in him to care about this year. He used to care about things, people. His room, his stuff. His friends, especially the other guys on the Lenmark Ocelots football team, including John, who had been his best friend since sixth grade. He had barely seen any of them since the end of the previous school year. Then there was his car, a 1993 Dodge Colt hatchback--more than a decade old with more than a hundred thousand miles on it, but it rode like a dream, like his dream, like freedom.
Cooper didn't have that anymore, either, and he didn't miss it, even yesterday, when he had walked from his father's coffee shop to school in a fine drizzle. His father had offered to let him take the family car, but he hadn't minded the cold or the rain or the way it made Samantha sparkle as it fell through her.
From the Hardcover edition.
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