Chapter I: The Walking Tragedy

Kacey looked out over the edge of the bridge, watching students mill out of the school parking lot. Her eyes were glazed and her expression vacant. A million things were running through her mind. She had a project that night that had to be finished. She'd been putting it off for weeks, and it was time to pay up.

A flock of seagulls flew overhead, their shadows creating ripples in the harsh sunlight. She tucked a strand of her red hair behind her ear. She'd stayed home sick that day to catch up on her work, but figured out very quickly that the book she needed was still at school, probably lost somewhere underneath all the trash in her locker. Sighing, she turned around to sit on the safety rail, only to come face to face with a blindingly pale boy.

"H-hi," she gasped, "You scared the crap outta me. Anyone ever tell you that you almost look ghostly on a sunny day?"

Ryder Henders smiled, revealing dimples and shaking shaggy, white blond hair from his eyes. "I look dead even on the best of days." He pulled his hood back a bit to kiss her, and then quickly looked up. "Huh, lotta crows."

Kacey raised her head. What she'd thought were seagulls earlier were actually sinister looking, vulture-like birds, cawing loudly and perching on a nearby power line. She shuddered. "Weird. Did you get my stuff?"

"Naturally," he said, pulling her history book from his olive-green messenger bag. "Took some digging, though." He began flipping the pages, his milky blue eyes tracing the text. "Oh, what's this? You love Marilyn Manson? And look at all these little hearts. I'm jealous."

"That was there when I got it," she said testily, snatching it from him. Once again he revealed his dimples. "You don't seem too upset," she informed him, stuffing it into her own bag.

"It's hard to express how you're feeling when you don't hardly have eyebrows."

"You don't need eyebrows to smile."

"I wish I had them sometimes."

"We could always dye them."

His strange hair color made his brows almost impossible to differentiate from his skin a lot of the time. He really made a bigger deal out of it than was necessary most of the time, however.

"Then they wouldn't match anything," he whined. Kacey rolled her eyes.

"Make up your mind: eyebrows or no eyebrows?"

"How about one eyebrow?"

"I wouldn't go out with you in public."

"Marilyn Manson doesn't have eyebrows sometimes, and you think he's hot, so I guess I can deal."

"I do not think he's hot!"

He made a noise in his throat that could have been laughter, then leaned in and pulled her into his embrace. She breathed in deeply, getting a nose full of his subtle aftershave that smelled slightly of cinnamon.

"Don't pretend to be sick again. School blows without you," he told her, "Everyone thought you'd died." He then leaned in a little closer. "But you can make it up to me. We'll go to my house, eat those Taco Bell cinnamon things that I've been hoarding for months now. Watch a movie."

"No," she said sternly, pulling away even though it seemed almost painful to do so. "I have a project to do." He pouted, his full lips pushed out and his eyes watery.

"Goodie, goodie. Alright, but only because you're the one responsible for going to college and supporting me," he told her, "Want me to call you later?"

"No," she mumbled, "I have a lot to get done, and you're a pretty big distraction."

"A big, pale distraction."

"Do you have to bring that into everything?" she asked. "It's not like that would even bother me over the phone."

"Sorry," he said sheepishly, "It's hard to not mention it when you're reminded of it every waking minute of every day."

There was a bitter note in his voice. She swallowed, starting down the sidewalk. She knew that she should say something comforting about how much she loved him and didn't care what everyone else said or thought, but all of those assurances would seem thin and watery to him after the harsh insults he had probably endured that day.

"See you tomorrow," she called. He waved limply, heading in the opposite direction. Every step closer she got to her car, however, the more she was dreading opening up her heavily vandalized book and starting on the loathsome project.

The alarm clock went off, causing her to jerk backwards, knocking papers off her desk. She yawned sleepily, eyeing the World War II scrapbook, which had to be the most ridiculous thing she'd ever heard of. At least it was done.

Feeling groggy, Kacey stumbled into the shower, found that there was no more hot water, and washed grudgingly in an ice-cold deluge. She dressed quickly, pulling on some baggy gray capris and a striped maroon and white T-shirt.

When she got to school, she stood at her locker for a while, waiting for Ryder to come and walk her to class. No sign of him. Thinking he was just late (a common occurrence) she went on without him, brewing many insults inside her head to throw at him later.

She presented her scrapbook to the class in sharp, cryptic sentences and in a monotone voice. Besides that, World History was boring. She rushed into the hall when the bell rang, straining to look over people's heads for any sign of him. A no go. She saw a curly, brown-haired head bouncing down the hall and struggled to catch up.

"Amber! Wait!"

The girl turned around, her eyes wide with shock. "Are you talking to me?"

Kacey rolled her eyes. "Yes." She and Ryder had been dating a year, and some of her friends were still a little raw over past negligence. "Have you seen Ryder?"

Amber shrugged, raising her head in a haughty manner. "No. He's probably not here, seeing as he's pretty hard to miss."

Kacey set her face into a stony glare, and Amber immediately bustled off. Sighing, she headed for her next class. Then the next. Then the next… Even by the end of the day there was still no Ryder to be found. She figured he'd been jinxed instead of her over faking sick. He was always the unlucky one. She got into her junky car and began the drive home, blasting music out the windows.

Pulling into her sub division, she immediately recognized something was wrong. At her house there were two police cars with the lights on, and some officers were standing at the porch, talking to her nervous looking mother. She practically leaped from the car in her effort to find out what was going on.

"Hey," she panted, stepping beside her mom. "What's up?"

One of the policeman was old and looked as if he'd had his fair share of doughnuts in his lifetime. The other was red-haired and pink skinned.

"Hello, Kacey, I'm Chief Newman. Have a good day at school—"

"Cut to the chase," she demanded. "What's wrong?" Her heart was beating. She wondered if her uncle had escaped from jail or something. Chief Newman, the fatter man, took a deep breath.

"When was the last time you saw Ryder Jonathon Henders?"

Her heart dropped. She could feel her stomach churn and tighten, and she pulled a shaky hand to her mouth, using the other to grab hold of a post near her for balance. The officers seemed to understand, and just waited for her to calm down.

"Why? What's wrong with him?"

"When?"

"Yesterday, now what the hell is wrong with Ryder?!" She was already getting hysterical. She felt her mom wrap an arm around her waist but didn't turn back to look at her. The pink-looking officer looked her in the eye and licked his chapped lips.

"He was reported missing this morning after not returning home from school. Yesterday."

She dug her nails into her arms and felt her legs turn into jelly beneath her. When they hit the wood of the porch, she didn't even notice. All she could think was "Not Ryder…Please, not Ryder…" How could she be so stupid? She should've known when he hadn't called her. Sure, she told him not to, but it wasn't like he ever listened. The officers droned on about how there was probably no reason to worry, that he was most likely out with friends, just being a rebellious teenager. They tried to tell her that they dealt with these things all the time, and that he would probably come back in a couple days.

But she knew they were wrong. Ryder didn't do things like this. Not without telling her anyways. A dull cawing echoed in the distance, clawing at their closed, "we have bad news" bubble. Crows dipped up and down in the sky as if they were performing some complicated, well-planned routine. Deep down, she knew he was never coming back.

The next few weeks were spent in fruitless attempts to find Ryder Henders. Notices where everywhere. Search Parties were released. People who'd never talked to the guy were suddenly his best friends. People who had hated Kacey's guts before were now by her side, comforting her twenty-four seven. But the weeks turned to months, and it seemed that it was too soon that they began searching for a body rather than a living boy. They found his shoe in a gutter near the bridge almost a week after his disappearance. It was caked in blood. The blood was his.

The grief was almost too much to bear. Kacey couldn't get anyone to understand. She couldn't "get over it" like everyone tried to tell her to because he hadn't been found. There was no closure; therefore her heart could not heal. She couldn't accept the fact that he was gone when there was still no body. Two weeks after the shoe had been found, a piece of scalp with white-blond hair still clinging to the skin was discovered. It was nearly decayed, but a simple DNA test proved what she had already feared. They kept it in case the parents finally consented to a funeral. It could possibly be all they would have to bury.

A year passed, and she still couldn't look up when she heard the cawing of crows. She hadn't been on the bridge since the day he'd given her the history book. She'd never returned it. Instead she kept it in her room, feeling that it somehow held some significance to everything, as it was probably the last thing he touched.

She played the last day they'd been together over and over again in her mind, trying to put the pieces together. She couldn't dwell on the kiss. It was too painful, and haunted by the black shadows of cursed crows.

A year and a half went by. No one checked the newspapers anymore. No one called to see how she was. No one confronted her at school. She sat at a table alone at lunch, drowning her grief in badly written adventure novels. She was alienated by tragedy, and people couldn't be around her without being drug into her own little pool of despair.

"Hey Kacey," a familiar voice asked. Kacey set down her book, slowly looking up. Amber stood in front of her, a weak smile on her face.

"I was thinking…we haven't done anything together in a while, and…"

Already dread was filling Kacey's stomach, but she remained expressionless for Amber's sake. Her friend had helped her put up missing person posters around town despite her reservations. She deserved decency.

"I was wondering if you'd like to come out to eat with me, or something…"

Maybe it was the way that Amber seemed to have given up on her cause in the middle of her sentence. Maybe she'd just sat around doing nothing for too long. Whatever the reason, she felt the need to prove Amber's expectations wrong.

"That sounds really nice. What time should I meet you, and where?"

Amber's eyebrows raised, but she quickly regained her composure, plastering a smile on her face.

"I'll pick you up around seven. How does Italian sound?"

Kacey nodded, wringing out her hands. Amber stared down at her, something unreadable in her face, then walked back to her own table, of which all the occupants were staring stupidly.

A bit later Kacey was back at home, half-heartedly getting ready. She pulled a white sun dress she'd never worn out of the closet. Tags were still dangling off of it. After she put it on, she turned around and spotted herself in the mirror. Feeling her eyes well up, she bit her knuckle to suppress an all-out breakdown. Taking deep breaths, she headed downstairs, her purse dangling from one arm.

As she'd suspected, Amber's car was already outside. She slipped in the passenger seat, smiling vaguely.

"Hey," Amber said, driving out of the sub division. "You look pretty."

"Thanks," Kacey mumbled back, "you too."

Those were some of the only words spoken that evening. Amber apparently sensed that Kacey didn't want to talk, and pretty much shut down altogether. The food was good, and the calming, yet silent evening was over too soon, however disappointed Amber was.

"I…I think I'll walk home," Kacey told her friend when they stepped out onto the street. Amber looked skeptical.

"Are you sure? That's a long way."

"I'm sure. I need some time to think."

Amber seemed to understand, and bade her well before getting into her car and driving off. Sighing, Kacey turned and headed down a remote street, opposite of the direction to her house.

For a while she just closed her eyes, however dangerous it might be. She let her legs carry her where they pleased, and she listened to cars soar past her. She let a sense of numbness wash over her. Before she knew it, she was on the bridge, a place she hadn't dared to approach for a year and a half. Her own course of action scared her.

Swallowing, she placed a hand on the guardrail, peering over the edge to the water below. City lights were reflected in its surface like twinkling stars. She felt the knot in her chest tighten. Already she was struggling to breath properly without sobbing. It was too much. Too much tragedy. Nothing had changed except for the lighting. The graffiti was the same, the dirty concrete.

"I look dead even on the best of days."

With a gasp, Kacey spun around, spotting a shadow in the distance on the other side of the bridge. Her hands clawed at a necklace draped around her neck. She refused to believe what she was hearing. She was delusional.

"But I'm sure I look even more dead than usual, today." And then the figure stepped into the light.