A Touch Mortal - By Leah Clifford


Eden dug her hand into the damp sand, black polish chipping off the tips of her fingernails. The sand was cold, the beach pockmarked by late afternoon raindrops. A gust of wind ruffled through her dark hair. Eden sighed.

Last month there had been a string of parties, out-of-control times. She checked her phone. No missed calls. She couldn’t figure out what she’d done to get the cold shoulder from everyone the last few weeks. Even her mom no longer questioned where she was, if she was even alive.

Screw them. I just have to hang on until graduation and I’m out, she thought, trying to convince herself she’d make it that long. An entire year. But then she could hit the road, go somewhere else where every day wasn’t bullshit. Start over.

Even in her head the words sounded like lies. It wasn’t like she had a college fund, or could take off to some faraway campus. She didn’t have the grades to get in anyway.

So that’s the extent of your brilliant plan? Eden sifted her fingers through the sand, coming back to the same facts. No car. No money. No job. If she got lucky, she’d spend the next fifty years working the front desk at one of the hotels in this crappy tourist town.

Her mind went to her other option, the one she considered more every day. What was the difference between feeling dead, knowing her whole life would be that way, and actually being dead? It wasn’t like anyone would miss her. They clearly didn’t now.

This time she didn’t push the idea away. She wanted the thought of death to hold some thrill, terror. Wrongness. Instead, it held an empty acceptance her body ached for.

She dug her fingers deeper, and something distinctly not sand hit her fingers.

“Sick.” She yanked up her hand, taking a cluster of decayed scales with her. The wind changed direction, bringing the faint smell of salty dead fish. “Little late for the warning,” she muttered, scanning the area for an abandoned towel, anything to wipe off the goo. She grabbed a soggy magazine page out of the sand and tried to scrape her fingers clean. “God, can nothing go right?”

As if in answer, Eden’s skin prickled. She raised her head.

The beach had cleared out while the sun finished setting. Only two couples remained, but she could barely make out their horizontal outlines in the darkness. Carnival sounds and the scents of popcorn and cotton candy floated down from the boardwalk. There were two guys walking close to the water’s edge coming down the beach. They were still a good fifty feet away, but closing the distance. She watched them for a moment, wondering if she knew them. They seemed to be heading right for her.

Eden rolled her eyes once she realized she didn’t recognize them, preparing herself. It was Jersey; getting hassled by guys was just another fact of summer. She normally put a few hours’ effort into achieving her normal balance between the fashionable “leave me alone” and a more stylish “I’m not afraid to knee your groin.” Lately though, even makeup seemed like too much work. She settled for a glare, hoping it would be enough.

The blond one was in a dark green polo, the color setting off his hazel eyes. With the short sleeves and his tattered-to-be-trendy jeans, he had to have been freezing. Suffering just to pander to underage cheerleaders. Clearly a winner, she thought, and then second-guessed herself. Something about him set her gaydar screaming. Lovers’ stroll? She eyed the other one. Brown curls, dark sweater, paired with cargo pants. Be gay. Be gay and keep walking. He noticed her giving him the once-over and smiled in a way no gay boy in history had ever smiled at a girl. She shifted her eyes back to the water, but they stopped next to her. Perfect.

When she turned toward them, the one who had smiled at her brushed his hair back from his face.

“Your eyes are blue, like the ocean.” She raised an eyebrow in annoyance, unable to believe he went with a line so pathetic. Slightly behind him, the other’s mouth cocked an apologetic half smile. At least he knew his friend was an idiot. “I think I’m lost at sea,” lover boy continued, his voice sincere. A snort of laughter burst from somewhere between her throat and nose.

“You can’t be serious.” She stood, brushing the sand from her black leggings.

“Damn. Gabriel, did you hear that? That was the sound