by AC Arthur
Book 1 in the Mystyx Series
When fifteen-year-old Krystal Bentley moves to Lincoln, Connecticut, her mom’s hometown, she assumes her biggest drama will be adjusting to the burbs after living in New York City.
But Lincoln is nothing like Krystal imagined. The weirdness begins when Ricky Watson starts confiding in her. He’s cute, funny, a good listener—and everything she’d ever want—except that he was killed nearly a year ago. Krystal’s ghost-whispering talents soon lead other “freaks” to her door—Sasha, a rich girl who can literally disappear, and Jake, who moves objects with his mind. All three share a distinctive birthmark in the shape of an M and, fittingly, call themselves the Mystyx. They set out to learn what really happened to Ricky, only to realize that they aren’t the only ones with mysterious powers. But if Krystal succeeds in finding out the truth about Ricky’s death, will she lose him for good?
Book 1 in the Mystyx Series
“I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you,” I repeat, talking to myself. Maybe if I keep saying it the voice will go away. I know people driving by me probably think I’m a lunatic.
My feet are moving so fast I barely feel them touch the ground. Cool air slaps my face like it’s trying to remind me that I’m outside. It’s almost spring according to the calendar, but it still feels like the dead of winter in Lincoln. Probably because we’re so close to the water.
Whatever. I’m cold and I think it’s beginning to rain. But I don’t care. I just want to get home, inside the house, to the safety of my room. It won’t follow me there.
I can’t believe it followed me here. I ignored it in New York. You’d think it would have the good sense to stay in the city where there’s a little excitement. Why follow me here to the ends of the earth where everyone acts like they’re sleepwalking most of the time?
As I cut through the bushes at the end of the driveway, my book bag sways back and forth, threatening to slide off my shoulder as I run. If it does, my Biology book will fall out and the hastily scribbled notes I took this morning on the project that’s due at the end of the month will probably hit the ground and blow away. That might not be such a bad thing.
I hunch my shoulders, pushing the book bag back into place. My feet crush the weeds in the flower bed that Janet will likely replant in a few weeks. And I keep running.
My cheeks puff in and out as I inhale huge gulps of air to keep my heart pumping. I’m not a runner. Actually, I hate exercise of any kind and it shows. I take the front steps two at a time because I want to hurry up and get to my room.
Damn! There it goes again.
I press the palm of my hand over my ear while I dig in my front pocket for the house key. My fingers are shaking but I finally get the door unlocked, slam it shut behind me and take the stairs in the front hall like a steroid-pumped-up Olympic sprinter.
My room is at the far end of the hall, but I swear it feels like it’s twenty miles away as I dash toward the door. Once inside, I slam the door, drop my book bag and sink to the floor struggling to breathe.
Safe. All I can think is that I’m finally safe.
His voice echoes around the room, louder than it was before. Louder than when I was on the school bus or when I was running into the house.
It’s been a long time. I thought this creepy stuff was over. I haven’t heard voices since I was twelve years old, and I’m not sure if I really heard them then.
Who am I kidding? I heard them before and now they’re back. But I cover my ears because I want the voice to stop so badly.
I’m rocking on the floor now, pulling my knees to my chest and wrapping my arms around them, holding myself tightly. My eyes are closed. I wish I could find a way to close my ears, too.
I did it before. I quieted the voices for a long, long time. But now they’re back. Why?
“I can’t hear you. I can’t see you. You are not real.”
But I can hear him, that’s the freakin’ problem.
Help me, Krystal.
“I can’t hear you. I can’t see you. You are not—”
Did he say my name?
Please, he begs.
For some reason the sound of his voice isn’t scaring me anymore. I loosen my grip around my legs and I stop rocking. My heart still feels like it’s going to jump out of my chest and land on the floor, but for some reason I’m not scared now.
I open my eyes, not that I mean to, it just happens I guess. I look toward the window seat where all the stupid stuffed animals Janet thought would cheer me up are arrayed like a pastel-colored army.
I don’t know what I’m looking for. Whatever it is, I hope I don’t find it.
But there he is—a black boy, kind of tall and skinny. He’s wearing jeans, the baggy kind like all the guys in school wear, and a white T-shirt three sizes too big, hanging to his knees like a nightgown. His boots look new, Timberlands with the laces only halfway up, the huge tongue sticking out from the sagging denim hem of his jeans. He’s wearing a watch on one wrist and a bracelet—I think it’s silver—on the other. His hair is kind of curly on top, cut low on the sides with some lines or a design or something.
I suppose he’s kind of cute.
But he’s kind of transparent.
For one, Janet, my mother, can’t cook. How do you burn boiled eggs? Janet knows how and the smell is awful. But that was a few weeks ago.
Tonight’s culinary masterpiece is spaghetti. Again, shouldn’t be too hard. Drop some pasta in water, let it boil, open up a jar of sauce and you’re done.
What’s on the plate in front of me is some soupy mess that I’m really afraid to eat. So instead I pick the cucumbers out of my salad because I don’t like them. She knows I don’t like them but she keeps right on putting them in my salad.
“So, how was school today?” she asks like she’s a real mom or something.
Okay, well, maybe I’m being harsh. She did give birth to me and she does make sure there’s a roof over my head and food—well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Her one fault, for which I am resigned to be pissed at her for the next ten to twenty years of my life, is that she divorced my father and moved me from New York City to this Little House on the Prairie town in Connecticut.
Bottom line, I’m just not feeling my mother right now. But that’s not what’s really bothering me. I can’t stop thinking about the boy upstairs in my room.
I was just about to ask him who he was and why he was following me around when Janet called me for dinner. I could have stalled and made up some excuse, but that just would have delayed this joyous family meal.
“School was fine,” I say hurriedly, because she’s looking at me like she wants to ask even more questions.
Janet is still pretty, even though she’s old. I think anyone over thirty is old. Janet is thirty-five. She had me when she was twenty, before she could graduate from college. My father is ten years older than her. She has really long, wavy, black hair and her skin isn’t as dark as mine. She’s half Cherokee.
I’m only one-quarter Cherokee because I’m mixed with her and my father and he’s just black. My hair is pretty nice; it doesn’t get all nappy when I sweat like some of my cousins’ hair. It just looks bushy and puffy like one of those puppies that I can never remember the name of.
Anyway, I don’t want to sit here at the dinner table with all these dishes and Janet on one side and an empty chair where her new husband, Gerald, usually sits on the other side.
Gerald comes home late mostly every night because he works for some international company that does business in different time zones—that’s what Janet says. I think he’s probably at work screwing his secretary or something. Or maybe he just wants to be anyplace I’m not.
When he met Janet she didn’t tell him about me right away. I don’t know why. I overheard them one time talking about which parent it would be best for me to live with. Gerald didn’t act like he wanted it to be Janet. On that one thing, he and I both agree.
“There’s a spring dance coming up. We could go buy you a pretty new dress,” Janet says, trying to twirl the flat, sticky spaghetti onto her fork.
“I don’t want a new dress,” I say adamantly, because I don’t. I don’t like dresses.
“Then we could just find you a nice outfit to wear.”
“I’m probably not going to go.”
“Because I don’t know any boys?” Unless you count the one waiting for me upstairs. The one I’m hesitant to call a ghost.
Because if I actually admit that’s what he is, then I might as well pack my bags and head to the loony bin.
“You’ve been here for months and the school year is almost over. You haven’t made any friends?”
I shrug because I don’t really think it’s a big deal. I like being alone. That way I don’t have to explain the things about me that even I don’t understand.
“I don’t need friends.”
She sighs. “Everybody needs somebody, Krystal.”
“You didn’t need Daddy,” I snap. I immediately regret my tone of voice and I clamp my mouth shut. The fork that was stabbing at cucumbers falls from my hand, making a clanking sound on the plate.
“What happened between your father and me had nothing to do with you,” she says slowly, not looking at me.
Anytime she talks about my father, which isn’t often, she doesn’t look at me. Like she can’t even face what she’s done to me.
“I’m just supposed to suffer because of it,” I yell, standing and pushing my chair back from the table until it falls to the floor.
Janet reaches out until her hand touches my wrist. “I don’t want you to suffer, honey. I want you to be happy and healthy. But you’re not eating, you’re not socializing. You’re not talking.”
I snatch my arm away. Her words are true even if I don’t want to admit it. I don’t really have an appetite anymore and I don’t talk because I have nobody to talk to. But that’s not my fault. A year ago I had all that. I could eat half a large pepperoni pizza with extra cheese all by myself. I had friends from school, or at least people I socialized with—even if only on a limited basis. But I had them. Now I’m alone.
“I don’t need anybody.”
Janet stands and comes closer to me. “Listen, Krystal. If you want to go and see someone, a psychiatrist or—”
“Oh, great! That is so whack. Send me to a shrink because you don’t want to listen to me.”
I’m stalking across the room now, not wanting her to touch me or say anything to me, or sense the pain this entire situation is causing in the pit of my stomach. How did she expect me to eat with that burning bubble always wrenching inside me?
“It’s not that I don’t want to listen, Krys. You don’t want to talk to me.”
“You’re right!” I say, spinning around to face her one more time. “I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to talk to anybody.”
I’m running up the stairs again. It feels like déjà vu. Only this time when I close my bedroom door it’s not his voice I hear but his presence I feel.
I t s like somebody put a sweater around my arms. I shiver even though I didn’t realize I was cold. I’m in the house. It’s raining outside but it’s dry and warm inside. Goose bumps still prickle the bare skin on my arms.
In the pit of my stomach it feels like butterflies are dancing around. That’s strange because just a few minutes ago, downstairs with Janet, I felt that same burning in my stomach that I feel whenever I’m around her—whenever I think of her leaving my father.
I rest my forehead on the door, afraid to turn around, afraid not to.
He’s here, the boy. I know he is even though he’s not calling my name or begging me to help him.
What should I do?
I could scream and Janet would come running. But what would she see? I don’t think she can see ghosts. I didn’t think I could either.
The funny thing is I’d convinced myself I was cursed or crazy or both when I heard the voices before. The first time was when I was five. The last time I was twelve and had gone to visit my grandfather—on my father’s side—in a nursing home. I figured the voice was one of the old people asking for help or for food or the sound of someone who simply wanted a hug.
That night I swore I’d never hear another voice and for a while I thought my vow had worked.
How long are you going to stand there?
His voice sounds so normal, like he’s just a boy from school sitting in my room talking to me.
I press my palms against the door and take a deep breath. I’m already in my room, my safe place. There is nowhere else for me to run or hide.
So, I figure I just better face it, I’m crazy.
I turn slowly and look toward the window seat. He’s sitting there, his back to the wall, one leg propped up on the seat cushion. My stuffed animal army is on the floor. Can dead people move things?
“What do you want?” I ask in the same monotone he uses. For some reason I don’t feel nervous, just tired. Of running or ignoring the voice, I guess.
I need your help.
“I can’t help you.”
You don’t even know what I need you to do.
“Well, you’re dead, right? I can’t bring you back to life.” I’m not that crazy.
He sighs, like I’m getting on his nerves.
I don’t want to come back, he says then stops like he’s thinking about his words. I just need some answers. I need to find out who did this to me.
“Then you should go to the police or a lawyer. I don’t know, just stop stalking me.”
He chuckles. Stalking or haunting?
I don’t find the situation very funny. “Just go.”
I can’t. Not yet. They think somebody from my crew killed me. But that’s not true.
Suddenly I’m really sleepy. I feel like I’ve been up for hours. I hear the words coming out of his mouth—unfortunately—but I’m too tired to comprehend them. I move away from the door and trudge over to my bed where I plop down and stare at the ceiling.
“Who’s your crew? No, first, who are you?”
My name is Ricky Watson. I used to go to Settlemans High until last year when I was shot in the alley behind the school.
I think I’ve heard the name.
“Your brother is Antoine Watson?”
Yeah, he’s a year younger than me. He’s in the tenth grade now. I was a junior.
“Did you ask him for help?”