Betrayal - By Lee Nichols Page 0,1

nearby, as though waiting for me. I summoned him, tugging him gently toward our world. His spirit seemed to recognize mine and came willingly.

With a sudden rush, I knew that I’d succeeded. I opened my eyes, waiting for his soft arrival. Instead, when Coby’s ghost slipped into our world, a blinding burst of spectral lightning flashed. I jumped backward in surprise, and the wet snow combined with mud at the edge of the pit gave way.

I yelped as I fell into the grave.

“Crap!” I sprawled atop Coby’s casket on my butt. A noise I didn’t recognize escaped my throat—half revulsion and half amusement. The scent of freshly dug earth surrounded me. I covered my mouth with my hand, then noticed my palm was covered in grave muck. “Bleh!”

I stood—yes, still on top of Coby’s casket—and prayed his parents didn’t return. This was bad. This was toss-Emma-back-into-the-mental-hospital bad.

I spun, looking for a way out, and discovered Coby beside me, still in the suit he’d worn for Homecoming. Except now he was slightly transparent and his suit didn’t fit quite so well—and it didn’t seem possible, but he was even better looking.

Welcome back, I said to him.

Emma! You’re all dirty.

Yeah. I, um, slipped.

He stepped forward with a crooked grin to wipe my face. I knew I should’ve taken hand wipes to Homecoming.

Wait, I said. You can’t touch me.

The grin turned to a smile. Is this some kind of purity-ring thing?

Actually, it was a ghosts-burn-ghostkeepers thing.

No, I said. I, um … What’s the last thing you remember?

He focused into the distance. Wait, yeah, what happened? I drove to your house and you looked so hot in that dress and we stepped outside and … He didn’t quite pale, already being a ghost and all. It was like a bad dream.

It wasn’t a dream, Coby.

I didn’t know where to start, what to tell him first. Did he remember Neos? Did he know his death was all my fault?

He faded until I saw the dirt wall clearly behind him, and his face grew haggard and grim with memory. I watched his faint eyes as he recalled everything: Neos possessing his body, then trying to drown me in the pond, my turning into a ghost and battling Neos before fleeing and abandoning him.

Who are you? he finally asked.

I’m Emma. I’m still Emma.

I mean what are you?

I’m a ghostkeeper. I see and compel and communicate with ghosts. I dispel them and …

And what?

I summon them.

Oh God, he said. Oh God. I’m a ghost!

He faded, and I called out, “Coby! Coby, come back! I’m sorry—please, I’m so sorry!”

The wind whispered through the branches of faraway trees as he disappeared completely. Leaving me alone with my aching need to make things right with him.

You’re sorry? he said, materializing behind me.

When I turned, his face looked harder with knowledge and determination, and I flinched. He’d vanished into the Beyond, where a ghost had once explained to me that time wasn’t the same. It moved slower there, giving Coby a chance to think.

Everything’s changed, he said, his voice rough.

I know. How you can ever forgive—

Forgive you? I’m dead because of you. And you still couldn’t leave me alone.

He stepped nearer, and his grave seemed to grow smaller, the walls tightening around me. A wave of nausea rose from my stomach at the earthy smell and the knowledge that I was standing on top of Coby’s dead body—and at the look in his eyes, intent and furious. He was right—everything had changed—especially him.

He took another step and raised his hand to hover at the bare skin of my cheek. I’ll burn you if I touch you, won’t I?

Coby, please. Please don’t, I said, as I met his unearthly gaze. I couldn’t bear his transformation, or how much it reminded me of when Neos possessed him. This wasn’t the Coby I remembered. That boy never would’ve wanted to harm me, even if I deserved it.

Give me one reason why, Emma, he said. One reason you shouldn’t have to share my pain.

And that’s just it. I couldn’t. So I stepped into him, pressing his fingers to my face.

Pain flared on my cheek for an instant before Coby pulled back.

What are you doing? he asked. Haven’t you heard of dramatic effect? I don’t want to hurt you.

You don’t? I wouldn’t blame you if you did.

No, I just— He frowned at his semitransparent hand. I can’t believe I’m really dead. Forget about graduation. Forget about prom, forget about college. I’ll never play football, I’ll never hear

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