The Vanishing Girl, p.1Laura Thalassa
Table of Contents
“Can you fix it?” I asked.
“Sister, what did you do to yourself?” I felt the tattoo artist trace his fingers over the thin warped lines that were newly etched onto my shoulder blade. They branched and twisted like a tangled mess of roots.
“I have no idea,” I muttered. The dark, grotesque lines showed up this morning, and I had no memory of how they got there.
“I’ve had a few of those nights myself,” he said knowingly.
He had jumped to the wrong conclusion, but I nodded anyway. A drunken mistake was an easier explanation than the truth.
“So you think you’ll be able to fix this?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, this is an easy fix. The hard part is choosing what you want to cover it with.” He ran his hand over the markings again. “Why’d your guy stop anyway?”
I shrugged. “He ran out of time.”
Seven hours later I walked out of the tattoo parlor with a bottle of salve and the image of two large, folded angel wings that ran from my shoulder blades to the small of my back.
I’m so dead.
My parents were going to kill me. I’ll just tell them it was an eighteenth birthday present to myself.
The tattoo was never meant to be so extensive, but I needed the shading and fine details that the angel wings offered to cover up the strange inky markings that had shown up out of thin air. Shown up the day after my eighteenth birthday without a memory to accompany them.
I gingerly maneuvered my way onto the MUNI bus, wincing as my aching flesh brushed the back of the plastic seat I sat down in.
I’d emptied most of my bank account for this thing and experienced hell to get it. But it had been worth it.
The cramped houses of San Francisco’s Mission District slid by as the bus pulled away from the stop.
I’d need to go back in for the last of the detailing, but the tattoo artist had been fast. And, from the beautiful, arching curves of the feathers, he’d done phenomenal work.
Not that I cared. I just wanted to hide those twisting lines, evidence that something unexplainable had happened to me last night.
When I got home, my mom was running around the kitchen. Lined along the counter were a number of baked goods—racks of cookies, two cakes, and a pie. From the smell of it, she’d just finished another batch of cookies. Stress baking. This was her coping mechanism. Something was making her nervous.
“Hey Mom,” I said casually, swiping a peanut butter cookie from the counter.
“Oh, hey Ember.” With the back of her arm she wiped the beads of sweat gathering on her forehead. “How was shopping with Ava?” Her voice rose as she asked the question.
Instantly I was alert. I glanced from the cookie in my hand to her. I couldn’t tell whether she’d figured out that I wasn’t shopping with my best friend today. “Good,” I said cautiously. “Is everything alright?”
“Everything’s fine,” she said, her tone clipped.
She was lying. It was all over her face and in her tone.
“If you say so. I’m going to go to my room to study.”
She stared at me for a long moment, before nodding. Did she somehow know about my tattoo?
Naw. I discarded the thought as I walked to my room. That wasn’t my mom’s strategy. She was too confrontational to toy with me.
I gently slid my backpack from my shoulder, careful not to hurt the still tender flesh. Though I could hear my mom banging around the kitchen, I locked the door just to be safe before I removed my shirt.
My back was a mass of red puffy skin; it looked angry, and it had good reason to. I’d had to sit in the tattoo parlor for hours and grit my teeth as the artist stuck needles into my skin. But it was worth it. The markings had been successfully camouflaged.
I threw on a loose shirt, plopped down into my desk chair, and began reading for class. Anything to distract me from contemplating how I received the strange twisting lines on my shoulder last night, or how I was going to keep my new tattoo a secret.
Three hours later, after reading the same sentence four times over, I set my textbook aside and got ready for bed. For a long time I lay there and stared at my ceiling, wondering where I’d go tonight once I fell asleep. Maybe I’d get lucky and send myself to some nice beach. Hopefully it was the beach, rather than teleporting into the ocean, like last week. That was one of my more unpleasant journeys.
At the back of my mind I worried that maybe I’d no longer remember my ten-minute trips. If I couldn’t remember last night’s, then how could I be certain I would remember tonight’s?
And then there was the beautiful thought that maybe—just maybe—eighteen meant an end to my nocturnal excursions.
Of course, some wishes were too good to be true.
The lights were pleasantly dim, and the low thrum of music pulsated throughout the room. I looked down at the tight red dress and dangerously high stilettos I wore. I held onto a small clutch.
Definitely not the beach.
Inwardly I shrugged, making my way over to the bar. Even after five years, I had very little control over my destination.
I got a couple of suspicious glances from people who probably saw me materialize. Within a few minutes they’d successfully rationalize away what they saw. Until I disappeared.
I slid onto a barstool.
The bartender came over. “What can I get you this evening?”
“Hmmmm …” I feigned indecision. I had no idea what there was to order. I didn’t have much prior exposure to bars, in spite of my ability.
A man slid into the seat next to me. “I’d recommend the Molotov Cocktail.”
I turned and my breath caught. Dark hair framed a strong jaw, high cheekbones, and mesmerizing green eyes. Devastatingly handsome. That’s what Ava and I called men like this. And now one was talking to me.
I had to jog my mind to remember what he’d said. Oh, ordering a Moltov Cocktail.
I raised my eyebrows. “Sounds dangerous.” Back home, in my real life, I’d never be so bold and daring, but knowing I’d only have to stick around for ten minutes allowed me to be someone else for a little while. And right now I wanted to be the girl who knew how to handle gorgeous men.
To the bartender I said, “I’ll take what he suggested.”
There was no way my mind brought me here. Normally I ended up stranded naked in a crowd, or trapped inside some utility closet. Getting to wear a sexy outfit and being hit on by Mr. GQ was just too nice a fate.
The man held out his hand. “Adrian Sumner.”
“Ember Pierce,” I said, taking the hand he offered.
“So,” the corner of his mouth tugged upwards, “why have I never seen you before?”
I laughed and rolled my eyes. “You really need to work on your pick-up lines.”
Now both corners of his mouth lifted. “That wasn’t a pick-up line. This is my party.”
Oh. Well crap.
“I came with a friend,” I lied. My fingers itched to do something. When it came to teleporting, picking locks, gathering data from my surroundings, or implementing my survival skills was so much more immediately gratifying than this. Charming my way out of a situation.
“Who’s your friend?” he asked, looking out at the sea of people.
I took in the mixed crowd of the old and wealthy and the young and beautiful.
I swallowed and pointed in the vague direction of a group of models. “I’m friends with her.”
“Who?” he asked.
I said the first name that came to mind. “Natasha.”
He looked at where my finger was pointing. “You mean Sue?”
The jig was up. “I could’ve sworn she was a Natasha—she looks like a Natasha.”
He assessed the woman we were discussing.
“Are you going to kick me out?” I asked. “Because I want to warn you that I’m not leaving until I get my Molotov Cocktail.”
He smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t want to kick out a woman armed with that drink.”
And, as if on cue, the bartender came over with the cocktail. “That’ll be fifteen dollars.”
I winced at the price. It was only then that I realized I had no idea if I even had money—or a fake ID—in my clutch.
“Just a moment,” I said, opening my bag.
To my dismay there was no money. In fact, there were only two things in the bag, a piece of paper and a dark, heavy object.
I pulled out the paper and read the scribbled note:
Adrian Sumner needs to die.
I released the paper as though it singed me.
I hadn’t known Adrian up until a few minutes ago, so how could I have arrived with such a note?
Both the bartender and Adrian stared at me.
“I, uh, forgot my wallet. I’m sorry.” I clasped my hands together to stop them from shaking.
“No worries,” Adrian said. “I’ve got this one—because I appreciate fiery women.” He winked. I smiled, still immensely disturbed by the note.
To the bartender he said, “Go ahead and put this one on the tab.”
The bartender left us, and I took a deep breath to calm my racing heart. “Thanks,” I said.
“No problem.” He smiled, and my chest tightened at the sight. “So, how did you hear about my party?”
I opened my mouth to reply, when I realized just what the dark, heavy object was that rested in my clutch. A gun.
I let out a surprised squeak.
“Are you okay?” Adrian asked. The same Adrian that I was supposed to kill, according to the slip of paper.
Heart racing, I stumbled backward. “I need to go.” Ten minutes was—as usual—way too long for the predicament I was in.
“Wait,” Adrian said.
I paused and regretted it as soon as I saw what Adrian was doing.
He bent down and picked up the slip of paper I’d dropped earlier. “You forgot your note,” he said.
His eyes glanced down at the paper, and his expression changed. “What is this?” He looked up at me. “Is this a sick joke?”
I was already moving through the crowd.
“Wait!” he called from behind me.
I pushed my way to the dance floor, where the packed bodies and strobe lights would better hide me.
“Stop her!” Adrian yelled from behind me.
I felt some half-hearted grabs at me, but I easily shook them off. A very firm hand wrapped around my wrist. I turned to see Adrian.
“Who are you?” he asked.
I never had to answer the question because I winked out, along with the strobe lights.
It wasn’t until breakfast the next morning that I remembered teleporting. I nearly choked on the milk and cereal in my mouth as I replayed the last ten lucid minutes of my day.
My mind grappled with the note and the gun. How had I known his name? I was positive I’d never met Adrian before. I wouldn’t have forgotten a face like that.
And was I supposed to kill him? It was inexplicable. But maybe I was asking the wrong questions. Because when it came down to it, wasn’t it inexplicable that I could teleport at all?
I arrived at school distracted and restless.
“Hey loser!” Ava, my best friend, called as we met up before class. “Let’s see the tat!” A group of girls threw a disgusted glance my way.
“Could you try to be a little more discreet?” I asked, smiling sweetly at the girls.
“Who cares?” she said, brushing a fiery red lock of hair behind her ear. The girl was a force of nature, and like all forces of nature, she was awe-inspiring, but sometimes destructive.
“I’d like my parents to not know about my tattoo, and that’s not going to happen if Cindy Knickerbaum finds out,” I said, nodding my head at the retreating group of girls. Cindy threw a glance back my way.
Ava rolled her eyes. “Cindy Knickerbaum is not going to say anything. You guys are barely acquaintances at this point. Now, can I see it?”
I rolled my eyes and smiled in spite of myself. “Okay, but only for a moment.”
We walked behind the woodshop class in a discreet corner of campus and I lifted the back of my shirt.
Ava squealed. “Holy shit! That looks awesome! I’m so getting one now!” She pulled out her phone and took a picture of the wings before I could cover myself back up.
I groaned. There was no way I was going to get away with this.
“Ember Elizabeth Pierce!” my mom called out to me as soon as I arrived home that afternoon. Only she could manage to make my name sound like a swear word.
I turned from where I was putting down my school bags to face my mother’s furious face in my bedroom doorway.
She knew about the tattoo. She didn’t have to say anything. This was my reliably confrontational mother.
Freaking Cindy Knickerbaum squealed. She was also reliable like that.
My mother’s hazel eyes were flinty. She stomped over to me. “Where is it?”
There was no use arguing or denying at this point. I turned my back to her and lifted my shirt.
My mother gasped at what could only be a scary sight, though I wasn’t sure whether it was from the extent of the tattoo, which covered over half my back, or the swollen skin.
My mother began to choke up. “You defiled yourself!”
“Mom—” I began. I really did not want to have to console my mother about what I did to my own body.
“How could you do this to yourself?” Her anger replaced her remorse.
I couldn’t tell her the real reason. I’d rather she, and everyone else, think I was eccentric. At least it was a socially acceptable way to be strange. If someone had seen the strange lines before I had a chance to cover them up, they might start asking questions I couldn’t answer.
I held back a sigh. “Mom, I don’t have an explanation you’re going to want to hear.”
Her eyes took me in for a long moment. “Sometimes I wonder how much of me is actually in you,” she said. With that she shook her head and left the room.
I waited until she shut the door to allow my eyelids to pinch together.
This wasn’t the first time she’d said those words to me, but it never got
During the week that followed, I was transported to my typical nightly destinations. The highlight of the week was materializing on a cruise ship. I spent ten minutes eating from their outdoor buffet and watching the sunset somewhere around the Hawaiian islands. The worst night was appearing in my grandmother’s dusty old attic. Correction, my deceased grandmother’s old attic. I had no idea who lived there now.
The problem with teleporting during the first ten minutes of sleep—a problem I’d had since puberty—was that my budding dreams directed me to my destination. I’d had nights where I’d fall asleep thinking about the cute guy at school and then teleport into his bedroom (talk about awkward). By sheer luck my crush had always been asleep.
I’d also once had a falling dream morph into a disturbing reality. Thankfully the one time I materialized in midair I fell into a tree on my way down. I’d managed to wrap my arms around the branches and held on for dear life.
So I found it incredibly ironic that as I lay in bed the following Sunday, I dreaded showing up in some swanky club wearing a sexy dress just as much as I did waking up falling. Because the last time that happened, I came with a gun and instructions to kill.
The room I was in was dark, and the only door in and out was closed. The night sky beyond the window told me that I was still on the western hemisphere.
I stretched my arms above my head. Sometimes teleporting made my muscles stiff, as if whatever put me back together stitched my cells a little too snugly.
Bookshelves along the walls held large academic tomes. A leather chair sat behind an imposing desk. I was in someone’s study.
I looked down at my wardrobe. I wore a black skintight shirt and leggings tucked into soft leather boots. Sticking out quite obviously from one of my boots was a folded slip of paper.
I plucked it from where it rested.
The Vanishing Girl by Laura Thalassa / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes