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Shimmer

SHIMMER

Chapter 1

If you think you know what it's like to be dead—if you think it's just an eternity of harp music and cloud lounging—well, think again.

Ever hear the saying, Life goes on?

It does.

Long past the point when everyone else thinks it stopped.

Take it from me, I've been dead for just over a year, and from the moment I crossed that bridge to the other side—well, that's when things really got interesting . . .

**

"Go on, Buttercup—go get it boy!"

I cupped my hands around my mouth and squinted into a blanket of gooey, white haze still hours away from being burned off by the sun. Gazing upon a beach that was just the way I liked it—foggy, cold, a tiny bit spooky even. Reminding me of our old family visits to the Oregon Coast—the kind I sometimes tried to re-create on my own.

But despite the infinite manifesting possibilities of the Here & Now, something about it just wasn't the same. Sure, you could replicate similar sensations, the way the tiny, pebbly grains wedged between your toes, the way the cool ocean spray felt upon your face, but still, it didn't quite cut it.

Couldn't quite live up to the real thing.

And clearly Buttercup agreed.

He sprinted after the stick, running headfirst into a dad enjoying an early morning stroll with his son, before emerging on their other side. Causing the kid to stop and stare and gaze all around—sensing the disturbance, the sudden change in atmosphere, the burst of cold air—the usual signs a ghost is present.

The usual signs kids always tune in to and their parents always miss.

I shut my eyes tightly, concentrating on mingling my energy with my surroundings. Summoning the vibration of the sand—the seashells—even the haze—longing to experience it in the same way I used to, knowing I'd have only a few moments of this before Buttercup returned, dropped the wet, slobbery stick at my feet, and we repeated the sequence again.

He was tireless. True to his breed, he'd happily retrieve for hours on end. A nice, long game of fetch making the list of his top-five favorite things, ranking right up there with dog biscuits, a warm patch of sun, bird chasing, and of course, his newest love—flying.

Nudging my leg with his nose, letting me know he was back, he stared up at me with those big brown eyes, practically begging me to hurl the stick even farther this time.

So I did.

Watching as it soared high into the sky before it pierced the filmy, white veil and was gone. Buttercup dashing behind it, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, tail wagging crazily from side to side—the furry, yellow tip the last thing I saw before the mist swallowed him whole and he vanished from sight. Leaving only a faint echo of excited barks trailing behind.

I turned my attention to the small flock of seagulls circling overhead, swooping toward the water and filling their beaks with unsuspecting fish, before taking flight again. Vaguely aware of the minutes slipping past with still no sign of him, I called out his name, then chased it with a spot-on imitation of my dad's special whistle that never failed to bring Buttercup home. My feet carving into the sand, leaving no trace of footprints, as I pushed through a fog so thick, so viscous it reminded me of the time I'd flown through a cloud storm for fun, only to realize it was anything but. And I was just about to venture into the freezing-cold water, knowing of his fondness for swimming, when I heard a deep, unmistakable growl that immediately set me on edge.

Buttercup rarely growled.

He was far too good-natured for that.

So when he did, it was safe to assume he'd stumbled upon something serious.

Something very, very bad.

I followed the sound of it. That low, gravely rumble growing in intensity the closer I crept. Only to be replaced with something much worse—a horrible snarl, a high-pitched yelp, and a sickening silence that made my gut dance.

"Buttercup?" I called, my voice so shaky, so unsteady I was forced to clear my throat and try again. "Buttercup—where are you? This isn't funny, you know! You better show yourself no or you will not be flying home!"

The second the threat was out, I heard him. Paws beating against the hard, wet sand, his quick panting breath getting louder and louder the closer he came.

I sighed with relief and sank down to the ground. Readying myself for the big, slobbery apology hug that soon would be mine, only to watch in absolute horror as the fog split wide open and a large dog jumped out.

A dog that wasn't Buttercup.

It was—something else entirely.

Big—the size of a pony.

Black—its coat matted and gnarled.

With paws the size of hooves that came hurtling toward me, as I screamed long and loud, desperate to get out of its way.

But it was too late.

No matter how fast I moved—it wasn't fast enough.

There was no escaping the chains of its sharply barbed collar that clanged ominously.

No escaping the menacing glow of those deep yellow eyes with the laser-hot gaze that burned right into mine, right into my soul . . .