Soul Beach – Excerpt
The girl is dead, no doubt about it.
That face, the one that launched a billion internet clicks, is flushed, as though she’s spent too long in the sun. Somehow, her skin still glows – one of the TV critics called her dewy – but that won’t last, of course. After the struggle, her hair was tangled, but now it’s combed straight and fanned out against her pillow. Like Sleeping Beauty.
Is she truly beautiful, or just pretty? When she was alive, there was no doubt, because the whole package – the face, the confidence, the walk, and that voice – was irresistible. Now she’s still, it’s easier to be objective.
Ah, let’s be charitable. Let’s call her beautiful. The creamy white dress is draped oddly and it looks a little slutty, but it’s too much work to change it now. Dead weight is hard to shift.
Her eyes are closed. A few seconds ago, at least ten minutes after she stopped struggling, the lids fluttered several times, as though she were dreaming. Of an eternal spotlight, maybe? Then, when it seemed that she might need to be smothered again, she stopped moving. It must have been a last reflex.
Or maybe that was the exact moment that she went. Where is she now? Lying in a soft meadow, with butterflies and bees dancing around her? Or on a tropical beach, where the sea laps against her body?
It is time to go. But at least whoever finds her won’t be haunted by her appearance. For a corpse, she is anything but lifeless.
The first email from my sister arrives on the morning of her funeral.
I know. What kind of sick freak checks her email before she goes to see her sister being buried? But sometimes it hurts so much I feel like I’ve got acid in my veins instead of blood, and that’s when I go online.
Online, everything’s normal. No inquests, no detectives, no TV cameras. Just Facebook updates about who’s dating who. And junk emails from African princes offering me a share of their fortunes. Oh, yeah, and emails from dead people. Not quite so normal.
I almost miss the message and as soon as I do see it, I know it can’t be real. It’s a sick coincidence. Or someone’s hacked her account, the one she used to send me college gossip and drunken photos.
But even though I know it’s a hoax, my finger locks onto the mouse and I can’t breathe as I wait for the message to load . . .
Date: September 15 2009
[THIS MESSAGE HAS BEEN LEFT BLANK]
To report this message as a phishing attempt, click here.
The white screen makes my eyes hurt, but I don’t dare to blink in case the message disappears.
‘Alice. What are you doing up there, sweetheart? The car’s here.’
I can’t speak.
It’s got to be a glitch. A ghost in the machine. The email version of those newspaper stories about someone suddenly getting a Christmas card that was posted in 1952 by a long-dead granny.
And surely it’s nothing but a fluke that my sister’s long lost email appears one hour before her final . . . performance.
I jump, even though Mum is still outside my door. ‘Nearly ready,’ I shout.
But I don’t move. I can’t. I feel like there’s something there. Something I’m not seeing.
Maybe I really have lost it now. ‘You’re not real,’ I hiss at the screen. ‘You’re not.’
The longer I stare, the more I know I’m missing something.
I stand up. My legs are like lead, and I can’t look away from the screen. What is it I’m not seeing?
‘Alice? Come on, now.’ Mum sounds ratty. I guess today isn’t going to go down as the best day of her life, either. I should try harder. Be a better daughter, now I’m an only child.
Up. Towards the door. One foot in front of the other. Keep going.
And then I turn back to the screen and I see it. The time.
Either just past ten o’clock on the morning of Meggie’s funeral.
The date of my sixteenth birthday. And the date Meggie was murdered.