The gust smeared Sarah’s tears to her face and threatened to push her back over the railing of the steel bridge. This time she wasn’t going to change her mind, like she’s done countless times before. She glanced down, the roiling black river below churned as if it would form a mouth.
Sarah squeezed her eyes shut and thought that it would be better not to look. She felt her grip loosen.
Her eyes snapped open as she heard a voice. Glancing backwards, Sarah saw her.
At first, Sarah didn’t understand what she was staring at. It appeared to be a holographic image of a person; it had a transparent, smoky density. Yet, Sarah knew that wasn’t possible. She was on a bridge in the middle of the night, not at a concert. Sarah couldn’t look away as the unstable apparition approached.
“You picked the perfect night to jump. The river is overflowing from the recent rains.” The wispy woman said.
She had long hair, wore a short skirt and blouse with slides. Sarah couldn’t tell what color her clothes were or even her skin color, since everything on her was gray. Sarah was frozen in place and had lost the ability to speak.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen a jumper or at least one that actually jumps. Many of them run away when they see me.” The woman said.
Sarah nodded and gripped the railing tight.
“Are you changing your mind too?” The ghostly figure asked.
“What are you?” Sarah blurted.
“I’m a jumper — or was a jumper. I drowned and now I wander around this bridge with the others.” She said.
“Yeah, I’m not the only one who jumped. Won’t be the last either.”
“Yes, I said I drowned, didn’t I?” The woman said.
“I must be dead because I’m seeing things. I’m seeing ghosts. I must have jumped.” Sarah said, half to herself.
“No, you’re wrong. I would know. I’ve been dead for like a year. I’m a ghost, you’re not.”
“No, no…” Sarah began.
“What, you don’t believe in ghosts?”
Sarah shook her head roughly, almost sending herself off the bridge.
“Wait! Don’t go yet! I have a proposition.” The ghost said.
“Yeah. Is this how you always have conversations? Repeating what others say?”
Sarah didn’t say anything.
“Look, believe it or not I’m a ghost. And I don’t want to be one anymore. Seeing that you’re planning on jumping, I thought we could switch places.” The wisp said.
“We can do that? Sarah said she was growing tired of holding on.
“Sure, I heard from another ghost, Steve, that his friend switched out. Not sure if he’s happy with his new body, though.”
“I guess that’s alright. But…” Sarah thought about it, “But you can’t go to your old life. People won’t recognize you. And my family… they would be thinking that it’s me.”
“Why would you care? You’ll be dead. Wouldn’t it be better than hurting them with your death?” The woman said.
“I was already hurting them with my presence.”
“Ok, so is it a yes?”
“Yes,” Sarah said.
“Alright, leave your cell phone up here and give me your password. I’ll take it afterwards. With that I’ll find out about everything there is to know about you. Oh and your keys to your house and anything else I would need”
“Really? You don’t need to where I live or anything else?” Sarah said, placing her belongings on the bridge.
“You’re on social media?”
“I’ll figure it out, it won’t be hard. Plus, when I was alive, I had a computer science degree. By the way, my name is Maria.” The ghost said.
“I’m Sarah.” She gazed down at the river. “So how do we do this?”
“From what I heard from Steve, I’m supposed to jump with you. And somehow the switch is made.”
“That’s it? It seems like there should be more to it. I don’t even know how I’ll be able to see you.”
“I’ll see you in the water. I’ll let you in on something… you see me because you’re close to death. You know how people talk about seeing a light when they come back from being dead? It’s not heaven. It’s a bunch of ghosts welcoming you.” Maria said.
Sarah felt a deeper chill, beyond what she was feeling with the weather. Maria passed through the railing and stood next to Sarah.
“We’ll jump together. I’ll try to stay as close to you as possible. Maybe I’ll see your ghost.” Maria said
They stared down at the raging water. Sarah’s conscience began to tug at her. This is crazy! I might actually be dreaming. But the cold feels so real. Maria seems like a real person. Well ghosts were people at some point. Am I starting to believe?
Maria peered at Sarah. “In case you’re changing your mind.” She said and drew her face close to Sarah’s. Her coal black pupils slipped up into her skull, exposing a milky orb. Then she opened her mouth, her large tongue slid out.
Terrified, Sarah let go of the railing. She plummeted into the river with a wide splash. Sarah’s body tumbled in half circles as if she were inside a washer. Thrashing, she instinctively made for the surface, yet the waters pulled her back. A burning sensation spread across her chest as the need for air intensified. Growing tired, she gave up paddling and closed her eyes.
Maria crawled onto the gravelly shore, gasping; her lungs aching for more air. She lay on her back, waiting for her body to go back to normal, yet she was shivering uncontrollably. I’m cold! I can feel it! Maria embraced her body and began to laugh.
“Why did you do that?! I would have jumped.” A voice said beside her.
Maria turned to look and saw Sarah glaring down at her. “I said it was just in case. People change their minds all the time.” She said as she got up.
“What’s next?” Sarah asked.
“I’m going to go live my life. Now I have a chance to start over.”
Even through the haze of Sarah’s new form, Maria noticed a strange look on her face as if she thought of something. Before anything else could be said, Maria said goodbye and made her way to the bridge to collect Sarah’s phone. She punched in Sarah’s code and proceeded to search for her address. With the address memorized, Maria crossed the bridge. She glanced back and noticed Sarah staring into the river down below. Quickening her pace, she headed towards Sarah’s home.
Once inside Sarah’s townhouse, Maria took a long, hot shower. She missed how the steaming water felt on her skin and was comforted. Afterwards, she made herself some coffee. Maria cried over the mug, she was a true java junkie when she was alive. She was about to settle down in front of the TV, when Sarah’s cell rang. Maria stared at it as if she didn’t know what it was. It went silent. She picked up the remote control and the phone rang again.
Exasperated, Maria answered it.
“Hello.” She said in a huff
“What took you so long to pick up? Anyways, do you remember who was the person that you vetted yesterday for the waiting position? I can’t seem to find the information you entered.” The male voice said.
Maria paused. She didn’t know what to say. I shouldn’t have answered the phone.
“Hellooo” The man said.
“Yeah, I’m here. I can’t remember. I have to look it up tomorrow.” Maria said.
“Can’t you check now?”
“No, I can’t check now. I have a headache. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
“Alright, alright.” The man said and hung up.
Maria flung the phone down on the sofa. She realized that she didn’t have time to relax, she needed to find out who Sarah was and what she did for a living. In Sarah’s bedroom, she found a laptop. Perusing Sarah’s phone, Maria found the password. Who does that? Once inside, she managed to glean out much of Sarah’s history.
Sarah worked as a remote receptionist for an events staffing company. Maria assumed that the man who called was her boss, Chad. Luckily, Sarah was well organized and Maria was able to find the information that Chad was asking for. Ruffling through Sarah’s social media pages, Maria found out that Sarah had a boyfriend for six years, but had broken up a couple of months ago. Might explain one of the reasons why she wanted to kill herself. She has two close friends, a grumpy cat named Snickerdoodle and her family lived in another state. Maria glanced around for Snickerdoodle, but couldn’t find him. She frowned, there weren’t very many pictures of Sarah having fun. A few of her and her friends and, what Maria guessed, was the ex. A yawn escaped her mouth and she glanced over at the clock. It was two in the morning. Maria sunk into Sarah’s queen sized bed without brushing her teeth or changing into pajamas. She fell asleep with a smile on her face.
Maria woke to the sound of the phone ringing. She tousled out of bed and grabbed the phone.
“Hello” She grumbled.
“Sarah! What the hell is going on? You should have started working two hours ago!” The man from yesterday, Chad, said.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I must have overslept.” Maria said and she scrambled to get clean clothes out of the closet.
“You owe Miranda big time. She’s been filling in for you.” Chad hung up.
Maria scanned the phone and realized that he had tried calling several times, the phone was on sleep mode before this call had gone through. Once she had the laptop going, she logged into a software she vaguely remembered reading about. She also brought up her company’s email and was shocked to see the amount of emails waiting for responses. This is going to be a long day.
The week passed with Maria struggling to catch up with the workload and learning about Sarah’s past. Snickerdoodle eventually showed up midweek and he didn’t like the looks of Maria. It knew that she wasn’t Sarah and kept its distance. Maria didn’t mind, she wasn’t fond of cats, yet she made sure to feed him. She looked forward to the weekend and was making plans, when she realized that she wouldn’t be able to get in touch with her old girlfriends.
Maria mourned the loss of those times she had with her friends where they would go out and spend most of the weekend drinking and dancing. It didn’t slip her mind that this was one of the reasons she had jumped off the bridge a year ago. Her life was in a state of chaos; she moved from job to job, her relationships weren’t stable and her family were never supportive over anything she showed interest in. The one great accomplishment she had held was getting her Master’s degree in Computer Science. Maria had a well paying job, but would squander all her money on living like there was no tomorrow; until there wasn’t.
Even though she had a heavy heart, Maria decided to venture out. Just because I don’t have my girls doesn’t mean I can’t go have fun on my own. She drove Sarah’s car into downtown and found the restaurant that she used to like eating at. After she had her fill of Italian, she went to her favorite night club.
Upon entering, Maria was greeted with the booming bass of the dance music and gyrating bodies clinging to one another. She headed to the bar to buy a drink. As she waited, a man with a nose piercing and tight, painted on shirt caught her eye. His muscles stretched his shirt to its fullest, which made Maria conjure up some provocative thoughts. Something caught her eye, somewhere behind the man, near his head, was a gray smoky apparition. She gasped as she recognized what it was. Sarah? What is she doing far from the bridge?
“Hey” The tight shirt man had come forth.
“Hi” Maria mumbled as she tried to glance around him.
Sarah was gone and Maria began to breathe again. She jumped when the bartender placed her cocktail near her elbow.
“You ok?” The man asked.
“Yeah, sorry. I guess I can be jumpy sometimes.”
“Have I seen you before?”
Wow, they still use that line? I guess so, I’ve only been gone a year.
“Um, I used to come here often,” Maria said.
“Oh yeah? Why did you stop?”
“You know… life happens.”
He nodded. “My name is Damian.” He said, raising his eyebrows.
“I’m Maria – uh Sarah.” Maria stumbled.
“Which is it?”
“It’s Sarah Maria. But I like to go by Maria cause that was my grandmother’s name.”
“Oh, that’s cool.” Damian said and he pushed his chest out slightly.
Maria peered at the dance floor and she almost let her cocktail slip out of her hands. Her three best friends were twerking on the dance floor, sandwiched between a group of men. They always knew how to draw a crowd of guys. I thought they hated this club? As she looked closely, she recognized one of the men. Maria slammed the cocktail back on the bar. Damian stared at her.
“Whoa! What’s wrong?” He asked.
“Sorry. I noticed some people I didn’t want to see tonight.”
Damian leaned in. “Would you like to go somewhere else?”
“Um…” An idea came to Maria. “How about we go dancing?”
Maria grabbed Damain’s arm and dragged him towards her friends. Stopping just a half feet away, Maria began to gyrate on Damian; she kept her gaze on one of her girlfriends who was slow dancing with her former live-in boyfriend. The longer she peered at them, the more it stoked her anger.
Before the jump, Maria thought that her boyfriend, Carlos, was the one. They had been together for about five years and had moved in after three. She had dreamt of walking down the aisle, but those dreams had turned into doubt. Her self-esteem started to take a hit when she began to think that she wasn’t good enough for him. Yet, another reason why she jumped.
Maria and Damian danced so close to Carlos and her friend, Dulce, that she was tempted to grab her hair. This proved what she had thought all along when she was alive; that Dulce wanted Carlos for herself.
Maria noticed that Carlos still looked the same; formed fitted jeans, with a henley top and Timberland boots. His hair was kept short and he permeated with the scent of a cologne that Maria had gifted him a long time ago. Dulce and the rest of her friends on the other had changed into wearing loud prints instead of dark clothes. Maria rolled her eyes and they landed on Damian, who was attempting to touch Maria’s face. She jerked back.
“What happened?” Damian said.
“Nothing” Maria said and she glanced back at Carlos and Dulce; they hadn’t even noticed her.
“You know those people? You keep looking at them.”
“They do look familiar. Not sure. It doesn’t matter.” Maria said and she conjured up a sultry look.
Damian smiled and leaned his head towards her. Maria squeezed her eyes shut, tilted her head back and prepared for the kiss. He’s actually not bad, not as good as Carlos, but not bad. The kiss ended and Maria opened her eyes. Sarah was standing on the upper level of the night club staring down at Maria.
Setting in the dead bolt and closing the curtains, Maria felt foolish knowing that it wouldn’t keep a ghost out. She had run out of the night club, leaving Damian with his mouth open and her friends and lover dancing the night away. Glancing around the house she called out to Sarah.
“I know you’re here! What do you want?”
Maria peered into the shadowy corners of the living room and her eyes rested on the doorway to her kitchen, shrouded in darkness. She feared blinking. Snickerdoodle yowled nearby. For the brief moment that Maria hushed him, a haze stepped out of the kitchen doorway. Sarah gently glided towards Maria.
“I want my body back.” Sarah hissed.
“It doesn’t work that way. You had agreed to switch out. Besides, I have a purpose now which is to kick my friend’s ass and get my boyfriend back.”
“I want it back now!”
“Why?!” Maria said, standing her ground.
Sarah sighed, her form rippling from the movement. “I visited my ex-boyfriend, Vincent. I miss him so much. You know, he still has the engagement ring? We were going to get married, but I said no. I was embarrassed of my life and I had convinced myself that it wasn’t going to work out. But I think he still loves me! I’ve been watching him and there’s nobody else. He didn’t meet anybody.” She said rapidly.
“Well, that’s all great, I think. But like I said, you made a promise.” Maria shrugged. “Now if you don’t mind, I would like to get some sleep.”
Sarah didn’t move, but glared. “I’m not going to leave until I get what I want.”
“I’m not going to kill myself! And you have no way of making me!”
Sarah came closer. “That’s fine. I knew you were going to say that.”
They both stood there watching each other. Is she planning on haunting me for the rest of my life? Maria wondered as she kept her body tense. With the deftness of a squall out at sea, Sarah collided into Maria. Maria stumbled backwards, her head lolling. Her body began to convulse and abruptly stopped. Slouched over as if she was asleep standing, Maria gradually straightened. She scanned the room for Sarah. With the clicking of nails, Snickerdoodle approached Maria and called to her. Oh Snickers! I’ve missed you!
Maria’s eyes widened. The voice was in her head and it wasn’t hers.
“Hello?” Maria said out loud.
Maria it’s me, Sarah. This is going to be a great arrangement. That is until you kill yourself from the torment I’ll be giving you.
Sarah’s laughter echoed in Maria’s brain.