A soft bell clanged as the door to the small coffee shop closed behind me, echoing throughout the room. A man glanced up at me from behind the counter. He had dark hair, but it was graying rapidly at the temples, and the wrinkles forming on his cheeks gave away his age. His smile, however, was friendly and cheerful, like a young boy rather than an old man.
"Can I help you, sweetheart?" he asked, peering behind me. He had obviously figured it out already, and I had hardly walked in the door. I sighed out of habit when he asked his next question. "Are you all by yourself?"
"Yes, sir," I answered, striding up to the counter and taking a seat at one of the stools. The six of them were the brightest things in the room because they were a cherry red in color, while everything else had black and brown finishes. When I sat down, I couldn't help but notice the seat didn't feel worn from use at all.
"I'm sorry; you just seem awfully young to be out in this cold all alone." I was right, of course. He wasn't the first one. The cold wind howled outside, sending thick snowflakes in all directions and making it hard to pretend like I was staring out the window.
"I'm thirteen years old, sir," I explained. "I live out here, in the mountains, in a cabin not very far from here. I'm out hiking right now, which is why I decided to stop by." The lie rolled easily off my tongue, perfected by practice of having to fake it on the spot.
"Do you have family nearby, then?" He wouldn't let it go, of course. He would be worried if I told him that I actually lived alone, so again, I searched my brain for another lie.
"A father and a baby sister, but my sister is sick with a fever. Father sent me to this town to buy some medicine for her." The lie couldn't be farther from the truth. I had no family to speak of- no father to take care of me and no little sister to care for.
I ran away from home when I was ten years old. My father beat my mother constantly because she "wasn't good enough for him". One day, after a particularly bad beating the night before, she didn't wake up. She had a heart attack during the night from a nightmare, and she couldn't recover.
After she died, I was the only thing he had left, so his breath-snatching punches, stinging slaps, and harsh shoves came down on me. For a long time, I didn't have the courage to run away, and then I did after he beat me so bad I thought I was going to die. I've been living on my own ever since- traveling from place to place as often as I could so that I could be sure nobody from my previous life could find me.
My memories suddenly faded and I was pulled back to the present. I was still sitting at the bar stool in the shop. The man was still looking at me, curiosity painted on his features, but I didn't want to reveal anything more. "Can I just have a mug of coffee?"
"Cream or sugar?" His response was automatic, almost robotic.
"Black will be fine."
He disappeared into a room in the back, leaving me alone. The silence surrounded me like a suffocating blanket, but I still didn't break it. I didn't have anything to say, anymore. My life was a never ending cycle of loneliness, and I couldn't help but think to myself that if I just faded away, like a blade of grass on the wind, nobody would remember me.
I reached around into the worn, leather backpack I was carrying and pulled out a notepad full of bright white paper and a black ink pen. Writing was the only thing that brought me any sort of happiness these days- it is hard to feel joy as such a lonely person in a big world.
When the man came back, the girl was gone. He held the coffee in his hand, steam still rising from the deep black liquid. The only things left were a small pile of change along with a note, written in black ink. It was left on the counter. He counted the change and set it in the cash box he kept before turning back to the note.
He unfolded to read what looked like a poem. Reading the last line of the poem struck sadness into his heart as he thought about the air of loneliness that surrounded the little girl.
Maybe, if I just faded away, nobody would remember me.
When the man went back to view the security tapes from the one small security camera he had in the shop later that night as he usually did, he noticed something peculiar but he couldn't put his finger on it at first. After a few minutes of contemplating, a realization suddenly hit him.
The girl didn't have a visible shadow.
Just as he was rubbing his face over in wonder, the town newsboy dropped off the daily evening paper outside the front door. When the man picked it up, he couldn't help but let out a gasp. The headline read:
TEN YEAR OLD GIRL'S REMAINS FOUND, MURDERED BY FATHER
The picture of the girl was a spitting image of the girl that had left his shop only a few hours before. When he scanned the article, he discovered that the police estimated the body was at least three years old and almost fully decomposed, and he recalled the girl saying she was thirteen years old.
"I won't forget you. I promise that you won't fade away," he whispered softly, picking up the note. The white paper felt thick in between his fingers, like parchment. As soon as he set the paper down, much to the shopkeeper's amazement, it crumbled into white dust and disappeared into thin air, never to be seen again.