Sally Campbell is a goddess. I remember vaguely sharing a brief handholding relationship with her in first grade, but I somehow completely missed her transformation from the shy little girl she was into the eighteen-year-old buxom beauty standing before me. Usually smoking is one of my biggest turn-offs; Sally somehow makes it a mark of class. Spending time in her company could make anyone love being an addicted second-hand smoker. In Sally I thought I had finally found what I had been searching for: my "Dark Angel," as I like to refer to her.

I firmly believe that at some point in everyone's life he encounters a single defining moment, either in the form of a great moment of happiness or a great tragedy that sets the tone for the rest of his life. When my tragedy struck, I responded by cutting myself off from the world, and burying my memories of the event so deep in the recesses of my mind that even God couldn't dig them up.

When I finally resurfaced during high school, I quickly found myself in a string of failed romances with several very nice "Christian" girls. I realize now the fault in my choice of girlfriend; I was looking for someone to pull me out of my misery. I see now that the misery was what I wanted all along.

The night before graduation, a few hours after breaking up with the last of the "nice girls," I went to an old gypsy woman with my best friend Derek. My last hope in the world, the one string that tethered me to reality, was the possibility that this ancient palm reader could find some meaning in my life.

Derek knocked on the door while we stood on the unlit porch in the middle of the "ghetto" of Cumberland, Maryland. A frail voice called from inside, "Come in, young man, bring your friend with you."

Derek and I stepped cautiously through the door of the decaying house. My eyes took quite some time to adjust to the dimly lit living room before me. The old woman was seated behind a table in the center of the room. She silently beckoned for me to sit across from her. I sat as Derek stood to my left.

Listening to Derek stand in silence was the most unnerving part of the entire ordeal. Since I'd met him nearly eight years ago, he was the outspoken goofy kid who always had something funny to say. It occurred to me that his Yellow Jackets, or whatever his energy pills of the evening were, were probably wearing off.

"Let me see your hand young man," the woman's soft voice startled me more than it should have.

I extended my left hand, as she adjusted her glasses. It took only a few seconds before her eyes widened suddenly and she jumped up from her chair.

"What, What is it?" I tried to sound worried, so as not to offend her if this was part of the show.

It took her nearly a full minute to compose herself and offer an answer. "You don't have a life-line."

* * *

I graduated that evening without incident. Like all the others in my class, I tired to pretend to be interested as people I hated were paraded to the podium to make speeches that no one cared to hear. My school was unique in that my attitude toward everything actually served to make me one of the popular students. A nation of outcasts.

Midway through the ceremony, I caught myself staring at Sally, in the number ten seat. I personally graduated fifth in my class; I prided myself on the fact that I had never studied for a single test or done any homework. In my book, arrogance and honesty go hand in hand, and I personally don't care.

Once the procession had ended, I had my choice of parties to attend. Derek was going to Sally's, but I declined that invitation based on the knowledge that both Sally and Derek were "partiers" in more ways than one. At this point in my life illegal drugs were not high on my to do list.

I remembered a story my dad had told me once. When he was seventeen, he had a fight with his father. He spent the evening wandering around the two streets of Ridgeley, West Virginia. When he finally went home to make amends, he found the door nailed shut. He then walked to Pennsylvania and lived with my uncle until he earned enough money working odd jobs to get a place of his own.

Without being prompted by a fight, I also spent the night wandering around the two streets of Ridgeley. When I returned home I found the door unlocked with the porch light on. I went to bed.

* * *

It's nearly a year later, and I find myself standing in a gas station in Virginia waiting for Derek to get out of the can, and watching Sally through the store window. About a week ago, I got a call from Derek inviting me to go on a road trip with him. He didn't tell me Sally was coming. Sally Campbell was a goddess.

At this point my entire life seemed focused on this moment, watching Sally smoking a cigarette outside a gas station in some backwards town in the middle of Virginia. It was enough to convince me to turn around, buy a back of Camel Special Lights and join her.

I was determined to make the first words out of my mouth incredibly profound, "If you could have anything in the world that you wanted, what would it be?"

She seemed to hesitate before answering between puffs, "Happiness."

She didn't ask me what I would want; I'm actually glad that she didn't. I wouldn't have known what to say. It occurred to me for the first time since I had set out on my quest to seduce Sally, that she might not be the "Dark Angel" that I had thought she was. I saw the way her eyes lit up when Derek strolled out around the corner, and I knew immediately that she wasn't for me. I dropped my half-finished cigarette in the ashtray and threw the rest of the pack in the trash.

It took of few moments for me to realize that instead of his "Purple Moose Crossing" T-shirt, Derek was wearing one of Sally's bras. I buried my head in my hands and stifled a laugh as an elderly couple produced a camera and took a few snap-shots. Sally laughed hysterically as the three of us headed for the car.

* * *

"Where are we going anyway, Derek?"

From the back seat I had to strain to hear her question.

"Effy's house."

Derek's voice was easier to understand than Sally's over the background noise of the 70-mph wind blowing past the open windows. So many allowances had to be made so that they could smoke in comfort.

"Who's Effy?"

I decided to join the conversation at this point, "She was a witch who died in the fifties; they say her house is haunted. Derek's been trying to get me to go since I had my palm read."

"What happened at your palm reading?"

Derek mustered all of his effort to put a serious look on his face, "He doesn't have a life line."

I leaned back in my seat, as I realized that the rest of this conversation could take place without my input.

"So what then, do you think he's dead? You think this Effy will show up if we bring her another ghost to play with?" Sally let loose a girlish giggle, and I knew I could never spend my life with someone capable of that kind of happiness.

"Who knows? But I saw some strange shit the last time I was there with Eric."

They were probably both high.

"You were probably both high."

"Anyway, I just want to see what happens."

I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

* * *

It was dark when we arrived at the house.

Derek ran screaming from the car, "Hey Effy, I brought you something!" He then pissed on the front lawn.

Sally was more subdued than normal. Although she had a smile on her face, conjured up by Derek's latest stunt, I could tell she was nervous. I just wanted to walk through the house, prove to everyone that nothing was going to happen, then go home. I don't believe in ghosts.

After Derek was finished, the three of us walked to the front porch. Derek made a show of pretending to be to frightened to open the door, but I was too pissed off to notice. I wasn't sure what came over me, but this trip suddenly felt like the last straw. I opened the door as if it were my own and walked quickly to the center of the dark living room.

We searched the house to my satisfaction and found nothing.

"Wait right here," Derek said as he ran out the door to the car.

"Be ready for anything," Sally mumbled under her breath.

Derek returned carrying three sleeping bags. Sally and I exchanged glances, then turned to look questioningly at him.

"What? We have to wait for her to get home don't we?"

Sally looked at me and shrugged, "It's fine with me I guess. I don't have to be back to work 'till Monday."

I was even more pissed of now than I was before, and Derek knew it, "Fine."

* * *

I awoke and looked at my watch. It was nearly 1:00 am. Hearing some strange noises behind me, I rolled over and saw what appeared to be Derek and Sally making out. This was quickly becoming one of the greatest days of my life. I rolled back over and saw a pair of glassy pale blue eyes staring back at me.

I was greeted by a half skeleton somewhat covered with bits of flesh clinging in vain to bleach white bone. It was the most beautiful face I have ever seen. Stone gray hair hung from half of her scalp, the other half covered only by dust and mold. She stood up slowly, the bones in her feet clicking on the hardwood floor. I grasped her decaying hand as I helped myself to my feet.

I could see the tendons in her arm move as she pointed to the stairs and beckoned that I should follow her. Amid the spider webs covering her ribcage, I could see the lungs that had been blackened with tar. It all came back to cigarettes; maybe I'd given up on them too soon.

As we climbed up the stairs together, I sensed that my life would never be the same, that this was another defining moment. For a second, I hesitated, then grasped Effy's hand more firmly than before, and continued in certainty.

Throughout all that has happened since that moment, one thought has sustained me: Hell never felt more like Heaven.