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Ember X, Page 1

Jessica Sorensen


Page 1

  Prologue

  “Emmy, can you hand me that Allen wrench?” My dad sticks his hand out from beneath the Challenger.

  I push the jar of screws and coins out of the way, grab the wrench out of the toolbox, and skip around the fender lying on the ground. “Is it fixed yet?” I ask, setting the wrench in his hand.

  His legs wiggle as he scoots further under the car. “Patience, Emmy. These things take time. ”

  “Like how long? An hour?” I ask impatiently. “Dad, I want you to drive it really fast. And I want to be in there too. ”

  My dad laughs. “Alright, we can do that. ”

  “You promise?” I say. “You cross your heart?”

  He laughs again and drops the wrench onto the concrete. “Yeah, cross my heart and hope to die. ”

  My eyes wander to the corner of the garage as I return to the jars of screws and coins and begin plucking out the pennies one by one and arrange them in groups on the concrete. The metal clinks with each coin dropped and I hum along with the song on the radio, a song about death and the acceptance of it. I wonder if it might be talking about my friend in the corner of the garage, the one who always watches and follows me wherever I go. He wears a funny cape like a superhero only there’s a hood over his head. His face is always hidden, but I bet his skin is made of rainbows and light.

  He breathes a warning about the coins and the map I’m supposed to be creating. “Didn’t I do it right?” I poke at a penny. “It looks right to me. ”

  My dad sticks his head out from under the car. Grease stains his face and there’s a layer of metal shavings in his black hair. “Emmy, who are you talking to?”

  I hum along with the song playing from the car stereo. “No one,” I lie, because I’m not allowed to talk about my imaginary friend with anyone—those are his rules. I even crossed my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. And the last thing I want to do is stick a needle in my eye.

  My dad shoves out from under the car and wipes his greasy hands on the front of his torn jeans. “Hey, Emmy, you wanna go get something to eat?” He peers over my shoulder at the map of the cemetery I’ve created.

  Each coin represents were a body is buried. “Playing a game,” I reply.

  His breath hitches. “Stop that!” He scatters the pieces with his boot and picks me up in his arms. He grips me forcefully as he carries me to the trunk of the car and sits me down with my legs dangling over the edge.

  “Who told you to do that with the coins?” The anger in his eyes is frightening.

  “I don’t know. ” I try to squirm from my dad’s arms. “Daddy, you’re hurting me. ”

  His eyes enlarge as he glances at his hands, like he didn’t realize he was holding my arms. “Emmy, this is really important. ” He loosens his grip. “Who told you to do that?”

  My eyes stray to my friend in the corner. “I’m not supposed to tell you. ”

  “Ember Rose Edwards. ” He only uses my full name when he means business. “You tell me right now or else I won’t let you ride in the car with me. Do you understand?”

  I cross my arms and huff. “Fine. My imaginary friend told me to do it. ”

  My friend glares at me and I’m scared he’s going to leave me. Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.

  My dad follows my line of gaze and a spark of his death surfaces through his touch—darkness. I shiver as he turns back to me with a stern look on his face.

  “Emmy, you need to ignore him, okay?” he says, his grey eyes softening. “You can’t have imaginary friends—people will think you’re crazy. And we can’t have people thinking that. ”

  “But I don’t want him to go away. ”

  “Well, he has to. It’s time for him to go away. Do you understand? No imaginary friends. Ever. ”

  “Fine… go away, friend. ” Tears sting the corners of my eyes as my friend dissipates into air. “It’s not fair. ”

  “Life isn’t fair,” my dad says as he helps me down off the trunk. “And the sooner you realize that, the easier life will be. ”

  I sulk back over to the jar and begin picking up the mess, chucking the pennies and screws into it.

  “And Emmy. ” My dad scoots back under the car. “If he ever comes back, you need to tell him to go away. ”

  “Alright. ” I frown, dropping pennies into the jar. Once my dad is under the car, I dare a peek at the empty corner, secretly hoping my friend will be back. But he’s not and my heart aches. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who understands death like I do.

  Chapter 1

  Thirteen years later…. .

  I love the cemetery. It’s quiet and peaceful—it’s the only place where I get a break from death. I loathe crowded places, crammed with voices and life. It hurts to be around life. People don’t understand how close death is, right over their shoulders, around the block, at the end of a street. It’s everywhere and I’m the only one who knows where it’s hiding. I see death every day, but a cemetery is already dead.

  The moon is vibrant tonight, only a sliver away from being full. Dry leaves fall from the oak tree and the air smells crisp with autumn. Headstones entomb the ground and a light mist dews the crisp blades of grass. I lean against a tree trunk with my notebook propped open on my knee, a pen in my hand, as I scribble words that are important to me.

  The cemetery is my sense of comfort, my sanctuary in a world of darkness, the one piece of light I have in my life.

  I remove the tip of the pen from the page and read over my words. I sound obsessed with death, like Edgar Allan Poe or Emily Dickinson, but death is a huge part of who I am. With a simple touch I know when someone will die. Whether they’ll go painfully. If their life will end up stolen.

  I set the notebook on the grass and tuck the pen inside the spine. I pull my hood over my head, cross my arms, and stare out at the desolate street. One of the streetlights flickers and a dog barks from behind the front gate of a redbrick home. I glance at my watch. It’s really late. I grab my notebook and start across the cemetery. The ground is damp and clunky, and my black boots sink into the moist dirt. I eye the headstones; big, small, intricate, plain. I wonder if the details of a headstone define the life of the person resting beneath it. If it’s big and fancy, does it mean they were loved by many? Or were they lonely, but had money? Do small and plain ones declare that they lived a lonely life? Or were they just not materialistic?

  I’m probably the only one crazy enough to be walking around thinking these thoughts.

  The wind howls like a dust storm and leaves whirlwind around my head. I tuck my chin down, fighting through the dust toward the front gate as pieces of my black hair curtain my pale face and grey eyes and stick against my plump lips. My boot catches on the corner of a grave and I face-plant onto the grass. My notebook flies from my hand and my head smacks the corner of a headstone.

  “Ow,” I mumble, clutching my head as I smear dirt off my cheek. My gaze travels upward to a statuesque carving of a hooded figure with the head tucked down and in the hand is a scythe.

  “The Grim Reaper, huh?” I rise to my feet, stretching out my long legs, and tilt my head up. “I bet you know what it’s like, don’t you? To be surrounded by death all the time? I bet you understand me. ”

  The wind violently picks up and carries my notebook away. Shielding my eyes from the dust, I chase after it. It dances through the leaves and glides across the grass, finally resting against a soaring angelic statue in the crook of the cemetery. I hurry after it. A black raven swoops down from one of the trees and circles in front of me.

  “Why are you always following me?” I whisper to the raven. “Is it because you know what I am—a symbol of death like you?”

 
; “Dammit, I am so sick and tired of doing all your dirty work. It’s such crap,” a voice cuts through the cemetery.

  I hastily take cover behind the Angel statue and the raven perches on the head, ruffling its wings. No one hangs out in cemeteries late at night, except for weirdos and people like me. (And as far as I know, I’m the only girl of my kind. )

  A shovel cuts into the dirt. “I’m always the one who’s gotta dig these things up. ”

  I peek through the cracks between the Angel’s wings. A thin guy, with frail arms and a pointy nose, stands in a hole, shoveling dirt. My journal is inches from the discarded dirt pile. One more scoop and my life thoughts will be buried.

  “If I were you, Gregory, I’d watch my tone. ” A tall figure hops from the roof of a small marble mausoleum and his long legs stretch as he strides toward the hole. His hair is as pale as the moon and his eyes are like ash. “I can easily find someone else to dig up the grave. ”

  Gregory mutters under his breath and scoops up a shovel full of dirt.

  The taller one cups his ear. “What’s that? Speak up, I can’t hear you. ”

  “Nothing,” Gregory mumbles and continues digging.

  The other guy’s smile catches in the moonlight and my breath catches in my throat. His face is beautiful, but burdened with sadness and pain, as if he carries the world’s sorrows on his shoulders. I long to reach out and trace my fingers along his full lips, his firm jawline, and erase his pain.

  The pages of my journal flutter in the breeze and he bends over and picks it up. I cringe with embarrassment, but then realize that he’s a guy who hangs out in a cemetery, digging up graves, so my penned words of death shouldn’t bother him. He flips through the pages and then pauses on one, studying it, then his eyes skim the cemetery. I crouch down and hold my breath as silence blankets the night, except for the shovel scratching the dirt.

  “Where’d this come from?” he asks Gregory.

  I peek through the feet of the Angel statue.

  Gregory takes the notebook and turns it over. “I’m not sure…” He hands it back. “It says Ember Rose Edwards on the back. ”

  The tall figure runs his long fingers along my name. “Ember…” His hauntingly melodious voice envelops me and beckons me to move out from behind the statue. I start to step out.

  “Hold it right there. ” A pale orb of light beams over my shoulders and hits the grass in front of my feet.

  I tense as the shovel stops cutting into the dirt and the night grows quiet, except for the hooting of an owl.

  “Now slowly turn around,” a deep voice instructs and static cuts through a stereo. “I’m with the suspect now. ”

  Damn it. They’re going to think I was digging up the grave. This is not my first time getting into trouble, so they won’t go easy on me.

  “I said, slowly turn around and keep your hands where I can see them,” the cop orders.

  I shut my eyes and slowly elevate my hands to my sides.

  “Good, now turn around slowly,” he says.

  Yeah right. I sprint off across the graveyard, my legs moving as fast as they will go.

  “She’s on the move,” he yells and the speaker statics.

  My clunky boots rip against the grass as I hop and maneuver around the gravestones. The cop pursues me, his footsteps deafening, and the keys on his belt jingle. I speed up as the brick fence pierces my view and springing onto my toes, I leap for the top. My stomach slams against the edge and I quickly pull my legs up, but the cop grabs my boot and yanks on my leg.