Ember x, p.13
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       Ember X, p.13

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 13

 

  As much as I wish I could be confident in my words, I’ve been known for too long as the twisted girl who obsesses about death.

  Everyone is staring at me like I’m the lunatic they always thought I was, ever since my dad’s disappearance. But I refuse to cower, so I sit up straight and wait for Mr. Mackerlie to move on.

  Some guy coughs into his hand, “Psycho killer. ”

  Giggles flutter the room and Cameron raises his hand.

  “Yes,” Mr. Mackerlie says. “Wait, who are you? I’ve never seen you in this class before. ”

  “Let’s just say I’d like to stay anonymous,” he says, throwing off the professor. “And personally, I think it was an amazing poem about pain and survival. ”

  The Professor browses over the poem again. “Well, that’s a good interpretation, but I think perhaps it’s more about the natural process of death. ”

  Cameron taps his fingers on the desk. “Death might be a theme, but I don’t think that’s what it’s completely about. I think it’s more relative to the pain someone feels about death and their need to survive through the pain, even though they think they can’t. Perhaps they’ve even lost someone close to them and they are trying to break free from the continual heartache and torment. ”

  Everyone goes silent and I swear I could kiss those pretty guy lips of his. He turns around and gives me a look that says, You know you’re in love with me now.

  “Well, that’s very deep. ” Mr. Mackerlie looks about as befuddled as the rest of the class. “But where did you come from… I haven’t seen you around here before. ”

  Cameron clicks his pen. “I’m working on transferring… thought I’d see if I wanted to take this class next semester. ”

  The Professor shuffles through some papers. “Where did you live before here?”

  “New York,” Cameron responds dryly.

  “Oh, the Big Apple. ” Mr. Mackerlie selects a paper from the stack and places the rest on his desk.

  “That would be the one. ” Cameron sounds bored.

  “Well, it’s great to have you here, not just as a visitor, but as a new member of our town. ” Professor Mackerlie is also on the town committee and he welcomes Cameron, before moving onto Shakespeare. Cameron doesn’t glance at me during class; however, I can’t take my eyes off him. He‘s fascinating and at the same time frightening. Who is this guy that digs up graves in the cemetery? Who speaks up for me in class and writes the most beautiful words? Who is from New York, just like Asher?

  A coincidence? For some reason, I don’t think so.

  ***

  My next class is about as uneventful as watching paint dry. I’m about to head to my third and last class of the day, when I’m waved into the main office by the secretary.

  She holds a finger up while she continues talking to a slender woman with blonde hair, a sharp nose, and glasses framing her narrow face. Her hair is tight in a bun and she sports a pinstriped pantsuit. I drop down in a chair and wait.

  “Yes, I know, but I don’t see why you have to do it here,” the secretary, Mrs. Finnelly, tells the woman.

  The woman leans on the counter. “Can you just check again?”

  Mrs. Finnelly sighs and types something on her keyboard. She rolls her chair back to the corner filing cabinet and takes out a thin manila folder. “Here you go, Beth, but I don’t see how her file is going to help. In fact, she’s right here, so it might be better just to talk to her. ”

  Beth turns around and her blue eyes promptly darken with abhorrence. “Ember Edwards, I’m detective Crammer. ”

  My lips twitch. “Okay. ”

  She motions to the counselor’s office door. “Why don’t we go in here so we can talk more privately. ”

  I follow her into the counselor’s office, which is packed with plants and family photos. There’s a bag hanging on a coat rack in the far corner and the air smells like pumpkin and spice. Detective Crammer takes a seat in the office chair and I sit down in front of the desk.

  She opens the file with my name printed on it. “You excel in English… but your math grades look a little weak. ” She takes off her glasses and tosses them on the desk. “Well, I’ll get straight to the point since we only have the office for a few minutes. ” She rolls forward in the chair, and overlaps her hands on top of the desk. “As I’m sure you’ve heard, Laden Miller disappeared last night. Now, the last place he was seen was a party you were at. Is that correct?”

  “Yeah,” I answer. “But a lot of people were. ”

  “Just a simple yes or no will suffice,” she says snidely. “Now, as I’m sure you’ve also heard, Laden Miller’s car was found down at the bridge in a very similar situation as how your father’s car was left after his disappearance three years ago. You were the only one ever investigated for his disappearance—the police never had any more leads. ”

  I brazenly cross my arms. “The charges against me were dropped. ”

  She pulls out a small notepad from the pocket of her jacket. “I pulled up your father’s case and it said that they got a call right before your dad disappeared. The call was from you and you said he was going to be murdered. ”

  “No, I said he was going to die. There’s a huge difference. ”

  “Huge difference or not, it’s highly suspicious. And then you ran away right after. ”

  I opt for silence, knowing from experience that fewer words mean fewer opportunities to twist what I say around.

  Her eyes narrow at me and then she jots something in notepad. “It’s such a strange case. Raven feathers, an hourglass, the bright red X on the road. And of course there’s the blood. ”

  “They’re all symbols of death,” I say. “I told the police this last time. ”

  Her eyebrows furrow as she reads over her notes. “Hmm… no one ever made a note of that. ”

  I shrug indifferently. “Well, it’s true. Except for the X, they all represent death. You can Google it if you want. It’s pretty common knowledge. ”

  “Did you do that before or after your dad disappeared?”

  “After. ”

  She reddens with frustration, fighting to keep her cool. “You know, I find it highly suspicious that you were at a party Laden Miller attended and then he disappeared. And there were witnesses that said they saw you peeling off in your car right after Laden drove away with another girl. ”

  Witnesses? “I had somewhere to be… my mom… she needed me home for something,” I lie, but not very well.

  She sifts through the notepad. “Actually, if I read the note in the file right, your mother’s been a pretty inactive parent. In fact, she gave up her custody of you and sent you to live with your father when you were four. ”

  “Inactive or not, she asked me to be home early that night because she needed my help with something. ” I make an effort not to fidget, or she’ll use it against me.

  Her eyes scrutinize me. “Where were you between the hours of two to four a. m. on Saturday?”

  Crashing into a lake, drawing crazy notes on my wall, blacking out. Shit! “I was with Asher Morgan. ” It slips out of me and I instantly regret it.

  Her eyebrows arch. “And he is?”

  “A friend of mine. ” I’m digging myself a giant, coffin-sized hole. I grip onto the armrest, hoping she doesn’t notice my uneasiness.

  She writes Asher Morgan down at the top of the notebook and then tucks it in her pocket. Then she hands me her card. “We’ll be in touch. ”

  I take the card, stuff it into my back pocket, and leave the office, not looking back.

  Chapter 7

  Everyone in the town is calling Laden’s disappearance the Angel of Death Killing. The rumor spread about the detective interrogating me right on campus. It’s like I’ve relapsed back to three years ago, right after my dad vanished. The halls are fluttering with whispers of “Freak,” Psychopath,” and “Murderer. ” But I walk with my head held high. A little gossip and dirty looks a
re nothing compared to being plagued by death every day.

  I’m contemplating bailing out on my last class of the day, but Raven still hasn’t shown up yet and she hasn’t called or replied to any of my texts, so I go to the McDonalds next door to get some lunch. I’m waiting for my order to be put on the tray, when Mackenzie Baker comes brushing by, knocks her shoulder into mine, and nearly breaks a high heel trying to recover her balance. Ropes bind her wrist and mouth. Darkness devours her. Come out, come out, wherever you are. It’s a game and Mackenzie loses, lost in a sea of blood. I’ve seen her death before and it never gets easier.

  Glaring at me, she flips her hair and quickly returns to the conversation with the girl she’s with.

  “So was I right?” The soft touch of Cameron’s voice sends a rush of adrenaline through my body and I quiver.

  I step back and elongate the distance between us, but really I want to move closer to him. “Were you right about what?”

  “About your poem,” he says with a charming smile.

  “You think I’m in pain?” I ask as the cashier sets French fries down on my tray

  “I think your heart carries a lot of pain. ” He steps forward, reducing the already limited space between us. “But that you hide it, just like you hide a lot of things. ”

  He’s striking a nerve. “Isn’t everyone hiding something?” I ask.

  “Now those are the words of a true writer. ” He reaches behind me, missing my arm by an inch, and steals some of my French fries. “But the question is, what are you hiding, Ember?”

  There’s accusation in his tone—he’s heard the rumors. “Bodies in the basement of my house and a burner full of ashes,” I say darkly.

  He’s unfazed, tipping his head back and dropping the stolen fries into his mouth. “Weird, because that’s the same thing I have in my basement. ”

  “I’d be happy that we share something in common, but we both know that neither of our houses have basements. ”

  “Yep, but they have attics,” he says and it no longer sounds like he’s joking. “And attics are excellent places to hide bodies too. ”

  I grab my cup from the tray and turn to the fountain.

  He laughs. “Relax, I’m just kidding. ”

  I offer him a small smile, loosening up a little as I fill up the cup with ice and then soda. Then I pick up my tray and my eyes browse the room lined with tables and benches.

  “So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” I ask, heading for a corner table as Cameron trails at my heels. “More sneaking into classes or do you have work?”

  “I work online,” he answers vaguely.

  “Doing what?”

  “Boring stuff. ”

  “You are very cryptic. You know that?”

  “I do. ” He smiles at me, pleased.

  There’s a lot of chattering and wandering eyes at the accused killer standing in the center of the room. Who am I even looking for? I spot Asher in the far corner table, sitting with a group of people about my age. Wow, he made friends fast.