Ember x, p.15
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       Ember X, p.15

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 15


  “You tell me. ” I knee him between the legs, then dodge to the side of him, and reach for Raven. “Come on, let’s get out of here. ”

  Raven shakes her head and skitters away from me. “I can’t, Em. I have to stay here. ”

  Rage flickers across his face as he lunges for me again and grips my wrists so tight my skin breaks. I groan as the venom of a thousand deaths paralyzes me: self-inflicting, painful, too early, broken heart, old age, help me, help me, help me. There are so many that I can’t sort through all of them. It’s crushing the oxygen from my lungs and strangles my heart; unbearable and ironic because what if death omens are the cause of my infinite death?

  “Let her go,” a deep, demanding voice chips away at the blackness and pain.

  Sleazebag abandons my arms and I crumple to the ground, clutching the grass, gasping for air. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

  A hand appears in my vision, but I shake my head. “Let me help you up. ”

  “Go away. ” I choke. “Please. I swear I’m fine. ”

  “Ember, take my hand,” Asher says and the resonance of his voice settles me down.

  I slip my hand into his and contentment glides through my body, squelching the pain.

  He helps me to my feet, his grey eyes searching me as he brushes grass out of my hair, off my shoulder, and the feel of his hands is invigorating. “Are you okay?”

  Intoxication hums through my head. “I’m fine…” God, please just take me now.

  He traces his fingers down my cheekbone, my neck, my throat, all the way to my chest. “Ember…” He groans and lust fills his eyes.

  I repress a moan, my head falling back. “I think I… I think I…”

  “A little help here. ” Raven’s sobs crash us back to reality.

  “I think you’ll be okay. ” His eyes focus on the doors of the school as he blinks the glazed look in his eyes away. “But I think you need to take your friend home. ”

  Raven’s curled up against the door, bawling her eyes out. “Em, help me. Please. I don’t know what’s going on. ”

  I crouch down in front of her. “Come on, let’s get you home. ” When I get her to her feet, focusing past the pollution of her death, I notice both Asher and the sleazebag are gone. “Where’d that guy go? Rav, did you see where he went?”

  “Take me home!” she screams with her hands balled. “Now!”

  Sighing, I lead her toward the parking lot, picking up my bag along the way. Holding my breath, I exhale through her death omen: blood under her head, pain in her body, rain falling from the sky. I lower Raven into the passenger seat of her car and buckle the seatbelt for her, then climb into the driver’s seat.

  “Do you have your keys on you?” I adjust the seat back by flipping the lever.

  Tears rain from her eyes as she rummages the keys out of her shirt pocket. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I yelled at you. ”

  I seal my lips together, battling back the urge to yell at her as I turn the engine on. “Sorry for what?”

  “For bailing on you so I could meet up with Garrick. ” She covers her face with her hands and cries, her shoulders shaking.

  “You bailed out on me this morning to be with that guy that has the X on his eye?” I’m stunned. “But he’s a total creep. ”

  “I like him,” she says, blinking her tears back, looking possessed. “He’s nice, has good teeth, and is courteous. ”

  “No, he’s not. ” I back the car out of the parking spot and I notice Asher’s GTO peeling out of the parking lot. “Okay… where is he going?”

  “Ember!” Raven shouts with terror in her eyes. “Please take me home!”

  “Okay. Okay. ” What is going on with her?

  I drive toward our neighborhood, letting her cry for a few minutes, and then I turn down the volume of the radio. “Okay, you have to tell me what the hell happened to you that night Laden vanished,” I demand in a soft but determined tone. “And why you were just with a guy that probably slipped you a roofie. ”

  “He didn’t do that,” she protests with a quick shake of her head. “It was another guy with the same kind of X in his eye. ”

  “I know you’re lying,” I accuse. “Your eye just twitched. ”

  She dabs her eyes with her fingers. “I’m crying. Of course my eye twitched. ”

  “I don’t believe you,” I bluntly inform her. “You’re lying and you’ve been lying to me since the other night. And you’re not acting like yourself… You’re not taking drugs again, are you?”

  “Of course not. ” She rolls her eyes.

  As we drive over the bridge, her eyes dart to the median. There’s a faint scent of death in the air and on the lamppost is a blue flyer with Laden’s face on it. His car is no longer in the street, but the large red X on the asphalt is still visible.

  “Such a shame. ” Laughter hints her voice, and her eyes, smeared with mascara, widen as she gawks at the spot Laden vanished. “He was a really good kisser. ” She leans forward and relaxes her head on the dashboard, and then she shuts her eyes, sweeps her hair to the side, and fans her sweaty face. “It’s so hot… Isn’t it so hot?”

  I notice the scratch on her shoulder blade looks a little infected. “What happened to your shoulder?”

  She shelters the spot with her hand. “Things got a little rough between Laden and me. He was kind of into bondage. ”

  I press my lips together. “How rough exactly?”

  Her head whips up and her eyes scorch fire. “What are you getting at exactly? That I might have had something to do with his death?”

  “There’s no proof he’s dead yet. ” I veer down the road that leads to our houses. “And I didn’t say anything about you being involved. It just looks infected. ”

  “Yeah, whatever. If anyone should be accused of his murder it’s you, especially with your whole little I-saw-him-standing-outside-my-house thing this morning. You better watch what you say, Ember, or people are going to think you’re as crazy as your dad. Oh wait, they already do. ”

  At that moment, I loathe her. She is not my best friend and I don’t care if I ever see her again. I want to rip her hair out, hurt her, and scream at her at the top of my lungs.

  “You need to tell me what happened. With the details,” I demand as I turn into the driveway of her house. I force the shifter into park and place a hand on her arm. “It’s like you’re possessed by the devil or something. ”

  She glances at my hand on her arm and then her eyes drain of emotion. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. ” She jerks her arm away and jumps out of the car.

  I remove the keys from the ignition and jump out after her. “Raven, we’re not done with this conversation yet. I’m worried about you. You’re acting like you’ve lost your mind. ”

  “You would be the expert on that, Death Girl. ” She spats and then whisks around the front of the car, thrusting her hand at me. “My keys, please. ” I slam the keys into her palm. “Thanks, Emmy. And I mean for everything. But honestly, I really need a break from you. You’re too much baggage. ” She sashays into her house and slams the door, leaving me in the driveway, stirring in my own anger.

  I storm for my house, but a flash of black in the trees sends me to an earthshattering halt. Laden’s body hangs from the tree in my front yard, a rope around his neck, and blood dripping from his lips. His pale skin is blue and his eyes stare lifelessly at me.

  Death. Silence.

  Trying not to panic, I fumble my phone out of my bag and nearly drop it. I start to dial the police, but when I look back at the tree, the phone falls from my hands. The body is gone, but his blood still stains the grass.

  Chapter 8

  I work as a cashier down at the one and only gas station in town. It’s a tedious job, one I hope I’m not stuck with for the rest of my life.

  After I get off work, I go home and head to the computer desk. I stay there for hours until the words o
n the computer screen are blurry from the hours of searching on the internet. Ghost possession. Demon possession. Cult rituals. Nothing explains what’s going on with Raven. Or what’s going on with me.

  I shift my focus to Garrick. A death omen has never been that powerful before. It felt like a thousand deaths, each one a thorn on a dying rose, individualized but connected to the same vine of life. I start to type something on the keyboard when Ian’s head appears over my shoulder and he reads the screen.

  “Wow, should I be worried?” he asks, reading my search history on the sidebar as he hovers over my shoulder.

  “We’re studying mythology and human nature in English class,” I lie easily.

  “Well, if you need any help, let me know,” he says. “I had to study mythology for this oil-based painting class I took my freshman year. The Professor was seriously into that crap. ”

  “Yep, I sure will. ” I wait for him to leave and then type “X tattoo” into the search. Nothing pops out, so I delete “tattoo” and put “symbol. ” I scroll through the options and click on a link about execution.

  I read through the article: “An X symbol has many representations, one being the elimination of a life. ” I slump back in the chair and cross my arms. “Well, look at that. It does have to do with death. ”

  Still, why does Garrick have an X on his eye? Could Garrick be… could Garrick be causing the disappearances? But why does he have so many death omens?

  I stretch my fingers and type: Death Omens. I highlight the search button with the cursor, swiveling in the chair as I hesitate before clicking it. I skim through the search results, until I come across a sketch of an Angel with her head tucked down, tears seeping from her eyes, and black smudges on her cheeks. Her dark wings elongate the page and a lifeless rose crumbles from her hand. A skeletal pattern tattoos her arms and legs and a circle rounds the stone floor beneath her bare feet.

  “It’s just like in Asher’s painting of the Angel,” I mutter. Grim Angel is the title of the sketch. “It’s like a mix between the Grim Reaper and an Angel. ”

  I do a search on Grim Angel and read aloud, “Grim Angels are a unique breed immune to most of the Angel of Deaths’ and the Grim Reapers’ gifts. Grim Angels are believed to be insane due to the curse of their hybrid breeding of an Angel of Death and a Grim Reaper, which plagues them with a constant burden of death. They may suffer from blackouts and lose track of their mind, if not properly taken care of. ” I read the note aloud again. “Blackouts and a general burden of constant death. ” I shiver and peek over my shoulder, just to make sure I’m not sprouting wings. But the inner voice deep inside me disagrees.

  After reading a few more websites, and finding nothing else, I give up for the night. “What are these things, like some kind of hush-hush mythical species no one is supposed to talk about or something?”