Ember x, p.26
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       Ember X, p.26

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 26

 

  Cameron glances at me. “I’m busy. ”

  She pouts her glossy bottom lip. “So you’re not staying for the bonfire?”

  “Maybe we could stay…” he wavers, waiting for me to say okay.

  “If you want to stay, that’s fine with me. ” My eyes skim the forest as I try to determine how long it would take me to walk back to the house. The last thing I want to do is hang out here. These are not the kind of parties I’m intentionally invited to and I don’t want to sit around and be called a killer all night.

  He smiles and pats my arm. “Sounds good. ” He backtracks toward the shore to pick up his shirt.

  Mackenzie follows him like a lovesick puppy, knocking her shoulder into mine as she passes by me; bound and gagged, hands tied, are you ready to die, pretty girl?

  “Watch it, killer. ” Her eyes sparkle with hatred.

  I flip her the middle finger and she rolls her eyes, chasing after Cameron. “Why are you all wet?” She giggles and gives him a flirty pat on the chest, gliding her palm across his muscles.

  I wipe off the areas where he touched me, erasing the dampness he left on me and the feel of his touch. I pick up Cameron’s phone and dial Raven’s number as more cars and trucks pull up. People hop out of the cars; some I go to school with and some are older.

  “Hey, Rav,” I say when she answers. “I need you to pick me up. ”

  “What?” she hollers in the phone. “Em, what are you saying? Aren’t you having fun?”

  Cameron seems to be. On the shore, he slips on his shirt, letting Mackenzie ogle him with a starving look in his eyes, like he might rip her dress off at any moment.

  “Can you just come get me?” I beg, looking away from the soon-to-be-porno scene. “Please. ”

  “Yeah, sure, hun,” she yells over the music in the background. “Where are you?”

  The connection statics so I weave around the cars and hike up toward the road, tucking in my shoulders as two guys pass by, carrying a keg. “I’m at the lake,” I say, but her voice cuts out so I ascend higher up the road. “Rav, can you hear me?” The signal dies and I sigh, walking up to the top of the road right at the border of the asphalt. There’s still no signal, so I turn up the highway.

  About a mile later, I still don’t have a signal. It’s midday, but the clouds are rumbling and the air is tinted with the smell of an imminent rainstorm. I keep walking with no desire to turn around, watching a raven soar above my head.

  “Leave me alone, you stupid bird,” I call out. “Go haunt someone else. ”

  It keeps circling and cawing, feathers falling from its wings. I catch one and spin it between my fingers, trying to remember if these were the same as the ones from my dad’s crime scene. I saw a bag of them once, while I was being interrogated, but I think they were a little bit bigger.

  I dodge to the side as a sleek black car with tinted windows turns the corner. The tires screech and the engine roars as it speeds up, the music bumping and vibrating the ground.

  Inching further to the side of the road, I wrap my arms around myself and focus on seeing my death, but again there’s only blackness.

  As the car drives passed me, it unexpectedly makes a sharp swerve into the wrong lane. There’s little time to react as it races right at me. I scramble to the railing, but the front bumper slams into my legs and I flip up onto the hood, rolling over the top and flying off the side of the road and over the edge of the cliff. I bounce off the rocks, my bones splintering, and the rocks rip at my skin. When I finally roll to a stop at the bottom of the hill, I blink up at the sky and then at my surroundings, realizing I’m lying next to the Angel statue Asher took me to; the one surrounded by crosses and flourishing roses.

  My arm is twisted behind my head, my leg is kinked under my back, and warm blood spills down my forehead. Thunder booms and lightning flashes across the sky as I try to move, but I’ve lost all movement in my body. I’m paralyzed.

  It all makes sense now, like connecting dots to form a map. The lake, my brakes, Garrick smothering me with death omens. Someone wants me dead and whoever they are has just succeeded.

  “Ember,” the wind howls as the Grim Reaper appears above me, its cloak blowing in the wind. I know this is it—my death. It’s time for me to go.

  “Close your eyes,” he commands as he begins to pull his hood down with his skeletal fingers.

  My eyelids begin to drift shut, but I catch a glimpse of dark hair and eyes. “Asher…”

  Then the dark hair melts away and the eyes hollow out. I wonder if this is what death looks like to everyone, or that in my death, I have lost my mind.

  “Take it, Ember, or else you won’t make it. And I need you to make it… for a little while. ” He plucks a red rose from the stem, bends down, and tucks it in my hair. “Take the life. ”

  My eyes shut and I listen to my heart fading away, dying inside my chest. My breath submits to the wind and my heart gives its concluding beat. My life leaves my body, like leaves drifting from the trees, and every ounce of pain goes with it.

  Suddenly, I don’t want to wake up.

  Chapter 14

  Some people believe that right before death, a person reaches a point of comfort and numbness and it allows them to see images of every blissful, delighted, ecstatic moment they’ve ever experienced in their lifetime. I’ve died twice, and each time I see the Reaper. So is that supposed to be my happy moment?

  “Wake up. ” Someone pats my face. “Em, open your fucking eyes. You’re scaring the shit out of me. ”

  My eyes roll open to the grey sky, Raven’s sapphire eyes, and a thousand wilting roses covering the ground, charred, the once soft petals now ash upon the singed grass.

  I gradually sit up and rub the dirt from my skin, then twist my arms and stretch my legs out.

  Raven sighs and leans back to give me breathing room. “Holy shit, Em. What happened?”

  Every single tree within a quarter mile radius is dead, dried out, stripped of leaves and the dirt is cracked out like desert sand.

  Did I do this?

  “I have no idea…” I press my hand over my beating heart. “How did you find me?”

  She holds up the necklace and points back at the hill. “This was lying on the side of the road up there. ” She hands it to me and I clip it back around my neck, then she grabs my arm and helps me to my feet.

  Her death is as dusky as the sky, but I can feel her life pumping through her veins.

  “I was hit by a car… I think. ” My brain is hazy, but I remember tumbling down the hill, bones breaking, skin rupturing open. “I’m not sure… Can you just take me home?”

  She studies me with uneasiness in her eyes. “I think we should take you to a doctor. ”

  I shake my arms, checking for pain, but everything feels all right, mended, healed. “No doctors. I just want to go home. ”

  She wraps her arm around my lower back. Her death is silent, but her life whispers to me: Take me, take me, take me.

  It takes a while, but we accomplish the walk back and make it to the top of the hill where the trees are thriving with life again. Her car is parked on the side of the road with the engine running and the driver’s door open.

  I wiggle from her arms, feeling strangely liberated. “Maybe I should walk home. ”

  “Get in the car,” she orders sternly, but there’s a hint of exhaustion in her expression. “You need to go back home. There’s officially a town curfew in affect now that Farrah’s body was found. ”

  Maybe the same person who killed her is trying to kill me.

  “Okay. ” I hop in the car and slam the door.

  She climbs into the driver’s seat and buckles her seatbelt, then she leans over the console and clips mine, before pulling the car out onto the road. “I really, really think you should go see a doctor. You look like shit. ”

  “I’m fine. ” I pluck a rose from my hair and run my fingers along the dried petals
, fascinated with its lack of luster. “A car just bumped me a little and I tripped down the hill. ”

  “Yeah, right. ” She shifts her car and speeds down the highway, the tires squealing. “You don’t just trip after a car bumps into you. It ran you over. ”

  “I’m not going to the doctor,” I insist. “So take me home. ”

  She flinches at my hostile tone and doesn’t say a word for the rest of the drive.

  ***

  I’ve calmed down by the time we pull up to my house. It’s still early but the sky is bleak with clouds. The lights are on in the living room and my mom’s car is parked in the driveway.

  I unbuckle my seatbelt and wrap my fingers around the door handle. “I’m sorry for snapping at you. I don’t know what’s wrong with me… I just feel so… confused. ”

  Raven presses her lips together and eyes my house. “It’s okay. You were still my friend through my little meltdown. ”

  “About Laden?” I brush the dirt off the front of my legs.

  She nods slowly. “I’m not ready to talk about what happened yet, but I promise you, I had nothing to do with his disappearance. And you have to promise me you’ll tell me what happened today, when you’re ready. ”

  “You mean with Cameron?” I ask, pulling on the handle and cracking the door open. “Or with the car?”

  There are bags under her eyes and her olive complexion looks pallid. “Both. ”

  “Cameron turned out to be a douche bag. ” I shove open the car door. “And when I’m ready, I’ll try to explain what happened with the car. ”

  She smiles. “I love you, Em. You know that, right?”

  “I love you too. ” And at that moment I mean it.

  I climb out of the car and go into the house. My mom is sifting through the bills at the kitchen table with takeout in front of her. She has on her uniform, a checkered dress covered by a white apron, and her hair is pulled up into a bun.

  “Where have you been?” she asks, looking up from the bills.

  I step into the kitchen. “I was out at the lake. ”

  Her brown eyes bulge. “Why are you covered in dirt and scratched?”

  “I picked a fight with a rose bush. ”

  “And you lost?”

  “No, I think I might have won. ” I still have the dead rose in my hand and I drop it on the table.

  She sets the papers down and stares at the rose. “Where did you get that?”

  “That’s what was left over from the fight. ” I plop down in a chair and grab a fry from the takeout bag.

  She picks up the rose, twirls it in her fingers, and dead rose petals float to the table. “You know I never expected your dad to leave. ”

  “Which time?” I chew on the fry. “When he moved out or when he disappeared?”

  “Ember, I hope you don’t think your dad’s coming back. ” She places the rose on the table. “He’s probably dead. ”

  “I know that. ” I pick up the phone bill from the table, stamped with a bright red OVERDUE. “But I won’t completely accept it until they find his body. ”