Cinder x, p.28
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       Cinder X, p.28

         Part #2 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 28


  Asher looks like he notices it, but doesn’t comment on it. Instead, he nods and grabs my hand again, his skin cold from the rain. Then we head for the car in the driveway, side-by-side beneath the rain. It’d seem like the perfect moment except for the thunder booming above us and there are people standing all over the grass.

  “Shit,” Asher and I say, noticing them at the exact same time. We stop dead in our tracks at the brink of the driveway as more people emerge. They aren’t regular people. They’re possessed; their expressions numb, eyes glowing through the veil of rain, and their hands are held lifelessly at their sides. I recognize a few of them as my neighbors. The two policemen that are always stalking me stand with them, too. However some of them I’ve never seen before; they’ve been drawn in from town, I’m guessing, but why?

  Deep down, I think I might know the answer, but I don’t want to accept it just yet. Accept what the burn on my back means or why the Anamotti have suddenly stepped up their game.

  As I stare at the thickening crowd, at the people wandering in from each side of the street, I spot another person that I recognize. She’s tall and thin, and has dark hair that runs down her shoulders in waves. She’s wearing a long, floral dress and her lips that were once red are blue. I went to school with her up until a week ago when her body was found near the riverbank only a half a mile from my father’s crime scene.

  Her lips curl into a smile as I look at her and for a second I think she’s going to beg me to help her like the other dead girl did, but all she says is, “Hey, Ember. It’s nice to see you again,” she says with a little wave. Vomit burns at the back of my throat at the sight of her fingerless hand. “Alton says, ‘Hi’ and that ‘he’ll see you soon. ’”

  My jaw drops as Asher’s hand tightens around mine. “We have to get out of here…” His focus is secured on the people gathering in large numbers. “Quickly. ” He blinks his eyes away from them and then we’re running to the car, puddles splashing below our feet while thunder and lightning crack above us and rain hammers down. Like at school, the people don’t move, letting the rain drench them as they watch us, waiting for something.

  When we reach my mom’s car parked in the driveway, we climb in and I start the engine. Asher drags his fingers through his soaked hair and pushes it back from his face. We buckle our seatbelts without saying anything and then I put the car in reverse. When I check the mirror, I see that the people have migrated from the lawn to the end of the driveway, making it impossible to back up.

  “What should I do?” I ask as Asher rotates around in the seat to look behind us at the forming group.

  He deliberates, measuring the thickness of the crowd. “I think we should just go. Test them and see if they get out of the way. ”

  I grip the shifter with one hand and the steering wheel with the other. “And what if they don’t move?”

  His Adam’s apple bobs up and down as he gulps. “Then bump them with your car. ”

  “I can’t do that,” I say, alarmed. “They’re still people, despite the fact that they’re possessed. ”

  “Yeah, you’re right,” he mutters, turning around in his seat and tilting his head to check out the side window. “Just drive up on the grass. ”

  “You want me to hot rod it over the front lawn?” I question, eyeballing down the perfect path just between the house and the edge of the group.

  He places the book on his lap and puts a hand on top of it like he’s afraid to let it go. “If you don’t feel comfortable enough doing it, I can trade places with you. ”

  I tap the gas pedal, giving it a little throttle. “No, I’m good. In fact, I’m sort of looking forward to doing it. ”

  His pierced brow shoots up as his head whips in my direction. “I’m a little surprised you’re not slightly afraid, considering you crashed your car into a lake. ”

  I pump the gas a few more times and the car starts to inch down the driveway. “My dad loved working on cars,” I say. “And hot rodding them. ” I crane the wheel. “He actually used to steal them with me in the car. ”

  “Seriously?” Asher gapes at me.

  I give a little shrug. “As embarrassing as it is, it was sort of like a father/daughter bonding thing. ”

  I rotate the wheel in the other direction when the back end reaches the people. They don’t even move out of my way. Then, pressing on the gas, the tires squeal as the car lurches forward. I burn rubber; the tires tear up the grass, splattering mud and rain all over the windows. I have to flip the wipers on from the sheer magnitude of debris that suddenly covers the windshield.

  I’m enjoying myself a little bit as I pull away from my house, not too surprised that I’m sort of relieved to be leaving the stillness of it behind. Then I spot someone in the crowd that makes me slam on the brakes. The car lurches to a stop and my hands start to shake as I stare at my mom standing just to the side of the car in the midst of the horde of people. She’s dressed in old jeans and an overly large t-shirt, her hair pulled back in a messy bun and her skin bare of makeup, looking pale. There’s no doubt it’s her, though.

  “Mom,” I whisper and my foot that’s holding down the brake starts to tremble, causing the car to roll forward again. I quickly reach over and shove it into park then take my foot off the brake.

  Asher tracks my gaze to her standing in the crowd. “That’s your mom?”

  I slowly nod, my fingers fumbling to find the buckle of the seatbelt. “Yeah, but what’s she doing out there with them…” I trail off as the buckle unclicks and then suddenly, I’m moving in fast motion, reaching for the door handle, ready to jump out.

  “Ember, wait. ” Asher snags my arm and stops me. “Don’t get out. ”

  I jerk my arm, but he doesn’t let go. “Asher, let me go. It’s my mom out there…” I look at her through the windshield and she’s looking at me, her expression not numb like the rest of them, however it is horribly morose. “Please, I need to see her, to see if she’s okay. ”

  My mom lifts her hand and waves, though there’s something robotic about her movements, something about it shatters me inside. Then she places her hand on the base of her neck and that’s when I see the marks. Or more like wounds that look like they were inflicted by a knife or a rope. There’s also an X on her forehead. When I realize what that means, I start to freak out, pushing and shoving at Asher to let me go, but he keeps holding onto me with unbreakable strength. I hear him say something, but I’m veering towards shock because it looks like my mom is dead.

  “Asher, let me go. Please!” I start to cry, hysterically sobbing as he pulls me against him with the console between us. Mascara is running down my cheeks. “Oh, my God, she’s dead… Please tell me she’s not dead. ”

  Asher doesn’t respond and I lose it, tears cascading out of my eyes. These last couple of days she’s been missing and I’ve been walking around, thinking she was out on the streets somewhere, but the entire time, she’s been dead.

  God, no.

  My shoulders heave with each sob as I continue to cry, losing touch with reality, drifting into a state of devastation as I stare out the window at her. The people start to close in on the car, narrowing the space around us, taking the upper hand. Then through the rain, shadows appear, flying and soaring around the car. They look just like the ones I saw in my room; wisps of darkness that gracefully soar. Asher starts to curse when he spots them and it feels like I should be terrified, but the pain of my mother overrides it and all I feel is sorrow.

  I can’t take it anymore.

  I can’t breathe.

  I need to help her.

  With more strength than I thought I possessed, I shove Asher away from me. He startles back, his back hitting the door. I seize the opportunity to hop out of the car. Rain slams against my skin, like icy needles, and I shield my eyes, searching for my mom. I find her standing just at the front of the car, a neutral expression on her face.

  “Ember, get in the car
,” Asher orders as he jumps out of the other side. He looks at me from over the roof, blinking fiercely against the rain. “I’m sorry this happened, but you have to remember that she isn’t really your mom anymore. ”

  I look at him and then my mother, torn on what to do. I want to go to her, but at the same time, I know Asher’s right. I know that’s not really her, just what’s left of her.

  God, I can’t believe she’s dead.

  I tell myself I can do this and start to turn back to the open door of the car. Asher seems relieved, lowering his head to get back in, but then my mom calls out my name and I freeze.

  “Ember, help me,” she says. When I look at her, the vacancy in her eyes has dwindled and she resembles the same mom I saw right before I took her life. Helpless. Lost. Possessed. Under no control of her own. “Please, don’t let me go like this,” she begs.

  I run to her, unable to control myself, unable to admit that this is her ghost and not her. Asher shouts out my name, but I don’t care. My feet hammer against the ground and raindrops sting at my skin. As I get closer, the mob surrounds her, packing their bodies tighter together, like their trying to block me from getting to her. I shove each one out of the way, feeling their death course through me, all of them the same. Blackness. Pain. Good-bye. Please don’t leave me. I can’t. Everything hurts. Capes and feathers showering from the sky. All over the town. Blood filling the streets that are filled with bodies. So many bodies. So many deaths. Thousands. I can feel them pouring through me like a river of needles. One Reaper stands in the middle of it feasting off the souls of the bodies, growing more powerful. Broad shoulders, blonde hair, a scraggily jawline, he stands tall in the center of the blood, craving more souls. More power. More control over the town he runs.

  I can’t stay on my feet as the death replays in my head. I stretch my hand out to my mother, wanting her to reach me as the people bump and touch me from all sides. She just gazes at me, though, sort of the same way she looked at me when I killed my grandmother, like she hates me. Fears me. Wants to disown me.

  “You know, I always knew you were going to be trouble,” she says as I’m lurched around, glowing eyes everywhere, smothering me as the rain slams down against my skin. “The moment I found out I was pregnant I was disgusted. I saw what being a Grim Angel made your grandfather. A monster; the same thing it made your father, crazy and killing innocent people. No wonder you’re alone in the world. No one can stand you. The fucked up girl that can see death. ” Each one of her words hits me like razors under my skin, the pain wanting to escape, but it’s stuck inside. “No wonder I didn’t come home. I’d rather rot in a ditch somewhere than be near you. ”

  Her words strangle me as though they’re invisible fingers wrapping around my neck. It hurts, but at the same time, I can’t entirely feel the hurt because it’s mixing with the horrid images of the entire town’s death as the mayor stands in the middle of it all.