Ember x, p.3
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       Ember X, p.3

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 3


  “So whose party are we going to tonight?” I slip my plaid pajama bottoms off and tug on my faded jeans.

  “Remy’s,” Raven replies, and I can hear her delving through my jewelry drawer.

  Pulling a face, I slip on a fitted black shirt. “Doesn’t she live all the way up by the lake?” I ask, putting my boots on.

  She pokes her head inside the closet. “Don’t be such a downer, Em. For once can’t you let loose and have some fun?” She moves back as I step into my room.

  “I’m not being a downer. ” I collect my car keys from the dresser, clip on my maroon pendant necklace, and set the feather in the jewelry drawer. “I just hate driving my car all the way up there. It gets such crappy gas mileage. And there’s just so many people at Remy’s parties. ”

  She pouts out her lip and bats her eyelashes at me. “Pretty please, Em. Can’t we go have fun like two normal college girls?”

  The term college is pushing it. We go to the Star Hollow Community College since neither of our parents could afford anything else. We have to get grants each semester, buy our books used and rent them when we can, and we live at home. Most of the classes are taught by Professors who don’t know more than my high school teachers did and sometimes I wonder why I’m going to college at all.

  Acutally I do. One day I hope to get the hell out of this shithole town I live in, away from my mom, my brother, my home, all full of painful memories.

  I force a smile. “We always go to parties. ”

  She pokes my arm playfully. “But you never have fun, so just for the night, can’t you try?”

  Sighing, I nod my head. “All right, I’ll try, but it’s kind of hard to have fun when people look at you like you might murder them. ”

  “No one still blames you for your dad’s death. The cops even said there was no way it could be you—that’s why they dropped the charges. ”

  “Actually, they didn’t say that. They just didn’t have enough evidence to push the investigation further. ”

  “Yeah, but no one thinks you really killed him,” she reassures me.

  “Everyone in this town does,” I disagree. “They think that’s why I disappeared for a week—that I was on the run from the cops. ”

  “Well, maybe if you’d tell someone where you were…” She waits, but my lips stayed sealed and they’ll stay sealed until the day I die. She rolls her eyes and crooks her pinkie finger in front of her. “No one thinks you’re a killer. Now swear on it that you’ll have fun. ”

  “Fine,” I grimace and hook my pinkie to hers. “I swear I’ll try to have fun. ”

  She tightens her pinkie. “Not try—will. ”

  “I promise I will have fun,” I say with a frown.

  She jumps up and down, clapping her hands animatedly as I fasten my studded bracelet to my wrist, then we head out the door.

  “And remember what happens if you go back on your word,” she says, skipping down the stairs, swinging her arms.

  “Yeah, yeah, the bad karma will catch up with me,” I say, lacing my boot up as I hop down the last step. Raven is very big on karma, but karma has had me by the throat since I was four when I accidently took my grandmother’s life.

  “Dude, why do you look like you’re about to commit murder?” My brother, Ian, leans against the kitchen doorway, singeing a stray thread on his hoodie with a lighter. His scraggily brown hair is hidden beneath a grey beanie and, as usual, he has paint all over his hands. He’s about the same height as me and kind of scrawny. There have been a lot of times where people thought he was younger than me.

  I shake my head and snatch the lighter from his hands. “Why do you insist on being a pyro? You’re going to hurt yourself one day. Or hurt someone else. ”

  He lunges for the lighter, but I dodge around him and dash into the kitchen where the carpet switches to tile. I smash the lighter against the floor and watch it break.

  “What the heck is wrong with you?” Ian shouts, picking up the broken pieces.

  Ian is twenty-one, two years older than me, and he still lives at home. At sixteen, he declared himself a struggling artist, which meant he would forever live here, raiding the refrigerator and hanging out in the attic—his “studio. ”

  He snatches my hand and grips tightly. “Why do you have to be such a bitch sometimes?”

  I tense as I feel his death coarse through me like venom. Fire everywhere, the roof of our house roaring in flames. Ian lies on the floor, dying—he wants to be there. I jerk away and suck a sharp breath through my nose. I’ve seen his death before, and each time is equally as painful. In a beautiful world full of roses and sunshine, I’d be able to change his self-inflicting death. But as far as I know, death omens are irrevocable and as permanent as the ink that stains the pages of my journal.

  He rubs the black and yellow paint off his cheeks. “Look, Em, I’m sorry, okay?” He glances at Raven, worried about her reaction. “I just haven’t been sleeping that great lately. ”

  “It’s okay. And I’m sorry I broke your lighter. ” I pick up the rest of the pieces of the lighter and toss them into the trash. “Are you taking your medication still?”

  He massages the back of his neck, looking tense. “I am, but I’m not sure I need to anymore. It’s been two years since Alyssa… And I’m feeling pretty good these days. ”

  The fact that he can’t talk about her death proves he’s not ready to get off his medication. Ian never forgave himself for the disappearance of Alyssa, his high school girlfriend, which ultimately led to her body being discovered in the lake.

  After her body was found, Ian spent his entire senior year drunk and stoned. He even tried to kill himself once, although he denies it to this day, saying he accidently swallowed too many pills, but I know the truth—I read his goodbye note.

  When I discovered him on the bathroom floor, unconscious and barely breathing, I knew he wasn’t going to die, but it still scared the shit out of me. He loved Alyssa so much and the guilt of her loss consumes his life and poisons his head with dark thoughts he may never get rid of.

  His arms open for a hug, but I evade around him. “Raven and I are headed out. Let Mom know I’ll be home late… if she shows up. ”

  He goes to the cupboard and takes out a box of cereal. “Even if she comes home, she’ll be too drunk to notice. ”

  “I know. ” I gather the dirty dishes off the table and put them in the sink. “But I thought I’d let you know just in case, by some small miracle, she comes home sober and notices I’m not here. ”

  He waves at us as we head for the front door. “Yeah, yeah, will do. ”

  Raven blows him a flirty kiss. “Thanks, Hun. ”

  Ian questioningly raises his eyebrows. “Hun?”

  I jerk the door open. “I thought you said you would never go out with him?”

  She shrugs and whisks out the front door, waggling her fingers and shimmying her hips. “I won’t, but I never said I wouldn’t flirt with him. ”

  I wave goodbye to Ian. “See you later and if you need anything, call me. ”

  “Oh yeah, I almost forgot. ” He backs into the kitchen and, seconds later, returns with my journal. “This was on the front porch this morning. ”

  Astonished, I take my journal and brush the dirt off the black leather cover. “Do you know how it got there?”

  “I thought you dropped it or something. ” He shrugs. “I didn’t see anyone come in this morning, except for you. ”

  I swallow hard and flip through the pages. Everything looks normal, just how I left it, except for the last page.

  Blinded by the opaque veil of mortality, her eyes are always sealed, like a tomb

  She wants to know—wants to feel that fire, the brightness of the moon

  So she searches for light, only to realize it’s in her, like an ember equipped to ignite.

  The handwriting is flawless, as if each curve of the pen meant something. I touch the page delicately li
ke it’s something precious.

  Raven peeks over my shoulder. “I thought you lost that?”

  “I guess I was wrong. ” I shut the journal. “Wait for me in the car?”

  She nods, but shimmies toward Ian and pokes him in the chest with her finger “So, I have a beef to pick with you. ”

  I leave them to their flirting, go upstairs to my room, and stare at the poem. It’s beautiful and strikes a nerve, but who wrote it? The guy from the cemetery? I tear the page out and tack it up beside my bed. I read over the words again before heading out the door.

  Will I ever see the mysterious stranger again? And what will happen if I do?

  Chapter 3

  Raven and I have been best friends since we were in diapers. Our parents were friends in high school and they moved next door to each other after they married. Our moms were pregnant together—twice—and our dads worked at the local auto shop. It was the picture perfect scene, until two years after Raven and I were born. Then the perfection withered like a famished rose.

  Then my parents started fighting a lot. At first it wasn’t bad, but then it started happening every night. My mom said my dad didn’t want to spend time with us—that he was too caught up in his job and hanging out at the bar. And she was right—my dad was drunk all the time. Finally, he moved out and Ian and I barely saw him.

  Raven’s dad bailed on her family a few years later. Just up and left. Poof. Not too long after, our moms developed drug habits and our brothers started living in their own world. Actually, Raven’s brother, Todd, isn’t too bad, just a little unconventional. But I don’t know what I’d do if I lost Raven. She’s my stability.

  Remy’s party is more lively than usual. A mob of college students are packed in the miniscule living room, swaying to “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, practically dry humping each other, the ecstasy evident all over their faces. Deep down, in the darkest spots of my aching heart, I wonder what it would be like to touch someone like that, rub up against them, feel the inviting heat of their body, instead of the foul sensation of their impending death.

  Beer bottles and cigarette butts litter the hardwood floor and the air reeks of sweat, beer, sex and death. It’s potent, venomous, intoxicating. I hang out in the emptiest corner of the house, near the stairway and the door, trying to keep my distance. By accident, I ran into three people and their death omens still taint my skin like small bruises and nicks and cuts.

  I sip on my cranberry juice, wishing I could spike it with a little vodka, but I’m the designated driver. I watch people dance, my thoughts drifting to the guy from the graveyard. What is he doing right now? Right this instant, while I stand here by myself. In my head, he’s sitting in his Victorian home, scribbling beautiful words in his notebook, shirtless, his hair hanging into his eyes. His house is secluded from the world by a dark forest, constantly concealed by fog. I’m sure this isn’t accurate, but that’s the beauty of an imagination.