Ember x, p.30
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       Ember X, p.30

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 30

  “Your Angel? What do you mean by that?”

  She quickly looks away. “It’s a figure of speech, silly. ”

  “And what about Garrick?” I wonder. “Where does he come to play in all this?”

  “Oh, he was there that night too,” she says, staring across the restaurant at a mirror on the wall. Her eyes look big in the reflection. “Garrick and Asher both showed up when it happened. Asher knocked Laden off me and then Garrick took me home. I’m not sure what Asher did with Laden, although I have a guess. ”

  “Asher wouldn’t kill someone…” I trail off. I hardly know him. Yes, we had sex, but it doesn’t mean I’ve discovered what lies in the darkest parts of his soul. I shake my head. “And besides, whoever made Laden disappear also made my dad disappear. And Asher wasn’t even around when that happened. ”

  “Maybe it was just one of those freakish coincidences? Or a copycat? And would it matter if Asher did kill Laden?” She focuses her attention on me. “He had me pinned down with a knife to my throat. I’m pretty sure he was going to kill me. ”

  I stutter for words that don’t exist because nothing can make it better. Thankfully, Todd drops down in our booth and interrupts my need to make her feel better, even though I can’t. He pulls a cigarette out of his jacket pocket and pops it between his lips.

  “Okay, so what’d I miss?” Cupping his hand around his mouth, he lights the cigarette and exhales. “Anything good?”

  Raven and I let out a loud breath. “Nope,” we both say.

  ***

  Todd makes Raven go home with him to help clean the house, which gives me a little more time to figure out how much I want to tell her. Someone has painted “Murderer” in bright red across our front door. This happened a few times after my dad disappeared, only it was on my car window and it usually happened in the parking lot of the school.

  I grab a can of paint remover from the garage. “It’s like a God damn witch hunt,” I say as I work to scrub it off. In the end, half the paint comes off the door, but it’s better paint-less than labeled with hate.

  As soon as I make it to my room, I find my cell and dial Asher’s number. It sends me straight to his voicemail, so I text him.

  Me: We need 2 talk.

  Asher: Why? What’s wrong? Is this about last night… R U ok?

  Me: I’m fine. I just have some questions.

  Asher: Out running errands. Can I talk to u tomorrow at the dance?

  Me: Dance??? WTF.

  Asher: Yeah. The town Halloween dance thingy. . . I saw a flyer posted on the grocery store door. I thought maybe we could go together, like on a date. . . a real one this time.

  I completly forgot tomorrow was Halloween.

  Me: I guess. But can I meet u there?

  Just in case this goes bad, I’ll have my own ride home. I need to know what the Anamotti is, if he knows anything about detective Crammer, and what he knows about Angels and Grim Reapers.

  Asher: Sure… r u sure ur ok?

  Me: Yep. I just really need 2 talk to u about something… the thing we talked about the other night. I think I’m ready for the answers. And I have other questions 4 you.

  It takes him a second to text back.

  Asher: I know you do. I’ll c u at the dance at 7. I’ll b the one dressed as the artist ;)

  I start to put my phone away when he texts me again.

  Asher: And Ember… last night was amazing. I don’t want to lose you…. I want every night to be like last night

  I’m not sure what to think of the message, but I know what my body sure as hell thinks. It’s already getting riled up just thinking about him. Please, oh please, don’t let him be a serial killer. I like him too much. I toss the phone on my bed. It’s the afternoon but I’m exhausted and I start to climb into bed to get some rest.

  “Ian!” My mom’s scream echoes through the house.

  Sighing, I stumble out of bed and hurry down the hall into her room. Her bed is unmade and her waitress uniform is discarded on the floor. The bathroom door is shut and the knob is covered with blood.

  I pad up to the door. “Mom? Are you in there?”

  She sobs from the other side. “Go away… I want Ian. ”

  I jiggle the doorknob and jerk on the door. “Mom, unlock the door. Ian’s not here right now, but I am. ”

  “No!” she screams. “I don’t want you here. You’re a killer! You’re a killer! You killed your grandma!”

  I hammer my fist against the door. “Mom, please just open the door up. You’re scaring the shit out of me. ”

  Something hits the other side of the door and I hear the sound of glass shattering. I run into my room, grab my phone off the dresser, and call Ian on my way back to her bedroom.

  He picks up after three rings. Music blares in the background. “Yo, yo, yo. What up?” He’s drunk and it’s barely past lunch time.

  “You need to come home,” I demand. “Now. Mom’s having another one of her meltdowns and she only wants to talk to you. ”

  “What?” He suddenly sounds sober.

  “She locked herself in…” I trail off as I enter my mom’s room. The bathroom door is open. “Ian, just get here now. And get someone sober to drive you. ”

  “Okay,” he says, frazzled. “I’ll be there in ten. ”

  I hang up, toss the phone on the bed, and check inside the bathroom. The white tile is obscured with fragments of glass and the sink and mirror are stained with blood. The shower curtain is torn from the rod and pills scatter the inside of the bathtub.

  “Mom. ” I step back into the bedroom and glance under the bed. “Ian’s on his way, and he told me to tell you that it was okay to talk to me. ” I pad over to the closet door and throw it open. “Mom?”

  “I’m not in there. ” Her chillingly numb voice floats over my shoulder.

  I spin around and press my hand against my heart, tripping backwards. “You scared the shit out of me. ”

  She’s just outside the doorway with a pair of scissors in her hand. An X on her forehead drips blood into her eyes and the entire front of her shirt is drenched in blood. “It’s not okay to be around you at all. ” Her eyes are unemotional, as if she’s detached from reality. Blood trickles from her wrists as she raises the scissors above her head. “You’re a killer! The cops think so! And Grandma knew, even though she wasn’t thinking rationally. But you did it anyway. ”

  I hold my hands in front of me and slowly back up, reaching for my phone on the bed. “Mom, how many of those pills did you take?”

  “Enough to numb the pain—he told me I had to. ” She walks into the room, then pauses, slanting back as if someone is whispering in her ear. “Yes, I know, but she’s not… Okay, I will try. ” Her soulless gaze locks on me. “Ember, my dear child, why did you ever have to be born? Ian was fine and your father and I were so happy his disorder did not pass along to him. But then you arrived, and we could see it in your eyes. The way you talked to the air and whispered secrets to the plants while you drained their life away. ”

  “I…” Does she know about me? “Mom, what are you talking about?” I continue to feel around for my phone. “And Dad didn’t have schizophrenia, everyone just thought he did. ”

  “I’m not talking about schizophrenia!” she shrieks, her face bright red, and her veins bulging. “I’m talking about a curse passed along to you. ”

  My fingers brush the edge of the phone. “Mom, just calm down—”

  She barrels forward with the scissors pointed out in front of her. I leap on the bed and bolt for the bathroom, but she skitters around the bed and grabs my legs, jerking them out from under me. I fall on my back and she raises her arm up and sinks the scissors into my chest.

  “Mom…” A river of blood streams out of my chest and I gasp for air.

  She leans over me, watching me expectantly, like she’s waiting for something miraculous to happen. “I’m sorry, my sweet baby, but he made me do it. Death is more powerfu
l than the mind. ” She brushes my hair back.

  Blood floods my throat and pours out of my mouth as I yank the scissors out of my chest. “Mom…”

  She places her hand over my heart. “Go ahead, take it. I know you can. You did it with your grandma. ”

  Blood continues to stream out the hole in my chest and runs like a river over her hand. I look into her eyes, wondering if it’s really her in there or if tonight her mind finally took the final flight.

  Thump, thump, thump, thump. My heart sings a song as it dies.

  “Take it, Ember,” she begs, her eyes wide. “Before it’s too late. ”

  My eyes close as my heart sings the last lyric, my veins hollow out, and my lungs shrivel. I start to let myself drift to sleep—or death—when I sense someone else’s presence in the room and I force my eyelids open.

  The Grim Reaper lurks behind my mother, concealed under his hood, his dark eyes on me. He whispers something in her ear and then steps back.

  “It’s time,” she tells me with her hand extended toward me. “Please, Emmy. It’s time. The grains of sand have expired and my hourglass is empty. ”

  “Take it, Ember,” the Grim Reaper tempts with an unnerving grin. “Take her life. ”

  I feel the thunder of her heart attack with the silence of mine. Her blood mixes in my veins and fills my lungs back up. I gasp for air and watch in horror as her skin wrinkles to a lady twice her age.

  “Mommy. ” I throw her hand off my chest and she collapses to the floor. I hover above her, checking her wrist for a pulse. She looks so old and frail… so… lifeless.

  The Reaper watches me from the corner of the room, leaning against the wall, seeming pleased.

  I throw a shoe at him. “I hate you! You ruined my fucking life!”

  “What the hell?” someone says from behind me.

  I glance back and Ian is standing right behind me. His eyes are opened wide and are filled with helplessness as he stares at our mother, lying dead on the floor.

  The Grim Reaper’s laugh echoes through my head as he sinks away through the bedroom wall.

  “Call a damn ambulance!” I yell at Ian and start CPR on my mom, pushing on her chest, pleading for her heart to beat.

  He blinks dazedly and quickly takes his phone out of his pocket. Tears pool in my eyes as I pump my mom’s chest and breathe for her. I keep going, refusing to stop until the paramedics arrive and take over. But even when they roll her away on the stretcher, she still isn’t breathing on her own. And she is still so aged.

  They wheel her out into the ambulance and speed off to the hospital with their lights flashing. Ian and I hop in his car and he hands me his jacket. I slip it on and cover up the blood on my shirt. But I can’t hide the blood on my hands.

  That will be there forever.

  Chapter 17

  Ian and I return home later that night after my mom was stabilized and heavily sedated. She had taken a high dosage of her medication, plus there were traces of street drugs and alcohol in her system. By the time the doctors got her breathing again, the sudden aging had subsided. But there were a few extra wrinkles around her eyes and a little more grey in her hair