Ember x, p.34
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       Ember X, p.34

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 34

 

  She flips the page and taps it with her finger on the title. “I’m not sure, but read this. It’s really interesting. ”

  “The Grim Reaper is believed to be the collector of the evil souls. They possess the ability to not only separate one’s soul from their body, and guide it to the next world, but they can also trick an individual to render their life over to them. ” Oh my God, my mom. “They like to play tricks on the bodies of the souls they take, leaving them hanging from trees, hiding them—”

  She taps the brake so hard it locks up our seatbelts.

  “What’s wrong?” I ask, unlocking my seat belt.

  “What if… what if Asher’s a Grim Reaper and you’re a Grim Angel?” It’s like a light switch has flipped on in her head.

  I shake my head. “There’s no way that can be true. Why would you even say that?”

  “Ember, think about it. You can see death. If you were a Grim Angel, this could be why,” she presses. “And Asher has so much interest in you. And he knew where your car was. What if he told the cops?”

  “No. There’s no way. ” But doubts tug at my mind. When I died in the rose garden and I saw the Reaper take off his hood, he looked like Asher.

  I shake the thoughts from my head. I won’t jump to conclusions just yet, not until I hear what he has to say. Especially since Asher brings me an indescribable calmness to my mind and body and he has never openly done anything to hurt me. And he’s had a lot of chances.

  “It says in the book that they like to mess with Grim Angels’ heads and try to ruin their lives, make them go crazy, and get them to surrender to the Wrath of Death,” she says. “Think about it, Em. What if Asher did something to Laden after he saved me, but only so he could reenact what happened with your dad? What if he has been wiggling his way into your life to fuck with your head?”

  “Why are you making these accusations?” I ask. “When just a few seconds ago you were defending Asher. ”

  “Because it’s making sense now. ”

  “No, it’s not. Nothing is making any sense. At all. My whole life doesn’t make sense. It’s like I’m always one step away from walking off a cliff. ”

  “Read some more,” she urges, waving her hand at the book. “See if there’s anything else that might give us some more clues. ”

  I continue in an unsteady voice. “Grim Reapers are also excellent shape shifters, more often than not in the form of snakes, rats, cats, birds, and sometimes humans. Through their abilities, a Grim Reaper has been known to steal many innocent souls with a simple bribe or trick. This was the cause of the first battle between good and evil that lasted nearly a decade. ” I stop reading.

  She reaches over and turns the page. On the top of it is a beautiful Angel, with wings as black as the ones I’m wearing and hair as dark as ash. “Keep reading. I think you’re getting close. ”

  “An Angel of Death brings a more peaceful death to the individual whose soul they collect. They only collect the souls of the dying innocent and carry the spirit over to the next world. They bring a sense of calm with their touch. ” That sounds more like Asher. “Unlike the Grim Reaper, they wait for death and do not feed off the life of an individual. They are gentle by nature, but passionate in battle. ” My eyes meet Raven’s. “Passionate in battle?”

  “It talks about a battle more toward the back. ” She diverges into the parking lot of the community center, not reducing the speed, and I’m slammed into the door. “But you can read about all this later. Right now, I want you to focus on having fun. ”

  “Yeah… right. ”

  Strobe lights flash in front of the entrance and a shroud of torn sheets hang from the front doors. Hay bales, with skeletons situated on them, border the sidewalk, and on the sloped roof of the school, the Grim Reaper stands. It’s fake, with yellow eyes, but it sends a chill up my spine.

  “Em. ” Raven’s voice brings me back to her. She parks the car next to a group of people dressed up like the Scooby Doo gang. “I have to tell you something. And it’s really important. ” She texts someone and then tucks the phone into her bra.

  “Really. ” I give her a look. “In your bra?”

  Her face drains of humor. “I might need my cell phone. ”

  I bite down on my lip until it bleeds and fills my mouth with the bitter taste of rust. “Raven… do you really believe in this stuff?” I hold up the book. “Grim Reapers, Death Angels, and battles between good and evil? Or are you just showing it to me because I asked about a Grim Angel?”

  Her eyes are as soft as they’ve ever been, and at that moment she is the same friend that slapped Ricky Stewart in the face when he cut off a piece of my hair in kindergarten. “My best friend has been able to see how everyone is going to die since she was four-years-old. If that shit can exist, why can’t this?”

  “I think the gift might be gone. ” I place a hand on her arm. “I can’t feel your death anymore. ”

  “Your curse isn’t gone. ” She smiles sadly and slips the white-feathered wings onto her back.

  “Yeah, but what if it’s not a curse?” I maneuver awkwardly out of the car, bending low to get my wings out. “What if I’m… What if this whole time I’ve been able to do all this stuff because I’m not human?”

  “It would still be considered a curse, Em. Death stole your life away from you when you were four. ” She locks up the doors and the headlights flash as the car beeps. “Come on, let’s go inside. ”

  The chilled wind blows through our hair as we hike across the parking lot and Raven holds the bottom of her dress down and fiddles with her hair. Inside her bra, the phone rings, and she does a little wiggle from the vibration, but ignores the call.

  “Damn Halloween decorations. ” Raven coughs as we push the front doors and a mist blows in our faces.

  I fan my face and blink my eyes until we break through the mist and into the main area. A guitarist flares on his strings on a stage near the farthest wall and music bursts through several large speakers. Orange and black streamers are spiraling around columns, and purple and silver ceiling lights flash down on the packed dance floor, where people jump up and down, shouting out the lyrics of the song. There are witches, devils, vampires, Frankenstein’s, and even a few Angels. In the farthest corner, someone is fashioned in a Grim Reaper costume.

  “God, I hope there aren’t too many of them,” I mumble.

  Raven tracks the object of my gaze. “Oh, Emmy, you don’t fear the Reaper, do you?”

  I shoot her a blank stare. “Is that supposed to be funny?”

  She smiles and hooks arms with me. It’s the strangest thing in the world, touching her and not feeling her death. We create a wide path with her wings as we weave around the room, toward the common area, a small room just behind the stage. Heads turn in our direction, but I keep focused on the common room doors.

  “Why are we going back here?!” I yell over the music.

  She points at the doors decorated with spider webs and an ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK sign. “There’s a haunted house back there and Asher just sent me a text that he was walking through it with some friends. ”

  I slam to a stop and she’s jerked back. My mind is begging me to turn around and run.

  “Em, what the hell?” She unclasps our arms. “What are you looking at?”

  My pulse races as I stare at the door. “I’m not sure I want to go in there. ”

  She rolls her eyes and jerks me forward. “Come on, we’ll be fine. ”

  “Why can’t I just meet him out here?” I ask, glancing back at the dance floor.

  “Stop being a chicken!” She laughs and it brings my focus back to her. “I was only kidding about him being the Reaper. ”

  She pushes through the door and I follow her into the haunted house. It’s dark inside and when the door shuts behind us, it suffocates the music. There are skeletons in the entrance of a hallway formed by hay bales and orange and purple twinkle lights light the way d
own the path.

  I back up, but Raven wrenches me forward. “You are going to have fun tonight whether you like it or not. ”

  Shaking my head, I trudge after her. One of the skeletons jump up and shriek at us as we pass it and Raven speeds up, laughing. The farther we go, the more scarce the lights get, until there are none left and we’re smothered by blackness.

  Screams fill the air along with evil laughs and a warm mist dampens my skin.

  “Raven,” I hiss, clutching onto her. “I want to go back… this was a mistake coming back here. ”

  Her hand falls from mine and she laughs. “Last one to the end’s a rotten egg. ”

  I stumble around in the dark with my hands sprawled out in front of me. “Raven, where the hell are you?"

  Behind me a light clicks on and highlights the graffiti on the wall. I lower my hands as another light turns on and emphasizes a chain link floor-length gate in front of me. I push through the gate and step into the next section, which is lined wall-to-wall with mirrors. The gate slams shut behind me and I whirl around, threading my fingers through the links, jerking it fiercely.

  The gate won’t budge, so I hurry, vigilantly, up the slender hall between the mirrored walls. “Raven, please tell me where you are. This isn’t funny anymore. ”

  I hear her laugh from somewhere and the lights flash off, then on again as a man appears at the end of the hall, with dark hair, kohl-lined eyes, black jeans, and a T-shirt. A giant X brands his forehead.

  I squint through the blinking lights that reflect blindingly against the mirrors. “Laden?”

  “Hello, Ember. ” He grins, expanding his arms out to the side of him. “Long time, no see. ”

  I back up, but crash into a solid figure and a thousand deaths pour through me: pain, terror, falling, drowning, fire, pain, pain, pain. I buckle forward, but he grasps my arm, rotates it behind my back, and reels me to face him.

  Garrick’s greasy hair shines in the light and he scratches the X on his eye. “You’re not playing the game right, do you know that? You‘re not answering every question we ask and you’re not giving in. It’s very disappointing. ”

  “We,” I say, hoping to throw him off. “As in the Anamotti. ”

  His face remains tolerant. “What? You think that surprised me? The bigger question that I think needs answering is who are the Anamotti? And who leads us?”

  “I don’t know what you’re getting at. ” I try to wrench my arm away, tugging hard and letting out a scream.

  His fingernails dig into my skin. “Oh, I think you do. It’s the perfect crime, you know. Telling the person you’re after the group who is chasing after her, when really you are part of it. Earning her trust, so she’ll never see it coming. ”

  “Asher isn’t after me,” I choke. “He wouldn’t do that. ”

  “What, lie?” A sly grin creeps over his face. “Or try to kill you? How do you think he showed up so fast that night at the lake after I ran into you? And how do you think we knew you were going to be here tonight?”