Ember x, p.36
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       Ember X, p.36

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 36


  “Too late,” Garrick says, landing just in front of us. His voice is human, but below the hood is a skeletal figure; sharp cheek bones, empty eyes, a soulless heart. “Ember, there’s no use trying. We always win this every time. You wanna know why?”

  Raven leans her weight on me, her eyes shutting as I inch us back toward the forest. “Because you mess with the Grim Angel’s head until they crack. You don’t give up. ”

  He matches my steps toward the forest, his cape like a train on the ground behind him. “Because evil is the one that plays dirty—we are the ones who break the rules. ” His arms lift to the side of him and he’s holding the knife. “Therefore, evil always triumphs. ”

  “Go into the trees,” I whisper in Raven’s ear, nudging her forward. “Now. ”

  She blinks at me, half there, half gone. “I’m not leaving you… They want to kill you. ”

  “No, they want to make me one of them,” I say. “They can’t kill me. ”

  Reluctantly, she slips out from the support of my arm and hobbles into the shadows of the trees, free from the Reaper’s power.

  Emptiness chokes up my throat as I march for Garrick with my hands out to the side. “Go ahead, kill me. ”

  He grins and the fire crackles wildly behind him. “You know I can’t do that. But I can hurt you. ” Without zero hesitation from either one of us, he stabs the knife into my throat, severing my skin and my veins. Blood gurgles out and I clamp my hand over the wound as the soothing murmur of the trees and the flowers sprouting from the dirt instantly connect with me and stitches up my skin.

  Garrick lets out a slow whistle as he wipes the blood of the blade with his cloak. “That was faster than it should be… No, you couldn’t be… could you…”

  While he’s ranting to himself, I take the opportunity to ram my knee into his gut, and then I whirl around and slam my elbow into his face. The contact of bone to bone deadens my elbow, so, using my other fist, I punch him in the nose. A bar fight tactic and it works. Garrick goes down like a sack of potatoes.

  Whirling away from him, I race for the forest, but he scurries forward on his belly and his fingers wrap around my ankle, jerking me down on my face. I smash the heel of my boot into his face, but he just laughs.

  “You can’t kill death eternally. ” His voice is sharp and blood streams down his face. “It was highly entertaining though, watching you try to sift through my thousands of deaths. ” I kick him again, but he only laughs harder. “You know, you have a lot more power than you think, you just have no idea how to use it. ”

  I claw at the ground as his hands move up my leg like a tight rope, while a raven lands in front of me. Then he stabs the knife in my calf and grabs me by the hair, rising to his feet, and pulling me up with him. Pain shoots up my leg as blood gushes down it.

  “Help me, please,” I whisper to the bird. “Please…”

  It hops from side to side, like it is thinking.

  “Please, bird. I have a feeling you can hear me,” I whisper, limping to keep my balance.

  I’m about to give up when Garrick’s hands suddenly leave me and the sound of flapping wings sends the raven diving for the woods. Without hesitation, I sprint into the dark forest.

  “Raven,” I hiss, searching behind trees and near bushes as I hike deeper into the forest. The stars flicker between the cracks of the branches over my head and I can hear shouts and screams in the distance.

  “Raven,” I dare call out as twigs crunch beneath my shoes. “Where are you? It’s me, it’s Ember. ”

  I keep walking, knowing where I’m going, but worried Raven doesn’t. “Please answer me. I promise no one’s going to hurt you anymore. ”

  By the time I step into the cemetery, I’m worried she might be lost in the trees. I need a phone and some help so I head quickly for the iron-rod gates. As usual, the cemetery is quiet with death. The trees cast shadows all over the ground and the fence blocks out most of the street lights. My wings are ripped and my skin is soaked with blood and I have a limp to my walk.

  I weave through the headstones, careful not to step on them and as the wind picks up, the hinges of the gate squeak.

  I’m about to the gate when I hear a whisper and turn in a quick circle, skimming the trees. “Hello… Raven, is that you?”

  When someone steps out from behind a tree at the back of the cemetery, a wall crumples inside my body. Dressed in black, he blends with the night, but his hair is as white as a ghost. His long legs stretch out in front of him as he strides across the grass toward me.

  “Well, if it isn’t my number one fan,” Cameron says and my insides burst with chills.

  Against my own power, I halt next to the statue of the Grim Reaper, like he controls my body now, not me. “What are you doing here?” I ask.

  There’s a swoosh and suddenly he’s standing right in front of me, his eyes dark as coals, his face hauntingly poetic. “Don’t pretend you don’t like me, Ember. ” A grin pulls at his lips. “You may pretend like you’re not interested in me, but I know you are. ”

  I shut my eyes, my muscles constricting as I attempt to lift my foot off the grass— trying to get it to move me toward the gate again. “What are you doing to me?”

  His eyes sear like cinders, on the edge of life, but not quite dead as he circles me with his hands behind his back. “You are so beautiful. So grown up. So full of life, yet always so full of death. ”

  My legs quiver with the desire to run. “What are you?”

  “Perhaps you should be asking me what you are. ” His long finger traces my cheekbone and a dark hunger flares in his eyes, dying to feed. “You really are amazing, yet you’ve been blinded by the fear of death and have never noticed all the possibilities in front of you. If you’d just accept it—”

  “I won’t. ” I interrupt in a sharp, searing tone. “I’m not giving in to Death. ”

  “You shouldn’t decide your answer until you understand everything. ” He takes my hand and helplessly I follow him as he guides me to the tree.

  He nestles us down next to the trunk, wraps his arms around me, and leans me back against his chest. He sweeps my hair aside and puts his lips against my ear. “Never having to fear or experience death. Imagine writing about immortality, instead of death like everyone else. You could be the first. ”

  “Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson already did,” I smart off. “And so did Spill Canvas. ”

  “Spill Canvas?” He sounds intrigued.

  “It’s a band, you asshole. ” I force out a scream, but it cuts off before it reaches my lips. How could I not see this coming? I’m enraged with myself. Furious. “Cameron, let me go. Please. If you’re a Reaper, I thought you couldn’t possess me. ”

  “I’m not supposed to… and I can’t possess your mind completely—trust me, I’ve tried. But I can possess your body. ” He kisses the tip of my ear, grazing it with his teeth, and then he moves his lips down my neck, before pulling away.

  “You were such a strange child. Usually, when they sent me to mess with a child’s head, it was the most droning time of my existence,” he says. “But you were determined not to get rid of me. I didn’t even faze you… it kind of took the fun out of it and was extremely annoying. ”

  “No… there’s no way…” It clicks in my head what he’s saying.

  “And then I had to return years later, due to orders… but you were all grown up and far less annoying and I just couldn’t do what the Reapers wanted me to. ” He pauses, considering something. “You know I broke the rules for you. I tried to warn you about your dad, even though I wasn’t supposed to. And then you ran away with me. . . Admit it—that was probably the most fun you’ve had in your life. You and me, hiding in the woods, while I listened to you ramble to yourself, trying to pretend I wasn’t there. ”

  “I can’t believe it… you’re that Grim Reaper. The one who’s tormented me for most of my God damn life,” I breathe, enraged. All that
time I spent with him in the woods after my dad vanished. . . that was him?

  “But you never did whole-heartedly tell me to go away, so therefore, I didn’t have to. ” He pauses, grazing his hand down my thigh. “I tried to warn you about your dad so you could help him. Do you know that? Do you know how much I care for you?”

  “You tried to force me to kill my mom,” I seethe. “That’s not caring about someone… And you don’t even know me. ”

  “I only did that to your mom to help you,” he whispers mellifluously in my ear. “I just want you to quit fighting who you really are. If you’d just give in to the insanity, instead of fighting it, life would be so much easier. And we could be together. ”

  “I almost killed her,” I fume as he tips me back and peers down with a smile. “I stole my mom’s life to save my own. ”

  “Don’t be ashamed of it. ” He sketches his finger down my cheekbone. “It’s in your blood and your dad did it many times. Trust me. ”

  “Do you know where my dad is?” I snap. “The detective—or the Reaper—whoever the hell she is, said he gave in to insanity. Does that mean he’s dead? Or is he one of you? I need to know. Please, Cameron. Please tell me. ”

  Ignoring me, he angles my head back onto his lap and looks into my eyes. “We’re perfect for each other. Imagine it, alive in death, writing beautiful words together… And I promise I’ll never hurt you,” he whispers, slowly moving out from me and then laying me on my back. “I just want to help you. ”

  “No one can help me,” I say as my head touches the grass. “Especially…”

  He conceals his body over mine and my words evaporate into the night. I no longer know what I want—what I feel—as his hand travels up my shoulders, up the side of my neck, and resides on my cheek, while his other hand explores the bare skin on my hip. “I could help you, if you let me. I could make all that sadness go away. ” He licks his lip as he presses his body against mine, converging himself to every part of me. “Let me take it all away forever. ”

  My arms fall helplessly to my sides. “No. ”

  “Ember,” he coaxes, sliding his fingers through my hair, before cupping my cheek. “Let me in. ”

  My knees fall apart, allowing his body closer, and a moan escapes from my lips, but not under the control of my own. “Cameron… don’t. . . ”

  Hooking a finger underneath my chin, he tips my face up so I have to look him in the eyes. “What if I told you I could take away every ounce of pain you have and would ever feel? Think about it. You could have the perfect life. ”

  He leans in and I shut my eyes as he kisses my neck and my body arches into him. “That’s not possible,” I say. “Death is pain. And death exists everywhere. Besides, nothing is perfect. . . ”