Ember x, p.39
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       Ember X, p.39

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 39

 

  “Em, why are there feathers all over the grass?” she asks, resting her head on my shoulder as the rain lets up. “Was it from your costume?”

  I make the decision, the thing my dad tried to engrave in my mind since I was young, and what Asher warned me to do—don’t trust anyone. “Yeah, Raven, they are from my costume. ”

  We walk together across the cemetery, yet I’m in this alone. A pawn in a game between the Angels of Death and the Grim Reapers—between good and evil.

  But which one am I?

  As if giving me an answer, sirens ring and blue and red lights flash across the dark cemetery as the police vehicles pull up and block the exit. Doors shove open and cops hop out with flashlights in their hands.

  “Alright,” one of them yells with his gun out in front of him as he glides through the gates. “Put your hands up where we can see them. ”

  I obey, knowing I’m in trouble this time. Mackenzie’s body is in a grave and the only proof that I didn’t kill her flew away with the wind.

  Raven sobs into my shirt and clutches onto me. “I want this to all be over. Please make it stop. It’s driving me crazy. ”

  “Don’t worry,” I say. “It’s almost over. ”

  A swarm of cops bustle through the gates, spotting their flashlights across the grass and cracked tombs, with guns and batons in their hands. The one that shouted at me approaches with caution, step by step, never looking away from us. When he reaches me, I let Raven stand on her own.

  “Ember Edwards, I should have known,” Officer McKinley’s expression instantly turns biased as he remembers the night he picked me up from my house, after my car was found in the lake. “There was an anonymous tip that the body of Mackenzie Baker could be found at the Hollows Grove Cemetery. ”

  With my hands up, I shake my head. “I don’t know anything about that. ”

  He spotlights the flashlight in Raven’s eyes. “What’s she on? And why is there blood on her neck? Were you two doing some kind of ritual out here or something?”

  “Like a vampire ritual,” I joke unenthusiastically.

  He narrows his eyes and blinds me with the flashlight. “You don’t need to get smart. This is Halloween—all the crazies are out tonight. ”

  Raven blinks and shields her face with her hand. “We were taking a shortcut to our houses through the woods and I tripped and cut my neck on a branch. ”

  Internally, I sigh. “That’s what we were doing, just barely—heading to go find a phone and call the hospital, because neither of us have our phones. ”

  The cop reaches for Raven and checks underneath the piece of shirt she pressed to her neck. He pulls a revolted face, moving his hand away. “That’s going to need a few stitches. ” He sighs and motions at us to walk with him. “Come on, follow me. ”

  As we head for the gates, the cops search the cemetery, the trees, behind headstones. A female officer, with her hair braided in the back, wanders toward the hole in the ground where Mackenzie’s body lies.

  “Hey, I think I got something over here,” she shouts, with her gun poised in front of her.

  A lanky officer, with a bald head, hurries over to the hole and beams the light down in it. I hold my breath and wait for him to announce he found the body.

  “It’s just a hole,” he calls out to the others. “It’s probably some high school prank or new fad, like that grave that was dug up a few weeks ago. ”

  Cameron.

  Officer McKinley stops us at the gate and shines the light in our eyes. “You two know anything about this?”

  Raven and I shake our heads innocently. “Nope. ”

  He focuses in on me. “Are you sure that’s true?”

  I wonder if he’s a real cop, or the same kind as Detective Crammer. “Yep, it’s true. ”

  He shakes his head in disbelief. “Well, I’m still going to have to take you in for some questioning. We have to make sure your story adds up. ”

  We finish the walk to the police car as the rest of the cops keep searching for Mackenzie’s body, but I have a feeling her body may be gone forever. But the question is: who took it?

  Cameron? Or Asher?

  Raven and I climb into the back of the cop car, each on our separate side, divided by lies, secrets, and distrust. As the policeman drives with his lights flashing, I watch the cemetery disappear from my view, feeling the trail of death follow me.

  Epilogue

  I wake up to a bright sunny day, shining through my bedroom window. My cheek is resting on an open book, and my sweaty skin sticks to the pages. I stayed up all last night reading through pages about Angels and death, searching for answers and a way to bring an Angel of Death back to Earth.

  I climb out of bed and get dressed in a ratty T-shirt and some cutoffs. The house is as quiet as a cemetery, but it’s not the comforting kind. My mom is in a drug treatment facility trying to recover from her addiction and when she gets back I have to decide how to ask her about Grandma and the necklace without putting stress on her.

  Raven is on vacation with her mom, who got released from the same facility my mom’s at the day after the Reapers tried to destroy us. Ian spends most of his time locked away in the attic. His muse disappeared for a little while, and when I asked Ian about it, he told me it was none of my business. But I heard her—or him—sneak in last night.

  My life is lonely, but I prefer it that way for the moment. Being around people hurts just as bad, if not worse, now that I know what I am—know that my insanity can wear on them.

  I try not to think too much about Asher. It’s too painful and it hurts in every part of my body that I may never see him again. When I’m lying in my bed late at night, the memories of what happened there pull at my mind; when he rocked inside me, touched me, kissed me, made me feel alive even when death consumed me.

  I wander to the computer and click it on. I’ve been working on trying to track down the author of the book Raven has. His name is August Millard, unless it’s his pen name. I found an email address for a writer with the same name, but if it’s not the same guy, he’ll probably think I’m nuts. Or maybe he’ll think I’m crazy either way; perhaps he’s a writer of words, not a believer of them.

  I check my inbox, but it’s empty so I sink into the couch and flip through the channels, searching through the news, looking for headlines about a body being found. But the news isn’t on until later, so I shut the TV off and clean the house to distract myself. I turn up “Holding onto You” by Story of the Year and block everything out. I scrub every room downstairs and then move upstairs.

  After I’m finished, I drag the garbage can out to the curb, and then I stand there taking in the neighborhood. The sun is setting behind the mountains and the sky is splashed with hues of pinks and oranges. Leaves flutter from the trees and scatter across the grass. Across the street, Ms. Courtney is rearranging her sprinklers and she glances up as she drags the hose across her yard. I politely wave and her gaze darts down at the lawn, like I don’t exist. She’s afraid of me still, just like everyone else in the town is because Laden and Mackenzie are still considered missing persons, but I know they’re dead.

  My eyes stray down the street to a two-story house with unmaintained grass and a For Sale sign in the yard. Every time I look at the house, I feel a pull toward it—toward him. Sometimes, I think about asking him to come back. It’s out of sheer insanity—I know that, and that’s what helps me keep my lips sealed. However, if I knew how to bring Asher back, I would. I tried a few times, murmuring to the wind for him to come to me. “Asher, where are you?” I whisper. “I need you. I miss you. ” I think I might be in love with you. The last one is just a thought and I never dare utter it aloud.

  “Hey, stranger. ” Raven’s brother, Todd, walks down the driveway and picks up the newspaper. He’s wearing an old blue T-shirt with holes in it, plaid pajama bottoms, and his blue hair is sticking up like he just woke up. “Thinking about buying a house?”
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  “Huh?” I collect the mail from the mailbox and step up onto the sidewalk.

  He smiles, ruffling his hair into place as he reaches the edge of the driveway. “I saw you staring at that For Sale sign like you were about ready to rip it out of the lawn. ”

  I align the envelopes against the palm of my hand and walk to the edge of the lawn that separates our houses. “Do you know anything about where he went?”

  He shakes his head and glances at Cameron’s vacant house. “I’m not sure. But it’s weird, right? How he moved in and then a few weeks later the house went up for sale. ”

  I shrug. “You know how it is. A lot of people can’t take Hollows Grove, like your sister. ”

  “Yeah, she seems worse about it now with the,” he makes a line across his neck, “with the scar on her neck. She’s taking that one hard. ”

  “She just needs to give it time to heal,” I say, but deep down I know it will never fully heal. After everything settled down, Raven started to remember things she did—horrible things that she won’t always share with me.

  He taps the newspaper in his hand and nods his head at a car on the street. “You think they’re ever going to give up, whatever it is they’re looking for?”

  I turn around and give the cops in the patrol car a small wave. They pretend not see me and eat their lunch.

  “I don’t think so,” I say, turning back around to face Todd.

  “But why are they so fixated on our neighborhood?”

  “I’m not sure… maybe they think someone here knows where Mackenzie is. ”

  “Her family seems really determined to find her,” he remarks, holding up the newspaper and there’s a picture of Mackenzie’s face on the front page under the headline: Have You Seen Our Daughter?

  Suddenly, a familiar man walks out of Cameron’s old house and heads down the path. He has a pointy nose and a scrawny body and something about the way he moves is bringing up a memory.

  I watch him distractedly, trying to figure out where I’ve seen him before. “Yeah, well maybe they should start looking closer at her family. ” It clicks who the man is. Cameron’s uncle, Gregory—the one that was digging up the grave for him the night I first saw Cameron.

  “Ember,” Todd says. “Are you okay?”

  I force my eyes off Gregory and change the topic. “So when will Raven be coming back?”

  He backs down the driveway toward the front porch. “Didn’t she call you?” he asks and I shake my head. “Oh… well, she got back late last night. I thought she went over to your house when she got here. ”

  “No… I haven’t seen her since she left. . . ” It’s like a jigsaw puzzle coming together: Raven is Ian’s muse. And I don’t like it because it means Raven was spending a lot of private time with Ian while she was possessed by the Reapers.

  “Well, don’t take it too personally. She’s been acting like a total mental case, mom says, drawing weird pictures of hourglasses and having conversations with herself,” he says when he reaches the steps.