Ember x, p.5
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       Ember X, p.5

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 5


  I sense him watching me so I crack my eyes open and then open them wider at the sight of his face, his lips parted, his eyes dark and lustful.

  I don’t even know him, yet I feel like I’m going to combust from the nearness of him. When he moves closer, I stay put, bound to the floor by my yearning, even when he slants into me. I arch my back, and his chest follows the path of mine, his hands sliding around me, yet he still doesn’t touch me.

  He tips his head forward and our lips are only inches away; his breath dusting my lips, my cheeks. The front of his shirt brushes my neckline and a moan does escape my lips.

  As the music continues to pulsate, he lets out a deep moan too and the sound is erotic and causes me to tremble. For a second, I think he’s going to kiss me and I consider letting him, wanting—needing to feel what those soft lips of his taste like.

  “Ember,” he whispers and then shuts his eyes.

  Licking my lips, I close my eyes, and wait for whatever’s going to happen next. I wait and wait and when I can’t take it any longer, I open my eyes.

  He’s gone. Vanished into thin air. I stand back upright, scanning the crowd, but I can’t find him anywhere. “He didn’t even tell me his name,” I mutter, feeling like an idiot. Not only did I break all my rules by coming out here with him, but I practically orgasmed in front of him and he didn’t even touch me.

  Shaking my head at myself and trying to breathe through the intoxicating feelings still pulsating through me, I search the mob of people for Raven.

  I check up the stairway and then search the crowd, finally spotting the top of Raven’s pink head bobbing up and down in the middle it. A band is setting up their instruments at the front of the room—things are about to get hectic. Inhaling, I tuck in my shoulders and weave around the edge of the room, careful not to come into contact with anyone.

  “Raven!” I holler over the music as her pink wig descends further into the crowd. I press my back against the wall and edge my way toward her, trying not to run into anyone.

  Remy, a short girl with black hair and choppy bangs, stands up on a chair. “Alright, guys! Are you ready?” She motions her heavily inked arms at the band. “Give it up for Breaking Up Mayhem!”

  The guitarist flares at the guitar strings and the singer shouts. “Is everyone ready?!”

  Okay, time to bail, before things get out of—

  The band begins to play a raging song and everyone goes wild. The house rocks and bottles rattle against the hardwood floor. Elbows and shoulders smack into me. Death courses through my veins.

  “I can’t breathe. ” I rush toward the door. Blood. Pain. The silence of a heart… the shadow of trees… the blackened lake. Bones breaking. Someone can’t breathe. It hurts… there’s so much blood. A last breath is strangled away. A red “X” stains it all. An empty hourglass. Murder. My body twitches. I seek the faces of the people nearby, but I can’t tell who the death omen belongs to. I trail my fingers along bodies. Hospital bed. Old age. Broken heart. Sacrifice. I can’t endure it any longer. I knock people out of my way as I run for the front door.

  “Hey, watch it!” someone shouts.

  I burst through the door, gasping for air. Two guys are drinking beer on the front porch and I shove them out of the way, ignoring their death omens, and sprint across the trashed front yard. I stop in the middle of the lawn, panting and dripping with sweat, vomit pressing at the back of my throat. The moon is a bright orb against the sky and the stars cut it like diamonds. The trees surrounding the cabin sway with the wind and kick up leaves across the grass.

  I hunch over, brace my hands on my knees, and slow my breathing. “Get it together, Ember,” I whisper to myself. “Death is death, in any shape or form. You can’t stop it. ” Inhaling, I collect myself together and head back to the log cabin, ready to find Raven and tell her it’s time to leave. Between the stranger bailing on me, and the death omens, I’ve had enough partying for one night.

  Cars are lined bumper to bumper down the driveway, making it nearly impossible to get out, but a rusted black Cadillac drives around the line, the wheels moving onto the grass. As it passes me, I spot a bubblegum haired girl who winks her sapphire blue eye at me.

  “Raven… What are you doing?” I wave at her and hurry toward the car. She knows better than to get into a car with some random guy, especially one I just had a death omen about. “Get out of the car!”

  She blows me a kiss, and tips her head back laughing as the car speeds off, kicking up dirt and gravel.

  “Dammit, Raven” I chase the car down the driveway and into the trees, following it all the way to the highway, where it vanishes into the night. I stare down the desolate road and tug my fingers through my hair, out of breath. “Shit. ” I pull out my cell phone. “No signal. ” I run back down the driveway to my car, a beat-up 1970s Dodge Challenger that’s wedged between a truck and a massive SUV. The car belonged to my dad. We were working on fixing it up, but then he disappeared. It’s been three years since it happened, but it still hurts to think about him, especially because I don’t know if he’s dead or alive.

  I pat my pockets for the keys. “Where are they?” Trying not to panic, I retrace my steps, searching the ground for something shiny and metallic. “Come on. Come on. Where are they?”

  “You lose somethin’, sweetheart?” a guy with greasy hair and a thick neck says from the top step of the front porch. He looks like a wannabe Danny Zuko, with his sideburns and leather jacket, except he has this strange black “X” tattoo crossing his eye.

  I back down the stairs, shaking my head. “Nope, I’m good. ”

  He chugs the last of his drink, crushes his cup, and chucks it over the railing into the bushes. There’s a darkness in his eyes that unsettles me. “You sure?” he asks. “Because I could help you with whatever. ”

  “No thanks. ” I keep walking backward, toward my car, without taking my eyes off him. “I got everything I need. ”

  “Hey, aren’t you that girl that killed her dad?” he asks as he slinks down the porch stairs.

  My eyes never waver from him, even as someone passes close by and nearly bumps into me. “I think you’re thinking of someone else because my dad’s not dead. ”

  “You know, I saw someone messin’ around with your car,” he hollers and I stop, curious even though the guy’s a total creeper. “That Challenger over there—that’s yours, right?” He nods his head at my car.

  I nod. warily “Um… yeah…”

  He advances toward me, taking lengthy strides that put him near me quickly. “There was some guy that came around here just a few minutes ago. He got in it, messed around, and then left. ”

  So maybe my keys were stolen, not lost. “Thanks. I’ll make sure nothing’s missing. ”

  A sinister look masks his face. “I could give you a ride home, just in case. ” His hand snaps out and he grasps my elbow, pressing his painted black fingernails into my skin. It sends a revolting sensation through my blood, thick like oil, and I gag on the bitter taste. Blood stains his hands. He stumbles through the night, to the edge of the rooftop. A dark cape flaps behind him. He smiles and leaps.

  He releases my arm, and I shuffle backward as a smirk creeps across his lips. “Tell me, Ember, have you ever danced with death or been paid a visit by the Reaper?”

  “Back the hell off. ” I reel for my car and hop into the front seat. The guy retreats for the house, whistling a tune as he stuffs his hands into his pockets. My heart settles inside my chest, but his words linger in my mind. Does he know about my curse?

  “I’m sorry,” I apologize to the car, giving the steering wheel a gentle pat, and then I grab a screwdriver from under the seat and pry off the panel. I yank out the correct wires, twist them together, pump on the gas pedal, and the engine revs to life. “The Kill” by 30 Seconds to Mars blasts through the speakers as I carefully set the wires back in and slam the car door shut.

  My dad and I used to
steal cars. When I was young, I’d sit in the backseat while he worked his hotwiring magic. However, when I reached my early teens, he taught me how to do it. I was his protégé. At twelve years old, I couldn’t see the bigger picture; that the situation was messed up and a small sign that my dad would eventually lose his mind.

  I crank the steering wheel to the side and ramp onto the grass. The greasy haired guy eyes me from the porch as I cut across the front lawn and peel out down the driveway.

  The trees blur by as I zoom down the road that threads between the lake and the mountain. When the tires reach the asphalt, I throttle the gas pedal to the floor, hoping Laden and Raven will remain on the highway and hopefully I can catch up with them.

  By accident, I saw Raven’s death once. I’m usually very carefully not to touch people, especially ones that are close to me. I don’t want to know how it ends for them, how I’ll lose them, how I’ll hate myself for not saving them. But when Raven and I were younger, we were playing in Raven’s tree house. Raven had tripped and landed near the edge, almost falling off. By instinct, I reached to grab her. Once my fingers touched her arm, I wanted to erase everything. What I saw. Our friendship. Raven will die young, in a very painful and terrifying way. It will happen by the water, during a rainstorm, just like Laden’s death. Only her life will be stolen.

  Clouds blanket the sky, the moon and stars are fading, and the air smells fresh like before a rainstorm. I try not to panic and speed up. I don’t look at how fast I’m going, but I’m not scared. My death will come when it’s time, just like everyone else’s. It will happen on a dark night, a faint light will sparkle, and I’ll be alone. I don’t know when, though. And I’m thankful for that. If anyone knew when they’d die, the fear and obsession to change it would own them and they’d have no life to save.

  Headlights reflect in my mirror and a car rides up on my tail. “Back off, asshole,” I mutter, adjusting my mirror.

  The car edges closer until it’s only inches away from crashing into mine. A sharp corner approaches, so I tap the brakes, but nothing happens. I stomp on the brake, but the car accelerates faster down the hill. The corner emerges and I try to down shift, but the engine grumbles and then the exhaust backfires. Sucking in a deep breath, I crank the steering wheel to the right. The car spins and the tires screech as the front of my car smashes into the railing. The sound is deafening, like a train roaring up the railroad tracks.

  There’s a split second where my car hovers over the edge, like it might not fall, and I hold my breath. Then out of nowhere, a raven dives down and lands on the hood. Seconds later, the tailgater slams into the rear end of my car and my head slams against the windshield. The car flips over nose-first and then rolls down the hill. My seatbelt locks and I’m jerked back to the seat as my body is stabbed, beaten, and broken. Then the car hits the lake and suddenly it becomes clear: I’m going to die today.