Cinder x, p.6
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       Cinder X, p.6

         Part #2 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 6


  “That’s impossible. ” I press my fingertips to my nose, feeling a headache emerging. “That was over five days ago and she hasn’t come home yet. Can you please check again?”

  She tells me she will, but I can tell she’s just tolerating me. When she gets back on the line, she tells me the same thing and I hang up without saying good-bye. I have no idea what else to do besides call Ian. But his phone sends me straight to voicemail and I hang up, feeling helpless, clutching my phone in my hand as I lower my head.

  I breathe in and out, telling myself that it’s okay. That my mom probably just decided she wasn’t going to come home because she doesn’t want to be around me, which is highly possible and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Still, I can’t help wondering if she left of her own freewill, or did something happen to her? I need to find that out, so I go up to the computer and search the internet for any suspicious headlines, like maybe an unidentified body of a woman. It’s sort of a messed up place to start, but since there’s been a lot of murders lately, I have to go there first. Thankfully, nothing turns up. I could call the police, but I doubt that’d go over well. She’s an adult. I’m crazy. End of discussion.

  I start to head up to my room, when I hear the front door creak open. I pause, waiting for the sound of footsteps or a voice, but all I hear it the wind. Slowly, I go into the foyer again. The door is wide open and leaves are blowing in across the floor. There’s no one in there though. No one out on the porch. I stick my head outside and there doesn’t seem to be a single soul in sight.

  “That’s weird,” I say, shutting the door, confused as I turn for the stairs.

  That’s when I hear the swish.

  Seconds later something flies over my head, getting so close it brushes against my hair. I duck, throwing my arms over my head as a dark mass circles around and does it again, this time going through me. A cold chill soars through my body, like it did the night the book was stolen, and I drop flat on my stomach on the hard floor. It feels like the wind is knocked out of me as I flip over, catching my breath, trying to scream, even though there’s a good chance no one will hear me.

  But as my lips part the shadow swoops straight up and then plunges straight at me, a black mass ready to devour me. I open my mouth to scream again, but the air is sucked from my lungs. I hear a voice as it nears, one I swear I’ve heard before, but can’t place.

  “You better watch what you do,” the shadow whispers, nearing me. “We’re everywhere. ”

  Then it disappears, right before it hits me.

  I lie on the ground, stunned as I stare up at the ceiling stained with water spots. “What the hell was that?” I ask, breathing loudly

  You’re being stalked. Cameron’s voice rises in my head again.

  “By what?” I ask as I sit up, my body aching in protest.

  By a Reaper, he says. I’m not sure who it is though.

  I clutch onto the wall as I get to my feet. “Sure you aren’t. ”

  I’m not, Cameron snaps. I might be a Reaper, but I sure as hell don’t know all the Reapers or what they’re all doing. Your guess is as good as mine who that was and why they appeared so suddenly.

  “It wasn’t suddenly,” I say. “They were here about a week ago too. ”

  And you didn’t tell me because…

  “Because you’re you. ” I get my balance and trudge toward the stairway.

  Ha, ha, you’re hilarious. He pauses. So when the shadow was here last time, did it do anything to you?

  I shake my head as I start up the stairs. “No, it just dove at me and then stole a book from me. Honestly, I sort of thought it was you. ”

  Well it wasn’t. And I really wish you’d mentioned this sooner.

  I pause at the top of the stairway. “Why?”

  Because it seems you have a Reaper stalker on your hands.

  “Like you?” I ask sarcastically.

  I’m not stalking you. I merely see something I want and refuse to give up until I have it.

  “Which will be never,” I say, turning down the hallway. “So you might as well give up now. ”

  He doesn’t respond. I wait until I enter my room before I repeat what I said. I never get an answer and eventually the silence gets to me, along with the fear of being stalked and the fear of having a Reaper live inside my head. I decide to go to school because it’s better than sitting around in a quiet house again, waiting for my shadow stalker to return again. Then, on my way home I can check out the clinic and the streets for my mom. I gather my backpack from my room and then head out the door, hoping upon hope that this isn’t going to turn out like my dad.

  Missing forever.

  Chapter 4

  I drive to school in my mom’s car, cranking up the music because it’s the only thing that will block out the dark thoughts in my head and the quiet around me. I thrum my fingers on top of the steering wheel to the beat as I drive up the highway, focusing on the road instead of the dead people walking up and down the streets. There are more of them today; I spot at least five. I have no clue if they’re people who died here or if the Anamotti are scrounging for puppets elsewhere.

  There’s also a lot more living people out and about today. Usually, I only pass maybe six or seven, but I spot three crowds, plus ten individuals just on the main strip of town. The growing population only rises when I arrive at the campus and almost every parking spot is taken. Finally, I find one at the back, near the road, and maneuver my car into it.

  I haven’t been a fan of school at all lately. Never have been, even before the entire town thought I was a killer. So when I get ready to climb out of my car and my gut churns, I think it’s caused by my usual loathing towards school. When I make it across the parking lot and to the campus yard, I realize something’s off. People are filing in and out of the school entrance in a perfect line, their attention straight ahead on the person in front of them. They all move together in sync, taking steps together. It’s not the entire population of the school, but it’s enough people that I notice it.

  I swing the hand of my bag over my shoulder and hike across the grass underneath the shedding trees towards the entrance, pink and orange leaves covering the browning grass. My eyes are fixed on the people in line along with others wandering around who seem a little out of it, like they have no real direction. When I pass by one guy with long legs and broad shoulders, his gaze catches with mine and I swear to God his eyes briefly glow, but it’s just a flash and then he’s turning around to head off in the direction of the west entrance.

  I grow nervous with each step, especially when I pass by a few dead people roaming around, watching me with faint smiles. I keep my attention straight on the door, ignoring the rest of the looks I can feel boring into me. I tell myself that it’s just my imagination, which feels like the biggest lie I’ve ever told myself. By the time I enter the school, I’m sweating and anxious.

  Things only get worse when I pass the line forming from outside that weaves around through the columns of the quad and to the main office. Heads turn in my direction, one by one. Eyes lock on me, filled with hatred, like I’m some foul creature they want to get rid of.

  Fuck. This is bad.

  The only thing I have going for me is that no one has yet to make a move on me and there’s no way I’m sticking around to find out if they’re going to. I pick up my pace, heading towards where I entered, deciding that leaving is the best decision. However I slow down in the center of the quad when Professor Morgan approaches me. He’s in his mid-forties, with chestnut brown hair and hazel eyes. He’s wearing tan cargo pants and a red polo shirt smeared with charcoal, paint, and clay. He’s also Asher’s uncle, at least, if what Asher told me was the truth.

  “Hey Ember,” he says with his hands stuffed in his pockets. “How’s it going today?”

  I pretend it’s not weird at all that he’s approaching me. “Good, I guess. ”

  He smiles, but I can tell i
t’s forced. Then he discreetly glances around the campus, his attention lingering on the line before he returns his attention to me. “Look, could you meet me in my classroom for a moment? I’d like to discuss a project with you. ”

  Project? Um, what? I’m about to ask him what he’s talking about when he aims me with an urgent glance. “It’s a project Asher was supposed to turn into me, but I haven’t seen him in a while so I wanted to talk to you about it. ”

  I slowly catch on. The fact that the entire school seems to be under some sort of trance makes me wary to go anywhere with anyone, yet as I examine him over, attempting to see if his eyes are glowing like the others, he looks normal. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t have any visible wounds on him or other signs that he’s part of the undead

  “Okay, yeah. Sure. . . but I need to hurry because I have class. ” Because I need to get the hell out of here.

  He nods and then turns for the hallway between two columns, motioning for me to follow him. For a moment it looks like a shadow is tailing him, but as soon as I blink it’s gone. So I keep walking, more attention draws to us as we weave through the crowd. I’m trying my hardest to keep from touching anyone, but a lot of them seem to be determined to touch me, slamming their shoulders against mine, stepping on my toes, their deaths smothering me. Blood fills the streets. They all lie dead. A cloud covers the town.

  One foot in front of the other. Breathe. Eyes drift in my direction and some notably glow all around me. I have this gut-wrenching feeling that I’m being watched by something more than just their eyes.

  I hold my breath the entire journey and only breathe freely again when we’re hidden in his classroom with the door shut behind us. He seems to feel the same way as well, since he lets out a loud exhale the moment the door clicks shut.

  “Jesus, things are getting intense,” he says, turning around and leaning against the shut door.

  I don’t respond, looking around the vacant room with art on the walls, bare easels and paint supplies everywhere. I can’t stop my mind from wandering to thoughts of Asher and the first time we kissed. In here. How he touched me. How his tongue felt… and his tongue ring… amazing… the way he made me feel was amazing.

  “Are you okay?” Professor Morgan asks.

  I stand near the tables and face him. “Yeah,” I reply with hesitancy. “Although I’d like to know why you wanted to talk to me in here because I’m guessing it’s not about a project. ”

  He stands up straight. “No, it’s not. ” He takes a cautious step forward. “Tell me, how have you been doing through all this?”

  I shift uneasily, noting that he’s positioned himself between me and the door. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. ”

  He points over his shoulder at the door. “The whole town going… well, a little berserk. ”

  “Yeah, I’ve noticed things are a little…” I search for the correct word that would best describe the madness. “Strange. ”

  “Strange might be a bit of an understatement. It’s like they’ve been taken over by some sort of…” He trails off, shaking his head. “And there are the murders and the strange disappearances. ”