Monday, March 26, 2012
Genre :YA dark fantasy
A bus zooms by. The seventh bus since I perched myself on the hard wooden bench next to the school gates, to wait for my family. I slap the book on my lap shut, and fumble for my mobile inside the rucksack. They should be here, what’s taking them so long?
I swallow hard, trying to squash the sudden nervousness and panic. What if I fail to mend my family together? I press my hand on my knee. immediately my leg stops its jiggling, and breath in.
As I exhale, a sudden sharp pain slashes through me, cutting air from my lungs. I feel as if invisible threads have been cruelly severed. Before I recover, a loud crash punctures the peaceful spring air, ripping the silence in tiny shreds. Tyres squeal on tarmac followed by the grinding sound of metal against metal. Everything around me seems to move at dizzying speeds, or is it me? The air around me reverberates with echoes of the crash, then, silence.
Moments later the world settles. I glance around, the only sound the pounding of my heart. The sky is still its cheery untouched blue. The silence shifts, as if it’s a living thing. Everything happens simultaneously. Someone screams, another yells words which sound muffled to my ears. The faint wailing of sirens soak the air. The earth trembles beneath my feet as pounding feet stampede past me. For some reason, I can’t move.
And then, I see them. The flock of white birds from last night’s dream. I can’t tell if they are doves, but I’m dazed to immobility by their dance. They twirl, dip and rise to the sky, then dip low to the ground. As they ascend into the sky, four birds separate from the flock. They fly low, and just as soon reattach to the others, then vanish. I blink once. Something cold crawls from inside me, slithers over my skin and clings on like a second skin. Instinctively, I know what the dream means.
No! It can’t be.
I shoot to my feet, whip my head to my right. Forcing my legs into action, I sprint, following the sirens. The smell of burnt rubber is stronger here. I skid to a stop, almost knocking a woman holding a baby. Impatient to get around the group of people, I skirt and shoulder my way to the front. I freeze, the only sound the pounding of my heart in my ears. In the middle of the road is a white truck, bent at a strange angle. I can’t see the driver. Someone pushes me aside, but I bounce back, my feet propelling me forward, unable to resist the strange, yet morbid pull. I round the truck, my eyes searching hungrily.
A family car, an Opel, the same navy blue as ours, lays on the road, a flattened mess, partially obscured by the truck. I stumble toward the car, my throat aching. A hand clamps around my upper arm, and yanks me back. I snatch my arm back and rush forward, glancing wildly at the wreckage. There’s a limb, a familiar limb poking through the mess. I drop to my knees, and cautiously touch the lone hand, the only thing that confirms the car’s previous occupants. I grasp the tiny fingers. I’d applied red nail polish on them last night. My eyes burn with hot tears, as I search for a body, a face. Everything is just… flat.
A soft breeze blows gently, but the air around me feels heavy, stifling. Something claws from inside my throat wanting out. Hands grab my shoulders and pull, but I heave forward and vomit.
When I finally drag myself to my feet, I’m face to face with a man. His dark eyes gaze down at me, his face mysteriously hidden in shadows, even though the sun shines bright. My eyes sweep past him searching. I stumble forward, toward what is left of our car. Distractedly, I notice how the shards of bloodied glass winks in the spring sunlight. A crew from the fire department are working on the ruins.
I’m about to take another step, when a set of hands press gently on my shoulders, and turn me around.
I glance up. It’s the mysterious man. His expression is so kind, and my life has fallen apart. I need mom and dad, Lucy and Anton. But they are gone. I throw myself in his arms, and sob. Strong, comforting arms wrap around my shoulders, hold me close. They remind me of my dad. I sob harder.
“All I wanted was my family united, not taken away,” I mutter to myself, “Why them?”
“It was their time,” The man says, his voice gentle, yet strong.
I lift my head from his chest, and wipe my eyes with the back of my hand and glare at him through bleary eyes. “No, no it wasn’t. That was my family. We were supposed to go to Italy. We were supposed to be together.” My eyes drop to his shirt where my head was moments before. There’s a wet patch from my tears, but he seems oblivious to that.
“Ana, Ana. Fate doesn’t know about family. Fate collects when the time comes.”
“I don’t care. She can take me too.” I say, detaching my self from his arms. Something niggles me at the back of my mind. This strange man, I’ve seen him before, yet he knows my name. “Who are you?”
“I’m Ernest. But people call me,” he seems to hesitate as if weighing what he should say. “Grim or Death, whichever you prefer.” He shifts from one foot to another.
My jaw drops, my swollen eyes widen. Fear sizzles in my veins and I stumble back. I’ve seen photos of what or who I know as Death. He doesn’t resemble this thirty-something year old looking man whose hair is neatly slicked back, black suit as if he is a tycoon from one of those high rise expensive offices. The only thing about him that sends a shiver scuttling down my shoulders, is his eyes: dark and bottomless, ageless, yet young. Although kind, I see something like danger flash in them.
Then I remember. Grim. No wonder he knows my name. Oh, the possibilities of what he can do! Am I ready to shake hands on a deal with this guy? Yes. The fear morphs into excitement. Maybe I’m crazy but I don’t care. I want my family back.
I sidle closer, fully aware that he could have my soul in a split of a second. Somehow I doubt he will. I doubt Fate is hanging around here to decide if it’s my time. If that’s the case, I’d be dead this minute. Ernest studies me, the mysterious air around him heightens as if he knows what I have in mind.
His eyebrows shoot up. “Are you sure?”
I freeze on my tracks and gape. He knows. He knows what I’m thinking. Crap! Can he read minds too? He’s supernatural. Who knows what else he can do. “How did you know?”
I try to school my features, unsuccessfully. I give up. I’m already too excited at the prospect. I nod.
“There is always a price to pay.” His voice low, yet confident.
“And I will gladly pay,” I say. If he asks me to trade my legs and hands for each of my family member, I’d be happy to throw in my incisors just for good measure.
Grim… er.. Ernest tilts his head to one side, so slowly as if he has all the time in the world. Of course, he does. He is Death. Time means nothing. I guess being immortal one hardly feels the passage of time. “Don’t you want to know what the price is?”
I shake my head quickly, impatient.
Without a word, he places both hands on either side of my head. My heart doubles its efforts to keep up with my pulse. What is he doing? Is this part of taking the soul? Is he going to kill me?
His voice calms me, and my eyes flutter shut. A tickling sensation travels along the surface of my skin. Different scents flit by. And what stands out most is fresh-baked chocolate cookies, and well, my room. I’d know the smell of my room anywhere. My eyes snap open. Voices drift up from downstairs, a soothing balm to my battered heart.
I tilt my head to one side, and listen. Mom and Anton’s voice, then Lucy’s. Is this a joke?
I jerk my head up. Grim’s intense eyes are latched on mine. He shakes his head, answering my question. Unsettling.
“Are they really here?” I breath out, my eyes stinging with tears.
I struggle to hoist myself on trembling knees. His hands drop from my head, and grasp my shoulders, helping me up. My hands tremble as I brush them on my hair, ready to bolt out of the door to witness what I can only say is a miracle.
“Ana. Welcome to the world of Novicehood.”
I stare at him blankly.
“The price, Ana. That’s the price. My novice,” he says patiently.
I frown, bouncing from one foot to the other. “You mean you don’t want an arm or leg, or… my soul?” The latter I add in a whisper. Can a person survive without a soul? Wouldn’t that someone be…soulless? Images of movies I’ve watched about soulless creatures flit through my mind. I shiver.
“I already own your soul. Besides, you are of no use to me without your hands or legs. You can keep those. As I said, welcome, Novice.” He is all teeth and wide smiles, and animated elegant hands, very pleased with himself as if he has just handed me the whole world wrapped neatly.
He just did.
I’ll deal with the soul details later. Right now, nothing else matters. “Thank you… Grim.” The smile disappears, and a scowl replaces it. Oh. “Thank you Ernest.” And his face splits into a wide toothy smile. Ah, the magic word.
As I dash out of my bedroom door, and fly down the flight of stairs, the last words I hear are, “I’ll be seeing you soon, Novice.” I can’t help wondering though. Have I done the right thing? Have I disturbed some sort of balance of nature? I wonder what involves being Reaper’s novice. How many of those does he have?
I leap to the bottom of the stairs, and my eyes zoom in on my mom taking out the cookies from the oven. I shrug the thoughts aside, and throw myself at her, almost upsetting the whole tray of hot cookies. She laughs, and I can feel my heart begin to mend.
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