Ember X (Death Collectors)
Author:Jessica Sorensen


“Emmy, can you hand me that Allen wrench?” My dad sticks his hand out from beneath the Challenger.

I push the jar of screws and coins out of the way, grab the wrench out of the toolbox, and skip around the fender lying on the ground. “Is it fixed yet?” I ask, setting the wrench in his hand.

His legs wiggle as he scoots further under the car. “Patience, Emmy. These things take time.”

“Like how long? An hour?” I ask impatiently. “Dad, I want you to drive it really fast. And I want to be in there too.”

My dad laughs. “Alright, we can do that.”

“You promise?” I say. “You cross your heart?”

He laughs again and drops the wrench onto the concrete. “Yeah, cross my heart and hope to die.”

My eyes wander to the corner of the garage as I return to the jars of screws and coins and begin plucking out the pennies one by one and arrange them in groups on the concrete. The metal clinks with each coin dropped and I hum along with the song on the radio, a song about death and the acceptance of it. I wonder if it might be talking about my friend in the corner of the garage, the one who always watches and follows me wherever I go. He wears a funny cape like a superhero only there’s a hood over his head. His face is always hidden, but I bet his skin is made of rainbows and light.

He breathes a warning about the coins and the map I’m supposed to be creating. “Didn’t I do it right?” I poke at a penny. “It looks right to me.”

My dad sticks his head out from under the car. Grease stains his face and there’s a layer of metal shavings in his black hair. “Emmy, who are you talking to?”

I hum along with the song playing from the car stereo. “No one,” I lie, because I’m not allowed to talk about my imaginary friend with anyone—those are his rules. I even crossed my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. And the last thing I want to do is stick a needle in my eye.

My dad shoves out from under the car and wipes his greasy hands on the front of his torn jeans. “Hey, Emmy, you wanna go get something to eat?” He peers over my shoulder at the map of the cemetery I’ve created.

Each coin represents were a body is buried. “Playing a game,” I reply.

His breath hitches. “Stop that!” He scatters the pieces with his boot and picks me up in his arms. He grips me forcefully as he carries me to the trunk of the car and sits me down with my legs dangling over the edge.

“Who told you to do that with the coins?” The anger in his eyes is frightening.

“I don’t know.” I try to squirm from my dad’s arms. “Daddy, you’re hurting me.”

His eyes enlarge as he glances at his hands, like he didn’t realize he was holding my arms. “Emmy, this is really important.” He loosens his grip. “Who told you to do that?”

My eyes stray to my friend in the corner. “I’m not supposed to tell you.”

“Ember Rose Edwards.” He only uses my full name when he means business. “You tell me right now or else I won’t let you ride in the car with me. Do you understand?”

I cross my arms and huff. “Fine. My imaginary friend told me to do it.”

My friend glares at me and I’m scared he’s going to leave me. Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.

My dad follows my line of gaze and a spark of his death surfaces through his touch—darkness. I shiver as he turns back to me with a stern look on his face.

“Emmy, you need to ignore him, okay?” he says, his grey eyes softening. “You can’t have imaginary friends—people will think you’re crazy. And we can’t have people thinking that.”

“But I don’t want him to go away.”

“Well, he has to. It’s time for him to go away. Do you understand? No imaginary friends. Ever.”

“Fine… go away, friend.” Tears sting the corners of my eyes as my friend dissipates into air. “It’s not fair.”

“Life isn’t fair,” my dad says as he helps me down off the trunk. “And the sooner you realize that, the easier life will be.”

I sulk back over to the jar and begin picking up the mess, chucking the pennies and screws into it.

“And Emmy.” My dad scoots back under the car. “If he ever comes back, you need to tell him to go away.”

“Alright.” I frown, dropping pennies into the jar. Once my dad is under the car, I dare a peek at the empty corner, secretly hoping my friend will be back. But he’s not and my heart aches. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who understands death like I do.