I wiped the grime off the cold glass window and stared outside. Nothing had changed here. The sky was still gray, the color of my dying mother. The snow outside descended from a puffy cloud of gray mist and fell onto the frozen dirt road with a thud that could only be heard if you hushed everyone in your house and yelled at the wind to stop howling. The thud was soft, like the sound of a mouse’s footstep on a muffled oriental carpet. It was winter. It was the cold gray winter you’d normally expect on a dismal morning on Ember Street.
I looked outside onto our street. The houses looked the same. Gray, two-story houses lined Ember Street like confederate soldiers marching to war. I stared at the cars outside everyone’s homes. I did a check. Mr. Smith’s green Camry was there. Ms. Perthatunia’s exotic red Porsche was parked outside her house. Henry Dunpar’s plain black minivan was parked in his open garage, and Cassidy Hoover’s car was…missing. That was the oddest thing. Cassidy Hoover was always home. The 49 year old single mother of teenage boys never went out, ever. Of the 16 years I’ve lived in my gray two-story house on Ember Street, Cassidy Hoover never drove her car. Something was wrong.
I grabbed my dusty blue trench coat out of the closet and slipped it on as I walked outside. The air was crisp and cold and the smell of Pine-Sol sprayed after sitting in the freezer for 3 years and defrosted for about 10 seconds. This was the familiar smell of Ember Street, the isolated one-block neighborhood surrounded by evergreen trees in the quiet residential town of Winterwood. I have lived in this town all my life nearly an orphan. My mother was in a deadly coma in the hospital, and my father had died years before. I took a careful step onto the frozen dirt road and tiptoed across the street. A dog barked with a ferocious attempt to ward off the unfamiliar sound of steps across a street. I realized the dog just missed the sound of a few snowflakes. I took the Hoover’s brass door knockers in my hand and knocked once, twice, and three times. The Hoovers were there, I knew they were, but Cassidy always answered exactly between the second and third knock. Something wasn’t right. As I grabbed the knock for a second try, but the door suddenly opened. A beautiful girl stood there glaring at me with yellow cat-like eyes. Her black hair rippled behind her small body and an old, violet colored Victorian styled dress hugged her body and made her look like a princess. Who was this girl?
“What do you want?” she asked. Her voice was soft and gravely, like a whisper.
“Um…is Cassidy Hoover here?” I asked. I glanced quickly at her finger, which sported a huge, purple diamond ring.
“No, she moved out last week,” the girl replied. Her eyes glanced at my house and then towards my feet. “I’m Esmere.”
“What a pretty name!” I remarked, “Like a princess that was banished from a kingdom somewhere in Europe!”
“Not even close!” muttered Esmere angrily under her breath. She stepped inside her home and slammed the door in my face. A shiver went up my spine. Something about her made my blood turn cold.
The day went on rather boringly as I read a book to my comatose mother in the hospital and watched some rather boring telethons there. The day steadily grew dark and I stared up at the sky with awe as I walked out the hospital doors. Thousands of beautifully sparkling stars dotted the night sky and formed the constellations I learned and loved. I always wondered if people of another time would stare up at the same stars and felt the same exhilaration that I do.
My train of thought moved onto Esmere, the strange girl who looked very foreign and misplaced. I made a mental note of her appearance in my mind. Her pale face, her slender body, her curly black hair and those cat-like eyes made my body run cold.
The next day was the dreaded first day at school. I caught up with my old friends but kept a lookout for Esmere. She was here, but she didn’t fit in at all. Her black hair was twisted back in a braid and she wore uniquely framed reading glasses. The weirdest part though was that she carried this huge old book with her. The pages were brown and the maroon cover was peeling off. She used a quill and ink pen to write in it. I finally approached Esmere after my calculus class. I crept up to her and tapped her on the shoulder. Just like I expected, she jolted up in surprise and glared. Her gold eyes seethed through my head in fury.
“What?!” Esmere snapped, obviously annoyed.
“What’s that you’re writing?” I asked nonchalantly.
Esmere pushed her purple framed glasses up her nose and she whispered, “Some stories are better left untold.”
I was just about to ask whatever she meant by that, but as I turned toward her, she disappeared. I walked back home with my best friend, Karalynn Perthatunia. Not far ahead of us, Esmere walked sluggishly, like a snail that stowed away on a pirate ship and got doused in a bottle of rum. Esmere seemed drunk, entranced almost. I ignored Karalynn babbling about something that had to do with lip gloss and how to make a salmon filet. Whatever it was, I didn’t pay attention at all because I suddenly noticed Esmere’s maroon book drop out of her quilted bag. Esmere however, was unaware and walked onwards to her house, as if something mystical was calling her to it.
I picked up the book with intentions to give it back to Esmere, but my curiosity overwhelmed my conscience as I stuffed the book into my own backpack. Karalynn didn’t notice me and continued babbling about how to make a filet in less than twenty minutes. I finally got to my house after Karalynn walked into her own home to be greeted by her ultra rich mother who was wearing only the latest Gucci that she acquired from Italy last weekend. I waved, then ran home eagerly to read Esmere’s book.
I opened the book to the first page.
The Life Chronicles of Esmerella Copperite of Greschan de Louvre.
May 1149, France
I feel a grim burst of despair as I am writing at the moment. Today would be a day I shall never erase from my memories. As I weaved at my throne, an old woman came up to me and opened up her crooked mouth. Her voice cracked and had a throaty gurgle to it. “Esmerella” she said, “You are bestowed with the curse that 100 gods have placed upon your family centuries ago.” The old woman took out a bright, beautiful gold embossed maroon covered book and handed it to me. The old hag continued, “This book will write out the lives of thousands of chosen people that you will meet in your soon to be immortal life.” I fainted at the moment. The woman continued as I heard her fuzzy voice. “And if you do not, the book will burn, and you will suffer the worst death of any of any single person in this world.”
My eyes grew wide in shock of the awful curse placed upon Esmere. I turned to the middle of the book.
April 18, 1906, San Francisco
Grelda closed her eyes into a sleep that was the most peaceful she ever took. Her mouth formed into a crooked smile as she drifted into a dream. At that moment, her home collapsed from an earthquake so powerful, that 3000 people died, Grelda included. As the house collapsed upon Grelda, her spirit formed and dodged the debris of plaster and wood. The spirit was young and beautiful, like how Grelda truly was, and she drifted off to heaven unharmed.
I smiled with relief. This wasn’t a truly bad job, controlling people’s lives and their deaths. I flipped the book to the very last page and read it. My face fell with horror.
December 19, 2007
Elaine Westerfield, my new neighbor walked over to my house in alarm. She knocked on the door three times, and I answered her. She was short for her age, and had a crooked nose that sniffled every five minutes or so. She was overly curious, asking redundant questions and was just plain odd. She walked to school with her friends and noticed me. She tapped me on the shoulder and expected me to jump up, so I did. She asked me about my book. I made her ask, and answered her in a way that made her think. I want her to notice my book. I really do. I feel a bit sick right now, as I haven’t written in my book in over a day until this moment.
I gazed in awe. All this time in the past two days, I thought I controlled what I did, Esmere did it herself! She was controlling my life, and she seemed weary to. She seemed so tired yesterday and today too.
I slid over to Esmere’s house since the road was so slippery. I knocked on the door, and she answered. Her golden eyes drooped and her face was a slight shade of pale gray. I walked in and gave her a genuine smile. I knew her secret. I knew why she was such a crab.
“I know,” I whispered, “I know that you write out lives and will die if you don’t. I think you should just stop writing.” Esmere’s face gave me a small smile and she nodded.
“I can’t!” Esmere cried. “I can’t stop writing. Every day that I stop, I grow thinner and thinner from starvation. This curse stops food from being absorbed into my body. I grow sick and tired and faint. And even though I haven’t tried to get to this stage, I know the book will go into flames and I will too! I’ll burn and die without any mercy!”
My eyes grew larger. She’ll burn? Because she would refuse to write out people’s lives? “Just face it.” I said bluntly. “Just get you death over with so you won’t live in fear of dying and starting destruction to us mortals.” Esmere turned away. My words stung her, but it had to be done. She had to face the truth. “I’ll help you.” I added. My hand reached out to hers, and she took it. We were going to face this curse.
The next day, I walked to school with Esmere. She didn’t write in the book for about a day now. Her cheeks had sunken in and her wrists were no more than an inch and a half in width. She dressed in a pleated gray skirt, a blood red blouse and wore knee high boots that were black leather. She looked sick, yet absolutely stunning at the same time. “How are you feeling?” I asked.
“I’ve felt worse before,” Esmere answered abruptly. We spent the rest of the day in silence, not speaking a word to each other. I would glance at her occasionally to see how she was, expecting that she’d be better, but every time I did, she looked thinner and sicker than ever before. Her eyes seemed too large for her bony face, and her clothes seemed to sag more than earlier this morning.
The next day was even worse. Her purple dress that would’ve been skintight for the thinnest of models hung loose around Esmere’s body. Her hair had no luster and her arms and legs were cadaverous. “Today’s the day…” Esmere said grimly. At first I didn’t understand, but I realized what she meant. Today would be her last day to live. We went to her house after school, but I brought in her book first. Esmere stared at the book wildly, trying to resist a sick temptation to write in it to save her life.
“No,” I said to her. I stared into Esmere’s yellow-golden eyes and in them I saw a fire that spun around wildly. I was surprised. Where was the fire that reflected off of Esmere’s eyes? In horror, I finally realized that the book started burning. A flame in the center of two pages started and charred the already brown pages to a black crisp. As the book continued to burn, I saw Esmere. She stood there, grimacing in agony while staring at her ring. She muttered something in Latin, “Aufero orbis! Aufero is iam!” I stared at her in confusion.
“Take the ring off,” Esmere yelled, “Take it off!” I ran to her side and grabbed her hand. Her hand was burning hot and her ring was nearly on fire. I pinched the ring and flung it off. The fire in the book diminished to a small flame that burned like a candle. “Thank you.” Esmere croaked. Her voice was weak.
“But why?” I asked in surprise. “How did the flame get smaller?”
“I realized the ring was the curse. The ring throbbed and suffocated my finger. Then I saw a face in it, the face of death.” Esmere smiled. The fire of the book still burned.
“Will you live?” I inquired, hoping the answer would be yes.
“No,” Esmere said flatly, “I’ve been cursed for centuries, and I feel like my time on earth is up. But I’ll die a calmer death. One that doesn’t involve burning into ashes.” My eyes got watery. No one I met and knew so well ever died. I blinked back tears that formed up in my eyes. Esmere closed her eyes and disintegrated. Her body was illuminated by an enchanting light and separated. Particles of light flew everywhere around the room, brushed my face and out the door of her house. The gray clouds above us broke apart to make way for the light of Esmere as they flew towards the sky.
For the first time in the sixteen years of my life on Ember Street, I saw the light of the sun. For only a moment, the sun’s light soaked me in warmth. For only a moment, I heard a voice like ringing bells singing, Thank you.
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