prologue || emma
Night One: Mom’s sitting in the front next to Dad, blasting their old 80′s music that neither I nor Hailey quite enjoy. Being in their forties, they act as if they never aged a day over twenty. Despite our lack of enthusiasm in their music taste, we sing along at the top of our lungs. As the music plays, I look out the window, the snowflakes dusting the ground like powdered sugar on one of those flourless cakes. I close my eyes for a moment, reveling in the warm feeling, a slight smile playing on my lips. I open them to see Hailey dancing in her seat, still singing with my parents. It’s moments like these that make me feel infinite like I could go on like this forever.
I turn my attention back to the window hoping to see more white coating the dead green grass. Instead, I see something else. Heading right for us.
“Ben!” Mom screams, right as the bass drops. And everything stops.
Night Two: Voluntary Apnea. That final moment when your lungs are screaming and your body finally surrenders to the water. Drowning, that’s what they call it. In the distance, sirens ring out, calling me to my grave. The pain begins to ebb, my body preparing for death. And then some pressure on my chest that I did not feel before is lifted. A hand on my arm pulls me up, up, up until I reach the air, my head hitting the roof of the car. I gasp and cough out water, opening my eyes, trying to see what woke me. My dad appears next to me, taking a breath, then plunging back down. Moments later he emerges next to me, clutching my little sister and the water fills with a cloud of red. Blood. Hailey’s blood. I lay my ear to her chest and listen for her breathing, for a heartbeat, for anything. There is nothing. I let out a sob. My dad manages to wrench open the car door and then takes Hailey from my arms. He motions for me to swim out, so I do. I propel myself forward as far as I can, then look back, expecting to see them right behind me. There is only water.
Night Three: There are sirens everywhere. Ringing in my ears, filling my head, drowning my thoughts. They never cease, even when my eyes begin to flutter open and a woman who I’ve never seen before looks down at me. She wears a navy blue coat with a medical ID badge clipped to the collar. Elizabeth Weathers. EMT.
“Honey, can you tell me your name?” Her voice is kind but worried. Urgent.
“Emma. Emma Jacobs,” I croak, my throat raw and stinging. She nods, writing it down on a clipboard in her lap. I look around me, fluorescent lights blinding my eyes and making me wince in pain.
“Close your eyes, honey. You’re gonna be okay.” I nod, wondering if I should believe her or not. I decide not to protest and sink back into my nightmarish slumber.
Night Four: I stand at the foot of the coffins, bracing myself to see my family for the last time. I take a deep breath and make my way to the tallest coffin. Dad’s. He looks asleep, the usual frown lines on his face nowhere to be seen. I move on to my mother. Her face which was once filled with color now pale as snow. Without thinking, I move my hand to her cheek, taken aback by how cold it is. A single tear leaves a trail down my face. The last coffin is the smallest, no more than five feet. My breath hitches as I hover over it, over her. My little sister. Refusing to look at her face, I reach down and take her cold, lifeless hand in mine. For once I long for it to be sticky like her typical five-year-old hands would be. My eyes involuntarily travel to her face. Hailey looks asleep and at peace but a voice inside me screams because I know that her heart doesn’t beat anymore.
Seconds later I hear a scream. An ear-piercing scream. It takes me a moment to realize that it is my own.
Night Five: I do not sleep at all. The memories, the pain, the hole in my chest are unbearable. I cannot relive them anymore. I cannot see the faces of my parents, stone-cold in the ground. The face of my sister, lifeless in the small coffin. Every night I wake to the sound of a scream. My own.
And then I cry. I cry for my beautiful mother and her cooking skills that I did not inherit. I cry for my strong father, who even to his last breath never stopped fighting for me and Hailey. Hailey. I cry for her the most and how she only got five years of life. How I won’t get to teach her how to talk to boys or how to do makeup. How she was ripped away from me before I even got a chance to say goodbye.
“God,” I muster in between sobs. “If you’re there, please, please, take it away. I don’t want to feel these feelings anymore. Please,” I beg.
But no one answers.
Night Six: Police officers came to my door this afternoon. They asked me if I wanted to press charges, but what good would that do? My family is dead and money can’t bring them back. They told me that they recovered some belongings and handed it to me before leaving me standing alone at the door. I have yet to open the brown envelope, afraid that when I do, all I’ll see is their haunting faces. But I open it anyway. My hands shake as I pull out a thin golden chain, the same one that my mother wore every day of her life, and her face flashes before my eyes.
My mother was the one who believed in God the most. I didn’t, because if he was real, why would there be bad in the world? Mom always said that if we ever needed help, we could always turn to Him and He would answer. Feeling lost and desperate, I try again, searching for the one person who could take the bad away from me.
But once again, no one answers.
Night Seven: The wind blows my hair into my face, but I don’t move it away. It’s peaceful up on the roof where no one can hear your screams or cries. The world doesn’t stop moving; there is always something happening on the streets. I shift my gaze to the stars, hoping one of them would come down and take me up there. I hope that my family is living in the stars among the constellations.
“You’re a liar, God. If you’re so high and mighty, why won’t you come take away my pain? Why would you let me suffer as much as I am? Maybe you’re not so great as you thought. Perhaps the Devil’s better than you. I bet he’s a better man than you’ll ever be,” I spit into the air, closing my eyes and wishing the world away.
“Why thank you, sweetheart,” a voice sings, making me jump.
“Who the hell are you? How did you get up here? Why are you up here?” I shriek, shuffling backward. A shingle dislodges, skittering off the edge.
“I’m not here to hurt you, sweetheart. And you called me.” He tucks his hands behind his back, the wind blowing into his slightly unbuttoned black shirt. He’s a tall man, his hair greased back all but a strand that lingers in front of his face. The moonlight bounces off his piercing blue eyes, making them glisten. The mysterious man looks as if he stepped straight out of a movie.
“I said who the hell are you?” I repeat, my voice shaking.
“Why, I’m the Devil. Lucifer, I prefer. But Devil is fine for now.”
“What do you want from me?” I stutter, shocked.
“I think the better question is what do you want from me?”
I answer with no hesitation. “I want you to get rid of this pain. Make the nightmares stop. Forever. I don’t want to feel it anymore. I want to be numb.”
“Done.” My eyebrows raise, not expecting it to be that simple. “A slight issue though.” There it is. “I don’t just do things for the good of it. That would be against my nature, you could say.”
“What’s the catch?” I tremble slightly as he inches toward me. A smirk plays on his lips like he’s enjoying my fear.
He turns his back to me and faces out into the streets. “It’s simple. If you want your pain gone forever, all you have to do is sell me your soul. It will be mine to keep and when you die, you can come to retrieve it. Of course, you’d have to stay with me for all of eternity, but despite what you’ve heard, it’s quite a lovely place.”
“In Hell?” I ask, confused.
“Of course, darling. Where else would a king like me reside?” I stare blankly at him, my mouth agape.
“So if I give you my soul, all the pain will be gone? No more nightmares?”
“Gone. You won’t so much as shed a tear in your family’s memory. Of course, you’d miss them but you wouldn’t feel sad. No nightmares. No pain. Ever.” I consider this. Already a lump begins to form in my throat at the mention of my family. I would be free of this pain, the hole in my heart, forever. I don’t have a choice but to agree.
“Alright. I’ll do it. I’ll give you my soul. And you will take my pain away. Right now.”
“So eager and demanding. Alright, my dear. Give me your hand.” I do as I am told and he kneels, taking my hand in his, his skin scalding my fingers.
“This shouldn’t hurt too much,” he purrs, undoing a few buttons on his shirt and opening it wide to reveal an inked chest. He grins, flashing a row of dazzlingly white teeth, and places my hand over his heart. There is a burst of light, and the world spins.
Then it goes dark.
I place the lilies on the top of her grave before sitting down in front of it. I run my fingers over the engraving of the stone. Hailey Rose Jacobs. 2006-2011. A loving daughter and sister, taken too soon.
“Hey, Hailes. Happy birthday. I can’t believe that you’d be eight today. I may not feel the pain, but not a day goes by where I don’t miss you.” I sigh, remembering her last birthday, less than a week before the crash.
“I would’ve taken you out for ice cream today and then we’d go home to where Mom and Dad would’ve surprised you with a cake and we would’ve had so much fun. And I would’ve chased you around the house, trying to smear frosting on your face. If only...” I trail off.
“Isn’t that lovely,” a voice purrs and I whip around.
“You’ve got to stop doing that,” I grumble, rolling my eyes once I see who it is. I don’t move from my spot on the ground and turn back around to face the grave.
“But it’s so much fun.”
“Yeah, I bet it is,” I mutter under my breath. “What do you want?”
“Why, is that any way to greet an old friend?” he says, circling the grave and coming into my view.
“I didn’t sell my soul to a friend.”
He clicks his tongue, shaking his head at me. “Always a clever girl, aren’t you?” I roll my eyes, saying nothing.
“What do you want?” I ask again.
He walks to an old oak tree, looking up at the sky before leaning up against it. He lets out a sigh, one that makes it sound like whatever he’s going to say next will kill him.
“I need a favor.”