Emma took a last look at the water spilling out and then started to run down the street. It was the same street as the music store and the Knowledge Is Power shop, but Emma was very far down the street and she had to run for a long time before she once again saw the music store. To her disbelief, Knowledge Is Power – which was only a few blocks away – had shrunk into a small, stone cube that fit perfectly in the palm of her hand. She picked it up and was surprised that it didn’t have the weight of an entire shop, but instead the weight of a pencil.
Putting it in her pocket, she looked around. Opal was nowhere to be seen. She had probably thought that Emma had gone off without her, as it was quite late in the day.
Emma walked home.
She opened her door, where Josh was doing his homework. He looked up as she entered and his eyes flicked down.
“Nice shirt,” he commented with a smirk.
Emma rolled her eyes, grabbed the nearest pillow and threw it at her roommate. Josh merely held up his hand and it bounced elsewhere in the room. Scowling, Emma folded her arms across her chest to cover herself up a bit and stomped over to her bed, where her robe lay on top of the duvet.
As she donned it, Josh spoke.
“Mrs. Shona wasn’t very happy about you and Opal leaving unexpectedly,” he commented lightly, as though they were having a conversation about the weather.
“Shut up,” Emma shot grumpily. Her little adventure in Knowledge In Power had put her in a bad mood.
“Ooh, someone’s touchy. The teachers asked me to tell you that your weeklong afterschool detention starts on Monday and it shall be held in your Care Class,” Josh informed.
“Weeklong?” Emma repeated incredulously. “Are you kidding me? And afterschool, too!”
“You shouldn’t have been a naughty girl, wagging school and then strutting around town with that thing that doesn’t serve its purpose as a shirt,” Josh scolded.
“Whatever,” Emma snapped, collapsing onto her bed. Her muscles ached from the physical effort she’d made today. She ignored her grumbling stomach and put her miniscule version of Knowledge Is Power on the bedside table, but she kept on the pendant.
“Good night, then,” Emma said, already closing her eyes. She didn’t even bother to take off her wet uniform or have dinner. The tunnel had rendered her sleepy.
“Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” Josh warned.
Emma squinted, trying to look into the eyes of the mysterious man. She couldn’t, though, because his face was blurred, as though Emma’s vision wasn’t quite right. They were standing in a golden field of barley, the stalks rustling in the wind and ticking their knees. In the distance, the barley field touched the blue sky.
The mysterious man was speaking. His voice was clear, yet at the same time Emma couldn’t make out whom he sounded like.
“When I pictured myself it was always like just an outline in a colouring book with the inside not yet completed. All the standard features were there but the colours, the zigzags, the plaids, the bits and pieces that made up me weren’t yet in place,” the man confessed. Emma didn’t know why he was telling her this.
“That was until I met a beautiful girl and she taught me how to discover myself. The last time I saw her, the wind was singing. The sky was blue. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. The last time I saw her, she was laughing, trailing her feet across the greenest grass. The last time I saw her, she was alive. Real. She said to me, ‘Today isn’t just another. Today I’ll create something beautiful.’ And I thought, why bother when you’re the most beautiful thing in the universe?” the man recounted sadly. Emma took a tentative step towards him, trying to figure out whom he was.
“Death spoke to me as I watched her dancing underneath a willow tree. He told me that love and Death don’t mix. To prove his point, he ordered the willow tree to fall over. The girl was too busy dancing; she didn’t even notice the great being of nature looming over her. And then… she died. But the truth was, he killed her so that she could join him in the lead of the dead, for they loved each other. That was when I realised that I could never escape a life controlled by Death,” the man sighed. Emma took another cautious step.
“Salvation came when my family passed on a secret. It was one that explained how one could conquer Death. So I used it, and I never saw him again.”
Emma was so close to the man that she could smell his minty breath. She reached out a hesitant to his blurred face. She touched his cheek and the blur disappeared –
Emma sat up in bed.
Her pendant felt warm and it was almost as if it was pulsing. The room was brightened with its yellow light.
Emma sighed. She had been so close to finding out whom that man was – but after the blur disappeared, she hadn’t had any time to examine his face. She was certain that he was the person she was looking for. After all, he had talked about his family passing on the secret to conquering Death! Oh, if only she hadn’t woken up!
She slumped back down and let the pillow fit her snugly. But no matter how hard she tried, or how comfortable and warm she made herself, she couldn’t get back to sleep. It was probably thanks to the fact that Josh’s loud snores were reverberating around her bedroom.
Sighing, Emma flung off her robe and silently dressed into her pyjamas. She then donned a warm cloak, tucking her pendant into her top, and swept through the shadowy house. She stopped for a moment beside her parents’ bedroom and smiled with relief when she heard their combined snores.
Then she walked out of the house and pulled the cloak tighter around her. She remembered the last time she’d been outside at night. It was the day that she’d come back from the dead and she had travelled to Opal’s house. That was on Sunday. Now it was Thursday evening – or very early Friday morning – but it felt like an eternity had passed.
The cold night air bit at Emma’s exposed cheeks. She walked down the street slowly as rain began to drizzle lightly and pleasantly. The full moon shone brightly over the town.
Two weeks was all Emma had to find the Death-defying guy. Almost a week had already passed and, really, she’d gotten nowhere. There had been that time where Emma played soccer with Josh’s gang, but… That didn’t really count. And how could she even be sure that the person she was looking for was one of Josh’s rich friends? There were just so many rich teenagers in Pineville Views and a surprising number of them were actually smart enough to defy Death. The easiest band of rich teens to access for Emma was Josh’s group of friends, and that was why she had chosen his group.
She really needed to get a move on making friends with them, but she didn’t even know what she would do after she became their buddies. She needed to find out if they conquered Death. It wasn’t like Emma could just walk up to them all and say, “Okay, which one of you are part of a family that defies Death?” No, she would have to do some serious snooping. But only when the time came. For now, she had to focus on the social aspect of her mission.
Now that she thought about, the days of her second life had been extremely eventful so far. Take today, for example. Emma had gone to a play, consumed magic, met Marcus and Cameron, gone back to school, played soccer with Josh’s friends, almost had a heart attack in Drama, wagged school with Opal, entered a shop called Knowledge Is Power, answered riddles for a magical door, played music for otherworldly creatures, dragged herself through a filthy tunnel and stayed afloat as rising water freed her. All in one day!
Emma squeaked suddenly.
A bloody shovel lay in someone’s garden, glistening in the moonlight. The blood dripped slowly onto the finely trimmed lawn.
Right next to the shovel was a single ballet flat, its ribbons soaked in blood. Emma felt sick as she watched the blood go drip, drip, drip.
She forced herself to turn away but the sickening image was still etched into the back of her eyelids, as though someone had burned the image there.
She ran home, feeling sick to the stomach. She dialled triple-zero and reported the bloody shovel to the police.
There had been a murder in Pineville Views.
When Emma woke up suddenly Friday morning, she remembered at once the picture of the tips of the grass, which were a glistening red. She was actually comforted by the sight of Josh sleeping peacefully, his hair ruffled by sleep. She checked the clock and sighed when it told her that it was only half past five.
Slipping off the covers as quietly as she could, Emma got out of bed and stretched. She didn’t really want to wake up Josh and annoy him like he did to her. Half past five was a nice time, because it was the most peaceful hour of the morning.
Josh snorted in his sleep and Emma crept out of the room, before soundlessly closing the door behind her. She prepared breakfast for herself, grabbed the morning paper and ate her breakfast while reading it.
The headlines about politics didn’t interest her. She flipped through the pages until a certain article made her stop.
THE TRAVELING SHOVEL OF DEATH STRIKES AGAIN was the headline. Below that was a picture of the bloody shovel and the ballet flat sitting upon the lawn. Emma gulped and read on.
The infamous Travelling Shovel of Death, as police have dubbed it, has claimed yet another victim, this time in Pineville Views. The appearance of the shovel was reported to police and this afternoon investigations will commence, including DNA testing to find the victim and guilty party.
The Travelling Shovel of Death has always stumped forensic offers who have attempted DNA testing on it before. No DNA is ever found on the shovel, except for the DNA of the victim. The user or users of the shovel always perform their crimes in different areas, though usually in southeast Queensland.
The bodies of the victims are always taken away, but no effort is made to hide the shovel.
The article was very short but it had made Emma greatly interested.
“Good morning!” Emma’s mum greeted cheerily.
“Good morning, Mum,” Emma said back, smiling. If only her mum knew that her life was in the hands of her daughter.
“So, where did you go with Opal?”
The question would have seemed casual and a normal thing for a mother to ask her daughter, but this was her mum’s way of saying that she was disappointed in her for wagging school.
“We went to the shops,” Emma replied, munching on her Weet-Bix. She didn’t want to lie to her mum, not when her life was going to end so soon.
“Ah. And… why did you return home so late?” her mum pressed.
“I got carried away in one of the shops,” Emma answered. It was only a half-truth, but Emma couldn’t very well tell her mother about her adventure, or else she would be sent to her psychiatrist again.
“Okay then,” her mother said, preparing toast, and she said no more after that.
Her father came down and immediately started ranting, his cheeks flushing red with suppressed anger. He waggled a finger at her.
“Emma! Why on Earth did you wag school? What possessed you to do such a rash thing? And why did you have to get back home so late? We were worried sick about you! We thought that maybe you’d been kidnapped or something horrible! You should have called us – even if you didn’t have your phone, you could have asked to borrow someone else’s phone. You made a very stupid decision there, and you need to be punished! The afterschool detention isn’t enough. You’re also banned from seeing Opal, except for inside school, but that’s all,” her father rambled.
Emma took her scolding with her head held in shame. She waited for her dad to silence himself before apologizing and then climbing the stairs to get ready for school. She passed Josh on the way up.
“Hey, Slime,” Josh yawned.
“I could actually get along with you,” Emma smirked, “if you stayed asleep all the time.”
Josh rolled his eyes and they walked in opposite directions.
They managed to actually ready themselves on time, meaning they didn’t have to run to school. Emma was lucky that she had a spare uniform because the uniform she had worn yesterday absolutely stunk now.
The pendant was still hanging from Emma’s neck. She was yet to examine it, as she knew she should, but it was such a pretty necklace that she just kept it there anyway. She had to tuck it into her school shirt because jewellery wasn’t allowed.
Emma’s bike was still gone. She presumed it had been stolen by one of Josh’s friends, so she waited at the bus stop to get to school.
When the bus swerved dangerously around the corner, Emma got out her money and hopped on the bus. To her dismay, no one had reported Dennis’ crazy driving yet and he was still there, dreadlocks and all.
Emma paid her fee and searched for Opal, as she knew she’d be there. Sure enough, Opal was sitting at a seat near the front, chatting animatedly with Julia and playing with her own hair. A very very very small pang of jealousy poked Emma’s heart. Julia and Opal seemed to be getting along well without her. Emma couldn’t really blame Opal for hanging out more with Julia; ever since that fateful Sunday, she’d become a lot more withdrawn and quiet.
Emma took the seat in front of them and smiled, but didn’t quite get the reaction that she had expected.
“You went off without me!” she shrieked unhappily. “I was so worried!”
“I’m so sorry, Opal! But I promise, I didn’t go off without you; I was in the shop the whole time. It just turned out that the shop was slightly bigger than I expected.”
“Yeah right!” Opal countered angrily. “I went in the shop and it was just a small little shop with a hundred books stacked on the counter.”
“But there was a door–” Emma pleaded.
“No, there wasn’t!” Opal interrupted, her voice rising in frustration. Emma had never seen Opal like this. “There was no door at all except for the door that I entered and exited!”
“I swear on my mother’s grave, there was a door–”
“Don’t lie to me, Emma. How could it be that there was a door, which you entered, but when I went into the shop, no door could be seen? And apparently you were still wherever this ‘door’ took you even though there was no door!”
Opal put such emphasis into the last four words that several other occupants of the bus looked over at Opal and Emma. The bus turned suddenly and Emma gripped the back of her seat to prevent herself from falling over.
“I suppose the door just magically disappeared, then, did it?” Opal demanded furiously.
Emma was saddened, for she couldn’t tell Opal that that was exactly what had happened.
“I waited for you for five hours, Emma, before I finally decided that you must have gone off without me,” Opal recounted, fuming.
Five hours? That tunnel must have taken longer to go through than Emma had initially thought.
“After those five hours, I went back to your house to check if you were there. You weren’t, so I knew you must have met up with other friends or something and forgotten about me. Well, thanks a lot, Emma, but I don’t want to be friends with someone who’ll stop caring about me.”
“But you know that I don’t have any other friends!” Emma begged Opal to believe her.
Opal wasn’t having any of it. “I was worried sick to the stomach and you set off without me. Some friend you are. Emma, I don’t wish for us to be friends anymore.”
Emma’s heart sank to the bottom of her stomach.
“You’re drawing conclusions too fast!” Emma implored. “I’m begging you to see reason!”
Opal shook her head. “I don’t want to listen to you anymore. So long, Emma,” Opal said resolutely.
A melancholy feeling overtook Emma. She stood up, looked at Opal and Julia dejectedly and then made her way to the seat at the front. Before she did, though, Julia shot Emma a smug smirk that confused her. Wasn’t Julia meant to be a very nice, kind, flowers-in-her-hair type girl or something?
She didn’t even care about Dennis’ YOLO driving as she made her way o the front. She slumped in her seat and stared out at the day. The weather seemed to suit her mood well; it was drizzly, just like it had been at midnight.
Emma found that her eyes were swimming with tears and she wiped them away hastily, not wanting anyone to ask what her problem was. She had lost her only friend, the friend who had always been there for her and who had befriended her in eighth grade when she was a nerdy, pimply girl with braces. Now she was all alone.
Or was she? Didn’t she have Josh, Rein, Lester, James and Callum? Sure, they were the vaguest of friends, and you could hardly say that Emma and Lester were amicable or cordial towards each other. But it was still something… And she was meant to be befriending them in any case! Opal had been holding her back with her mission!
Emma tried so hard to look at it a positive way, but she was feeling too melancholy and lonely as the bus drove through the light rain.
It seemed as if forever had passed before the bus arrived at school. Everyone filed off and entered the school, most getting out umbrellas to shelter themselves from the drizzle, which was starting to grow heavier. Emma walked in wearily, not bothering to get out her umbrella. She didn’t bother to stay outside and socialise; instead, she just walked all the way to her Care Class and sat down at a desk at the back of the empty classroom.
The bell rang soon after and the rest of 10M entered along with Mr. Lazowski. Julia and Opal sat up the front together. Rein and Josh were in front of Emma.
The roll was called and then Mr. Lazowski made an announcement.
“The school’s annual autumn dance will be held Friday next week. The theme this year is ‘fairy tales’ so start shopping for costumes! Information is posted on flyers around the school.”
Everyone but Emma began to whisper excitedly. To be honest, she had looked forward to finally going to the dance, as only eleventh-graders and above could go, but now the dance appeared trivial. She had a mission from Death, for goodness’ sake!
Her next classes, Science and English, passed by quickly. She stared at the teachers whenever they talked and wrote in her book whenever they were told to, though all she wrote was random words, for her mind was elsewhere.
At lunchtime, Emma sat in the middle of the field with an umbrella finally held in her hands. All she did was watch everyone playing ballgames, shouting and laughing and having fun, until someone tapped her on the shoulder.
Emma turned around, her umbrella going with her. It hit someone in the face and he cried out.
“Oh, sorry!” Emma apologised frantically.
“It’s fine,” Callum forgave, waving it off as he covered his right hand. “Rein told me to come over here to ask if you’d want to join us.”
“What did Lester say?” Emma asked interestedly.
“He threw a mini-tantrum, but now I think he’ll reluctantly accept you,” Callum hypothesised.
Emma grinned. “Very reluctantly.”
“Anyway, join us. Our teams aren’t even; we’ve got five players but if you join we’ll have six. And, also, we feel a little sorry for you about what happened with that Opal girl,” Callum said with sympathy.
Emma’s expression darkened. “How do you know about it?”
“Well, that Jack Adams guy was on the bus and he heard what happened, so he told Josh, ‘cause he thinks that they’re big mates. But, really, we would have figured it out anyway, what with you sulking and brooding and moping,” Callum said, shrugging.
Emma slapped his shoulder softly. “I don’t, and didn’t, sulk or brood or mope!” she defended indignantly.
Callum quirked an eyebrow. “Really, now?”
Emma rolled her eyes and stood up with Callum, who led her over to the soccer game. She tossed her umbrella on the grass and ran for the ball.