“Whoever reaches school last has to wear one item of clothing chosen by the winner.”
That was the first thing Josh said as they stepped out into the sun together. Emma had absolutely no idea what possessed her to agree with his deal. Perhaps it was just her determination to ruin his life; at least just a little bit. It didn’t matter why she said yes; only that she had actually said it.
She knew she would win anyway. After all, she had a bike, and he didn’t!
After the word “yes” slipped out of her mouth, she made a wild dive for her bike while Josh ran off somewhere; Emma didn’t see where because she was busy mounting her bike and pedalling as fast as she could. She looked as though she were chasing money, while in truth, she was chasing the possibility of humiliating Josh.
She rode on down the road, feeling immensely grateful about the fact that hardly any cars ever came into her neighbourhood. Surely she would win this contest. And when she did, she would make sure to rise to the occasion, perhaps giving Josh a pink mini-skirt or any clothing akin to that. Something feminine was what Emma was leaning towards.
And all of a sudden, her dreams were crushed.
Josh was cruising along beside Emma in his car. Her stomach dropped and her knuckles grew white from gripping her handlebars so tightly with anger. She was huffing and puffing like she was running a marathon, while Josh was sitting happily in his expensive sports car, making no effort to move at the speed he was.
“You… have… a… car…” Emma gasped in between breaths, struggling to keep up with Josh’s car, which was going quite slowly.
“Well spotted. Thanks, Captain Obvious,” Josh remarked.
“You’re… welcome… Lieutenant… Sarcasm…”
Josh laughed. Despite herself, Emma grinned and let a small chuckle escape her throat. Then sense came back to her when she remembered the position that she was in.
“Why… do… you… have… a… car?”
“Well, I bought it. Didn’t I tell you I had a car? Sorry, it must have slipped my mind.” Josh swerved to the right to avoid a biker who was riding right in the middle of the road.
“The ability to not be a pest must have also slipped your mind,” Emma said quickly and then let out a great whoosh of air. The sentence was too long for her to take breaths in between words.
“The ability to not be a slime ball must have slipped your mind,” Josh retorted.
Emma continued pedalling, her hair going crazy. Maybe she could stop Josh from being annoying.
“Why… do… you… hate… me?”
“I never I said I hated you,” Josh replied.
The answer was completely unexpected. She had thought he would reply with something stupid, like, “Because you’re a slime ball,” or, “Because you smell.” But he didn’t even hate her. Then again, Emma didn’t really hate him.
“I like to poke fun at you. It’s very entertaining to get you wound up. That doesn’t mean I hate you.”
Emma turned her head to look at him and narrowed her eyes, scrutinising his face for any signs of deceit. There were none.
“You’re… annoying,” Emma commented, though she laughed. She stopped at once when Josh said “ta-ta” and accelerated.
Emma grit her teeth and pedalled harder.
By the time she had reached her high school, she looked like a complete wreck. Josh was leaning casually against his car, chatting with Jack Adams. He glanced around and grinned when he saw Emma, who felt even more heat than was already present rush to her cheeks in embarrassment. At least an unspoken agreement had passed between them, saying that Emma didn’t have to wear embarrassing clothes.
“Ah, Slime! So glad you could join us,” he greeted with a stupid smirk on his stupid face. Stupid Joshua!
“Glad to be here, Captain.” Emma had no idea why she’d called him Captain. It was probably because Josh had a name for her – Slime – but Emma hadn’t had one for Josh until now.
She approached the two and folded her arms. Jack Adams was moving his eyes unbelievingly between the two.
“You guys know each other?”
“Yep,” Josh responded.
“Unfortunately,” Emma huffed.
“Come now, Lieutenant Slime. You know you love me.”
“Negative, Captain Pig.”
“Really? Not even with my amazing good looks?”
“Negative – Captain Big-Headed Pig.”
Jack looked very stupid with his mouth hanging open.
“Close up shop, buddy. You’ll let a bird in,” Emma quipped, tying her unruly hair into a bun.
“We’re roommates,” Josh offered, probably hoping that it would get Jack to close his mouth, but he only dropped his jaw further.
Emma rolled her eyes. She exclaimed dismissively, waving her hands, and walked away from the two boys to find Opal.
She found her friend talking to some girls whom Emma knew to be in the middle of the social hierarchy. When Opal caught sight of Emma, she grinned and waved.
“Opal, you will never guess what happened to me yesterday–” Emma began, but was cut off when Opal whipped out her phone.
“Look! Have you seen pictures of the new guy, Joshua? He is hot as! I can’t believe I couldn’t get a proper look at him yesterday, what with all those girls fawning over him and blocking my view. Today I’m going to snap some shots of him and put them on Twitter. Just imagine how many followers I’ll gain. I’ll have, like, a million!”
Opal, the queen of social media, began typing furiously. When she finished, she looked back up at Emma and said, “What should I guess happened to you?”
“Well, let’s just say, you can come over to my house any time and get some pictures of him,” Emma offered dryly. “He’s my roommate.”
At that moment, Opal resembled Jack with her large hole wide open.
“Are you serious? Are you actually really truly sincerely serious?”
“This is great!” was Opal’s response, surprising Emma. “I can meet him without any girls in the way.”
Emma gave her a death stare.
“He is so annoying. He plays pranks on me and, and… he just provokes me too much! Josh is such a nuisance. He’s the kid who’s the practical joker of the class. He’s the kid who always makes the teachers really irritated. Yeah, he’s like that.”
Opal didn’t seem to take any of this in. Instead, she was scanning her surroundings for Josh.
The bell rang and everyone jumped and covered their ears as per usual. Emma and Opal winced in pain.
As they walked down the hallway, Emma felt the familiar sense of fatigue wash over her. Her determination to beat Josh in the race had given her a short burst of energy, but now she was back to her normal worn out state.
Her eyelids drooped dangerously close to the bottoms of her eyelids in English. Everything the teacher said came in one ear and out the other. Her head slumped in the headrest she had formed with her hands and her eyes closed completely.
With a start, she remembered that she had to think about her next move concerning Death’s mission. She only had two weeks! That was completely unfair. But, as Death had said during their first meeting, one does not negotiate with Death.
Emma took out an exercise book. With a quick glance up at the front of the classroom, she could tell that her teacher thought she was doing her work. Quickly, she wrote down the main objective of her mission: find the person who escaped Death.
She was so tired, though…
What did she know about the escapee? He was a male who was part of a rich family that had been cheating Death for many generations.
Her muscles were aching…
How was she ever going to find the guy? She had the entire world to search for him, unless Death wasn’t stupid and had randomly chosen her out of a select group that lived in the area that the escapee also lived in. So, she would get in with the rich kids and snoop around once in a while.
Sleep would be lovely and blissful…
Get in with the rich kids? Not likely, but she had to start somewhere.
Emma’s head fell onto the table and every classmate peered at her curiously as her snores filled the room.
Come lunchtime, Emma was still tired. Her stupid fatigue was definitely suspicious. What would cause her to be bone-tired all the time, even after a long sleep that had lasted three periods? (No one had pointed out Emma’s sleeping form.) It baffled her.
She and Opal sat on the warm grass outside their classroom, Opal tweeting. Nearby, Josh was laughing with a bunch of rich-looking kids Emma had never seen before. She wondered if the sleepiness and aching muscles that she’d had lately had anything to do with Death. Fortunately, she’d brought her book with her and could test her theory.
Emma could see that Opal was immersed in her phone. She cautiously pulled the ancient book out of her book and opened to the page where she’d written to Death yesterday.
Do you know why I feel so tired?
There was no answer for a while. She and Opal sat peacefully, the wind gently playing with their hair. The harsh sunshine was blocked by the shade of a great willow tree.
“Yes,” was the answer.
Emma looked up at Opal, who was still staring intently at her screen and made no movement to show that she knew Emma had pulled a very suspicious-looking, big, ancient book out of her bag.
So why do I feel like this?
“Your energy feels drained because I have taken something from you.”
What have you taken?
“Your Death Attraction.”
“Every human is born with a certain of Death Attraction embedded into their soul. As they grow older, their Death Attraction grows stronger, much like a magnet becoming stronger. This ‘magnet’ attracts possibilities for their death. Because you have no Death Attraction, you cannot die. At least, not during the two-week period I have given you to complete the mission.”
So even if I try as hard as I can to die – for example, stand in front of a bus or jump off a building – I can’t die?
How? How could I avoid dying?
“When Death Attraction is absent from your soul, the whole universe conspires in your favour to keep you alive.”
Emma watched a tree’s leaves swaying in the breeze. She contemplated everything Death had just said.
She was invincible. She was immortal.
How can I stop feeling so fatigued?
“By feeding on magic.”
Where would I find magic to feed on?
“In the most unlikely of places.”
Death’s answer was so cryptic that Emma actually grew a little angry. But she knew that if he was speaking in riddles, he wouldn’t give a straight answer. Slightly unsatisfied, Emma closed the book and placed it carefully back in her bag.
She couldn’t die?
She had a crazy, reckless thought at that moment. But it didn’t matter if she had one, because she couldn’t get die!
The immortal (for two weeks) girl stood up suddenly and Opal looked up with a start from her phone.
“Where are you going?” Opal asked curiously, getting up to walk with her friend, who was walking determinedly towards the road at the front of their school.
“To the road,” Emma answered.
Emma didn’t reply. She continued walking, planning to walk right in front of the onslaught of traffic. It was a reckless idea, but with no Death Attraction threatening to bring her to her death, who wouldn’t follow their own reckless ideas?
Suddenly, Emma realised that Death hadn’t said anything about getting seriously injured, and it wasn’t as if her being immortal made her impervious to pain. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to start thinking recklessly.
“Nothing,” Emma whispered quietly, turning back around and returning to their lunch spot.
Opal was staring at Emma, bewildered. A short distance away, Josh and his friends were looking at Emma with mixed expressions of disbelief, confusion and plain perplexity.
The rest of the day passed fairly quickly, as Emma had slept through all her lessons. At the end of the day, she wished she had more time and more information to help her complete her mission. Because she was only given two weeks, Emma knew that every hour was precious. And the only lead she had was that the guy she needed to find was rich.
The answer came to her at once – she didn’t like the answer.
After all, he was hanging out with rich kids. The rich kids that Emma knew of – the popular people – were all too stupid to defy Death. The only other group of rich kids (at least, they looked rich) Emma knew about was the group that Josh was a part of. What was more, Josh lived with her. She could easily get into their group and then try to figure out who was the escapee.
Oh, who was she kidding? Her lead was so vague, so loose, that Emma highly doubted that it would lead her to her “prey”. Yet, as she had told herself quite a few times in the past, she had to start somewhere.
Emma was thinking about all of this as she mounted her bike and took off down the road. She was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn’t even notice the large dog tagging along behind her.
The dog barked loudly, catching Emma’s attention. She turned her head quickly behind her and then swivelled back to her front. It was a great, shaggy dog, padding happily after her bike.
“Shoo!” Emma yelled behind her, aiming to scare away the dog. She was afraid that it might get hit by a car. However, her attempts were futile, for the dog only seemed to become more determined to follow Emma.
Emma did another quick check and her eyes widened. Now, a cute tabby cat had joined the chase.
She sped up significantly and checked on how her pursuers were going. They were right on her tail, the cat going much faster than Emma would have thought possible. She whirred her legs almost as fast as cartoon characters’ legs went.
Another check informed Emma that an aggressive chicken clucking its beak was running in between the cat and the dog. Emma felt her skin crawl; this was very, very strange.
The scorching sun heat up Emma and the road, making her shirt become drenched with sweat, though her pursuers gave all the motivation she needed to keep on riding.
Annoyed, she huffed as a horse galloped after her. The huge, caramel stallion neighed and shook its head, waving its mane crazily. Emma swore that there was an almost sadistic gleam in the eye of the horse. Well, all four animals certainly were giving her a lot of pain. Emma pedalled faster than she’d ever gone in her life. Her legs and lungs felt as though someone had set them on fire and then put them through a meat grinder.
The group of animals chasing her grew even larger when no less than five rats began to speed next to the horse.
Emma moved her legs faster, panting just like the dog chasing after her. Her house whizzed by her left; she longed to go home and have a nice nap, but she was frightened of what might happen if she slowed down. It was a bit strange how the animals weren’t catching her. The dirty great stallion was certainly capable of doing that.
Despite the fact that she seemed quite safe from the animals reaching her bike, Emma was still freaked out by this surreal event. It wasn’t a very day that a pack of animals chased her around her neighbourhood.
Emma turned her bike slightly to circle around the book. Two minutes and ten circles around the block later, the group tagging along behind Emma now consisted of one horse, five mice, two dogs, three cats, a chicken, a wolf, a zebra and a donkey.
This was the most ridiculous moment of Emma’s life.
“Okay,” Emma said unhappily, turning around for the umpteenth time. “Could you all please just stop follow–?”
Emma didn’t have time to finish her sentence, for she was too busy letting out an ear-piercing scream. An ugly, thick-skinned, grey elephant was swinging its mighty trunk side to side like a pendulum.
She swerved violently to the right as she realised a large bin was approaching her. Everything went so fast then; one moment she was watching her bike’s wheel hit the curb, the next she laid sprawled across some person’s finely trimmed lawn, her bike lying across her body.
She looked around to see where the animals went, but they had vanished into thin air. Disappeared without a trace.
Still on the ground, Emma squinted to look across the street and a saw two muscular, intimidating men in black staring her. Then Emma blinked and they were gone.
Her heart pounding from her exercise and her exhilarating and freaky experience, Emma scanned the street. The animals and the men had definitely disappeared. But there was a familiar vehicle coming up the road…
“Slime!” Josh had to yell because he was still a bit far away. “What are you doing down there? Searching for money?”
Emma rolled her eyes. “I crashed!”
“I can see that,” Josh muttered with a raised eyebrow, slowing down his car as he approached Emma. “But how on earth did you crash so… badly?”
Emma decided not to tell him the truth. He would think she was crazy, but Emma knew better. She was certain that the pack of crazed animals running after had been real…
She got up, composed herself and hopped back on her bike, ignoring Josh’s snickering.
Of course, reached the house before her. Emma didn’t really mind; at least they wouldn’t have to enter the house together.
As soon as Emma entered the house, her mother screamed about her dishevelled state. Her uniform was stained with sweat, dirt and green grass marks, her hair was more unruly than usual and her skin had the same problems as her uniform.
“What in the world happened to you?” her mother exclaimed in a panicked tone.
“I crashed,” Emma replied, but the look in her mum’s eyes somehow forced her to disclose the whole truth. “A bunch of animals like zebras and horses and dogs and chickens started chasing me, so I rode around the block a million times. Then I avoided a bin and the curb made my bike flip, so I ended up on someone’s lawn. When I looked up all the animals had gone. There were also two creepy guys staring at me but I blinked and they were gone too.”
Basically, that was the answer that made her mum send her to a psychiatrist.