BY: BRITTANY BOOKER
Nehmer Delarosa has been cursed ever since her mother sold her soul to Satan to keep her from drowning when she was six. Eleven years later, and now a junior in high school, Nehmer has been forced to take the job of a Soul Taker as her punishment. When Nehmer’s reclusive lifestyle is challenged by the new boy, Eric, she finds herself opening up for the first time in years—until she is faced with a decision that has deadly consequences.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: Your Soul to Take by Brittany Booker is a fine follow up to Damned. While not a sequel to Damned, Your Soul to Take is along the same lines—a dark paranormal for an older young adult audience. The story revolves around Nehmer, a high school student whose mother sold her soul to the devil. Well, the devil tricked her mother into selling Nehmer’s soul when the mother thought she was selling her own. But the point is that Nehmer now has to take souls for the devil, or in other words, she has to kill people. She collects their souls in a vial and sends them to Satan. She doesn’t want to do it, but if she doesn’t her whole family will be killed. Her mother is already gone, but she still has a father and a brother that she doesn’t want to die.
While the story has a sweet love story between Nehmer and the new kid in school, a hunk named Eric, Your Soul to Take is mainly about the fight between good and evil, with an emphasis on free will. The characters are well done, three dimensional, and very realistic. The plot is strong, riveting, and has enough twists and turns to make it very hard to put down.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Brittany Booker has done it again in Your Soul to Take. Like Damned, Your Soul to Take is about the fight between Good and Evil, and what it means to sell your soul to the devil. And it raised the question for me whether someone else could sell your soul for you. Or can a good person be forced to do bad things? That is the situation that Nehmer finds herself in, and believe me, she doesn’t want to be there. She is afraid to get too close to anyone, because she might have to take their soul. The book raises a lot of questions that I didn’t have any answers for, but that is the point of a good book.
Booker’s second novel is a well-written as her first, her characters just a realistic and believable (if angels and demons can be considered believable) and her plot just as strong. The book is a page-turner, no question. I was riveted from the first word to the last.
My heart was pounding hard against my ribs. It was the only thing I could feel. My entire body was numb. I gripped the knife in my hand and focused on Blake Carter lying in front of me. He looked so peaceful, sleeping in his bed. His covers were tangled around him, his mouth wide open, and his arm over his eyes. I wanted to leave. I wanted to walk right back down the stairs I had come up. I wanted to crawl into my bed at home and not be covered in blood.
I swallowed the hard lump that had formed in my throat and took a step toward the bed. The floor creaked underneath my weight. Blake moaned and stirred, sitting up on his elbows to look at me. He blinked twice and I realized when his eyes came into focus, because they widened.
“Nehmer,” he said his voice low. He glanced at the knife clutched in my hand and tilted his head to the side. “What–what are you doing, Nehmer?”
He pushed himself upright. My lip tried to tremble when he started to get out of his bed. I bit my lip to stop it. I hated the way he looked at me, like I was some kind of a monster. I’m not a monster! I have to do this!
Blake backed off the bed and stood up, hands out. “Nehmer, let me take you home and we’ll forget this every happened.”
I can’t! I walked toward him, my breath heavy and my heart pounding. No matter how many times I’d done this, it never got any easier. Never.
Blake was pressed against the wall, his eyes wide, his large hands out in surrender. I thought about what his mother would think in the morning when she found his body. All the crying faces I would have to see at school tomorrow. His girlfriend, the football team, his teachers, his siblings.
I’d begged myself not to think about those things, but it was always there in the back of my mind. The thought of what I was really doing. Killing him. I knew I had to, even though something inside of me always begged me to stop. But I couldn’t. Not if I wanted to wake up and see my dad and brother the next day.
Blake was bigger than me. He didn’t look like he wanted to hurt me, but when your life was at stake or others’ lives were, you would do unimaginable things.
“Nehmer,” he said, louder this time.
‘Hurry before he wakes his parents,’ something hissed inside me.
I couldn’t tell who was telling me to do things anymore. Is it Him? Or Me? I didn’t know.
Blake stepped toward me and I jabbed the knife at him. He jumped back, making a loud thud when he fell back against the wall.
“Please,” he begged.
I closed my eyes and shook my head.
I bit my tongue and then gritted my teeth together. I lunged forward but Blake grabbed my wrist, hard. My knife slid from my hands to the carpet below.
“Nehmer, please. Let’s get you some help!”
He was holding my wrist tight. I couldn’t move. His dark eyes were searching my face. I wondered what he was really thinking? Was he thinking I was possessed? Or sleep walking? A bad dream?
Blake was saying something to me but I couldn’t make out the words. My head was spinning with turmoil.
When Blake’s body tightened, he grabbed his head and fell back against the wall again. “Ah!” he screamed.
I stood still, my head spinning, my heart pounding. My hand opened and I felt the blade in it again. I didn’t question how it happened because I knew He had done it. He was making me. My hand surged forward and I followed through with it. I slammed the blade into his chest and he stumbled, falling into me. I stiffened. He was no doubt two hundred pounds, but I lifted him effortlessly away from me, pushing him onto his bed. The blood drizzled down to his sheets, dark red.
I’d become accustomed to blood. It was my life. I grabbed the vial around my neck, opening it. His soul was released from his body, a shimmering gold substance. I stood motionless, letting the vial suck in the only living thing left of Blake Carter–his soul. I shut the lid and glanced down at his motionless body. My stomach hurt badly. I wanted to vomit. He would never be free again. Dead. Always.
The knife I left on the floor. The cops wouldn’t get any fingerprints or hair. They wouldn’t get one piece of evidence. He would make sure of that. I didn’t move until I could feel my legs again. I slipped down the stairs and out of the window I had come through. The wind whipped at my face. I zipped my hoodie, covering the blood, and pulled the hood over my face. I ducked through the trees and onto the trail leading me toward my house.
The branches snapped at my face but I didn’t care. I wanted to feel something besides the emotion of killing. A slap in the face would have felt good.
The wind howled and it brought me back to that day. The day my mother told me that she had sold my soul to Satan. I closed my eyes and walked the rest of the way home. I couldn’t think about how my mother ruined my life. It only made living that much more unmanageable.
“This isn’t a game, Nehmer. Tell me right now how this blood got on your clothes,” my dad yelled, pointing dramatically at the dried blood on my wrinkled white T-shirt.
I narrowed my eyes. How in the hell did he find that? I hid it in my bathroom!
I sighed, resting my head in my hands. As much as I wanted to tell him the truth, I couldn’t, not if I wanted him to see tomorrow.
I had taken a boy’s soul last night. It wasn’t the first time and sure as hell wouldn’t be the last. He fought hard against me, too. I wrapped my hand around my wrist and tried to push the memory away.
My dad had found blood on my clothes before and each time I lied my way around it. I clicked my tongue against my teeth and placed my hands on the table.
“It’s not that big of a deal, Dad. I was coming home from work last night when this guy ran into me. I think he’d been in a fight or something ’cause he was covered in blood.” It was a lame lie, but I didn’t have time to come up with anything better.
My dad had caught me off guard when he rushed at me with my shirt in his hands.
He laughed humorlessly as he stood there, with my shirt still clenched in his fist. “Why is it something crazy always happens to you, where you end up with a bloody shirt? You don’t find this odd, Mer? Or am I the only one that has any sense left around here?”
“Hey! I have sense,” my brother said, stomping down the stairs toward the kitchen. He had a pair of sweats on, no shirt, and a sloppy grin on his face. He walked over to the fridge and grabbed the orange juice. “I’m the only one in this family that’s gone to college.”
My dad sighed. “You went for half a semester. I hardly think that’s considered going to college, Logan. And I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to your delinquent younger sister here always showing up with blood on her clothes.”
Logan’s eyebrows shot up as he quickly chugged the rest of the orange juice. “Been fighting again, little sis?” he asked, throwing the empty container in the trash can.
I glanced up at him, giving him a look. His grin returned, this time looking so much like Mom, it was almost eerie. He pushed his fingers through his shaggy brown hair and sighed. “Ah, give the kid a break. At least she isn’t pregnant.”
My dad grunted. “That would require her to actually have contact with a boy, or any other person for that matter.”
My dad wasn’t like most dads. If I would have let him, he’d have placed a sign on my forehead that said, Please take me out!
Logan gave me a look of pity and shrugged his shoulders. “You need a ride to school, little sis?”
I nodded gratefully and snatched my backpack off the table, slinging it over my shoulder, then pulled my hoodie over my head.
My dad grabbed my arm. “This isn’t over. We are going to talk about this tonight.”
“Fine,” I mumbled. “Whatever.”
Reluctantly, he let me go and I followed Logan out the front door. The moment I stepped outside, the wind hit me in the face, blowing my hood away from my eyes. My legs were shivering from the damn skirt we had to wear to school. Phil-Mont Christian Academy had strict policies on dress code. You wore what they said, no matter what. A plaid skirt for girls, slacks for boys, and ugly blue sweaters. My teachers finally stopped turning me in for wearing my hoodies. They got tired of having to have a conference every week about my jacket with the principal. They just made me take it off during classes.
I breathed in the lake air and glanced down toward the dock.
I should be dead, I thought. I’d rather be dead than living like this.
“Come on,” Logan said, ruffling my hair.
I swatted his hand away and stalked behind him to his Jeep. “You should’ve put a shirt on. It’s freezing.”
He shrugged. “Why would I deprive the world of seeing me in all my glory? It’s not fair to them, Mer. Quit being selfish.”
I shook my head, sighing. He’s delusional.
We got in his Jeep and I leaned my head back against the leather seat, letting my muscles relax. I was so sore from the fight last night, I wanted to sleep for twelve more hours.
“So, where did the blood really come from?” Logan asked, looking over his shoulder as he backed out of the driveway. “I know you’re lame ass excuse was a lie. Come on, spill it.”
“Just drive, caveman.”
He laughed, shifting gears, then looked over at me, eyebrows raised. “What’re you always doing at night, huh? You’re always sneaking out or coming home late, sometimes with bruises. What’s going on?” He glanced at my necklace and made a grab for it, but I shoved it down my shirt. “Think that’ll stop me?” He laughed again. “I’ve felt boobies before.”
“Where’d you get that thing, anyway? It’s ugly as hell, ya know. Yet you’re always wearing it.”
“I didn’t ask,” I said, looking out the window.
“Why don’t you pawn it?”
If only. It had appeared suddenly and no matter how many times I threw it into the lake or buried it in the woods, it always came back.
Logan dropped me off at Phil-Mont Christian Academy and I watched him drive away. Then, reluctantly, I headed toward the main building. The halls were flooded with lingering students, some crying.
I pulled my hood further over my head and stalked to my locker, trying to avoid eye contact. No matter how much blood I left at the crime scene, no matter how much hair was pulled out of my head, they would never know I’d killed the boy they were crying over.
But knowing that wouldn’t wipe away the guilt I was sure haunted my eyes.
After getting my books, I walked to my U.S. history class, took my usual seat in the back, then turned on my iPod and closed my eyes.
“Hood off, Ms. Delarosa!” someone yelled.
I jumped up, pulling my hood off and yanking my headphones from my ears. “Um–sorry,” I mumbled, taking my seat again.
Mr. Piper frowned, his balding head shining in the overhead fluorescent lights, his eyes squinting. A few classmates snickered, some sneering at me. I ignored them. Ignoring people had become easier and easier as the years went by.
“We’ve lost one of our own last night. Blake Carter was found dead in his bedroom,” Mr. Piper said, pushing his glasses up his slender nose. He rolled a piece of chalk between his palms, his face somber as he surveyed the class. “No clue on how he died or why.”
I bit my lip, trying to ignore the murmurs of disbelief and horror around me, and closed my eyes as Mr. Piper continued talking about how Blake’s mother had found him dead. Because of me. How he was a senior with a 4.0 GPA. How he would never go to college. Because of me. How they had no idea who done it. It was me!
“But that’s all I can say,” he continued. “Our thoughts are with his family. Take solace in the knowledge that he is better off.”
Damn it. He isn’t better off. He’s with Him. All because of my mother.
My teeth dug deeper into my lip to keep the tears from coming.
“Now class, we’re going to pick up where we left off on the civil war…”
I sighed and kept my eyes closed, even though I was afraid another vision would come. They came anyways. I was bound to fall asleep sooner or later and the visions would come, waking me from my sleep to go and take someone’s soul. I cringed whenever I remembered the first time I had to take one.
Sarah was my best friend. The only friend I’d had my entire life.
By then, my mom had already told me what she’d done. I didn’t believe her at first, even with her green eyes glazed over with tears. She’d tried to smile but choked out a cry instead. “I had to save you, Mer,” she’d insisted. “You were dead. Then He came to me, told me I could save you if I gave Him your soul. I had no choice!” “You had drowned, Nehmer. You were dead!”
That had pissed me off. Still did. She did have a choice. Her choice was to say, “No, I’m not giving my daughter’s soul to Satan.”
She said that she offered her soul, but he didn’t take it. She was too old for the job. He wanted a fresh start. Me.
“He tricked me, Nehmer. He told me that he would settle for my soul. I followed his words exactly like he said them. Then when I glanced up He was smiling. It was sinister. I didn’t know until He reached down and something came out of you. It was gold. I realized it was your soul.”
She fell for his lies. That’s why I’m still here.
My mother had told me that four years ago. I took my only friend’s soul because He would’ve killed my family if I didn’t. That was why my mom was dead, because I wouldn’t kill Sarah. That’s why I had to. I couldn’t lose my brother and my dad, too. I was the reason my mother was dead. She was the reason my soul belonged to Satan.
I’d had the vision during a sleepover at her house. I remembered how excited I’d been to be invited over. We’d spent the entire afternoon playing outside, running around and she’d shown me how to use a slingshot. Frustrated that I couldn’t match her skill, I’d tried all evening to hit the bull’s-eye painted on a maple tree. After dinner, we’d taken a bath and fell asleep together on her twin bed while watching a movie.
That was when the vision came.
As if disconnected from my body, I watched from across the room as I took the pillow and placed it over her face while she slept. When a ghostly image of her drifted up from her body, I placed it in a small vial hanging from a chain around my neck and sealed the top. Then I lay back down and went to sleep as if nothing had happened.
I woke up crying, trying to rip the necklace from my throat. But it wasn’t there. I reached over and touched Sarah’s face, sighing in relief when she mumbled in her sleep. It was only a nightmare, a horrible nightmare. I was sure all the crap my mom had told me about becoming a soul taker was just making me jittery.
But then I saw Him, leaning against Sarah’s closet door. His long, slender body was clothed in all black, making the pale skin of his handsome face seem ghostly.
“Hello, Nehmer,” he whispered.
My mouth went dry and my hands started to shake. “Who’re you?”
He smiled. “My name is Beez. I’m here to help you through your first night.”
I squirmed closer to Sarah. “First night with what?”
He stood, quietly watching me. “Your first night taking a soul. It’s your punishment.”
“What? But–what did I do wrong?”
As he walked closer, I could see his piercing blue eyes shining in the moonlight from Sarah’s window. “It wasn’t you, but your mom. You’re being punished for living. Your mom told you about it, remember?”
I nodded slowly.
“So, now you have to take Sarah’s soul.”
A whimper escaped my lips.
Beez shook his head. “Don’t cry,” he said, reaching up to press a soft finger against my bottom lip. “This is how it works. This is life, you see?”
“Can’t you just take my life instead?” I whispered.
“That’s not how it works. The deal has already been made. You have to do this, Nehmer, or we will kill the rest of your family.”
“Who is we?”
He smiled, slowly. “My friends.”
My mouth was dry but I swallowed and asked, “Who are your friends?”
“They’re demons, just like me.”
I shook my head. “No. I can’t.” Tears started to stream down my face and my heart was thudding heavily in my chest.
Beez grew very still, and when I got the courage to look up at him, his elegant features had turned dangerous. His eyes had darkened, his lips formed into a sneer.
“You have no choice.” He grabbed my upper arm. I tried to scream but he clapped his hand over my mouth. “Are you going to be a good girl and listen?”
“No,” I screamed.
Beez’s eyes widened and he stood up. “Fine then,” he said, disappearing into the shadow of Sarah’s room. I sighed and pushed back against the pillow.
I never could go back to sleep. I had turned toward Sarah, my arm across her stomach. I had to make sure she was okay, that he wouldn’t come back.
The scream still rang in my ears. I sat up straight from my pillow and saw them. Beez was holding my mother. His long fingers wrapped around her skinny throat.
“No,” I whimpered.
“I told you, Nehmer. This is how is has to be. You disobeyed me, now you have to be punished. This has to happen.”
“Please,” I begged, crawling out of the bed. I flung myself against my mother’s body. All the things she told me twirled around inside of me. She wasn’t lying. “Don’t kill her,” I begged, pulling on her hand.
Beez clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Nehmer, I told you what would happen and you said you didn’t want to kill Sarah for me.”
I glanced back at Sarah, she was still asleep. I was glad. “No, please. I can’t.”
“Nehmer,” my mother whispered, her voice small from Beez’s hand squeezing her throat. “I love you, baby. Remember that, okay?”
“Momma,” I cried.
Beez sighed and I watched as his hand squeezed harder on my mother’s throat. It wasn’t until my mother went still in Beez’s hands that I knew I was doomed. He killed her, in front of me.
I fell to the floor and curled into a ball. My tears streamed down my face. My body was shaking. I couldn’t make myself move.
Beez dropped my mother’s body. I crawled to it, lying beside her, touching her, talking to her, begging her to come back.
“Now,” Beez said, picking me up. I winced at his touch and squirmed and kicked at him. “Nehmer, this is what will happen to everyone you know and love if you do not do what I tell you.”
“Are you going to be a good girl?”
I slowly nodded, my body on the edge of convulsing.
“Good.” He let go. “Now, watch me.”
I watched in sheer horror as he showed me what to do.
“Take the pillow and put it over her face. You’ll know when her soul is no longer attached to her body. That’s when you open your vial.” He’d pointed to my chest. The necklace from my nightmare lay draped around my neck. “Then you will close it. It’s that simple.”
I placed the pillow over Sarah’s face. She tried to scream but I pushed harder. Tears poured down my cheeks, soaking the pillow as I suffocated her.
She kicked and screamed, but I kept her pinned down. She finally relaxed and somehow I knew her soul was escaping.
I pulled the vial out and unscrewed the top. It filled slowly with a shimmering air as Beez watched silently from the other side of the room.
When I finished, I looked over at him. “You’ll do fine, my darling,” he said. “You’ll do fine.” Then he vanished.
My eyes snapped open. “The bell has rung,” Mr. Piper yelled. He was staring at me, a furious look on his wrinkled face.
“I’m sorry. I–”
“You were asleep, again.”
I nodded. “Sorry.”
“Well, perhaps if you got more sleep at night, you could pay attention in class,” he said. “Do you understand you’re going to fail, Nehmer?”
I just looked at him.
He sighed. “Please get out of my classroom.” he said, shooing me away with his hand.
I gathered up my books and scurried out of the room, my Converses squeaking in the tiled hallway. English was next and I was dreading it. We were going to have a quiz on Dracula at the end of the week and I hadn’t read it yet.
But I never really did my homework anyways. Not that it mattered. My mom had already decided my fate. Failing English wouldn’t change that.
My next few classes whizzed by and finally it was lunch. Lunch was the only part of school I could tolerate, the only time I could sit by myself and be left alone. I grabbed an apple and a Coke from the lunch line and walked toward my usual table in the back. I tossed my backpack on it and pulled out Dracula. Taking a big bite of my apple, I pulled my hood over my head and started reading. I was barely three pages in when a group of kids walked into the cafeteria, laughing. I glanced up.
I winced and averted my eyes, trying not to make eye contact with her. If there was any soul I’d ever want to take, it would’ve been hers. Too bad I don’t call the shots.
Her high-pitched laugh was as ear-piercing as ever. I pulled my hood down farther. As if being a soul taker wasn’t bad enough, Chloe had effectively destroyed any chance I might’ve had for a normal high school life. The rumors she spread about me being a witch during freshman year still took their toll, isolating me from my classmates.
If only she knew the truth, I thought. A witch would’ve been better than being a murderer.
I tuned out the cafeteria noise and kept my eyes on my book.
“Can I sit here?” someone asked.
I looked up. A boy I’d never seen before stood in front of my table, a lunch tray in his hands. When I didn’t answer, he bit his lip and leaned back on his heels.
Geez, take a hint and get lost.
I shrugged. “If ya want to.”
He smiled, a dimple denting his right cheek, and plopped down on the bench opposite me. I went back to my book.
“My name is Erick,” he said.
I sighed and glanced over my book at him. His gray eyes were dark yet inviting, reflecting the smirk on his mouth. As I stared, he laughed nervously and ran his fingers through hair so dark, it seemed to absorb the surrounding light.
“I’m Nehmer,” I mumbled.
He stretched his arm across the table, giving me a blank stare as he waited for me to accept it.
Damn. When is this kid going to give up? Reluctantly, I reached out and took his hand.
“Wow, what happened to your wrist?” he said, pushing my sleeve up to expose a large bruise.
I snatched my hand away and pulled my sleeve back down. “Keep your hands to yourself.”
Erick raised an eyebrow. “Okay, I gotcha. You’re a bubble person.
I glared at him but he just continued studying me, a quizzical look on his face. Finally, I looked back down at my book.
“Whatcha reading?” Erick asked, tearing open his bag of chips and popping one into his mouth.
I sighed again. “Dracula.”
“Good book. He dies in the end.”
I gritted my teeth and slammed the book shut. “Thanks a lot.”
He waved me off. “No problem.”
Frustrated, I reached into my backpack and brought out my science notebook. I’d never focused so much on homework before. Whatever it takes to make him leave me the hell alone.
“What grade are you in?”
“I’m sorry, did I miss the part where you told me you were blind? I’m trying to study since you ruined Dracula for me.”
He laughed, a raw, hearty sound, and my stomach tingled. “Okay, I surrender, officer,” he said, continuing to laugh. He was quiet for a minute while he ate, but his silence only made me more agitated. At least when he was talking I could no longer hear the gossip, mixed with sobbing, around me. He pushed his tray aside and shook his head, sighing. “My first day here and there’s a murder.” He leaned back and whistled. “This town is crazy.”
I gripped my notebook tighter, forcing my eyes to stay on the page.
“Did you know him?” he asked.
“No.” Thank God. I knew of him and his name but I didn’t know him. That would’ve made it worse.
I could feel the table shift as he leaned forward. “You don’t really know a lot of people, do you?”
I was about to say something when a shadow fell across the table. “Erick, did you not see me waving for you over there?” Chloe stared down at him pointedly, barely giving me a glance. “We don’t sit here, we sit over there,” she said, nodding toward the table in the center of the cafeteria.
Erick smiled up at her. “Sorry, I didn’t see you guys. I was getting to know my new friend, Nehmer, here.”
I rolled my eyes and pretended to pick lint off my hoodie.
Chloe gave Erick a radiant smile. She practically batted her eyelashes at him. “But I was hoping I could get to know you.”
Erick looked over at me, but I ignored him.
“Okay,” he said.
Grabbing his tray, he swung his legs over the bench and stood up. Chloe flipped her long black hair over her shoulder and placed her hand on Erick’s arm, barely giving him time to discard his tray as she tugged him across the cafeteria.
© 2013 by Brittany Booker