The demon at the edge of her peripheral was smiling, his pearly teeth a stark contrast to his burnt, puckered skin. If he’d had eyes, they would have been watching her intently, filled with the glee that his smile alone was forced to convey. Instead, there was only an emptiness where eyes had once resided, if he’d ever had eyes at all.
When he spoke, his voice was low and gritty and oddly seductive. It brought to mind dark things; hidden secrets that scratched at the edges of her mind. “You’ll come to me, sweetling. The dark waters pull and they’ll have you. Listen to it. Hear it well.”
Genna forced her gaze away from the demon, instead focusing on the window to her right. The sun had long since fled leaving behind a thin crescent of a moon in the inky sky. The tree outside the second story window shifted, scratching at the glass with skeletal limbs. She didn’t know how long she’d dozed, pencil hovering over the blank sheet of paper she’d yet to mark.
Her eyes traveled to the vanity mirror in front of her and she jumped, catching sight of the demon standing directly behind her. His skin sagged off his arms, his thin fingers interlocked as he waited patiently for her to give in. And all the while he smiled.
“Do you hear it?” he asked. “Do you hear the call? It wants you.”
“Leave me alone,” she pleaded, placing her hands over her eyes. In the darkness of her cave, she couldn’t see the demon.
But I can see you, sweetling.
Three weeks at the Relsh Manor. Three weeks and the debt would be paid. It had been promised but as she thought back to the agreement, she realized he’d never promised her sanity. A week in and she could already feel herself slipping. Old memories haunted, crawling out of their graves and shambling back into reality.
At first he had just been her sightless friend, haunting from the edges. But now, now he roamed closer. She could smell him standing at her shoulder, a mix of pipe tobacco and sewage. Sickly sweet. The fabric of his black robes rustled and then his bony fingers were covering her hands, still pressed tight against her eyes. His lips moved next to her ear and she felt her skin crawl in revulsion.
“Now, now dear. This is no way to treat a guest.” His voice bubbled and oozed; tar poured down a throat. “I don’t like to be ignored.”
She allowed those demonic hands to grip her fingers and he pried them away. He slammed them against the desk. The stench of him surrounded her like a fog, forcing its way into her nose and mouth until she chocked and her eyes burned.
“You will heed the call.”
She opened her eyes, focusing on the demon reflected in the mirror. “I’ll be free,” she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “I’ll be free.”
The demon cackled, backing away from her until he was but a shadow. “Listen. Listen for it. Your time will come.”
And then he faded, just as he always did. He left her alone in front of a sturdy oak vanity, staring at her own reflection in the mirror. She took a moment to study herself. I look like hell, she thought. Her brown hair was a matted disaster, her eyes tinged red from lack of sleep. The skin around them was sunken and shadowed and her face and body were terribly devoid of color.
She wanted a drink. No, needed a drink. Gripping the edge of the desk, she tried to think of anything but that cool liquid in her throat. Anything but the warm fire of it burning in her belly.
That isn’t part of the deal, he’d said to her. Three weeks. Three weeks and a confession. Three weeks and if you’re still sane, you’ll have earned your freedom.
Right now she didn’t want freedom. She wanted the memories of what she’d done to be drowned out in a drunken haze. She wanted the smell of burning rubber to flee from her senses. She wanted the screech of tires to fade. But like the demon that haunted her waking hours, it lurked over her shoulder and whispered darkness in her ear.
“Don’t give in,” said a silken voice near her feet. Eyes that were too big for the face they belonged to stared up at her. One blue, one green. Lucy. Unlike her demonic counterpart, Lucy was a welcomed sight. She felt the girl wrap her frail arms around her right leg, squeezing her tight. “The call is freedom, but it is also death. Don’t let him take you, please. He has taken too much.”
“I’m trying,” Genna said, but it felt like a lie. Hidden in a dark cellar beneath the house was her release and as much as she tried to ignore it, she heard the call. She heard it well. Even now with the reassuring grip of an angel hugging her leg, she wanted nothing more than to break away, to tear through that wooden barrier until her fingers bled.
And then that liquid would slosh down into her throat, coating her synaptic responses and drowning out all thought. A deep sleep; sleep without demons or angels and nothing to paint her world with guilt. Lucy had risen from the floor, her pristine white hair cascading like a waterfall to puddle around her bare feet. She rocked slowly from side to side, her head tucked against her shoulder. “Don’t let him claim you. Whatever you do, fight against him. He can’t win.”
A glistening set of teeth appeared in the shadows and a smoky laugh hung in the air. “Oh, Lucy… How wrong you are. How very, very wrong. I always win in the end. Always.”
Lucy had turned to stare at the demon lurking in the shadows. Her eyes were wide and frightened, her lips drawn into a frown. She crept closer to Genna, raising her pale arms to wrap them around her shoulders. She clung to her, her eyes never leaving the demon. “Stay away, dark one. You can’t have her.”
Genna wanted to laugh. Never in her life had she thought a demon and an angel would be fighting over her. But she also had never thought she’d hurt another being. Never thought she’d kill them. She had been wrong. The sound of breaking glass and grinding steel pierced her ears like a knife through butter. The arms around her suddenly felt suffocating and she pushed the girl away, wrenching free of her grasp. Lucy cried out as she ran away but her words were lost, sailing away into oblivion.
The steps disappeared beneath her, swallowed by a pool of black shadows that was the first floor. She took a tentative step, fumbling her way down the stairs at a snail’s pace. A misstep at the bottom of the staircase sent her tumbling forward and a set of bony fingers caught her, holding her up and steadying her. So tender, so careful.
“Sweetling, you should be more careful. I know just the thing to ease your struggle.” Those hands guided her along, one resting on the small of her back as he shuffled her through the kitchen. “You really could use a drink. A little something to lift your spirit. You’ll be able to hear it better. Hear the call.”
Lucy appeared in the doorway ahead of them, her silken strands glowing in the air around her, a chaotic web that floated about her head on an unseen breeze. The demon hissed, his grip tightening. “Genna, don’t let him take you,” she pleaded. “Turn away from here. Turn away.”
Genna felt angry. Why should a little girl stop her from taking what she wanted? Why was she heeding the words of a mere child? She allowed the demon to lead her past, his teeth shining in the glow of her hair as they went.
As she neared the cellar, a small hand took her own and pulled her to a stop. The demon glanced around her shoulder and bristled with anger. “Why won’t you listen to me? I’m trying to help you.”
“You’re trying to stop me. You’re trying to take away my choice. You’re just a child.”
Lucy looked hurt, her mismatched eyes filling with tears. “Look what your choices have done. He was just a child too…”
The words hit her like a slap. A giggling blue eyed boy. A drunken mother. Steel rippling against steel. He was only a child. And now he’d always be. Three weeks and the debt is paid. Three weeks and a confession.
She felt her knees give out beneath her and she sunk to the creaking wood floor. The demon and the girl followed her down, each pressed to a shoulder. “This pain you feel, I’ll take it away. Just heed the call,” the demon snickered. His tongue lashed out, sliding across her cheek as if he were tasting the guilt that clung to her like dirt.
“There is freedom in confession,” Lucy whispered, her small fingers gripping her arm tightly. “There is freedom in paying the price.”
“The price is death.”
“But it will set you free. Die from this life and be reborn to another. Free yourself, Genna.”
“Yes, girl. Free yourself. Make your own choice. Choose life, sweet as ambrosia. Can you feel it? Taste the honey dripping down your throat. It’ll take away your pain.”
“The price is death,” Lucy sighed.
Genna buried her head in her hands, listening to the whispers of angels and demons. Light and dark swirled together turning to gray the truth she hoped to find. And buried deep beneath her knees, a hypnotic liquid called her name.
“Make your choice,” they spoke in unison.
And so she did.