The beauty and the beast told in fire and redemption.
Teach Me a New Song
The bus stop was in front of the sprawling house, and Lee could feel her eyes watching him. At least, he imagined the house as a her. She was broad with peering eyes, reminiscent of a southern lady—grand and constant.
Lee could count each immaculate rose that wound through the ancient, cracked wood of the Victorian mansion. Edges of blackened foundations still marked the fire that had stolen her imposing presence twenty years ago. She set further back than the rest of the houses on the block, and her path was lined by gently swaying weeping willows. The grounds were unkempt, the grass long and scraggly. She was caged by tall iron bars.
She called to him.
Lee tried to shake the feeling. It was only the stupid stories his cousin told him, the merest fancy of an urban legend.
“They say the fire was started by a jaded boyfriend while her parents were out of town. By the time the firemen got the fire put out, she was found dead in the kitchen. Now everyone says that if you come here at night, you’ll still see the flicker of fire in the edges of the windows. On windy nights you can still hear her singing and weeping. No one knows what happened to the boy.”
His cousin had told the story well, with the right dramatic pauses and conspirator glances. He’d scoffed at her, telling her that she was too old for fairy tales. She’d only shrugged. “If she doesn’t exist, who takes care of the roses?”
Lee shuddered once again before he leaned against the stone gate that separated the injured house from the rest of the world. He didn’t pause as he took his guitar out and strummed a few chords. The bus wouldn’t be here for two more minutes at least, and he needed something to keep his mind from ghost stories.
The music was sad and halting as it flowed from his precious instrument. No matter how hard he tried, his mind wandered to the story—to the whispered sufferings his cousin had planted so easily in his ear.
Whoever heard of school in the summer? Lee thought as the bus squealed to a stop in front of him. It was something to get used to—year round school, but then again, what wasn’t there to get use to in Mississippi? He heaved a sigh as he slipped his guitar into its case and slung it over his shoulder. New state, new school, new life…somehow it didn’t feel so new as he stepped onto the vibrating stairs and into the cacophonous clamoring of teenagers going to school. He shut his eyes for a moment before he took the next available empty seat and glanced outside. He watched the house fade from sight as the bus sputtered to life and pulled its heavy weight forward.
There was something dragging at him, nipping at his subconscious. It made shivers run the length of his spine and his hair stood on end. Though the bus took him further from the lady house separated from the world by iron bars, he could still feel her eyes trail behind gazing…wanting. A thought flitted through his mind.
Who took care of the roses?
Time stands still within the ash and gray. It has no hold against the ruins of a perfect life, no hold on the remnants of a lovely face. I know no end of the echoes of memory. Each night I relive the flames. Each night, I return to that one instant in time. Each night, I burn in my hell.
When I burn, I scream. I always scream. I don’t move, but I scream. Still, time had not moved.
He did not allow it to move.
My first few years I was bitter, resentful. The night shook with the resounding of my lament. Who was he to steal me from my obedient world? Should he have simply laid down his free thought and followed me as others had?
A bitter laugh follows the wayward thought and I shake my head.
Loneliness followed, as it always does in stories of old, and he took pity on me. Books began to appear daily, allowing me a glimpse into the world that had forgotten its tiny would-be goddess. Now, there is only sorrow and regret in my heart. I see beauty in the pages I hold and read against candlelight. Words that have changed my life, words that have been my only company for over a decade. They judged me, showed me the error of what I’d done, and then they forgave me where he could not. They are my companions and prepare me for my nightly burning. I fear for when he tires of condoning me the simple pleasure of books.
I was reading when I felt the first stirring of change. It jerked me away from the story of snow in the wardrobe, of a lion sacrificing himself for who he loves, and I looked up through the window that showed me my only glimpse of the world I was punished from. I stood, scarcely believing that after all this time it would be now.
I watched him from the edge of the scarred room, just past eyesight, just past the sunlight that I long for, though it would only pass through me. I listened to the strummed heart chords against the guitar and I ached along with him. My fingertips grazed against the edge of the porcelain mask melted to my skin.
A sigh fluttered past unmoving lips, skittering the dust motes in the sunlight that was just past my reach.
“Will you come for me?” I whispered.
Lee’s heart pounded against his chest, straining against the cage of bones. His hands clenched almost protectively over the neck of his guitar.
She stood, past the iron gates more imposing in the night than in the day. The moonlight seemed to bathe the roses in an iridescent crimson glow. The willows that lined the walkway fluttered in an almost nonexistent breeze. Lee swallowed.
Why am I so afraid? He wondered for a moment. It was just a house. The thought earned a shake of his head immediately. It wasn’t only a house. She’d haunted his dreams, turning them to nightmares of fire and dresses. For the last few days he’d dreamt of the house, but it was only a half remembered instance in time. Each time he woke with a name unspoken on his lips and a haunting melody in his head. Sing for me. Sing me a song of frozen hearts and petals…
He wanted to finish the song.
So, here he was in the sticky heat of a Mississippi summer, where the air was so heavy with cloy humidity that it was difficult to breathe, trying to build enough courage to cross the ancient iron gates. He wasn’t afraid of getting caught trying to cross private property. There were no lights except for the pale lantern that he’d stopped to rest beneath. The civilized world was either dead or asleep, leaving the night for the crickets and frogs. If that wasn’t what was keeping him from the Victorian mansion, then what was?
The air was still, as heavy as iron, and waiting on him.
Finally, Lee slung his guitar over his shoulder and took a firm grip on the iron bars. The gate rattled and shook as he climbed over it and dropped to the ground. The instant his feet touched the earth, something slid against him. It caused him to shiver, because though nothing had touched him, there was still a new presence around him. To him, it was almost like the feel of the air right after a lightning strike. Pinpricks of energy played with each cell of his skin, tingling along his entirety and reaching beneath the skin to clench a hold on his heart. Lee shivered again in the heat of the night and rubbed his arms to get rid of the goosebumps.
In the stillness, someone screamed.
The sound was intense, shattering any pretense of peace in the dead night. Lee started as a light sprung to life in the recesses of one of the windows of the abandoned home.
“What…the…” He didn’t waste effort finishing his sentence as the light brightened in the window and he ran toward it. Something caused him to pause when he reached the home. There was no smell of smoke and the flickering flames seemed pale and nonexistent, barely flickering past the tattered curtains. Nothing seemed real, more like the shadows of reality. Still, he remembered the scream, and even now he could hear the muttered of pained conversation. After a moment of debate, Lee pushed his way through the rose bushes, earning long scratches from the thorns, and peered through the window the light source came from.
“God, Devon, please…not again…”
Lee could only catch glimpses through the material. It was the kitchen—he could see the charred remains of a stove and fridge. His eyes widened as his gaze fell on the crumpled form of a body. Most of her was lost in the froth of lace and furls of soft blue silk, but he could see the golden curls pinned from her face and from beneath that the barest glimpse of a mask.
“Answer my request, then.”
The voice was indescribable, and it sent an immediate chill down Lee’s body. There wasn’t anything human about it. Pure, emotion drawn together into contortions meant to resemble English words. Lee tried to see who had spoken, but a piece of material covered the part of the window that showed him. All he could see was a hulking shape.
“Go to hell, Devon.”
“We would both have peace,” This time the voice seemed softer, full of cruel pity, “if you would only give in.”
The girl’s breaths were ragged, and Lee watched her back heave. The corset of the dress strained against her racking sobs. “You’ve already broken me, what more is there left! I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded. I’ve repented. We both know you keep me here without hope, but I will not give in.” Her cracked voice took some strength. “You may have killed me, but you’ll never have me.”
“Pity,” he sighed. “You hold the keys to our prison. If only you would let go.”
“Why?” The word was choked with hatred and she looked up. Lee could now see the beautiful porcelain mask—a blue butterfly on one side of her face a weeping woman on the other. Beneath the mask was a glimmer of ethereal green eyes. “Why, Devon?”
“Because I can,” Devon snapped. “Because in this small piece of your world I am god. You made your mistake, and now you pay for it.”
The wind rustled and Lee felt…something...begin to stir in the air. Where the night was muggy and suffocating, a cold wind whipped through the willows that lined the entrance to the home. It brought a rotting smell with it, like musk and graves.
“Please, Devon, mercy, please…” Her words were cut off as the wind wrapped around her. She ignited with a pealing scream.
Lee yelled in horror.
Again the wind rose and in that instant Devon took a step into his line of view. There were only the shadows, inconsistent and incomplete. There was something shiny in the form, like a pool of oil or the shell of a massive beetle. The color of the roaring flames reflected off the relatively smooth, featureless mass. He couldn’t see where the head began from the torso; there was no nose, no mouth…
There were only his eyes.
His eyes. Depthless, yet Lee could see no end. A coil of raw emotions, of power and hatred, rested in the center of the red and black that saw the world in colors no mortal would. The gaze was ageless and young, a conundrum that Lee felt would swallow him whole. He couldn’t break away, and in that gaze, he felt the fires of Hell reach out toward him.
Lee watched a smile unfurl, like a massive white worm crawling against the surface of a rotting corpse. He could catch glimpses of red and yellow—of teeth and fire.
“You’ve come, have you?”
The words broke whatever spell Lee was under and he ran.
I reform slowly after Devon leaves. The process is always slow, always excruciating. The first thing to return to me is my breath, the next the beat of my heart. I can’t move, because the pain always follows. My skin is charred, blackened and beneath my burns remains a more intense inner heat that consumes me. Even the light press of the remains of my dress is too much.
Eventually, though, the pain begins to fade as Devon’s black magic restores my captive soul. I watch the burns heal, the dress reform. The only thing that remains changed from when I’d been alive is the mask that is melted to my face. A sign of fallen pride.
And, Oh, how I’d fallen.
I stand after the process is finished. After two decades of nightly torment, I’m used to it. My roughest piece of the curse was the first few years, when I’d believed that I had no use of my limbs. How could something so burned, so mutilated, function?
Tonight is different though. I now know he was here to witness Devon’s power, and that shatters any hope. After seeing what the monster can do, how could he ever muster the courage to save me? He’s only a teenager, the same age as I was when I died and time froze in Hell’s fire. Now there was no hope.
“Oh God,” I whispered. I knew I was crying, though I felt no wetness. The mask pressed so close to me that the tears flowed down its porcelain features instead of my own. What would I do now, now that my only hope of peaceful rest was gone? Pain, I’d learned to tolerate, but not this all-encompassing desperation. There was nothing now. Devon could drag my empty shell to hell where I truly belonged. Though there was no comfort in the thought, there was a finality of giving in that calmed me.
I staggered out of the house to tend to the roses. Night was my only refuge, for when the town was dead, I could walk my lands. The roses would help me forget…I didn’t have to think as I took care of each blossom. I envied them, for they breathed fresh air and felt sunlight. I’d been a part of specters and night for so long that I’d forgotten how sunlight felt.
I began to hum, as I trimmed the vines and trained my flowers. For several minutes I focused on the wall, trying to remember where the tune came from. The memory eluded me though, and I could not remember where the tune or words came from. Still, it was a strange, beautiful medley of words. Did I need to understand beauty? The time spent in this perpetual prison had taught me that I did not. After a moment of allowing the tune to play in my head, I began to sing, “Sing for me. Sing me a song, of frozen hearts and petals. Siren’s croon, broken melodies. Sing me a song of crimson innocence and blood against the hearth. Sing me a song…”
“Your voice is beautiful.”
I jumped at his voice, whirling around to face him. He stood, back against the wane light of the lonely light post. In his hand was a heavy seeming suitcase, oblong in shape. His eyes, what I could see of them, were wide. I stood there, not sure what to say.
He sat the suitcase down and I realized that it was a guitar case. “What are you?”
Again, I didn’t answer his tense question. I didn’t know what to say. Here, my salvation stood before me. After years of imagining this moment, of imagining tender words and caresses, I stood immobile and dumb.
“Will you sing for me then?” He swallowed, and I could easily tell he was terrified and nervous. Still, beneath that I could see a sense of connection, something inexplicable and powerful. I watched him take his guitar out and strum a few notes, the perfect melody of the song that I remembered. “I’m not sure if that’s right, but I think it sounds close.”
When I didn’t respond he nodded and began to play, strumming the tune slowly. When I caught the right rift, I began to sing. “Sing me a song, of frozen hearts and petals. Siren’s croon, broken melodies. Sing me a song of crimson innocence and blood against the hearth. Sing me a song; your heart knew me once. All I know is suffering for a love never shared. Sing me your song, lift me to your angels and release my bonds! I cast away all for the truth, sacrifice the sinning body for the redeemed soul. Allow me to return for my faith. Hear the words from my soul. Free me of this torment.”
He played for some moments longer when my memory failed me and I couldn’t remember the rest of the song. Finally, the tune ceased and he sighed. “That was beautiful.” He studied me, but I stood motionless, studying him in return—making sure I remembered every piece of him for when day came. His golden brown hair that brushed his shoulders, the honey eyes that reflected back the light of the moon.
“I don’t know why I didn’t leave,” he said. “I ran, but I couldn’t leave. Not until I spoke to you.” He swallowed. “I don’t understand…”
I didn’t either. I didn’t understand why it was him that could see me, why it was now that he came. “You should go,” I finally whispered. The words choked my heart, but I swallowed past the lump in my throat. “It’s almost dawn.”
For a moment I thought he’d argue, but then he nodded and I breathed a sigh of relief. “I’ll leave if you’ll answer one question—what’s your name?”
I hesitated. What name would I give him? The one that represented betrayal? The one that Devon caressed each night? I wish I could forget it. Instead, I would give him what I’d chosen for myself. Something that meant ray of light, what I craved more than life itself. “Kiren.”
“I’m returning tomorrow, Kiren.”
I smiled though he couldn’t see beneath the weeping façade. “Please, come after Devon leaves.” For a moment my voice faltered. “I don’t want you to witness that again, and I fear for you.”
He nodded and turned to leave. “Wait,” I whispered. “What’s your name?”
“Nothing so pretty as Kiren,” he replied with a small laugh. “The name’s Lee.”
Dusk fell against the world, smothering the hot sky like a heavy quilt. It darkened the shadows against his wall of thick leaves from the magnolia that rested against his side of the house.
Lee gave a sigh, running his hands though his hair.
Kiren had been his only thought today. All he could think of was the ghost that was tormented, that forever wept beneath a mask whiter than ivory. She had consumed him. he hadn’t left his room except to go to the bathroom for the entire day. All he was concerned with was finding a way to help Kiren. He now knew why his dreams urged him to finish the song, why he’d been drawn to the grand lady Victorian home. It was to save her, to save Kiren, and bring her song to fruition.
If he could only find out how. He’d tried any number of websites, everything from popular fiction to ancient folklore. For connecting the world, the Internet told him little of how to lift curses from ghosts. There was plenty on how to lift the curse of a ghost but not for the ghost.
He hardly believed his own thought process.
He’d mused with the fact he could have dreamt it all, but that thought was always banished the next second he conceived it. There was no way he could’ve imagined her. Lee shivered. There was no way he could have imagined Devon either. In the end, the only thing that had brought him back to the house of roses was her voice. So broken, so forlorn. He’d heard her begin to hum from his hiding crevice in the lawn. Her voice was beautiful, heartrendingly so. He imaged the sirens weeping in envy of her.
The dusk had thickened while he continued to search the Internet, the sky taking on the colors of blood and flesh—of the dark red of life blood against the soft pink of a young child’s skin.
“Sorry,” a voice mused behind him. “I’m afraid I’m not a Leshii. They tend to stick to the forest. Besides, I was once human.”
Terror immediately rushed over him as he minimized the Russian legend he’d been reading. He wasn’t sure what to do; he could feel Devon’s power wash over him, swirling in heavy energies that had a feel similar to the humidity of the summer air. He could smell the faint odor of sulfur and smoke. Slowly, he turned around. A teenager, only slightly older than him, leaned against his window. He was taller than the frame and well built, reminding Lee of some sort of predator at rest. Short blond hair and a pleasant face made up the rest of his appearance. All that remained of the demon he’d seen the night before was the eyes. They were still that red and black conglomeration of malice.
“Bethany is mine,” he said. His voice was jovial, as if they were passing strangers discussing the weather. “You risk your soul if you continue this game.”
Lee swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I read the newspaper article about her death.” He’d searched through the Internet archives of the local newspaper until he’d found the yellowed page that had told him everything about the day they’d both died. “You killed her, just because she broke up with you.”
Anger flashed through his eyes. “She pulled me along as if I was her Chihuahua on a diamond studded leash. For a year I was her obedient boyfriend. She played me so she could get her way and watch me suffer humiliation at the prom.” He gave him a wry smile. “She’s shallow, cruel—we match more than you think.”
“Does she deserve this?” Lee asked, his voice tight with anger. “So what if she hurt your feelings, so what! You’ve tortured her for twenty years!”
“It was more than that, boy,” Devon snapped. He leaned forward, placing his hands on his knees. “She was everything to me. She was my first, and she took my devotion and destroyed me.”
“God, get over yourself,” Lee said. He shook his head.
“Do you even know what she did?” Devon interrupted. The growl in his voice stopped Lee’s words. “Do your dreams tell you that?” He stood and advanced on Lee. “My father had threatened to sue her father, and I talked him out of it because I loved her. After he’d signed away any right he had legally, she dumped me in front of everyone. She knew the struggles my family was going through, and how much we sacrificed for her. We lost everything that night, so I made her lose everything.”
“You killed her because of that?”
“I was on my knees in front of the entire school,” Devon whispered. “She stood in her damn mask and taunted me, flaunted what we shared in front of everyone to see. She told me that my father had been fired, that our house was being repossessed, and everyone laughed. Everyone was afraid of her and her family. Fear,” Devon laughed at the word, “she needed to know fear.”
Lee didn’t say anything as he watched the memories dance behind the red and black power in his eyes. Finally Devon whispered and Kiren’s voice flowed from his lips—but they were harsher than he remembered her tone, full of twisted malice and spite. “You should have known you were beneath me, Devon. In this small hick town I am god. I snapped my fingers and you lost everything. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want and to whoever I want.” Devon arched an eyebrow. “Is that who you love and want to save? Is she worth saving?”
Lee shook his head. He was sure that was how she’d been before her death, but just as she’d changed her name, she’d changed through the years of isolation and literature. His dreams told him that. He’d watched how she would begin to read when the sun rose and she faded from the world. Years of thought and words had changed her into someone he admired.
“She’s not the only one suffering,” Devon muttered. For a moment a softer emotion slid across his features. It was gone beneath his mask of cruelty almost immediately. “That’s how black magic works, boy. I suffer until she consents. I walk this earth as a…” He paused and allowed the shadows to swirl around him. Lee’s room darkened as the light flickered. He noticed how that Devon wasn’t a shadow. He took shadows. Any shadow made from the setting sun—the shadow of his desk, of his bed. Lee could even feel his own shadow tug against his heart. All at once, the terrible feeling ended and Devon heaved a sigh. Everything returned to normal. “Well, you get the picture.” He smiled a lopsided, pained smile. “She’s the one that torments.”
“There’s no way to break the curse unless she allows you to drag her to hell?”
Devon’s smile faltered. The world quieted around them, feeling expectant—like the air before a lightning strike. Lee’s heart quickened, remembering that was how the atmosphere had felt the night before. “Listen, you little prick, I’m not stupid. If I see you around her again, I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you slowly, unspeakably, and then I’ll keep your soul as a plaything so that whenever I’m bored I can bring you back and kill you again.”
Lee swallowed, trying to breathe past the rising tension in the air. Something heavy seemed to press against his chest, constricting his diaphragm. “Okay…” he managed. He gasped outward. “…I’ll leave her…alone…”
The pressure eased, allowing him to breathe again. Devon’s smile returned. “This is my only warning, Lee. If I kill you, I get another curse added to me, but for her I’ll do anything. Don’t think you can stop me. You should forget about her; she’s only a ghost of a forgotten girl.”
Lee nodded, rubbing his neck. His lungs hadn’t realized that they could breathe yet; they seemed to be waiting for Devon to squeeze the life from them again. He closed his eyes, trying to get his rapidly beating heart under control, trying to get his lungs to breathe in. When he opened his eyes, Devon was gone.
The grass was hot beneath my knees, and for once the sweet scent of my roses did nothing to comfort me. Instead I only sobbed. There was no putting my heart together, no hope that one day my soul would know rest. Tomorrow I would give myself to Devon. The only hope for the curse to lift had abandoned me.
“Why are you crying, Kiren?”
I stopped, my body shaking as I turned to see Lee standing behind me. He set the guitar case down and knelt beside me, a hand out, hovering at my shoulder, afraid to touch me. I was afraid for him to touch me too. What if his fingertips passed through an incorporeal body, like the ghosts of human horror stories? It would be more than I could stand.
“Devon told me you wouldn’t return,” I whispered. “He told me he was going to kill you if you came back.”
“What Devon doesn’t know, isn’t going to hurt me,” he said. After a moment’s hesitation, he tentatively grazed his hand against my shoulder. My breath paused as I felt the pressure of his hand against the silk of my prom dress. He smiled and reached a hand out. I took it and he helped me stand. “I’ll come after midnight,” he whispered, “and I’ll stay with you until dawn.”
His words made me smile, though inside I still wept. I knew one day I would ask him to release me. One day I would leave him forever. I wondered if he knew, but I didn’t have the courage to tell him. Instead I promised myself that I would make it up to him. I would suffer for days or months if he needed me to, if only to see him each night.
He smiled and for a moment I wished I could return the smile for him, but I was glad he didn’t see my face, either the scarred, burned mess beneath or the one that represented the person that deserved her chains. In my mind, I was different. Anything I would show him would be a lie. Only my mask told the truth.
The last few months passed quickly for Lee, scarcely real. He watched weeks melt away, and his first break from school started. Soon, his days consisted of the same thing. He would go to sleep until night fell. Each time he slept, he would dream of what Kiren was doing, of what she was singing or reading. When he woke at sunset, he would eat and prepare to sneak out to meet Kiren. Together they watched the summer fade and autumn come.
Kiren was everything.
Witty, intelligent, kind…there was something about her. They could spend hours talking about nothing and not be bored. They would spin hours singing, teaching each other songs. When they tired of that she would read to him.
Too bad he was going to end it.
It broke his heart in ways that were unimaginable, but he would release her tonight. She didn’t think he knew what his role was in this curse, but he did. Like everything that he knew about her, he’d dreamt it, dreamt her wishing that he’d let her go. It was only his selfishness that kept her suffering each night. But it was time that he did what was right for her.
He could see the sadness in her ethereal green eyes. The suffering she took on to be with him; it wasn’t right, like a butterfly in an empty glass jar.
Lee left his home before the sun fell, walking the familiar path that brought him to her home, the grand Victorian lady that housed Kiren.
He stepped through the threshold, his eyes searching the darkened corners. When he saw her he asked the same thing he asked every night. “Sing for me, Kiren?”
“Lee? What are you doing here so early?”
Lee smiled at her breathless voice. It was soft, a dove’s coo, with a heavy southern accent. She was at the corner of the living room, barely resting in the out of the sunlight. Her mask was illuminated by the candle that she read by, silver painted porcelain.
“I don’t want you to suffer tonight,” he said.
Her head cocked to the side, showing her confusion. In the time he knew her, he’d had to learn how to read body language instead of facial expressions. “I don’t understand.”
“How do I lift the curse, Kiren?”
She leaned back, and he knew she was surprised. “You knew?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t ask sooner.”
For a moment Kiren didn’t say anything before she whispered, “I don’t want to leave you.”
Lee swallowed, his throat suddenly sticky. He’d made himself not think about what was about to happen; how he’d lose the only thing that had made him happy since moving here. “Please, Kiren.”
She stood and took the candle with her to where he stood in the failing sun’s light. For a moment she was silent, her green eyes studying intently. “Remove my mask,” she said finally. “But you can’t do it until midnight. It has to be at the same time the curse was cast.”
“Can’t make it easy on me, can you?”
“What about this is easy?” she whispered, and he caught the sad tone in her voice. Tears dripped through the mask and he wiped them away, kissing the cold porcelain cheek.
“Will you sing for me?” he asked. “While we wait. Teach me a new song.”
I felt his power swirl around us, coalescing—writhing against the skin and air. My dress ruffled and I could barely breathe past the fear that seized a brutal grip on my nonexistent heart. Lee gripped the hand he held harder. I wished I could tell him I feared for him more than I feared for myself.
The earth shuddered around me and the walls of the house groaned, compressing inward like a massive heart beat. “Stupid boy!” His words echoed in the depths of the home. Resonating. Fire instantly leapt into life, feeding on the power Devon gave it, roaring upward. I gave a startled yell and threw my hand out to protect myself. Lee situated himself in front of me.
“Enough Devon,” Lee whispered. His voice was calm, devoid of fear. “It’s time to let her go.”
The demon melted through the wall, stealing the shadows of the dilapidated home. They wrapped around him, squirming like the dead things beneath the soil.
“You’re mine,” he growled. “You think your Kiren feels pain each night?” He laughed. “She is nothing compared to the power at my disposal.”
Lee dropped to the ground dragging me with him by the hand he held.
“Lee!” I gasped. There was nothing I could do. I watched him begin to shake. A fine trembling that started from his chest and traveled through his body. He released my hand as he let out an agonized scream. I watched his fingers begin to turn inward as the skin peeled away from them to reveal the bone, tissue and sinew beneath. I let out a startled gasp.
“Imagine this happening to your whole body,” Devon said, “slowly.” The laughter in his voice turned my stomach as Lee screamed again. The splits from each finger converged into one spot on his hand before traveling down his wrist, splitting his skin away easier than a knife would peel an apple.
I forced myself to look away from Lee’s suffering and approached Devon. He looked down at me, and the gaze of his merciless red and black eyes stopped me for a moment. Only the sound of Lee’s pain stirred my courage forward. “Devon, stop this.”
“What are you going to do about it?” he scoffed. He flicked his hand and I could feel the heat of fire begin to play against my feet. I swallowed, preparing to feel the pain.
Nothing happened, but I could still feel the power caress my skin. Devon continued to warn me of his power, but didn’t he know that the two decades I’d spent beneath his torture had made me accustomed to it? The pain was all encompassing, but something I would experience regardless. Lee deserved better, and each of his yells stabbed more pain into me than Devon could ever inflict directly. Lee writhed on the floor as Devon’s power played with him. There was no blood as his skin peeled away. There was nothing but the small ringlets of already curled pieces of skin that fell to the burned foundations. In that moment, I knew that there was nothing I could do; if Lee was gone, there would be nothing.
“I’ll go with you,” I whispered, still looking at Lee. “For him, I’ll do anything. Just, please, let him go and return him to normal.”
“You’ll suffer for eternity for him?” Devon demanded.
I nodded as I looked away and at Devon. Was I crying? Did tears run the length of the mask? I wasn’t sure. “I love him.”
Pain flashed through his eyes, and I remembered how they were once a light, sparkling blue until he let hatred consume him. “Why him? What did he do differently?”
“Devon…” I swallowed, remembering what I’d done in front of the school. I remembered how he’d collapsed on the gym floor, sobbing for a love I’d never felt for him. “Devon, I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. “Your apology came two decades too late,” he muttered. Tears dripped against the shadow swathed face and glittered. He gave a sardonic smile and snapped his fingers. Lee’s yells off sharply as he returned to normal, leaving him shivering violently as he felt along his arms. “But at least I get to keep you.” Devon held a hand out to me as the shadows wrapped around him.
“Kiren…” The ghost of the pain he’d experience at Devon’s power still shivered along his form. He looked from the place he was collapsed. “Kiren…please…”
I didn’t answer him; I couldn’t. I knew that again I was breaking someone’s heart. This time my heart broke alongside his. I gripped Devon’s hand before he could say anything else and let out a scream as the fire ignited around us both. Only one thought remained with me, the whispered verse from our song, I cast away all for the truth, sacrifice the sinning body for the redeemed soul. Allow me to return for my faith.
Lee didn’t look up at the bus stopped. Instead he scratched out the messed up music note. He waited until the bus lurched forward with an animalistic growl from the engine before he continued writing. Not that it mattered; in the three months since Devon had taken Kiren from him, all his music seemed disjointed and unusable. All he had was her song, which he kept trying to add to unsuccessfully.
The voice, feminine and almost familiar, broke Lee out of his troubled thoughts, but he ignored her.
“Do you play well?”
Lee gave an involuntary glance toward the guitar case that rested beside him. He gave an indistinguishable grunt, hoping she would catch the hint.
“You even write your music.” There was laughter in her voice as she noticed the scribbled notebook page of music notes. “Will you sing for me?”
For a moment her words didn’t register, and then Lee was struck with familiarity. He looked up in excitement before disappointment rose in his throat. She was nothing like the newspaper picture he’d seen in the internet. Short black hair that flipped out in odd angles, freckles that dotted a small, dainty face. Then she smiled and her emerald eyes glittered.
Green eyes. A piece of Lee didn’t believe it.
Confusion flitted through the eyes—the gateway to a freed soul—and Lee realized he was gaping like an idiot. “Hi,” he said as he leaned further in his seat. He reached his hand out and she took it tentatively. The hand was small and familiar, and he felt a surge of excitement. He shook her hand before letting it go. “I’m Lee.”
“I’m Kira,” she replied. “I just moved here…next door to you actually, and I’ve seen you walking around.” She tucked a piece of short hair behind her ear. “You know, I play music too, and I just wondered….”
“Would you like to hang out with me later?” he asked. “I have the perfect place to hang out.” Lee winked. “If you don’t mind breaking a few rules.”
The expression that dominated Kira’s face was expectant, excited and mischievous. “What rule isn’t made to be broken? I’d love to hang out. How about after school?”
Lee nodded. “Sounds great.”
Kira smiled a secret smile. “Cool. Now you can teach me a new song.”
Word Count: 6,748
Submitted to: Long, Long, Long contest (entered:3/25/15). Honorable Mention, Awarded Red Awardicon Link to contest: http://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/1782293-Long-Long-Long
Submitted to: Paranormal Romance Short Story Contest (entered:12/12/20). Link to contest: https://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/2089860-Paranormal-Romance-Short-Sto...