YA paranormal short story
A demon’s eye glitters in the harp’s reflection…
Rosenfay Marsh can steal your soul with her Song - but can she save Hell from an angel invasion?
After helping her demon father harvest the souls of her human schoolmates, Rosenfay is kidnapped by a cruel angel. With her skin burning and peeling in Heaven, escape is impossible. But if she doesn’t find her way to safety, the angel will torture her father’s location from her. And all Hell will be in danger.
Wicked Song is a paranormal novelette (12,000 words) with reluctant demons, brutish angels, and a gender fluid romance.
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A demon’s eye glitters in the harp’s reflection. At that narrowed glare, my nerves awaken. I wipe my palms on my crisp trousers, heft the harp into my arms, and walk through heavy purple curtains onto the stage as Mr. Vincent booms, “Next we have Rosenfay Marsh on the harp.”
Every millisecond of expectant silence from the audience sends a new prick of nervousness through me.
“Don’t disappoint me,” the demon hisses.
“I won’t,” I promise and take my seat before the crowd. I can’t disappoint him. If I don’t do this, he’ll be demoted for his less-than-adequate number of souls harvested this year. It’ll be my fault—it’s because of me he can’t leave hell—and I know exactly how I’ll be punished if I refuse this. I can’t risk that.
The whole school is here, along with parents, aunts, uncles, and the odd stray grandparent. Two hundred faces washed out by the bright row of lights on the ceiling. I don’t allow my attention to linger on them but it’s hard to block out their presence when the silence is periodically interrupted by the rustle of a jacket, the creaking of hard plastic chairs, or sighs of boredom. The whole school and more have crammed into this hall and all of their eyes are on me.
My fingers pluck the strings. Already I hear whispers, sense energy fluctuating. I begin to Sing. What emerges is a sibilant sound, too unearthly for any end of term talent show. The Rapture begins, a slow thrall that rises in pitch and spreads through everyone sat listening.
“Good,” my father’s reflection crows.
My English teacher rises from her chair first. Mrs. Pale, a waif-like woman who’d rather suffer through a riotous lesson than raise her voice to give someone a detention. Her mousy hair is piled on her head like candyfloss. I try not to stare at the mass of it as she kneels before me, her eyes shiny, her mouth a small O. Slow at first, her soul rises from her body, falling from her lips in a thin wisp of silver-red smoke. It drifts through the air toward the gleam of the harp and is sucked into the gold, to my father.
Mrs. Pale drops to the floor and my heart sinks with her. I’ll never be able to show my face in Leicester again. Never be the same human again. My father has promised me another life somewhere else. His vow to allow me to attend York School of Music is the only reason I’m here, harvesting souls with my Song. If I weren’t, if I disobeyed him and performed a normal song, it would have been my last act on Earth. My last act as a real, ordinary human with a real, ordinary life.
I had no choice—I can’t go back to Hell. I can’t.
My fingers skip a string, a note, and a rumble of disapproval comes from my father’s reaction.
I hurry to play quicker, to re-establish the Rapture and the harvest before any of the students can shake off the thrall. Of anyone in this room, the youngest would be the only ones able to free themselves; they’re stronger, their faith in the unbelievable granting them a stronger defence against us. Their parents have no such defences, not after years of being told to accept reality, to grow up, to stop daydreaming. How can you protect yourself from something you don’t believe exists?
Five parents fall before me next, two mothers and three fathers, their heads bowed and faces gaunt. Their souls drift from them, that silver-red smoke coiling around my hands before soaking into the harp and down the devil’s pathways to Hell. How long before I’m dragged back with them?
For years I’ve been invisible in this school, by choice, never drawing attention because someone seeing past the person I pretend to be—human and harmless—means the life I love here on Earth will be taken from me. I made a bargain with my father, convinced him there was no point doing four years of school if I don’t complete it; that’s the only reason I’m not already in Hell.
But if I make any mistake, I’ll be hauled back to Hell, to my father, to being the daughter of the Demon of Revels, Rapture, and Stolen Innocence. Back to … expectations. Here in Leicester, I have a life with art and music and colour. In Hell, there’s only grey and silence and what my family demands of me. There’s no school, no going to the cinema on Saturdays. I’d never see my bedroom with the gauzy curtains around my bed and the shelves of books about India—the home of a mother I never met—which I devoured in the hope that I could know her by knowing her home and culture.
My breath falters but my notes stay steady this time, my fingers automatically following the song to its end. By the time the harp falls silent, my hands dropping to my sides, breath ragged, the whole hall is silent and drained, bodies heaped on top of each other in a morbid path to the stage, souls clamouring to reach the harp.
I stumble to my feet. Prying stiff fingers from the harp that now lacks my father’s reflection, I pick a path around the husks of people. My eyes land on Penelope Charles who sits next to me in English. Last week she leant me her copy of Romeo and Juliet. Next to her is Angie McKerrow. She was my best friend in year seven until she died her hair honey blonde and caught the attention of the popular girls in our year, dropping out of afterschool music and art club to hang around the park behind school.
These are girls I’ve known, and liked, girls who were nice and human and … and I severed their souls from them. My eyes blur with tears as I step over a dead parent, then a teacher, then student after student after friend after familiar kid. I keep walking until I’ve fled the blue and yellow halls and burst onto the steps out front, the autumn wind biting my skin. I sink onto the steps and cover my head with my arms, making myself into the smallest ball I can as I shudder and fall apart.
My hitching cries are the only sound interrupting the night silence until, minutes later, Karel’s footsteps scrape up the path from the car park and he sinks onto the stone at my side. His fingers sink into the mess of my black curls, lifting my head un-gently. I don’t open my eyes but I sense his disapproval at my display of emotion, and beneath it an expertly concealed strain of worry.
“Did he—send you?” I ask between sobs. The thought of my father is the only thing that can pierce the fog of disgust and pain and shock at what I did. Until it was done, I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. All I see behind my eyelids is that mound of bodies leading to the stage, students and parents reaching for the harp, enthralled by the hypnosis in my Song. I did that. I can’t fully compute what happened yet. I should be thriving on this, sipping the death like a human sips wine. There should be enough pleasure here for a Demon of Satisfaction and Contentment like me, with all those people fallen under the Rapture, but all I feel is misery.
“No,” Karel says, touching my cheek with a red claw. I feel the tip prick my skin and know he didn’t mean to. “I felt your pain and came of my own volition.”
That only makes me cry harder, makes the tight hurt in my heart expand to cover my whole chest. Detached, dispassionate Karel came to sit with me because he felt my pain, because a tiny shred of him has softened toward me after years of being my protection. (Because I’m my father’s heir and I was never strong or cold enough to be a true demon; because I’m vulnerable and need a guard to watch over me because I feel and love and care, because my mother was human.)
“It would be best if we left.” Karel gives me a flat look. “Before the soulless are found.”
I nod. I know he’s right but I’m not ready to leave this life. I don’t want to start over in a new city where nobody knows me. But Karel won’t let me stay. People would ask questions—ask why I wasn’t dead too—and that would only make things catastrophic. I’ll become a folk legend in a few years’ time, a story whispered to spook children: did you hear about the girl who killed a whole school with her song? There won’t be an investigation into this, won’t be any evidence even if they do look into it. Karel will have burned the cameras the minute he arrived. There’ll be no memory or explanation of what I did tonight.
But I’ll remember.
I’ll never be able to forget.
I should have made a different choice, should have returned to Hell and spared these hundreds of people, but even though I’m weak and emotional, I’m still a demon. And all demons are selfish. This choice might even make my father proud. Irate now, I pull at my hair and get to my feet, swearing not to think of my father anymore. If he was a real dad, like my classmates have—who may be disapproving and stifling, may be hated some days by their kids, but still care for their children and protect them to a fault—he would never make his daughter choose between a hellish future and the murder of hundreds.
There has to be a better future than those two options.
“Enough self-pity,” Karel says, now Karellin, a woman with long flaxen hair and the perfect grey skin of all glee demons. Miniature ivory horns part the hair above her ears. Karellin, unlike most glee demons, is able to change her gender and her appearance at will, though she’s always recognisable by her long, slender frame and her scowling, judgemental eyes. For a glee demon she’s remarkably ill tempered, feeding on glee but never once experiencing it. Karellin holds out a hand to help me up. A gesture of help from her is rare enough that I don’t refuse it. She steadies me when I tip forward, her mouth pursed at my unsteadiness. “Work on your balance,” she commands, and I’ve learned enough over the years to not complain or protest—as my sole protector, Karellin only pushes me to be better for my own safety.
I look back at the sandy brick school one last time. “Have you—”
“Everything has been taken care of. You’re wasting time.”
“I don’t want to leave.”
“You must.” There’s no sympathy in her voice. “Immediately.”
I drag my gaze from the school and take Karellin’s hand. In a blink we reappear in a bare flat, wind howling through a window left carelessly open by a landlord I’ve not met yet. Cardboard boxes of things are piled against the far wall, their contents marked in my scrawling hand along the sides. It’s lifeless and clinical, nothing but white walls and bare boards in all three rooms. My new home.
I sigh and cross the floor to shut the window, having to jam it into place when it sticks. Behind me I hear Karellin’s heels click across the floor as she inspects the flat. “It’s clean,” she pronounces, and that’s about as much praise as this place deserves.
“It’s cold,” I reply. A chill seeped through the black pants I wore to the talent show while I sat, numb, on the front steps.
Karellin doesn’t respond to my complaint. She joins me at the window, observing the street below with keen interest. When she’s satisfied nobody lurks behind one of the old-fashioned-style streetlamps or behind one of the cars parked across the street, she looks down at me and her frown softens a fraction. “This is your home now. Bemoaning it will only make your sorrow stronger. Appreciate your newfound independence—there will be no guardian or custodian here to order you; you will decide the layout of your day and what you are and aren’t permitted to do.”
“I’m here on my own?” Instead of appreciating it, it only makes me feel worse. A new life, a new home, no surrogate parent or caretaker like I had in Leicester, and now I’m going to live here alone.
“Not on your own,” Karellin says in a taut voice, tapping the windowsill with red claws. The purposeless action is enough for me to become nervous. “I will be staying here with you.”
“Oh,” I say, mood brightening.
And then the full reality of the situation falls on me: Karellin here, every minute of the day, watching my every move with her hawk-sharp eyes, feeling my emotions when they’re at their highest. My face burns. There’s no chance I’ll be able to hide it now. It’s been difficult enough with Karellin seeing me only once a day to check in and ensure I’m safe, monitoring my emotions the rest of the hours but never knowing enough details to interpret them—only staying alert for spikes of pain and fear.
I glance around the open, empty room like a prisoner surveying their cell. Within the week, Karellin will know for sure about the formidable crush I have on her.