Archive for October, 2013

Pearls on the Road

Posted: 18/10/2013 by Alternate Celt in Extracts, Pearls
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Janis and her Porsche

Janis and her Porsche

This story is my baby, my honey chile and my proudest moment in writing to date.  It’s written in a hybrid form of Lallands and Glaswegian – one of the things I still need to iron out.  People tell me I should write it in plain old English, but I think personally it would lose too much of it’s character.  What do you think?

 

Pearls on the Road

Part One

New Orleans or Bust

 

If Ah said we didnae really hav a clue why we decided tae do it, then that would definitely be true.  Ah know part o it wis boredom.  Masel, Ah felt like ma life was grindin tae a halt an aw ma best years were behind me, at thirty fuckin four, which jist isnae right.  Ami, ma best pal in the whole world, wis the same.  We’d been runnin thegither since we were teenagers, gettin up tae all kinds o crazy shit, but then we’d baith got tangled up wi’ men that screwed us up, an we baith ended up dying inside as housewives, hatin’ our lives, our men an ourselves.  Things happened in our 20’s, we drifted apart a bit, we stopped sharin’ all our pain thegither, our men stood in our way an’ it felt like bein’ buried alive.

Ah  remember wakin’ up yin mornin’ with the radio blarin’ out Janis Joplin’s Piece o My Heart an realisin’ that Ah couldnae do it any mair.  Ah wisnae the person Ah used tae be, Ah wisnae a happy person at a an listenin to Janis singin’ about givin everythin away tae her man made me realise whit the fuck Ah wis up tae.  By that time, Ami wis already livin oan her ane.  Her man had ditched her for something younger an less angry a coupla years before, an when Ah got up outta bed that mornin an packed my bag before that fuckin lazy bastard even opened his eyes, it wis Ami’s doorstep I wis headin for.  Before Ah left I drained the last bottle o whiskey in the house dry so that lazy shite would hav to go an get his ane when he got up.

So Ah turned up oan Ami’s doorstep, reekin o whiskey an cryin my fuckin een out cuz Ah felt mair lost than ever.  She didnae say ocht, she jist let me in an made me a strong cup o coffee.  Then she listened, for bloody ages, while Ah poured out ma hairt like the fuckin drunk Ah wis, wailin’ an gnashing ma teeth an callin’ that bastard every shitey wurd Ah could think o. When she wis sure Ah wis done, she got up an put on aw the loudest, hardest, heaviest music she had in the house, an we jumped aroun like a pair o daft teenagers, heidbangin an screamin tae aw the music we’d loved back when we really were teenagers.  That was such a fuckin’ release, screamin alang tae Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” an Pantera’s “Fucking Hostile” like we were at the Barra’s again in the mosh pit.

But that wisnae when we decided tae dae it.  That wis only when we baith started again, when we baith decided that we couldnae keep on livin’ stuck in the same shite groove we’d been in for mair as ten year.  Ah moved in wi Ami then, an the prick that Ah’d been livin wi’ tried a coupla times tae change ma mind, but wi twae o us it wis easy tae tell him tae get tae fuck.

No, it wisnae until ma Auntie Maggie passed away that we decided tae dae it.  Ah’d become obsessed wi Janis’s life, an we’d both gone through a big stage o re-reading Anne Rice’s Vampire books cuz we were sick o all the Sparkly Vampire shite that wis bein churned out.  Ye know, the Twilight books an fuckin Sookie Stackhouse (the TV series is fuckin ace though, but only cos it’s much meaner an dirtier than the books!).  Don’t get me fucking started on Anita Blake, fuckin dirty slut that cannae make up her fuckin mind.  Naw, Lestat wis, an is, the only vampire for us.

So when Ah got a dirty great big cheque in Auntie Maggie’s will we decided almost straight away we wanted tae go oan a road trip o the places that Lestat had been in America.  New Orleans wis a place baith o us had wanted tae visit since we were teenagers readin’ Interview With A Vampire.  Then Ah found a picture o Janis’s car an fell in love. Aw man, that car, it’s beautiful.  A Porsche 356 cabriolet that wis decoratit fir her by her roadie.  God, it wis an amazin machine, a sports car, the best o it’s generation an painted up tae be like a spirit o the sixties an Janis.  Mebbe ma brain wis fried, mebbe aw the junk an drink had shorted  ma circuits, but Ah couldnae get that fuckin car out o my brain.  Ah’d fall asleep wi it in ma mind, dream o it an wake up thinkin about it.  Fuck it, no even Leo Di Negro frae Cougar, ma favourite band and ma maist perfect man,  had done that tae me, an this wis jist a fuckin car! The thing that fuckin bothered me the maist wis that it wis sitting at the Rock an Roll hall o Fame dain nothin when Ah jist knew, somehow, that it should be roamin the highways o America an raisin’ hell in her memory.  An the mair Ah thought about it, the mair Ah wanted tae free the car.  Ami thought Ah wis jist bein crazy at first, but Ah forced her tae watch The Rose, an Ah forced her tae read about Janis, an Ah widnae stop talkin about it until yin day Ah think she cracked.

Alia, Princess of Celenia

Posted: 17/10/2013 by Alternate Celt in Extracts
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A little more background to my Fairy Tale.  Here we see the Court of Celenia through the eyes of Princess Alia.

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Left alone, Alia cried until her eyes burned, but dragged herself up from her divan to splash her face with cold water when sleep threatened to claim her. She slaked the raw dryness of her throat from her water jug, then moved to her window seat to watch the evening bustle of the palace. She did not summon any of her servants, didn’t want to face anyone.

The last of the day’s sun splashed the leafy palace walkways as the Courtiers gathered for the evening feast. Always at King Argo’s court there was some visiting faction to feast; King Argo’s power stretched across the lands and there was always a delegation wanting a share of his influence.  Alia watched a party of them now, men swathed in black robes and golden jewellery from far to the south of her father’s kingdom. In the middle of them, bearing a flashing golden scimitar on his hip and a circlet of gold on his brow was their Prince, come to court her hand in marriage.  Her father had already dismissed his suit, but the Prince had remained at the Court to try again and hope, as some men had done before him. Alia did not think her father would change his mind; she had heard him denounce the Prince’s country as savage.

The trickle of people petered out once the evening deepened into gloaming. The stewards appeared to light the torches for the return of the revellers after the feast. Alia heard a soft knock at her door then, so she rose to answer it.

“Oh my sweet Princess! Why have you not sent for me, child?” Her Royal nursemaid gushed as soon as Alia put her head around the door, then the elderly matron bustled passed her, imperiously gesturing to the small troupe of servants following to bring their burdens into the Princesses Day Room: trays of food from the feast and Alia’s deep copper bath and steaming kettles to fill it with.

“Marena, thank you, but I’m fine just now,” Alia tried to protest, knowing she would be ignored by her pragmatic nurse.

“Nonsense, child. You need food and relaxation, not moping!” Marena told her bullishly. Alia sighed and inclined her head graciously, submitting to the care of her servants under the older woman’s watchful eye.

 

Twenty Seven

Posted: 17/10/2013 by Alternate Celt in Dark Tales
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The morning after.  The walls in the hotel suite where we had stayed dripped blood.  My head swam, my stomach heaved.  Someone is shrieking, an awful high pitched dentist’s drill of a  sound that is penetrating my skull agonisingly.  I lie under a heavy drift of ripped and shredded feather bedding, some of which clings to my naked body, red and sticky. Under  my cocooning layer of debris only I am yet aware of that, and since I cannot move, I can’t but help but wonder if I haven’t yet been seen under here.  I am sure that awful noise is being made because of the blood on the walls and the grizzly mess that I know is strewn across the carpet of our room too.

I am assaulted afresh by jagged shards of memory stabbing through my pained consciousness.  I recall the sepulchre tones of the ticking clock that stopped dead at midnight, the stench of blood, the red-blindness that accompanied the sound of my own voice screaming itself hoarse, the grim look that passed over his pale face and the howling, the dreadful howling that filled my ears as painfully as this shrieking.  I’m not ready for these memories, and the sound that they tear out of my throat brings attention to me.

There is a confusion of voices, the shrieking is cut off by them, and then there’s hands laid on me and exclamations of horror.  Someone asks if I am ok, someone asks what happened, but I can’t answer.  A penny drops in someone’s head and I hear them ask where he is, in a voice which is already teetering on a hysterical edge because the answer is in front of everyone now around me.  It’s strewn in bloody, torn pieces across the bedroom carpet and slopped like buckets of red paint on the walls.  Questions become demands that I won’t ever be able to answer, there is shouting and panic, and footsteps fleeing in haste.  Someone can’t keep their stomach contents.  I sympathise, I lost mine some time ago though, but I can’t speak up to say.  I’m overwhelmed, speechless, paralysed, just a broken thing left behind in the aftermath of what happened to him.

Then I hear someone start to weep, lamenting him.

“He was just 27, dear God, just 27,”

Yes, just 27, my heart weeps with them, but we always knew that the day would come.

 

Wind back the years, because it hurts too much to linger in this place.  I was 12, on the cusp of my teens, and we had just moved to a new house in a new city, in a new country so that my dad could start a new job.  On the day I was supposed to start my new school, I was sitting on the porch with the house locked and silent behind me, watching quietly as the bus that was meant to take me to school pulled out of the street, none the wiser of having left the new girl behind.  We travelled a lot, I changed schools a lot, I didn’t want to face yet another room full of kids it wasn’t worth getting close to.  My mother was my father’s PA, and they had already left for work together almost an hour before.  I often wonder if they ever noticed the way I slipped out of their busy lives, if they ever look up now and see my face plastered on some screen, magazine or suchlike and wish that they had paid more attention to their daughter.  Guess I won’t ever know.

The bus disappeared round the corner and still I sat, wondering what to do with myself.  I sat for what seemed like a countless number of silent minutes as I contemplated how much I resented the loneliness of the childhood my parents were gifting to me in their mutual pursuit of money.  I seethed inside, while the heat of threatened tears dried out my eyes and made them feel scratchy.

“The school is bullshit anyway,” was the first thing he said to me.  I looked up, startled, I had been boring my anger into the wooden step at my feet.  He loomed over me, standing at the foot of the steps and with a beat up old guitar, missing at least one string, slung over his shoulder.  Green eyes peeked out at me from behind a mass of tousled dark curls. He seemed just a little older than me, standing in well worn jeans and a too large denim jacket.

“It’s all fucking bullshit, school, moving, parents.  Fucking everything,” I said in reply, with a snarl and a defiant curled lip.   I was a veteran of several years of secret swearing by that point, though I had yet to dare to turn such language on the people in my life who deserved it the most.

“I’m Louis,” he said then, holding out a hand to me, “You look like you could do with a tour guide,” he added, a smile that promised more mischief and unadulterated fun than I had experienced in years bringing light to those green eyes.

“Seraphine,” I reply, taking his hand to shake it, “Will it be guaranteed to piss off my parents?” I asked, hopeful to make them remember I existed.  Trying to  be a good girl had never got their attention.  They expected that of me, but they never went out of their way to praise me for it.

“Only if they ever find out,” he answered.  I was 12, on the cusp of my teens.  Already my veins had a little drip-drip of hormones feeding into them, enough to stir up a little rebellion in me, and enough that the girl in me responded to the draw of the boy in him, even though I wasn’t that aware of it.

The new country my parents had brought me to was France, the new city, Paris. My mother is French though, so language was not a problem between Louis and I, although he quickly noticed that I had an ‘accent’.

“Where are you from?” he demanded of me as I followed him out into the rich, leafy suburb that my parents had settled us into.

“I’ve been everywhere, so I’m not really from anywhere.  My father is American, but I have dual citizenship.  I was born in Guadeloupe,”

“Your parents are very rich then, I guess,” Louis said.

“They work all the time so they must be,” I remember replying. But Louis’ parents were also very rich – he was my next door neighbour.  He hated it as much as I did, so he dressed in dirty old clothes and spent his days skipping off school and busking in the centre of the city.  He was almost two years older than me, it turned out, and he’d been running away from school for at least a year.  Sometimes they managed to get him cooped up in a classroom for weeks though, if the school managed to get his parents to intervene, but once their guard was down again he’d head back out onto the streets.

Our first stop on that first day was back to his house to grab bikes, then I followed him as we hurtled at breakneck speed through the treacherous and mercurial Parisienne traffic, Louis with his   5-string guitar slung across his back.  We made it all the way to the many steps at the feet of Le Sacre Coeur.  That’s where I heard Louis play for the first time, and from that first time I was enthralled by his playing.  He’d been taking classical guitar lessons since he’d been a small boy and played as if the guitar was part of him.  As he’d grown older he’d heard lots of other guitar music, but he’d fallen in love with Rock.  He played a fusion of both on his beat up street urchin’s guitar, and the passing crowds rained down coins on him until a Gendarme began to wander our way.  With our haul of old french coins, the frank had still not succombed to the euro in those days, we lost ourselves in the crowd and hunted down a Creperie so we could blow most of them on huge pancakes dripping in butter and nutella, then he began to show me his city.  I fell in love.

We were street rats scuttling through the twisting back alleys and secret places of Paris, meeting dark characters who imparted dubious wisdom, cigarettes and illicit shots of burning whisky.  Music dripped from Louis’ finger tips, charm from his lips as he bought all the people we met with it.  We roamed until the sun slunk below the buildings on Montmartre, stopping sometimes long enough in some tourist spot to collect money to keep us in food and drink for the day, but spending most of our day far from the relentless crowds.  Then finally we took our lives in our hands and biked back to the suburbs under the streetlights and moonlight.  My parents house was still silent and locked, but I no longer cared.  I had traversed the cusp, become a teenager and been rechristened as Sera.  I would never get on that school bus.

Quickly I learned to dress in my oldest clothes, and I began to do sketches of tourists while Louis played, or sometimes I would sing.  Nannies and assistants were hired to try and get me into school, but I slipped their grasp every day so I could be free on the streets of Louis’ city with him.  My parents spoke to me about it, I told them comforting lies and they accepted them because they had never really known how to speak to me anyway.

The first time we didn’t come back of a night, the Gendarme were called but couldn’t find us in the heaving city.  They had severe words for me  when I did get home, but I cared nothing for it then.  Within a few short weeks, Louis and I stopped going home altogether.

We slept on the floors of abandoned flats, sharing them with other street urchins and strays.  These places were teeming with struggling artists and bohemian philosophers.  Musicians were common too, although I realised there weren’t many who could play guitar like Louis.  I followed always in Louis’ wake, too young and shy to be alone in this new world of ours, but too fascinated and in love with it to take myself back to the safer, lonelier world I had come from.  I became Sera-bebe and was treated as Louis kid sister by everyone. Louis himself was fiercely protective of me and he kept me nearby always.  I was two years younger than him, and running every day with wolves who could have easily exploited me, if not for Louis.

Time began to pass.  We kept ourselves fed with busking and drawing, although as I got older and grew in the kind of confidence that a life on the street can give you, I began to sing more often than I drew.  We could draw quite a crowd, which was fine as neither of us worried much about being picked up and taken home to our parents any more.  Louis’ tumbling dark curls fell to his shoulder, and he had grown several inches after we took to the streets, so he was a tall, slender rake of a young man hiding behind his guitar while I kept the eyes of the crowd on me.  I had grown a little too, though not much.  My parents had always insisted I kept my white blonde hair short, so I grew it long.  They had always insisted I dress tidily and conservatively, so I wore lots of tight jeans and skimpy clothes, layered over with bright scarves that I would ‘borrow’ from the moroccan stalls and shops around the city. I also wore hundreds of multi-coloured bangles that would jingle as I danced and sang.  I always hid my pale blue eyes behind sunglasses – small round pink tinted sunglasses that looked a little like the glasses John Lennon had always worn.  My nomadic childhood meant I could speak not only fluent French and English, but also pretty good German, Italian and Spanish, so I was always the one to address our crowds.  I guess that was one of the reasons I learned to shake off my shyness. The children our parents were probably looking for (I still don’t know if my parents ever really bothered) were just that – children.  We were something else; wise beyond our years, resourceful, swaggering and wholly untrustworthy to anyone except our immediate group of friends. Life was raw, but it was free and it made us precocious and unrecognisable.

Then we met the old man.  It happened because I missed books, and Louis found the old man’s book shop while looking for books for me.  It was tucked away on a small side street not far from the Pere-Lachaise cemetery, where so many talented parisiennes, adopted in many cases like myself, had their final resting place.  Louis spent a lot of time there, practicing guitar beside Jim Morrison’s grave, and writing poetry.  One wet day in September, close to a year after we had run away from home, he stumbled on the book shop after his visit with Jim.  It was a crowded little space, and it seemed like the shelves all leaned in towards the small counter and the cheap gas heater the old man kept behind it.  The fact that the shop was called L’Emporium Occulte de Pere-Lachaise drew Louis in like a moth to a flame.  He was always fascinated with the occult and supernatural.

So that day, he ducked into the shop out of the rain, clutching his battered guitar as ever, wrapped in a bin bag to keep the rain off it, and found himself face to face with the old man.  There was nothing immediately unusual about him, he was just an elderly, bespectacled man with a moth eaten cardigan, a cigarette hanging from his lip, a cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other.  The fact that the book he was reading was an ancient copy in the original German of Van Goethe’s Faust was the only little clue apart from the name of the shop that  there might be anything untoward about the owner.

The old man put his book down, took the cigarette from his mouth and contemplated Louis for a long moment before he spoke.

“You’re the lad who plays in the cemetery every day.  Street brats don’t learn to play that well normally,”

“I wasn’t always a street brat,” Louis told him with a nonchalent shrug, staring around at the books crammed into every shelf.  There were little handwritten signs tacked to the shelves, declaring the subject matter of the surrounding books.  Words like Demonologie, Fee Traditions, Qabbalah,   Sorcellerie, Magiques Noire and Tarot were scribbled on them in a spidery, looping script.

“Are you sure, lad?  Doesn’t matter where you are born if your heart is supposed to belong to a street brat,”

“My heart is supposed to belong to a Rock Star,” was Louis’ reply.  He made no secret of his ambition, and had already formed an anarchic band that was yet to get a gig but that spent a lot of evenings practicing on stolen and scavenged gear in a frigid old wine cellar that had doubled as a hideout for Jews during the Occupation of Paris.  It had become our home lately, along with the rest of the band.  There were leaks letting water in from the Seine above, and rats scuttled in the shadows, and the smell of half a dozen poorly washed bodies lingered along with the must of dampness, but it was our home and we loved the place.  The way in was through a concealed entrance in an alleyway behind the dilapidated, bombed out building it had served for centuries, so it was the perfect place for us to avoid the Gendarme and make our noise.  We got our power from a building site next door, using stolen extension cables to feed it in.  That was the only real point of contention, because no-one liked to be the person nominated to hide the cables away before the morning shift at the site.

“Ah, that is why you sit by the American’s grave to play then,” the old man replied knowingly to Louis statement, “ I am not so sure, lad. Rock Stars lose their freedom and I can see that you need to be free, like a street brat.  Think of what happened to your American friend in the cemetery there,”

Louis always had a quick temper, and it flashed inside him then.

“When I am a Rock Star, sir, I will keep my freedom because no-one will be willing to take it away from me,”

“Ah, so sure of yourself, lad, so confident!  I have heard you play, I know your talent,”  the old man said, staring cooly into Louis angry glare, then he leaned forward so that his face was close to Louis’ – the shop was very small after all – and he whispered, “I can help you, Louis D’Amour, you and that beautiful little angel who often follows you, la petite Seraphine,”

Of course, Louis was rattled by the old man’s words.  How did he know our names? How could he possibly help us realise Louis ambition?  Who exactly was this man with his sinister little boutique?

“I don’t think I want your help, thank you, sir,” Louis said through gritted teeth before turning on his heel and leaving the shop.  He was not fast enough to miss what the old man said next though.

“You’ll be back, lad, you know you will,”

It took several months, but Louis did go back.  He scoured the city looking for places that would let us play, but no-one wanted to take on a band of street trash.  We had our own following already, but a single look at them would have bar and club owners shaking their heads and  pointing at the door, because we were all from the street and no club owner in the whole city was willing to risk having any of us in their establishment.  Every knock back only served to make Louis angry, he saw the outright prejudice behind the rejections and I know that the old man’s words haunted him, because while he loved the freedom of our lives on the street, he did not want to become like the old burned out shells of men who slept on the streets and lived off cheap spirits and cigarettes begged from passers by. He did not want to live and die a street brat.

Louis didn’t tell me he was going.  I was older, wiser and very street smart by this point in time, so while we weren’t apart often, he would at least let me out of his sight.  By this time, snow was piling up in slush piles at the side of the roads and winter was biting hard.  The cellar was always freezing, even in summer, but now it was so bitterly cold that we would sleep in thick duffel overcoats and under piles of purloined blankets and the only liquids that never froze completely down there were the bottles of wine and whisky that there were always plenty of.  On the very coldest nights, we even took to sleeping together as the whole band, sharing body heat.

It was snowing large wet flakes from a slate grey sky, and a bitter wind was whistling around Pere-Lachaise.  Louis stopped on the way to sit with Jim, but he did not bring his guitar with him that day because of the weather.  Louis had other guitars in the cellar, better guitars with their full complement of strings, but he would only use that old guitar when he was busking.  It had been his very first guitar, and he claimed it held a little piece of his soul.  So it was without it that he made his way to L’Emporium Occulte. Perhaps, I wonder, that was significant.  Perhaps it wasn’t.

The old man sat as if he hadn’t moved in all the intervening months.  The book he was reading had changed, he was now reading a book on the life of Robert  Johnson, the legendary blues guitarist, but he wore the same cardigan and spectacles, clutched the same coffee cup and still had a cigarette hanging from his lip.

“You are stubborn lad, I thought you would have seen sense long before winter came,” the old man addressed him without looking up from his book.

“Sense?  Its crazy that I am here asking for your help!” Louis told him, “What on earth can you do for me anyway?”

“Look around you.  I can give you knowledge.  I can give you the power to make things happen,”

Louis had always been a believer, but he had found the true extent of his belief on his last visit, he thought.  It had taken months of disappointment to bring him back to the old man, but even in his desperation he wasn’t convinced.

“You want me to pray to Fairies or work magic spells?” Louis spat then, but the old man simply  laughed.

“The Fey would be more likely to steal you for their own enjoyment than help you,” he told Louis, “And while some magic will definitely help, most spells are fluff, “ he added before finally putting down his book and his coffee cup and finally giving Louis his attention, “No, lad, you will need something a little less flimsy,”

Perhaps if I had been there with Louis, I would have seen the hungry glint in the old man’s eye, or some other tell tale sign that there was some awful catch to his seemingly benign offer, but I fear I would have been swept along with Louis’ desire anyway.  Louis did not answer straight away, in fact for a long moment he thought about turning and leaving, but the sight of the cold, wet snow drifting from the sky and the slush filled streets stopped him.  Too easily he could imagine a lifetime of struggling through cold winters, thwarted ambitions and decreasing horizons.  Too easily he could imagine ending his life a bitter drunk in a Parisienne gutter under a drift of future snow.  He whispered to me in the dark of a much later night that he had also imagined what my fate might be and decide he couldn’t bear to see what might become of me .  It does me no good now to try and imagine what kind of alternative there might have been.

“Alors! You win, old man.  What can you do to help us?”

The old man smiled then, revealing a smile that seemed just a bit too toothy and pointed for comfort.  I know this because I got to see that smile later, and often, so I learned all too well what he looked like when he got his way.

“I can do nothing today, but come back when there is no moon in the sky, and I will help you then,”

So, albeit reluctantly, that is what Louis did. It was only three nights later when he returned, and this time he brought me with him.  Louis was wary still, and he was right to be, so he brought me to stand witness to whatever the old man had planned.  Yet, as soon as I saw the old man, I felt the beginning of cold dread in the pit of my stomach.

“She should not be here, lad.  You don’t want her to be involved in this,” were the words the old man threw at Louis when we entered his shop together.

“Then perhaps I don’t want to be involved either. What do I have to hide from her?” Louis retorted. Maybe we should have been suspicious at how readily the old man gave in, because in hindsight it seems his altruism was nothing more than a front to cover for what he truly wanted from Louis.  Certainly, I felt a cold shiver at his response, and that dread began to make itself known to me by turning my stomach.

“Nothing then, I guess,” the old man replied with a shrug and a thin smile, his eyes lingering on me for a second before flicking to Louis.  I was left in a state of deep division.  I did not trust this old man, I felt there was something deeply sinister about him, but I would not dream of denying Louis his ambition. Partly because it was mine, but in the most part because Louis was the unspoken centre of my universe.  Louis seemed appeased by the old man’s acquiescence too, so I could not have walked out then anyway.

I cannot deny that what followed over the weeks and months frightened me.  At first, we would go to visit the old man at his shop and he would lead us through the back to a large, bare room behind the tiny shop at the end of a long, gloomy hallway that was squeezed by stacks and stacks of books piled on each side of it.  One wall of the room, the southern one, was dominated by an old fashioned range complete with a deep black cooking pot suspended on a long arm over the fire.  The only windows in the room were always shuttered, and the only light came from the fire and the dozens of thick, white tallow candles that also lent the heavy air a faintly carnal scent.  On the bare wooden boards the old man had drawn two chalk circles, one large one that encompassed an altar and many of the candles, one small one that contained a five-pointed star and many strange sigils.  Underneath the chalk, although I didn’t notice it at first, there was a layer of rusty brown paint that I tried very hard to believe was not blood for quite a long time, until events tore the wool from my eyes.  The altar itself was the first thing that really frightened me, before my awareness grew of the more subtle dangers we faced in that room.  It was carved from Ebony, and inlaid with ivory.  The legs were fashioned into naked women, bound with chains and being preyed upon by disembodied, clawed hands that dug cruelly into their flesh.  Their hands were chained above their heads, thus supporting the altar top, which was laid out with a black velvet cloth and littered  with candles, jars and pots filled with nameless substances, black leather bound books that seemed to lurk rather than lie and, in the middle of the disarray,  a tall silver goblet whose bowl was crafted from an upturned skull that had either once belonged to a pygmy or a child.  In front of the goblet was a bone handled knife with a wicked curve and serrated blade.  I could not make myself step inside the circle, a fact I know amused the old man.  Louis was discomforted by that at first, but as he was slowly seduced by what the old man was teaching him, he worried about it less.  By the time he realised what was happening, it was too late.

Increasingly I came to realise that they were working black magic in that room, appealing to demons for influence.  It started off gently, learning invocations that seemed more like artful poetry in Latin rather than dangerously binding magic, but soon it seemed like the shadows in the room were crowding round to listen and the temperature would drop while candle flames flickered.  When they started mixing blood with wine in the goblet, I started to hear whispering from those shadows, and that dread that had been woken inside me uncoiled itself in my stomach and began to seep into my veins.  If I had ever doubted the existence of such dark forces, I could not now.  Still, I did not speak a word of my fears to Louis, because I still I was swayed by our shared ambition.

That changed on the night the demon spoke to Louis.  It’s voice rose from the whispering as the temperature in the room dived to a new frigid low and the flames flickered so much they were almost snuffed.   It’s voice hissed, sending shudders from my spine to my finger and toe tips.  I wanted to put my hands over my ears, yet I found myself straining fearfully to understand it.  The words seemed garbled at first, some kind of dark and ancient language was forming them, but gradually there was a shift until, after sliding through Latin, it landed in wholly recognisable and chilling French.

“If I can give you what you ask for, but what can you possibly have to give me in return? “

“Do not answer hastily!” the old man commanded before Louis could even think of speaking.  He was struck silent in surprise, in fact, and words were yet to cross his mind.  The shadows erupted with hissing laughter, and I could no longer keep all the fear inside of myself,

“Louis, do not do this!  This is too high a price to pay already!” I exclaimed, hugging my arms closely around myself, trying to keep the cloying cold away from my skin.

“Silence girl, do not interfere!  You have no idea of the fickle forces we are dealing with!” the old man snapped at me, but I ignored him.  Louis would listen to me, I was sure, so sure that when he finally spoke I could no longer remain in that awful room.

“Sera-bebe, ma Seraphine, I cannot stop now, I am sorry,” I took one look in his eyes, knew in my heart that what he said was true and fled, hearing that awful laughter mocking my flight.

 

It was much later that night when Louis returned to the basement.  Everyone else was out, partying hard with our usual crowd in one of our usual haunts.  I had returned and thrown myself onto my salvaged mattress, wrapped myself tight in my blankets and shivered myself into a state of nervous exhaustion.  The sound of that voice would not leave my head, but neither would the sting of betrayal I had felt at Louis.  It felt somehow as if he had left me, and that now I was alone with the awful knowledge that I could do nothing to bring him back.

He moved silently across the floor to my bed, waking me from a darkly troubled sleep by sitting down on my bed next to me.  He did not say anything and I felt the silence lengthen between us.

“Louis?” I whispered finally, opening my eyes to look up at him once my anxiety for him overtook my fear of looking into his eyes.  There was no anger for me there, no hurt.  No, the dark emotions swirling in those green depths were not directed at me, except for the regret that seemed to constrict my throat.

“I’m sorry Seraphine, I should not have exposed you to that,” he said at length, “I don’t want you to be afraid for me,”

“Please tell me you did not make a deal,” I begged him, unable to stop myself.

“I did not.  The old man says I must keep working to take control of the demon,”  I think my heart stopped then.  Take control of the demon?   Oh, Louis, how could you expect that to be any comfort to me?  I could not imagine anyone being in control of the creature whose voice I had heard in the old man’s back room.  What awful things would it do to him when it rebelled?

“Louis…” I whispered in a tremulous voice, unable to find enough voice to speak what was on my mind to him.  It felt almost like my throat was being squeezed to prevent the words escaping, and I tried to swallow past that, but I succeeded only in bringing tears into my eyes instead.  Louis saw this and gathered me up, murmuring words of placation and comfort.

There has been a long held myth about Louis and I; that we have been lovers almost since the day we met.  This is not true.  Yes, we were always very close, and as I have already said, Louis was very protective of me, but we were not lovers when I was only 12, no matter what wild stories have been written about us.  And not even when I was 15 either,  Louis had a certain sense of honour in that regard.  It did not change that night either, although as he held me I felt a desperate urge to kiss him and cling tightly to him for fear I might have been about to lose him.  Still, at some point that night, some time after we had found and consumed a bottle of strong red wine, we fell asleep in each others arms.

After that night, Louis began to spend more time with the old man, but I could not go back into that room, so I saw less and less of him.  Each day that passed made me more and more anxious about Louis, and our relationship deteriorated.  It came to a head, surprisingly, on the night we had our first ever paid gig, some three weeks after the demon had first spoken to Louis.  The whole band had been high on the excitement of it since we had landed the gig a couple of days before, but when I walked out in front of the audience I had immediately spied the old man sitting at the bar, smoking and watching with one of those unpleasantly toothy smiles of his spread across his lips.  He looked me directly in the eye and threw me a lazy salute, one that was blatantly full of contempt.  My voice caught in my throat just when I should have been introducing the band, and I must have looked light a rabbit caught in the glare of headlights as I stood there speechless.  Louis rescued me by counting the band in hastily, but that did not save him from the lash of my anger after the show.  Thankfully once our music snared me, my voice returned, and I managed not to look the old man’s way again for the rest of the night.  There was an extra snarl in my voice, and I kept my back to Louis for the whole of our set, both of which were at odds with the way we always played.  Louis was not unaffected by my mood, and he did not play anything like his true ability, and that had a knock on effect with the rest of the band. Our first gig was a disaster, in other words, and the crowd did not take well to us at all.  Afterwards, Louis and I had one of the most vicious arguments of our lives.  As soon as we fled the small stage of the club, Louis ripped his guitar off,  grabbed me tightly by the arm and dragged me snarling and spitting out through the club’s back door and into the dank alley behind it.

“What is wrong with you, Serafine? Why won’t you look at me?”  Louis demanded, yanking me round to face him and grasping me by the shoulders.  I tried to struggle free of him, so he snatched me about my upper arms and shook me.  I soon ceased struggling, but I stared resolutely at the ground, refusing to meet his eye.

“Serafine! Don’t be such a bitch!  What have I done to deserve this? It was our first gig tonight, it couldn’t have gone any worse!”

Still I would not look at him.  He snapped and yelled, shaking me.

“Serafine! Look at me!”   I clenched my jaw and still would not look up.  If I looked at him now I would snap and all that was boiling inside me would pour forth.  Only the thinnest veneer of control stood between me and complete lack of control.

“Serafine!” Louis roared my name in frustration, shaking me again and then shocking us both by slapping my cheek to demand my attention forcefully.  I went crazy, wrenching myself from his grip and launching myself at him, kicking, scratching and screaming.  All the fears I had been keeping hold of and letting poison me came exploding out of my mouth and I was cursing demons, black magic, the old man and Louis for all the dark horror that was preying constantly on my mind.  I gouged bloody marks on Louis arms and face as he tried to fend me off, and he kept yelling at me to stop and calm down, but I couldn’t.  Then suddenly he caught my arm and twisted it behind my back, turning me as he did and pulling me back hard against him.  His other arm snaked around me and snared my wrist, pinning me tight against his chest.

“I did not ask him to come!  I did not think you would want him here!  I swear it Serafine!” He hissed in my ear as I cursed him again.  I froze, vitirol dying on my lips.  “Please believe me, ,” he added, his voice breaking.  Guilt swallowed me whole, how had we become so divided that I would find myself so full of hate for him?  For two years of my life, he had been the very centre of my world, and for those two years I felt like I had at last become alive.  Now, when it seemed like that might come to an awful, bitter end.

“Louis, Louis, I am so sorry.  I am so scared for you,” I sobbed out, going limp in his arms.

“Shhh, Sera-bebe, I am sorry too.  I should not have hurt you,” he whispered close in my ear, still holding me tightly.  I turned in his arms, reaching up to his face and touching the scratch marks I had left there.  Tears filled up my eyes, and I buried my face against his chest, and it was in that moment that the cool night air was punctuated by the sound of someone clapping slowly.  We both turned our heads in surprise, and saw the old man standing at the back door, applauding and smiling that evil little smile of his.

“Bravo! Bravissimo!”  he exclaimed, his voice rippling with sarcastic laughter.

“Why did you come when I asked you not to?” Louis demanded of him.

“To be sure you really needed my help, which it seems that you do.  The patrons didn’t exactly take to you tonight, did they?”

“We played way beneath our best tonight,” Louis spat back, indignant, “And we will prove that next time we play,”

“And what if no-one in this city is prepared to give you that second chance?” the old man asked mildly, waiting only a heartbeat for Louis to respond before giving his own solution, “You know I can deliver you the fame you crave.  You know how close we are now,”

Louis stared at the old man for several long, silent moments.  I felt I could not breathe

“I need time to think about it, old man,” he said finally.  The old man’s smile sank quickly into a frown, but then, with an exaggerated sigh, he shrug and replied.

“Yes, take some time to think about it, by all means, but do not wait too long,”  Then he turned back into the club, leaving us alone.

“If I asked you now not to do it, would you?” I spoke softly, only for Louis’s ears even though we were alone in the alley way.

“Give me time to think, ma Seraphine,” he murmured back, so I gave him time to think.

 

The next few weeks were very different.  Louis did not go back to the Emporium to see the old man, and instead he threw all of us into frenetic practice at night and dragged me all around Paris busking during the day.  By the end of each night I could barely speak because of how tired my voice was, but I did not complain.  Louis was with me, not the old man, and while I still wasn’t sure what choice he would make in the end, I had hope for him, and us, again.

When we weren’t busking, we were touring the clubs to find someone willing to let us play.  Louis seemed almost haunted by the old man’s words and was determined to prove that we could get our second chance.  Day after day we were knocked back, but Louis was not going to back down so easily, and we kept on trying.  Finally, a small club in Montmartre that didn’t often have bands and barely had room on it’s tiny stage for us gave us a gig.  They normally had poets and philosophers, not bands, but the owner was sympathetic.  He had seen us busking outside and invited us in to play to the afternoon clientele.  After more than two hours of playing for them and having them captivated with Louis skill,  the owner gave in and offered us a gig a couple of nights later.

Louis was a tyrant for those few days.  He practically locked us all in the cellar and forced us to practice until we were playing in our sleep.  I forgave him more readily than the others, who complained bitterly after the second day of being cloistered, but they did not really see the full picture the way I did.  I remember falling asleep on my bed, with Louis just over a handspan away from me in his, and feeling the blossoming hope that perhaps he would not go back to the old man.  I would not say it out loud to Louis, but I knew that if this gig went well then it would persuade him that we did not need the old man’s dangerous form of help. I remember waking to see him still asleep in the very depths of the night and letting myself hope that I would not lose him after all.  I watched him, watched the gentle fall of his breath and his sleep softened features, and allowed myself the time to wallow in all the things I felt for him.  All would be well, and as time moved forward, we would become lovers as we had always been meant to be, standing together in the light of stardom that Louis so obviously deserved.

The club was crowded to capacity, many of our friends had come to fill the little place out, but there were other people who had either seen Louis and I play a few afternoons before or had heard about us from people who had.  I was nervous as I scanned the crowd, unable to stop myself for searching for the old man’s face among them, but he wasn’t there.  My nerves settled a little and I turned a smile to Louis as we prepared to begin.  We were all ready, well practiced and polished after days of hard work under Louis’ lash.  I counted, one, two, three, four and the band followed, the bass and drum rolling in first, the guitars following and then finally I raised my voice to join them.  It couldn’t have felt more different to the first night.  Louis and I were together, almost as if we were busking for centimes on the steps of Le Sacre Coeur, but here we could soar further, lifted up by the band to greater heights than we could ever achieve with just ourselves and a beat up five string guitar.  Our salvaged and stolen equipment stood up surprisingly well to the task – perhaps because of the small space – and soon the crowd was right there along with us, singing the songs they knew the words to, listening keenly to the songs that we had written.  Alcohol flowed like water all around, making the club owner particularly happy, and a good amount of it flowed our way, making our music looser and more liquid, but not eroding our performance.  I had never heard Louis play so perfectly.

All too soon, it seemed, we were taking our bows to rapturous applause, grinning like fools as we stood before it all.  There was no backstage room for us to retreat to, no place to escape the fervour and take stock, so we slipped off the stage and into a corner of the club where we spent the rest of the night drinking free drinks and being toasted.  In the midst of it all, one man stole all of our attention with a simple sentence.

“Tell me that I am not too late to sign you to my company’s record label,” he said as he sidled up to Louis and I.

“No, of course not. This is only our second gig,” Louis explained, sounding much more cool and collected than I felt.

“Only your second?  I saw you two in here the other day,” he sounded genuinely surprised.

“We were busking outside and the club owner invited us in,” Louis replied.

“Then you really are quite  find!  Have my business card and call me in the morning.  I could have a deal for you!”

We were in stratospheric spirits by the time we found our way back to the cellar. It was hard to imagine how our night could have gone any better, and that put the shadows of the preceding months far into the back of our minds.  The cellar quickly filled up with revellers, some having followed us home and some having descended upon us because of the party that was gearing up.  Soon the noise level was cranked right up, and the cellar got so packed it was hard to move without standing on someone.  I found myself surrounded by women who wanted to know all about Louis and the rest of the men in the band.  Cut off from the others, I accepted the drinks that were pressed into my hands and let them talk.  After a while I looked up to see Louis watching me while hovering by the door, and I wondered what he was doing.  He gestured to me, and I excused myself from the little group that had sprung up around me and crossed the room, feeling the jealous heat of all their gazes on me.  It wasn’t the first time I had felt the glare of envy on me because of my relationship with Louis and it certainly wasn’t going to be the last time either, but it was the first time I found it made me feel a little possessive of him.  Maybe it was the way the light caught in his green eyes as he watched me approach, the way those dark curls of his clung about the edges of his face, or that languid grace with which he propped his long, lean body against the door, with his black shirt hanging open, and his black jeans riding low on his hips. With  his silver chains and black ink tattoos on display against his pale skin, he seemed like a piece of the spring night personified – full of moonlight and shadows, yet full of life and beauty.  And he was watching me, just me, out of all the people in the room, and not any of those envious women who I had left behind.

“Where are you going?” I asked as I reached him.  I don’t know if he was as aware as I was of the eyes on us, but he surprised me by pulling me into his arms and bringing his mouth close to my ear so he could speak freely without being heard.

“I am going to the Emporium to tell the old man I won’t be back,” Louis told me.  Joy flooded me, it felt like a light shining suddenly into the dark place our lives had become – the light of the end of the tunnel.

“Do you want me to come with you?”  I asked him, but he shook his head.

“I promise I won’t be long,” he told me, his lips brushing lightly against the skin of my neck as he spoke.  I stilled with shock at the sensation and he brought his lips to mine, claiming them before every eye in the room.  I was  left breathless and shocked as he melted out through the door into the night leaving me without a word and before I had any time to recover my composure.

 

The Emporium was steeped in darkness when Louis arrived.  Impatiently he knocked on the door, knowing that the old man would not be sleeping, but as soon as he touched it, it swung slowly inwards, inviting him into the shadow-steeped shop beyond.

“Monsieur?  It is Louis,” he called out, unsure and wary.  There was no reply from within the shop.  Louis stepped inside and turned to close the door.  The little bell rang too loudly in the deep silence of the shop.

“Monsieur, I need to talk to you,” Louis called out again, but there was no response again.  Louis made his way round the counter to the door behind it, finding his way with the help of shafts of moonlight and streetlight pouring in the front window of the shop, but the corridor was lightless beyond.  Louis flicked on his lighter, lit himself a cigarette in passing, and used the flame to light his way down the corridor to the back room.  Half-way along the corridor, he could see that the door to the back room was open, but there was no light coming through it.  Louis called out again, but the only sound he heard was that of his own footsteps.  As he reached the end of the corridor, he was assaulted by a charnal smell worse than any he had encountered in all the dark magic he had worked in the back room.  Louis hesitated for the first time, hanging back in the doorway of the back room and trying to see what was beyond with only the flame of his lighter.   Nothing made sense under what little the flame illuminated, for it looked like the room had been set for a ritual, but all the candles and even the fire were standing unlit.  Louis could see very little else, but the silence, the smell and the strangeness of the candles were unsettling.  He took a step into the room and the air erupted with noise – squawking, screeching noise.  Ragged shadows wheeled towards him, and he found himself ducking beneath a flurry of black wings.  As they flashed over his head, picking up light from the flame, he realised that they were crows.  Something dripped from their beaks as they went by, falling into Louis’  hair and onto his skin.  He made a move to wipe away whatever it was, but a second rush of noise and black shapes roused itself from inside the dark depths of the room and flew over, lower, forcing Louis to crouch against the floor, covering his head for fear of their talons.  It wasn’t until the room was silent again and the crows were definitely gone that he pulled himself to his feet.  He wiped his forehead as he stood and discovered blood on the back of his hand. It had been blood dripping from their beaks and claws onto him, and now he was splattered with blood all over.  He stood still, staring in the dim light at the red smear on the back of his hand, watching as a drip fell from one darkened curl of his hair onto his hand.  He should have turned then and followed the crows back out of the building, he should have ignored the way morbid curiosity tugged at him, but he did not. Instead he shook himself, pushing aside the fear that was trying to communicate caution to him, and moved towards the nearest of the candles.  The crows, in their wild flight from the room, had knocked over most of the candle holders and spilled the candles across the floor, but Louis found one quickly, picked up the nearest candle holder, placed it in and lit it.  Flickering light formed a bubble in the darkness around him, revealing the chaos of splattered blood, overturned candle holders and the usual contents of the altar strewn across the bare wooden boards of the floor.  Louis’ eyes followed the trail of debris back to the altar, which formed a mere suggestion of an outline on the periphery of the bubble.  There was something wrong with that outline, Louis realised as he squinted into the gloom at it, but he felt an odd reluctance to start lighting more candles.  That was until he heard a strangled sob of fear, in a voice that he recognised with a shiver of shock.

 

She approached me with yet another drink while I stood still, reeling from the impact of Louis’ kiss.  I had only met her that night, she was not one of our usual crowd, but she had seemed predictably interested in Louis.  She had a long mane of sleek, deep-black hair, a heart-shaped, fox-like face, and lips the colour of blood.

“You look like you could use a drink,” She said with a smile, holding the drink out to me.  I took it and gulped at it, self-conscious of the stares I was still drawing.  She moved to stand close to me, shielding me from the room.  I was about to thank her, when a wave of dizziness hit me.  I swayed precariously on my feet, but she grasped at my elbow and began to propel me towards the door.

“Let’s get you a little fresh air,” I heard her say.  The sudden change in motion caused another wave dizziness and  blackness pulled at the edges of my vision.  The cool night air hit me hard, and I fell to my knees.  I heard the door to the cellar close, and the fox-faced woman loomed over me, blocking out the light.

“It’s alright, little one, I’m sure he will save you,” She said as her face became fuzzy.

“What do you mean?” I managed to say.  My question was met with a peal of laughter that mocked me all the way down into the darkness.

I couldn’t tell at first if my eyes were open or closed, but I quickly became aware of the smell.  I gagged, then almost choked as I realised that my mouth was taped shut.  I squeezed my eyes tightly as I fought to control my breath, and I could feel tears trickling down my cheeks.  The sudden movement my spasm caused startled something in the darkness and I squealed as it squawked in alarm.  Invisible wings  beat against the thick black air and my heart hammered against my ribs. I realised, as my mind began to course with adrenaline, that I was lying on my back. My attempts to sit up or move were immediately thwarted by bonds that tied me firmly to the surface I lay on.  My panicked reaction to this proved only that my hands and feet were securely bound together too.  I had never known such terror, but I felt I should have died from it when the thing landed on me.  It wasn’t heavy, but it’s talons bit into my skin as it shuffled it’s way up my bare thigh and onto my naked chest, making soft, throaty cawing noises and rustling it’s feathers.  I screamed as it’s thick black beak and beady black eye appeared suddenly only the barest of inches above my own eyes.    It tilted it’s head this way and that as I whimpered behind the tape, feeling it’s talons stab into my breast as it moved to keep it’s balance against my impotent struggles.  I felt the blood trickle down to pool on the surface beneath me.  The crow’s face disappeared from my sight, but I felt it dip it’s head down to inspect that puddle.  It barked out a sharp call, and I heard what sounded like a hundred wings beating.  My entire being was consumed in a white hot static explosion beyond fear and pain.  I don’t know how long it lasted, it felt like an eternity, and suddenly they were all gone, leaving me behind a bloody mess that was beyond my imagining, with my mind blown beyond pain into a state of paralytic shock.

Dimly I was aware of the sound of footsteps, and then light flared somewhere off to my right.  My eyes had already adjusted to the darkness, the soft gloom penetrated my vision and I found myself staring up at a blurred shape.  My eyes struggled to pick out what it was until it jerked suddenly, falling further forwards towards me, and I was suddenly face to face with the old man, whose visage was pale, dead and ravaged, it’s empty eye sockets staring bloodily at my naked body.  I was surprised by the noise that escaped me, surprised because I did not think I had it left inside me.  I had no idea if I was drugged or dying, but I certainly felt lifeless.

Then Louis came rushing towards me out of the darkness with a candle clutched in his fist.  It seemed so bright to my eyes that I had to squeeze the shut.  Another whimper escaped me.

“Oh, ma Seraphine, ma Seraphine,” Louis despaired as he laid eyes on me, for I was bound with heavy chains and cuffs, and I was torn all over with wounds wrent by claw and beak, from my thigh to my cheek.  My eyes were yet spared, unlike the old man’s.  Not that it mattered for the old man was dead.   We could both see him clearly  by the light of Louis’ candle, but it was a sight I would rather have been spared. He had been hung upside down, naked and crucified upon an inverted cross, flesh ripped clean from the bone in many, many places.  Louis stared for a long moment, then fell to searching for a way to release me from my chains.  The voice of the demon spoke then, the sudden chill of it’s presence snuffing the candle flame and plunging us into darkness again.

“The old man was not strong enough to stop me. I fed his flesh to my avatars,”

“Let Seraphine go, she should not be part of this,” Louis said, his voice close to me.  I felt disembodied, like I was floating, buoyed up on pain.

“You were warned not to bring her into this,” the demon hissed, it’s voice all around us.  I didn’t have the strength to shiver at it.   “Besides, she is dying now, so what would be the point?”

“No!” Louis snapped in angry denial, “I won’t let you kill her!”

“I’ve killed her already.  I can feel the life ebbing out of her now, and she can feel it too,”

It was too dark to see if Louis looked down at me, but I felt his hand close around mine.  It hurt, but not so much more than the rest of my body that I couldn’t still welcome his touch.  I was dying after all, what did pain matter now?  He held my hand in silence for what seemed like an age, and it began to feel like his touch was the anchor point preventing me from floating away entirely into the darkness.  Of course I was dying, every inch of me was agony and I was aware of the blood oozing from all the wounds on my flesh.

“What would it take for you to save her?” I heard Louis say.  I thought I would have at least gasped, but I did not.  I certainly didn’t have the strength left to complain.  The air reverberated with soft, dark laughter.

“How much is her life worth to you?” the demon replies.  I’m drifting, wishing that I wasn’t, wishing that I could intervene in this conversation.  Louis, please, just let me go and save yourself.

“Everything,” Louis answers in a broken voice.  I haven’t drifted far enough away yet not to feel the way that single word hits me.  Tears well up in the corner of my eyes, and they burn as they trickle down my cheeks.  I don’t flinch though, I don’t have the strength.

“You know what I want from you, Louis.  How many times did you turn me down while you were trying to learn how to control me?”  Such venom and hate in that voice, such rancour and vengeance.  What things had the old man involved Louis in?  What had happened in this room after I stopped coming?

“Give me time, please.  Give me time to taste what I’ve bought with it, I beg you,”  Louis must have bowed his head right over mine, I could feel his breath on my face as he whispered these words of defeat.

“What did I offer you before?  25 years of fame?” the demon sneered.  My heart was fluttering.  I wondered if it was about to stall.  Louis did not answer, and the demon laughed again.  It seemed to me as if the sound was a long way away, and I realised that the pain was also coming from a long way away.  Perhaps it would be too late, I found myself thinking…..

 

I awoke feeling warm and comfortable, and the contrast was enough  to make me sit bolt upright, gasping.  The first thought on my mind was that I should not be alive, the second was the fear of what Louis had exchanged for my life with the demon.  When he put his arms around me and began murmuring platitudes, I was only partially relieved.  He was still with me, but at what cost?

“What did you do, Louis?” I demanded of him, pulling away so I could look into his face.  I felt keenly aware of the fact that I should not have felt so hale and whole.  Now that I was awake, in fact, I was barely even groggy.  Louis looked away from me for a moment, but not quickly enough for me to miss the shame that flared in his eyes.

“What did you do, Louis?” I demanded again, more stridently.

“Ten years,” he said in a voice so quiet I could barely hear it.  I caught him by the chin and forced him to face me.

“Ten years? What do you mean ten years?” I asked, my voice suddenly shrill to my own ears.

“It gave me ten years, then it gets my soul,”  he whispered, casting down his green eyes.  The soft light from whatever room we were in shone in unshed tears that brimmed in the corner of his eyes.

“You will die when you are 27?” I asked after a several long moments where my breath was too constricted in my chest for me to speak.

“It laughed and told me it was only right and that I should thank it, because it would make me immortal like Jim,” he explained, drawing the strength from deep inside to tell me.

“It promised you fame too?” My voice was shaking now, my body trembling.

“No, it said I would have it anyway without it’s interference,”  Louis told me, and I could practically feel how little enthusiasm he suddenly felt for the prospect.  I shook myself then, my mind racing fast as I clutched to a little hope.

“We have ten years then, ten years to live a lifetime together,” I said, “I do not want to spend a moment without you,”

“I can’t have you there when they come for my soul.  There will be hellhounds, Seraphine, hellhounds that I do not want you to be near,”

I was taken aback, even after all I had seen, even though I knew I should be dead but was alive.  There were hellhounds?  Louis must have seen the confusion on my face.

“It showed me them, and told me that there was nothing on Earth that keep them from their prey.  They were terrifying, Seraphine,”  I knew that he was speaking the truth, the memory of the fear was raw in him, and it caused those tears to spill.  I could not push him further then on that, and instead I drew him close to me and held him close.

 

Ten years later.  The hotel room is in New Orleans, and here the tropical spring night is sticky.  Louis is pacing the floor, silent and casting frequent glances at the crystal Grandmother clock on the far wall from the bed.  The room is really an apartment suite, the apartment is lavish and open plan.  I can feel, as I watch him from the bed, that he is fit to explode.

“I am going nowhere, Louis.  You agreed to that,” I say tightly, unable to bear the tension any longer.

“Did you ever seriously believe that I would be happy to let you die?”  he turns around and spits at me, unleashing all of that pent up emotion in a vicious eruption.

“I was dead!  I should be dead still, but you bartered your soul for my life!  I didn’t ask you to do that and I wouldn’t have!” I spewed back at him with venom.  I love him, he remains the centre of my world, but the weight of that pact has been poisonous between us.  As the years left sped by in a whirl of touring, recording and promoting in a cyclone ever increasing fame, it had slowly eroded it’s way into our psyches, but it was only when we realised we were counting time in months instead of years that it began to truly bloom.

“I would not wish these hounds on my worst enemy!” he roars at me, striding across to the bed to grasp me by the arms, into, I think, on dragging me from the room bodily.

“So you say, but you have never told me anything else about them!  What kind of death do they deal that I should be more afraid of than living without you?” He stops still and stares down at me, the tussling battle of his emotions visible in his eyes.  He opens his mouth three times before words finally escape him.

“They do not deal death at all.  You cannot die in their jaws, at least, not until they have taken your soul,”

“I don’t understand,” I said, my words bitten off by my frustration.  Louis sighed, let go of me, ran a hand through his hair and then fished two cigarettes out from his shirt pocket.  He offered one to me, which I snatched at and pulled insistently to my lips.  I waited sullenly for him to light it.  Louis bent his head forward towards mine, sharing the same flame to light up for both of us, then he span abruptly away on his heel, taking several gasping lungfuls of smoke as he did.

“You died in my arms.  I made the demon release the chains around you when you passed out.  I hadn’t entirely believed it until it happened, and then I became crazed,”  he began, pacing a few steps and then stopping and running his hand through his hair again.  He was obviously agitated, explicably so.  “I tried to renege on the deal, I wanted to die then.  I tried to run, taking your body with me, but the hounds stopped me from leaving the room.  They formed from the shadows, three of them, large as ponies with three heads each like Cerberus.  Their eyes were blood red and glowed like coals, their teeth green-white like phosphorus, and so was the foam that dripped from their massive jaws.  They circled me, their claws clacking and scraping on the floorboards and growls low in their throats.  Low, but loud, like a long peal of thunder straight overhead. The stench of their breath filled the room, it’s sulphurous funk drowning out the smell of death and blood.  One snapped it’s head forward at me as I tried to dart past, a second jaw shot out from within the first with serrated teeth like a piranhas.  It tore at my ankle, breaking the bones and taking splinters of them away with a chunk of flesh.  As I collapsed, I felt one of them brush me.  It was burning hot, but slick and wet with slime over wrinkled flesh that was almost too dark to be seen, so dark that it was only by that touch that I realised it’s texture,”

As he spoke, my anger had started to dissipate.  His words were painting a picture in my head that I could not entirely process, but that I also could not ignore.  When he stopped there, I didn’t say anything, I simply watched mutely as he gathered up the strength he needed to continue speaking.

“The demon spoke to me, as I lay weeping on the floor, clutching you against me, it spoke right into my soul, giving me vivid visions of all it spoke of.  It told me how the hellhounds could hunt a person down no matter where they hid, once they had their scent.  Doors do not hold them, spells do not hold them, nothing on Earth can keep them from their prey, it told me.  It explained that from the moment a deal was made, the hounds had the scent and only it’s word held them back.  It told me that they would take the souls of those I cared about as they hunted me, if it told them to do so. It told me that once they finally caught me they would tear my body to shreds to take my soul, that I would still be alive as they did it, and then I would know nothing but torment for eternity afterwards.   It told me all of these things, then it offered me ten years with you alive again in exchange for my soul, and I took it’s deal, ”

“I won’t leave, Louis,” I told him, staring directly in his eye as soon as he had finished.  I was not angry, “I won’t have you face this alone,” I added.  His strength went from him then, completely, and he collapsed to the ground.  In a heartbeat I was at his side.

“Please, Seraphine, please don’t,” he begged me as I put my arms around him.

“I cannot leave you, Louis.  I won’t live without you, and I won’t leave you to die in such an awful way alone,” I whispered, “Look at what we have built together, how could you imagine I would ever be able to go on without you?”

He took me by surprise then, catching my face in his hands and pulling my mouth to his lips.  His hunger bowled me over and spilled me onto my back. Any thought of fighting it became quickly quagmired in my turbulent emotional state.  What followed was frantic, wordless and desperate.  The grandmother clock kept ticking time away, stealing away how much we had left.

It was the sound of the first howl that wrenched us apart.  It was distant, and the grandmother clock hadn’t quite made it to midnight, but it rippled over my skin like a chill breeze none the less.  Death was stalking us.  We waited the awful, breathless moments to midnight, and the ticking of the clock seemed to grow gradually louder with each second that went by.  My heart stopped with the next howl, closer, almost outside of our room, and my eyes focused on the face of the clock. The second hand seemed to hesitate on 9, the hour hand held an indecipherable fraction before midnight.  My train of thought was obliterated by an answering howl that filled the air.  The door exploded inwards a second later, but it was nothing but black smoke that entered the room, and then filled it with shadows as we sat in the middle of the floor and watched with wide eyes.  The grandmother clock began to chime, and with growls like thunder, the Hellhounds formed out of the smoke.  Louis suddenly threw me to one side, barring their way to me with his body.

“Take me, but do not touch her!” I heard him say as I struggled back upright.  I lunged towards him, determined not to let him die without me and the hounds, oh those awful hounds with their teeth made for eviscerating flesh, their stench and their heat, the hounds attacked.  There was blood, pain, screaming, snarling and teeth for what seemed like forever, but in truth was only seconds.  When it ended, I was alone on the bed, covered in the remains of the bedding, alive and alone, for the first time in ten years.

Ten years.  Ten years of fame, ten years of love, ten years that I spent every breathing second with Louis, and now he is gone.  I don’t think I can survive now, my body was broken by the hounds because I refused to let him die alone.  It took a long time to persuade him, but eventually he came to realise that I would never go on without him.

He was 27, like Jim. 27 like Janis and Jimi too.  27 like Kurt and Amy Winehouse. 27 like Brian Jones. 27 like Robert Johnson.

I am only 25.