Title: Harmonized Worth
Word Count: 945
Notes: Warning for self mutilation/suicide/possible body horror
Lily closes the hatch of the attic behind her without a sound. She has learned to be quiet in all the ways she can, lest her parents wake and send her back to bed. She will not allow that to happen again. She pauses to still the tremor in her hand and gather her courage; she cannot play to satisfaction if she cannot control her own body.
“You will play for me the song in your heart,” rasps the creature in the corner. Every night he waits for her here, tucked into the shadows. Lily raises her violin and offers him a nod of acknowledgement, eyes cast just to the right of where he stands. She has not looked upon him directly since the deal was struck. Just the memory of what he is causes her to bite her tongue to stave off a scream. Lily takes a steadying breath, sets bow to string, and begins her nightly task.
She lets the music take her, as always, where it will. Lily pours herself through the instrument, telling a tale that she feels with every breath; the notes soaring and lilting and dancing, hoping that tonight the song appeases him and her bargain will be finished. On and on it goes, until her shoulders ache and her fingers crack and bleed and the sun finally, mercifully, rises.
The creature is silent in his corner. Lily packs her things away, waiting for her verdict, careful to wipe the strings free of blood. “Tomorrow,” he says, “you will give me your true song.”
She swallows the knot in her throat, blinks away the tears, and says, “That was my true song.”
A dark laugh comes from the corner and at the edge of her vision she can see the creature fading with the morning light. “Tomorrow,” he repeats as the dawn steals his strength completely. Lily is alone.
At breakfast her mother mentions waking up in the middle of the night in the casual manner of a parent trying to play oblivious. “Strangest thing,” she says with a careful glance away from her daughter. “I thought I heard your violin.”
Lily smiles over her bowl of cereal, tucking the scarred fingers of her left hand into her sleeve. “Must have been a dream. I haven’t played in over a year.” Just like that the issue is swept from her mother’s thoughts, the conversation shifting gears to weekend plans. (Lily has no weekend plans, has arranged it carefully and at great detriment to her own heart so that she is never away from the house past nine, not since Amanda.)
The daylight hours are merely a holding pattern until midnight. Lily drifts through school fatigued and tangled in a careful web of lies, hiding her ruined left hand without being obvious and crafting new excuses to her friends about why she is always unavailable. They handle her self-imposed exile with less grace every day and she can see the threads that bind them all growing thin. Amanda is still not at school, they still cobble together the occasional get well card, another ritual Lily has removed herself from. She has run out of ways to say I’m sorry.
Every night Lily performs her midnight concerts, plucking new songs out of her very soul. Every morning the creature she bargained with tells her it isn’t good enough an she stumbles through her day, a lie on her lips for every question directed at her. Every hour she feels the weight of her payment bear down on her.
Until the day she comes home and the violin is gone.
“What do you mean you sold it?” Lily asks her mother, voice surprisingly calm despite the panic rising in her throat.
Her mother shrugs over the pile of laundry. “You said yourself you don’t play anymore. The music store had an ad out for instruments. I figured it would be better than it collecting dust under your bed.”
Lily manages a smile; it is not a happy expression and later that night her parents will discuss her in hushed whispers as they fall asleep, promising each other to talk to their daughter in the morning.
That night Lily enters the attic with a heavy heart and empty hands. “I can’t play anything for you,” she says to the thing in the corner. “I don’t have an instrument anymore.”
The creature unfurls an appendage from his side, presenting her with a violin bow. “You will play me your heart’s song,” he commands.
“I told you, I can’t – the violin is gone.”
“You will play, or the others will pay your price with their flesh and blood and bone.”
“Play what?” cries Lily, but to this the creature offers no reply. She regards the bow in her hand. It’s heavy and the string is thicker than she’s used to. She plucks it with a finger, a musical note rising into the air as blood wells to her fingertip.
Understanding finally dawns and Lily straightens, holding her left arm out to cradle an invisible instrument. She allows herself a moment to gather her courage, to draw forth memories of her parents and her friends; the curves of their smiles and the bright song of their laughter. Then she draws the bow across her forearm, sliding her fingers through the air to tense and relax tendons, the music spilling from nowhere and everywhere and vibrating inside her. She plays until the arm goes numb, the fingers grown clumsy and stupid as the limb dies. Lily looks up once to see the creature motioning go on.
She opens her mouth and draws the bow across her throat.
This is my entry to round two of NYC Midnight’s flash fiction challenge. A thousand and one thanks to Nathan Savant for the beta read and helping me shape this story and also to Keri Mayhew for the editing this mass into something readable.