Elliot couldn’t see anything, but as soon as they left the house, Sofós had hurried them along saying that the demon was weakened but that it wouldn’t be far behind them. He felt silly, like he was acting in a movie where the monster would be added in later, but at this point he didn’t have it in him to chance this all being a hoax. A part of him still thought that Charlie might be crazy, but if that was the case then he would be crazy too now that he was talking to owls.
As they made their way up the mountain path toward their grandfather’s cabin, Elliot felt a chill run up his spine and Charlie suddenly stopped. Before she could ask what was wrong, the sunlight was filtered out of sight by the tree tops and Elliot felt something unnerving.
“Wh-what’s going on?”
“We’ve angered the demon.” Sofós spoke low, but even. “It will try to use your negative feelings for power so try to stay calm.”
Elliot followed closely as Charlie began to move again, carefully, constantly looking up. He got the feeling she was seeing something he wasn’t. “Is this whole spirit thing the reason why there aren’t any animals around here?” he asked as the cabin came into view. He could see Charlie’s cautious glances as soon as they slowed into a walk.
“There was once a tree spirit here that would watch over the mountain.” Sofós spoke from his nest in Charlie’s arms. “It’s long since been cut down, but the ground here is still sacred and attracts many harmless spirits. It is painful for demons to be on sacred ground. That’s why Isaac built his home here.”
The siblings gave each other a look as the tree trunk in the floor of the cabin began to make sense, and Sofós flapped his wings a bit to usher them along. The silence was thick, but Elliot felt himself calming down at the sight of their makeshift safe house. He had no choice at this point but to believe Sofós and the owl seemed pretty sure that the demon wouldn’t follow them inside. They were safe, he thought. Until a crackling boom ripped through the trunks of the trees before them sending them crashing to the ground.
All at once the three of them were sent flying and it was clear that the demon had no intention of letting them reach their destination.
“We had a deal, human.” The woman’s voice echoed in the trees and Elliot felt his heart pick up when he heard it. He heard the demon. How was that possible?
“Elliot?” Charlie sounded a bit panicked. “Elliot, what’s wrong?” She lifted herself up onto her elbows and watched as her brother trembled, wide eyes glazed over with something she didn’t recognize. Something supernatural.
“The demon is taking advantage of his fear.” Sofós was at her side in seconds, feather’s ruffled from the fall, agitated amber eyes on the shaking boy. “We don’t have time for this, Charlotte. We have to get the ocarina.”
Charlie held herself up on her elbows and stared incredulously at the owl. “Are you seriously asking me to leave my little brother in the hands of a demon?!” She shook her head and picked herself up. “That’s not happening.” Charlie made a break for Elliot, but Sofós blocked her path, hovering in front of her with a scolding look in his eyes.
“I’m not asking you to abandon him,” he corrected, eyes softening. “I’m telling you how to save him.”
Charlie looked helplessly between them as Elliot stood, eyes lidded in a menacing way. As she stared into them she was brought back to that moment when her face was inches away from porcelain and shadows were all around her. She shut her eyes tightly before taking Sofós back into her arms.
“He’ll be alright,” he told her as she turned toward the cabin.
Charlie ran through the trees, around the broken trunks and frayed stumps, Elliot close behind. She could hear the woman calling out to her, her heart sinking at the sound of her brother’s voice drowning out behind it. Her mind was reeling with all of the possible outcomes of this stupid game she’d started and so many of them ended with something bad happening to Elliot.
“This isn’t a gift, Mr. Sofós,” she called out. “This stupid power is going to get me and my brother killed!” Charlie ran as fast as she could into the cabin, dropping Sofós to shut the door behind her and push the closest cabinet in front of it. She leaned against it, feeling the banging from the other side, surely caused by her brother’s hands. The truth was that she felt guilty. Even though she knew they cared about each other, it still felt like she’d never made up with him. It felt like they were fighting. It would always feel like that until he called her Charlie again.
“Stop that, Charlotte.” Sofós perched himself atop the cabinet she’d chosen as her barricade. “You won’t save anyone whining like a child. If you really want to save Elliot, then play that ocarina.” The end of his crooked beak turned up lightly in a way that looked like a reassuring grin. “I will do the rest.”
Sofós’s presence was more comforting than she thought it would be. Even her name, that he undoubtedly picked up from Elliot, didn’t annoy her like it usually did. So Charlie steeled herself, taking one deep breath and nodding and Sofós immediately set off toward a closet door that she had completely missed in the dead of the night with nothing but a cellphone flashlight. Charlie dug through the mess of dust and boxes of strange charms and books with an almost frantic speed.
“Seriously, why do people read this much?” she complained.
Sofós urged her to quit talking, hurrying her along as the slamming at the door became louder and more forceful. Charlie felt the sweat on her brow, looking back for a moment when the door began to give way and the cabinet feet made an uncomfortable scratching sound against the floor. Sofós wasted no time shoving a large box off of an ornate looking chest, the loud crash startling Charlie’s attention back to the closet. She gave Sofós a questioning look, waiting for his small nod before opening the chest to find a silvery, white egg a bit bigger than a grapefruit.
It was surreal, all covered in pearl white scales. Like a dragon egg, Charlie thought. It wasn’t what she was expecting at all. Taking it into her hands, she turned it over to see the finger holes and reflexively put it to her lips. She inhaled, silence filling the space around her as if it was compelling her to play by blocking out everything else.
“Move, Charlotte!” Sofós yelled as the cabinet flew into the wall and the front door came crashing to the floor.
Elliot stood ominously still in the doorway, bright red scrapes on his hands. A shadow loomed over him and Charlie felt it paralyzing her. He took a step closer before his body stopped, struggling as if there was a wall in front of him. Charlie and Sofós exchanged a quick glance before a shining light knocked Elliot out of the room.
“What’s wrong with him?” Charlie stood, worry all over her face.
“The demon must be having trouble staying in his body near the stump…” Sofós contemplated aloud, his tone trailed off as if he was formulating a plan.
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking we should put the odds back in our favor.” Sofós met her eyes, solid assurance rubbing off on her. “Once you play I’ll be able to grow into a stronger form, but it won’t last long. I need you to get that demon out of Elliot before that happens.”
“How do I do that?”
The two discussed their plan while Elliot’s body picked itself up off the ground. He was hurt, he knew that, but everything else was fuzzy. It was dark and he was moving without meaning to. In the haze of his mind he could hear Charlie’s voice calling out to him, telling him to calm down and that it would be alright. She sounded scared.
Elliot watched her in front of him as if they were close and miles apart at the same time. How could she know it was going to be alright? How much more did she know than him about anything? He could feel his body moving as they circled each other but his mind was elsewhere. It was in their childhood when Charlie’s stories were real to him and he believed in ghosts and dragons and he wondered when that had changed. He realized then that it wasn’t fear he was feeling. It was shame.
“Elliot!” Charlie called out again. “I know you’re in there and I promise you I’m going to fix everything!”
He wanted to tell her that there was nothing to fix, but he couldn’t speak. Instead he felt his body lunging forward with more strength than he knew he had. He felt the murderous intent and struggled to stop it but there was nothing he could do. Then he noticed Charlie moving toward him, determination beaming from her whiskey colored eyes and he panicked.
“Wait, Charlie!!” he called out, but it was too late. Their bodies collided and Elliot got more than just the wind knocked out of his lungs. It was like he was passing through a cheese grater, his back against some kind of wall and Charlie at his front, pushing him through. Those three seconds seemed to last an hour until everything went dark.
Charlie watched her brother’s body go limp as that wall of light forced the shadow from him and they landed inside the cabin. She paused for a moment to look at him, hoping he would be okay and fearing the worst. Her hand moved reflexively toward him until the light that gently caressed his face was blocked out by a looming shadow. She tensed, flinching harshly at the loud and strangled cry of the demon from outside the cabin.
“Hurry, Charlotte!” Sofós shouted, his tiny wings flapping furiously as he carried the ocarina to her in his talons.
Charlie grabbed hold of it, her heart pounding in her chest, and looked helplessly at the owl. “I don’t know what to play!”
“It’s magic, Charlotte. You just have to let it work,” he assured her. His voice, like his presence, was unflinching and sturdy, and Charlie felt herself taking a deep breath as he continued. “You can do this. You’re a musician.”
She closed her eyes and put the egg to her lips, taking in a breath that seemed to block out all of the noise. The screaming of the beast, struggling to break through the holy wood to eat her whole. The loud guilt that plagued her mind as Elliot lay motionless on the floor. It all drowned out until all she could hear was her heartbeat slowing into a metronome. Then she let out a breath, trained and vibrating into the instrument as a low, beautiful tone filled the air with a bright shining light. She felt the feeling she always felt, like her soul was somehow reaching out through the music she played, but it was different this time. It wasn’t scattered into all corners or the room for anyone to grab and use as they would. It was special, channeling toward a beacon.
In that moment she felt a connection to something she couldn’t place, like she remembered where to find something she’d lost long ago. But it was short lived and before she knew it, the song was over and the light was gone and the owl was nowhere to be found. Instead something else stood before her, staring at her with large honey colored eyes that mirrored her own. Its gaze was fierce and its teeth were as sharp and black as its claws. White, black-tipped feathers coated the creature’s wings as they spread, ready to fly. She knew what this was.
“A dragon?” Charlie breathed in awe, but it was short lived as the banging and struggling of the demon began to bring some of the roof down. She scrambled for Elliot’s body, dragging him away from the falling wood and looked up at the looming creature through the opening in the ceiling. It was gargantuan now, and when she looked back at Sofós’s new form something struck her hard. “Why are you so tiny?!!” she shouted.
Sofós glared clearly as unsatisfied, if not more, with his new form. “Don’t blame this on me!! It’s because you’ve clearly never played an ocarina before, you hack!!” He flapped his wings aggressively, pointing his new horns at her, and Charlie had half a mind to throw the stupid ocarina right at his adorable face.
There was no time for her to respond as a good portion of the roof came down and Charlie could no longer see Sofós or the stump. Her eyes darted around the rubble for only seconds before the demon spoke in a deep echoing voice. The mask was gone but there was something personal about the shadow that crowded the open space in the ceiling, reaching out to her. Charlie held onto Elliot, pulling his unconscious body into her arms and shutting her eyes. She waited for the creature to end them both, but all she felt was a plank of wood land solidly against her back.
“Ow!” Charlie yelped as more wooden planks landed beside her, one nearly smacking Elliot in the face as she jerked him away.
“How dare you!” Sofós shouted as he burst from the debris of the fallen ceiling and into the air toward the shadow. “Even this form is quite enough to destroy a lowly creature like you!”
Charlie watched as the small, feathered dragon whipped through the air, jabbing at the shadow. Every hit that made contact left a gaping hole in the shadow, a light coursing through its body like ripples through water until it was nothing but the woman in the mask. She fell from the sky, Sofós landing beside her as she cowered. Her black hands shielded the porcelain mask, cracked down the middle, a piece missing from the bottom. Just enough of the smiling face had been broken so that Charlie could see the fear of the woman’s quivering lip.
“Please,” she whispered.
“Demons should know better than to beg for mercy,” Sofós said coldly. Then, before Charlie could say anything, he charged the creature. All at once the shadow dissipated and all that was left was a broken porcelain mask until that too crumbled into dust.
There was a silence in the clearing as the sky turned orange and the sun began to crawl behind the mountains. Charlie watched as the baby dragon’s large feathers melted away into sparkling light until there was nothing left but that fat, old, white, owl. As the creature shook, his feathers ruffling and settling back into place, Charlie held Elliot carefully in her arms, keeping track of each breath.
“That was cruel, Mr. Sofós,” She said from what used to be the doorway, no trace of regret in her voice.
“So is the world, Charlotte,” he replied, waddling back over to her. “But you already know that, don’t you?”
Charlie thought about her answer but, as usual, words didn’t come to mind. She wondered for a moment if she could answer questions with music instead and if anyone would get it. Then, all at once, her attention was on Elliot as he squirmed and scrunched up his face before opening his groggy eyes.
“What happened?” he asked, voice hoarse.
“Mr. Sofós saved the day,” she answered, smiling as the old owl puffed out his feathers in pride. “He’s a dragon!” Charlie said, amazed, and Elliot saw a little girl in her that he’d nearly forgotten about. Her eyes sparkled and he was brought back to their childhood, feeling the way he used to when she told him her crazy stories.
“A dragon?” he laughed softly. “That’s really cool, Charlie.” And that small phrase held so much more than just amusement and a nickname. It held an apology and all of the words that Charlie was never able to think of or ask for. All of the things she would’ve put into a song if she hadn’t been trying so hard for so long not to play.
There was no way to respond to all of that, so she didn’t. Instead she helped her brother onto his feet and pulled Sofós into her arms. She felt content for the first time in a long while as they looked back at the cabin they’d all but destroyed.
“What are you going to do now?” Elliot asked, hazel eyes trained on the mess, willing himself not to go over there and try to clean some of it up. “Are you going to play music again?”
“Your music will still attract spirits,” Sofós reminded. “Nothing that happened here will change that.”
“But I have you now, Mr. Sofós.” She smiled. “And I have a feeling you can handle anything.”
The owl puffed out his feathers with pride. “I suppose.”
“What about grandpa?” Elliot turned to the bird and Sofós looked contemplative.
“I have no way of knowing if Isaac is alive.”
“Maybe. But I’d still like to know what happened to him,” Charlie said, taking one last glance at the cabin before she turned toward the mountain path to go home. She stopped when she realized Elliot wasn’t moving. “What’s up? Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine, it’s just… remember those books I took from the cabin before?” Elliot looked a bit guilty, but it was clear from Charlie’s silence that she hadn’t even noticed. “Well, I may have found a clue to why he left.”
Charlie and Sofós exchanged glances, watching Elliot with wonder before she began to laugh. The boys watched her for a moment like she was crazy until she spoke again. “You’re not going to go back to a normal life now that you’ve seen all this, are you?”
“How could anyone?!” he defended, putting his hand up in that damselish way that Charlie was sure he wasn’t aware of.
“Alright,” she said, turning back toward the path and gesturing for him to follow, “but first I want to take a long nap.”
The window was open and the cold mountain breeze blew up the untacked corners of music sheets sloppily hung on the wall. Charlie was sprawled out on the floor, her closet door open, a messy pile of cases and clothes pulled carelessly out like they’d escaped on their own. Three of the cases were open—a clarinet, a Saxophone, and an empty case that was clearly for the flute that Charlie held to her chest.
“I know how to play this,” Charlie whispered, eyes drooping.
It was well into the night now and she was sure that Elliot went straight to bed after the way their mother yelled at them. He was such a boy scout, there was no way he’d disobey her. But Charlie knew from all of the rules she’d broken that their mother only really had one good scolding in her before she became compassionate again and no one was in trouble anymore. Charlie wondered if a stricter upbringing would have fixed all of the problems she was facing, but she knew that good parenting wouldn’t make any difference. It wouldn’t stop the monsters and it wouldn’t break the curse she had on her now.
Feeling helpless, Charlie sat up and stared at the flute. It had been more than two years since she’d played anything and her whole body ached with the need for it. Without thinking, she pulled the flute up to her mouth and breathed lightly into it, trying to be as quiet as she could. Her eyes closed peacefully as a lullaby filled the room. She was lost in it, gone from the human world, off in the land where music was the only thing that existed. Charlie tried to remember why she ever quit such a thing in the first place, but there was no room in her tired brain for such a thing anymore.
The sun was rising now and Charlie had propped herself up on the wall with the curtains open, hoping the light would keep her awake. Her flute rested in her lap as she watched the sun peek over the mountains. She caught a glimpse of an owl outside her window before her eyes shut and the vision of a mask filled her dreams.
The sound of a woman’s voice was calling out to her. It was warm and comforting until suddenly the space around her was freezing. Where had the light gone? Wasn’t the sun coming up? Had she fallen asleep? Charlie could feel the fear jumping in her gut, but she couldn’t move. There was someone holding her down. She could feel the smooth, cold porcelain brush lightly against her face when another voice spoke. It was a man’s voice and it spoke in a regal tone that was somehow familiar.
“Be gone,” it said just before the sound of glass shattering.
Charlie woke with a start to find Elliot hovering over her, shaking her shoulders. “Charlotte! Are you alright? What happened?”
“What?” She sounded out of it even to herself as she reflexively reached a hand up to the throbbing pain in her head, but Elliot grabbed her hand before she could.
“Don’t touch it,” he said. “I’ll get a towel or something. Just wait here.” He ran off before Charlie could ask anything, but it didn’t take her long to notice that something was off.
The sun was high in the sky now and the light was unfiltered by Charlie’s broken window. She sat up at the sight of it, her hand steadying on the floor beside her only to land on a broken piece of porcelain. She stared wide eyed at it and the speckled red spots and listened to the sound of running water down the hall. Then she noticed the other presence in the room.
“Don’t move around too much.” Elliot was suddenly beside her again, pushing her gently against the wall and dabbing the side of her head with a damp towel. She didn’t miss his curious hazel eyes traveling around the room where her instruments were scattered about.
“What the hell?!” Charlie panicked when she saw the scarlet red stain on the towel. “Am I bleeding?”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t look like a big cut,” Elliot answered calmly. He grabbed her chin and turned her head to examine her. “I’m going to call mom and then I think we should go to the hospital.”
“No.” Charlie swatted him away. “No mom. No doctor.”
“Are you crazy?”
“No, the girl is right. We don’t have time to get humans involved.” The man’s voice permeated the air suddenly, pushing away all other words until only silence was left.
Charlie stared at Elliot as his shoulders tensed, her eyes widening. He heard it too. She watched as Elliot turned to her bed where the white and grey owl sat. He waited until the creature blinked to scream.
“Wh-wh-what?! What are?! You!” Elliot sputtered out, falling back and pointing wildly toward the owl. He turned helplessly toward Charlie who was far too calm for his comfort. “Wh-wh-wh-why is that th-thing talking?!” Elliot stammered.
“That thing? How dare you address me so casually, impertinent human child.” The owl glared, prompting Elliot to grab the nearest pillow to shield him and his sister from the creature.
Charlie sighed in exasperation. “Relax, dork.” She took the pillow, lightly bopping him on the head with it before tossing it aside and turning toward the owl. “You were at my grandfather’s home, weren’t you? Are you a spirit? Did you eat him?”
Elliot’s eyes widened at the question. A spirit? He watched her face, calm and knowing. It was a look he recognized and it made his head spin with thoughts of stories and his childhood and times he’d told her to stop making things up. He shook those thoughts away. That was impossible.
“You have a strong spirit for a human.” The owl seemed to narrow his eyes perceptively, but Elliot wasn’t quite sure if he was smiling. “A great purpose is within you.”
“Answer the question,” Charlie said unflinchingly.
“And great courage as well,” the owl said, distastefully. “Very well. I am no lowly spirit, human. I am a diákonos and I was named Sofós by my master.”
“English?” Charlie glared, clearly confused.
“Diákonos. It is a term used to describe creatures like myself that exist to serve a master.” The bird sighed, looking a bit defeated. “My master is a man named Isaac Howell who employed me to fight demons like the one that just tried to kill you.”
“Tried to… kill…? Who? Charlotte? And you worked for… That’s our grandfather’s name…” The words fell from Elliot’s mouth helplessly as he stared. “Are you saying that Grandpa was up in those mountains… doing what? Fighting demons?” He was in shock, unable to understand the world he’d suddenly found himself in. Hazel eyes turned for reassurance to find a pair of gentle whiskey eyes staring back at him. “Have you been fighting demons too?”
“It’s okay, Elliot. I don’t fight demons.” Charlie placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I know all of this stuff might be weird and scary, but I promise you it’s alright. Whoever this guy is I think he’s on our side.”
“Indeed.” Sofós seemed to smile. “It was the music you were playing that gave me enough strength to banish that demon. The power you have is more than just the sight. It is a wondrous gift.”
Charlie seemed to glare at those words. “What happened to grandpa?”
“He’s disappeared. Isaac has been gone for so long that I didn’t even have the strength to speak anymore.”
“Is he dead?” Charlie asked coldly, prompting another fearful look from her brother.
“It’s possible.” The owl stared back, the two of them warring with their eyes as if trying to decipher each other. “Normally if my master died, then I would meet the same fate, so I believed all this time that Isaac was alive. However, it’s possible for me to live without him if he has a Kléronomos.” A long silence came over the room and Sofós glared a bit when he realized these children truly knew nothing. “A legacy, if you will. Someone of the same blood that has the fortitude to inherit his power.”
Elliot looked to Charlie as it was all too clear what Sofós meant by that, but she was examining the owl with a contemplative look. Even with the short time they’d spent looking at him in their grandfather’s house they knew that his beak hadn’t been so crooked before and the feathers atop his head had seemed fuller on one side. Charlie wondered if he had gotten hurt protecting her, but Elliot had other concerns.
“You said you gained power when Charlotte played music?” Elliot asked, pretending not to notice the intensity in the pair of whiskey eyes next to him. “So does that mean you’re strong now? You can protect her?”
“I did regain some power, yes.” The owl nodded, hopping down from the bed and waddling cutely over to them with his wings behind his back. “But only enough to keep that demon out of the house.” Sofós looked Charlie in the eye then. “Tell me, did you agree to something that creature said? I can’t imagine that I’m too weak to break the curse of such a lowly thing unless you have some sort of binding pact.”
Charlie looked away from Elliot’s stare, wondering if having him understand was truly better than not. “It’s not like I had a choice,” she mumbled.
“Charlotte!” Elliot near shouted. “Did you make a deal with a demon?!”
“I didn’t make a deal! It attacked me! It said it would leave me alone if I could stay awake for five days and I thought if I said no then what’s to stop it from eating me right then and there!”
Sofós hopped onto Charlie’s lap as the siblings stared each other down. No matter how much the creature looked like a real animal, it still made Elliot too uncomfortable to hold a glare.
“There’s only one thing you can do now that you’ve broken the terms of your agreement.”
“I broke them?” Charlie looked offended, but Sofós ignored her. Surely such a regal creature was to take none of the blame for the girl’s mishaps.
“There is an ocarina in Isaac’s cabin that’s made of the egg from which I hatched. Its magic is the only thing that can restore my power enough to exorcise that demon of yours.” He looked between the two with a stance that commanded authority despite his size. “You’ll retrieve it. Then, once I’ve provided you with this service, we can discuss the terms of my contract with you.”
“What contract?” Elliot tried, but Charlie ignored him.
“Deal,” she said, holding up the creature from under its wings. “Elliot, get me a big ass band-aid for this cut. Mr. Sofós and I are going to go back to the cabin.” She stood with a new found determination, pulling Sofós into her arms like a child would hold a cat or a stuffed animal. Elliot didn’t even have time to feel exasperated at her statement.
“I’m coming with you!” He stood after her, but she waved him off.
“Don’t you have school?”
“I’m already late,” Eliot said stubbornly. “And I’m not letting you go back there alone now that I know… you know.” He gestured toward the owl letting himself be carried around like a toy. Clearly he had no idea what it is he learned or what was going on exactly, but he knew enough to know it was dangerous and that his sister had already been attacked twice. He wasn’t about to let there be a third time.
“You can’t see them, Elliot.” Charlie sighed. “You’ll just get in the way.”
Elliot ignored her, running off to the bathroom to find a large bandage. When he returned, Charlie was watching him carefully and he knew he was being gauged for weakness, so he kept his gaze strong and his back straight. To his surprise, it was Sofós who broke the silence.
“Let him come.” He grinned up at the boy. “If he follows without us knowing then I won’t be able to protect him.”
Charlie sighed, finally agreeing as well and Elliot gave Sofós a grateful look before they set off.
The truth often sounds pretentious when it’s told to you. It’s because people secretly know the truth already but they want to shut it away and live in a fantasy world, constantly escaping through words or pictures or distracting noise. Humans are amazing in the way that they can simultaneously know the truth and forget about it. The ability to ignore. It’s such a powerful ability used more often than not to forget the discomfort of the present until some fearless pedant feels the need to share it with you. They bring up the ugliness of you and the people you know and don’t and you become angry because you were doing such a great job ignoring it. You were happy being ignorant, and now that this person has brought it back to your attention it’s suddenly their fault for it even having existed in the first place. Listen to them telling you about things you already know and choose to ignore for the sake of proving their intelligence to you. They want to share with you the ugliness because they’re not afraid of it. But you are. Aren’t you? Isn’t that why one reads fiction?
Charlie’s not the kind of girl who reads fiction like her brother, but she’s not immune to the human condition either. Charlie found escape in music instead. She found it first as a child when she watched her father play his guitar and wanted to find a common ground and so picked one up herself. She found it again when she realized that the reason he drank was because the guitar wasn’t enough so she put it down. Then she found it over and over in every instrument until music was the only language that made sense to her. It was comfort. It could never be ugly like the world because music that wasn’t beautiful was just noise. This was her truth and somewhere along the line Charlie stopped caring about who believed it. Most people don’t want to hear things like that anyway. Things like the truth, I mean.
Up in the mountains of Northern California where the snow fell hard during the winter and the sun beat down in the summer, Charlie learned how to alienate the most obscure types of people. Sitting out on the porch of her father’s old wooden farmhouse, little fingers figured out the right placement on a tiny trumpet while an unpracticed mouth blew and blew until noise became music. The sound didn’t stop when small, white, mushroom-like creatures sprouted from the ground and began to join hands, dancing in a circle. Whiskey colored eyes watched them, indifferently at first, until she realized that they were dancing for her. Charlie kicked her feet out at that thought, her eyes crinkling as she tried not to let her smile ruin her playing. When her song finished, the little mushroom men stopped to look at her as if waiting for the next number, and Charlie was happy to pick her tiny trumpet back up until a foot came down on top of the creatures. She flinched hard at the sound, reaching her arm out.
“What?” A neighbor boy asked, lifting his shoe self-consciously but relaxing when he saw nothing.
Charlie dropped her arm despondently, her trumpet resting on the loose fabric that hung just over her knees. “You stepped on them.” She watched the little men dissolve into light and the boy’s eyes followed hers up into the sky, clear blue orbs searching for something he could never see.
“Stepped on what?” He glared at her the way humans do when they become aware that there’s something they don’t understand.
“The mushroom men. They were having fun and you squashed them.” The tiny girl glared right back.
The boy looked down at his worn out sneakers in desperate need of replacing, even lifting up his pant leg before taking a few steps back. Blue eyes stared into brown and glossed over with a childlike fear.
“You’re crazy!” He shouted and ran.
Those were the kinds of interactions that filled Charlie’s childhood. They drove her away from other kids, but it didn’t bother her because she had something better than them. Humans need that one good thing in their life and Charlie had music. Music passed the time and gave her a sense of accomplishment as she improved. Music made her father interested in her because it was something they could share. Music made him proud of her and she could see it in his eyes when he patted her head or showed her a record. That’s why quitting music meant quitting him as well.
To the eyes of the world it seemed strange. Charlie was a prodigy. She played every day as if nothing else mattered and then, suddenly, in her second year of high school, she just stopped. In the middle of a performance, in the front row of the trumpet section, Charlie stopped playing. Soon after, she stopped going to school. Then she stopped visiting her father as well. Not because she was afraid of his disappointment but because, without music, there was no reason to anymore.
It was around that time that Charlie began to notice the world of humans around her. The kids her age who she once thought were faceless and nameless suddenly had cut-off relations to her and opinions that only came in the form of whispers that Charlie assumed were about her. Elliot, her younger brother whose hazel eyes had always sparkled at her in awe as if she were a magical fairy, had become dull and frustrated. The world had always looked at Charlie with angry eyes, but now that her brother did too she was finally beginning to feel the weight of it. She tried not to pay it any mind. She couldn’t change what was done after all.
If only they knew, she thought. If only they could see them too. If they could, they would have noticed that the mushroom men had grown bigger, or that more human like creatures had come to watch as well. They would notice the dragons hovering closer to her or the masked figures following timidly behind her on the streets. If they could see them then they would know that her music called more than just friendly creatures that play and dance. It called monsters and demons made of smoke and fire. It called the kinds of things that made Charlie wonder if she was a monster too.
Classical music was a blessing and a curse. It was pure and beautiful—definitely Charlie’s favorite—but it also made her think. Alone in her bedroom, her long brown hair draped over the side of her bed as she stared sideways at one of the many music sheets stapled to her wall. Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3, Notturno played loudly from her cheap phone speaker, and she glared at the notes in front of her for not matching up. She didn’t like to play piano, or any strings instrument for that matter. It wasn’t the same when you played from your fingers alone, Charlie thought. You had to literally breathe life into an instrument to feel truly fulfilled. It was one of many of her very particular opinions.
“Charlie!” Came a muffled voice, fighting through Liszt and the door for a place in Charlie’s ears. Three loud knocks came before the door opened and Charlie turned lazily to see her mother shamelessly entering her sacred space.
“Why bother knocking if you’re just going to barge in anyway?” The girl drolled.
“If you’d have just answered me then I wouldn’t have barged in.”
“Oh, that makes it perfectly okay then,” Charlie said sarcastically, rolling her eyes with a full head motion until her face was back facing the sheet music on the wall.
Charlie’s mother, a small woman with a confident stride and work worn hands, shook her head, grabbing her daughter’s phone and lowering the volume until the girl sat up to protest. The woman sat carelessly on the bed like she owned it with little regard for how much space she took up and Charlie moved, begrudgingly, to give her room. She looked around with a resigned frown, pushing the few loose strands of short caramel colored hair behind her ear and taking in the sheet music and framed records on the wall before resting on a shelf of trophies and ribbons. She remembered a time when three was the highest number she’d see on that shelf, and her shoulders fell a bit at the sight of the tenth place ribbon hanging daringly off of one side as if it was getting ready to end it all.
“Why do you keep all of this up if you’re never going to play?” She asked solemnly.
“I like it. What’s the big deal?” Charlie answered, with more attitude than she meant to. “You don’t have to look at it if you don’t want to.”
“I do if I want to see my only daughter since she’s a hermit who never leaves her bedroom. Seriously.” She leaned over to the window and jerked open the curtains, sending Charlie into a vampire like fit of hissing and covering her eyes. “When was the last time you went outside? You wouldn’t look good without that tan, Charlie. You should take a walk for your vanity if nothing else.”
Charlie protested, removing her coffee tinted arms from over her eyes and wondering if they had been much darker before. She concluded that they might’ve been a few summers ago but refused to vocalize it. “I’m not going to get darker, it’s freezing outside!”
“But the sun’s out!” Her mother smiled. “Just take a walk. And try to think about something other than music.”
Begrudgingly, the teen collected her jacket and boots and ushered her mother out of the room. After changing from a pair of plush red pajamas that may or may not have been on her for a day or two, Charlie slipped into some jeans and, not bothering to replace her comfortable tee shirt, snuggled into her favorite rose colored jacket and scarf. She watched her hands in the mirror as they pulled long, messy brown hair into a pony tail and remembered a time when she used to pull that same hair back much tighter for competitions. With a long drawn out sigh, Charlie shoved her hands into her pockets and left her room, only stopping once in front of her brother’s closed door before exiting the small, standalone apartment.
The air outside was mild compared to the snowy days she knew would come in a few months, but to Charlie who hadn’t left the perfectly temperate house in weeks, it was enough to send a shiver up her shoulders. She watched her breath in front of her as she droned on mindlessly, trying to quiet her head as she made music of the world around her. The crunch of the leaves, the sparse footsteps of passersby, the distant sound of cars from the city below her mountain road. The flicker of the street lights coming on added to her makeshift symphony and she shoved her hands further into her pockets to keep them from fingering an imaginary trumpet.
Charlie didn’t like to take walks, least of all in the cold fall air that seemed melancholy and sent her into a somber mood. The atmosphere was a breeding ground for the kind of thoughts that weakens ones resolve. Her mother, who had been supportive about her decisions but hid disappointment behind beautiful green eyes, told her that she had all the time in the world to figure her life out. Those words that were meant to be a comfort had only made Charlie feel more rushed, like she was running out of time. What was she supposed to do now that she was a year away from being an adult with nothing to show for it but a history in a field that she could no longer enter and a skill that is impractical to begin with? She wasn’t good with words or with math or the many other subjects that escaped her and that Elliot performed so well with what seemed like very little effort. There was nothing in this world for her but sounds that she could not create and things that no one believed she could really see.
She cursed under her breath as the words of her mother and the advice of her old teachers seemed to pile together at her feet and she tried to stomp on them but it escaped her every step. It just sounded like them telling her to waste all of her time until Elliot graduated high school and went on to some nerd college and left her behind in his shadow. Even though Charlie was the oldest. Even though Charlie was a prodigy. Even though Charlie wanted to play. Louder, she swore again, stomping hard on those imaginary words, but it was only pavement now.
“Frustrated?” Called a young woman’s voice. Charlie didn’t respond with much more of a mumble, but her attention came up quickly toward the direction of the voice. A reflexive response with no room for thought had Charlie searching the darkness of a park bench, squinting from a lack of glasses that she hadn’t worn in days.
The sun was hurrying over the backs of the hills and a woman sat in the shade it created on the mountain side street. Charlie hesitated, contemplating a conversation before deciding that chatting it up with a random stranger on a park bench shrouded in darkness probably wasn’t the wisest decision. A cold chill went up her spine as she realized that the streetlamp beside the stranger did nothing to illuminate that darkness. She turned to walk away, but the stranger’s sharp laugh paralyzed her.
“Don’t go, human.” Human, she said. “Tell me why you’re so angry.”
Charlie felt every hair on her body stand on end. She made a mistake. She spoke to a monster. Even without an instrument in her hands she was unable to avoid them. Trying not to panic, Charlie pulled her hands from her pockets and made a quick decision. She couldn’t waste time on whether it was the right or wrong thing to do.
It was the wrong thing to do.
In seconds the creature was in front of her, a tall, feminine shadow with a clay mask that resembled a beautiful woman. Yellow eyes glowed eerily through the small holes in the masks irises as she loomed over Charlie, reaching her inhumanly long limbs out as if to call forth all of the shadows in the world.
“I thought it would be fun to talk to a human, but you’re no fun at all.” Her voice was pleasant and playful but her words were somehow even scarier than any threat Charlie had ever heard. “You need to lighten up! Come now, let’s play a game.”
“Wh-what kind of game?” Charlie silently cursed herself for stuttering, sure this creature could now see her fear as clearly as she could see her own breath. The clay mask drew closer to wide whiskey eyes, but the poor girl couldn’t look away.
“If you can stay awake for five days then I will disappear.”
“And if I can’t?” A shivering breath puffed out onto the beautiful mask and Charlie told herself it was from the cold.
“Then I get to eat you.” The mask was unmoving, but the sound of a smile was clear in her tone. As it drew closer Charlie began to notice the textured lines of handcrafted porcelain despite her bad eyesight. It was looming over her as if it had forgotten the unreasonable game it had only just suggested in favor of swallowing her whole right at that moment.
Charlie was paralyzed, eyes hypnotized on the antique face while her legs shook with the urge to run. She had to think of something to say to get out of this situation, but she was powerless. It wasn’t in her nature to avoid the things in front of her but even with only the last few years as practice avoiding them, Charlie had never been this close to something that wasn’t human. She realized that she had never spoken with one. She had, at the most, only ever danced with one while her mouth stayed otherwise preoccupied by some instrument. In all of those years there had never been an opportunity to learn anything about them or whether they were good or evil.
“Staring off into space again, freak?” Came a deep voice from behind her.
Clear blue eyes met with brown as Charlie turned slowly. She recognized the voice, somehow always relating back to a much lighter version of it when it spoke to her more often. It wasn’t a voice she liked to run into as it always referred to her with the same amount of contempt as the icy eyes attached to it. She didn’t answer him, looking quickly back to the creature.
“Okay,” Charlie finally spoke. “Until five days are up, you have to stay at least five feet away from me at all times.”
The creature faltered, the growing shadows around it retreating slowly as it took what may have been a step or two back. Without feet, there was no way to be sure. The mask was a constant blank expression, but she was still close enough that Charlie could see the smile in its eyes. The two of them stared silently at each other as the boy behind Charlie shoved his hands into his jeans and walked passed her with an irritated click of his tongue.
“Who would want to be within five feet of you anyway?” He shot back menacingly, but the girl couldn’t be offended. In a way she had used him for courage, his very human presence bringing her back to reality where she could feel her feet on the ground, steady and real. Monsters didn’t exist in the reality that was seen by his clear blue eyes and, for a moment, Charlie tried to see the world like that too.
“Very well,” the mask said. “I guess humans can be fun after all.”
The sun was still doing its best to crawl out of the sky and the once dark park bench was basking in the light of the street-lamp. In some space of time that the poor teen couldn’t recall, the masked woman had retreated, leaving her alone on an empty street. Charlie slouched in a mixture of relief and dread as she turned back toward her house, trying her damnedest to ignore the laughter that echoed against the lonely mountainside.
“Don’t fall asleep, human.” The voice called to her, and as Charlie picked up her pace into a run she began to hope that she really was crazy.
This will be a purely informative post. So! First thing’s first. I’m sorry to say that I’ll be going on a little hiatus from both Lucy’s Tail and My Ghost & My Monster. I’m only annoyed about this because I just got off of a short hiatus from G&M, but I’m really passionate about this story and I’d rather it be the way I want it instead of rushed because I have too much stuff to do. That being said, since this is to give me a breather, I don’t have a date the hiatus will be over. But I promise it won’t be more than a few months and I will definitely come back before the year is over.
Now for other projects I promised this summer.
The last time I posted about Kleronomos, I said that it would be released this summer. Well, a lot had happened since then and I’ve changed my mind about how I want to go about this story. However, it IS finished and I DID make a promise so I WILL be putting it up piece by piece for you guys to read. Starting July 23rd I’ll be posting it to read for free here on my website, on Fiction Press, and on Wattpad. I want people to read it and since I’ll be writing more of these books I figure I’ll simply publish it along with the sequel which will not be free. In the meantime…
Energy! 24/6, Book 2 was scheduled to start soon, but seeing as though I’ll be serializing Kleronomos instead, that will have to be postponed a little longer. This might be disappointing to those of you who have been following, but I don’t plan on serializing “Love, Karin” until January of 2017. Sorry, guys, but I have too much going on right now to write it. But I do have it planned out and I promise it’ll be interesting when it does come out! :)
Last of all, but certainly not least!
It’s back! For now, I don’t have any new images, but I’m happy to let you all know that SongBird will be published in print! I will be releasing more info as the publishing process progresses, but for now this is all I have. So because of this new development and because I have a new job and new studies to focus on, I won’t have time to post as much as I used to. Sad as that makes me, I am really excited about the direction my life is heading right now so hopefully I’ll be able to share more projects soon! As usual, thanks for sticking with me. :D I love you guys.
Some more pics of Mr. Sofos from Kleronomos. The owl form is consistent, but if Charlie messes up the Song of Change or if he doesn’t have enough power then his dragon form will be small and cute like a baby. It’s often cold where they are since they’re in the mountains so Charlie will give Sofos her scarf a lot. Partially because it’s cold, but mostly because it’s adorable.
Sorry there’s no Energy chapter this week. It’ll resume it’s normal schedule next week. My new schedule is at the end of this post.
In the mean time, I did it, guys! I set out to accomplish a goal and I did it! This year feels very important to me. I’m more productive and more on task, but more conflicted than ever. I decided at the beginning of this year that I would take things one step at a time and pace myself. Every mistake I’ve ever made has been in haste so I don’t want to repeat that pattern. I’m in the middle of some important decisions and I’m really thinking hard about them, but most importantly I’m not letting them get in the way of my art. Writing is my dream and I’m determined to be successful! So without further ado I’ll be revealing my newest project!
I mentioned Kléronomos earlier this year a couple of times, but not in detail so over the course of the next few months I’ll be posting pictures, character designs, music, and some teasers! Starting with the basic synopsis.
Charlie Howell was a music prodigy since she was a little girl, but as she grew she began to notice the strange world around her that nobody else seemed to see. The ghosts and monsters passed her by with little interest and her sightings were snuffed off as jokes until the day of a school performance where she sat in the wood wind section. After an outburst of panic on stage her life began to unravel until she decided that quitting music was the only way to make the monsters go away. After years of trying to escape them she makes a fatal mistake one night and is cursed by a demon. If she can stay awake for five days the demon will disappear, but if she falls asleep she will be eaten alive.
Kléronomos will be an ongoing series of short books or novelettes that center around Charlie and an ancient Greek dragon named Mr. Sofós who is trapped in the body of an owl. It will be lightly illustrated and accompanied by several scores as Charlie must play a special ocarina in order to give Mr. Sofós the power to become a dragon. The first book will follow the above plot while paving the way for an on going plot that will unravel slowly over the coarse of the series. I do not have a set amount of books for this story as I plan to have fun with it for as long as I am able. :)
Book One: Sofós will be available for purchase this summer.
I’d like to take this time to formally end my 100 days of posts. I will no longer be posting everyday, but I will still be keeping a schedule. Now that I’ve kept up with posting everyday I know I can do this! So the schedule will be as follows.
- Monday: Comic Update
- Currently ongoing: My Ghost & My Monster
- I’m planning for Lucy’s Tail to come off of hiatus in May. Possibly sooner, but we will see.
- Wednesday: Blog Post
- I’ll be using this day to continue posting art, character profiles, updates, and more!
- Saturday: Energy 24/6!
- Currently ongoing: Book One: Love, Koichi
- There will be a chapter a week until Book One is finished then there will be a short break before Book Two begins serializing.
- Sunday: Reserved for one of the following
- Recommendation Lists. These will range from Anime & Manga to Books to music. It’ll just be a way for me to gush about things I love, really. Isn’t that what blogs are all about?
- Artist Features. This was part of my 100 days of posts but I will probably keep doing them. I don’t know how contestant I will be though.
- Tutorials and Educational Posts. I’ve been writing some story building exercises and step by steps down. I also want to do some more eye tutorials and stuff so when I get around to them they’ll be posted on Sundays. :)
That’s all! Until next time!