Urban Fantasy and Web Comic author Allison Pang is bringing us our first Halloween Flash Fiction short story of the day. Fans of her Abby Sinclair series (like me!) might be interested in the “author’s note” of the story. 🙂 Allison was inspired by this image…
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Author’s Note: Warning – spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read A Symphony of Starlight, you might want to avoid this particular short story as it takes place a few months later. Also it’s sort of less of a short story and more of a probably rough draft first chapter of another Abby book. So you know. That’s cool. 😀
Death Note for Cutie…
The first notes of Danse Macabre sifted through the tension-filled air, seeming to hover about Melanie’s fingers before delicately wafting into the shapes of tiny skeletons waltzing down to where her naked feet kept time on the stage. After a minute or two they would dissipate, making room for the next skeleton, but each one had an instrument of their own, letting her lead them in an unearthly orchestra that sent a brief shiver down my spine
I shifted Star in my arms, her tiny fists snatching at the Ye Olde Pirate Wench™ eye patch sitting askew on my forehead. Not much of a costume, really, especially when compared to Mel’s Wednesday Addams getup. My daughter was only a few months old and finally moving into what Phin considered the “fun” stage, but he didn’t have to deal with any of the diaper changing, so to him it probably was fun. Right now “fun” included lots of hair grabbing and an uncanny talent for finding things she shouldn’t and shoving them into her mouth. So far this week she’d been caught playing with a pair of ruby earrings, a silver spoon, a glass bauble full of witchlight and an ornate key none of us had ever seen before.
I’d have been more concerned, but Star was technically a princess of the Unseelie Court. She was bound to have a few fairy godmothers kicking around somewhere, right?
“Coming through!” Phin was currently balancing a platter of cupcakes on his back with practiced ease as he trotted down the casement containing tonight’s Halloween specialties: everything from ladyfingers that looked like actual lady fingers to rock candy in the shape of skulls to marshmallow ghosts that might have been sporting tiny ghost boners. I preferred not to look too closely. Phin’s confectionaries were typical cupcakes of a more mundane Halloween nature. White icing, orange sprinkles…and little black fondant notebooks with an interesting caption inscribed upon each one.
I frowned. “Are those…Death Note cupcakes?”
“Mayyyybe,” he drawled, pausing to let Star gurgle at him. The unicorn himself was covered in a hazy glow of glittering sparkles, which I would have assumed was a costume of sorts. On the other hand, he’d had a habit of leaving similar deposits in my underwear drawer over the years. I would not have put it past him to have rolled in one to get the particular effect he was sporting now.
And I wasn’t going to ask. Or touch him.
I turned slightly so Star wasn’t in grabbing distance.
“Cute, I guess. What are they for?” Far be it from me to have any idea what was being cooked up in the kitchen of the Midnight Marketplace. It might be my coffee shop, but Ion had taken over the baked goods and I had to admit it was an improvement over my best efforts. Of course, that also meant dirty pastries occasionally snuck onto the shelves as per the ghost boners.
Last week it had been tiny WAPancakes coated in honey. Sometimes I could I only shake my head. You could take the baker out of the incubus, but I’d never get the incubus out of the baker.
“Ah, they’re for uh…marketing?” Phin said slyly.
“Marketing for what?” I arched a brow at him. “Are we hosting an anime night?”
“Me,” Nobu’s voice retorted sourly from about knee high. I glanced down at the diminutive shinigami. Although he had obviously regained some height following the destruction of his shrine so many months ago, he still remained small.
Although normally he sported feathered wings and wild hair, tonight he was made up to look like a rather gruesome version of himself, complete with pale makeup and a maniacal mouth smeared black.
“That’s…a new look for you, isn’t it? I though you made it pretty clear that you weren’t anything like, and I quote, ‘that anime bullshit’.” I gestured at the far end of the coffee shop. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that little shrine of yours by the corner bookshelves, by the way. What’s that all about?”
“I need more offerings,” he said bluntly. “Staying a yokai isn’t in my plans.”
“I thought Mel would have been able to help you out with that, now that she’s your wife and all.” I glanced over at Mel, still playing on the stage, her face brimming with satisfaction as the wild magic whirled around her.
“A god needs more than a single worshipper,” he pointed out. “Besides, ever since that crap with the Wild Magic went down, she’s been rather scarce. Being asked to play for kings and OtherFolk and who knows what else.” His face softened behind the makeup. “My wife has been through an awful lot. I’d rather not lay this aspect of my life at her feet as well.”
“Fair enough. So where do the cupcakes come in?” The alarm bells went off in the back of my head as I parsed it out. “Listen, I’m all for supporting my friends, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to condone you handing out actual Death Note favors.”
Nobu had been a death god before he’d allowed his shrine to be destroyed to protect Melanie, but without the power the shrine provided, he’d been demoted in both size and status to that of a yokai. Magical and spiritual in nature, but a bit of a far cry from being a god. I could hardly blame him for wanting that aspect of his life back.
But that didn’t mean I was going to let him start a serial killer-for-hire business in my shop either.
Phineas rolled his eyes at my expression. “Oh please. You think the horned wonder in the kitchen back there would have agreed to it if that’s what we were really trying to do? It’s just marketing – that’s all.”
I hesitated. Phin’s logic wasn’t wrong exactly but didn’t mean it was right either. Assuming Ion had even approved it…but still. “All right, as long it’s just for show, it’s okay.”
“Good enough.” Nobu and Phin nodded at each other in satisfaction, the unicorn trotting through the crowd. “Death Notes for a quarter. Get your Death Notes here…”
“Because nothing will go wrong with this,” I muttered to Star, her dark eyes staring I back at me with quiet agreement. She’d picked up a napkin, clenching it in her fingers, as she shook it back and forth. Mel was finishing up on stage now, making her bows and promising to come out for a last set later before putting her violin in its case and coming to join me at the counter.
Unlike the enchanted violin of before, this one was simply a normal instrument. With the Wild Magic backing her, Mel didn’t actually even need one anymore. But since it tended to make people uncomfortable to see music simply being created out of thin air, prop or not, she continued to play one.
Ion craned his head out of the kitchen long enough to survey the number of patrons before fixing Mel her usual latte. He smirked at the shrine corner and paused to plant a soft kiss upon Star’s forehead, murmuring something I couldn’t quite hear before disappearing back into the kitchen, pink apron ties trailing behind.
“Domestication suits him,” Melanie noted, sipping her latte. “Speaking of, where’s your other other half?”
“Talivar? Ah, out doing something kingly for All Hallows’ Eve. The Faery Courts have their rides and whatnot – we figured it was best not to bring Star on something like that until she gets older.” I held my baby a little tighter. She’d been kidnapped once already and Mel and I traveled all the way to Hell to get her back. I may have agreed to become Talivar’s Queen, but Star’s safety would always come first.
And so here we were, ensconced within the warm walls of the Midnight Marketplace, surrounded by friends and allies as we hosted a quiet Halloween celebration. Past years had seen us all partying at The Hallows with Brandon and his crowd, but I’d had more than enough adventure for a while and this suited me just fine.
“So what’s with the shrine thing?” I inclined my head to where Nobu kept court in the corner, standing beside the little Torii gate Melanie had made for him. There was the occasional clink as money was dropped into the offering box in front of it, Nobu’s face growing smug.
“Ah, he’s got his pride, you know. He’s rather stubborn about accepting help if you haven’t noticed.” She tapped on the counter with an ebony-painted nail. “But I figure it’s best to just let him figure out this stuff on his own, you know?”
“We could have just started a GoFundMe, you know,” I said dryly. “It would have been less dramatic that way.”
“Oh, but that takes all the fun out of it.” She smiled. “It will be all right, I’m sure. I offered to go back to Japan – I think he would have done better there, but he doesn’t want to – so here we are.”
She laughed then and our talk turned to more mundane matters. OtherFolk life in Portsmyth, musical ventures, gossip of various sources.
Eventually the crowds drifted away as the first early morning light shafted through the sky, chasing away the moonlight. The front Door shimmered as Talivar strolled through, his face tired from what I could only imagine was a long night of riding.
He swept Star into his arms for a brief moment, before pulling me toward him, his mouth brushing my ear in a delicate fashion that made me shiver.
“Sorry I missed it. Duty, you know.” Star waved her fist at me, babbling until Talivar handed her back. I gently laid her down in one of those soft baby cushions beside my favorite sitting chair, using the opportunity to stretch out my arms.
Talivar eyed Nobus’s shrine in bemusement. “What’s all this?”
“A request for offerings,” Nobu said sourly, pulling off his wig and kicking it to the side. “Didn’t net me that much, though.”
“I told you needed something a little stronger than just that,” Phin said. “But it served its purpose – got some people aware of you, aware of the shrine. With a little luck word will spread and poof, before you know it, you’ll be waving your godhood around again in no time.”
Nobu sighed. “How many times do I have to explain to you that’s not how it works? I have – ”
“Ah, Abby. What’s Star got in her hand?” Mel drained the last of her latte, her face puzzled.
My head snapped to where I’d laid Star, letting out a cautionary murmur as I realized she was holding one of the fondant Death Notes. Talivar scooped her up first, attempting to take the pastry from her, frowning when he realized he couldn’t quite pry it from her grasp. His eyes flicked toward Nobu with a sudden deadly intensity. “Is there a geas on this?” he asked softly, the words promising a very special sort of violence.
Nobu blinked. “Not that I know of.” He approached for a closer look. “That’s…that’s not right. That’s a real Death Note. She’s mortal, so she’s going to have to use it.”
I stared at Nobu. “You told me it doesn’t work that way. That you knew when people might die but that you didn’t cause it yourself.” Star began to wail as my voice rose. “She’s a baby. This is completely unacceptable.”
Phin sniffed at the note. “Abby, I swear to you this wasn’t one of the ones I served. You know Ion would never make something like this.”
“Never make something like what?” Ion emerged from the kitchen, catching the panicked look in my eye. His mouth compressed grimly as Talivar explained the situation. “That’s not one of mine – even if I were so inclined to make such a thing, it wouldn’t be here. And it wouldn’t be now.”
“Then who did?” Fury erupted within me despite the calmness of his words. “And how do we get it away from her? How the hell did she even get it?”
Ion’s eyes narrowed, his head cocked as though hearing a noise the rest of us couldn’t. He suddenly vaulted over the counter, his apron coming loose as he knelt beneath one of the coffee tables.
“What is it?” I asked him, backing up a step.
He stood, holding something small and dark in his hand. It seemed to shift with a shadowy sort of light as though it didn’t really have much of a structure. “Ah,” he said. “I believe I have found our culprit. It’s a little unusual, but then, I can’t really say I’m surprised, either.” He raised his hand to his lips as though to shush us, gently releasing the shadow on the coffee table.
“What is that?” I finally said as the shadow squirmed beneath our gazes, seeming to morph into several shapes before settling briefly into something childlike. I caught the quick impression of a face and then it let out a cry and fled out the Door.
Ion watched it leave with dry amusement. “That, as you so artfully put it, was the beginnings of an incubus – and the reason Star keeps finding things she shouldn’t. He’s been gifting them to her, you see, probably in return for access to her Dreaming Heart.” He raised an eyebrow at me and I flushed slightly. “He’s not dangerous – simply extraordinarily young. I’ll take care of it later – I suspect he needs a bit of a talking to, but he’ll need to calm down first.”
“I wouldn’t call something that can create Death Notes as ‘not dangerous’,” Mel pointed out.
Ion’s mouth pursed slightly. “A poor choice of words, maybe. Not malicious, would be better. I don’t think he quite understood – he probably picked up on the Death Note idea and ran with it, thinking that it would perhaps please her.” He bared his teeth in a grimace. “I will be dissuading him of such thoughts.”
My mind whirred with the implications of incubus playdates and then decided I literally could not handle it just now, tucking the whole thing away for another day. “So. How do we take it away from her?”
“You could defer it.” Nobu said softly. “Let her make an offering now and determine the choice later.”
“Because what I want is a daughter that has the ability to ask a death god to kill someone. Perfect.” I took Star from Talivar’s arms, the fondant Death Note still clutched in her fist. Her face had squinched up, turning red as she grew even more upset. “Shhhh,” I murmured.
“It would be a rather advantageous favor to call in,” Talivar mused. “Though she should not be made aware of it until she reaches her majority. And seeing as there is currently no other way to undo it…”
“Fine,” I snapped. “What do we do so she can defer it? She’s a little short on actual words or being able to speak, if you haven’t noticed.”
Nobu shrugged. “I suppose it could be made in her name. It’s the intention that matters, really. As long as it’s done by a mortal.”
I dug through my purse and found a five yen coin from my trip to Japan. “Old traditions are the best,” I snarled, marching up to the shrine and depositing the coin. I clapped and bowed as he’d shown me before, though I had no bell to ring, but I supposed that didn’t hurt. I had his attention already, after all.
Almost immediately, Star dropped the Death Note. Ion scooped it up and tucked it away into his pants pocket. “I’ll keep hold of this somewhere safe.”
The Dreaming, he meant – it was where he often stored things to keep them out of the hands of regular folk. There was an odd puff of smoke in front of the shrine a moment later, only to reveal a full sized Nobu, dark wings and all, emerging from within like some sort of demonic butterfly.
He cracked his neck, stretching out his arms with a sense of relief before turning and bowing to Star gravely. “When you call upon me with your request, I will answer, regardless of who it may be.”
There was an aching sense of finality in those words and I shuddered. Melanie reached out and took my hand.
“It will be all right,” she said. “Have faith.”
“Faith isn’t the problem,” I muttered. I knew Nobu’s word was good – we’d had deals before. Being the proxy for my daughter left a bad taste in my mouth – but what else was there to do? And now it was over.
Melanie had wandered over to Nobu hugging him lightly. “Are you a god now again?”
“Closer to it,” he agreed. “Close enough.” He apologized to me again and the two of them departed through the Door so it was only my little extended family left within the confines of the coffee shop. I sagged into an overstuffed chair even as Phineas gave me a miserable look.
“I know. You were just trying to help.” I picked up a cupcake and took a bite. “It could have been worse, I suppose. After all, we didn’t have any ghosts show up, so you know, lucky us.” Just a tiny incubus, my inner voice said snidely, but I chose to ignore it, focusing on the delightful sugary explosion on my tongue. “These are really good, by the way.”
Ion tipped his head toward me, gathering up his apron. “Shall I see about breakfast?”
Talivar shifted Star in his arms. “I would not say no. It’s been a long night.”
The group of us quickly locked up and left, heading up the stairs to our shared apartment for some breakfast and hopefully a long nap. And if I heard a small voice whisper
“Happy Halloween…” from the beneath the leaves of my courtyard rose bushes, well what of it?
Back at you, I thought, ignoring the shadow in the corner of my eye as I shut the door behind me. Halloween was over and I would deal with the fallout tomorrow.
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