Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice: 1
Title: Standard Agreement
“The show was good.” My drumsticks rattled the bar as I replayed my solo.
“I think so.” Jack took a long pull on his water bottle. “Crowd seemed to really dig our sound.”
“Amazing how everything came together so fast, huh?”
“Must be fate.” Swerve bounced on the balls of his feet. “I mean—holy shit! Diamond Records wants us!”
Glass bottles crashed in the garbage cans as servers and bartenders cleared the remains of last call. The low tones of an amplified bass guitar echoed across the club. The sporadic notes and the young woman plucking the strings drew curious stares.
“Think she knows the show is over yet?”
Our bassist, Charlotte, stood in a beam of orange stars, the club’s signature stage lighting. Her eyes rolled up, showing more white than iris. Her hands moved along the bass.
“Hell if I know, man.” Even in the shitty lighting, the hot pink strap supporting the guitar on her left shoulder stood out. “She played a great set, but she’s on something.” She slowed, like a wind-up toy running out of energy. “She must be on something, right?”
We laughed, a nervous, sick sort of sound.
“Hope the exec from Diamond Records doesn’t catch an eyeful of her like this.” Jack dragged a hand through his sweat-soaked hair. “They’ll drop us before they sign us.”
“Hey, fellas.” The club manager approached. “Killer job tonight, but listen. I need you to get Miss Crazypants off the stage. She’s creeping out the staff and we’re ready to lock up in five.”
“Dude.” Swerve nudged my shoulder. “She’s your girl.”
“My ex girl.”
“Same difference when it comes to dealing with—” He swirled his hand in Charlotte’s direction. “Did you really have to break up with her right before this gig?”
“I’ll take care of this, gentlemen.” A man in a stark white suit walked by us, right up the stage steps.
“Whoa. What the hell?” I followed after him. “Who the hell are you?”
He took the bass from Charlotte’s unresisting grip, ignoring my question. She didn’t respond until he stroked her cheek. She blinked, her honey eyes focusing on the man. Those eyes I knew so well widened, spurring a need to protect her. I shoved the urge away. Charlotte could do whatever—whoever—she wanted. I’d just make sure she was okay.
“You were brilliant tonight.” With gentle fingers, he tucked her damp hair behind her ear. “They’ll all remember this show. The world will know Avalon Fire.”
“So soon?” She frowned, the corners of her mouth trembling.
The man shrugged. “You didn’t specify a timeline, darling, only a result.”
The main lights went dark, leaving us with only the orange-red glow of the star spotlights. Someone hollered, “Let’s go, people!”
“It’s done then?” Charlotte eyes shifted my way. “I never imagined—”
“They will be wildly successful. With just a dash of pathos. All the best bands have it.” He framed her face with his hands. “Now. A deal is a deal.”
“Charlotte?” This conversation sounded all wrong. “What is this? What did you do?”
“Stay where you are.” The man held up one hand and my body froze in mid-step. “Time to pay, darling.”
He wrapped his arms around Charlotte. Her gaze found me as he kissed her. She gasped. Her mouth opened on a choking sound as their lips parted, and glowing red smoke flowed out of her and into him. She didn’t look away from me as the life faded from her eyes and her body sank to the stage.
“What did you do?” I whispered the words, but he heard me. With a wave of his hand, I could move again. I ran for Charlotte, stumbling and crawling the last steps, pulling her into my arms. So warm. The scent of her perfume mixed with sweat from the show. “What did you do, baby?”
“What happened to her?” Footsteps pounded up next to us—Jack and Swerve. “What’s going on?”
“Standard agreement,” the man said in answer. He licked his lips as though savoring something tasty. “One soul in exchange for fame, fortune, blah, blah, blah. The usual shtick. I’m a man of my word. The doors will all be open to you now.” He suit smiled down at me, a spark of something wistful in his dark eyes. “You know, she wanted this for you. I think she truly loved you.” He clucked his tongue. “Never ceases to amaze me what mortals will do for love.”
I gathered her close, burying my face against her throat.
“Don’t waste her sacrifice, boyo.”
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Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.