“Get out!” she cried. “You get out of here! Your lie could have cost me!”

“What’s going on?” I scrambled to my feet, nearly knocking over the chair.

Mambo Maryse shook on the spot. “You may invite a demon into your life, but you do not invite a demon into my home!”

“Demons?” I cried out.

Sage refused to move. He stared the woman down.

“I’m not leaving until you tell me what to do! I paid you!”

The woman pulled the bill out of her robe and threw it on the table. “You take your money and get out. You knew this wasn’t a hex. You lied!”

“Sage, what the fuck is she talking about!?” I screamed, my focus swinging between the two.

“Tell her,” she commanded. “She deserves to know what you dragged her into.”

“Hey, I didn’t drag her into anything!” he yelled, coming around the table toward her, a towering man on a mission. “My manager did!”

The woman stood her ground. In all the fear and confusion, I was impressed.

“Your manager is part of it! Didn’t you question it? You knew you made the bargain, you knew it.”

“I was only fifteen!” he bellowed, his voice booming across the room. Utter anguish contorted his face. “I wanted a better life! I shouldn’t have to suffer for it!”

“But you have been. You knew this was coming. You’re going to lose everything that was given to you.”

“So how do I stop it?!”

“You can’t,” she told him. A flash of sympathy clouded her eyes. “You can’t stop it.”

“Would someone tell me what the fuck is going on here?” I yelled, throwing my hands up in the air.

She looked down at the ground. “You need to leave. Both of you. Sage, I suggest you fill her in while there is still time. You’re only twenty-seven for a few more days.”

My eyes widened.

“I’ll go,” Sage said, defeated. He eyed the bill on the table but didn’t pick it up. “But please, tell me what I can do to save any of the others. They shouldn’t have to suffer because of me.”

“I said there’s nothing you can do. You made a deal with black forces. Almost with Satan himself. There is no getting out of it. Your only hope is the code.”

“Code?”

Her mouth jerked briefly with dry amusement. “A moral code. They only take what is owed. Nothing more and nothing less. You need to think about exactly what the deal was. What it is you asked for. That’s the only place you’ll find answers. I can’t give them to you.”

I exhaled sharply through my nose, trying to keep my frustration and anger under control. The woman was being kind and giving us this much.

I put my hand on his arm. “Come on, we need to go.”

Sage sighed and gave me a quick nod. We left up the stairs, leaving Mambo Maryse behind to start cleansing her office, chanting and waving smoke around.

Neither of us bothered to call a cab from her house, so we walked down the dark, quiet street in silence. I waited for him to speak. I knew if I started, I’d end up crying or screaming or hitting him. I didn’t do well when frustrated. I didn’t even know where to begin.

We were turning onto the main road when Sage finally spoke.

“I’m going to tell you everything,” he said quietly. “You might not believe me. But it’s the truth. You might hate me. But it’s the truth.”

“I’ll try to keep an open mind,” I said. After hearing monsters in the dressing room and seeing another entity speak through our medium, there wasn’t much I wouldn’t believe. I was as willing as they got.

“When I was fifteen, I went camping with Robbie and his family. They were outdoorsy people. My dad was always working on the farm so I didn’t have that many chances to get away. And I liked Robbie’s family. They always welcomed me. They had what I once had. So we went to Lake Shasta. It was the usual spot for people in the area. It’s beautiful. Warm. The lake is full of fish, this unbelievable green-blue, and the banks are this rich red earth. We stayed on one of the many peninsulas that jutted out into the water. Robbie’s parents in one tent. Me and Robbie in the other.

“I woke up in the middle of the night thinking that someone was calling my name. Part of me thought I was still dreaming. I got up and realized I had to pee anyway. I left the tent, not waking Robbie, and walked through the darkness. The area there at night is pretty spooky. It’s alive with creatures. I saw the calm eyes of a gray fox as I walked down the path toward the lake edge. Some animal growled and moaned across the shore.

“I didn’t think Lake Shasta was sacred in any way. It’s a manmade lake, after all. So I pissed in it as teens do. Then I put my ass down on the ground and started to cry. I remember feeling so distraught, so helpless and alone. I guess years of not dealing with my mother’s death caught up with me. I had so much want inside, ripping me apart. I had just joined the band with Robbie but I was the drummer. I wanted to be more than that. I saw Mickey and his girlfriend Noelle. I was jealous. I was a scrawny little shit back then, and unfortunately I was in love with Noelle and she’d never given me a second look. We were poor too, and my dad was struggling. Things were just bad. And to a fifteen-year-old, it was life-threatening.

“I don’t know how I just lied there, crying on those muddy banks, my pajamas totally ruined by the clay. I remember thinking I’d need a new pair and that my dad was going to be furious.

“That’s when the splashing started. I looked at the lake and…there was a woman walking out of it. She was totally naked. Long pale white hair, even when wet. She was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen and at that point I’d been looking at a lot of Robbie’s nudie mags.

“Obviously I thought I was dreaming. I’d told myself that it was all just a dream for a very, very long time. But I know that’s not the case anymore.

“I got to my feet and the woman walked toward me, leaving no footprints behind. She had brilliant light gold eyes that seemed to glow from within. I asked her who she was. She told me her name was Alva and that she could give me whatever I wanted.

“I didn’t believe her but then again I thought it was a dream. How the hell could it not be a dream? So I asked her, “What do you mean, anything?”

“She said she was magic and that if I wanted to make a deal with her, she would give me anything my heart desired. Smart boy that I was, even in a dream, I asked her what the catch was.

“She smiled and said there was no catch. That this was a loan. I would tell her what I wanted and she would give it to me for a certain amount of time. When the time was up, they would take back everything that was given to me.

“I asked who “they” were—she said she didn’t work alone. She made the deals and she had others making sure that all sides of the bargain were upheld. This, in her words, meant making sure my desires were fulfilled, then later, making sure they were taken from me.”

Debt collectors, I thought.

“It sounded like a pretty good bargain to my young mind. Not that I believed a second of it. But for a dream, it made sense. So I told Alva what I wanted. I said, “I want to rich and famous. I want to be really good at guitar and to be known for my songwriting skills. I want respect from my bandmates, everyone except Robbie because he already respects me. I want to find someone to love, and when I do, I want them to love me back.”

“So Alva stuck out her hand. We shook on it. It felt our hands were being fused together. The lake began to bubble and boil like a hot tub, steam started to rise, as did dark shapes from the water. I saw monsters skulking around in the clay, giant earthworms with teeth. Alva’s eyes went from pale gold to tar black and when she smiled her face turned into a demon’s.

“You’ll be seeing us soon. Enjoy your twenty-eighth birthday,” she said in a voice that sounded exactly like what came out of Mambo Maryse.

“Then it all went black. When I woke up, I was still on the banks of the river and the sun was just creeping over the mountains. Birdsong filled the air. It was nearly impossible to think it was anything other than a dream.

“Shortly after, the guitarist fell ill and I took his place. Turns out I was brilliant at the guitar, more so than I used to be. After that, Graham joined and pushed our sound to another level. Success came slowly but surely. My father was injured in a minor car accident but ended up winning a huge settlement. When I left school, I fell in love with the most gorgeous woman I had ever seen. Soon she fell in love with me and we were married. I had respect. A bit of fame. A bit of fortune. I had everything.

When I was twenty-five, my wife decided she’d had enough of me. She asked for a divorce and took half my money. After that I fell in love with a model. She died a year later, slipped in her bathtub. Freak accident. Then I had a brief affair with Noelle while she and Mickey were on a break. I don’t need to tell you what has happened to her. Money started to disappear. I wanted to push myself on Molten Universe, but the album didn’t quite do it. My twenty-eighth birthday is around the corner, Dawn. Everything else will be taken.”

I had been so busy listening, absolutely enthralled and horrified, that I hadn’t noticed how far we’d walked. We were approaching the city again and the chances of getting a cab were on the rise.

Sage stopped and put his hands on my shoulders.

“Do you believe any of that?” he whispered.

I nodded, even though it sounded too outrageous to be true. I mean, I know I just said I had an open mind but…this was pushing it. I could believe demons and curses, but I had a hard time thinking this was because of a bargain he made with a woman called Alva nearly fifteen years ago.

Well, a demon called Alva and her minions of debt collectors. And just like that, everything made sense again. Or at least it tried to make sense. I felt like I had an ill-fitting puzzle board and I was pressing really hard to get the pieces to fit.

“How do I come into it?” I asked, my voice soft. I was scared to hear the answer.

Sage took his hand and ran it down the side of my cheek, his fingers gently stroking my skin. Goosebumps of desire competed with goosebumps of fear. Maybe they were one and the same.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered, resting his forehead against mine, his eyes staring absently at my lips. “I forgot to mention. One of the things I asked from Alva was that our last tour go down in history and that the story be in every magazine and newspaper. Everyone on earth would know the story of Hybrid.”

I flinched.

“So you can see why I didn’t want you on this tour. If no one was there to write about it, no one would care. I really didn’t want this to be our last tour.”

I swallowed hard, breaking out of his grasp. “We need a cab. Then I need a drink. And maybe some of Robbie’s painkillers.”

“It’s a lot to take in,” he admitted.

I laughed caustically, feeling like I was losing my mind. “It’s a lot to take in already. It’s too bad there’s more to come.”

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