I managed to tear my eyes away from her hypnotizing gaze and looked to the shore. Sage was only a few yards away. My brilliant Sage. Somehow, he was here too. He was shirtless, his chest cut up and bleeding, on his knees in thick red soil. He was watching me with total agony on his face. I couldn’t tell if it was for me, for himself, or for everyone else. Half his band, half his friends, were dead.

Graham was standing behind him, his arms crossed like a smug bastard, his lower half human, his head was one that belonged on a demonic worm, with a round toothy hole for a mouth. I shivered at the image, the inhuman blending of drummer and demon, the way his mouth dripped black and red splotches of clumpy blood onto the ground.

Naturally, the GTFOs were all there. Beside him were Terri, Sparky, and Sonja, all looking like the life-sucking groupies that they were.

They weren’t alone. As I looked closely around the tree-lined lake, I saw many bobbing heads in the water—demonic faces in all shapes and sizes. Red glowing eyes. Protruding tongues and razor teeth. Weeping skin covered with maggots.

Something big splashed in the distance—a dark, undefinable shape under a bright moon. I caught the gleam of moving scales and an incredible sense of size. I saw the dark creature moving underneath the water toward me like a stealthy submarine.

This was Lake Shasta. And though I was close to shore, I knew I was in the deep end.

“I’m Alva,” the woman said. She took her hand out of the water and offered it to me. I stared at her like she was a fucking idiot.

Her uncanny eyes narrowed for a second, and in that second her hand transformed into a long tentacle. She swiped it at me and it raked across my chest, pulling away skin with a hundred tiny, blood-sucking mouths.

I screamed at the pain and she laughed in retort, her golden eyes flashing into black, empty holes with no way out. I felt like I was being sucked into them, into a cold, hellish eternity.

“Let her go!” Sage yelled, his voice carrying clearly from the muddy shore. “She has nothing to do with this.”

Alva looked at him dryly, her face transformed back to normal in an instant. “You asked for her, Sage. You asked for this.”

“I never asked for you to kill her. I never asked for anyone to be killed and you know it!”

“Well, you should have been more specific when you made the deal,” she said, sounding bored. She caught me staring at her and smiled very, very slowly. Her incisors were as sharp as shark’s teeth and they cut into the side of her mouth where the wounds flayed open like torn paper. “Sorry this has to be so dramatic, Dawn. We like to have fun when no one’s watching. And part of the fun is killing you in a most terrifying way. Now we know your mother died some years ago. Slit her wrists and drowned in the bathtub. We thought that was too cliché for you though.”

“But you can’t do this,” I yelled, trying to keep the raft level. Water was splashing over the sides, swamping me. “The bargain’s not even being fulfilled. There’s supposed to be a published article. I haven’t even finished writing it!”

Alva laughed. “Oh, that doesn’t matter. We found it on the bus and finished the rest for you. We mailed it to Barry Kramer today. The fact-checker can’t check facts when the whole band is dead.”

“You’re not supposed to kill him,” I sneered. I didn’t know where I was finding the courage. “It’s not in the code.”

“Screw the code,” Alva sneered back. A small, revolting worm slid out of her ear and traveled down to her chest, leaving a black, slimy trail. “The only reason we follow the code is because we’re made to. But you don’t see one of the Jacobs around right now, do you?”

“You answer to someone.”

“Yes. His name is Lucifer and I can tell you that he’s not a fan of the code either. It’s just something we have to do for that other guy.”

I assumed she meant God. How diplomatic of him to have a deal with the devil himself.

“Besides,” she continued. “You’re what Sage asked for. He wanted someone to love. We gave that to him, and now we’re taking it away, just like we took away every other person. He got off easy with his wife just leaving, but later we decided it lacked impact, you know?”

She giggled and splashed around in the water, treading it playfully, her appearance slowly becoming more monstrous. “To tell you the truth, Sage has been a fun contract to fulfill and an even funner one to collect on.”

“Funner is not a word,” I seethed. Always a journalist, even to the end.

She shrugged. “You should really choose your last words more carefully. Perhaps you should tell Sage you love him. Give him a bit of happiness before we take it away again.”

I looked over at Sage on the shore. His eyes were conflicted, probably over a million different things. Graham had a firm grip on both his shoulders with talon-like claws, and the others were standing close by. He didn’t have a chance in hell of saving me. They were going to drown me, here and now, and he’d be powerless to stop it. He’d have to watch it all. I wondered what happened on the bus, if he had to see the others dead.

“Well, you love him don’t you?” Alva prodded, annoyed.

It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I really did love him. I loved him before as one loves their idols. And I loved him now as a similarly damaged soul. A kindred spirit. It was a budding love, new and growing, built on attraction, on trust. I trusted him. I knew he’d try and save me if he could. But things weren’t looking in his favor.

I would have told him. But it didn’t feel right. It was a private thing from me to him. The demons didn’t deserve to hear it.

“Okay, well at least you love her,” Alva said to Sage. Her voice was deeper now as she slowly changed forms, more and more wriggling black worms coming out of her skin, bursting free of her face and neck like out of a rotten apple.

Sage shook his head.

Alva lowered her eyes. They were no longer gold. There was no longer anything beautiful about her. “You can’t hide the truth from us. I can sniff it out of you.”

“I’m not hiding anything,” Sage said. His voice was cold and steady. He looked at me, a full apology brimming in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Dawn.”

The confusion was a pleasant distraction. “What?”

“Yes, what?” Alva repeated, her voice growling.

Sage shrugged. “I...I don’t love her. I barely know her.”

Alva laughed. It was short and bursting with uncertainty.

“What do you mean you don’t love her? Of course you do.”

“I don’t,” Sage said in such a way that I believed him. “I don’t love you, Dawn, I’m sorry. I like you a lot. An awful lot. But I don’t love you.”

I heard Alva make a sputtering sound. I heard the sound of my heart breaking.

Alva’s depthless eyes were on me, reading the shock on my face. Then they turned into tiny black points and speared Graham with terrifying intensity. “Graham. You told me he was in love with her.”

Graham looked flustered and changed back into human form, his gaping worm mouth shrinking into a hole. Everyone was looking at him, even Sage.

“What? He is in love with her. I know it.”

“I’m not,” Sage pleaded.

“Okay, can you guys stop rubbing it in!” I yelled, even though part of me wanted Sage to continue. The fact that he didn’t love me was the only thing that was keeping me alive.

“Graham,” Alva growled. She swam around the raft until she was between me and the shore and I caught long black tentacles and flickering tails drifting behind her. “Explain.”

“I..I…,” he looked at everyone, his face flickering from demon to human like someone flipping channels on a TV. “Chip. The sound tech. He said he caught them having sex on the floor. He says he talked to Dawn’s friend and she said she was in love with him.”

“I don’t give a fuck if Dawn’s in love with him!” Alva yelled, a ferocious sound that boomed across the lake, causing the water to ripple. I could hear something large and terrible surfacing behind me but I didn’t dare look. “She’s not part of the deal. The deal was we take what Sage loves. Does he love Dawn or not? Tell me you know this for a fact.”

Graham’s monstrous mouth flapped soundlessly for a beat or two. “They had sex! They’ve been spending all their time together! I’ve seen the way he looks at her.”

He was losing the argument and fast. You could hear it in his tone. For the first time ever, Graham sounded scared. And whatever scared Graham was bound to terrify me.

Alva’s stare flamed. Her voice rose. “You know, for a demon, you’re a hell of a romantic, Graham. And a fucking moron. Love is more than just sex and longing looks. Fuck…look at all the fucking time we just wasted. Now this isn’t even part of the contract.”

I had to wonder what a head demon like Alva knew about love, but I pushed it out of my head and tried to think of what to do next. With chains that would surely sink me and a monster somewhere out in the deep, there wasn’t much I could do except watch and wait.

“Maybe he’s lying,” Graham supposed, grasping for straws. My heart did a sick little dance at the idea. But his love would mean death and I wasn’t a fool.

“He’s not. I can tell,” she said through grinding teeth. The water in the lake began to shake and ripple like it was being bustled by an underwater earthquake. A thick coat of black liquid began to bleed out of holes in her body and spread out across the water’s surface like an oil spill. If I looked close I could see faces in the oily matter, screaming soundlessly at me, souls trapped in a never ending hell.

I looked away from the sight. Alava turned around in the water and aimed her gaze at me. Her eyes looked dead. “Kill him.”

Everyone on the shore looked at each other.

She whipped around and screamed, “Kill him! Not Sage! Graham! Kill Graham! Kill him now! Kill him now!”

Any wonder whether demons could be killed was gone. Graham shoved Sage to the ground and started to run into the woods, but Sparky transformed into a black worm with multiple human-like legs and leaped onto Graham’s back, taking him down. He thrashed as Sonja and Terri reached for him with their long, growing fingers. There was a scream and ripping sounds, wet cracks that rattled across the lake. Sage was on the ground nearby, face down, covering his ears from the sound. Terri and Sonja stood up, a bloody limb in each arm. They took the arms and tossed them into the lake where a dozen tentacles reached out of the dark water, dragging the limbs under the surface in a feeding frenzy.

The final rip was the loudest. I closed my eyes just as I saw Sonja holding up Graham’s half human, half demon head. She brought his face up to hers as if she was going to kiss it and began to eat it instead. Talk about every rock star’s worst nightmare.

Alva turned to me, and if she wasn’t a disgusting, oozing demon, she might have looked sheepish. “Drummers are the worst.”

“So what do we do with Sage?” Terri yelled. She kicked Sage in the side and he cried out in pain. “Can we have our way with him before we kill him?”

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