Ever since I was a kid, there was a genre that made me wince. When I first started writing I swore up and down that I would never go there because the premise just freaked me out so completely. I could handle a lot of dark plot twists, but there was something about demons that just made my brain freeze and my hands sweat. I don’t know if because it’s somewhat plausible or if it goes back to a very human fear of the unknown, but it’s there.
Needless to say, making demons and a deal with a devil-like figure in my first novel, In the Red, was a bit of a shock. Maybe it was because a lot of the themes of the book found their start in my love of fairy tales; maybe I grew more comfortable with the concept through my love of urban fantasy. I’m not sure what happened, but I suddenly found myself knee-deep in Hellish characters that were intent on tempting human prey to join them…and the dark side in the human lead who was intent on keeping up with them.
In the book, Jeremiah Kensington unknowingly trades a lot for a chance at fame, and eagerly takes lessons from his band mates (who may or may not be human). At one point he conceals himself behind the persona of J.K. Asmodeus, and markets himself as the ultimate sinner, the corrupter of the masses, and a demon in human flesh. It’s not a new concept. Everyone has a little evil inside them, and a lot of theatrical rockers have used similar campaigns. For Jeremiah, though, it was not only an interesting plot twist, but a fascinating metaphor. The root of demon means “to show,” yet he was using that kind of persona to hide behind. In a lot of ways, his character was pretty bland and childish before he took on the persona. It wasn’t until he survives his rock n’ roll fantasy and realizes he has to make a choice that he actually starts to become a real person.
In a lot of ways, once I worked past my own trepidation of the unknown, I found that I could use my demons as a comparison to Jeremiah. He ends up having more of a fuller journey where they’re stuck whining about all that they want and don’t have. They may be aggressive, manipulative, and play the bad boy image to the hilt, but at the end of the day they’re limited because they’ve traded in their humanity for a sure thing. Jeremiah may have his irritating points (and he definitely has them), but he, at least, gets the opportunity to have them flung in his face and learn from them. He gets to see the very worst version of himself and what it really looks like, which may come as something as a surprise, since it’s also buried deep in what he thought he wanted most. Yet by then, he can see clearly. He can hear the music that he loves so much, and though he’s terrified, he has more of a chance against these otherworldly creatures than he did going in. He’s not the whiney little boy who will follow anyone’s lead as long as it gets him what he wants. He’s willing to admit that he loves things and people, and will stand up for them, even if it’s not easy. In a lot of ways he has to succumb to the darkness to have a hope of getting to the light that waits beyond.
So am I still afraid of the concept of demons? Not in writing. I’ll admit that possession movies and literature don’t thrill me, and the whole thing still unnerves me, but that’s good in a way. The concept does what it’s supposed to do: it shows us that there’s a part of all of us that is totally removed from what we’re supposed to be. It warns us not to become those things, to not be ashamed of our own humanity, to not want some things so badly that we’ll do anything for them. It’s a terrifying concept, a brilliant metaphor, and a type of character that I’m glad I finally got a chance to explore.
Live like a rock star.
Dance ‘til you die.
Are you in?
What kind of a rock star lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere and plays at weddings and funerals? That’s what Jeremiah Kensington is thinking after an unsuccessful bar gig one night. Then Jack Scratch comes into his life, ready to represent him and launch him to stardom. Jack can give him everything: a new band, a new name, a new life, a new look, and new boots…although they aren’t exactly new. They once belonged to The One, a rocker so legendary and so mysterious that it’s urban legend that he used black magic to gain success. But what does Jeremiah care about urban legend? And it’s probably just coincidence that the shoes make him dance better than anyone, even if it doesn’t always feel like he’s controlling his movements. It’s no big deal that he plunges into a world of excess and decadence as soon as he puts the shoes on his feet, right?
But what happens when they refuse to come off?
They’re mine. I’m really holding them, Jeremiah realized. I’m holding history that isn’t supposed to exist. When The One took the stage, any competition turned tail and ran. It was said that the one time the singer revealed what he looked like the crowds were moved to tears by his beauty and sophistication, and tore each other apart because they couldn’t get to him. Some said it was a conspiracy that complete copies of his songs didn’t exist because the music was too potent to release to the public. There were people who still worshipped the mystery, the music, the outfits, and the boots.
And now those people would come to him.
“Go on. Try them on,” Jack encouraged. Jeremiah nodded and carefully put the platforms on the floor. Shaking with nerves, the youth sat and guided his feet into the cherry red sheaths. Electricity crackled along his instep and through his toes. He tugged the vinyl up over his calf and gasped. Jeremiah was overtaken by a sudden burn, a sudden ant-crawling of power that worked its way through his skin and into his very soul.
“What the—” he choked. The plastic spasmed, tightened around his foot, and then relaxed. The left boot stretched itself a little higher up his calf and extended its sole and heel a little more to adapt to his needs. Jeremiah thought he had imagined it, but the right boot immediately followed suit. The matching sets of the laces squirmed and rippled, settling into a slightly different pattern than when they were taken out of their box. A quick look around proved that while everyone in the room was looking, Jack was the only other person that actually saw. “Did they just…?” Jeremiah couldn’t bring himself to say something so bizarre. He barely managed to hold back a cry when a thousand tiny needle teeth nibbled his skin from toes to knees. A tingling sensation spread under his skin and Jeremiah was filled with a rush of violent confidence that almost made him swoon.
“Good. They fit,” Jack said. Only his tiny, mysteriously cruel little smile hinted that he was aware of the boots’ strange behavior.
The longer Jeremiah looked at himself the more he realized that he could do no wrong. My life just changed. With these on my feet, my past is gone. I’m going to be better than I ever thought possible.
All around him the yes-men and hangers-on gaped.
“You look so good!” the store footman practically swooned. His vinyl and lace frock coat danced under the fluttering movements of his hands. His sharp, pale face flushed with excitement underneath the stylized Victorian wig.
“I’m gonna cry you look so good!” the blonde assistant squealed, gripping Jack’s knee as if she’d keel over if she didn’t have it there to support her. “It’s like I’m witnessing history!”
The faces that surround him were positively thunderstruck and at his mercy. The camera kept right on clicking. Jeremiah got to his feet and struck a few more ambitious poses, dropping into a low crouch before kicking a leg up in an insane bastardization of a round kick. It didn’t matter that he’d grown up looking like every other average guy in Middle America. It didn’t matter that he’d been more accustomed to cotton T-shirts and washed-out blue jeans than the clothes Jack had him wearing. The overall look wasn’t complete, but the boots pulled everything together. The added height evened out his lanky proportions. In some unlikely way the platforms made his stubble-sporting, angular face look downright exotic. His eyes blazed liquid brown heat and his dishwater hair almost glowed under the dressing room lights.
Jeremiah sashayed around the tiny space and leapt onto the low podium at the room’s center, full of a burning drive to do something. He wanted to sing. He wanted to rock. He wanted to dance, and he’d never had that sort of urge before in his life. Every school dance he’d ever gone to had involved him either playing in the band or drinking contraband beverages with his friends outside the building. “Guess I’m a natural!” he laughed. He knew he was lying, Jack knew he was lying, but there was no reason for anyone else to know the truth. Why bother with the truth when the image in the mirror was so much better?
He had expected his balance to be shaky in the tall platforms, but it was like the boots were built for him. He hadn't thought to check the size. Maybe The One wasn't the original owner; maybe they conformed to whoever wore them. Jeremiah’s face glowed when he looked at his mirror image. His reflection looked as giddy and ecstatic as he felt. Why do I care what they are? If they work, they work! His eyes dropped to the new footwear. He was just able to see the tiny, warped image of his face in the shiny toes. Everything’s going to be amazing from now on. As he admired his distorted image via his feet, all of his hang-ups and personality drained out of him. Who needs a personality with boots like these?
Jack Scratch watched his protégé glided round the room, that same tiny, dangerous smile just barely curling his full mouth. "Just think. What you have on represents everything that you want to be," he coached. His words drilled through the rocker's ears and hardwired themselves into the deepest parts of Jeremiah’s heart and soul. "They’re everything you want on your side. These boots are temptation and chaos, just like you. I've got it," he declared. "I've got your name."
"Give it to me," a raspy voice in front of the mirror breathed.
"Forget Jeremiah Kensington: folk singer, blue jean rocker, country boy, small town loser,” Jack breathed, his giant hands fervently patting down his front until he found which jacket pocket his cigarettes were hidden in. It was amazing that he didn’t gouge himself in the chest given the sharpened tip of the massive silver ring that enveloped his right forefinger. The manager leaned back against the sofa and lit up, never once taking his eyes off his new golden boy and meal ticket. “From now on you are J.K. Asmodeus, rock star and corrupter of the masses." A thin plume of smoke stretched up to frame his intense expression.
J.K. looked from Jack to the man in the mirror, saw how the red glitter of the boots was echoed in his eyes. "Yes."
The two ignored the gasps and commentary around them as everyone texted photos and alerted the necessary paparazzi. The pair shared a slow smile as Jack inhaled another draw of nicotine. “It’s time to sign,” he murmured. The smoke crept in front of his face and turned his pleased expression into something that bordered on animalistic. He removed the top sheet of the stack he’d been examining and held it out to the younger man.
I should wait and consult a lawyer. I should take my time. These things need to be done with care, a distant echo of a Midwestern conscience chided. J.K. ignored it, grinned back at his manager, and reached for the fountain pen the manager handed him. His expression was almost as malevolent as Jack’s, though there were still traces of wholesomeness that had yet to drain away. “Let’s do it.”
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Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination since she was little and convinced that fairies lived in the nearby state park or vampires hid in the abandoned barns outside of town. Her appreciation for a good story was enhanced by a love of reading, the many talented storytellers that surrounded her, and a healthy curiosity for everything. A talent for warping everything she learned didn’t hurt, either. She gravitates to writing fantasy and horror, but can be convinced to pursue any genre if the idea is good enough. Often her stories feature the unknown creeping into the “real” world and she loves to find the magical in the mundane.
She has four e-books with No Boundaries Press, including the historical vampire story ‘Mooner’ and the contemporary short ‘The Other Man’. Her work has also been included in ‘The MacGuffin’, ‘The Realm Beyond’, ‘Stories for Children Magazine’, and the upcoming Wicked East Press anthology ‘Bedtime Stories for Girls’. She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her fairies to play mind games, and her princesses to hold their own.
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