Skye Sparrow was weird.
She had a weird name, weird clothes, weird sense of humour, weird taste in music. Her hair fell to her waist, a soft shade of lilac, and her lips were painted dark and inelegantly, as if she had crushed blackberries against her lips. She wore bold, mismatching colours in outdated fashions and she spent her evenings alone in Blackwood Kirk, whispering and singing to the dead.
People came to expect her there, that rainbow splash amidst the grey. Yet, still, it unsettled them. There was something about colours and death… they weren’t well matched.
Every evening, Skye bought a small swirl of frozen yogurt sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and chocolate flakes. She walked twice around the Kirk, her long skirts brushing over grass and graves. Her voice was sweet and strange and between spoonful’s of yogurt she sang songs that no one had heard before.
Everyone in school had their own theory about her; Cathy said she was a thousand-year- old-vampire, Sue said she was a witch. Kev said her parents were either cult leaders or circus runaways, Owen said she was a demon bride.
Owen was right.
Skye Sparrow didn’t smoke or bite her nails. She drank a normal amount of caffeine, couldn’t whistle, and hadn’t picked her nose since she was four years old. But she did have a bad habit.
She had always been an easy target for demons and faerie alike. She believed in them all; goblins and faeries, mermaids and banshees, trolls and elves and pixies. Not just believed but wanted, needed, to believe. And they wanted her back.
She made her first bargain when she was seven years old.
For proof of their existence, she gave up her favourite dress; a blue satin ballgown that glittered like the night sky. Her mother was furious when it disappeared but she didn’t care, because in its place she had a crude little map that led her to faerie hiding spots.
When she was ten years old, and too young to understand what she was giving up, she sold her first kiss to save her younger brother after he fell from his bike and tumbled into the river.
A year later, she gave away every freckle on her skin for a good grade on her maths homework.
When she was fourteen, she gave up a month of her life to spend just two days living among the faeries, eating goblin fruit and dancing with creatures she had only seen in dreams. She sold three of her adult teeth to make the world forget that she had gone missing.
At sixteen, a demon who loved her gave her a talent for music that could never be matched. In return, she agreed to marry him.
At seventeen years old, Skye Sparrow bargained to save her demon husband-to- be. All she had to do was sing to the dead.
And she swore that she would never make deals with faerie folk again.
‘Do I lean my head left or right? Or neither? Do our noses get in the way? Should I floss right before. No, right? That would be awkward. Oh god, what if there’s garlic on the pizza?’
Skye raised a brow at her best and only human friend, watching her wipe away the lipstick from her mouth and immediately pick up a new shade, ‘Relax, Jade. It’s just kissing, it’s not that scary. And I can guarantee that Owen isn’t worrying about it this much.’
‘Easy for you to say, you’ve probably kissed hundreds of guys,’
‘Oh, yes. Can’t you see the line of eager suitors at my door?’ Skye rolled her eyes and poked her head out of the window, ‘Gentlemen, please, some patience! My lips are still chaffed from the first hundred! My poor skin would also be grateful if you would shave!’
‘Very funny,’ Jade pulled Skye away from the window and the confused stares of people passing on the street below, ‘Will it be sore if he hasn’t shaved?’
Skye laughed as Jade ran a worried hand over her cheek, ‘I don’t think Owen can even grow stubble, you’re safe.’ She moved to the wardrobe and started pulling out clothes for Jade to try on.
‘Ugh, I can’t stop thinking about it. Tell me about your first kiss, it’ll distract me,’ Jade tossed lipstick number five across the table and turned to Skye with pleading eyes.
‘How will talking about my first kiss distract you from yours?’
Skye chewed on her bottom lip, focusing her attention on the bold pink dress she held out before her. Jade had only come into her life six months before, full of passion and sincerity. Others had tried to pass on their whispers and conspiracies and, instead of avoiding direct eye contact with her, Jade had waltzed over to Skye, linked their arms together and declared loudly, ‘Don’t you hate it when you find other people’s noses in your business?’
Skye had never had a human friend before; only faeries and demons that mostly wanted to consume her piece by piece. Jade had no secrets and Skye shared none. She never lied to her one friend, never wanted to repay her honesty with lies. She just volunteered very little.
There were moments when Skye wondered why she didn’t trust Jade not to laugh or scoff or back away from her if she told her the truth.
‘Well, Jade, I sold my first kiss to my childhood friend when I was ten, but we didn’t kiss until I was fifteen. We were in the graveyard, obviously, and his lips were very cold. Did I mention that my childhood friend is a demon?’
Jade was staring at her and Skye worried for a moment that she had accidentally made her wild declaration out loud.
‘I mean, you don’t have to tell me if you really don’t want to,’ Jade smiled, ‘Or was it just so good you got lost in the memory?’
‘My first kiss was with a demon. He gave me a dead flower after and asked me to marry him.’
‘Oh ha ha,’ Jade stuck her tongue out and returned to her lipstick-smudged reflection.
Skye Sparrow was not afraid of death.
She had clung to her childlike sense of invincibility. She may have had few friends, but those she had were in all the right places.
Scythe had been shapeless before her.
He heard whispers of the human girl; the intuitive child with dreams and wants enough for every faerie and demon to feed on for years to come. He watched her, and fell in love with her wild smile and yearning eyes. She was vibrant from the inside out; laughter and colour where he was tears and shadow.
He took many forms to be around her; ravens and crows and spiders. She would speak to him, even though he could not answer. She called him friend.
He was watching the day she and her brother were racing through the forest pathways, pedalling their bikes faster and faster. Her brother had time enough to scream as he hit the broken branch, fell from his seat and down, down, down the ravine towards the river.
She abandoned her bike at the bottom of the hill, scrambling towards the steep edge and calling her brother’s name. Twigs and twisted roots seemed to reach out for his small, limp body as if trying to catch him.
Scythe’s brothers were already there.
They waited in the water, thin shadows ready to gather up the falling soul. They hissed as Scythe took him first. He fabricated a human body for the first time, half-formed and crudely shaped, a child the same age as Skye. Sallow flesh covered only part of his face, bone and hollow sockets on the left side. He took the boy in his skeletal hands and carried him up to the path.
‘Thank you, thank you,’ Skye had cried, pulling her brother into her arms and sobbing into his dirt encrusted hair. Scythe’s brothers seethed, the river bubbling and steaming in rage.
‘You have to give us something in return,’ Scythe spoke for the first time, his voice soft and brittle.
‘I know,’ Skye nodded, stroking her brother’s hair, ‘What do you want?’
Her soul, his brothers demanded, Her servitude.
Scythe’s body shivered. Skye was light and life, the first star to break through the night. He could not imagine her turned to shadow and ash. He would not give his brothers what they asked for.
He had never experienced selfishness until that point.
And so Skye Sparrow sold her first kiss to Death.
‘Jade is trying to set me up on a date.’
‘What?’ Scythe spat his frozen yogurt over a circle of pink-tipped daisies and onto Skye’s lap as she laughed, ‘But… I mean… Of course, if you want… I just…’
‘I wish everyone could hear how incoherent Death is,’ Skye teased, ‘Relax, I said I wasn’t interested.’
‘I’m only one part of Death, you know that,’ Scythe muttered as he wiped yogurt from his lips and the smooth bone of his cheek, ‘And I would understand if you wanted to…date.’
‘No way. It’s probably just some loser who wants to find out the weird girl’s secrets.’
Scythe nodded, his blue eye searching Skye’s expression, hoping he would find the reason he wanted to hear there. She tucked a lilac curl behind her ear, her own spring-green eyes fixed on the darkening sky, and sighed. She picked up the silver flute from the grass at her feet, admiring the leaves and vines that shaped it and the way it glinted in the last slivers of daylight.
She’d followed the music into the graveyard when she was ten and found Scythe playing a crude wooden flute through broken and bleeding lips. It was his punishment, for saving a life for only a kiss. Trapped in the graveyard, trapped in his half-formed human body, with only a splintering flute.
Skye had sold the colours of her hair, the colour of walnuts and caramel, to have a new flute faerie-made for him. She passed it over to Scythe now and lay back, her head resting on the steps of the mausoleum as she listened to him play.
The music was soft and ethereal; a lullaby to soothe the dead. It was as strange as the music she’d danced to with creatures of another world. It sent shivers through her skin and inflamed her heart. She would happily lay there forever if it meant the song would never end. This music wasn’t meant for the living.
Which is why Scythe only let her stay for one song; one song that he poured his ashen heart into for her.
He lowered the flute from his grey lips and watched the skin at her brow knot into a frown at the silence. His punishment was a blessing. Because he got to see her every night. Because she would slip her warm hand into his and kiss his skull. Because she smiled like a crescent moon and made him laugh. Because being with her was like being alive.
‘I wish I could play like that,’ Skye said as Scythe sat down on the stairs beside her, ‘Or sing. Or have any musical talent.’
‘I could help with that,’ Scythe picked up a strand of her hair in his skeletal fingers and clumsily plaited it.
‘What would you want in return? I’m all out of freckles but I think there’s a mole or two around here,’ Skye held out her arms for inspection, and could have sworn she saw some greedy faerie eyes on her, ‘I’m definitely not giving up more teeth though.’
‘I’m not making a deal, I would never take something from you again. I meant I could teach you,’ Scythe undid the braid in her hair, an excuse to keep running his fingers through the soft strands.
Skye sat up, her head cocked to the side, ‘Really? You’d teach me… for nothing?’
She knew Scythe still held onto some guilt for stealing her first kiss. As if she hadn’t given it freely, as if she wouldn’t have made some other deal to get it back if she had wanted. She remembered what he’d asked her when she’d pulled her lips away from his, the second and last thing he’d ever asked for himself. She chewed on her lip as she looked at him now, decayed and solemn and beautiful. It didn’t seem to matter that she was young and human while he was ageless and not.
‘Then teach me as a wedding present,’ she grinned.
‘Ask me again,’ Skye cupped his face in her hands, stroking across the sharp bones, ‘Ask me and I’ll say yes.’
So he did, her answer interrupted by the clash of his lips on hers.
Jade was waiting for her, perched on a slanted gravestone.
It had been almost a year since they had shared more than an estranged smile. Skye’s skin had turned pale, her eyes shadowed and hollow. Jade wanted to punch herself for not noticing a long time ago, and then punch Skye for not letting her help her.
‘I thought you might like some company for once,’ Jade’s smile was an open palm waiting to be held.
‘It’s not a good idea,’ Skye stared at her for a moment that lasted eternity before turning away.
‘Wait,’ Jade leaped up, following Skye’s rushed steps through the maze of graves, ‘Please talk to me.’
‘Don’t you have new friends to talk to?’
‘Yes, I do. But I want to talk to you,’ Jade huffed, ‘I didn’t realize all this time you were just mad that I made other friends.’
Skye melted into the shadows and Jade halted, looking around the darkening Kirk for a glimpse of where she had disappeared to.
‘Look, I’m sorry,’ She folded her arms over her chest, hugging herself against the cool wind, ‘I should have made more of an effort. I let them talk crap about you, and… and I didn’t fight for us,’ She paused, waiting for an answer that only the whispering of the tress gave her, ‘I should have tried harder to be there for you when… well, when whatever happened. But I needed you to talk to me, Skye. Why wouldn’t you trust me? I know this is months too late but I’m here now, please. Please talk to me.’
Jade yelped as Skye flickered into view in the corner of her eye, leaning against the wall of the mausoleum. She was holding a cup of frozen yogurt in one hand, spoon in the other and her patchwork jacket was scuffed and torn. She looked tiny and frail next to the towering structure, like a songbird hit on impact.
‘What happened to you?’ Jade held out her hand, sighing in relief when Skye’s fingers slipped through hers and squeezing it tight.
Skye told her everything. Starting from when she was a child and had sought out the creatures from stories. How she bargained away pieces of her life, how she had befriended a demon and loved him. They sat on a stone slab, sharing a spoon and passing the tub of yogurt back and forth. Skye told her how a year before, her demon had asked her to marry him for the second time and she had said yes.
‘His brothers weren’t exactly…happy. One of them came to us… God, he looked horrible. He had the skull of some horned animal and what I’m pretty sure was a resurrected human corpse. He took Scythe away and I thought… I thought I’d never see him again.’
Scythe had cried, tears rolling down flesh and bone as the shadows stole him and Skye had raged. She talked to no one save the demons and faeries she summoned and bargained with until she had Scythe’s brothers before her. And she made her last deal.
Jade rubbed at her temples when Skye finished, ‘So… You’re in love with Death?’
‘Technically ‘Death’ is made up of Scythe and his brothers so… partially?’
‘And now you’re doing his job… does that make you Death?’
‘No. Well… Partially.’
Skye bit her lip, waiting for Jade to get angry, or laugh at her, or walk away without another word.
‘I definitely never loved Owen enough to bargain away my soul like that,’ Jade finally said, a tentative smile twitching at her lips, ‘I’m sorry you didn’t feel like you could tell me this before… But I get it, it sounds insane.’
‘But you don’t think I’m insane?’
‘Oh I definitely do. Who gives up a hundred years of their life for a guy? And you’re going to spend all that time singing to worms and skeletons? And won’t you be all old and gross by the time Scythe is finally free? Skye, seriously, you see how this is kind of all glass empty, right?’
Skye grinned, placing the last pomegranate seed on her tongue, ‘Don’t worry, Jade. I’ve been friends with demons for ten years, you don’t think some of them have a bone to pick with Scythe’s brothers?’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means that I’ve already had a t-shirt made up saying Queen of the Underworld. But, until then, think you can harmonise?’
A short story by Holly E. E. Garrow