The strings hummed softly, and I froze, too scared to move. My sister shrugged, letting her hand fall away from the guitar, and placed the instrument on the bed next to DeeDee.
“Seems like it’s in tune at least,” she said. “What’s the matter with you, you look like you thought I was going to explode, or something.”
How do you tell your sister that the last time you saw the instrument she’s just strummed played a room full of people were rendered unconscious and had their ears stolen, and that you’re pretty certain the instrument is demonic; or possibly even worse, that the instrument is almost certainly responsible for the release of a different kind of demon, and that you’re just a little worried that it might bring it back. I couldn’t find an answer, so I settled for,
“I thought the guitar might break. I think it’s quite old, and... and... and well, broken strings can cut quite badly.”
She looked at me as though she thought I were having a stroke.
“Are you quite alright?” she said. “Because I thought I’d be the one sounding weird after sitting here for the last week, pretty much by myself.”
Neither of us saw DeeDee’s hand move, but it must have done, because the strings sounded again, and this time it was an odd growl like an effects pedal were being used. The whole room seemed to shake, but nothing moved; the daffodils stayed in their vase, the chart at the end of the bed didn’t fall from its little pin, no dust fell from the ceiling. Nonetheless, I was sure that the entire room had just shuddered around me, and equally sure that it was because of the guitar.
“DeeDee?” My sister’s voice was rising with hope, and we both looked at the bed. DeeDee’s eyes were opening, her head was turning, and her hand was moving possessively across the body of the guitar. For a moment I wished that the lighting was different so I could what the tattoo designs on the guitar were doing, and then my rational mind took over and assured me that I really, really didn’t.
I left after half an hour; first nurses were summoned, then they called doctors and soon the room was filled with people whose job it was to work out why DeeDee was now awake and how to take credit for it. The guitar was next to DeeDee’s bed and I’d been strongly forbidden from trying to get it back by my sister, who pointed out that it had not only healed her daughter, but also that her daughter seemed very attached to it.
“She’s not going back into a coma because you want your toy back,” she said firmly. “Buy another guitar. I’ll pay for it if I have to.”
“I’ll come by tomorrow and see how you both are,” I said finally, accepting that I was going to have to leave a dangerous occult tool in the hands of a fourteen year old girl.
“They’ll have let us go home by then, come by the house. Who knows, I might even bake a cake!” For a moment I saw my sister there again, underneath the stress of the last week, pulling herself together and becoming the strong, determined woman that I’d always known, and it almost made up for the worries I now had about DeeDee and her guitar. Almost.
The bus ride home was tedious, with frequent stops for road-works. Every time I looked out of the window I found myself looking at people’s faces, checking for missing eyes, missing ears and missing noses. The warmth of the bus and the vibration from the engine every time we idled at another temporary set of traffic lights made me sleepy, and
I jerked awake. I was standing up, but I was bent over. I hadn’t gone to bed like this was my first thought, and then I realised I must have been sleepwalking. I’d heard that periods of prolonged stress could cause odd behaviours, maybe it was just that. Then Guldtronen grunted beneath me, and I realised that I must be standing over his bed.
I backed away, bumping into the coffee table and spilling the hotel’s welcome brochures over the floor. Now I knew where I was I put out my hand and felt for the curtains, pulling one of them aside. Light came in, and I could see Guldtronen in his bed, lying on his back looking for all the world like he was dead. My chest tightened, and then I remembered that I’d just heard him grunt; he had to be alive still. Something tickled the palm of my hand, and so I looked at it. Guldtronen’s ear was fixed somehow in the middle of my palms, just as his eyes had been fixed in the Ilmatu’s palms after she’d stolen his sight from him. I looked at my other hand: there was his other ear. Somewhere on the edge of hearing, in a place too close to be as far away as it was, I heard a throaty, feminine chuckle. I started screaming, falling to my knees and staring at my hands, and Guldtronen sat bolt upright in his bed, his hands clapped over the sides of his heads where his ears used to be, screaming just as loudly.
I jerked awake. I was two stops past where I’d wanted to get off, so I pushed past the people standing and rang the bell frantically until the driver pulled over and let me out. I walked back home, feeling the sweat cool on my face, my palms itching uncomfortably. When at last I came in, I went straight for the kitchen and the kettle to make coffee, and stopped in the doorway. On the table was a pile of human ears.