The guitar is in the living room, propped up on a sofa cushion. I fumble across the room using just the light from the street-lights outside and close the curtains, then fumble back to the light-switch. Nico will guess where I am, but if he can’t see for certain, he might decide that I’d just run off instead. A sensible person, I think, would have run off.
I pick the guitar up; it feels warm to the touch still, as though it’s only just been put down. I lay it on the coffee table, and get my notes out from my pocket, stand in front of it, and start to recite.
Fantasy novels make magic sound so easy. The mage waves his hands a beanstalk grows. The witch cackles and points and the prince turns into a frog. If it’s Disney, there’s sparkles and twinkles too. But this, this is real magic, and I stop and have to start again twice because my voice is shaking and I can’t be certain I’ve said the right syllable. And the wrong syllable means the spell won’t work. Enough of the wrong syllable and it might turn out to be a different spell altogether. And there are things that listen, things on the outside that use the chanting to find a way in. Things that make the Ilmatu seem like marriage-material.
Of course, thinking that doesn’t help settle my nerves in the slightest, and I don’t know how long I’ve got before Nico tries breaking down the front door, or the Ilmatu tries to get me, or worse still, my sister and DeeDee come home. I scrunch up my nerves, tense my stomach as hard as I can take, and read from the paper, tracing the words with my fingertip.
The second reading gets a resonance from the strings, and the third gets a deep throbbing pulse from the lowest string. The fourth reading makes it louder, enough to give me a headache, and on the fifth, when my vision’s starting to blur again and I’m sure I’m going to stumble over the words and say the wrong thing, there’s a shimmer as all the strings vibrate and one of the tattoos uncoils itself from the guitar and slides softly off the edge. Something dark-red and sticky dribbles off the edge of the coffee-table and pools on the carpet.
I heave a huge, shuddering sigh, and shuffle my notes to get to the next one, and then I look at the guitar. The rest of the tattoos are writhing and rearranging themselves over the surface of the guitar, and even as I start to read from the paper again there’s a noise like silk tearing and for a moment the guitar goes utterly black. Then it’s not a guitar anymore, but a guitar-shaped window looking into a frozen cave of some kind. There’s ice up near the ceiling, turning into a kind of gel as it descends to the floor, and there’s a doorway that looks as though it might be barred a little to the left.
A shiver runs down my spine. It’s the city of the Ilmatu.
There’s a deep ringing chord somewhere nearby, and I think it’s the guitar.
Hands appear on the edge of the window; unnaturally long fingers flex and wrists and arms are pulled up into view.
Something hammers, it might be someone at the front door. The arms stretch through the window and they’re reaching for me.
Glass breaks in the distance.
Another chord plays. I’m dimly aware that I’m speaking, but I don’t know what I’m saying.
More glass breaking. Something ghosts past my cheek.
The head of an Ilmatu appears at the window, smooth as an egg, iridescent colours flowing over it in psychedelic patterns. A chord sounds, and glass breaks.
I’m shouting. I don’t know what I’m shouting, but I know that I really, really mean it.
An Ilmatu steps through the window, and glass breaks. A chord sounds and then goes wrong, it’s like strings have snapped. The guitar-shaped window warps and snaps shut. A guitar floats momentarily in mid-air and then jack-knifes, tearing itself apart along its length. Two pieces fall out of the air. Something dark-red drips from the edge of a table and pools on the carpet.
The Ilmatu stalks past me and leaves; I can’t move, I can’t follow her. I don’t want to follow her.
I put my hand up to my cheek and find I’m bleeding. The curtains in front of me are torn, shredded, and the windows beyond them are broken, shattered inwards by something. Something sticky drips, and I realise I’m cut in lots of places. Something dark-red drips from all of my edges and pools on the carpet.
Everything goes dark.