Philippa was the only kid she knew that still listened to the radio. Despite having her own portable music player and headphones, she still preferred the music that poured out of the small radio she kept on the side of her bed. She had it turned to her favorite Jazz and Blues station where the nightly host Breeze McKenzie’s deep, rich voice instantly cheered her up.
“Ahhh welcome back to Smooth106.2, home to the best Jazz and Blues this side of the Eastern Isles. As per request we are going to play ‘Low Light Luster’ by the legendary Miss Minnie Pearle. So just sit back, relax, and let the music mend your spirit, y’all.”
Philippa’s feathers perked as Minnie’s music filled the room. The slow strumming of the bass combined with the crispness of the trombone and the fluidity of the saxophone. When Minnie started singing it was as if she glided atop the instrumentals as Philippa did the waves.
Low lights shinin’
Low lights shinin’
On my way to an empty home
Cuz ever since you let me go
I can’t seem to find my way on my own…
Philippa’s scales seemed to vibrate along with the tones of Minnie’s voice. There was just something about Minnie Pearle, and Jazz and Blues in general, that made Philippa’s heart melt. Any song that can reach out to you in your saddest moments as if to say “you’re not alone” was magical to her, even more magical than the stuff she had to do for homework every night. All this wonderful music that came from humans that she could never be a part of…It pained Philippa to think about it.
But when I was up on that stage singing Minnie Pearle, I felt so amazing! Philippa thought to herself.
“What you just heard was South Caroline’s own Minnie Pearle.” Breeze McKenzie’s deep voice brought Philippa out of her thoughts.
“I hope y’all are listening out there, because I have some pretty great news to share. A little birdie told me that Miss Pearle is coming to Goldenrod this coming April for a one night only performance at the Silverspade Jazz Club. Tickets will be sold starting next week, and that gives our little mystery singer a new option to consider for their debut at their venue of choice.”
Philippa’s heart nearly stopped. Minnie Pearle? In Goldenrod? In two months?! She nearly squealed in delight. Jumping up into the air and flapping rapidly, she hovered in joy.
But wait…Philippa landed softly on her bed. There will likely be humans in that crowd, including Minnie Pearle. I don’t want their souls snatched away!
Worried, she lay on her bed and stared at her ceiling, which was riddled with small crystals that had grown within the rock. She wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to sing with Minnie Pearle, but she didn’t want to put human lives in danger, either. Philippa knew deep in her heart that sirens weren’t dangerous, that there had to have been a way for them to sing without taking a human soul — they just haven’t figured it out yet. And maybe this event was Philippa’s chance to prove it.
Philippa’s cell phone trilled in the midst of all her worrying, leaving her scrambling to answer it. The trill turned out to be a text from her friend Des.
From Des: Hey. Whats up?
Checking to see if her mother heard her phone, Philippa quickly responded:
Just got grounded :(
The next text arrived almost immediately after her last text was sent.
From Des: Oh no! Im sorry! Will talk some other time!
Philippa was about to put her phone away when she was struck with an idea. Des was a reaper, and reapers work with souls. All the time. If a reaper can guide a soul out of a body, what’s to say they can’t guide a soul back into the body, too?
A huge smile crept across her face as she picked up her phone and quickly began texting her crazy idea to Des.
Philippa’s heart raced as she shuffled anxiously down the hallway, making sure the coast was clear. On Tuesdays and Thursdays during lunch there wasn’t a class using the chorus room, so Philippa would eat her lunch as quickly as she could just so she could sneak in and read music. More often than not the door was left unlocked, and today was no exception. Smiling, Philippa quietly let herself in.
The room was large with a floor that rose onto levels that separated the members of the chorus into rows. Desks were crowded along the rows and spare school supplies littered the floor — evidence that the previous class was all to eager to leave for lunch. Scattered about were sheets of music of all kinds, different songs spanning all vocal sections. By now Philippa knew the lineup of songs that the students practiced every day. She had snuck into the chorus room long enough to know each song by heart. This time Philippa searched for sheet music she had never read before, and after a quick scan of the song library she found the soprano part of a song called The Goblin’s Chant.
A warm, fluttering feeling welled up inside of her chest as she traced the sheet music softly with her hands. She could hear the tonal shifts, the key changes, the major thirds, the crescendos and decrescendos. Music was something a siren lived for, coming as easy to them as fire to a dragon. As the music enveloped Philippa she could feel all the warm air bubble from her chest to her lungs, finally tickling the back of her throat.
Since the walls were soundproofed with grey spongy material, Philippa felt it safe enough to sing. The song cascaded from her mouth like a warm wind, enveloping her in her own bubble of calm. She tapped into the lower chambers of her lungs to sing the highest notes and relaxed the center of her chest as she hit the octaves she was comfortable with. The notes felt crisp and sweet on her tongue. While she sang her feathers fluttered and the scales along her legs tingled and clinked. A siren’s body was her instrument, and when she sang her body sang with her.
When the last of the notes trickled from her throat Philippa hugged the sheet music to her chest. She didn’t like having to sing in secret, but any chance was a good chance. Sheet music was hard to come across when you’re banned from chorus and anything else music related. At first Philippa felt guilty for sneaking around and doing things she wasn’t supposed to — mischief wasn’t exactly her cup of tea. But when the chorus room was unlocked and there was no one there to hear you, are you really in danger of being caught?
Philippa was about to return the sheet music when she heard five slow claps coming from behind her. All the blood froze in her veins, her back stiffening to a straight line.
“That was great!” Said the person clapping behind her. “I’ve never heard anyone sing like that!”
Philippa slowly turned around and met the eyes of a fellow student. His eyes were a deep hazel that shone brightly against his warm almond skin. His cheeks were red from shyness, but otherwise Philippa noticed nothing else that was extraordinary— or beast-like — about him. No fur, no scales, no claws, no wings, no hooves, not even a tail.
He was human.
“Um…my name’s Casey,” He tried to smile confidently, but the edges of his mouth kept shaking. “I don’t believe we’ve met before.”
Philippa stared at his outstretched hand, not sure what to do. Slowly she inched away from Casey, her eyes wide with fear. Casey frowned, trying to understand why the feathered girl was backing away from him.
“Are you ok?”
Dropping the sheet music, Philippa ran out of the room. Her heart beat so loudly that she could hear it in her ears. She couldn’t believe that she got discovered, and by a human no less! She should have locked the door, she should have sung more quietly, maybe she should never have snuck into the chorus room in the first place. Her thoughts raced as the squeaking of her sneakers echoed down the hallway. When did he get in? Was she really singing that loud?
Though Philippa was never good at math, she found herself trying to calculate the chances of someone hearing her. But she had to be honest with herself. The door was unlocked and anyone could have come in if they wanted to – she was just lucky enough than nobody wanted to until today. And even though there were only five human students in the entire school, one of them was bound to be in the chorus room for one reason or another.
Of all the realizations she came to, the most important one didn’t hit her until she reached the cafeteria. If a human heard her sing, then their soul would have left their body in an instant, meaning that that same human should not be standing long enough to compliment her on her singing.
Which all added up to the fact that this was the first time that a human heard a siren’s song and lived.
“You guys ready?” asked Casey as he peered out from behind the curtain and stared into the crowd. “It looks pretty packed out there.”
“I’m all set,” Philippa said, checking the time on her watch. “What about you, Des?”
“Uh…y-yeah…” Des murmured, her pale white fingers tracing the studded metal bracelet on her left wrist.
A lot had happened since the chorus room incident, including Casey’s new fondness of Philippa. He managed to find her after she ran away that day, and ever since then they had been spending a lot of time together. Philippa was excited to be the first siren ever to sing without soul stealing, so she spent as much time with Casey as she could to test this new ability. Casey was just happy to help out, and to get closer to Philippa.
Des could sense everything he was feeling — reapers were highly tuned to the emotions of the living. She couldn’t help but be a bit jealous of all the time Philippa and Casey were spending together. Of course Des was always there to monitor his safety, and on a few occasions she had to guide his soul back into his body when a song went awry. It was just that Des couldn’t help but notice the way Casey stared at Philippa when she read music, how he smiled dreamily when she sang, how excited he felt when she asked for his opinion on a song. Des knew that Casey had a crush on Philippa, and that this crush was getting in the way of her spending time with her best friend.
But that’s not what mattered tonight. Tonight was the night that Philippa’s theory was put to the test, so she needed Des more than ever. This made Des smile a bit as she, Philippa, and Casey were jostled to and fro by the event coordinators backstage.
“So we all know the plan?” Philippa asked, adjusting her sweatshirt to cover a few tufts of feathers that gathered around her wrists. She knew that a sweatshirt wasn’t the best outfit for a venue like this — a small space packed with people generated a lot of of body heat; but it was the only disguise that could cover her feathers completely. She was thankful that her jeans didn’t make her scales itch.
“I’ll record your performance so if anything goes wrong we’ll know why,” Casey smiled and held up Philippa’s cell phone for reassurance.
“And if you make a mistake I tend to as many souls as I can.” Des smirked. She pressed her hand firmly on Casey’s back and pulled. Out came a pale mist that bunched together in her palm, causing Casey to go limp. In a swift movement the pressed her hand square into Casey’s back again. Philippa frowned as Casey’s body twitched back to life. Des’ face broke out into a full on smile.
“What just happened?” Casey asked, looking at Des to Philippa and back to Des again. “Why are you smiling?”
“Nothing, just…proving a point.” Des couldn’t help but laugh to herself. Nobody could sense their own soul being tampered with, which made playing with them a fun thing for reapers to do if they were careful enough. Philippa was about to protest when she was interrupted.
“Miss, you’re on in five!” whispered an event coordinator with a clipboard in hand.
“Th-thank you,” Philippa smiled nervously to the event coordinator then turned back toward Des and Casey. Her heartbeat sped up from a mixture of excitement and anxiety. “Ok that means places, guys!”
Des and Casey gave Philippa a hug, then made their way from backstage and into the audience. Casey positioned himself near the front of the stage while Des continued to make her way toward the back. It was hard to see in the low lighting, and the tables were situated so close together that she couldn’t help but bump into people along the way. Apologizing profusely, she finally made it to the back of the audience.
Though crowds made her nervous it felt nice to be around people every once in a while. Once someone caught wind that she were a reaper it all went downhill from there. Normally people would all run away as fast as they could, as if she were death itself. Which she wasn’t — reapers never killed, they only gathered the wayward souls that were there to begin with. But here nobody knew who she was. To them she was just a tall, pale, and lanky teenager in dark purple clothing who came to enjoy the music.
In time the lights dimmed and everyone’s murmuring grew quiet. The musicians in the far left corner of the stage began playing, the slow beat of the drums merging with the pizzicato of the upright bass. A tall, statuesque woman strode out from behind the curtains, her ink black hair done up in a high bun.
“Good evening, everyone!” the woman’s voice was strong and carried across the room with no effort at all. “I welcome you to the special, one-night-only blues event here at the Silverspade Jazz Club. My name is Minerva Masters, and I will be your hostess tonight. We have a special treat for you all — the winner of the Smooth106.2’s singing contest Miss Pippa Judith!”
Applause echoed about the room as Philippa emerged shyly from behind the curtain. As she looked at the crowd Des could sense that Philippa was beginning to regret her decision. Philippa looked down and shuffled her feet, something she normally did when she was nervous. Minerva Masters picked up on this, too, and put a reassuring hand on Philippa’s shoulder.
“So, Pippa, what song will you be singing for us tonight?”
Philippa glanced at the audience then looked up at Minerva.
“I-uh…I’ll be singing ‘Birdcage’.”
“Hear that, folks?” Minerva smiled a large, sharp-toothed grin. “This new talent is going to grace us with a classic!”
The audience clapped again and Minerva whispered something in Philippa’s ear that made her smile a bit. Des was glad that Minerva Masters wasn’t as mean as she looked, she could sense that Philippa’s nerves calmed down a bit. Remember the warm winds, Pippa, Des smiled. Warm winds.
The music picked up its pace as the musicians began to really play. Des could see Philippa close her eyes and take a deep breath. The words seemed to tumble out of her mouth. She was still scared.
They done caught my soul
Hid it with a lock and key…
They done caught my soul
Somebody come and set it free…
And if you ain’t gonna help me
Then I beg you
Please let me be!
Philippa’s voice quivered as she struggled to sing. Her notes weren’t nearly as crisp and even fell flat a couple of times. Des could feel that Philippa’s confidence was waning, which wasn’t a good sign. Philippa shivered in fear as the musicians took over for the instrumental solos.
A chill coursed through Des’ body as she felt the life force beginning to slip away from the humans in the audience. Bits of silver mist wafted around a few of the people in the audience — which was Des’ cue to get started. She let the chill course through her body, welcoming it like her parents had taught her to. She could feel herself being consumed by the reaper instinct, her eyes glowing a bight blue and her teeth curling into a nasty grin. Des was about to make a mad dash through the audience in a fit of soul gathering until a booming voice shook her out of her trance.
They done caught my soul
Hid it with a lock and key!
A tall, large woman with thick gold curls and cocoa brown skin glided across the stage toward Philippa, her black dress trailing behind her. She effortlessly commanded the attention of everyone in the room from her presence alone — she had a fire within her that shone brighter than a blue flame. Smiling warmly, she made a gesture for Philippa to continue. Philippa struggled to contain her joy as the one and only Minnie Pearle joined her onstage. Des could feel that Philippa was overcome with the urge to prove herself, and in an instant the warm winds poured from her lungs and swept over the stage.
They done caught my soul
Somebody come and set it free!
“Yes, girl!” Minnie Pearle cheered as her body swayed to the music.
Des could feel the familiar chill leaving her body and her reaper’s urge dwindling. The silver wisps receded back into the bodies of their respective humans as Philippa began to have fun on stage with Minnie Pearle. Des smiled as she saw her best friend grooving together with her idol.
And if you ain’t gonna help me
Then I beg you…
Please let me be!