The Company of Fiends (Tempting Monsters 2) - Page 1


There was something about the theater that reminded me of a church. Or what I imagined of them. Pa had never taken me inside one. I think he was afraid of me being struck down by the Lord's might. We'd passed by their open doors on Sunday mornings, bells ringing above our heads and the busy conversation floating out from the pews inside, Pa's grip tight around my wrist, dragging me through the busy streets of London.

Now I stood alone in the empty center aisle, rows and rows of red velvet seats at my sides—stained and worn cushions waiting for their patrons—and gazed up at the barren stage. Even my breaths echoed in that hollowness, the cavern of air ahead of me, unlit and unoccupied until this evening. The sounds of the company backstage—the laughing and crashing and calls of orders—were as much a blur as the many voices of prayer from those churches years ago. There was even a vast organ taking up the wall to the right of the stage, although I imagined it wasn't chorales and hymns it would deliver to audiences.

Forgive me, Pa, I thought, walking slowly forward and staring at the dark floorboards, scuffed and marked with chalk. I think this is the only place left for me.


I startled in place, searching the seats around me, the doors, and the stage, until I finally caught a giant shadow shrouded in the darkness behind the barely parted curtains.

"I… I'm here to speak with Mr. Reddy," I stuttered out, shuffling closer, my eyes on the shadow.

Was it enormous because he was up on the stage, towering over me, even from so far away, or—

The figure stepped forward into the dim light, and even though I’d promised myself I wouldn't, a gasp escaped my lips. It, he, was one of them—a monster. He was giant, after all, not just an illusion from the stage, with three vivid green eyes studying me from above, a long dark tail trailing behind him on the ground, and several arms visible, the lowest pair crossed over his stomach.

Pa had hidden me from this world as much as he was able, and the only monsters I'd ever met had come to our tiny flat disguised as humans. In truth, Pa had hidden me from humans too.

"You'll be the new girl," the man on the stage said, his two symmetrical eyes squinting, the one centered above growing wider, all fixed to me.

"Y-yes," I said, nodding, my hands wringing at my back.

He nodded and pointed to my left, an entirely new arm revealed at his back, six in total. "There's a set of stairs up to the stage from there. It’s the easiest route if you come through the theater. But no one does. You'll learn your way around eventually."

I sighed and hurried through the aisles of seats to the hollow, black left doorway. His voice was melodic and low, carrying from the floorboards up to the walkways and rafters, a comforting contrast to my first understanding of the difference between myself and a monster. I fumbled my way up the short dark flight of stairs, my breath hitching as I looked up to find him nearby again.

He was even more enormous up close, my head barely reaching the center of his chest, those green eyes glowing down at me. He stepped back, holding out a hand, and when I focused there, I could almost pretend he was normal, although there was a glimpse of iridescence on his skin just under his cuff.

"Nireas. I play the organ here during the shows," he said.

What are you? I wanted to ask. But I bit my tongue and raised my eyes again to meet his, forcing myself not to gape or flinch or gasp. "Hazel Nix."

His top eye blinked first, and then the lower two, and I found myself smiling up at him. His hand was cool and large around mine. I followed the lead of the gentle tug as he drew me out onto the stage and then around the curtains hanging solemnly like columns.

"Fire in a theater is dangerous, and we don't like to overwork the pixies," Nireas said, leading me through, a strange new universe suddenly expanding around me in smears of shadow. He added, "You get used to the dark."

I'd never imagined what a backstage might look like, a theater was about what was in front of the audience, but this was huge and black and cavernous, a maze of rope pulleys and cupboards and strange furniture waiting for the right scene. Above me there was a whoosh of air, a black mass passing by.

"She new?" a voice over our heads called.

Nireas grunted in answer before turning his head in my direction. "What theater did you belong to before?"

"I didn't."

He hummed, a soothing note that echoed as we turned a corner and entered a wide open space full of clutter and props and backdrops. "House?"

"House?" I repeated.

"Did you work in one of the houses?"

Realizing his meaning, I blushed. "No. This will be my first job."

His steps paused as we reached a long staircase leading down into the belly of the building. "How did you find out about the company?"

There was light coming from below, just enough to make out the long angles of his face, and probably enough for him to see my gaze shy away. "It was recommended to me," I said, which answered nothing.

This time, it was Nireas's third eye which narrowed, but he walked down the stairs, drawing me with him, the voices below growing louder with every step.

The halls were even more narrow down here and crowded with racks of clothing and tables of strange objects, so that Nireas had to walk sideways and I crowded close to his hip to avoid bumping anything out of place. Doorways were covered with curtains while girls and more monsters gathered in tiny rooms or chatted in doorways. The sound of laughter and grunts was barely muffled behind one half-shut curtain, and my eyes bounced quickly away from another, the view of pink flesh and traveling hands now imprinted in my vision, like I could still see the three bodies tangled together while I focused hard on the black fabric of Nireas's jacket.

"Here at the end of the hall," he said. "You'll find meals off to the right when it's long hours."

"Thank you." My voice was thin, and I realized I'd been holding my breath, trying to see everything at once, and half-terrified at what I did find.

He stopped and stepped in front of the final door of the hall, head tipped down. I looked up and found his lips turned down, brow slightly furrowed. It made me feel like a little girl in front of my father again, a disappointment and a problem to solve.

Tags: Kathryn Moon Tempting Monsters Paranormal
Source: Copyright 2016 - 2024