It had been hard to find the right sort of crossroads close enough for Penny to get to. Apparently they were rarer than TV had led her to believe, or maybe they were an American thing. Whatever the reason, she had had to get a train and then a bus and then walk down a creepy country road until she found where it was bisected at a perfect ninety degree angle by another. Arms wrapped around herself she stood by the high hedge, shivering. She should have worn something a bit warmer, but the autumn had been mild so far and she hadn’t considered that it would turn icy at night.
She wouldn’t let something like poor weather stop her though. The cold could nip at her all it wanted, she wouldn’t be leaving here. Not without what she came for. She had worked too hard for this. So instead of turning on her heel and running back home she took those tentative few steps out into the centre of the crossroads. The sky was clear overhead, the stars bright without any light pollution, and the moon a thin sliver.
How long would this take? She had been there an hour already. Was she supposed to do something? Bring something with her? She didn’t know. She hoped that whatever offering she was supposed to lay down was purely symbolic rather than needed. Please don’t let this be something else she messed up. Please. She needed this. It had to work. Had to.
“Despite my current standing, I do still love a show of faith.” Penny froze. The voice came from behind her and carried something dark and soft with it. The voice of a woman that knew everyone looking at her wanted what she had to offer. Slowly, she turned to face the new comer.
The woman was in her late middle age but carried it off in a Helen Mirrian ageing with grace kind of way. Red hair peppered with grey, lines at her blue eyes and hands with long bony fingers. She was better dressed for the weather than Penny, with a stylish winter coat and expensive looking boots. She could be one of her Mum’s friends. Or the sort of person that thought they were too good to be one of Mum’s friends.
“The Crossroads demon you were looking for?” the woman finished for her with a girlish grin that looked out of place on her face. “Yes sweet thing, I am. Now tell me, why am I here and not sitting down below warming my feet by the flames?” Penny’s mouth opened and closed, her eyes wide and her insides a churning mass of worms. She needed to speak. Needed to tell the woman what she wanted. But nothing but a faint choking sound came out. The woman’s look turned considering and she slipped her hands into her pockets to circle Penny.
“It’s not for looks, I can see that much,” she began. “Brains perhaps. The dumb blond is something of an archetype.”
“I’m not stupid,” she insisted, finally managing to get some words out. The other woman’s smile turned sharp, a trick of the light making her teeth look like needles for a moment.
“That’s debatable. But tell me, why resort to this?”
“I want to be a rock star,” Penny said, her voice proud but her face flushing. Finally saying it out loud like this felt a bit silly. As though she was still a little girl saying she wanted to be a princess when she grew up.
“And you need the talent?”
“I’ve got the talent,” she replied, the embarrassment fading. “I’ve even got a band. What I need is the opportunity.”
The demon came to a stop in front of her.
“This bargain is just for you. I can make a star out of you, assuming it’s not just pride talking about your talent. But you know the stakes, yes?”
“I know. You get my soul and I die early. But it’s worth it.” The needle smile flashed for another second.
“That sounds like a good deal to me. How old are you?”
“Seventeen,” she replied, feeling a little more unsure. The grin turned wicked for a flash.
“I can give you ten years of glory. I’ll even throw in icon status for free. So, what do you say?”
“Ten years and you’ll go down in rock history as this generation’s Freddie Mercury. Do we have a deal?” Penny felt her heart almost stop at those words. Not just a rock star, but a rock legend. Worshipped, loved, remembered.
“We have a deal,” she replied, breathless with want. “Do we shake on it or something?”
“Or something,” the other woman murmured, slipping her hand around Penny’s waist. A trill of disgust coiled in her at the touch and she found herself freezing. For the first time since the woman had appeared, Penny saw her as a demon, her hand slipping against her cheek as she pressed in close. She could taste smoke at the back of her throat but couldn’t pull away. Every inch of her screamed that this was wrong. That a monster was slithering across her skin. The press of lips and the harsh push of a forked tongue had her gagging but she still couldn’t fight back. Burning flooded her every cell. Reaching into her. Deeper. Deeper. And twisting.