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The Cherry Hung With Snow

Chapter Text

"So dedicate it to me
When there's no more words to say
When your lips are cracked and dry
I know you'll cry out for me..."

"Who're these vampires then?"

Edith almost jumped out of her skin, headphones rudely lifted from her head and laptop dangerously jostled.

"You nearly gave me a heart attack," she complained.

Alan mumbled something about being her best bet to survive if that happened, rattling in the fridge for yesterday's leftovers.

"You didn't answer," he said. "Who are you looking at so intently? Trying internet dating again?"

She sighed, stretching for the first time in hours, toes curling on the inside of her knit socks and scalp feeling so much better for a bit of rubbing. How had it got so late? She should have been in bed hours before Alan got in from his hospital shift.

"It's research," she said. "Job interview. Of sorts."

"Of sorts?"

She sighed. It was difficult to explain without sounding ridiculous. Probably because it was.

"They're a rock band looking for a tour writer. Lucille and Thomas Sharpe, AKA Crimson Peak."

Alan snorted as he set the microwave whirring, coming to look over her shoulder as she scrolled through their Instagram page.

"Crimson Peak, huh? Sounds like period sex."

"Why are you always so gross?"

"I'm a doctor. We have our embarrassment glands surgically removed, you know that. So, what's their deal? White Stripes-style married couple band?"

Edith scrolled through a few more pictures before responding. Thomas Sharpe tuning up his guitar in moody black and white and photographed walking away into a nebulous misty morning, the dawn sparkling a thousand times in the water collecting in his hair. Lucille at the piano making notes on hand-drawn music manuscript and in an antique bathtub, her breasts floating in the clear water but concealed by the reflected light, her eyes huge and dark and arresting.

"No, they're more like The Carpenters in that sense," she said, trying to stay in the conversation. "Brother and sister. Not musically. They'd probably be offended by the comparison either way, though."

"Are you sure? I mean, I've never looked at Eunice the way he's looking at her there."

"Yeah, well, Eunice isn't your professional and creative partner. It's different, probably."

The microwave dinged as Edith clicked back over to her document of facts, trying to remember them as much as possible.

"How big a tour is it?" Alan called. "State-wide?"

"No, bigger. Way bigger. They're well-known in Europe, if a little cult. Now they want to crack America and they mean crack it. A gig in every state except Hawaii and Alaska."

The warm smell of macaroni rolled over her, good old-fashioned comfort food, as Alan flopped into the threadbare couch opposite. It was unfair, really. He had to be burning stupid levels of calories running around the hospital to get away with what he ate.

"That would be months," he said, frowning. "What about the rent?"

"It is a paid gig, you know. In the unlikely event I got it, the money would go into my account and be there for the rent as usual. But I won't get it. I'm too inexperienced, especially on the music journalism front. I don't even know why I'm invited to meet them. It's like they've deliberately gone looking for nobodies."

"Huh... Well, maybe that's what they want. Someone fresh. Someone to discover. You interested?"

"In a paying job? Sure. And in them, I guess. They're very mysterious. They contradict themselves all the time. I mean, I found an article from England in 2013 where they say they're orphans, but then 2015 in Italy, they talk like their parents are still alive. And the TV interviews... They're just weird."

She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but the Sharpes always seemed to be having fun at the interviewer's expense. They seemed to be highly intelligent, but would deliberately misunderstand questions, smiling at each other before giving obtuse answers, being as evasive as they could possibly be.

The sensible side of her wanted to steer clear of such evidently manipulative people.

The journalist in her wanted nothing more than to try to to get under their skin, to try to uncover the real them.

And she loved their sound. Or maybe 'loved' was a strong word, but it was certainly interesting. They were self-taught multi-instrumentalists - or so they claimed, anyway - and their music erred towards a dark moodiness, a restrained anger, their voices blending constantly and swapping lines and harmonies so often that you sometimes lost track of which of them was singing what.

"But I'll never get it," Edith said. "Never in a million years."

That was still the attitude rolling through her head when she arrived at the small office they'd rented downtown for the interview, joining a whole line of other nervous faces.

Much like her, they'd obviously agonised about what to wear. The men were a mish-mash of faded classic rock band t-shirts, dark suits and one or two aping Thomas's stage style of crisp white shirts and eye-liner, hair artfully touselled. The women were much the same, one looking thoroughly self-conscious and rather chilly in a black satin corset and little else, most looking anxious.

Edith was already wondering if she'd chosen the wrong look. It was one of the smartest outfits she owned, a neat pencil-skirt and matching blazer in peach. It brought out what little colour there was in her cheeks. But maybe with her hair tied up so tightly, so proper, so elementary school teacher, they'd reject her out of hand. She hardly looked like a rock journalist after all. Opera maybe. Certainly not laid back enough for life on the road.

The line seemed interminable, and yet all too soon she was passing through the doors of a small meeting room and finally seeing the Sharpes for the first time in the flesh.

They were beautiful. That was her first thought. Smooth skin and bright eyes, effortlessly casual, dark hair swept back from their faces. They weren't twins, she knew, and yet they might have been. They were that similar.

"Smile, please."

She didn't have a chance to react before a flash almost blinded her, an old-style Poloroid camera whirring. Lucille plucked the square little picture from it and shook it lazily, taking the lid from a marker pen with her teeth.

"Name?" Thomas asked.

"I, er... Cushing. Edith Cushing."

He chuckled.

"Sharpe. Thomas Sharpe. And this is my sister, Lucille. But you knew that, I expect."

Edith watched as her name was neatly inked onto the white edge of the photograph and saw it placed on the table among many others. She looked pale, washed out from the flash. There was a tall pile of discarded pictures, people already rejected.

"Where did you get a Poloroid?" she heard her own voice ask. "I didn't think they made those anymore."

"The internet is an incredible thing, Miss Cushing," Lucille said. "Don't you agree? I'm sure you've relied on it heavily for your research on us."

This was so strange. Edith felt like she was off the map, unsure where to tread and where to avoid. Honesty seemed best though.

"I certainly had a long look at your Instagram and Twitter," she said. "You clearly have a love of photography."

The Sharpes shared a long look before turning back to her, like cats playing with a doomed mouse.

"We've used it to our advantage," Thomas said. "A few million followers is very nice. But we've decided we want to do something a little different on this tour."

"Do you know shorthand?" Lucille asked.

Edith found herself blinking stupidly, taking a moment to replay the question in her head. They were testing her, seeing how she'd react to being off-balance.

"Yes. I learned it in junior high. Well, not in junior high, but when I was at junior high. I wanted... I always wanted to be a writer."

"Not a journalist?"

"Not specifically."

There was something about the two of them. Some magnetism, something making her want to talk to them despite her instinctive wariness..

"The trouble with social media is that it's made everything too easy," Thomas said. "At any second of the day, our fans have access to us. Or a filtered version of us at least. Most can't remember a time of having to wait for news of their favourite band. We want to recapture that bygone era. The excitement, the mystery."

Lucille unfolded a map, 48 cities marked with circular stickers.

"A tour with no internet," she said. "No mobile... Sorry, no cellphones. No digital cameras, no vlogging. A travelling journalist who will write dispatches for magazines on both sides of the Atlantic by typewriter and post them through the mail along with Poloroids from the shows and behind the scenes. The whole thing will be collected and added to any unpublished work and photos for a coffee table book. Writer's by-line, of course."

Edith's head whirled. This was ridiculous. An old-fashioned tour, meeting deadlines by post, typed articles, no handy delete key, no copy/paste? But a published book at the end of it. An exciting experiment. Practically art.

"Would you be paying in cash as well?" she asked. "The old-fashioned way?"

"Oh, no," Thomas said. "Accommodation, meals and transport included, plus wages paid automatically. We know you journalists have rent to pay. And, of course, a percentage of the profits of the book goes without saying."

"Do you live alone?" Lucille asked.

"No. No, I live with an old friend. He's a doctor. Or... No, he is. He's a resident."

She didn't know why she was telling them that. It was hardly relevant.

"Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Both?"

"Erm..." she felt herself blushing, finally drawing a line in the sand as far as her life story went. "No, neither at the moment. No one to miss me."

Another long look. Thomas picked up her picture, raising his eyebrows as he placed it to the side. Lucille shrugged one shoulder, but nodded, reaching for her purse.

"Come to our show tonight," she said, handing Edith a ticket. "Write a stop-press report on it, by hand, and give it to one of the security guys. We have your number. We'll be in touch."

Edith sat still for a moment, stunned. Then she stumbled to her feet, mumbling thanks and showing herself out.

A hand-written report, written on the night of the show? She'd never heard of such a thing. Then again, everything about the last twenty minutes had felt like a particularly odd dream.

It didn't stop feeling like that when she walked into the venue, showing her ticket only to be frogmarched over to a little holding pen. Judging by the other people in there, this was the journalists' section. A dark-haired, thin man with constantly moving eyes, a red-haired woman so statuesque she might have been carved from marble. Edith suddenly felt very out of her depth, very underprepared. And very short.

It was a small-ish venue, not an arena by any means, more like an old bar that had had all its walls knocked through to make a sort of concert hall.

There was a gentle hubbub. Not particularly excited murmuring, just quiet conversation, someone laughing at the bar. People who had come out to hear a band, but weren't too fussed about what kind.

Edith had watched videos of Crimson Peak in action. Shaky camera work, mainly from phones. People singing along in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, almost drowning out the Sharpes with their devotion. She'd thought the shows looked strange. Intimate even in huge stadiums, theatrical even in dive bars.

It was so different in person.

The lights were dim when they started singing. No words, just notes that sounded almost improvised. Lucille set out a phrase, Thomas elaborated on it, she harmonised, and then it began to repeat and the lights came up to reveal them both in front of ancient-looking electronic keyboards, setting their voices into loops, adding synthesized organ tones and the wail of a theramin, summoning an ethereal choir of their own voices out of nothing, layering and layering and layering and...

Silence.

The whole room seemed to hold its breath for a few moments, spellbound. The first clap sounded confused, but then the applause began in earnest, a room of people who hadn't quite expected something like that.

And they were stunning. Beautiful, yes, but more importantly imposing. They didn't have stage presence, they were the stage. They had eyes only for each other and yet whenever one of them glanced outward, a shiver seemed to run through the room. When they spoke to the crowd in low, warm voices, like lovers murmuring in the night, it felt as though they were speaking to each and every individual.

It was like they had studied how to activate primal responses. How to enchant, how to mesmirise.

After three songs, Edith realised she hadn't written a single word. All around her, pens were scratching and she hadn't even opened her note book.

But what could she write? What was there to say that wasn't being written all around her a thousand times more eloquently?

This was pointless. Might as well enjoy the show.

They sang numbers she'd learned during her research and pieces she'd never heard before. They played snippets of Beethoven and Mozart and... and the Beach Boys, she was sure that was the Beach Boys.

When it becames obvious that they were winding up, Edith finally put pen to paper and figured she might as well be honest too.

Until two days ago, I had never heard of Crimson Peak. After seeing them in action, I'm still not quite sure what to make of them. But I know they're interesting. Very much so...

She tried to hand in her writing, all half page of it in sloppy shorthand - just to prove she could - but the security guard refused to take it.

"You need to sign first," he yelled over the sound of the crowd leaving.

"Sign what?"

"Contract. Says they can publish whatever you wrote in their book or something."

Well, fine. They wouldn't want it, other than as a piece of trivia. One of many rejects. She added her name to the list and went to join the taxi line, shivering in the cold. She ought to walk, she knew. Save a little cash. But it was freezing out in the spring night and she was tired and her ears were still ringing.

And Alan would tell her off for that. He'd given her those earplugs for a reason.

"Good night?" the driver asked as she got in.

"Um... Sure."

It was easier to lie. Explaining that she genuinely didn't know how she felt would be too complex.

She got home and almost fell into bed, barely managing to change first. She felt like she'd been dancing all night for all she'd barely moved.

A nice day in pyjamas was called for.

She never got the chance for it.