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The Lotus Eaters' Song


The Lotus Eaters’ Song
By Evelyn Deshane

Jessilyn had a routine. Once a month, when she had collected up all of her allowance from doing spare jobs (often over fifty dollars, if she was careful, and sometimes more if Christmas or her birthday had passed), she would tell her mom she was going out to the library. Halfway there, she'd turn down the street and walk right into the used record store called Back Beats Plus. Once inside, she'd find the most tattooed person working, and ask them for recommendations. She'd take these CDs back to her room, hiding them at the bottom of her backpack or under her bed, and transfer the music onto her computer so she could listen to them discretely later.

It wasn't that her parents didn't trust Jessilyn. Of course they did. They just didn't understand music and refused to let her listen to anything with a Parental Advisory sticker on it, or with scary imagery, or with bad words.

So, basically anything cool.

Just after her birthday in early September, Jessilyn did up her jean jacket to her throat, and snagged a scarf for her bag in order to disguise what she would eventually purchase. Her last CDs had been Black Flag's Damaged and My War, along with Jawbreaker's Bivouac and Dear You; classics, according to Davey. She was pleased that he was right, since she still caught herself humming the chorus for "Rise Above" under her breath as she got ready.

"Do you have homework, Jessilyn?" her mother asked from the kitchen. Jessilyn smelled cinnamon and nutmeg from pies her mother was making.

"It's too early in school to get homework," Jessilyn replied. "But I'm going to the library."

"Good. You're in high school now, so it will suddenly creep up. The long weekends of doing nothing in your room are over."

"So I'll read what the teachers tell me instead of what I want?"

Her mother's brow lifted, but she didn't say anything. Jessilyn could already see what she needed from the look. Be careful. Don't talk back. Watch your tongue.

"I'll be back before dinner," Jessilyn said.

"Good. See you then."

As Jessilyn shut the door and walked down the cobblestone driveway, she knew her mother was behind the window, face pressed up to the glass. Jessilyn gripped her "emergency" cell phone in her pocket as if to reassure both of them that Jessilyn wouldn't go very far. If she got into more than she could handle, the phone would always be there.

When Jessilyn was around the block, free and clear from her mother, she pulled out the phone and added ear buds. She found Black Flag's "Rise Above" on her playlist and made sure to hum along.

* * *

The door's jangle was different this time around. Heavier, almost muffled. When Jessilyn glanced up, she saw some kind of flower or dried herb hung with the bell on the record store's doorway.

"Welcome," a voice from the counter greeted.

"Hi." Jessilyn stepped inside. The woman behind the counter seemed to notice her apprehension, because she let out a small laugh.

"Oh, ignore that. Lola's decorating for Halloween, though we haven't even had Thanksgiving yet."

"It's the superior holiday, Torrance," Lola called from the back. Jessilyn knew Lola; she was a tall girl with long blonde hair that sometimes sported dyed tips. She was also responsible for Jessilyn's obsession with X-Ray Spex over the summer. Though the decorations were super-tacky, Jessilyn smiled along with the assessment.

"Yeah, I have to agree. Halloween's probably the best."

"Totally," Lola came out from the back, holding several handfuls of fake cobwebs. She grinned, wide and maniacal, before she started to spread the cobwebs across the doorway from the front desk to the back room. "I mean, you're not obligated to visit your relatives. You're not meant to give gifts—only if you want, and if you do want to give something, it's usually an offering to the dead. Halloween also has free candy for the young? I mean, how great is this?"

"Not the mention the music?" Torrance, the woman from before, added. Lola and her seemed to share a private joke while Jessilyn stood, still in awe. She had never met this woman—Torrance —before. She was small, maybe an inch taller than Jessilyn's five-five. She had a round face with dark bangs and hair to her shoulders. A tight choker rounded her slender neck. Jessilyn was too far away to see what was printed across the cameo, but she assumed it was something creepy and spooky. Torrance had on a dark collared shirt that covered both her arms and black tight jeans. Jessilyn couldn't see any tattoos around her arms, nor any piercings on her face. Torrance seemed like a complete contrast to Lola's blue highlighted hair and her tight Bikini Kill shirts with ripped jeans.

But there was something about Torrance, something that pulled Jessilyn in, and made her want to ask her what music she should be buying for today.

"Are you okay?" Torrance asked, leaning across the counter. Lola swayed her hips into the back of the store, closing the door behind her. A skeleton was pasted over the window, with a sign in its hand that said DEAD END. "Can I help you find anything today?"

"Yeah," Jessilyn said. "I usually ask whoever is working to help me out. Lola showed me X-Ray Spex a few weeks ago, and Davey showed me Black Flag. And Mitch, he gave me Bowie."

"All great choices. I knew I hired them for a reason."

"You own the store?" Jessilyn asked, her voice trembling slightly. Of course this woman owned the store. She was so beautiful she could have anything, and she picked music. The fact that, in some way, Torrance was responsible for all the songs of Jessilyn's iPhone made her tremble from deep inside she couldn't quite articulate yet.

"I sure do. It's my home away from home." Torrance smiled, then accidentally placed her hand inside a dense mess of cobwebs. Fake black spiders emerged like wind-up toys that ran forward. "Ugh. Lola! What did I say about the decorations?"

"Be careful what I wish for?" Lola let out another sharp laugh. Another inside joke seemed to be exchanged between them, while Jessilyn still waited. Her backpack felt heavier on her shoulders, and she adjusted it. Are the lights darker? she wondered. Jessilyn was about to glance out the front of the store window, when she saw Davey in the far corner, organizing the vinyl LP section. His tattoos glowed from under the limited light. When he waved, the tree that normally held autumn foliage on his arm appeared bare of any leaves whatsoever. Jessilyn waved back before another chill rolled through her.

"Come on. Ignore Lola's games for now," Torrance said, appearing by Jessilyn's side. "And let's find you some music."

"Okay. Great. Thanks. I have about fifty dollars, so I can get a few things. Don't worry about recommending me more than one."

"Never dream of it, sweetheart."

Jessilyn beamed under the name. When Torrance's black heals clicked against the tile floor, Jessilyn followed. When she glanced back at the counter, she could have sworn one of the plastic spiders scrambled across the surface to hide under the tip jar.

* * *

"What did you and Lola mean? From before?"

Torrance glanced up from the discount bin she was searching through. Already, Jessilyn held one of Siouxsie and the Banshee's first albums in her hands, along with The Indigo Girls, and Cyndi Lauper. These artists were, according to Torrance, sometimes slotted in with the Riot Grrrl movement, since they were female fronted, or all-women bands, but they were often categorized in varying genres. Jessilyn was still too young to really grasp much of the history behind all of these movements; she just knew how much she thought Siouxsie and the Banshee's looked like a witch, and how utterly awesome that was. Especially given the way the record store was decorated.

"I think Lola and I say a lot. Can you be more specific?" Torrance said.

"Oh. Um..." Jessilyn knew it was foolish, but she wanted to ask about witches. About Siouxsie Sioux, and if the suddenly feeling she got in her stomach each time Torrance looked at her was like the song "Spellbound" or like a real magical charm. "You were talking about Halloween music when she was putting up cobwebs. Is the stuff you're giving me related to Halloween?"

Torrance smiled, wide and long. Her matte lips were so dark red then, Jessilyn wanted to reach out and touch them. "It could be, if you wanted. Siouxsie Sioux does have a song called 'Halloween' on that album. She certainly gets me in the mood for the upcoming Equinox. It's my favourite time of year. Really, Halloween—or Samhain, as it's known for real witches—is a new year. A time to make resolutions."

"There are real witches? I thought that was just..."

"Make-believe? There are make-believe witches—like in Oz—and there are pagan witches. The real witches I talked about before, who celebrate the Equinox and Samhain, are part of their own religion."

Jessilyn's eyes went wide. She was sure what she was learning about now, beyond the musical choices and Parental Advisory stickers, was something her parents would hate even more. But she didn't care. As far as she was concerned, this conversation was ten times more illuminating that when she had discovered Riot Grrrl.

"That's... so cool."

"It is. And Lola likes to talk about witches and their traditions—especially Neo-Pagan ones—since we change our books here on November 1st, just after Halloween. So I treat my music store to the pagan calendar, I guess. All our employees of the month change out on a lunar cycle, too. I suppose it seems a lot easier that way, so I don't run into the same crowds at the bank or at the printer's office. But that's adult stuff. Don't worry about it."

Torrance's gaze focused back into the CD case, where she pulled out a couple more albums with discount stickers on them.

"No, it's okay," Jessilyn said. "I want to know. I just started high school, so, I may as well get t know the world."

Torrance smirked. She collected the CDs she held under her palm, and then considered something for a little while. "High school, huh. You like it?"

"It's easy so far."

"It'll get harder."

"That's what my mom says, but I doubt it. I read a lot, so I feel like I can work."

"That's not what I meant."

"What did you mean?" Jessilyn worried her lip. A tension had spread between them, but it wasn't antagonizing. Not like the girls who would sometimes follow Jessilyn from gym class to home room, taunting her as she listened to music. "Are you going to tell me some encouraging words about bullies?"

Torrance laughed; the rasp of her breath was like fire. "No. I could, but I won't. I feel like that's pandering. But I can give you something."

"Oh?"

"Yeah," Torrance confirmed. She handed over the CDs, then spoke in quick, rushed terms. "Not these—though they are good albums. You still have about ten dollars left, right?"

Jessilyn nodded.

"Perfect. Keep these CDs and let me know if you think they're good. But I'll be right back."

Jessilyn opened her mouth to respond, but Torrance was already gone. Jessilyn scanned the CDs for a band called Jack off Jill and another for Panic! At The Disco. She knew of the second band, and wanted to hand back the CD, but was pulled in by the super-long and interesting song titles. As she added the new CDs to her pile, she did some quick math in her head. Only three dollars left, maybe? If that. Oh, and taxes... Jessilyn really hoped that what Torrance brought out wasn't too expensive, or else she'd have to put something back, and that felt like an impossible choices.

While Jessilyn waited, she noticed more Halloween decorations had been added to the store. In addition to the cobwebs, there were black and orange streamers by the door and a few hanging bags of dried herbs. The front window looked as if it had been tinted black as well, small cut-outs of bats added to the edge all around. Jessilyn left her CDs on the bin for a moment as she wandered back over towards the window. The sign for Back Beats Plus turned into SPELS BEAT U as she rearranged the letters in her mind. She blinked and the letters arranged themselves into nonsense again.

"It's getting late," Davey said from behind her. "I think you're the last one to leave."

"Is it?" Jessilyn glanced down at her phone. She already had one missed call from her mother. Her eyes widen, especially when she saw it was 5:30PM.

"Oh, crap. I have to go."

"These were yours?" Davey asked, turning towards her small stack of CDs. He picked them up without waiting for a response and began to ring her through. Jessilyn stepped up to the counter, digging out her cash from her wallet. In the low light, she could have sworn that Davey's tattoos sparkled.

"That's 49.95."

Jessilyn let out a breath. Just enough. She slid over her cash with a smile. Davey gave her back a nickel, and a black bag filled with her treasures.

"Happy Early Halloween," he stated.

"Thanks. But I should be—"

Jessilyn as cut off by Torrance coming out of the back room. Finally. Her cheeks were red as if she had been running around. How big was that back room? Jessilyn wondered, but didn't get a chance to say anything before Torrance thrust a CD at her. It was bright orange and yellow, the disc inside hot pink as the case flew open.

"This is for you," Torrance explained. "It's what Lola and I usually talk about."

"Oh, but I can't—I'm out of..." Jessilyn said, feeling slightly relieved she had an easy excuse. The CD looked too much like pop music; the kind on the radio that seemed like nonsense about boys to Jessilyn's ears. She was shocked, really, that it had been Torrance who recommended it to her. Maybe the cameo on her neck wasn't spooky after all, and she was just a boring person who liked the same singles as the girls in her math class. The thought disappointed Jessilyn.

Torrance's green eyes, bright and vibrant, pulled Jessilyn's attention back.

"It's okay. I know I took forever so you're out of cash. And we're closing soon," Torrance explained. "So just borrow the CD."

"Borrow?"

"Yeah. So long as you bring it back next week and tell me what you think."

"Are you sure?"

"Definitely. How else do you think people listen to new artists? A lending policy is always good. And you're not going to find these guys anywhere else. So here." Torrance extended the CD into Jessilyn's hand with a smile. As she did, the feeling inside of Jessilyn's stomach grew. Definitely magic. Or spell work. Definitely... something.

Jessilyn spun the CD over in her hands, still lamenting the image of the blonde girl on the cover. The cover model looked preppy, just like girls who harassed Jessilyn after gym class.

"Keep in mind," Torrance added. "That appearances can be deceiving. We're all someone else around the right people."

"What now?"

"Nothing. Now go," Torrance said. "I think you're late—and we're gonna close soon."

"Right. Thank you!" Jessilyn glanced down at her phone as she stepped outside. Before she could call her mother back, the phone buzzed.

"Mom?" Jessilyn said. "I'm so sorry. I'm on my way back."

"You better be," her mother replied, voice stern.

Jessilyn sighed. I'm in trouble tonight. Jessilyn walked hurriedly after disconnecting the phone. The sky was filled with clouds, and when Jessilyn looked to the left, she thought she saw a sliver of white moon hanging there, as if it was waiting for her.

* * *

"Young lady." Jessilyn's father narrowed his eyes across the dinner table. Jessilyn toyed with her peas, wondering if she could make them disappear just by looking at them. The booming baritone of her father's voice, she swore, made all their vegetables tremble. "Young lady, why were you late today?"

"I told mom: I lost track of time in the library."

"Then why do you have no books?"

Jessilyn chewed the inside of her cheek. Usually when she went out like this, she at least got out a couple books out to cover her tracks and hide her CDs under. This time, she had barely made it home with enough time to toss her new purchases under her bed, and explain to her mother in a blathering tone just why she had been caught up.

Now, over peas, potatoes, and pot roast, it appeared that her complex webs of lies she had been weaving since she was twelve was unravelling in front of her.

"I just... I forgot to check them out. I was there so late, then all of a sudden it was time to go, so I had to put my books back."

"What were you reading about?"

"Nothing much."

"And it took you all afternoon?"

Jessilyn sighed, and said the first thing that came to her head. "The Salem Witch Trials."

"Oh?" her mother asked, surprised. "Is it for a school project?"

"Yes. We haven't been assigned anything yet, but in history, we get independent study units. I figured I'd get ahead of the game and figure out my topic today. So I know I'll have more free time later when the term gets busy, like you said it would."

Her parents exchanged looks across the table. Jessilyn's heart beat into her throat, and when they nodded, a rush of relief washed over her.

"Makes sense," her father said. "Maybe we can help. You know, your mother has some books on the topic."

"You do?"

"Well, I have books on the seventeenth century."

"That would be helpful. Thank you," Jessilyn stated. Both her mother and father beamed at her perfect use of manners.

"Excellent. Then it's decided. I know you've already had a big day full of studying, but perhaps a little more wouldn't hurt."

"Not at all." Jessilyn gave another semi-fake smile. Her heart rate returned to normal as she realized her cover was kept. If she had lost what had kept her sane in the past two years... She didn't even want to consider what would have happened. So while her parents went on to talk about their upcoming plans for Thanksgiving, and what relatives would be over, Jessilyn thought of Torrance. Her green eyes, her laugh, and her cameo. What was on the centre of it? Jessilyn still didn't know. She hadn't gotten close enough yet to see.

But she would. She knew it was only a matter of time.

"Jessilyn?" her mother asked. "Did you hear our question?"

"I'm sorry, no. Pardon me? Can you repeat it?"

"Of course. We were just discussing how Aunt Michelle would like to visit us this Thanksgiving, and she will need a place to stay. Your room seems like the best option."

Jessilyn's fists clenched, but she tried to not let her anger show. "Yes, that's fine."

"Good. Thank you."

As her parents continued their conversation, Jessilyn wondered if this was her punishment for being late today. Take away her sanctuary for the time being and give her more homework? Jessilyn was sure that was the case. If Aunt Michelle was here, Jessilyn knew that meant she'd be sleeping in the basement with the dust bunnies and the laundry machine monster from when she was a kid. There were no such thing as monsters anymore, of course, but that still didn't stop Jessilyn from shuddering.

So long as I have my music, though, I'll be fine. She nodded. Jessilyn put a stray pea into her mouth, and waited until it was all over.

* * *

"Here you are." Jessilyn's mother handed her a giant textbook that was larger than her head. She took the book with an oomph as she sat back down on her bed.

"This should have all you need to know about The Salem Witch Trials. There actually weren't as many as you think. And men were persecuted too."

"Huh. Fascinating," Jessilyn said, rather genuinely. She flipped open the dust-filled page and started to read about one particular witch, named David Morris, before her mother left.

Then Jessilyn listened, her eyes no longer scanning the page. She waited until she heard her mother's footsteps reach the kitchen and the running of water start. When she was sure her mother was consumed with her new task, Jessilyn pulled out her new CDs and began the transferring process.

She was almost done all of them by the time bedtime came around. She hid what she could, and then remembered the bright yellow and orange CD. It was still too risky to keep transferring them, especially so close to bed, so she decided to forgo it for now. Especially since it was the only CD left, and it was pop music.

But in bed, Jessilyn couldn't forget about the CD. It was like the bright oranges and yellows were its own light, and it kept her awake. She dropped down under her bed, finding it easily in her hide out. Then she dug out her old Discman, a relic she had bought off a kid in the third grade, and slipped in the CD.

The manufactured beats made her want to retch at first. It was like a Nintendo Game mashed with Aqua. And Jessilyn wanted to forget about her former love of the band that sang "Barbie Girl." She liked real music now. Better music. Not this nonsense. She was about to turn this CD off entirely as a wasted effort, when she finally heard someone sing.

The voice was stunning. So much that Jessilyn actually forgot to breathe. When she finally remembered, her mind lost itself inside the liquid voice like it was its own entity, its own visualization. When the first song ended, Jessilyn pressed repeat. She wanted to know each and every song before she moved onto the next one. And there was so much, beyond the manufactured beats, to listen to here. It was her third time through the song when she noted the lyrics.

When the moon is an orb in the daylight sky
we will come for you, new starling.
When the history books are all wrong,
we will come for you, little bird.
Make a new covenant. Together
we will take back the light. Starling, Starling
our bird beyond its cage. Come home, into our night.


Jessilyn had no idea of the meaning of some of the words, but the tone was clear. This was calling her—her directly, she knew it—and pulling her into something she couldn't fathom. Her parents had told her horror stories from rock bands whose CDs, when played backwards, revealed weird messages. But she thought that was her parents being uncool and ridiculous. This song wasn't a backwards message from Judas Priest, but she was still so, so sure they were calling her. I'm a little starling. I'm the bird they're looking for. Jessilyn flipped around the CD cover and read the name of the band. The Lotus Eaters. I'm the person The Lotus Eaters need.

Jessilyn listened to the next song. It was less bubble gum pop and more acoustic. And the signing voice, yet again, pulled her in. This song, though, was a bit more direct. It talked about hunting down the unbelievers and smashing all the cages to set animals and minds free. But it was the final two stanzas, almost whispered, at the end of the song that did Jessilyn in.

We will see you, little starling,
Our bird girl with two names
You will see us through a cracked mirror
And know we are just alike.

The sword in your throat
and the hum on your skin is real.
That is love, that is magic.
Let us show you our spell work.


In the dark, Jessilyn fumbled for the CD. She needed to know if these lyrics were really what she thought they were. She used the light of her still-charging iPhone and read them to herself. They were the same as she heard them. Written down, this was even clearer to her. Jessilyn was the bird girl with two names. The Lotus Eaters were speaking to her directly.

And most importantly, they needed her.

At the back of the CD booklet, she saw the names who had produced, written, and distributed the music. A logo with a birdcage on it was there, along with the names Davey Alison, Mitchell Carpenter, Lola Nightshade, Dunja Patel, and Torrance Abernathy. Everyone at the record shop.

Jessilyn stared at the ceiling for hours that night, listening to the new CD until the batteries ran out. In the silence, just before sleep, she knew what she had to do.

* * *

When Jessilyn knocked on the record store door, there was only a couple minutes of waiting before the door was opened. Torrance answered. The moon in the sky, now bright and full, gave Jessilyn enough light to finally see the engraving of her cameo.

"Welcome!" Torrance touched Jessilyn's shoulder, gently ushering her inside. "So glad you could make it."

"Me too," Jessilyn said. "I had to sneak out, but... I think it's worth whatever punishment I get."

"We'll make sure you're home safe before sun-up. I promise."

Torrance tapped her cameo as if it sealed their fate. Jessilyn smiled, knowing that was probably right.

The record store was densely packed with people, all wearing bright red t-shirts with the Lotus Eater's logo on it—half a flower within the empty space of a crescent moon. All the CD cases were pushed to the side of the store, opening up the floor to people. The normal music posters were turned over to reveal ancient occult drawings underneath. The now-familiar pop songs from before filled the air, and Jessilyn couldn't help but hum along.

Lola was at the front, her blonde hair now sporting orange highlights. She held a microphone in her hand, swaying her hips, before she started to belt out the now familiar lyrics.

"I'm so glad you gave us a chance," Torrance said. "We know the music's not for everyone."

"No, I loved it. Love it."

"Good. Why don't you join in? The full moon is about celebration."

Torrance gestured to the centre of the record store floor. People swarmed the area, forming a massive pit. Jessilyn's eyes went wide as she considered joining. Would it hurt? Would she break something? When Torrance pointed to the drawings along the floor, Jessilyn noticed the five-pointed star that seemed to guide the moshers. Around the mosh pit circle were the words An it harm none, do what thou wilt.

"So?" Torrance said, stepping into the pit. "What do you say?

Jessilyn followed her without another thought. Her routine was about to get a lot more interesting.

* * *

Evelyn Deshane’s creative and nonfiction work has appeared in Plenitude Magazine, Briarpatch Magazine, Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, and Bitch Magazine, among other publications. Evelyn (pron. Eve-a- lyn) received an MA from Trent University and is currently completing a PhD at the University of Waterloo. Evelyn’s most recent project #Trans is an edited collection about transgender and nonbinary identity online. Follow @evelyndeshane or visit evedeshane.wordpress.com for more info.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

I used to think what inspired me to write was this desire to get my idea out and then learn from it, but the more time I spend not writing, the more I realize that I don’t write because it’s good for me, but because I hope it’s good for others. Even if someone hates what I’ve done, or doesn’t agree at all, I’ve given them something to talk about. Apathy, and the fear of apathy, is probably what makes me write and keep writing, then.

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