Isda does not exist. At least not beyond the opulent walls of the opera house…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Sing Me Forgotten, a musical YA fantasy from author Jessica S. Olson—publishing March 9th with Inkyard Press.
Isda does not exist. At least not beyond the opulent walls of the opera house.
Cast into a well at birth for being one of the magical few who can manipulate memories when people sing, she was saved by Cyril, the opera house’s owner. Since that day, he has given her sanctuary from the murderous world outside. All he asks in return is that she use her power to keep ticket sales high—and that she stay out of sight. For if anyone discovers she survived, Isda and Cyril would pay with their lives.
But Isda breaks Cyril’s cardinal rule when she meets Emeric Rodin, a charming boy who throws her quiet, solitary life out of balance. His voice is unlike any she’s ever heard, but the real shock comes when she finds in his memories hints of a way to finally break free of her gilded prison.
Haunted by this possibility, Isda spends more and more time with Emeric, searching for answers in his music and his past. But the price of freedom is steeper than Isda could ever know. For even as she struggles with her growing feelings for Emeric, she learns that in order to take charge of her own destiny, she must become the monster the world tried to drown in the first place.
I am a shadow. A shimmer of black satin. A wraith in the dark.
Music soars above the audience to where I hide behind a marble cherub near the Channe Opera House’s domed ceiling. The lead soprano’s vibrato trembles in the air, and my eyes fall shut as her music sends her memories rippling across the inside of my eyelids in shades of gray. The images are fuzzy and the emotions distant, but if I surrender myself to them, I can almost forget what I am for a moment.
Every night when the curtains rise and lights engulf the stage, when the seats fill with whispering patrons and the air shivers with the strum of strings, I glimpse the world outside—a world I’ve never seen with my eyes but know better than the beat of my heart because I’ve experienced it through a thou.sand different pasts.
The lead soprano’s memories pull me in, and for a moment I am her, dashing out onto a stage bathed in golden light and sending my voice to fill the theater. The audience watches me dance, and though I cannot see their expressions from the soprano’s vantage point, I imagine their eyes glassy with tears as my song plunges into their souls and strums along their heartstrings with slow, practiced grace. Their faces shine, their gazes riveted on my beauty. I raise my hand to my own cheek where I can all but feel the warmth of the spotlight.
But instead of smooth skin, my fingertips slip against my mask. I jolt my hand away, hissing, and relinquish my hold on her past.
My attention flicks to the premium box where Cyril Bardin meets my gaze. You’re too visible, Isda, his eyes say.
I shrink into the shadows as applause smatters like raindrops below, not nearly enthusiastic enough to ensure adequate ticket sales. It seems the soprano, though nearly flawless in her performance, was not enough to make up for the rest of the abysmal cast.
Luckily, I’m very good at my job.
The clapping peters out as Cyril strides onto the stage. The performers line up behind him, tugging at their costumes and adjusting their wigs as discreetly as they can. Where their smiles pull across lips tight with too much makeup and wrinkle in tired, powdery lines around their eyes, Cyril’s is charming, as always, accentuated by a regal, high forehead, paper-white hair, and a clean-shaven jaw. He gestures to the crowd with twinkling eyes. “Merci, my illustrious guests.” His voice booms out to bounce back from the far walls. “It has been truly a pleasure to entertain you tonight.”
Without thinking, I reach for the pendant at my throat and twist its chain around my fingers as anticipation bubbles like champagne in my stomach.
“Now before I bid you au revoir, it is time once again for the Channe Opera House’s age-old tradition of having the audience join our performers in a special rendition of the Vaureillean classic, ‘La Chanson des Rêves.’” Cyril turns to the orchestra at his feet and nods. “Maestro.”
The conductor cues up the strings, then climbs onto the stage at Cyril’s side and raises his baton. As one, the audience launches into the familiar tune.
The skin on my left ankle bone prickles—the place where I once carved the Manipulation Mark that enables me to harness my magic. The scar has since faded and been scraped away by clumsy tumbles down the stairs, but the ability that carving it gave me is still just as strong any time voices fill the air with music. My power purrs to life in my chest, reaching out toward each voice, yearning for the memories that live in them. I scan the faces quickly, letting images and emotions trickle through me one after the other, a burbling current of sights and sounds and smells.
When people sing, I see their memories, starting with the newest. If I want to, I can comb backward through time, sifting through the liquid swirl of moments in their minds as though rippling my fingers through water in a creek.
It is only in these moments that I truly feel alive. Where the world has forced me to hide, hated me for my power, tried to kill me for what I am, I have found my purpose in surrounding myself with its music and holding the memories of its people in my hands. They don’t know I’m there, churning through their minds among their secrets and darkest moments, but I know. And no matter how many nights I’ve spent up here tucked away in the shadows, the thrill of finally having some measure of power over them sends tingles straight through every nerve of my body.
This is my performance, the only one I am allowed. I may not be able to stand on a stage and hypnotize them with my voice, but in this small way, I am just as much a part of the production as the dancers and singers.
I slip into each audience member’s recollection of the performance like a ballerina into her spotlight, skipping from one mind to the next, easing away any negative emotions I find there and replacing them with positivity. Once the tone is right, I move on to erasing the moment where the lead tenor’s voice cracked on that high G and eliminating the instant when one of the backup dancers tripped as she twirled across center stage.
I whisper-sing along with “La Chanson des Rêves” as I work, the words so familiar they fall off my tongue as easily as breathing. The chorus is my favorite part.
Who was the monster, the man or Les Trois,
In Time’s unstoppable tread?
Was it the terrible queens, the world’s guillotines,
Who bathed Vaureille in red?
Or was it the man with love in his heart,
Innocent and brave though he seemed,
Who unsheathed a blade, their hearts he betrayed
As he ended their lives while they dreamed?
I work quickly. With nearly two thousand seats in the theater, it is impossible for me to modify every person’s recollection of tonight’s performance, but I don’t need to tamper with them all. If I can do the majority before the song ends and my connection breaks, it should be enough to encourage positive reviews, repeat ticket sales, and season pass popularity.
The orchestra strums out the final refrain, the audience falls silent, and the images vanish from my mind.
I twirl my pendant’s chain around my pinky as a grin spreads across my lips.
The air fills with the rustle of patrons making their way to the exits, and I survey their expressions as they tug on gloves and babble enthusiastically to one another, dressed in silks and tuxedos, adorned with pearls and top hats. Their cheeks glow with the flush of excitement. Their arms wave emphatically as they speak. Their hands dig into their purses for the glimmering coins that will buy them tickets to return.
Cyril catches my eye from the stage. He does not smile—that would be too obvious—but the creases in his cheeks deepen in approval.
I nod, chest heaving slightly from the expense of power, and settle back to wait for the opera house to empty.
Excerpted from Sing Me Forgotten, copyright © 2021 by Jessica S. Olson.