Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Fight Song Chapter Two

Last time in Fight Song, Callie met a potential ally, but the Death Song called her away before she could get as much information as she wanted. This week, we see her in action as she puts other aspects of her power to good use.
Things researched in editing this chapter: what kind of flooring you find in subway stations and what do subway stations look like anyway (because my ten-year-old memory probably isn't a good thing to rely on), are high notes or low notes easier to sing, what happens in a mugging, and how to wear a headscarf/headwrap. If you have comments on any of these things or thoughts on how I can improve this chapter, please let me know! Enjoy the story!

Chapter Two: Subway Trouble

            Still clutching my coffee, I dashed for the door. The crowd on the street outside had thinned, thank God. I broke into a run down the block. By now I’d learned that the Death Song didn’t always mean someone was guaranteed to die; it just meant someone was in the process of doing so.And depending on how they were going about it, I might have as much as ten or fifteen minutes, maybe even more, to interfere.

A few people yelled at me as I ran past, telling me to watch where I was going, usually with colorful language for emphasis. I ignored them, focused on the songs— the Death Song most of all, but the others as well. A strain of the peoples’ melody whispered past my ear, and I was almost tempted to grab it, hum it, and firmly suggest that everyone nearby get out of my way.

But that was forbidden, and I’d reached the corner anyway. I rounded it, my sneakers pounding the pavement, and then had to slow to keep from falling head over heels as the anti-song led me down corrugated-metal stairs into a subway station. As I rushed down, I pulled the trailing end of my scarf across my lower face, around my head, and tucked it into the main knot. The effect was somewhere between pirate and cowboy and probably looked ridiculous, but if it would keep my identity hidden . . .

I reached the bottom and glanced around. The station was a small one, and mostly empty. I sprinted across the tiled floor, still following the Song. Mixed with it, I could hear other sounds: pained, shocked gasping; a few people yelling; a second set of running feet besides my own.

The turnstiles came into view ahead. Another person, a guy in a grey hoodie, sprinted towards them from the other side, clutching a wallet in one hand and a girl’s leather backpack in the other. Mugging gone wrong, then. I skidded to a stop. The notes of the Death Song softened; someone else must’ve seen whatever happened and gone to help the victim, slowing death’s onset. And that meant I could stop the person responsible.

The guy vaulted the turnstiles and kept running. Have to act fast- I took a breath, opened my mouth, and sang, trying to match the notes of the air song. No good. The melodies were too high and too quick; my voice squeaked and then turned into gasps. But the mugger had slowed slightly in confusion; that much was good.

I switched, now copying the low, solid tune of the tile and concrete beneath our feet. The ground trembled as if from an earthquake, and the mugger stumbled. “What the—”

The ground continued to shake in response to my song. But rather than falling, he regained his footing and took off again at his original pace. Darn it. I could probably catch him if I tried now; he had to pass right by me to get to the stairs. But I couldn’t easily run and sing at the same time. And without the power of the songs behind me, I was neither tall nor strong enough to tackle him. I’d have to do something more . . . unusual.

As he passed me, I shifted the tempo of the song, slowing it still more. The mugger’s next steps squished into the tile as if into mud. He didn’t stop this time, just kept running even though his feet sank and stuck with every step. I turned, keeping him in view, waiting for the right moment . . . Now!
I changed tempo once again, speeding the song back up. The tile around his feet hardened, trapping him in place just a dozen steps from the stairs.

The mugger pitched forward, cursing colorfully, but the tile held him fast. He twisted to look at me, his eyes bright with panic and anger under his hood. "You Capes!" he spat, along with several strong adjectives. "Think you all that just because your mother sold herself to some mad scientist?"

I flushed under my makeshift mask. "Leave my momma out of this, unless you want me to start singing again. I could-- could have the ground just swallow you if I liked. So just keep your mouth shut and drop the bag and the wallet, got it?"

The mugger ignored my first order, making several more unpleasant comments on my character and parents. Most of it I'd heard before, though not all in one place. However, he did let go of the backpack and the wallet. The backpack clunked on the ground, and I hoped I hadn't just ruined someone's laptop.

I managed to keep my voice steady enough to sing a brief verse of air, just strong enough to push the goods towards me. I didn't want to risk getting too close to the mugger; if he had a knife and caught me off-guard, it wouldn't matter a bit that his feet were stuck. One hit in the right place and I'd be on the ground.

Above, I heard ambulance sirens. That was good. The Death Song was quiet, still present but weak enough for me to feel sure that the doctors could save whoever had been hurt. But the sirens also meant I needed to get the stolen goods back to the victim and get out quickly.

I grabbed the backpack and wallet in one hand, my coffee in the other. Then I jogged over to the crowd by the tracks, vaulting the turnstiles like the mugger had. A few people turned to look​ as I approached. "What the-- Who're you?" one, a middle-aged man in a tech store polo shirt, asked.

"No one important. Everyone here ok?" I held up the bag and wallet. "These belong to any of you?"

"Most of us are fine," the man who'd spoken earlier replied. The crowd parted to let me in, and the man turned to a younger guy, on his knees beside a girl about my age. "This young woman has your things."

The young man looked up. "What?"

I gladly handed him the wallet and set the backpack beside him. "Here. What happened?"

"A guy came up and demanded our stuff-- He had a knife-- We were handing it over, didn't want to get hurt, but I did something stupid and he panicked and stabbed Hannah—" As the guy spoke, he'd been looking through the wallet and backpack. "It's all still here— Thank you— How can I repay you?"

"Don't worry about it." I shoved my hands in my jacket pockets and glanced at the girl— Hannah. She lay, evidently unconscious, on the ground, her brown hair splayed in a halo around her head. The edges of a reddish stain showed on her lacy top around the edges of a wad of also-stained cloth held over the wound in her side. "I'll be praying for you two. Hope she gets better."

The clatter of shoes on the metal stairs and the voices calling that emergency services were here told me that it was time I wasn't. I turned away. "I gotta go."

"But— wait—" I didn't listen, jogging off down the edge of the track. Surprised exclamations told me that the EMTs had found the mugger. Good. That meant I didn't have to call someone to deal with him.

As far down the station as I could go, I hopped back over the turnstiles and circled back to the stairs, untucking my bandanna-mask. I slipped up the stairs, past the EMTs and arriving police, and headed back down the street. I thought about checking the coffeeshop to see if Jonathan was still there, but decided against it. He'd probably be gone. If not, oh well. He'd wait, and maybe I could get some extra sleep after all.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fight Song Chapter One

Last time in our story, we met our heroine, heard a mind-clawingly creepy non-song, and probably witnessed a murder. This week, we jump ahead several years to see what our heroine has done about it and meet a potential ally in the process. 

As always, comments and critiques are welcome. Enjoy the story! 

 Chapter One: Two Years Later

 A thousand melodies flowed round me as I wove my way down the crowded street: sharp notes of iron and steel, heavy-but-irregular beats of concrete and asphalt, the soft harmonies of air, and the tangled, ever-changing song of the passing people. I tuned them all out, by now so used to them that I didn’t bother to wonder at how, all together, they, together with the normal city noises, so narrowly walked the line between beauty and discord. Another night, maybe, I could sit and enjoy them. But tonight . . . tonight wasn’t an option.

            I could’ve been celebrating, I know. Should’ve been celebrating, even. I had reason enough. I’d taken my last final of sophomore year that day, and somehow after two years of college I was still sane and not in crippling debt. Even better, Dad had finally given up asking if I was absolutely sure I didn’t regret switching my major to music midway through freshman year, instead of keeping on in math— though I’d guess the fact that my younger sister had decided for sure that she wanted to major in biology when she started college next fall helped. And to top it all off, I’d managed to land my first official gig, thanks to a local cafĂ© that wanted to support aspiring musicians.

            So, yeah, I had reason to celebrate. And it wasn’t like I didn’t have an opportunity; my roommate and a half-dozen of my other friends had invited me to join them for dinner out and a night spent either partying or goofing off, depending who I said yes to. But I had to say no to all of them. Not because I wanted to catch up on sleep, as I told most of them, not untruthfully. Not because I wanted time to myself, as I told my roommate. No, tonight, I had work to do.

            I paused at a crosswalk and glanced up and down the street, getting my bearings. After two years of exploring, two years of spending every spare moment on the hunt for proof of a murder, I knew my way around Foundry City well enough, but sometimes the tangle of streets, all at angles to one another, left me wondering if I’d missed a turn. But no, I hadn’t; there was the Starbucks down to my right, just a few shops away.

            I sped up slightly as I headed towards it. I knew I shouldn’t have my hopes so high for this meeting. After all, if two years’ search had produced nothing but circumstantial hints, no more conclusive than a blurry photo of the Loch Ness Monster, why should tonight be any different? But the day was going so well already . . . maybe tonight would be the night.

            Starbucks seemed to be even more crowded than the street had been, if that was possible. I joined the long line at the counter, glancing around the shop. I didn’t have much of a description for the person I was supposed to meet, of course. That’s safer for him and me. But he said he’d be wearing a red scarf— plenty noticeable, this time of year; who wears scarves in May?— and Clark Kent glasses, and that he’d try to sit by a window.

            Even with that description, I didn’t spot him until only three people separated me from the counter. He’d claimed a small table wedged between the window and the wall, a table which he’d covered with a clutter of laptop, phone, notebooks, and empty coffee cups. A brown jacket seemed about to fall off the back of his chair. Besides the scarf and glasses, he wore a white button-up shirt, jeans, and black suspenders, and his brown hair looked like it had been neat at one point but someone had run their hands through it several times since. I guessed he was only a year or two older than I was— thank God! More than once before, I’d ended up meeting with creepy old guys, conspiracy theorists with no real information and way too much, well, creepy. This guy . . . well, he might be pretentious, judging from the suspenders, but he definitely didn’t look sleazy.

            I reached the counter and, glancing quickly at the menu, ordered a caramel-cinnamon mocha with two shots of espresso. Normally I’d just get plain coffee; that has more caffeine. But the mocha and espresso would be enough to get by, and, hey, I might as well do something special for tonight.

            A little more than five minutes later, my coffee in hand, I walked over to my contact. He didn’t look up until I’d stood for another five minutes and then cleared my throat. Only then did he look up- first at my face, then at the blue bandana-style headwrap over my hair, then down at my sturdy sneakers, then finally back to my face. “Can I help you?”

            For a moment, I wondered if I’d found the wrong guy. He seemed to have no idea who I was— not that I’d given him much more description than he gave me, but I’d mentioned the headwrap and my jean jacket; that should’ve given him a clue. “Maybe. I think we agreed to meet here? If you’re—” I pause, recalling his screenname— “Davies ninety-three?”

            His puzzlement lasted another minute before recognition burst forth. “Right. Er, you’re . . . Ava?”

            He referred to my own screen name, the one I invented as a cover for my search, the same name on my coffeecup. “Right. That’s me. You said you knew something about what I’m looking for?”

            “Right. Sit down- here.” He pushed aside his laptop and grabbed several of his papers and empty cups, clearing a space for me to set my own cup. “I’m Jonathan Davis, by the way. Journalist for the Foundry City Herald.”

            Well, you’re free with your information, aren’t you . . . “Pleasure to meet you, Jonathan.” I sat down and sipped my coffee. “So, you said you had information you think I’m looking for?”

            “Right, yes.” He clicked once, twice, thrice on his computer. “You’re looking for a man, correct? A businessman? Who happens to be a murderer?”

            “That’s right, yes.” I tilted my head slightly, trying to read one of the open notebooks without him noticing, but it was upside down and written in some kind of illegible shorthand.

            “Just making sure. I’m investigating along similar lines— for the paper, obviously. You mentioned online you’ve actually seen this man? Is this him?”

            Jonathan double-clicked, then turned the laptop so I could see the screen- and there was the murderer. The suit was different, true. But the picture showed him at enough of an angle that the nose and chin looked right. And there on the man’s right hand, there was the ring, big and black and gleaming mockingly.

            I could hardly breathe. Two years. Two years I’d searched. Two years I’d half-wondered if I’d imagined that whole night. Two years I’d hungered for evidence that I wasn’t crazy. And in that picture, I’d found the first taste of what I was looking for.

            I looked up from the screen. “That’s him. You have proof?”

            “A little. It’s circumstantial at the moment. But I know where to get more.” Jonathan reached for a notebook and a minirecorder. “You said you had information on him too?”

            “Yes. But I want yours first.” I’d learned already: be careful what I tell people; be careful who I tell it to.

            “Right. That’s fair.” Jonathan minimized the picture, revealing a computer desktop as cluttered as the table, filled with folders labeled things like “D. Welsh Research” and “Obit.” and “Police Rep.” and other things more cryptic, with names broken into dots midway through. He clicked a few more files, bringing up documents and news articles too fast for me to get a good look at any of them. “His name is Damian Welsh, CEO of a software and big data company. He stays in the background, but he has ties to some fairly large players. For the most part, he keeps his hands clean, or at least does a good job of hiding the blood . . . except for the fact that he’s most likely a murderer.”

            Jonathan clicked to another window, a spreadsheet of names and dates and addresses and notes like “suicide” and “OD” and “unknown.” “These are all the deaths that I suspect he might have been responsible for. In each case, he left the town or city close to the time the person died- two, three, at most four days previously. As a result, most people don’t notice the connection, and the deaths are attributed to more mundane causes.”

            I nodded. That was what happened to Lacey. They’d called it suicide, said she’d downed too many sleeping pills, and put her in the ground. A few of those who knew her well quietly wondered if her dad hadn’t driven her to it; several uppity old ones who knew more about Lacey than they had right to suggested that it was just as well; that she’d have come to a bad end anyway, with how she and her boyfriend carried on. Both groups had either ignored me or called me crazy when I suggested otherwise. “You’d think they’d see the pattern. At least they should wonder if it was something other than suicide. It’s not like no one knows there’s people with strange powers out there.”

            “Well, for one thing, Welsh, assuming he was the murderer, was smart about who and where he killed. He usually picked out targets who were old, or who were already isolated, or at the very least whose deaths could be explained some other way. And look—” Jonathan gestured with a pen at two side-by-side columns, one full of dates, the other full of town and city names. “He almost never killed twice in the same town, or even in nearby towns. Often he went to an entirely different state. Unless you deliberately searched out this information, you’d never have enough data to form a pattern.

            “And there’s another element as well, a theory at the office about supers in general.” By now, excited focus had replaced all the flustered energy Jonathan had displayed when I greeted him. “People think of supers in terms of masked heroes and cloaked and shadowed Big Bads. If they consider supers in disguise, they say, ‘Wouldn’t it be exciting if the girl who handed me my coffee just now was secretly Starlight,’ or ‘How many superheroes passed me on the street without my noticing today?’ They think of the heroes, not the Big Bads.” He shrugged. “You can’t blame them, can you? A superhero behind you in line is exciting. A villain next to you on the bus is terrifying.”

            He had a point, I had to admit. I wondered what he’d say if he knew about my ability? If he knew the girl sitting across from him was a super herself, though not a hero? “Fair enough. Curious question: how’d you think to look into all this? Seeing as, like you said, most people wouldn’t think to look for a pattern?”

            “I’m a journalist. We investigate things. I investigate this.” Or, in other words: “None of your business. Jonathan turned his computer back towards himself and picked up his minirecorder again. “And now I think it’s your turn to share.”

            “I guess it is.” So I told him my story, or at least, all the bits of it that he needed to know. No reason to mention the Death Song, for one thing, when I can just tell him that I heard odd noises and a scream— which was true, if not the whole truth. I told him about the ring, though, even the not-glow. I didn’t always mention that, even when I shared the rest of the story, but in this case I decided it was worth it.

            Jonathan listened closely, maybe too closely, but what else could you expect from a reporter? I finished with a warning that, if he put any of this in the paper and identified me as the source before Welsh was caught, I’d deny everything. Not that I didn’t want people to know the truth, but I didn’t like the idea of a supervillain coming after me in my sleep. Better for me to be the one coming after him.

            Jonathan laughed a little at my threat, but then he put on a ridiculously solemn face, placed his hand on his heart, and said, in a voice as serious as his expression, “I promise on my honor as a journalist that I will make nothing public that will endanger your safety.”

            Teasing, probably. But it seemed like a sincere sort of teasing, and for some reason, I trusted him. So I grinned back and replied, “Momma always said journalists were too nosy to have any honor.”

            “This journalist is the exception, however, and his mother taught him to take his promises seriously.” Jonathan turned off the minirecorder. “Anyway, I won’t be able to take this public for a while, not until I build up a stronger case. I have a few other leads that may give me solid testimonies like yours— which is the best anyone’s given me the entire time I’ve been searching, by the way. One question, though— forgot to ask it earlier. Why didn’t you look up the man’s name in the hotel records? If you were working the reception desk, I think you would’ve had access to them.”

            “Honestly? I was too scared to think of it that night. And by the time I did—” Which took longer than I’d like to admit— “some kind of bug had gotten into the system and scrambled all our records from that week, just before we would’ve made backups. And, anyway, I think there was some kind of conference or meeting in town that week—” actually, I know there was a conference; Dad had been one of the presenters, and had stayed late at work all week because if it, but no need to share that information— “because we had a couple dozen businessmen and scientists staying with us that night, and without seeing him, I couldn’t know which he was.”

            “It would’ve been better than nothing.” Jonathan’s attention drifted back to his computer screen, and I heard him clicking rapidly. “Though I guess nothing is what you had . . . aha!”

            I took another sip of coffee, waiting for him to tell me what he’d found. But before he could say anything, a familiar series of discordant notes pierced through the ever-present swirl of song, softened only slightly by their distant source. The Death Song. 

            The anti-song no longer made me freeze or turn and run like it did years ago, though. Instead, I jerked to my feet. “I need to go.”

            Jonathan looked up, brows drawn together in confusion. “What’s happened? I thought you’d want to stay; I have more information and an offer you might be interested in.”

            “Maybe later. It’s an emergency.” I couldn’t tell him that someone’s in danger, going to die soon. If I did, he’d want to know how I knew, and it would end up a mess. “We’ll meet again later, ok? You can tell me about your offer then.” I couldn’t wait for his answer. “Sorry, thanks, bye!”

Friday, May 5, 2017

Fight Song Prologue

Hello, everyone! As you read this, I've finished my last final- huzzah!- and I'm hopefully on my way home! In celebration of that, I'm finally posting the prologue of Fight Song. After today, I'll update once a week or as chapters are finished, depending on how things go.

As a note: Fight Song takes place in the world of the Teenage Superhero Society. Any characters not my own from that story are used by permission of the authors.

Comments and critiques are welcome. I hope you enjoy the story!

Slightly better cover coming at . . . some point.

Prologue: A Song in the Night

It was three minutes past twelve when I heard the Death Song.

            A moment before, I’d been wondering if I could get away with dozing on duty. There were no new rooms reserved at the hotel tonight, and the odds of anyone showing up seemed slim. Then the discordant notes— no, not notes exactly, but what notes would sound like if turned inside-out— jolted me into alertness. I’d heard that song once before, coming from Gramma’s room the night when her sleep ended at the Pearly Gates rather than back here. The music then had sent me scurrying away to get Momma and Dad, never mind that I was thirteen and too old to be scared of noises in the night. The anti-song was worse now, jagged-edged and merciless, quite literally painful to listen to, with none of the hints of peace I’d heard that other night. I wanted to run away again, but the song left me paralyzed.

            Lucky me, being the only one who got to hear it.

            I realized that I’d somehow ended up underneath the receptionist’s desk, curled into a fetal position. Apparently I hadn’t been as paralyzed as I thought. Maybe I should stay here. Plug my ears and hope that if there was a murderer about, he didn’t come looking for me here.

            But my parents didn’t raise their kids to be cowards. So instead I crawled out and reached up for the phone— then paused. If I could hear the song, didn’t that mean whoever was dying was too far along to be saved? That’s how Gramma had been. But someone could try, anyway, so I picked up the receiver and punched in 911.

            “911.” The operator sounded as tired as I’d been a moment ago, so far as I could tell with the Death Song filling my ears and clawing at my brain. “What’s your emergency?”

            “Someone’s dying. Being killed, I think.” I wasn’t sure how I know, but the song sounded too violent to be any kind of peaceful death. “At the Holiday Inn, 1251 West Main Street. Send- send police. Ambulance too.”

            “They’ll be on their way soon.” The operator sounded too calm; I knew she was supposed to be calm, but it felt so wrong, juxtaposed with the jagged notes and my death-grip on the phone and my back pressed against the thin wood of the desk. “What’s your name?”

            “Callie. Callie Heartwood.” I hoped that the murderer wasn’t near enough to hear. If he got away tonight, I didn’t want him coming after me as a witness.

            “All right, Callie. Are you safe?”

            Was I? “I think so.”

“Good. Can you tell me exactly what’s happening?”

            “I— I don’t know. I heard—” Heard what? A creepy song in the middle of the night? No chance she’d believe that, even with stories popping up every week about exploits of superheroes in the big cities. More likely she’d think I’m crazy. “I heard screams. And yelling.” What other sounds do people make when they’re being murdered? “And— please just send help, ma’am.”

            “I have police and ambulance on the way, Callie.” Well, at least she believed me a little. “I need you to stay calm and on the line. Where are these sounds coming from?”

            “Um. Down the hall a ways?” The Death Song built towards a crescendo. If someone was going to help, they had to do it now. And that meant that “someone” had to be me. “Ma’am, I’m sorry, I gotta go.”

            I didn’t hang up the phone. Maybe if things went wrong, she’d hear me screaming and tell police to hurry up. Grabbing the heavy-duty flashlight from under the desk, I stood and glanced out the glass doors. I saw nothing just outside, but I couldn’t get a good view of the road to tell if police were close or not. Definitely not close enough; my city wasn’t big by any means, but the police station was on the other side of town. So, I crept across the lobby and down a darkened hallway, following the Death Song.

            The anti-song led me past a long line of locked rooms, past the hall that led to the exercise room, and down to the nook containing the soda machines and the perpetually broken ice dispenser, the one that constantly hisses and grinds, that shakes as if it might explode whenever you try to use it. No matter how we cleaned down this way, a faint, irritating, slightly smoky odor always remained. No one came down here if they could help it— unless they wanted to be absolutely certain they wouldn’t be disturbed.

            As I got closer, I could hear other sounds beneath the Death Song and the growls of the ice machine. Pain-filled whimpering, for one, occasionally climbing towards a scream but always turning into choked gasps before it could burst forth. And a voice: masculine, big-city smooth, dark as Daddy’s extra-strong coffee, speaking too low for me to hear words. The voice fit with the anti-song in a way that I couldn’t describe, but which left me no doubt that it belonged to the murderer.

            Clutching the flashlight in both hands, my shoulder pressed to the wall, I peered around the corner into the nook. One of the people, I recognized: Lacey, one of the housekeeping staff, a girl only a year or two older than me. She was no surprise; I’d found her here more than once, sometimes kissing her boyfriend when she should’ve been working, sometimes crying because she was too scared to go home to her dad. She was the one whimpering, on her knees on the ground, shoulders and head bent forward.

            The other person, the murderer, was unfamiliar: broad-shouldered, dressed in a white shirt and not-quite-black pants, like he’d been wearing a suit and taken off the jacket and tie. I couldn’t see his face; he stood partially in shadow and looked down at Lacey, but I caught a hint of strong nose and squared-off jaw. What caught my attention was his hand, gripping the back of Lacey’s neck— well, more specifically, his ring. Big, like a class ring, with a great black diamond on it. The diamond seemed to glow, or, rather, to not glow in the same way that the Death Song wasn’t truly a song. The two seemed connected; as the Death Song strengthened, so did the not-glow.

            Lacey’s whimpers finally broke into a full-fledged scream as the Death Song hit its climax. The man’s free hand immediately clamped over her mouth, but the song went on. I barely kept from dropping the flashlight; barely kept from throwing up as the not-notes scraped across my mind.

            Then I heard the sirens. I guessed the murderer heard them too, from the way his hand clenched on Lacey’s neck. He started to look up, and I ducked back behind the corner before he could spot me. I should do something, should make sure he doesn’t get away . . .

            But I didn’t. Instead I crept back down the hall to the lobby, to meet the police as they pulled in with lights flashing, to tell the four officers that I heard the screams from down that hall, to wait as one officer starts in the direction I said and two others go back outside to cover other potential exits. One stayed with me, allegedly for protection; I’d guess to keep an eye on me as well. No way they could know I was the one who’d called and not the murderer myself, after all.

            The Death Song died away minutes after the officers scattered. I curled up on my chair behind my reception desk and wondered what the one officer would find when he reached the ice machine nook. The murderer would’ve gotten away, I guessed. Would Lacey be bleeding out on the tile, or just laying there, unmarked and unmoving? Or would whatever happened have left her- I don’t know, withered to a husk or crumbled to dust, like in a movie?

The ambulance arrived while I was still wondering, and a group of EMTs crowded into the lobby as well. One approached me, asking if I was hurt, and then retreated when I assured him I was fine. I wondered if there was any way I could tell them that there was no need for them anymore, that the victim was already dead, without having to explain what I’d seen and heard. I couldn’t, and so I waited; they’d find out plenty soon as things stood.

            The clock read 12:31 when the officer who’d gone searching came back— but not alone, not with the murderer in cuffs either. No, he led Lacey by the arm— Lacey, dazed, with tear-reddened eyes, but alive. “No sign of a murder,” he said. “No one down there at all except a few guests who said they hadn’t heard any screams— and this girl.”

            “I thought I heard something,” I mumble weakly. “I know I heard something. Is she all right?” She should be dead; the anti-song ended . . . was the murderer some kind of alien-thing that absorbed the form of its victims after killing them? No, that was nonsense; I needed to stop letting my cousin talk me into watching all those sci-fi movies with him . . .

            “We’ll find out.” The police officer handed her over to an EMT. “My partners are searching the rest of the hotel for any sign of murder. In the meantime, tell me what you heard . . .”

            I told him- told him about screams; told him no, they couldn’t have come from upstairs;told him that I’d snuck down the hall and seen an unfamiliar man with Lacey but had been too scared to do anything. While I talked, the EMTs checked Lacey’s condition and questioned her about what had happened. I caught snatches of their conversation: that she’d gone back by the ice machine because she was upset and wanted privacy; that a man had come to get a soda and asked if she was all right but hadn’t tried to hurt her; that she’d taken allergy medicine earlier and she guessed that was why she was acting out of it. Eventually, they and the police all gave up and left, some telling me and Lacey to let them know if any new developments showed up, a few commenting that next time I called 911, I should make sure I hadn’t just dreamed up whatever I heard. I bit my tongue in response to the latter, but since Lacey was still alive, I couldn’t help but wonder— had my tired brain imagined the Death Song, the man’s glowing ring and his hand on Lacey’s neck?

            By the next morning, I’d almost convinced myself that the whole experience really had been half my imagination— almost. One thing and one thing only kept me from relegating it to a tired half-dream: the next afternoon, when I said hello to Lacey on the way in, I thought I caught a whisper of the Death Song still hanging in the air around her. I heard it again the next day, and the day after that.

            And so I was the only one not completely surprised when, on the third day after the maybe-murder, in the middle of her work, Lacey just toppled to the ground, dead as the tile on which she lay.