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 TroubleStill 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.