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 NightIt 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.