Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 9

Last time on Fight Song, Callie took some criminals' breath away when they tried to hold up the café she was playing at. Then she ran into Jonathan, who revealed that he'd found another very special witness— a survivor. This week, they go meet this mysterious person, and, in the process, learn more about Welsh's powers.

As always, if you have any comments, critiques, suggestions, or questions, please let me know in the comments!


Chapter 9: Survivor

            Jonathan’s news consumed my thoughts for the rest of the week. A survivor. I didn’t know anyone could survive Welsh’s attacks; no one else has. The longest anyone else has lasted is three days, and Jonathan implied that this woman has been holding on for— for weeks. Months, maybe.

            We met early Saturday morning at the Starbucks where we’d had our first encounter. From there, Jonathan led the way down progressively sketchier streets. Partway there, I recognized the alley where I’d faced Welsh only a week ago and realized that we were headed towards Audrey’s neighborhood. I looked for the redhead, but saw no sign of her— probably just as well; I didn’t want to accidentally alert Jonathan to her existence.

            On the third floor of an apartment building that probably just barely met code, before an unadorned brown door, Jonathan stopped and knocked. Only a moment later, the door opened to reveal a man who greeted Jonathan and introduced himself to me as Julián Reyes, with the accent to match. He and Jonathan obviously had spoken before, because he let us in without question and nearly without comment, save his greeting.

            The apartment was as shabby as you’d expect, but clean. A door to the left opened on a small kitchen; across from it was a wobbly table with two old-looking chairs. Directly in front of us, a well-worn couch and two mismatched chairs were arranged in a square. On the couch, propped up with pillows, lay a woman, her eyes closed in sleep, her position suggesting she’d nodded off by accident. Like Julián, she had dark hair and brown skin, lighter than my own, though her features were narrower than his. Besides that, though, she looked like she’d been battling some illness for years. There was . . . a greyness, I guess you could say, to her, and she looked exhausted even in sleep. And there was something more, something that made my skin prickle and my head ache, but I couldn’t place it.

            Julián put a hand on her shoulder, speaking gently in Spanish. The woman blinked and turned to look at us, her brow furrowing slightly. Our host switched back to English: “Ana, these are the two I told you about, the ones who want to hear what happened to you. Jonathan and Ava.” He turned to face us. “This is my wife, Ana.”

            Ana struggled to sit up until Julián helped her and rearranged her pillows to give her support. She studied both of us with half-focused eyes, but it was me she addressed first. “You’re looking for the murderer?”

            I nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Jonathan said you’d survived an encounter with him?”

            “Is this called surviving?” Ana laughed, more than a little bitterly, until she broke off into coughing. “You saw me. I cannot work; I cannot even sit up without Julián’s help. All I do is sleep and wish I had not been so stupid.”

            Julián interrupted: “Brave. Not stupid. And you are resting so you can get better again.”

            “Someone can be both.” But Ana sounded appreciative anyway. “Anyway, you did not come here to listen to me complain. You want to know what happened to me, and I will tell you.

            “Julián and I came here three years ago. He wanted to come alone— he said the trip would be too dangerous for me— but I have seen too many men leave and not come back to let him go, so together we stayed. He found work within a month of our arrival. For me, it took longer, but we made friends and one of them found me work with a cleaning company. That company serviced Damian Welsh’s offices, among others, and that was where I worked most.”

            She paused for breath, then continued. “I began to think something was wrong after only a few weeks there. The people seemed off, Mr. Welsh especially. And—” Again she hesitated, but now she seemed to be weighing what to say. “I have a gift, you might say. I can see who is a mejorado, one with powers, and what their powers are, and Mr. Welsh is a mejorado like I have seen before. There are many like him in my homeland— cruel men, all of them. Their touch drains life away, and if their victims are mejorados as well, the victims’ powers as well. The life makes the killer’s body strong and increases his lifespan; the power does the same for the killer’s own power. But this man, he has another gift, a silvered tongue. What he orders, no, what he suggests, others jump to do regardless of what they think.” She met my eyes, and despite her frailness, her stare caught me so I couldn’t look away. “He is not an enemy to trifle with, Ava. But he must fall all the same.”

            Jonathan nodded, jotting notes down on a pad of paper. “I see. That explains a lot, especially why he keeps killing. Whatever power or strength he gains from each kill probably wears off eventually, and he has to replenish it. But that’s beside the point. Can you tell us anything more, Mrs. Reyes? How you ended up—” he gestured at her. “Like this? What it was like to be under his power?”

            “I was caught because I was foolish.” Ana’s accent seemed to have thickened slightly with frustration. “I believed he would have proof of his crimes in his office, and I thought I could find it and stop him. But instead he found me there and decided that death was the best way to shut my mouth.”

            “And when he tried to kill you?” Jonathan prompted.

            “You are much too impatient. I may be dying, but not in the next five minutes.” Ana paused for breath again— or perhaps just to spite Jonathan. “Recognizing a silver tongue does not negate its power. Two words and my mind forgot I should run, even though my body knew. Two words and I didn’t resist when he took me by the neck and started to drain me to a husk.”

            She shut her eyes and shuddered. “It was pain like you cannot imagine. Life clings to you, so he tears it away with all the force he can from every limb and muscle. That is the body; the mind and soul are worse. They stick tighter to you, and with every tug on them, you hear at the edge of your mind the processional and footsteps of Death.”

            Ana shuddered again. Julián squeezed her hand, speaking softly once more. After a few minutes, Ana went on again. “I managed to break free before he finished his work. Before he could tear away my mind and soul and gift. He was so startled, he did not pursue me. He probably thought I would die soon anyway, and that I would be too afraid in the meantime to go to the police. He was right on the second. He has power. I have nothing. I am not even supposed to be in this country. My word alone against him would do nothing. So I tell my story to you, so more voices may speak about what happened.”

            “They will.” I corrected myself. “We will. I promise. Thank you for sharing your story, Mrs. Reyes. You don’t know how much it helps us.”

            “I think I might,” she replied, with a faint smile that faded rapidly. “Promise me, Ava, that you will finish this. That you will end the killings. And remember me when you do.”

            “I will. Don’t worry.” I paused. “Is there anything else I can do for you? Anything at all?”

            Ana exchanged a look with her husband before replying. “There is . . . one thing. But I think your friend will have to leave first.”

            “I am insulted that you find me so untrustworthy.” But Jonathan doesn’t seem particularly offended, just worried. “Ava? Will you be all right on your own?”

            What does he think they’ll do to me? A dying woman and her husband? Even if Jonathan doesn’t know about my powers, he must realize I can take care of myself. Still, I appreciate the thought. “I’ll be fine. Go ahead.”

            “All right. I’ll be in the hall. Yell if you need me.” Jonathan nodded to Julián and Ana. “Thank you again for your help.”

            He walked out of the apartment and shut the door behind himself. I stepped forward so I was directly beside the couch and knelt there. “You want me to sing?”

            “Yes.” Ana smiled. “If you will, sing for me. Show me that power can still be used for more than destruction. Will you do that?”

            “Of course.” I paused, sorting through my repertoire. I couldn’t do anything too much, not in an apartment with paper-thin walls and Jonathan just outside. But that was no reason not to do something . . .

            I tapped out a rhythm with my fingers on the arm of the couch— too quiet to hear, but the motion alone was a starting point. I hummed along with the rhythm, recalling melodies of warm summer rains and sunshine breaking through clouds and Momma’s garden full of green, growing things. Then, once I had a feel for how I’d combine the songs, I opened my mouth and sang.

            What I produced wasn’t my best performance, nor was it much as songs of power go. But the song was soft and soothing and hopeful, and motes of light danced in the suddenly dappled sunshine.  Ana listened with closed eyes and a smile on her face, relaxing until her head dropped onto the back of the couch and she went still.

            Fear marred the last few notes of my song, and I turned to Julián. “Is she—?”

            “Sleeping.” Julián carefully moved her so she lay with her head on the pillows. “Thank you for your gift.”

            “Don’t mention it. It was the least I could do.” I stood, looking down at Ana. “She should be in a hospital.”

            “Should be, yes. We tried, once, when she first became like this. But the doctors didn’t know how to treat her, and we could barely even afford that first visit. So all we can do is hope that time will heal.” Julián faced me. “I have wondered, if Welsh were stopped— if he died— somehow, Ana would be healed. But that is a small chance.”

            “Maybe. But not impossible.” I started to go, then paused. “I— I’ll be praying for you. If that’s ok.”

            Julián shrugged. “Why wouldn’t it? It will do no harm. Perhaps it will help.”

            “Hopefully.” I shoved my hands in my pockets. “Well— I should go. Thanks again. Bye.”

            “Goodbye, Ava. Thank you. And good luck.”

3 comments:

  1. Poor Ana! I'm now all the more impatient to see Welsh behind bars!

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  2. Hm. Why did Ana want Jonathan to leave before Ava sang? Was it just because she didn't know he knew about Ava's powers? *begins on theories*

    And does Welsh particularly seek out powered people to drain?

    (This story was what first got me into your blog, Sarah, and I'm so happy to see it continuing! :D)
    - Jem Jones

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    Replies
    1. Ana has no reason to believe that Jonathan knows about Callie's powers, so, yeah, that's why she wanted him to leave.

      To a degree. If given the choice between a powered person and a non-powered person with the same amount of risk for either, he'll pick the powered person. But he's also very invested in staying alive and out of jail, so he's not going to go after, say, Starlight when there are much easier non-powered targets available.

      I'm glad you're enjoying it!

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