Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 10

Last time on Fight Song, Callie and Jonathan met with a survivor of one of Welsh's attacks and learned more about how he operates. This week, Callie hits the streets to work off her frustration and runs into a little more trouble than she bargained for.

Fun fact: in order to research this chapter, I spent a solid half-hour at least running around alternately acting like a zombie and acting like I was being chased by a zombie. Also, I scheduled this post while taking shelter during a tornado warning, so . . . yeah. Feel free to make sure I'm not dead or whatever in comments. 

Chapter 10: A Night’s Work

Jonathan and I retraced our steps to the Starbucks in silence. Only once we had coffee in hand— fancy African cold brew for him, simple black with cinnamon for me— did we discuss what we’d learned and what to do now. Ana had given us good information, better than anything we could’ve hoped for. How could we have expected to get a firsthand account of what it’s like to be under Welsh’s power?

Yet her story gave us no real clues about how to proceed. Welsh was powerful; even with Ana’s testimony, he could probably find a way to escape justice. We needed proof he couldn’t possibly push aside and that others couldn’t ignore. And I was distracted throughout our conversation by the tragedy of Ana’s tale. She and her husband had come here looking for something better, risky though it was, and they had that chance stolen from them, all because of Welsh. The fact that I couldn’t do anything to help only made it worse.

That feeling of helplessness haunted me even after Jonathan and I exhausted our ideas and part ways. So, that evening, after my last shift for the day at the craft store and a lunchmeat sandwich dinner, I decide to do something crazy.

The first hints of twilight shaded the sky when I left my apartment, shrouded in a dark blue zip-up hoodie, heavy makeup, and a black headscarf that could be easily tucked across my face, with my violin in a case that bounced on my hip. I wove my way down the streets— four blocks south, turn left, two more blocks, turn right, another three blocks— to the sketchy part of town. Not Rodham block; I was smart enough to know that was more than I could handle; but close enough. I’d been here more than a few times, usually in search of witnesses to Welsh’s sins, but occasionally, like tonight, to work off my frustration with the world by stopping a few crooks.

When I arrived, it was still early for real trouble. I probably could’ve attracted it if I wanted, but I wasn’t that crazy. So instead I kept a low profile, walked up and down and occasionally sat on a bench for a bit, and waited and listened for something to show up.

Eventually, of course, I found what I was looking for. First were a young man and his buddies attempting to break into a car. I chased them off with a simple string of notes that heated their tools in their hands, but I didn’t pursue. Next, a pair of thugs who’ve cornered a woman with features reminiscent of Uhjin’s, whose notes in the song of people were soured by fear. I sank the criminals’ feet into the asphalt, called the police, and escorted the lost lady on her way— the first such encounter of the night, but not the last. Twice, whole groups of toughs were stupid enough to come after me, and I summoned fire from my violin strings to teach them a lesson. And three times I chased the Death Song down streets and alleyways, but none were the result of a violent crime, and both times I was too late to do anything anyway.

Those weren’t the only times I was unable to reach trouble before it ended, and my failures stacked on top of each other, looming larger than they should’ve. Their ominous beat overwhelmed the golden song of my successes, reminding me again and again that no matter how many criminals I caught or chased off, no matter how many people I helped, no matter what songs I wielded, I was still so powerless. No matter how much I did, what I couldn’t accomplish felt like an overwhelming flood. I couldn’t stop all the crime in the city; I couldn’t even stop all the crime on this small set of streets. I couldn’t save Lacey three years ago; I couldn’t save Ana now. I couldn’t expose Welsh, despite all my investigations. Even my best efforts would never be enough, it seemed, to accomplish anything significant.

Such thoughts, fueled by bitter black coffee purchased from various convenience stores, kept me up and on the streets until the early hours of the next morning. Only then, when the fire of my frustration had cooled to embers and my steps had slowed to sluggishness, did I reluctantly turn back towards home. I walked slumped, my hands in my sweatshirt pockets, humming air for protection. The sun would be up in a matter of hours, I knew, and the worst bit of the night for crime was over. Maybe that was why I let my guard down a little, trusting my song to delay or deflect any danger.
That was a mistake.

At first, I thought the three were just another trio of mostly-drunk locals: not good company to keep, but not likely to attack. Sure, it was late— or, depending how you looked at it, early— for those types to be out much, but there were more than a few bars that would’ve just closed not too long ago. The three were definitely acting drunk, stumbling along and speaking in loud, slurred tones that contained more sound than meaning. I curved in towards the edge of the sidewalk to pass them and otherwise ignored them—

Until one grabbed my arm and yanked hard. I skidded a step before the force jerked me awake. I immediately widened my stance, twisting my wrist in his grip to try to get control. I opened my mouth to sing, but the notes came out off-key from surprise, weariness, and too much coffee, and the other two men closed in on either side of me, no longer shambling but alert and controlled.

No no no no no . . . I went back to humming; managed enough notes of air to push the two on the sides back a step. Got to get past them, get away . . .

I finally managed to pull free from the first man, but— too late. The other two closed back in, and the first advanced, forcing me back against a wall. The one in the middle, clearly the ringleader, drew a pistol and pointed it at me, while the other two pulled out knives. Lovely. 

The leader addressed me in the accents of the inner city: “You’re gonna keep your mouth shut, girl—” only he didn’t say girl— “unless you wanna get shot. One note outta you . . .”

I responded by humming heat into their weapons, focusing on the pistol. One of the men yelled and dropped his knife, shaking his burned hand. I lunged past him, hands up over my head, switching from heat to air mid-note.

The bang of the gunshot almost deafened me, though my shield of air deflected the bullet. My song faltered, and I stumbled, went down hard. My chin hit the ground and I tasted blood.

No time to stop. I started to push myself up, but a kick to my side toppled me back onto the asphalt. I rolled to avoid another blow and scrambled back to my feet. “What do you want with me? Money? I’ve got five bucks; you can have it.” Not likely, given their actions so far, but I could try . . .

The three advanced. I backed away. The leader still held his pistol in his hands— gloved, I realized belatedly. “Not your money. You.” His finger tightened on the trigger. “Last shot was a warning. This one won’t be.”

Great. I didn’t think he’d actually kill me since he hadn’t just shot me straight off, but a bullet in the leg or arm would still hurt. So, for lack of a better idea, I turned and ran for my life. I expected a gunshot to follow, but instead, I heard three sets of pounding feet as my attackers chased after me.
Now, I’m a pretty fast runner. But, exhausted as I was, these three were faster. Before I could make the next block, a hand grabbed my hood and jerked back. I stumbled; tried to twist away— no luck. The group’s leader caught me as I fell backward and squeezed his arm around my throat in a chokehold.

I grabbed his arm and pulled down, but he barely budged. Though I tried to gasp out a song, any song, all I managed was a ragged squeak. Oh no oh no oh no— 

“Not so much trouble without your voice, are you?” The man tightened his hold. “Call Jacobs. Tell him to bring the car. We’ve got her.”

Badbadbadbad— My head spun, and grey fuzziness intruded in the corners of my vision. Oh God help! I twisted, managed to relieve the pressure enough to get a quick breath. But before I could do more, the leader turned too, choking me once more. “Stop struggling, girl. Don’t make me hurt you more.”

I’m going to get hurt anyway, aren’t I? I twisted again, this time stamping on his foot and jerking harder at his arm. He didn’t even flinch, but I managed to loosen his hold enough to tuck in my chin, temporarily  preventing him from choking me again.

Think fast. My power was still my best defense, but singing meant exposing myself to being choked again. I needed something that would work with only a few notes. Fire. Fire’s quick.

I straightened and sang a series of five rapid, slightly off-key notes before the leader clamped his arm down on my throat again. In the same moment, I felt heat on my ear as the shoulder of the man’s leather jacket burst into flames.

He howled and let go. I dashed away, but another of the thugs slammed into me, knocking me to the ground. Before I could get up, his knee was in my back and his hand was pressing my face into the ground. Oh God please no. I flailed at him, but couldn’t see to land a hit.

“Got her— hurry and tie her up before she tries something else!” This, I guessed, was the thug holding me. I increased my struggles, kicking and squirming as well as flailing, but then a pair of hands grabbed my arms and forced my wrists together. Something thin and solid— a zip tie, I suspected— was wrapped tightly around them.

I kicked in the general direction of where I thought my attackers were, but my foot hit nothing but air. Then they grabbed my legs and zip-tied my ankles as well. Badbadbad oh God help. If I could sing, maybe I could soften the plastic like I did the subway tile that one time, but, with my face in the asphalt, I couldn’t open my mouth enough to get out a single note.


  1. AAAHHH! I know it's a particularly uncouth thing to come tramping in when the title reads "chapter 10" and you've not yet read chapter 1... but I had reduced time availability (blame my schedule). This is really good though! I am intrigued. I particularly like the use of music as a weapon (very much so). This gives me "Echoes from the Edge" by Bryan Davis vibes. Very delightful :)

    1. You're quite forgiven, though I do hope that you'll go back and read the rest since you enjoyed this chapter! And "Echoes from the Edge" was one of my inspirations, so, yeah! Thank you very much for reading and commenting!

  2. Ay, you're alive! did the tornado end up doing anything?
    Also, I'm quite happy to see these coming up here again. Your writing has definitely improved a ton since Berstru and such, (you remember how much I liked those) and I have been thoroughly enjoying Fight Song. Unfortunately I'm too tired (again) to actually figure out what has improved so. That's also why this comment might seem weird. I should be in bed.

    Lertaen Miklul
    aka Lakiklul

    1. Yep, I am! And I haven't heard of any significant damage so far, though apparently someone did see an actual funnel cloud.
      Thanks! I should hope I've improved since Berstru, since I wrote the first one, what, almost six years ago? But, yeah, I appreciate that people can TELL it's improved.
      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Glad you're okay! :D

    “What do you want with me? Money? I’ve got five bucks; you can have it.”
    I know this was a serious scene and all, but I couldn't help chuckling a bit at this. :P
    There are a handful of tense changes ("decide" instead of "decided", "who've" instead of "who"), but overall very clean. The only other thing I noticed was the fact that Callie's violin is mentioned once before she's attacked, then not at all during/after. :)

    What did you have to research??

    1. Haha, I'm glad. :D
      Thanks for letting me know about those. The whole book was originally written in present tense, so, yeah, sometimes I forget to switch it back. And the reason Callie's violin doesn't come up again is that she doesn't really have time to try to do anything with it, but I'll try to make that clearer.

      I had to research how to defend against multiple opponents at once, so I asked my substitute martial arts instructor. And, apparently, part of the exercise he uses for learning to deal with multiple opponents is the whole zombie routine. It worked, though, so I'm not complaining.

  4. A tornado warning sounds just terrifying- I'm glad all is well!
    ...then again, maybe not ALL is well. Poor Callie!

    1. It wasn't that bad. Mostly annoying. But yeah, all is well . . . for me, if not for my characters. xD Thanks for commenting!