Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 16

Last time on Fight Song, Callie and Jonathan talked through their differences and Callie learned that Jonathan doesn't get paid to be unobservant. This week, the two test Callie's theory that she can stop Welsh's power by singing its opposite song. As always, questions, comments, and critiques are welcome. Enjoy!

Chapter 16: The Anti–Death Song

Jonathan texted me the next evening: Julián had agreed that we could try our plan next weekend. I found myself counting down the passing days before then as eagerly as if I were waiting for Christmas. If this worked . . . Well, it wouldn’t solve all my problems, but it would solve one of the major ones.

Midway through the week, Uhjin texted me while I was on lunch break: Uncle sent security feed video! I checked; Welsh is in there. 

I sent up a silent prayer of thanks when I saw the message; Jonathan and I had yet to find anyone else who’d give us access to useful camera feeds. I texted back: Thanks! Will transfer to my comp tonight. Make copies. The last thing we needed was to lose our best piece of evidence because of a careless deletion, or, worse, a hacker.

Saturday arrived at last with the type of heat and humidity that I’d expect from mid-August, not May. The day had barely cooled at all by the time Jonathan and I met outside Julián and Ana’s apartment building that evening. We trekked up the metal stairs to the third floor and down concrete walkways to their door. Jonathan paused before knocking. “Ready, C— Ava?”

I nodded. “Ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s do this.”

Jonathan knocked. A moment later, Julián answered. “You are early.”

“Sorry.” I glanced at my watch. He was right; in our eagerness to test our idea, we had gotten here ahead of schedule. “Do you want us to come back?”

“No. If you can do what you say, we should not wait.” Julián stepped aside so we could enter. “She is worse than last time.”

“Thanks for the warning.” I walked inside and approached the couch. “Mrs. Reyes?” I circled the couch and had to hide my shock.

Julián hadn’t been exaggerating. Ana is so thin she seems to be merely skin draped over bones; her eyes are dark and hollow and haunting. Her face glistens with sweat; her breath comes in gasps— yet she had managed to sit, propped by pillows, and she attempted to smile at me. “Julián said . . . you think you can help?”

Is her condition confirmation of my theory or just the natural effect of having been under Welsh’s power for any length of time, no continued drain required? I don’t know, but I hope it’s the former, that my theory is right, that I can save her. “I think so, yes. Did he explain what Jonathan told him about what I’m going to try?”

“Yes.” Ana leaned back against the couch cushions, her eyes sliding shut. “Go on . . . if you wish to try . . . try now. Before I am . . . all the way gone.”

“Right.” I knelt by the couch. “Can I hold your hand? It might help.”

Ana nodded as if that small motion exhausted her. I grasped her bony hand, so light and fragile that I couldn’t help feeling like I’d break it if I wasn’t careful. Then I shut my eyes and listened.

At first, I couldn’t hear anything, nothing but Ana’s gasps and the traffic outside and all the normal songs of an apartment in the city. I listened closer, tuning out the natural noises so I could focus in on the songs of power. There was the chiming tune of the water in the glass on the bedside table; there, the hums of plastic and metal and wood; there, the complicated melody of the woven fabric of the couch, and all around, the ever-shifting song of the air. No Death Song. For the first time in my life, my heart fell because of its absence. Had I only imagined it last time? Was I wrong after all?
I focused in, listened more closely. The high-pitched hum of the lights, a sound I normally blocked out for fear of losing my sanity to it, grated over my ears. I winced, but still listened, praying desperately. Please . . .

Then, like a rasping whisper, like the slight shuffle in autumn leaves when you’re walking home long past dark and your brain turns every sound into warning of monsters and serial killers, I heard it. It lay beneath all the other music, barely perceptible, but poisonous, corrupting every song it latched onto. As I recalled, it was not quite like the normal Death Song. Its beat was slower; its not-notes more orderly. I could work with this.

I listened for several minutes, forcing myself to pay attention so I could piece together the song’s reverse. I started with the basic rhythm— not so hard to figure out; that wouldn’t change between the original and its antithesis. Then I moved to the notes themselves— far more difficult. I couldn’t work in bars; I had to take it one note at a time. Finally, I thought I had the song correct, or, at least, I could hear an anti-note and figure out its real self quickly. Then and only then did I take a deep breath, open my mouth, and start to sing.

Nothing happened. The Death Song still scraped across my senses. Ana still labored for each breath. My voice faltered. Was I wrong? Can Welsh’s power not be stopped after all?

I have the song wrong. That’s it. That must be it. I wasn’t sure if I was acting out of desperation or determination, but I worked my way through the song, adjusting one note, then another and another until— yes! The not-melody of the Death Song faltered, the anti-notes off-pitch as if played by an amateurish child. But the song didn’t stop, not yet.

I adjusted another note, then paused for breath. What else can I try? Maybe my timing is off . . . I started again, careful to match each note to its antithesis, each chord to its opposite, without missing a single beat.

And this time, it worked.

The Death Song faltered again, skipping and repeating like a scratched CD. The melody splintered into greater discord, anti-notes screeching and distorting. Oddly enough, the distortion made them sound more normal, not less. Then, finally, it stopped altogether.

I sat back and released Ana’s stiff hand— why so stiff? Please, please, no— and opened my eyes. Ana still slumped on the couch, wide-eyed and gasping, but her gasps didn’t sound like those of someone choking or unable to breathe. They sounded like what I’d expect from someone who’s been drowning and just found their way back to the air. “You ok?”

She nodded. “I . . . I am. I think.” She sounded stronger; winded, yes, but not weak. “Your song . . . it hurt. But it was good pain.”

Jonathan and Julián were both staring wide-eyed. I wondered what they’d seen while I’d been focused on the Death Song. Jonathan offered a hand to help me up. “Well. I guess it worked.” He said it like he didn’t know what else to say, like he wasn’t quite sure if what he’d seen was real or not. “Good work.”

I took his hand and pulled myself to a standing position. “Thanks. And—” I turned my attention back to Ana and Julián— “Thanks for letting us test our theory.”

“No, we should thank you. You have given us hope.” Julián rested his hand on Ana’s shoulder, looking down at her tenderly. “Hope where we thought we had none.”

I shrugged, glancing down, not sure how to respond. “I . . . You’re welcome? Mrs. Reyes, I hope you keep getting better.”

“I think I will.” Ana nodded. “You will stop Welsh with this?”

I nodded. “I hope to, yes.”

“Good. Remember to remember me when you face him.” She smiled a slow, satisfied smile. “Good luck to you, Ava. Though I do not think you will need it.”

“I hope not.” I hooked my fingers in my pockets, not sure what to do with my hands. “Well, we should get going. Thanks again.”

With a few more polite thanks and well-wishes on both sides, Jonathan and I departed. We headed back to the street in silence. Once there, I glanced at him. “What did you see while I was singing?”

“I . . . I don’t know. I don’t know if I saw anything.” Jonathan shook his head like he was clearing his head of sleep. “Your song was . . . I don’t know. I don’t have good words for it, and I’m a writer. I thought I was going to go crazy from hearing it, but at the same time, I wanted to keep listening. It messed with my head. I thought I saw things— lights, mostly; some kind of weird shadowy thing once— but they’d be gone a minute later.”

“Weird.” I’d barely even considered what it would be like for someone to hear the anti-Death Song, especially someone who normally didn’t hear the songs at all. “Well, maybe it’ll confuse Welsh the same way. At least we know that I can keep him from killing me long enough to get what we need.”

“True.” Jonathan nodded, straightening, apparently more confident now that we’d moved back to a topic he was comfortable with. “I’d say that calls for a celebration.”

“Maybe.” I wrinkled my nose. “I’m running low on coffee money, though. No more trips to the café for a while. And it’s too hot for coffee anyway.”

“Who said anything about coffee? I was talking about ice cream— my treat, as long as you don’t order the biggest thing on the menu.” Jonathan grinned at me. “What do you say?”

I laughed. “Well, if you put it that way, who am I to turn down ice cream? Let’s go.”

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