Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 18

Hey'a, everyone! Ready for another chapter of Fight Song? Last week, Callie, Jonathan, and Uhjin made plans to finally confront Welsh. This week, they continue working on those plans and Callie hits the streets again— but this time, she's got a mask. As always, comments, questions, critiques, and suggestions are welcome! Thanks for reading!



Chapter 18: Songbird

The next week was a rush of activity. I spent several evenings scouting the city for a location where I could tell Welsh to meet me, somewhere public, but not too public, where Uhjin and Jonathan could have relatively safe hiding spots. Eventually, I settled on a small side street between one of the city’s sketchier motels and a line of stores and businesses, half of which had boards over the windows. It seemed as good as anywhere— better than most, since the motel advertised free WiFi.

That piece of my plan now in place, I loaded several CDs and one USB drive with copies of the information Jonathan and I had collected— testimonies, records, camera feeds, everything— along with a letter I’d typed up myself, explaining my plan. I handed off one CD to Uhjin, instructing her to make her own copies and give them to whoever she chose. Another I sent to my grandfather back home with a handwritten copy of the letter— he’d like that, I knew— and instructions for what to do with the CD if anything happened to me. I included other letters with that one too, notes to the rest of my family. Hopefully, they’d never see those letters, but only God knew for sure.

I dropped off the third CD in my pastor’s office Tuesday evening after work, along with a request for prayer and instructions not to look at the CD unless something happened to me in the next two weeks. I spent the next two days half-expecting an email from him up asking if I was all right, what was going on, all that, but nothing appeared. Either he’d lost my message— not exactly unheard of— or he trusted that I knew what I was doing. Who knew which.

Yet even with information in the hands of two people who I trusted to act as best they could, along with whoever Uhjin and Jonathan passed their copies onto, I wasn’t satisfied. I needed others: people who wouldn’t be immediately connected with me, and people who’d be better positioned to act if necessary.

So, Wednesday, at the end of lunch break at the craft store, I pulled Rebecca aside— of all my coworkers at either business, she was the one I trusted most. Granted, there wouldn’t be much she could do herself with the information, but no one, Welsh included, would expect her to have it. Why would they? And maybe, just maybe, she’d be clever enough to figure out where to take what I gave her if worst came to worst.

Of course, I didn’t say any of that, just asked: “Can you keep this for me?” and handed her the stiff cardboard envelope containing the CD. “Just for a couple weeks? And don’t open it unless something happens to me? I can’t really tell you why right now, but there’s a note in there that will explain it all.”

Rebecca took the CD with one hand, but grasped my arm with the other, searching my face with her big green eyes. “Yes, but— are you ok, Callie? Is something wrong? Are you in trouble of some kind?”

“I’m fine. Not in any trouble. Don’t worry. It’s just . . .” I searched for the words to make sense of what was going on without giving everything away. “I have something that I need to do, and I’m concerned that things will go wrong. And if they do, someone needs to know what happened to me. Ok?”

“Ok.” To my surprise, Rebecca wrapped me up in a hug, squeezing me tight as if she were my sister. “If you ever need help, any help at all, you can tell me, ok? I know that you like to keep things to yourself and that you have other friends than just me, but if I can do anything, just let me know. Really. And, whatever you’re doing, be careful, please? I’d miss you if you were gone.”

I tentatively returned the hug with a brief squeeze back. “I’ll be careful.” Well, sort of. I had a plan; that counted as being careful, right? “And thank you. But for now, the best help you can give me is to keep that CD safe.”

“I will.” Rebecca didn’t let go until after I did. “And I’ll pray for you, if that’s ok?”
“That’d be nice. Really nice.” I took a step back. “Well— thanks. Really, thank you. I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah. Don’t forget, if you need anything, just ask.” Holding the CD tight, Rebecca headed towards the staff lockers, probably to put it away.

I waved and set off back to work. Three copies down. Just one left. But that last would be the hardest one of all— and there was one thing I had left to do before I could deliver it.

When I wasn’t at work or sorting out plans with Jonathan over phone and text or handing important information to people for safekeeping or trying to practice the anti­–Death Song as best I could without the actual Death Song to compare it to, I scoured one thrift shop after another in search of— well, I wasn’t really sure what. All I knew was that Starlight had been right and that I’d made my choice. But even I knew: it would take more than a mask to keep my identity safe.

Eventually, after searching what seemed like every thrift shop and clearance rack in the city, raiding both my and Uhjin’s closets, and borrowing a sewing machine off a friend at the craft shop, I managed to pull something together. I picked dark, fitted jeans as a base, paired with black high-top sneakers— I’d considered other options, but I needed something practical, durable, and easily replaceable if I was going to do this long term. Of course, the red-violet top I paired them with, long-sleeved and vaguely Asian-looking, didn’t quite fit that bill, but it was comfortable and added a little excitement to the outfit. Over the top, I wore a sort of short jacket-cape thing that I’d made from a longer jacket. It wasn’t as dramatic as a full cape like Starlight’s, but it had a hood and, trimmed with fabric the same red-violet as my shirt, it looked quite nice. Anyway, unlike Starlight, I couldn’t turn a cape immaterial if it got caught on something.

I finished up the outfit with thin fingerless gloves that I dyed blue using Kool-Aid and, of course, a mask covered in the fabric I’d used for trim. Looking at myself in the mirror with the whole ensemble on, I couldn’t say that I looked a whole lot like the supers I’d seen on TV. But I didn’t exactly look like me either, and that was all that mattered. Now all I had to do was test it.

Hitting the streets in search of trouble again the night after I handed off Rebecca’s CD felt oddly good. It wasn’t the yes, this is what I’m meant to do and everything makes sense here type of good that I felt when I was onstage with my violin, but more of a reckless satisfaction, as if, after hesitating to act for so long, my soul exalted at finally having made a decision, whether or not it was the right one. As I walked down the darkened streets, violin bouncing at my side, I had to resist the urge to sing every song I heard just to announce to the world that I’d made my decision and here I was.

Thankfully, I ran into trouble— not literally— before the desire grew too strong. The pair of muggers who I spotted in an alleyway didn’t even realize I was behind them until it was too late and my song pulled the air from their lungs. They both spun around, allowing the man they were attacking to pull away.

As soon as they were facing me, I switched songs. The pair seemed to regain their courage as soon as they could breathe again, and they showed it by spitting a curse and a threat my way as they started towards me. But their next steps put their feet in three inches of suddenly-soft asphalt. I grinned, shifting the song again, and the asphalt hardened around their feet, leaving them stuck in place.
They cursed at me, but I ignored them, instead calling to their victim: “You all right?”

“Yeah.” He picked up his cell phone and wallet from the ground where the muggers had dropped them. “Who are you?”

I hesitated a moment. A name was the one thing I hadn’t settled on. But he was waiting for an answer, and I had to say something. “Songbird. I’m Songbird.” Before he could ask more, I added, “I suggest you call the police and let them know these two are here, then head home. Have a nice evening, sir.” With that, I hurried away, wishing I had some way to make my departures a little more subtle. Maybe if I could figure out some kind of illusion . . .

I continued through the streets more calmly, having expended some of my excited energy. But save for the mugging I’d already run into, the night seemed unusually quiet. It was as if every rogue and reprobate except for those two had unanimously decided to take the evening off. Finally, I gave up and headed home— but only for the night. The next evening and the evening after, I set out once again. But those nights, trouble wasn’t the only thing I was looking for.

No. I needed Starlight.

For two nights, I searched, roaming the streets for hours after dark. Neither night was as quiet as that first, though there were still hours with no excitement at all. But though I found trouble enough, there was no sign of Starlight. I hoped that she’d hear of me somehow; that she’d learn that another super, masked and costumed, had appeared in her territory and that she would come investigate. But she didn’t appear.

On the third day, I couldn’t wait any longer. So, on my way home from work, I detoured by the library and commandeered a computer that didn’t require a library card. Setting up a fake email account only took a couple minutes, but that just left me more time to type and erase and type again and then stare at the blinking cursor as I tried to think of the right words. How did one challenge a supervillain–serial killer without sounding like one was trying to blackmail him anyway?

Finally, after multiple false starts, I had something that seemed safe enough. Still, I paused before hitting Send and reread the message.

Mr. Welsh,
Though you may believe otherwise, your activities have not gone unnoticed. You have killed and killed again and thought that you could escape justice, but you cannot. Proof has been gathered against you; one small piece of it is attached to this message. All of this will be released to the authorities unless you meet me personally in the street beside the Motel 6 on Carren Lane at 11:00 Monday night. 

Satisfied with the text, I double-checked that the grainy still—inexpertly cut from one of the security videos and transferred from the USB drive I still carried— was attached. Yes, there it was. And the email address was correct too; Jonathan had found it and said that it was Welsh’s personal account. How Jonathan knew that, I had no clue, but I hoped he was right.

I hit Send and watched the message disappear. That’s that. No turning back now, even if I wanted to. Then again, I think I hit the point of no return a long time ago.

2 comments:

  1. Nice! Eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

    In my library, we don't require computer users to have library cards. The computers are open to the public, including people from other districts; you can book for half an hour, and then keep going if there's no one waiting. I realise that New Zealand libraries may be different from American ones, but it's that sentence about the library card that persuaded me to comment.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you!

      I think it mostly depends on where in America you live and what library system you use. Just around the area I'm in, we have one library system that doesn't require you to have a library card to use the computers— you can just walk in and use one basically— and one that does require a library card. So, yeah. :P

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