Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 21

Hello, everyone! Last time on Fight Song, Callie's faceoff against Welsh finally began. It continues— and ends— this week. But who will come out the winner? Read on to find out! As always, comments, critiques, questions, and suggestions are more than welcome.

Chapter 21: Ending

            The man, shocked, lost his grip on Jonathan, who tumbled to the side. No one but me seemed to notice; they were all, even Welsh, fixated on Starlight as she leapt from the motel roof and slid down sheer air to the ground. I stood and glanced at her. “What took you so long?”

            “You seemed to have it under control.” Starlight surveyed the scene. “Are we finishing this?”

            “We are.” With that, I tucked my violin beneath my chin once more and started to play and hum at once— controlled fire and indiscriminate air together. The four men nearest me gasped for breath; the one who wanted Jonathan’s camera, who’s just pulled a knife, yelled as his blade and glove abruptly heat up and then burst into flames.

            Two of the four dropped to the ground unconscious; the other two were nearly there. Starlight turned the red-hot blade of the camera-lover into vapor. “Deal with Welsh. I’ll handle these.”

            “Thanks!” I walked forward, closing the distance between myself and Welsh, switching songs. Now my violin wove air and heat, and I hummed asphalt. I tugged at Welsh’s breath, softened the ground beneath him, heated his suit jacket until it smoked— not quite burning, not yet. I needed to provoke him, needed to put him on the offensive.  If this went wrong, I’d die— maybe not for nothing, but dead is dead. But if I didn’t take the risk, I had no chance to win.

            Welsh’s hands tightened into fists, and he spoke, his voice full of power even when he was half-gasping. “Stop.” And I did, freezing mid-note. Welsh took a moment to catch his breath and then beckoned. “Come.”

            Again, I obeyed. Out of instinct, I fought the command, but my legs walked forward all the same. Just as well that Welsh gave me no choice to back out or lose my resolve.

            I stopped directly in front of him. He pointed downwards. “Drop the violin.”

            I cringed at that more than I had at walking to my probable death, but my hands moved of their own accord, letting violin and bow fall to the ground. I winced again when Welsh stepped on the neck of the violin, snapping it in two. “You—!”

            “Quiet,” Welsh snapped. My mouth shut at once. “Kneel.”

            I dropped to my knees, unable to do otherwise. Welsh shoved my hood back and grabbed the back of my neck. “Your gift is strong, little songbird. You fought well. But now your fight is done. You lose.”

            And then the pain began.

            Ana spoke of excruciating, soul-sucking pain. But even that description fell short of the reality. I could not move. I could not think. I could not even breathe, let alone sing.

              And why would I want to? I was a fool to try to fight. A fool to think I could win. Welsh was right; my fight was over. The Death Song filled my ears, blocking out all other melodies. For the first time, I realized that there was a certain beauty in the midst of the corruption, even with the twisted anti-notes: the beauty of destruction, of endings, of the wild, reckless storm and the crunch of dry, brown leaves underfoot.

            I wanted to let go. To lose myself in those not-notes and understand how they could form beauty from horror, knowing that the pain would stop. That everything would stop. The long nights. The uncertainty. The weariness. The doubts. The loneliness that I know will only grow with the path I’ve chosen. It will all stop.

            But then, faintly, I heard something beyond the Death Song. I heard Jonathan, starting to yell my name and then correcting himself to “Songbird!” midway through. I heard Starlight, ordering me to pull myself together. And in my memory, I heard Uhjin telling me not to die; I heard Ana telling me to finish this, to end the killings.

            I couldn’t let go. Couldn’t give up. That had never been an option. I had fought too long and made too many promises for that. Even if I failed in the end, I had to try.

            “God help me,” I whispered, or thought I whispered. I couldn’t tell. I struggled to remember the anti–Death Song; to pull back from the song enough to hear the whole— a whole that was corrupted, no matter what beauty it might hide. “God, help.”

            I clenched my hands into fists, dug my nails into my palms so hard I felt them through my gloves. For a moment, the anti-notes of the Death Song merged enough that I could match it with what I had heard before. I seized that, recalled what I had practiced again and again, and forced the first notes past my lips. My voice cracked; I took a breath and tried again, singing one note, then another. I paused again; adjusted to match note to note and beat to beat. Started again.

            My performance would’ve earned me an F from any of my music professors, but I heard the Death Song waver ever so slightly with every note I sang. I felt its grip loosen enough that I could breathe, and I continued to sing. If nothing else, my song pushed me out of the center of the anti-song and allowed me to hear it as I had before: the jarring, mind-rending not-notes twisted together in a mockery of true music.

            Now I could fight. I adjusted again and heard the Death Song stutter and jar and skip. It became weaker, not fading altogether, but taking longer and longer to recover after each break. I’ve won this. Thank God, I’ve won this.

            Welsh’s grip on my neck tightened; his voice rose above the battling melodies. “What are you doing? Stop! Stop!

            His voice froze my throat and my tongue, and the Death Song surged, filling my ears and mind again. But I felt sudden wetness above me, and Welsh’s control of me wavered and vanished, and my song burst from my lips again, stronger than before. The Death Song wavered, skipped, cracked, starting to fade.

            Then I heard the sirens and felt Welsh pull his hand away as quick as if he’d been burned. With his power no longer feeding it, the Death Song splintered, broke, and was silent. I looked up, breathing deep now that I no longer had to sing, and saw Welsh turn to run.

            But two police cards, lights flashing like Fourth of July, pulled up at the end of the side street. Another two covered the far end of the alley. Blue-uniformed officers climbed out of the cars, guns held ready. One called through a megaphone: “Stay where you are, and put your hands up!”

            Welsh stopped and raised his hands to chest level. “Officers, I’m glad you’re here. This young woman has wrongly accused me of multiple crimes and attempted to murder me; I barely managed to defend myself.”

            “Actually, officers—” Jonathan stood up from where he’d taken cover behind a trash can and held up his iPhone. “My name is Jonathan Davis, reporter for the Herald. I believe you’ll find that Mr. Welsh is not in the least the victim. I recorded the whole fight, and—”

            “Stop.” Welsh hissed out the word.

            Jonathan froze midway to the officers, the phone still in his hand. Welsh turned to the officer who seemed to be in charge. “Officer, this reporter has been hounding my offices for weeks, searching for a scandal. He is not to be relied upon.”

            “I don’t plan to rely on him, only his footage, Mr. Welsh. And now I suggest you keep your mouth shut; the effects of your tongue are unfortunately incriminating.” The officer turned to Jonathan. “Jonathan Davis, you say? I read your article on the immigration protests a couple weeks back. Well done. I’ll take that phone now; you’ll get it back once we’re done with the footage.” He took Jonathan’s phone and then looked past Welsh to Starlight. “Starlight, ma’am, I received a call saying that you and another superhero were fighting this man and several others. Is that true?”

            Starlight stood in the center of a group of unconscious, injured, and otherwise restrained men, arms crossed and not even breathing hard. “That is accurate, officer. However, I suggest you speak to my associate.” She nodded in my direction. “This is her business; I’m just lending a hand.”

Her associate? Who . . . Oh. Me. I stood; swayed; nearly fell back down. “Oh—” I stumbled a few steps to the right until I could balance myself with a hand on a convenient lamppost. Great. So much for looking capable and in-control. “Right. Yes. Um.” Focus, Callie. “Right. Officers, for some time now, I have been tracking down a murderer— a serial killer, in fact—and all evidence points to this man.” I pointed to Welsh. “I confronted him, offering him a chance to turn himself in and hope for a lighter sentence. He refused and attacked me and my—” Can’t say partner; Jonathan’s not a super, so I borrow Starlight’s word— “my other associate, Mr. Davis, who had been assisting me in my investigation. He then attempted to kill me using the same power he did for his other victims, and he would have succeeded had I not found a way to fight that power using my own.”

I indicated Jonathan. “As he said, he has footage of the whole thing on his phone, and the first part of my interaction with Welsh, including the part where Welsh ordered his men to assault J— Mr. Davis, was also recorded on another camera. The memory card for that is in the pockets of one of Welsh’s men. Aaaaand there should be a third camera somewhere around here, but Mr. Davis could tell you better than I could where.”

The officer raised an eyebrow. “That’s quite a few cameras, Miss . . .?”

“Songbird. And, yes, that would be the point— so that if I died, there would be some record of how and why.” Despite my best efforts, I found myself leaning more and more on the lamppost to keep from falling over. “And I’ll be happy to give you a more complete statement once Welsh is in custody, but as I’m pretty sure I mentioned, I very nearly died a moment ago, and I think I need a place to sit down maybe.” I paused. “And coffee. Definitely coffee.”

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