The can of metallic amethyst spray paint cluk-clunked in my hand, igniting the first spark of adrenaline. This kind of art had to be done at night, in between flashes of headlights. This particular canvas had the added obstacle of being the Brooklyn Bridge.
The nightmare’s song pulsed through my brain, stronger than it ever had been. The voice wrapped around each word, begging me to let go. To sing.
Desperate times call for drastic, good-potential-for-deadly measures.
“Korrina, hurry up,” Jared said.
“You don’t have to whisper. Who do you think is going to hear us?” I pointed down. We were a hundred feet above the pedestrian bridge on one of the center towers. Cars rushed under the double arches, oblivious of the masterpiece in progress. Or the disaster. Either way, morning commuters would be treated to a work of art come sunrise.
“Oh, I don’t know. Homeland Security?” The sarcasm in his voice was hard to hear over the roar of the wind, but I knew that tilt of his lips all too well.
“You worry too much. Have I ever steered you wrong?”
Jared gave me a sweeping look and spread his arms wide, gesturing at all of NYC. “Do you not see where we are?”
City lights twinkled like stars, and the once-a-year light show from the World Trade Center Memorial made the city look like it was about to be beamed up by Scotty.
“Yes. Now hold this rope. Don’t let go unless you want a pancake for a best friend.” I tossed him the other end of the blue braided rope, tested the loop around my waist, and backed off the edge.
The rope tightened and cut off my ability to breathe. I nudged the lasso down so it cradled my hips. If the leader of our private school prank gang, Mischief and Mayhem, found out about this, he’d dole out punishment pranks to both me and Jared. We didn’t risk our life or anyone else’s in Mischief and Mayhem. It was rule number two.
“All right, Korrina,” I muttered and gave the spray can another shake. “Make this quick. Don’t look down.” A gust of fall wind brushed me against the old stone. I almost felt guilty for defacing someone else’s masterpiece. Almost.
Singing was the only surefire way to get the nightmare’s song out of my head for a handful of days, sometimes weeks. But singing was out. I hadn’t sung in four years. Not since I was thirteen.
Not since my song killed a man.
I pushed on the nozzle, the black and silver memorial tattoo on the inside of my wrist catching the moonlight. I rotated my arm, created an oval, filled it in, then shot the can up, completing the first quarter note.
A few more flips of my arm, and I had the first measure of the song out of my head and onto the old stone canvas. The green fire of my recurring nightmare started fading from my mind. The screams of the dying woman echoed into the distance. The charred feathers floated away with every swipe of the paint can.
This would work. It had to. My options? Paint the song out of my head or get locked up in the crazy house. Or a repeat of way worse.
“You done yet?” Jared whisper-yelled.
“Almost.” My spray can sputtered. Empty. I pulled out my next can. Smoky Rain. The deep silver paint would look great next to amethyst.
We’d have to do the next part of the song tomorrow night. Somewhere else, of course. But it would have to be somewhere big. Somewhere strong.
“Patience, padawan,” I called out to Jared and started the straight line of the sixteenth note.
“I didn’t say anything.”
Out of the corner of my vision, a feather floated down, silvery-gray in the moonlight.
“Yes, you did. You’re being creepy and whispering my name.”
“No, I’m not.”
My hand jerked, screwing up the line of the sixteenth note.
Not Jared’s voice.
A woman’s voice.
Unfamiliar. Different than the nightmare’s voice.
And more annoyed.
On top of being stalked by my song, now I was hearing voices. Great.
I grabbed my painter’s cloth and rubbed at the mistake. Of all the things I needed to deal with, this didn’t come close to topping the—
The wet paint at the tip of my cloth wiggled. Vibrated. Did things paint should never ever do. The notes flared as if they had been electrified, the light growing brighter and brighter, coloring my world in a light show of purple and silver.
My gaze fixated on the stone, my movements frozen as the edge of the first note I’d painted curled up and pulled the rest of the note with it. The paint lifted off the stone and hovered in mid-air. Like some freaking Fantasia scene.
I blinked. Was this real? I poked at it. My finger went straight through as if the paint were a hologram.
The rest of the notes peeled off in rapid succession and plowed into each other, creating a swirling ball of otherworldly paint. I pushed away from the bridge, fear swinging into my bones. The swirling ball tightened, tightened, booosh. Exploded.
Stars twisted overhead. Headlights rushed below my dangling feet. The rope slid down my hips, rubbed against my thighs, my knees, and I slipped. Plummeted. My heart fell into my throat as the world tipped upside down. I banged against the bridge, and the rope caught and cinched around my calves. Paint flecks soared on the air and morphed into a pair of wild eyes that followed my fall. Frigid, arctic air wrapped around my limbs. My nightmare’s song played in stereo, surround sound, and technicolor.
He’s coming. Stay true.
The eyes burst into shimmering stars. A scream erupted from the bottom of my stomach and pinballed out of my throat. I covered my face, swinging away from the explosion. The stars fell away and the cold gasp of air vanished, leaving only a silence on the wind, the creaking of the bridge’s cables, and the rapid staccato of my heartbeat.
“Korrina!” Jared’s scream jerked my body, or maybe he was tugging on the rope? I couldn’t tell. The world spun, alternating flashes of the harbor, the bridge, the traffic not so far below. I put a hand out to stop myself. My fingernails scraped against the bridge tower, slowing my spin.
Jared’s flashlight beam fell from above.
“Korrina, answer me.” His yell had dropped from deafening, but not from scared-to-the-bone. “Please be okay, please be okay.”
“I’m okay.” My voice was a near-death-experience whisper. Blood throbbed in my head, leaving my feet numb. Hanging upside down on a sky-high bridge was not a place to freak out.
“Korrina? Korrina, say something.” Jared flashed the light in my eyes again. Conflicting tones of panic and relief flooded my name.
I shifted my weight, swayed the rope to the side, and caught a finger grip on one of the stones. Anchoring to something other than empty air helped me take a deeper breath. Find my voice again.
“I’m good. Pull me up.” Somehow, I managed to make my tone cool, calm, and collected, instead of completely-freaked-out.
Not only was I losing my mind, I also hadn’t gotten rid of the song.
And it battered at my chest, begging to be released.
Jared pulled me to the narrow top of the bridge tower and yanked me into a bear hug before I could get the rope off my legs.
“Do you enjoy giving me heart attacks?” The scent of his cologne—pepper and spice and everything nice—wrapped around me as if it was a giant blanket of safety.
“Only the intended ones.” My words were muffled against his chest but I didn’t care. I breathed him in, let him hold me until my legs quit trembling.
He tucked one of my red curls behind my ear and cupped my cheek. “We are never climbing a bridge again.”
“But what will we ever do with all of our free time?” I whined.
He laughed, the sound a little shaky, and pulled me in for another spine-bending hug. “Fine. We will never climb a bridge again without the proper gear. Deal?”
“Deal.” I collapsed into him then and let go some of the panic I’d held back. In Jared’s arms, I was safe. I snuggled in close, burying my face into the soft gray cotton of his Muse fan shirt. He was my Peter Parker and Clark Kent all bundled up into one kissable best friend—ehrm, I mean not kissable. Not. Kissable. Though kissing would take my mind off almost dying.
“Did you finish?” Jared nodded toward the edge. An edge that now resembled a lion’s mouth yawning around sharpened teeth.
What was I thinking, rappelling off there?
But desperate people were often the stupidest. I was Exhibit A. Tremors shivered through my body, the song a tight ball inside my chest. I’d have to find some other way to get the rest of the song out, tonight, after Jared and I parted ways. Couldn’t risk him. Not again, not with my chest this tight, not with the song climbing up my throat.
“Paint didn’t take.” Not to mention it soared into the air, started talking, and almost plummeted me to my death.
“Really? The paint must have gone old.” He scooted forward and glanced down, before shaking his head and taking a gigantic step back to the center of the tower. “Whoever created heights should be put in a hole.”
“You scared, Thalassa?” I called him by his last name, invoking his inner tough guy. Though to be fair, my inner tough girl had gone into hiding for the evening, probably wrapped in a Snuggie, drowning herself in chocolate.
“For future reference, anytime I can fall to my death with one misstep, I’m scared.”
“Filed away.” I tapped my temple. The tower vibrated, its cables bouncing as a large semi drove toward Brooklyn one hundred feet below. Wind cut through my thin jacket, playing hide-and-seek with all my vulnerabilities.
“We’ve got more paint if you want to try again.” Jared held out another paint can. In the moonlight, it gleamed silver. “Though this time, you’re staying on top of the bridge, not the side of it.” His smirk should have been ruled illegal years ago. But here it was, popping up again and doing all sorts of illicit things to my heart.
“Bossy, bossy.” I shook my head at the proffered can. “I’m over it. We can pick a new place to paint tomorrow. Let’s get out of here before Homeland Security sees us.” I kept my tone cool, shrugged my backpack on my shoulders, and avoided Jared’s gaze.
“Homeland…You said they didn’t pay attention to the tops of bridges. You said you researched it.” A look of shock widened his eyes.
Please. This wasn’t our first not-so-legal adventure. “I lied. Let’s bug out. We could get juvie for this. And you would not last in juvie.” Not that he couldn’t take the juvie thugs—he totally could—but because he was more likely to befriend all the guards. Me on the other hand, I’d rule that cell block in twelve hours. Max.
Jared dangled his legs over the edge and found footing on the giant cable that connected to the stone arches of the Brooklyn Bridge. The breeze this high up was more of a storm wind, and it whipped his dark waves around his forehead, stirring up all sorts of forbidden sensations.
Good grief, I needed to rein in this crush.
“You coming?” Jared called, ten feet ahead of me.
“Yeah. Yup. Right behind you.” My voice pitched high, like I’d been caught eating the last of Dad’s secret stash of caramel-flecked dark chocolate.
I dropped to the cable and got a good grip on the braces. The Brooklyn Bridge shuddered, reacting to all the traffic pouring in and out of the Big Apple. Jared and I lived on the Brooklyn side in historic Prospect Heights, in a hipster haven pair of brownstones. We’d been neighbors and best friends since dirt cupcakes were a thing.
We swung around the last bridge-climber-deterrent and shimmied to the pedestrian walkway. I glanced back at the arches. No evidence of my handiwork. I rubbed at the purple paint stain on my index finger. I hadn’t made up the voice and the eyes. I hadn’t. The few notes I’d painted were gone, floating on the air, threading their way back to me. Soon the melody would fill my chest, my throat would tighten, and the pressure to sing would be all I could think about.
People died when I sang. And when I’d told people that—Dad, doctors, friends—they’d labeled me with a trauma sticker. Because I watched someone die.
This was so much more than trauma.
“Feel better?” Jared shoved his thumbs through his backpack straps. We were two bus stops from the more residential area. This area, filled with flickering streetlights and closed-for-business stores, required constant mace checks and watching our backs.
“You mean besides falling off a bridge, almost plummeting to my death, and not getting to finish my painting?” Plus, all the other stuff that made me sound cray-cray. “I’m great.”
“Korrina.” He jumped in front of me, his lanky legs making him impossible to dodge. “Why are you doing this? I know you like to go big, but”—he pointed at the top of the bridge—“this was waaay over the top. Even for you.”
“I have to get that song out of my head.” Always, always, I left out the more important details. How being confronted with this one thing made me want to run screaming into the night.
Besides, doing these things, things that pushed the limits—for a few seconds, the adrenaline helped me forget.
“It’s just a song.” Jared tilted my chin up, sinking me into the depths of his ooey-gooeyness. “Your singing cannot hurt people and you—you couldn’t hurt anyone, Korrina. Never. Your heart”—he twisted one of my curls around his finger and smiled—“it’s too good.”
My fingers traced a familiar trail over the image inked into my left wrist. Circle over the infinity curve of the snake eating its own tail. Up the blackened feather that lay across one curve. Then dig my nail into the middle of the other curve. Where the date was imprinted. So I could never forget.
A symbol of death, where death is an infinity, pierced by a burnt feather and the date of my first murder, illegally tattooed on my wrist when I was fifteen. Dad had grounded me until I turned thirty.
“You didn’t kill anyone,” Jared finished.
“I know,” I said, my voice hoarse and quiet, because it seemed to satisfy all the people I loved and convince them I was a-okay.
He grabbed my hand and pulled it from my wrist. “It was a suicide. And even if we got some cool pyrotechnics and set the sky on fire with your song, it wouldn’t help. You’ve gotta come to terms with this.”
Jared’s words were a heat-guided missile straight to my gut. They hit with a warm ping. The pain came a second later. I pushed it down.
“I’m good. Promise. And pyrotechnics? You know someone who has access?”
“My cousin Vin—” He stopped, glared. “I am not giving you access to pyrotechnics.”
I stuck my bottom lip out. His gaze brushed my mouth, and I moistened my lips before I could stop. Damn hormones. We’d been best friends since the day some bitch kindergartener had dumped her mashed potatoes, with gravy, on my head. Jared had stood guard outside the bathroom while I cleaned up and never let another chick bully me since we were six years old. No way would I let raging horniness and extreme fantasizing get in the way of our friendship.
“C’mon. We better get home before your dad does his midnight bed check. You don’t want to get caught again.”
“Not like he’d do anything about it.”
He raised his eyebrows, giving me a stern look.
I followed Jared down the dark street to the bus stop. Two of the city’s many vagabond dogs watered and sniffed the gum-laden trashcan next to the bus bench.
I turned from the dogs and bricked up some courage. “When we were on the bridge, did you see anything? Fireworks? Flashes of light?”
“Nu-uh.” He gave me a double-take of concern. “You?”
I tried to hide my wince, but an anchored sigh escaped my lips and my shoulders fell. “It must have been my fall. Made everything look weird.” If Jared had seen what I’d seen, then it was proof. Proof that my brain wasn’t broken.
Normally, I didn’t tell him about the other things I saw or heard. The things that could get me locked up and the key thrown away. Like the light show that carried my song. Or the bodiless woman’s voice I’d heard on the bridge.
Normally, that light show didn’t almost kill me by throwing me off a bridge. So there was that.
I cut a glance at Jared, his brown eyes half-hidden by a wavy strand of dark hair, and the conversation played out in my head.
“So, Jared. I can see these purple lights that no one else can see, and hey, I know you already deal with a lot of weird stuff from me, but hear me out. Those lights only I can see? They’re the physical manifestation of my song, and once it sucks back into my body, it may kill you.”
“That sounds great, Korrina. Want to make out?”
Probably wouldn’t go like that. I shook away the urge to tell him everything and pushed the truth deep inside.
A growl erupted from the bus stop bench and something shifted in the atmosphere. The temperature dropped to middle-of-winter freezing.
Stay true. Words whispered on the wind, words I’d heard while swinging off the bridge.
I snapped my head up. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear wha—” Jared stopped talking and stared at something over my shoulder, eyes widening. He yanked me toward him. Or rather, he yanked me away from something. A tongue of ice licked the side of my body, and it was more than fear of what was happening behind my back. A very real, very dark, very cold presence had descended on the street.
“Jared.” My voice dropped low, belly-crawled in the shadows. “What is it?”
He didn’t answer, shook his head.
A sense of wrongness prickled through me. In the distance, sirens wailed and a helicopter passed overhead. Nothing out of the ordinary, and yet…
A fleshy snarl spun my feet around. The smaller dog had its teeth clenched around the German shepherd’s throat. It hung from the mangy dog’s fur, swinging side-to-side while the bigger dog stood shock-still. They looked like a realism-gone-wrong painting.
The cold seeped into my skin, a thousand frozen needles attacking my arms, my legs. I picked up an empty soda can and heaved it at the two dogs, every movement like swimming in thick mud. The air ate at my bones, numbed my feet, and the can twisted in the air, bounced off the animals, but they didn’t flinch.
And then it was over. Whatever it was.
The freezing air slid down my arms, my calves, the tips of my toes, and disappeared.
The terrier let the other one go and cowered at its feet, whimpering and whining. It rolled over and exposed its belly, but the bigger dog acted as if nothing had happened. The two got up and wandered off down the street.
“That was uber-disturbing,” Jared said.
My body shook, throat muscles convulsing against the frozen air. A fall breeze gusted through the streets, and the warmer air thawed my muscles.
“Wonder what set the little guy off.” He narrowed his warm gaze at me. I wanted to curl up in it until I could feel my toes. “Why are you so cold?” He rubbed his hands up and down my arms.
I opened my mouth to respond, but as I did, a purple shimmery light coasted through the air, flying through the night, on a direct impact course with my body. I slammed my lips closed.
The purple light danced around my face, beat at my mouth.
The rest of my song had come home.
This never happened this quickly. This shouldn’t be happening for at least another few days. But the song zinged and popped against my lips. A whisper of the melody floated on the air, seducing me to the soft lilts and drops. So complex. So masterful.
Once upon a time, I composed songs and sang them in state competitions. But never had I been able to capture the essence of this song. It was as if God’s personal composer had visited Earth and left this song behind to torture humans with unattainable perfection. My fingers itched for something, anything, to draw the notes and copy it down. I stopped breathing when the melody rested, the silence stretching out further and further. Then one note, two. A chord. My lips parted.
“You all right?” Jared turned. And froze. “Purple. Uh, you’re, you’re, purple. Really purple.”
I raised my hand. Sure enough, I was glowing like I’d adopted Barney’s aura.
Jared could see it?
The song beat against my skin. It was back. It wanted revenge. It wanted control.
The song accelerated. The light thinned and split into two ribbons, then reared back and struck my face. Hot pain flashed my skin. My mouth flew open, shock sucking air in. The song rushed inside, filled my chest, expanded an intangible cavity until it popped past my ribs.
And I had no strength left to stop it from killing again.
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