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.