*This is the final edition of the Mind Games Writer’s Wednesday series. Find the rest in the archives.
“Wasn’t she caught up with the police a month ago?”
“I heard she was dating James Blackthorn and they ran off together.”
“Is she even good?”
I smirked at the astonished band kids as I strolled past them, loose ash brown hair swirling around my shoulders, silver bangle gleaming on my left wrist–the exact silver shade as my eyes. The edge of the stage was mere inches to my left as I skirted the rows of chairs full of my peers, practically walking right on the line between safety and the imminent danger of the fall. That was how I liked to live. Walking the line. It made things more interesting.
As I passed the conductor’s podium, he gave me a broad smile and gestured to the lone chair in the corner of the stage, illuminated by a beaming spotlight like the heavens opening up in a cloud-shrouded sky.
Kids whispered loudly as I walked past. I could hear snippets of conversations, some clarinet girls gossiping as I waltzed by them with an ease unbecoming of a middle school girl. Before the torture one month before, I would have shriveled under the glares, quietly seething but lacking the guts to act on it. Now? Criticism didn’t bother me. I had always been the normal. The average. The mediocre. The girl with an impossible crush. The girl with big dreams but not quite enough talent to achieve anything beyond the ordinary. But no longer.
I took my seat, smoothed my elegant dress and adjusted my music stand, lowering it significantly. How tall do they think I am? I thought, smiling to myself as the band director turned to face the audience.
“The next portion of our program is something one band student has been working extremely hard on for the past two weeks. She’s truly been a rising star within our band program. This is french horn student Vivian Rose, playing her own original composition, ‘Rollercoaster.’ I have no doubt that you’ll enjoy. Vivian? Whenever you’re ready.” He stepped down from the podium, and leisurely took a seat. I nodded at him, whole body tingling with the nervous-excited feeling that sparkled across my skin.
Fighting the urge to rush into the song, play too fast, and never stop to breathe, I fidgeted with my music when all of the sudden every musician’s worst nightmare happened. A cool draft billowed across the stage… and my music soared from my stand like a brilliant parrot taking flight! A collective gasp rolled through the audience, people scurrying to catch it. My composition. But I quickly waved them off, urging them to stop with a cool composure that could only come from a grand metamorphosis and great pain.
Moving the empty music stand aside, I closed my eyes and felt the flood of emotions that I had experienced in the last month, a surge of colors and feelings, unimaginable highs and lows, twists, pains and joys… precisely the rollercoaster that had inspired my composition. I didn’t need the music. It was inside me. Raising the mouthpiece to my lips, I played. I played soaring melodies, fast arpeggios and quick slurring scales, low, warm tones and sweet harmonies. Each time I returned to the chorus I felt a new set of emotions, relived the past, saw a new image that willed my fingers on.
Watery hazel eyes. Panic. Flushed cheeks. Butterflies. Warm, deep brown eyes. My band director staring at me in awe as a flourish of notes poured from my French horn. Silver eyes in the mirror. Incredulous stares. A new dawn glowing in my window.
Finally my fingers hurtled down a ridge of arpeggios and my first conscious thought formulated. This is the end. I made it. Slowing to a suspenseful pace, each note was a burst of strong sound then immediately soft. With building tension, I drew in a grand breath and played a grand, high note that resounded in the air. Just as the audience drew their hands up to begin clapping, I smiled, reset my embouchure and let loose a torrent of scales descending then jumping back and descending again. Over and over and over and with my final breath in drew it to a close with a suspended note and one quick bop like the cherry on top.
Opening my eyes, the spotlight was blinding and my eyes rang with the roar of applause. It was a cacophony of sound unlike anything I’d ever heard before, hoots and hollers and clapping. All for me. Not because I was an accessory to James, not out of pity or because I was something to gawk at with silver eyes and a confident air. Simply because I had talent.
As I returned to my seat, I caught the eye of James, standing in the back of the auditorium with a huge grin on his face. I knew you could do it, Viv. You were miraculous. His honey-sweet voice said in my mind.
I sat and exchanged high-fives with my friends, smirking at the incredulous clarinet girls who were still gossiping busily like broken machines cranking out words with no end in sight. I was inspired by our journey. By you. I responded, sending the thought out into the space between us and watching his lips curl as he received it.
So I’m your muse now? He questioned smugly. I laughed to myself, ignoring the odd looks my friends gave me. In response, I pinched my fingers together and raised it for him to see. A little bit… I said, looking down, cheeks ablaze.
“Vivian!” Snapped back to reality by my friend tapping on my arm, I hastily got out my music from my folder. We were going into our final song.
Sorry, I have to go. You’ll be listening? No response. I looked up to the back of the auditorium where he’d stood a moment before. Probing the thought-buzzing air, there was no sign of James’ blazing aura in the packed auditorium. Somewhere far off I heard a door slam and the tinkling sound of shattered glass hitting tile. Eyes wide with panic, I fidgeted with my silver bangle, running a nervous finger up and down the engravings. James was in danger. I could sense it. And there was nothing I could do about it.
The instant my horn was packed away and I had called my parents with an excuse, I sprinted into the back hallway. My heart thumped brokenly. No. The finger-print clogged windows that opened onto the side parking lot were shattered on the floor, glinting in alluring silver and rainbow hues: equally as treacherous as it was sparkling. Blood spatters ominously dappled the yellowing tile.
Bursting through the heavy doors, my blood ran cold as I met face-to-face with the man who haunted my nightmares. Watery, disgustingly pale hazel eyes and an impeccable suit, horrific face and pinkish skin stretched tight over a bony skull. My torturer. A demon. A manipulative psychopath. And he had my best friend in a choke-hold, butcher knife grasped in his bony fingers.
“Ah, Ms. Rose. How nice of you to join us! I heard your little performance. How lovely…” He hissed, jabbing the knife into James’ collarbone and twisting it till he shrieked in pain. I screamed, rushing forward. His father dug the blade deeper into the soft skin, the tip grating against bone.
“Release him. Now.” I directed all my force into the words, conjuring a whipping maelstrom of power that grew with each second, feeling the icy-hot power teeming in my blood like liquid starlight coursing through my veins. The lanky man strained against the command, feet jittering across the cement as though each second disobeying was a second of strenuous willpower.
“I’m afraid that’s not–” he sliced an arc along James’ shoulder, leaving a trail of glistening blood. He howled, sheer agony in his eyes. Vivian, run. He won’t hesitate to kill me, you and everyone in his way. Please just–His father raised the blade high and thrust it down into his son’s shoulder blade, eyes lighting up as James’s body convulsed.
“Stop! Whatever you want, please, just stop. What is it that you need so desperately that you would dare cross my path?” Fury burned in my voice. Immense satisfaction swelled within me as he flinched, hands quaking with what I could only imagine to be fear. I was beyond livid. Each and every cell in my body urged to tear the heart from the slimy, rat-faced man.
“What I want is quite simple. I want you to restore my powers or, well…” he smiled sickly. “I’ll kill my son.” He plunged the knife into the bone, making an awful grinding sound like broken brakes on a careening car. Run, Viv! Please, you have so much ahead of you. James pleaded in my head, pupils dilating as though he was speaking to me through his eyes. I have a plan. Thrash. Now. I commanded.
“PLEASE, I CAN’T! I love your son more than anything else in the world!” I conjured tears to my eyes as best as I could, letting the waterworks flow heavy as a crumbling dam. James looked at me with bewilderment. You… love me? He mouthed. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Just put up a fight already! I retorted, sobbing openly.
“Ms. Rose, if that is true, then do as I say. Restore my power core,” he said through gritted teeth, straining to restrain his wildly thrashing son: a blur of black hair and pale skin. “You can imbue me with your power–”
“I CAN’T! I don’t have the strength to save my best friend, my sun and moon and stars, the light of my life. I can’t! Please have mercy on me!” I cried, dropped to the ground like a stone and wailed like a banshee. Curled in a ball, my back arched and spasmed in uncontrollable motions. I heard the rustle of clothes and James howling like a caged beast. I discreetly reached into my dress’s hidden pocket for my phone and dialed 911, muting the operator and tucking it back into the pocket, all the while wildly kicking my legs and spasming my back. The ruse was proceeding flawlessly, for there was one thing I knew: you can always trust a man’s inherent ability to underestimate a girl.
“Do it or he’s dead. You know I will slit his throat without a second thought, Ms. Rose. In return I’ll use my power to plant affections in his heart–in your favor, of course. You of all people would know: I have a way with emotions,” he snarled, driving the blade in a wide slash across James’ back. His dapper dress shirt was soaked through with crimson blood now, the crisp winter air suffocated with the choking stench. I had to work fast. He didn’t have enough time for the operator to trace the call.
“So you’re just going to kill us? In the tucked-away parking lot behind our own middle school? Mr. Blackthorn, I’ll try my best, I swear. Just please don’t kill him. Please.” My voice quaked and shuddered. James’ father sneered at me, knife quivering in his palm and inching away bit by bit. My commands were making a dent in his resolve. Putting on a show, I staggered forward and fell to the ground at his feet, from which perfect vantage point I could see the reflection of the red and blue lights on the snow. In a matter of moments the police had the parking lot surrounded. I watched with pride as they carted Mr. Blackthorn away, deftly stripping him of the bloody knife.
My parents listened in awe as I gave my statement to the police, how this mentally unstable man had threatened, kidnapped and tortured us before attempting to kill his own son. He was never going to see the outside of his cell.
I rode with James in the ambulance to the hospital, grasping his warm hand. Even after all this time, I couldn’t deny the butterflies that barraged my stomach as our eyes locked: his deep brown and mine a brilliant silver. We joked and laughed even then, and I couldn’t help but think that I liked the boy he truly was–funny, sarcastic, and wickedly smart–a lot better than the pensive facade he used to hide behind. James and I had come so far from the awkward tension in the hall a month ago, just an average girl and a mysterious boy.
“Hey, once this is all over, do you want to get some ice cream? Just us two?” He asked abruptly. I stared at him for a long second, searching his face for laughter, a joking grin, something to tell me he wasn’t serious. I found nothing. With a broad smile, I responded,
“What kind of ice cream?” He looked at me incredulously, as though he couldn’t believe I had asked.
“Cookie dough. Obviously.” He retorted with challenging eyes. My heart leapt into my throat, hands quaking with pure exhilaration. “So, are you in?”
“You know what?” I exhaled slowly, but there was no thought necessary. “Absolutely.”