Hattie Locke has a gift: when she sings, the dead dig themselves from their graves to listen. As a death-siren, her life has always been this way.
Then the dead begin to show up in numbers far beyond expected. With each song she sings, they grow pushy and demanding, rushing the stage to reach her. Trapped in a place where her dreams of music become her nightmares, Hattie is left with nowhere to turn.
But then she meets a boy, who promises freedom from her curse.
Now Hattie wonders: is ridding herself of her voice worth losing the music she’s lived to create?
Quake: Echelon Press LLC, October 2009.
Voted Top Ten Young Adult Book for 2009 Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll!
“Are you nervous?” My dad pushed his thick glasses higher on his nose with a stubby finger.
I shook my head and smiled, trying to hide the sinking feeling.
“Of course our girl’s not nervous,” my mother chided, patting Dad’s arm. “She’s our pro. Our little Opera Diva!”
My cheeks burned as they hugged each other, happy and proud of their “prize daughter,” their golden-throated siren destined for Julliard in two years. Didn’t matter I hadn’t even filled out the applications.
“Right, right,” she said. “I know, the Heiligmesse isn’t opera, but it might as well be.” She paused to smile again, and the curve of her lips spoke of possessiveness. My stomach sank even further as she continued. “You need to get going for warm-ups.”
I nodded, edging toward the front door. They followed, crowding each other in the doorway. The hall light silhouetted their bodies like dark cutouts in the bright opening. “We’ll arrive closer to the start of the program, Hattie. Fourth row, like always.”
I stepped out and the door closed. I rolled my neck to relieve the building tension. The springtime air felt cool and clean, and I inhaled deeply before strolling down the concrete path to my ’91 Honda. Not a fancy car, certainly not a sharp-looking car, but I was proud of its good gas mileage.
The door squeaked a little as I opened it and flopped
into the driver’s seat. I leaned back against the headrest, tired, worn down. The cold vinyl leached the warmth from my body. I didn’t want to sing tonight. I didn’t want to deal with the curse of my voice, though I waited three years to sing this piece.
Unfortunately, people counted on me.
Stupid sense of duty.
I gave another relatively dramatic sigh, and jabbed the key into the ignition. The engine rumbled to life, and I put it in drive.
I could have walked, but I wanted to get this over with. The sooner the better. No matter what people tell you, stage nerves never totally go away. Those who don’t get nervous, who don’t experience that heady rush of adrenaline prior to curtain rise, don’t care about their work. A healthy dose of nerves can keep you sharp. It means you care about the music. About doing well.
I never got sick and hid in the restrooms, retching up a half-digested dinner right until curtain time. But things were getting worse. I didn’t like how strong the effects of my voice had become. My guts tightened, sped up my heart rate. My pulse thundered through my hands, my ears, my temples, beating harder and harder with each revolution of the car tires. I focused on the yellow and white lines in front of me and breathed.
I turned onto Sixth Street and the familiar gothic bulk of the Messan Theatre rose like a dark monolith among the residential surroundings. Greensborough’s first theatre wasn’t a theatre to start with. Reverend Messan, a Methodist–set it up as a church back in the late 1800s, and somewhere along the way, the building changed hands and became the civic theatre. The community choir I sang with tonight thought the acoustics were great. I slowed to make
the turn, trolling through the back parking lot.
I parked between a monster, red Suburban and a little Toyota. In the dark, the hood of my car shone orange-yellow, reflecting the streetlight’s mercury glow. Dressed in their best concert wear, the rest of the choir filed into the theatre to prepare. I should be among them.
Yet I stayed in the cool bucket seat, hand on the door handle. My muscles held me down, lethargic, binding me to the seat. People are counting on me, I thought again with bitter savageness. I can’t afford to chicken out now.
My breath fogged a small circle on the glass. I drew a little frowny face in the mist and then got out. The door slammed and the stragglers paused to look. Irritable, I scowled in their general direction. The chill temperature raised goose bumps on my arms and I folded them across my chest. Despite the cold, I hesitated. Yes, people counted on me, but was it worth dealing with the curse?
“The music is worth it,” I muttered, shaking my head. Music made everything right. Music gave me release, freedom from everyone who pressed and poked. Within the notes of the song, I soared and disappeared. At least, I imagined I could disappear. I wanted to disappear.
Disappearing, however, is kind of hard to do when you’re a siren of the dead.
* * *
This excerpt was an Excerpt Monday link during October, 2009