CHAPTER 16HEAR HER SONG (COMPLETED)
Her mind was buzzing and she was sure the world wasn't actually spinning, but she couldn't dissociate from her nausea. Joy was dead. She had pushed her out of the way, taking the bullet for her, and now she lay dead on the dusty, epoxy flooring.
A scream erupted inside of her, but on the outside, she remained still. Her instincts told her to flee, there was a man with a gun who had intended to kill her, but she couldn't run; she was frozen in place. Shaking hands reached out to the girl collapsed on the ground.
Joy was hunched over on her side. Niylah paid no attention to the voice screeching at her to run; all she cared about was the girl lying motionless.
She slid on her knees next to Joy's body and rolled her onto her back. Joy stirred as she was moved and Niylah's breath hitched. She was alive! Niylah's body shook with uncontrollable sobs and she cradled Joy in her lap.
Blood pooled from a wound on the mermaid's shoulder and Niylah immediately pressed down on it to stop the bleeding. Joy grimaced as soon as pressure was applied to her shoulder.
“Pain,” she said. “It hurts.”
“I know,” Niylah said. Tears streaked her face, but she didn't dare move her hand to wipe them. She kept her hands pressed firmly against Joy to prevent her from bleeding out.
They seemed suspended in reality, Niylah and Joy. Everything around them continued on, but they were there together, frozen in time. Niylah wasn't even aware of Malden's lack of presence or the police sirens having grown much louder, as if they were right outside of the building until she felt a hand on her shoulder.
Tom was standing above her. He was mostly unharmed save for the bruising on his face. He was also clutching his side, but he was alive, too. Her dad and Joy were alive.
“She's hurt,” Niylah sobbed.
“Help is here,” Tom said, replacing Niylah's hands with her own. Her hands were shaking still and covered in Joy's blood. The overwhelming rusty smell was nauseating, but she pushed through it.
“This is the police!” A yell sounded from outside of the warehouse. “Put your weapons on the ground! Now!”
Footsteps could be heard coming down the hall and Sheriff Busby appeared in the doorway, gun raised. He surveyed the room and lowered his weapon when he realized no threats were present. “Check the rest of the building,” he told his officers.
“Yes sir,” one said as the officers hiked down the hallway.
“Help!” Niylah cried. “She needs help!”
The sheriff turned his head and pressed the button on his radio. “I'm going to need paramedics in here immediately.”
He stepped closer to analyze what exactly occurred. Niylah had never been happier to see someone than she was watching Sheriff Busby call for help. Hopefully, with the aid of paramedics, Joy would be fine.
“Can you tell me what happened here?” The sheriff directed his question to Tom, but he was preoccupied with providing pressure to Joy's gunshot wound. Niylah wiped her eyes clean with the back of her hand, but Joy's blood still managed to smear against the apple of her cheek.
“Oliver Harris kidnapped her. He traded her to this man – Malden!” Niylah said.
“John Malden,” came the sheriff's grim reply. “We've heard of him but haven't been able to catch him with anything substantial.”
Tom looked uncomfortable with the mention of Malden and Niylah hoped he wouldn't get in trouble for his involvement.
“He shot Joy!” Niylah's voice rose, cracking with the effort. “Surely, that's enough.”
Before Sheriff Busby could respond, a team of paramedics came rushing into the room. They made a beeline, gurney in between, straight for Joy.
“Help her please,” Niylah looked between the two paramedics, desperate.
“Miss, we need you to move out of the way,” said one of the paramedics.
“No!” Niylah stiffened, refusing to move. She couldn't let herself be separated from Joy again. She couldn't! Malden was supposed to shoot her, she was prepared for it, but Joy had risked her own life by saving hers.
The paramedics shared a look but Sheriff Busby was the one to offer up a solution. His tone was gentle as if Niylah would shatter if he spoke any louder. “You can go with her to the hospital, but they need to see her. They need to be able to help her.”
Niylah hesitated, but she knew he was right. She was only preventing Joy from getting the assistance she needed.
Joy's breathing was growing quicker and beads of sweat gathered on her brow. “I will be okay.” She reached out, searching for Niylah's hand. She held it with both of her hands.
“I won't leave you, Joy. Not again.”
Joy offered her a weak smile and Niylah scooted back, letting the paramedics do their thing. Tom rested a hand on his daughter's shoulder and gave it a small, reassuring squeeze.
With her point of attention preoccupied, the sheriff took the opportunity to interrogate Tom and Niylah about the night's events.
Niylah kept her gaze fixed on Joy as the paramedics assessed her injury and began bandaging her up.
“Niylah,” the sheriff said, forcing her to tear her gaze away. “What happened before Oliver Harris took Joy?”
The paramedics lowered the gurney and slowly lifted Joy onto it. Joy winced as they moved her, but she was strong.
Carefully, Joy rose with the gurney and they began wheeling her outside. Niylah quickly followed behind, determined not to let Joy out of her sight.
She had told Sheriff Busby most of the truth. She left out the part about what Joy was and their attempt at vandalizing the boats - she knew she would have to think of another plan to save Joy's people after – but she told him Harris had kidnapped Joy in an attempt to offer some sort of trade for his own kid. Instead of revealing Joy's secret, Niylah had excused it by saying Harris had no attachment to Joy so, she was a better target than Niylah.
Of course, none the wiser, the sheriff believed her explanation. He had no reason to assume Niylah was lying.
As Niylah stepped outside, she was surprised to see that the sky was adorned with oranges, pinks, and purples. She squinted against the sun as it peaked through the thick conifers. The air was damp with morning dew. The gorgeous vision was a stark contrast to the chaotic night they had endured.
Clanking came from beside her as Joy was loaded into the back of an ambulance. One of the paramedics was locking in the gurney just as Niylah was approaching the vehicle. She grabbed the handle and hoisted herself into the rig, settling down on the bench. Once she was comfortable, she took Joy's hand in hers.
The paramedics were just about to close the ambulance doors when someone stopped them.
“Just a moment,” the sheriff said. Her dad was standing beside him.
“I'm going to talk to the sheriff first,” Tom said. “But I'll come to the hospital as soon as I'm finished, okay?”
Niylah nodded her head.
“We're going to catch Malden,” the sheriff said as he leaned his hand against the door. “We won't let that get away. He will pay for hurting your friend there.”
There was a look of ferocity Niylah never thought she'd see in the sheriff's blue eyes. He had always been kind and gentle whenever they interacted and she guessed the sheriff had a bone to pick with the man who had underestimated the small town of Siren's Bay.