So much for this white knuckle ride.
As far as Michael Kay was concerned, it had crashed and burned before he’d even hit the first mile.
Michael had mostly forgotten about the pain in his nose once he’d gotten home. No, he was far more concerned with the pain in his mind.
There were few feelings worse than being so close to answer and then having it just plucked away. Kim’s vagueness in addition to her attitude only seemed to make it all the more worse.
His chest slowly rising and falling as lethargy seemed to overtake him, Michael was ever so tempted to reach for the picture of him, Rob and Colleen that sat quietly on the cupboard nearby.
It certainly represented a happier time; Michael with his hair just starting to grow out, aglow with a smile, Colleen looking promising and carefree, and Rob with his arm around them both. His smile just barely noticeable under his wide brim baseball cap.
Michael groaned loudly, suddenly slamming his fists into the side of the armchair he was sitting.
“Damn it, man!“
The cursed words escaped his mouth, despite his mind attempting to will them away.
“…where the hell is Rob when you need him!?”
Elsewhere, Kim Ramone was coincidentally thinking in a similar vein.
Even on a school night, the Dust Bowl was like her second home. When the streetlights went on after seven o’clock, the Dust Bowl’s occupants usually split because its own interior lights had been burned out or bashed in long ago. So for awhile now, when the park cleared, Kim stayed, and simply relaxed.
For some reason, the mixture of punk rock music and the graffiti-laden concrete decor was oddly soothing to her. As she gulped down an energy drink, having not slept more than four hours last night, Kim just tried to relax.
Unfortunately, her mind was still focused on Michael Kay and his pathetic attempt to strong arm her for information. He was just an afro-headed idiot, she knew that much, but that wasn’t a mere boast when she said he hadn’t been the first.
A multitude of First Beats had come her way and attempted to push their organization, only to soundly return with black eyes and bloody noses.
Kim had no time for them. She just wanted peace and her music, nothing more than to simply be left alone. But the stress was beginning to eat at her, and the strain in her eyes was obvious.
Much like Michael, Kim also had someone dear to her who often waded into her thoughts at the most inopportune of moments.
For in that brief span of time in which Michael flashed her a grin, Kim had remembered the image of her blue mohawk-wearing brother.
The resemblance between the two was so uncanny that she herself didn’t even want to admit it.
Kim stood up as the thoughts entered her mind. She began to walk almost frantically, hoping the movement would jar these memories away and wake her up before her energy drink kicked in.
Though the Dust Bowl was dim at this time of night, Kim had adjusted to the lighting long ago. She crushed her energy drink in one hand, dunking it into a nearby trash can with surprising precision.
The thud of her combat boots was quite audible as she approached the interior of the park. She expected to listen to a few more songs before she headed home for the night. By that time, her mother would be long knocked out, and she could vacate to her room in peace.
But something caught Kim’s eye up ahead. Something she wasn’t used to at this time of night.
By now, most of the other skaters had learned of Kim’s personality, and that to be in the Dust Bowl during “her” time wasn’t the most intelligent of decisions. So for Kim to see the shape of a tall boy, with glasses and wavy black hair, was very off-putting.
It soon became annoying as she approached him from behind. Even though she couldn’t see his face, his jittery nature was obvious. She narrowed her eyes. After the Michael debacle, she was far from in the mood for this kind of nonsense tonight.
The teen seemed to almost jump out of his skin when Kim put a calm hand on his shoulder.
“Nice night, huh?” she said, her voice cold despite her words.
Turning around nervously, the boy looked back at her. He was wearing a nice white dress shirt and beige cargo pants. He fixed his glasses as he seemed to analyze who she was.
“Uh, yeah.” he replied, the nervousness practically dripping out of him. “It’s not too bad.”
Kim leaned down. “You know what is too bad? You. Here. Get the picture?”
The teen attempted to break away, but Kim’s grip was ironclad.
“I’m just taking a breather. Life’s been a tough. You understand, right?”
Kim’s expression didn’t slacken in the slightest. Her grip simply tightened. “I’m not sure if you’re new here, but let me clue you in. This is my skate park as of an hour ago. Which means I suggest you split. Unless you want to get split.”
The boy was starting to shake now, his words tumbling out. “Oh come on. All I’m asking for is a little alone time.”
Finally, Kim’s calm exterior broke. She grabbed his by the collar with the strength of a mandrill, lifting him up as she raised her voice.
“Are you deaf? I said SPLIT! Split before I beat you into next week!”
Kim’s voice reverberated throughout the Dust Bowl, but the boy said nothing. Instead, a laugh in the darkness responded to her exclamation. Kim turned, while a figure leaned against one of the half-pipes.
“You know, as much as Renaldo is a little girl, I wouldn’t lay a finger on him if I were you.”
Kim yelled back with little abandon. “Says who?!”
The response came with an unnaturally green glow, as the speaker held a green cigarette between her fingers. Her face was dim, but Kim could see that she had reddish-orange hair, and freckles peppering her cheeks.
“Do I really have to answer that question? Nice to see you again, Kimberley.”
Kim’s eyes narrowed. Suddenly she wasn’t so angry, and caution began to come over her. Her grip on Renaldo slackened, and in an instant, he slithered away to safety. Meanwhile, music entered the air as the girl’s song effect began to emerge. The sound of a metal guitar riff invaded Kim’s eardrums as the girl began to take a long, slow puff from her cigarette.
The green glow only got brighter, and now Kim began to recognize her. Her attire was different, consisting of a black leather vest and light green shirt, but she was still the same First Beat that had propositioned her over two months ago.
Helia, as Kim remembered it, was one of the very few who had escaped Kim relatively unscathed. As Kim reached for her music player, sensing danger only seconds away, she cursed herself for making the decision to show restraint with her.
The Cobra’s Hood exploded in volume as Helia let loose her fury, vomiting forth a huge, sinuous cobra from her mouth comprised of pure green hellfire. Kim stood her ground however, having already put on her headphones and set up her intended song.
The fire serpent illuminated the Dust Bowl with a eerie green glow. Behind it, Helia sounded oddly pleased at the unfolding situation.
“Really, Kimberley.” she quipped indignantly. “You should have been used to this song and dance by now.”
Kim seemed unfazed, but her gaze switched to Renaldo, now on her other side. Her song effect had manifested by now, surrounding her defensively.
Walking Disaster was a favorite of Kim’s; a song from her childhood. In a horrific display, a menagerie of arterial purple, clawed arms sprouted from the ground like the heads of a hydra. They moved rhythmically to the beat of her music as she held them somewhat at bay, lest they reached out and attempt to rip apart anything that came too close.
“What, one ass-kicking wasn’t enough for Zero Beat? I distinctly remember you running with your tail between your legs after I neglected to break them.” Kim stated, her voice filled with threat. Helia simply smiled in response.
“Don’t ask why they’re so interested in you. All you’ve been is a pain up to this point. But I promise you; you’re not being let off the hook this time.”
Kim’s hearing began to pick up yet another song entering the air as Renaldo fumbled on his music player behind her.
A non-Music Master would have a headache over three different musical numbers layered so chaotically on top of each other, but to her, each of them was as clear as a whistle.
“As you can see,” Helia continued with glee. “Renaldo, my newest babysitting assignment, might actually prove useful for once.”
An energetic ballad accompanied the movement of something tall and gangly emerging from nothingness behind Renaldo. It stood upright, a mockery of a cartoonish gentlemen with a head consisting of a bright blue, smiley-faced, fuse-laden bomb.
If it wasn’t bad enough that the song grated at her ears terribly, it was much worse for Kim as the human bomb swiped at her with one titanic gloved hand.
Kim’s reaction was quick though. Three of Walking Disaster’s hydra-arms evaporated from impact, but another four latched on like starving leeches.
Renaldo himself held onto his music player nervously as his human bomb, or as he had come to call it his Big Bomb Balladeer, flailed wildly. It tried with all its might to dislodge the grasping arms, and Kim ducked to avoid the carnage, only to stop dead in her tracks as the remaining hydra-arms motioned around her defensively.
“Ah, ah, ah, there’s no running from me, Kimberly.” Helia cackled, as her cobra and its long, fiery body was more than enough to block off any easy escape.
Kim’s eyes narrowed, and Helia didn’t waste a moment. The cobra lunged forward with dizzying speed, snapping apart Kim’s defenses like they were naught but inflatable toys. It was a moment Kim had anticipated, and she dashed forward as fast as she could. Weaving underneath the cobra as it continued to snap away, she had Helia right in her sights, fist clenched and zooming in for the decisive blow.
Unfortunately for Kim, Helia was very much unafraid with Renaldo’s backup this time. Before Kim was even but a mere few feet away, she sucked in another gout of toxic smoke, and exhaled another of Cobra’s Hood monstrosities like some ghastly fireball.
Kim’s eyes widened, and she braced for impact as the cobra’s thick tail slammed into her midsection. The girl was sent tumbling hard into the concrete, her bare arms scratched and cut in moments.
Helia approached with careful steps, cigarette in hand, as her two cobras snaked behind like diligent pets. Kim forced herself to get up, counting her blessings that her headphones hadn’t dislodged in the tussle.
“Looks like you’re out of ammo.” Helia declared, but Kim crossed her arms defensively as her song volume remained constant in the air.
“You wish.” Kim replied, her voice low as twelve hydra-arms sprouted around her from the concrete like voracious vines. Their own liche purple light was an ethereal contrast against the opposing blighted green glow, and their clawed fingers grasped at air frantically.
Kim’s breath quickened, her energy leaving her. Helia seemed unfazed either way, suddenly stopping in place as her fire cobras remained literally within arm’s reach.
Kim gritted her teeth as Helia’s gaze was practically toying with her. “Come on! You want me? Here I am, Helia!”
Still undeterred by Kim’s threats, Helia simply laughed.
“Oh Kimberly, I know you’d want that. But we both know what happened last time.”
It was now that Kim realized her distraction had cost her, as behind her came a loud popping sound framed over Sex Bomb, which had been faithfully playing this entire time.
“No fair fight this time. Sorry to disappoint.” Helia snickered, this time taking a casual puff of her cigarette.
Kim swerved around in sudden panic, and her hydra-arms followed suit. Looming above in all its technicolor glory, the Big Bomb Balladeer still smiled through its teeth as it held up its own head high above its shoulders.
Then, as if lobbing a boulder, its head came down, fuse lit and eyes focused solely on Kim. Renaldo kept his distance, and even Helia stayed behind her fire cobras as the bomb hurtled down.
Kim barely had enough time to have her hydra-arms form a criss-crossing shield formation of sorts before the baleful blue fire erupted out of the bomb’s impact.
She was thrown aside, lucky enough not to be burned horribly, but her remaining servants were easily vaporized under the heat. And this time, Kim’s head hit the ground hard, her headphones bouncing off and Walking Disaster shorting out as everything went black.
The subconscious was a fickle being, at least where Michael Kay was concerned.
Stress and confusion had held him down all afternoon and into the evening, and with Colleen gone for the night, he eventually felt he had no choice but to take a long walk to clear his head.
As always, he was nothing without his music. Of course, he had been listening to nothing but Canned Heat for the last day, still too afraid to unleash accidental disco destruction with another song.
With the month in mind, he thought that listening to September might be a safe bet, but as Michael followed the sidewalk downtown, he shuddered at the idea of unforeseen consequences.
His imagination had always been a bit wild, and the last thing he needed was kill himself with an Earth, Wind and Fire song. Not the best obituary tagline, he remarked mentally, this time with an audible snicker.
Before he knew it, Michael was in familiar neighborhood again, approaching the street where he always passed the Dust Bowl on the way back from Audio Empire or school. He stopped, sighing to himself as the city ambiance continued unabated around him.
Kim wasn’t going to help him now, but was he really going to remain in fear forever? He debated the thought to himself, taking his music player out of his pocket and eying it again with apprehension.
He was just about to switch to a new song, when something hit his ears with a sharp buzz.
His pupils dilated as the music entered his ears, and he allowed his selective hearing to take over.
Whatever it was, it was coming from the direction of the Dust Bowl. It was some sort of rock music, and though it sounded far away, he could only guess that at the point of origin, it was probably very loud.
Michael looked around, and of course, no one seemed to pay any mind to this. The cogs clicked together in that next instant.
He mouthed the words before taking off into a run towards the Dust Bowl.
Kim’s vision was fuzzy, but the rest of her was a different story.
It was a wonder she wasn’t burnt to a crisp, but to say that the fire cobra’s skin wasn’t on the verge of cooking her alive was an understatement. Fortunately for Kim, she did have to be alive and intact for Zero Beat, though it was no surprise Helia was going to make her suffer just as much as she could get away with.
Like a powerful constrictor, Helia’s fire cobra kept a tight grip on Kim Ramone, and as the girl came to, she quickly realized it was no use struggling even with her strength.
With Renaldo nervously behind her, his Big Bomb Balladeer towering next to him, its bomb head slowly growing back as Helia mockingly twirled Kim’s skull emblazoned headphones with her free hand.
“You know I’d really appreciate if you made bringing you in easy for us, Kimberly.” Helia asked, with an indignant tone of course.
Shaking her head, Kim nearly glared at her with all toxicity of a guard dog.
“You…you want me to knock her out now, Helia?” Renaldo asked, his voice quivering just a bit.
Helia, now annoyed by inconvenience, barked back.
“No, let’s just wait until she strangles me while my back is turned. What do you think, you idiot?”
Renaldo said nothing, and just nodded obediently. He turned off Sex Bomb, and in an instant, the Big Bomb Balladeer phased out of existence.
While Helia waited, and Kim fought against her fiery captor to no avail, Michael watched less than thirty feet away from between the bars outside of the Dust Bowl.
His eyes were wide in a mix of wonder and fear, as he saw what could only be described as Kim trapped in the coils of gigantic, fiery green cobra. Beside her were a male and a female he didn’t recognize.
What he did recognize, however, was the song effect playing in the air, an unmistakable sign of Music Masters.
Michael didn’t even take the time to think about his actions. Someone else might have just walked away, especially after how Kim had treated them. But Michael was nothing if not determined when he wanted an answer. He’d lost track over the years of songs he’d tracked down simply on the basis of one verse.
Hand poised over his music player, he dashed into the skate park, running headlong towards Kim.
It took less than ten seconds for her to spot him, but Michael couldn’t tell if the look on her face was disappointment, resignation, or both.
Michael, of course, hadn’t thought of his line. He belted something out anyway as he skidded to a halt behind Helia and Renaldo, his mind focusing on Canned Heat as the words came out of his mouth.
“I don’t know what’s going on, or who you guys think you are, but whatever it is…I’m not letting you get away with it!”
Helia and Renaldo turned around, clearly confused looks on their faces as they were met by an teenage boy with a massive afro and a clearly dated fashion sense.
Kim merely groaned, putting her head down as the fire cobra still coiled around her hissed in Michael’s direction.
Helia began to laugh as she took in Michael’s appearance. “And what’s this? I’m sorry, but is this a rescue? You might just want to walk away and save yourself the embarrassment, kid.”
Michael grinned as confidently as he could. The music strummed in his very being, and he opened his right as the familiar red-orange aura formed.
“Not a chance.”
Even Michael himself wasn’t sure why his legs weren’t horribly shaking or what force drove him, but somehow, he was speeding forward, his heels effortlessly burning at the asphalt below.
Like a superhuman figure skater, he turned fast in front of Helia and Renaldo, knocking them both aside in a mixture of heat and wind pressure.
Helia seemed to be quick on the uptake however, her gaze now purely focused on Michael as the fire cobra behind her still kept its coils around Kim.
“Oh, you’re asking for it, aren’t you?” she declared, as her spare fire cobra slithered up behind her.
Michael didn’t even respond, a mix of emotions surging through him. Instead, he focused his right hand on Helia, causing her to look back at him in momentary shock as she expected a blast of searing heat.
Michael smiled, focusing now on Kim, as the path to her was clear as day. Shooting out like a highly focused laser, Michael’s Canned Heat vaporized the top half of the fire cobra holding onto Kim in an instant. It quickly vanished from the massive damage, allowing Kim sudden freedom.
The moment was short lived however, as from behind Kim, another of Renaldo’s song effects began to emerge as Helia leapt at Michael like a wild tiger, her remaining cobra slithering around to cut him off.
She was much stronger than she looked, and Michael could do little as he was tackled to the ground. He could hear the hiss of the fire cobra circling them, as if waiting to consume the victor. As Helia reached to dislodge his headphones, Michael prayed for forgiveness before kicking her hard in stomach. She doubled back, and with the free moment, Michael pulled off a windmill maneuver that knocked Helia right back on her bottom.
Unfortunately for Michael Kay, this was the fire cobra’s opportunity. He barely avoided the toxic green teeth that nearly cleaved his neck in two, and Michael held out his right hand defensively as it began to tower over him with all its size. Now he was scared, and he could very much feel the shaking that started in his legs.
Not wanting to look back and see how Kim was doing, Michael tripped, landing hard backwards and causing both of his headphones jerk downward from impact and right out of his ears.
“No, no, no!” he panicked, much to Helia’s delight as the aura of red heat instantly dissipated from his right hand as if it was a channel being abruptly shut off.
“So what’s your story, huh? You one of Kimberly’s secret admirers?” she asked, though clearly sarcastic. “Or maybe this is just one of those, wrong place, wrong time situations.”
Her fire cobra was literally salivating green globs of flame behind her. Helia kept an oddly satisfying smile on her face as Michael’s free right hand was poised in fear over his music player.
“Oh well, it doesn’t matter. You made your choice, disco boy.”
He was literally backed into a corner now. Many thoughts went into his head, but of course the loudest one was just how stupid he was for even believing he had a chance against actual Music Masters in the first place.
But despite his fear, not once did he think of selling out Kim. It was obvious they were here for her, and that he was just in the way.
The cobra was so close now, its jaws opening as it prepared to simply swallow Michael whole. He could see into its cavernous mouth, and he gulped as the only option left finally wasn’t so crazy enough for him to do it.
He quickly popped his headphones back in, before clicking play with one finger, Michael closed his eyes and focused. It only took a second, but it felt like an eternity.
The cobra flinched back as a powerful guitar strum boomed into the air.
The ground shook wildly as something began to shape into being. Behind Michael, using the skate bowl below as a makeshift portal, three gloved arms that dwarfed the Big Bomb Balladeer’s gripped onto the concrete. A massive shape, or more accurately, multiple massive shapes, dragged themselves out of some musical oblivion, casting a heavy shadow over Michael and Helia alike in the process. By this point, she and her fire cobra were both looking up, and even Michael dared to stare up at the new being in their midst.
It looked absolutely ridiculous, a menagerie of the letters Y, M, C and A stacked onto each other, and framed by six cartoonish arms which terminated into oversized gloved palms. Standing on two shoe-wearing limbs that seemed nowhere near fit to support its weight, four sets of eyes stared down from each letter at Michael and the predicament he was in.
Never in a million years could Michael Kay have imagined that YMCA would create something like this. With but a thought of self-defense crossing his mind, the titanic letter-being took one gloved palm and slammed down.
Helia was lucky to not have been the target. She froze as the impact demolished her fire cobra not more than a few feet next to her, which could utter little more than a strained hiss before disappearing from existence. She turned slightly to see a gloved hand formed into a fist next to her that was at least three times her size, the concrete below it cracked horribly from impact.
Without pause, Michael’s new guardian opened its palm, and he stood up somewhat nervously. It beckoned him, and he quickly strode upon it, before surging upwards on such a makeshift platform.
Michael never liked heights, but this was something else. He could see even Kim looking up in wonder, straddling a beaten Renaldo after downing him with a few well-placed punches. He looked back at his new “friend”, as his song played like some theme music around them.
With another mental command, he had his Big YMCA crack four of its knuckles menacingly.
“What was it you said before? Wrong place, wrong time?” he asked Helia, clearly a little power drunk now.
That was more than enough. Renaldo clambered towards her like a wounded animal, his face clearly bruised. She simply shot Kim the nastiest glare she could muster, before giving Michael a final declaration.
“You have no idea what you just got yourself into, disco boy. Enjoy your girlfriend for now, because tomorrow, me and Renaldo are going to be the least of your worries.”
Her protege, however, seemed less than willing to go out in a blaze of glory. “Oh my god, who cares about Kim now?!? Let’s go, Helia!”
She snuffed at him, but still followed suit as they ran out of the Dust Bowl, and out of sight.
Michael smiled in surprising triumph. He was at least forty feet high, and it was a wonder no one had noticed his letterform monstrosity yet, but he did feel quite on top of the world right now. Whatever a Music Master was, he was one of them now, and even he wasn’t thick-headed enough to acknowledge just how much Kim Ramone now owed him.
He mentally beckoned his musical guardian to lower him down, as Kim dusted herself off before stuffing her hands in her pockets and walking towards him.
“Okay.” Michael began, the grin on his face huge. “You gotta admit, that was pretty cool.”
Kim stopped in front of him, still in disbelief at what just occurred. She was as cold as he expected though.
“Wow, you’re such a big deal, Afroboy. You beat some First Beats. I’m so impressed.”
She bumped him hard in the shoulder as she passed by, having retrieved her headphones and intent on leaving him.
Michael took off his headphones, now saddened, as his letterform savior dissipated in an instant.
“Seriously? You know, I don’t care if you don’t want to thank me, but the least you could do is remember my name, Kim.”
She kept walking, and though Michael had already given up trying to convince her, he kept talking.
“These big music monsters seem pretty cool. I didn’t think those two would get scared off that easily though.”
Kim stopped. A knowing smile formed on her face.
“They’re called Sentonals, for your information.” she stated, suddenly not as cold but much more agreeable. “And let me tell you, that stupid thing of yours? That’s nothing compared to one of mine.”
Michael chuckled. “Oh really? I’d have to see it to believe it.”
“You bet you do.” Kim shot back, before her expression sank once she realized what was going on.
She put a hand on her forehead and sighed.
“Wow, you really don’t give up do you? I know I’m going to regret this.”
Michael grinned wide now. He didn’t actually plan it, but he had her now. His words came out quickly and noisily.
“You’ll teach me?”
Kim put a finger up, narrowing her eyes and staring right at him with her deadlock glare.
“I’ll think about. But you say one thing about this at school, and I swear, Michael, I’ll ri-“
He nodded excitedly.
“You got it. Mouth shut, no problem.”
This was it. This was the ticket.
Michael was exactly where he wanted.
He might be a Music Master today, but tomorrow was another story entirely.
And this time, she finally remembered his name.