She’d never really paid this much attention to the television before.
Not that she didn’t notice it was there. One could only expect so much from a five-year old girl.
It was always on in the background: a static, bothersome noise that tried to distract her brain from playing with her dinosaur toys. Between her aunt and uncle’s constant fighting and the television’s cranked up volume, the girl had long since learned to tune it all out.
She’d become the master of inattention at such a young age, and so despite so many distractions, she continued to mouth noises as she bashed her plastic friends together.
But today would be different.
Today, the volume left cranked to its highest would actually matter.
It started when he stepped on stage, clad in a black sequined jacket, his hair crisp and his skin shining like mocha gold.
He instantly caught her gaze, and her toys became at rest as her hands stopped moving.
But it was only when he began to move back in forth in rhythmic perfection, and his voice belted out like an angel of soul, that she dropped her toys completely.
It was a legendary performance from more than a decade ago, which had been cycled over and over again on this particular channel. It was fate that had willed her aunt to leave MTV running on this particular day, and that the King of Pop himself had graced her eyes for the very first time.
It was only a short clip of the performance, but by the end, Denny Girelli had lost all interest in her dinosaur toys. Instead, she sat cross-legged, leaning forward as much as she could, eyes glued to the screen.
A few minutes later, and a music video began. It was the same mocha-skinned King of Pop from before, though now dressed in a trademark red leather jacket and surrounded by the most peculiar dancing zombies.
Denny just kept watching, as all other noise slowly but surely faded away.
Denny leaned over, huffing out strained breaths as she tried to compose herself.
She looked up at the television in her room, a rerun of Smooth Criminal playing in front of her.
“You make it look…so easy…” she said between breaths, to the fedora-wearing, white-suited dancer on screen.
Of course, he didn’t answer.
For the last three hours, she’d been trying to memorize this dance sequence, only to find herself missing steps and tripping on her own feet at every turn.
It seemed her thirteen-year old body wasn’t built for this. Denny’s legs were sore, and it felt like her heart was on the verge of exploding.
She blinked, noting her long, honey blonde hair that came all the way down to her waist. A thought sparked in her mind, and she found herself running over to her aunt’s room.
Hearing her aunt cooking downstairs, Denny knew she’d have be quick lest she face her wrath.
She rummaged through the first drawer she saw, coming upon a turquoise hair tie in seconds.
Less than a minute later, and she was back in her room.
The door was shut and locked, and Smooth Criminal continued to run on the television in front of her.
Denny finished tying her hair up into a long ponytail that reached just below her back. With her hair no longer impeding her vision, she snapped her arm to the right, hand over her chest and the other pointing forward as she imitated her idol’s trademark pose.
Words drifted from her mouth as the music blared from the television.
“You’ve been hit by, you’ve been struck by, a smooth criminal!”
“DENNY! You turn that racket off or so help me I will come up there!”
The tall blonde girl didn’t respond to such a loud threat, instead stamping her feet down twice, perfectly in sync with the rhythm.
It was October, but Halloween was the last thing on fourteen-year old Denny’s mind.
Instead, she just ignored her aunt’s yelling as she moved to the beat of the song, easily emulating the synchronized dance that moved zombies and other creatures of the night alike.
Eventually, she could hear loud, violent knocking at the door of her room. It was loud enough to just barely pierce through the deafening music.
Continuous curses and belittling words tried to edge their way through, but Denny responded the way she always did.
She moonwalked backwards, not missing a beat as she turned the volume on her stereo to its absolute highest.
The knocking continued, but Denny was confident the lock would hold. Sliding to one side, she twirled in place as her body moved like clockwork.
Even as the song ended, switching to a more recent ’90’s classic, Denny’s dancing just shifted in response. She smiled to herself, relating to the boy in the cold open that also refused to turn his music off.
Like the previous song, she’d also practiced this particular dance routine hundreds of times by now.
It was second hand nature to her; very much like breathing.
Denny closed her eyes as she continued to dance, and even still, her steps weren’t off in the slightest.
Michael was with her; in her dance steps, in the music, and in her mind.
Nothing else mattered.
“No…no, no, no, no, no!”
Her voice cracked horribly, and Denny’s knees felt weak as she watched the horror being broadcast before her eyes.
She’d been out all morning, forced by her aunt to run various errands around town. When she’d finally clambered home, eager to practice more routines, she was greeted with her worst nightmare.
“…Michael Joseph Jackson, officially pronounced dead at the age of 50. Memorials are already being held throughout the globe, as the world mourns one of the most enduring and influential figures in the history of popular music…”
It had been running as breaking news for the last hour, but Denny had been so preoccupied running ragged to various stores that she’d missed each and every newspaper headline.
Her hands pressed against the television, and Denny felt herself collapsing as tears began to flood down her eyes.
“This isn’t real. It can’t be real. Please…this…this isn’t fair!” she cried out, eventually burying her face in her hands in an attempt to stifle her moans.
Her pleas remained unanswered.
For the last decade, she’d been completely enamored with him. His likeness, his fashion, his music, and most of all, his dancing.
She had all of his wardrobe. Nearly all of his albums.
She knew all of the song lyrics, and though it had taken years, she’d just nearly memorized the dance sequences of every single one of his music videos.
Denny often dreamed of meeting him in person. She blushed at thought of him sweeping her off her feet, and getting lost in his perfect eyes. Her more private thoughts would remain as such, but it was this year that she’d finally been able to scrounge up the money she’d needed for long.
She now possessed a golden ticket to the New York City date of the recently announced This Is It tour. There, she would have finally seen him in concert for the first and possibly only time.
But fate had dealt her a cruel hand.
Denny continued to cry as she curled up on her rug, her voice becoming softer over time as the terrible news rolled.
Without him in it, her future was now anything but bright.
In all the time since she’d first realized she was a Music Master, Denny had never seen a Sentonal like this.
It towered over her, with skin as black as space and a head shaped like a gigantic music note.
It moved erratically despite its size of several stories, as if not used to moving such a gargantuan body.
Eventually, its gaze settled on her, naught but an ant in comparison.
Whether she could hear what song had birthed this being or not, it remained unimportant in the end.
Denny already had a song in mind even as the massive being reached long, spidery black fingers towards her.
Within this gigantic training room, which was made of an unknown, sterile white material, Denny’s attacker almost reached to the ceiling.
Nearby, in a protected surveying room, four teenagers, and a familiar man with a crow on his shoulder, watched with anticipation.
“Just give up. You should have known joining us was a pipe dream to begin with.” a snide, female voice said over the loudspeaker.
Denny ignored it. It had been a year since that terrible, fateful day, and she’d long learned that nothing could dissuade her now.
The song pumped through her ears, and even as she Harmonized, Denny was able to deflty dodge fingers that could flatten her with ease.
She moonwalked backwards as the massive black hand slammed into the floor just a two meters ahead, shaking the ground upon impact.
A second later, and Denny looked up, an energetic gleam in her eyes as chosen song finally manifested into being.
There was a low growl, and from behind her, a huge wolf, dressed in torn red leather yet still walking on all fours, crept around her like a loyal hound.
It snarled at the opponent before them, showing exposed teeth and stretching its rotted, ripped skin in the process.
Compared to Denny, this undead beast seemed more like a monstrous bear with its sheer size.
“Go get ’em!” she declared with sudden glee, and her terrifying undead werewolf bounded forward in response.
The black Sentonal reached out to stop it, only retract as sharp claws slashed at its fingers, tearing huge, pitch black chunks in the process.
It tried to back away, only to screech as the Sentonal leapt upon it, mauling and slashing it with such savagery that it quickly brought it down to the ground despite the jarring difference in size.
There was a loud crashing noise, and a visible struggle as the two wrestled against one another.
Finally, it was all over once the Thriller-borne Sentonal got its jaws around its prey item’s neck.
The huge black being struggled for a good five seconds, thrashing and trying to make weak screeches, before there was a grisly crunch, and it then went completely limp.
Denny eyes widened with satisfaction, and relief washed over as her dutiful Sentonal returned to her side.
She petted its shaggy head, even running her fingers playfully along the exposed bone on the right side of its face. In response, he nuzzled her lightly, always one to enjoy the attention.
“Looks like she might be useful after all.” a stern, male voice observed from above.
“True that.” a more wild, impatient one chimed in. “Gonna be wicked to see that thing rip into one screwed as hell Music Master.”
A crow squawked in response. The velvet-laced voice, belonging to the Fourth Beat of all of New York city, then spoke.
“You killed a Chord. Not a regular occurrence, I must say.”
Denny looked up, speaking loudly to the audience above, though she couldn’t see them in slightest. Her loyal werewolf waited silently behind her.
“So…is that enough?”
Up above, the Fourth Beat’s ring-encrusted fingers pulled the intercom microphone close. He almost whispered through sinister lips.
“More than enough. My dear, welcome to the Pop 5.”
For Denny, today might just very well be the best day in a long time.
Denny found herself skipping along the sidewalk, humming to herself as she made her way through the streets of Washington Heights.
Just over a month ago, she’d become an official member of Zero Beat’s premier group, known to all Music Masters as the Pop 5.
With that honor, she’d escaped the confines of her aunt’s home in San Diego, and enjoyed the lap of luxury in the splendor of the 5 Penthouse.
Each and every day, she found herself coming home to the 5 Records skyscraper in Manhattan, taking the elevator up to the 75th floor, and disappearing into her own huge room.
It was there that she continued to perfect her dance routine and listen to her beloved music in relative peace, at least until the rest of the Pop 5 beckoned.
Her happiness stemmed from their most recent mission; one that would finally garner her acceptance among her peers. Besides the quiet but nice Paul, they all seemed annoyed by her mere presence.
Somewhere in New York City, a young Music Master who used disco music continued to escape Zero Beat’s grasp.
He was recognizable by his massive afro, and thus far avoided all attempts at his life.
It was down to the Pop 5 to find him, and bring him back to Zero Beat, dead or alive.
It was made clear they preferred alive, so he could be made an example of, but dead would suffice if he or his noted friends resisted.
Denny stopped in the middle of the street, her smile disappearing as she mulled over the thought.
She knew she couldn’t kill him with her own hands. She’d never hurt anyone in her life.
But her loyal Sentonal was a different story.
When it came down to it, in order to earn her respect among the Pop 5, she was sure that she’d could do it , one way or another.
“Oh my god, are you…?”
Denny didn’t hear the voice at first, still lost in her own thoughts.
“I am so in LOVE your music! Me and my friend NEED a selfie with you!”
Denny blinked, and finally she noticied the two pre-teen girls in front of her. They both looked fresh out of middle school, braces and all.
“Pretty please?” one of them asked politely, and it took Denny another few seconds to realize what they wanted.
Her eyes widened, and she nodded.
“Oh, uh, of course!” she said, moving up close to them as they clicked their phone cameras and captured the moment.
Denny smiled as wide as she could.
It had been like this since they’d released Live to Five less than two weeks ago. An instant hit, Denny found it suddenly difficult to go anywhere without being recognized.
As the girls squealed in excitement, uploading the photo on social media in an instant, Denny could only hope that Audio Empire would be an exception.
Deserving of a reward for all her hard work, Denny had already scoured every music store in the city for that very last album that she still didn’t own.
A rush of happiness surged through her at the thought of all her plans.
She was going to find it, and then she was going to be the one to find this Michael guy.
And then after that, everything would be totally and completely perfect.
Amazingly, Denny was able to get into Audio Empire with little commotion.
Perhaps it was simply a slow day, or perhaps it was just sheer luck, but either way she wasn’t going to question it for a second.
Instead, her mind was laser focused on the object of her desires.
Somewhere, there just had to be that one lonely album that remained as the only one left to add to her collection. Denny hurried down the steps and towards the basement, her eyes scanning the aisles marked by each letter of the alphabet.
Dressed in her red leather jacket, gray dance pants, and black tap dancing shoes, she immediately stuck out like a sore thumb.
Of course, the thought never crossed her mind.
When Denny wanted something, everything else became unimportant, and everyone else became like shadows in a fog.
So when she spotted the treasure up ahead, held up above all other albums in the aisle, she was racing for it with no thought of anyone around her.
From five feet away, she could see it clearly.
A special edition, 1979-fresh cut of Off The Wall.
This particular edition had eluded her grasp for some time, and her eyes only widened further with excitement at the black writing on the bottom corner of the LP.
“OH MY GOD, SIGNED!?!” she screamed, now running headlong.
Her fingers reached out desperately for the corner of the album, her eyes seemed ready to burst from pure elation.
The idea of a signed copy, touched by the hands of the King of Pop himself, filled Denny with a kind of excitement she couldn’t quantify in words.
So absorbed in the thought of owning this last piece, Denny didn’t immediately realize the opposing force grabbing the album at the exact same time as her.
She tugged, and of course it didn’t move her way. A young male voice, clearly apologetic, then spoke.
“Oh, my bad.”
“It’s mine. I saw it first.” Denny shot back, her vision still red from pure adrenaline.
The other hand then let go.
She proceeded to grab at the album with greedy hands, entranced by its smooth cover and crisp cover art.
“Sure. Like I said, my bad. Sounds like you need it way more than me.”
Denny turned up, finally back to her senses somewhat as she addressed her former competition.
“Yeah, you have no ide-”
She stopped mid-sentence, as she scanned him from top to bottom in silence.
He was taller than her, clad in a bright tie-dye t-shirt that bore the emblem of a record in the center.
Blue jeans, hot rod red sneakers, and a somewhat unsure grin that betrayed his own feelings of awkwardness.
It was his features that hit her the hardest. His big nose, wide eyes, mocha-colored skin, and the familiar twist of his lips.
But most of all, she noted the large, black orb of hair that was none other than his trademark afro.
Denny said nothing, as her mind raced at impossible speeds at the sight before her.
This was the target. Who else could it be?
She’d remembered all of Zero Beat’s details on him, gleaned from Helia and Renaldo as well as those Japanese siblings that now called themselves Nagataki X.
It all fit down perfectly to a tee.
Suddenly, the album was inconsequential in comparison. Her true prize lay right before her, ready for the taking.
But Denny couldn’t move. She was frozen, entranced at the sight of him as she struggled to understand why.
He opened his mouth to speak, and nothing he said was even close to audible in Denny’s ears.
Instead, her mind formed the bridge of memories, erupting as a long lost string of emotions associated with only one person in the entire world.
A person that had been dead for over two years, as Denny had long mourned.
– You and I…must make a pact. We must bring, salvation back… –
The lyrics danced around her mind, and when she looked forward, all Denny could see was a heavenly light that surrounded this afro-headed boy with its comforting glow.
– …just call my name, I’ll be there. –
She quite nearly fainted as her mind was mesmerized in a realistic daydream, and in the process she proceeded to drop the album on the floor.
In front of her, Michael was completely and utterly confused.
He’d asked nothing more than if Off The Wall might be her favorite Michael Jackson album, but that question alone left this girl completely floored.
Scratching the back of this head, Michael spoke again, wondering if he’d somehow offended her.
“Uh, you okay? You seem kind of…focused.” he asked, genuinely concerned as he picked up the album from the floor and lightly dusted it off.
Denny’s heart skipped a beat as he handed it back to her, and for the briefest moment, their fingers touched.
Hit by lightning, Denny was completely unaware of the pink flush now burning on her cheeks.
She just mumbled a few excited, clearly happy words.
“Oh, yeah! I’m great.”
He was right there in front of her.
Right here, right where she wanted him.
Unfortunately, she was now helpless to stop him.
Instead, she looked up, her eyes glittering at the splitting image of her idol just inches in front her.
“My…my name’s Denny.”
Her words betrayed her intentions completely.
There was no helping it, even if she wanted to.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Michael.”