Of all the obstructions that Lex Rydell imagined might get in the way of his revenge, the strange being calling itself Mr. Lostman was the very last one he expected to deal with.
But without any bullets in his trusty pistol, and with his headphones and music player nowhere to be found, it appeared Lex would in fact be dealing with him for some time.
Not that Mr. Lostman was of any particular concern, truly.
After introducing himself, he’d spent the next ten minutes outside of the home, tending to a small garden of alien plants that Lex didn’t recognize in the slightest.
Whatever this humanoid really was, he was about as dangerous to Lex as an old man on a street corner. His confidence in himself was at an all-time high.
He expressed this by walking outside, barefoot and in his loose undershirt. He had no idea what temperature it was in this strange place: the air seemed to change from hot to cold to lukewarm in an instant.
Right now, he felt like he’d been stuffed into a low oven. Unpleasant, to say the least.
But Mr. Lostman seemed impervious to changes in the environment. He neither moved faster or slower even as he finished with tending to his plants.
In all honesty, Lex wasn’t even sure what Mr. Lostman was even made of. For all he knew, it could be plastic and metal.
It was only at this point that Lex kneeled down and pushed up a stray leaf with his fingers. He noticed the shape of a white piano key, plain as day, but with the consistency and material of a plant. When it moved, it made a slight noise that Lex knew was none other than a B flat.
To this, Mr. Lostman reacted. He pivoted his head, blinking once as he stared down at the plant.
Lex looked away, clapping his hands together and standing back up.
“You…like?” Mr. Lostman said, his voice partial and digitized.
Lex didn’t give him direct eye contact from under his glasses. He instantly remembered the milky taste of the tea from before.
“It’s fine. Passable.”
He furrowed his brow. “I can’t stay here much longer. I have places to be. People to see.”
Mr. Lostman did not respond. He simply stood there, which only made Lex more visibly frustrated.
Still nothing. If Lex didn’t know any better, it was like talking to a mannequin. Only this mannequin could move around and make tea.
“Do you even understand what I’m saying? Look, I don’t have time for this. I need you to tell me how to get out of this madhouse. Right now.”
Lex stamped his foot as his voice raised with intensity. He looked like he was just about ready to strangle the motif which had a good foot on him, his mustache twitching with a mix of anger and disbelief.
But still, Mr. Lostman said nothing.
Finally, out of options and impatient beyond words, Lex grabbed him by the shoulder.
And this time, Mr. Lostman reacted. With a fluid motion, he grabbed Lex back, encircling his fingers completely around the man’s face.
Only for a brief moment did Lex realize that Mr. Lostman had what appeared to be speakers on his palms, before the motif’s huge hand muffled all hope of speaking or breathing.
For a moment, Lex thought his life had been snuffed out. The darkness had finally come to claim him.
In some small corner of his mind, he almost admitted that he deserved it.
But the darkness lasted only a moment.
Lex Rydell’s vision snapped away. His world exploded then with color and light, zooming right on back to a time in his life he remembered all too well.
Almost every moment of every waking day, in fact.
One minute, he had been standing within the Soundscape, and the next, he was waiting on a street corner, devoid of all the age and pain that the passing years had gifted him.
He took a breath, and it was as if his lungs had been given new life. He could smell that particular aroma in the air: the one that came with being in this little corner of the Village. A place Rob, Talulah and Lex had frequented uncountable times in their youth.
New York City’s noises and lights blared all around him, but it was a familiar voice right next to him that made Lex stop right in his tracks.
“Hey, you okay, babe? You look like you just saw a ghost.”
Lex’s eyes widened in complete awe.
And there she was: dressed in a warm brown jacket, red bangs coming down her face, and that glinting nose-ring that Lex Rydell knew all too well. His senses ignited like a roaring blaze, and he felt her small, delicate fingers on his, and her sweet breath on his chin.
He gulped, holding on tighter as his beloved Ellie simply smiled.
“I know what it is. You’re nervous about the gig tomorrow, right? Don’t be. You and Rob are always perfect.”
She cuddled up closer to him, smiling wistfully as she closed her eyes. “Well, you’re perfect for me.”
Warmth shot through Lex’s core, up and beyond, and he found himself at a loss for words.
It was everything he wanted, taken from him so many years ago by Zero Beat and their accursed Pop 5.
Lex failed to save her, Talulah had turned a blind eye, and Rob was no better.
“Ellie.” he mouthed, causing her to open her eyes and acknowledge him.
Lex’s lips almost curled into a smile. He almost told her he loved her.
But as the words left his mouth, the world went to light speed again.
Ellie vanished, and so did Greenwich Village, and all of New York City.
He returned to the Soundscape, as Mr. Lostman removed his hand, his eyes more dour than Lex had seen them before.
Lex’s words tumbled out as the confusion hit him hard.
“…Ellie. Ellie!? Where…where is she? What did you do to her?”
He grabbed Mr. Lostman by the shoulders, but the motif barely budged.
Lex might have strangled him, had Mr. Lostman not gone and spoken in the next instant.
“She is…gone. Sorry.”
The motif blinked, and his eyes returned to some semblance of more positive energy.
“I will help you. Help you go home.
He didn’t say it out loud, but Michael felt the butterflies grow in his stomach when he and Denny began to follow the trail of bright disco squares into darkness beyond.
It was a strange thing to describe: besides the road that they were walking on, there was no light source to speak of in this place.
It was like walking into a funhouse that was completely pitch black, save for the disco dance floor that provided just enough light to assure Michael that he wasn’t about to fall into unending oblivion with his next step.
All around them, Michael could very clearly hear the sounds of disco love: jingling guitar rhythms, booming bass lines, banging cymbals, and high and low voices from an innumerable amount of different musicians, some Michael knew, and others not so much.
He tried to ignore the weirdness of it all, content to let Denny distract him.
Not that he was listening to anything she said. He answered her next request quite halfheartedly.
After all, they had been walking on this winding disco-road so long that small talk was the natural thing to do.
“Hey Michael…can I ask you something?”
Michael nodded as he spoke, but kept his eyes forward. “Yeah, Denny. Anything.”
“I know we’re sort of a thing I guess…but I have to know…do you…do you love me?”
Michael’s face lit up like a red light.
Suddenly, the Soundscape became totally and absolutely unimportant.
Michael chuckled, but the blood rushing to his face was too apparent. Smiling with triumphant contentment, Denny pushed right up against him.
Fingers went around his neck, and Michael felt his nerves dance as he was forced to stare headlong into Denny’s big, long-lashed eyes.
She had him now, and they both knew it.
“Come on. I’m not stupid, you know?” Denny said, her tone sly. “Like how many times have we kissed now? And I’ve lost track of all the dates…”
Michael blurted out his next words. “Well…that was kind of you, and not so much me. And those weren’t dates. We’re just…really good friends.”
Denny furrowed her brow. Annoyance and frustration flooded her tone.
“Michael, I’m not that dumb. Don’t treat me like a little kid. Everybody knows. So don’t. You know how much I like you. So how many times do I have to say it?” she attacked.
Michael’s nervousness vanished, replaced by aggravation as he pushed Denny right off him.
There was an unspoken truth in the air: he did think she was that dumb, but of course he would never say it.
It was her jab at his famous obliviousness that didn’t help one bit.
“Whoa, whoa, let’s get something straight here. You don’t like me, Denny. You like all this.” he replied, making a circle with his finger over his face and prodigious orb of hair.
“But what would happen if I cut this off?” Michael continued, fingers turning into a scissor as he mimicked a cutting motion over his hair. “No more afro. I wouldn’t look like MJ anymore, would I? I’d be a brand new man. That would be something, right?”
Denny’s body language said it all. Her hands curled up into her chest, as her posture became smaller, weaker, and the mental debate of a changed Michael coursed through her mind.
Any words she might try to say failed to leave her breath. Michael scoffed, and shook his head.
“Wow. I knew it. I freaking knew it. Man, how could I be so dumb! Paul…Paul was right..”
“No…no!” Denny protested. “I love you, Michael! And…and I don’t care what Paul says…I know you…I know you care about me too.”
Whatever words of reciprocated love Denny expected didn’t arrive. Instead, Michael turned away.
All the accumulated stress hit him in one dangerous moment. The pressure of saving Paul, his supposed loyalty to DanceDown, to Rob and his friends, and now, the big question he’d been avoiding for months.
Did he love Denny, or not?
At a time like this, his mind simply didn’t want to know the answer.
“I can’t do this.” Michael said, waving his hand and walking towards the blackness beyond. “Seriously, this is the last thing we need. I…I gotta focus.”
His pace quickened, red sneakers smacking the disco tiles below as his pace became faster. Michael didn’t once look over his shoulder, but he could hear Denny’s voice as clear as day.
“Michael? Michael, come back! You’re not running away from this!”
No response. Michael kept walking, gaze focused as he tried to temper his mind into doing the same.
At least, he kept walking until the ground shook with a bass-like intensity, and a booming voice stopped him right in his tracks.
Denny had been right. He really wasn’t running away from the problem this time.
Michael’s hands moved in alarm, and he didn’t move an inch as he looked all around.
But nothing could be seen in the darkness beyond, as the voice continued.
“YOU TRESPASS ON SACRED GROUND.”
Michael could feel Denny’s breath right on his neck. She’d caught up quick.
But before he could so much as reassure her, a massive, chrome hand slammed down on the disco-road before him.
It was comparable to the size of his Big YMCA, as its owner leaned down; a facet-skinned giant that looked large enough to devour both Michael and Denny whole.
Both Music Masters opened their mouths in awe, as Denny’s grip on Michael’s shoulder only tightened with absolute fear.
Whatever this thing was, it made the chord from before look like baby’s first tremolo.
“What…what the hell do you want? How’d you know my name?” Michael asked, trying to muster up some drip of confidence but failing miserably.
Made of some strange metal, and towering over them, a being with the likeness of funk and soul legend James Brown gazed down at them as if they were naught but ants.
Its massive fingers scraped against the ground, as that booming voice returned once more.
“I PRESERVE. WE PRESERVE. WE SEE ALL. YOU ARE NOW IN THE DISCO SCALE. SO YOU DANCE…OR YOU NEVER LEAVE.”