I’ve got to be honest. I’ve come to think of #BlogBattles every week as more of story starters than short fiction. It might be a bad habit, I don’t know. But I’m a novel writer, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Here is a story start that has got me pretty excited. It might make some great Middle Grade or YA fiction. Let me know what you think!
Helm of Darkness
Jason cracked the door open and cringed. That dang relic of the seventies couldn’t be beat. Ding-dong! it chimed, announcing his arrival at the musty record store.
A round, shaggy haired guy stuck his head out from the back room, his Hawaiian print shirt the brightest thing in the place.
“Hey! Jace, my man! Haven’t seen you around in a while.”
“Oh, hi Leon. Yeah, school’s been tough this semester.”
Leon stepped up to the counter and leaned on it, his wiry beard almost reaching the tops of his crossed arms. An inordinate amount of sweat beaded his brow. He swiped it away with a quick glance over his shoulder.
“Oh, man! School’s a drag. Am I right or am I right?”
“So what can I do ya for? Need a new oldie? I got some goodies over here,” Leon said, coming around the counter to grab Jason’s arm.
“No, of course. I get it. You’re here for some new gear,” Leon said louder than necessary in Jason’s ear, dragging him toward the headphones in the far corner.
Leon released him only long enough to bend over and grab a pair of big 80s headphones from the bottom post. He shoved them at Jason’s chest.
“These are just what you’re looking for, buddy. And . . . ” Leon glanced over his shoulder. “And today they’re on the house. You got it, dude! F-R-E-E. Have a great day, now, bu-bye,” he said, pressing Jason toward the door. “See ya later, man.”
Jason stumbled and turned to face the door, his eyes wide. He held the headphones up in question.
Leon, his face contorted with dire seriousness, stuck his head out before the door could close all the way. “Don’t give those to nobody! Hide ’em, Jace.”
Leon disappeared back inside and the door hit the frame. Jason faced a poster of Bob Marley, the famous one anyone could recognize without ever having listened to his music. It covered the entire upper half of the door, blocking sight inside.
Jason stood there a second until he heard a scuffle inside. Something slammed against the door. Jason looked down at the bottom and saw three sets of feet. One of them belonged to Leon, unmistakable in his bright red high-top converse.
Leon’s scream turned his blood cold. “Run!”
Jason froze but took off like a shot at the gurgling cry that followed. His heart pounded against his rib cage, doing its very best to pull ahead in the race to safety. He ducked around a building and leaned on the chilled brick wall.
“What in the hell was that?” The words came out between gasps for air. He stared at the big, awkward headphones in the iron grip of his hand.
The sound of a man’s yell, “He went that way!” cut through Jason’s thoughts and sent a rigid jolt of fear from head to foot. He scrambled off the wall, jamming the headphones around his neck, and rocketed down the alley.
Jason ran harder on his scrawny teenage legs than he thought possible. Fear drove him farther and faster than he’d ever gone before and carried him right to his best friend’s front door. He hesitated a second, looking over his shoulder, then slammed his fist into the door.
Anthony’s mom opened the door.
“Jason? What–are you okay, honey?” She pulled the door wider to let him in.
Jason stepped in and backed up against the wall, peering back out the door once more. “Uh, uh, yeah, Mrs. Tillerson. Is Tony home? I . . . need some help with homework.”
“Homework? Really?” she asked, eyebrow raised. Unhurried, she closed the door.
“It’s a . . . group project . . . for science.”
“Tone! Get your butt down here. Jason’s here!”
“Oh, that’s okay. I’ll just, uh, just go up. Thanks, Mrs. Tillerson!” Jason said and ran up the stairs without a backward glance.
“Yo, Jace!” Tony met him at the top of the stairs. “Dude, what’s up?”
Hushed, Jason said, “In your room,” and pulled Tony by his shirtfront.
Once in the room, Jason closed the door and peeked out the window, then pulled the blinds.
“Are you on something?” Tony flopped down on his bed and leaned against the headboard.
Jason jerked around to glare at Tony.
Tony threw up his hands. “Hey, man, you gotta admit. You’re acting weird and sweating like an addict.”
“No,” Jason said, offended but too distracted to put more effort into the old joke. He shuffled to the bed and sat on the end. “The craziest thing just happened. Now I’m like, did I just imagine it?” He touched the headphones absently.
Tony sat forward, intrigue brightening his eyes. “Crazy? That’s right up my alley. You came to the right place. So what happened?”
“I went to Mayhem Records, you know, the store downtown, to get a new needle for my player, but Leon was acting all weird. Like weirder than usual. He handed me these headphones and shoved me out the door.”
Tony leaned back again, losing interest. “That doesn’t sound too weird.”
“The really strange part was what happened after.”
Tony’s dubious frown made Jason want to punch him.
“I’m serious! I was standing there and some other guys must have been in the back because all the sudden I hear them in there fighting with Leon. He screamed. And when I say screamed, I mean like a girl.”
Tony sat forward again, his interest piqued, his eyes on the headphones still around Jason’s neck.
“I freaked, Tone. I ran down the street and whoever was in there, they chased me.”
Tony looked to his window, concern and excitement mingled in the tension radiating off his body. “Did they follow you here?”
“Uh, no, I don’t think so. Dang. I hope not!”
“So, what’s so special about those ancient earmuffs?” Tony pointed at the headphones then picked at food stuck in his teeth.
“I don’t know,” Jason said, pulling them off to examine them more closely. “There’s nothing inside them.” He tapped inside and pulled at the big faux leather and foam pads.
“Oh dude!” Tony jumped up, his wet thumb pointed toward Jason. “I bet there’s like drugs or . . . or like a super secret micro SD card stuck inside. Maybe . . . maybe those dudes were like CIA and were trying to get back major government secrets, like crazy military mind-control testing or something awesome!”
Jason considered his words, for the first time willing to believe that Tony might know what he was talking about. He pulled on every possible piece but nothing would come loose. Finally, out of ideas, Jason grabbed his phone and plugged the adapter into the jack.
Maybe they were just headphones. He stuck them on his head and went to swipe the screen on his phone but it was gone.
At the same instant Tony stumbled back. “Woah! No. Freakin’. Way!”
Jason couldn’t see his own arms or legs, only the indent of his body on the bed. He stood up.
“Where’d you go, Jace? Oh man, oh man, oh man.”
Jason looked in the small mirror above Tony’s dresser and gaped, not that he could see himself gaping, but surreal couldn’t describe the sight or lack thereof.
He pulled the headphones off and reappeared just like he’d disappeared. Eyes bulging, Jason stared at his friend.
“This is like Helm of Darkness! Sick!” Tony’s awed excitement was contagious.
“It might not be exactly what you’re thinking, but you might be on the right track, Tone.”
Hey! Jason and Tony have stumbled upon something that could be big. VERY BIG. I don’t want this story to end. What do you think?