30 November 2012

+JMJ+

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Do you have any idea how proud I am that I finished this post? It may be a few days late for the ShredChedFanFicWriMo deadline, but at least it's actually here!

While I still think that the ultimate Are You Afraid of the Dark? FF would be a plausible epic backstory on how all the members met, I've always known that the most logical FF challenge is to write something that would pass as an episode. And since I will not be able to cap this FF extravaganza with the tale of how the gang gets together, I'll settle for capping it with a tale that was never told around the bonfire only because I was too young in the 90s to be one of D.J. MacHale's writers.

Consider the following to be the "lost" Episode 14 from Season 2. The references are at a bare minimum, so you can "watch" this even if you know nothing about the show. (Hint! Hint!) I've even got the intro in here for you . . .

Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Season 2, Episode 14
(Fan Fiction)



It used to bother Frank a lot that he always needed another Midnight Society member to walk to the clearing with. Eric had been the first one to guess his secret and be his guide, but Eric had moved away nearly a year ago. After that, there had always been someone else waiting for Frank at the edge of the woods--and soon he suspected they had arranged to do it rotation without telling him. It was embarrassing enough for him to think about quitting the club as soon as his next turn was up . . . but then "The Tale of the Midnight Madness" had been so well received that he decided he could hang around with the group a little longer.

This evening, it had been Gary who had stayed to wait for him. Frank had been nearly fifteen minutes late, but the other boy, usually a stickler for punctuality, hadn't seemed to mind. Frank discovered why when they arrived at the clearing and found no one around the bonfire . . . and a brightly lit birthday cake on the stone chair.

"SURPRISE!" everyone yelled then, jumping out of their hiding places.

Frank tried to look annoyed, but couldn't stop the grin from spreading over his face. "How did you guys know it was my birthday?"

"Remember the astrologer at the last Midnight Sale?" Gary asked. "You told her when it was so she could give you a reading--"

"And guess who happened to overhear it?" Kiki finished, looking smug.

"We've been planning this for weeks," Kristen said. "I baked the cake myself."

"And since I told a special story for Gary's birthday last time," David said, "we decided that you should get a story of your own tonight, too."

"Who's telling it?" Frank looked back and forth between David and Gary.

"I am!" Betty Ann chirped.

Frank cringed openly. "Sweet."

As David helped Kristen to move the cake from the stone chair to a plastic crate set up beside Frank's usual spot, Betty Ann took her seat as the night's storyteller. When everyone else had taken their own places too, she began . . .

"It wasn't easy to write a story for you, Frank, because our styles are so different. But you know that I've always loved one of your characters, and when I asked myself what he might be up to these days, the story practically wrote itself."

She reached into the hollow stump beside the stone chair for the bag of magic dust. "We all know about the power of music to move us, the power of art to inspire us, and the power of stories . . . to scare us. This story is about what happens when art and music are used for a darker purpose."

Betty Ann smiled as she pulled a fist of magic dust from the bag. "Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story . . ." She tossed the magic dust on the flames, which blazed higher than Frank had ever seen.


" . . . The Tale of the Crazy Collage . . ."

"Maria had always known that her best friend Joshua would be signed by a big record label someday. Ever since her twelfth birthday, when he sang her a song he had written himself, she had believed it was only a matter of time before a discerning talent scout snapped him up and gave him his big break. Four years later, right after his sixteenth birthday, she was proven right . . ."


I

As happy as Maria was for her best friend, she wasn't crazy about his new schedule. Writing and recording a new album took up enough time without the endless minutiae of the business side being piled on his plate, too. Joshua had even had to stop going to school for the past month, his parents picking up and dropping off his assignments for him each week. Maria herself hadn't seen him in almost as long.

It was during one of those lonely days that both her parents had had to work late as well. She used the spare key to let herself into her silent house . . . and immediately knew that something was off.

"Mom? Dad?" she called out.

Then she screamed as she was grabbed from behind.

"Relax, Maria! It's just me."

"Joshua!" she gasped, pushing herself out of his arms. "What are you doing here?"

"I came with a surprise for you!"

"And that was it, right?"

He laughed. "A legit one this time. My manager is taking me and my parents to see the guy who'll be making my new album cover, and he said you could come, too."

"Oh! Will it be a photo shoot?"

"Not photos. He's an artist. Actually, I told Mr. Brown about you--that you're an artist, too--and that I wanted you to design my album cover. But he wanted a professional for the first one. You'll do the next one, though. I promise!"

Still reeling from the first shock, Maria was floored. "You think my stuff is good enough for a real album?"

"If it's anything like your tree, I'm going to worry that my album isn't good enough for your art."

One year before, inspired by a stray line about a "green and burning tree," Maria had made a pastel of a brilliantly green ash tree doubly alive with fire. The fact that she could never remember the source of the quote had always bothered her when she looked at the pastel, but Joshua said he loved it more than anything else she had made. He told her that the best part was that it wasn't clear whether the flames would consume the tree or the tree would consume the flames.

"Anyway, that's the surprise," he continued. "I told Mr. Brown I wanted you to join us tonight, and he said yes! So do you want to see a professional artist's studio with us?"

"Would I? YES! I just have to call my mom and dad to ask them."

It was a school night, but Maria's parents agreed to make a special exception; and in an hour, the two friends, his parents, and his manager Scotty Brown were on their way.


II

"You've got to wonder about a guy who was okay with renting the entire thirteenth floor," Joshua said.

"He says he isnt superstitious," Mr. Brown answered. "But he is a bit . . . eccentric."

When the elevator doors opened, Maria thought that "eccentric" was far too tame a word.

The artist Joshua's new manager had hired had been doing well enough to convert the entire top floor of an apartment building into a studio. And he had crammed the sprawling area with original art--countless canvases and sculptures all so different from each other that it looked as if twenty artists worked there and not just one. There were half-finished paintings on easels, some like Renaissance oil portraits, others like Jackson Pollock messes; and the sculptures ranged from bronze animals to a wild installation of bicycle parts all welded together. There was also total silence.

Then an oddly accented voice rang out from the other end of the studio.

"Welcome! Welcome!"

"There he is!" Mr. Brown said, striding forward and motioning to everyone to follow.

"Welcome to my studio and humble home," the artist continued when they had gathered in a space in the middle of the room. "My name is Dr. Vink."

"We're pleased to meet you, Dr. Fink," Joshua's father said, stretching his hand out.

"That's VINK!" the artist snapped. "With a va-va-VA!"

"That's right! I'm very sorry, Dr. . . . Vink."

Mr. Brown took over the conversation then, thanking Dr. Vink for making time to see them and assuring him that everyone was excited about seeing his initial ideas for the album cover.

"What a nutbag," Joshua whispered to Maria, and she giggled behind her hand.

"I was listening to the tapes your studio sent me," Dr. Vink was saying, "and I came up with the perfect design for your young prodigy's first album. And I can assure you that it will be unlike anything you have ever seen before! . . . And by the way, I am not a nutbag!"

Joshua and Maria exchanged wide-eyed looks. Dr. Vink just kept on talking.

"There are some ideas so wonderful that they take hold of me and demand to be brought to life. And then I do not rest until I have done them justice--which I believe I have done for this idea. What I want to show you tonight, my dear friends, is not a suggestion of what could be, but a vision of what will be."

With a flourish of his arm, he indicated a small table to his left on which were lined up three gaudily coloured cassette cases.

"You see them now just as they will look in the stores!" he finished.

"Are those . . . my album?" Joshua asked. "They look like real tapes!"

"They are real tapes. I did not just design and print out the jacket, but also took the liberty of recording some blank tapes and inserting them into the cases. So now you may open any of them as if you were opening one from the music store."

Mr. Brown and Joshua's parents each picked up a cassette case and took out the tapes and the jackets. The latter opened up accordion-style, revealing lyrics and credits on one side and Dr. Vink's original design on the other.

As Maria got a better look, she saw that the medium which the eclectic Dr. Vink had chosen was a collage. The palette was bright shades of blue and gold, and the cut outs that made up the whole were . . . unusual.

There was a man with a wallet for a head . . . a woman with a cordless phone for a body . . . a boy playing an electric guitar like a cello, with a saw for a bow . . . and one figure that seemed whole rather than pieced together, but out of place for a whole other reason.

"What's with Death?" she asked.

Everyone stared.

"The guy in the black robe and hood whose face you can't see. He's Death . . . kind of . . . without the sickle."

"Isn't the one with the sickle Father Time?" Joshua's mother asked.

"I don't care who it is!" Mr. Brown said. "I love it! Dr. Vink, you were right to call it perfect. It's hot, it's edgy, it's modern--it's bound to be an iconic album of the 90s! I will authorise the printing immediately, and you can name your price. Just send over the discs with the original images and we can get started."

As the adults began to talk business, Joshua and Maria wandered around Dr. Vink's studio. The more Maria saw of his art, the less sense she had of him as an artist. Joshua tried to explore as well, but kept returning to the table with the cassettes, popping them out and taking out the lyrics sheet so he could see himself credited as a songwriter. He was ecstatic when Dr. Vink said that he could take home two of the samples--his personal copies before the album officially dropped into music stores.


III

Joshua let Maria have the second tape, and she promised to listen to it that night and let him know what she thought the very next day. Mr. Brown had given Joshua a couple of free days, and the young man was eager to spend them at school, catching up with her and their other friends, and soaking up some normalcy.

But it was nearly midnight when Maria was finally dropped her off at home, and the outing had made her tireder than usual. She got ready for bed as quickly as she could, sticking the tape in her Walkman only after she had crawled between the covers. Then the opening bars of the first track took her breath away.

It was Crazy with Crazy, a song she knew well. Joshua had come up with the melody while hanging out at her house a year earlier, and then had written the lyrics, humming under his breath, while they were studying in the school library. Maria had heard it often enough to be able to sing along now--but she had never heard it arranged for a whole rock band before.

"They all called it crazy," Joshua sang on the recording, "but the magic that you gave me/ Was the only thing that saved me from the dark . . ."

Maria sang along until the end of the second chorus: ". . . It all becomes clear then/ If you can't join them, you can beat them/ But you can only fight the crazy with crazy."

The only difference was a new bridge that one of Joshua's new co-writers had probably helped out with. To follow along, Maria pulled out the lyrics sheet--but when it fell open, it was the strange collage which caught her eye instead.

Now that it was all spread out, she saw that it also told a story. The black-hooded figure was a kind of wizard . . . or puppet master . . . or dark lord . . . And the cut-outs were his creations--or perversions. She had no idea what any of them had to do with Joshua's music, but before she could come up with some theories, the second song started and claimed her full attention.

By the time the tape got to the third track--one completely new to her--Maria could no longer fight her drowsiness. She fell asleep before the chorus, the music filling her ears and the blue and gold lyrics sheet across her body like a bizarre beauty queen's sash.

It took fifteen more minutes for the tape's A-side to run its course and the Walkman to click off automatically . . . along with the lamp on the table beside the bed. In the sudden silent darkness, the shadows pooled on the floor began to stir. They moved faster and faster, until they resembled the surface of a lake in a storm; and then a clawed hand emerged from the centre, slowly followed by the rest of its owner.

If Maria had been awake, she would have seen it was a tall but terribly bent figure in a black robe, its face completely obscured by a black hood. But she slept on as it moved heavily toward her bed and reached for her with eager claws.

What finally woke her was the sound of her own scream.

Then her mother burst into her room to see what was the matter, and Maria realised it was morning.

"Sweetheart, are you all right?" her mother asked.

Maria blinked against the morning sun, feeling a little ridiculous . . . and a lot relieved.

"It was just a bad dream," she said. "I'm okay now."

"That's good to hear! But now you'd better hurry or you'll be late for school."

After her mother left, Maria climbed out of bed and went straight for her closet. It was when she was reaching for her favourite sleeveless top that she saw the four raw scratches running nearly the length of her right arm.


IV

By the time Maria had recovered enough to get dressed--in a long-sleeved t-shirt--she was already late. But as she jogged around the last corner in front of the school, she saw she wasn't the only one. Joshua was still shuffling down the pavement, head bent and arms hanging loosely at his sides.

"Hey, Joshua!" Maria called. "Wait up!"

He turned just as she came up behind him, and Maria nearly fell over at the sight of his face.

"Josh . . . You look like death warmed over."

"I feel like death warmed over," he said. "I didn't feel too good when I got up, but I figured I'd be better after breakfast. I guess I figured wrong."

"I know what," Maria said, taking him by the arm. "We're already late for first period, so let's just ditch the whole thing in the library. Miss Martinez is cool, there'll be air conditioning, and no one else ever goes into Classics, right?"

The Classics section, at the far end of the library, had been Joshua and Maria's special hiding place since their first year of high school. On the few occasions they wanted to play hooky, they would sneak in, past the amused but tolerant librarian, and spend an hour listening to music on their Walkmans--or in Maria's case, drawing something. It was where she had started and completed her "green and burning tree"--and where Joshua said his best lyrics had come to him.

That morning, however, he was too tired to write; and as soon as they both plopped down on the floor between the last two bookshelves, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Despite the coolness of the room, Maria needed to fan herself with her sketchbook for a few minutes. It was nearly summer, and the combination of the heat, the rush to get to school, and the long-sleeved shirt had nearly knocked her out, too. But by the time the second bell rang, she had put the sketchbook to better use by beginning a new drawing.

She had started to sketch Joshua as he looked at that moment--knees drawn up, forearms crossed over them and supporting his bowed head. But then she found herself turning his baggy jeans and shirt into another kind of outfit entirely: a suit of armour. She had added a sword at his feet and was contemplating drawing a severed dragon's head as well, when Joshua woke up from his nap.

"What are you doing?" he whispered. "Can I see it?"

Maria suddenly felt shy about the sketch. "I'll show it to you later. It's not done yet."

"Sure thing! . . . Hey, did you get a chance to listen to the album last night?"

"I did! Sort of. I fell asleep in the middle of it, Joshua. I'm sorry. But what I heard sounded great! I wish I remembered to bring my Walkman today, so I could listen to it again."

"I brought mine!" Joshua started rooting around in his knapsack.

And for the next half hour, while he dozed off again, Maria heard out the rest of his debut album. It sounded even better than she remembered.

It was right at the end of the B-side, the silence before the automatic click off, that Maria realised that another person had joined them in the library.

Pulling the headphones off, she listened as the newcomer walked slowly toward the Classics section, his footfalls thudding heavily on the floor. Betting that whoever it was would not make it all the way to their hiding place, Maria kept completely still, her eyes lowered to the aisle floor. But whoever it was kept coming, and soon the edge of a black robe swirled into her field of vision, along with a glimpse, before it settled, of a huge cloven hoof. Then she jerked her head up and saw the same clawed hand from her dream reaching for her again.

"MARIA!" Joshua snapped. "Wake up!"

When Maria woke from her second nightmare of the day, it was to see both Joshua and Miss Martinez leaning over her.

"That must have been some dream!" the librarian murmured. "Are you all right now?"

Maria shook her head.

"I guess we both didn't get enough sleep last night," Joshua said, explaining their visit to Dr. Vink's studio.

"You two do look really tired," Miss Martinez said. "I'll take both of you to the infirmary now and ask the nurse to send you home. Then you'll be excused for the whole day--even first and second period."

The two friends exchanged sheepish looks, then began to gather their things. As Maria started folding up Joshua's lyrics sheet, she noticed something odd.

"Joshua, is there supposed to be a different design on every album?"

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"Death--or Father Time--or whoever . . . He's different on your cassette. We see more of him here. And he's bigger."

"Are you sure it's not just your mind playing tricks on you again?" Joshua stood up and helped her to her feet. "I'm pretty sure they're identical."

But they weren't--as Maria saw when she got back home. And although she desperately wanted to buy Joshua's theory about her mind playing tricks, she would have sworn to Heaven that even her own copy of the album was not exactly the same as it had been the night before. There had not been, she was certain, a long pointed chin and smirking mouth visible from beneath the black figure's hood.


V

Although she told herself it was silly to keep all the lights on in her room that night, she did it anyway. The album--case, lyrics and all--were already in her school bag. She didn't intend to listen to it again until she figured out what was going on, but she wanted to make sure she could compare it with Joshua's copy at school.

There were no bad dreams that night, though Maria woke up earlier than usual, thanks to her blazingly bright room. The long scratches were still sore on her arm, however, and she was eager to get to the bottom of it all.

But Joshua didn't show up for the second period class they shared, and when Maria checked with the principal's secretary, she learned that his mother had called that morning to say he was too ill to come to school. And suddenly, Maria just knew that something was wrong.

Heading for the pay phone outside the office, she rang Joshua's home. His mother answered and was happy to vent.

"I'm not surprised this has happened," she told Maria. "My poor Josh has been overworked for weeks! He went straight to bed after he got home yesterday, and he's been too exhausted to move since then. I'm not letting Scotty Brown talk to him again until Josh has seen a doctor."

"But is it okay if I come over to see him after school?"

"I'm sorry, dear, but he's really tired. Maybe in a few days, he'll feel better and you can drop by."

"Oh, okay."

"But while you're on the line, Maria, I'd like to know what in the world Joshua did at school yesterday to give him those red marks on his face."

"Red marks? You mean like scratches? On his face?"

"Yes, exactly."

"I have no idea!" Maria squeaked. "I have to go now, ma'am. Bye!"

She put the phone down harder than she intended to and started walking away without really seeing where she was going. The conclusion she had reached was completely insane--and yet everything backed it up. But who would believe her if she explained? And even if she did find someone, what could they do?

"This is so crazy," Maria muttered to herself--and as if on cue, like the key change in a song, she whispered the hook from Joshua's: "But you can only fight the crazy with crazy."

Then she knew exactly what she could do--and exactly where she should do it.

Miss Martinez was not in the library, but Maria figured that "borrowing" a pair of scissors and a glue stick from the librarian's desk and filching a couple of four month old magazines were justified, given the circumstances. She took all the supplies with her to the Classics section, where she immediately went to work a new art project.

Taking the scissors to the album jacket, she first set to work rescuing the other characters. From one of the magazines, she found a proper head for the man with only a wallet above his neck, and a proper body for the woman who had been forced to be a cordless phone. She had to draw a proper cello, using her felt-tipped pens, for the boy with the electric guitar and saw. There were other characters to fix, and it took the rest of the school day to complete the task; but Maria kept at it until they were all part of a new collage--a happy family portrait--in a page of her sketchbook.

She saved the dark figure for last, twisting an old paperclip all around its torso, as if binding it, before gluing it to a different sheet of paper. Only then did she notice how late it had grown, how dark the library had become, and how loudly the clopping sound of approaching footsteps echoed in the silent room.

The blunt craft scissors were useless as a weapon, so Maria scanned the shelves quickly for the right book to arm herself with: heavy enough to beat back an attacker, light enough for her to swing without losing her hold. As she pulled out her chosen book, the intruder's steps quickened, and Maria knew she had to strike. Raising the book over her head, she lunged at the figure that stepped into her line of sight . . . and nearly brained a shocked Miss Martinez.

"Maria! What the--?" the librarian cried, side-stepping the attack. "What are you doing with . . . the Vulgata?"

"Oh, Miss Martinez, I'm so sorry!" Maria gasped. "I thought you were someone else."

"Who else would possibly . . ." She shook her head. "Maria, it's really late and I almost locked you in. You should get home. Do you want me to call your parents, in case they've been worried about you?"

Maria had handed the old Bible back to the librarian and was snatching up her things. "No, thanks, Miss Martinez. I'm going now."

She dashed out of the library, hoping her plan had worked.


VI

By the time Maria reached Joshua's house, twilight had set in. Knowing his mother would likely turn her away at the front door, Maria sneaked in through the basement window, which she knew hadn't been locked properly since she and Joshua were both seven years old. Then she crept past the living room, where his parents were arguing loudly with Mr. Brown over the speaker phone, to his bedroom at the back of the house.

She pushed the door open, and saw the black-robed figure, as it had always looked in her dreams, standing right in front of her . . . life-sized, menacing, and bent over the unconscious body of her best friend.

"NO!" she screamed. "Joshua, wake up!"

The dark figure turned to face her and laughed. This time she could see his sickly green face and burning red eyes.

"You may have been able to stop me from getting to you," it rasped, "but you're too late to stop me from getting to everyone else. I've passed through the portal and all the pretty pictures in the world won't send me back."

Maria held her sketchbook tightly against her chest like a shield. "What do you want?"

"I want him," it replied, pointing a bony, twisted finger at Joshua. "And I want you." It extended its other arm to her. "And I want the world!"

Then Maria noticed tiny tongues of flame flicking out of the pages of her sketchbook. Startled, she threw it to the floor, where it fell open to her pastel of the green and burning tree. It gave her another crazy idea.

Her fingers shaking, she ripped the tree from the book and flipped to the page where the dark figure was still bound with a paper clip. Then she tore a branch from the tree and laid it at the bottom of the figure's black robe. Immediately, the robes of the figure in the room caught on fire.

"Stupid girl!" it roared. "Don't you know you are only prolonging the inevitable?" With a wave of its hand, it put out the flames.

Maria added a second torn branch to a more strategic spot in her collage. Then she looked up to see the dark figure's hood burst into flames. It batted at it in some surprise and pain before putting it out as well.

"Enough!" it said, starting to move toward Maria. "There is only one thing that can send me back through the portal. It is the one thing that was able to call me out. And it is beyond you."

Now the dark figure was so close that it filled up her field of vision, and she realised that adding a third flaming branch to a bad collage would likely be the last thing she would ever do on earth, when the loud challenge of a power chord suddenly ripped through the room.

"It was music, wasn't it?" Joshua said. "Music got you through the portal."

The figure had turned at the first blast of sound, giving Maria a good view of her best friend, now awake and armed with an electric guitar.

"You've overstayed your welcome," he continued, "and now it's time for us to send you back."

The dark figure yelled then and tried to lunge for him, but then Joshua launched into a new riff that blocked it like a wall.

"Now, Maria!" Joshua yelled.

Maria positioned the last and largest burning branch like a spear stuck deep in the collage figure's breast--and in seconds, the figure in the room was completely engulfed in flames. Over the sound of his roars, Maria could hear Joshua's fingers playing faster and faster, taking the music up to a crazy crescendo. But just before he got to the highest point, he stopped . . . and muted his strings. It was in that sharp transition to silence that the dark figure let out one final scream . . . and vanished completely . . . from both Joshua's room and Maria's collage.

Then Joshua, still holding his guitar, walked over to where his friend was kneeling.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, I think so . . . But your tree is toast."

"That's okay. You can make me another one after we tell Mr. Brown that we're not using Dr. Vink's design."

". . . But they didn't have to. The next day, Mr. Brown called to say that Dr. Vink had backed out of the project with no explanation--and that when Mr. Brown had gone back to Dr. Vink's studio, it had been completely empty. And with the date of the album release so close, Mr. Brown had no choice but to hire the only artist he knew willing to do such a big project on such short notice. And that was how Joshua got the green and burning tree he had always wanted on the cover of his debut album . . . and how Maria got her own big break as an artist."

Betty Ann smiled at the riveted faces of her five friends, then looked straight at Frank for the traditional, time-honoured close.

"The End."

Frank smiled back and nodded his approval. As he got up to stretch, the rest of the Midnight Society gathered around him once more, to pat him on the back or give him a short hug. Then, after they had had some cake and put out the fire, they all walked home together, friends against the dark.

If you think the last two chapters are kind of rough compared to the first four, that's because they are. =P And I'll be cleaning them up a bit more before I post it on FanFiction.net.

This story is one of those that started out as one thing and ended up completely different from the original vision. Heck, when I first got the idea, I thought of it as one of Kristen's stories. But that was just because I wanted her to dress up as a Glam Rocker for the first scene. =P Because that was when Joshua was the drummer in an Indie Rock band rather than a solo artist.

After I remembered that all Kristen's stories had ghosts in them, while mine doesn't, I realised I had to pick another storyteller. And it was almost Gary. =) But I had made a chart of the stories, to track the preferred themes and tropes of each Midnight Society member, which was how I realised that Betty Ann was the more logical choice. And that is why dedicated fans of Are You Afraid of the Dark? will be able to pick out allusions to two of her other stories in the text.

2 comments:

mrsdarwin said...

Again, I don't know your sources or characters, but this was a good, engrossing story, and I'd call it well-done. Loved the throw-back feel, too -- cassette tapes and all. :)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Well, it is set in the early 90s. =)

Thanks so much for reading it, Mrs. Darwin--and for reviewing it so kindly!