By Steven Sheiner
A winner of the inaugural James Patterson Master Class Writing Contest
They found him. He wasn't sure how, but that didn't matter now. They called themselves the Antiquities Society, collectors of rare and ancient artifacts. But what they really were were a collection of thieves and murderers. For thousands of years, they hunted down specialized items that possessed unique attributes or unusual powers. And, without fail, they took what they sought, using any means necessary.
Joey clutched the oboe tightly as he crouched down behind a hedgerow ten yards from his back door. Minutes earlier, he had been sitting in his room, doing homework. His parents still at work, he was enjoying the peace and quiet of an empty house when it started. It began with a soft glow, accompanied by a quiet hum. Quickly, the light emanating from the oboe became brighter and the vibration more intense. It was the first time the oboe had warned him of danger, but he knew they were here.
Just before agents of the Society knocked down the front door and barreled inside, Joey had grabbed the oboe, and quietly slipped out through the window. On a usually quiet street in a suburban neighborhood, his house was now under siege.
He’d been warned that someday they’d come. He peered cautiously over the hedges, gripping the still-glowing instrument. It had been two years since he came into possession of the oboe. He was twelve years old when his dad dropped him off at a small music shop, then left to run some errands. Joey had been asking to learn an instrument, so he decided to try a few on.
After failing to make a sound that even remotely resembled music from any other instrument, he finally came to the oboe. His grandfather had played the oboe, so it was no small wonder why it was so comfortable in his hands. He put the reed to his lips and blew, and out came a single, beautiful note. A note that he could not just hear, but see! A translucent blue note had materialized from the end of the oboe, floated in the air for a moment, and landed at his feet. He stared at it, a glowing blue note on the ground, trying to understand what was happening.
At that moment, the shop owner suddenly appeared at Joey’s side. She had been standing behind the counter twenty feet away just a second before. She was a petite woman with disheveled grey hair and oversized glasses resting halfway down her nose.
“It’s you!,” she said, clasping her hands in front of her chest with enthusiasm.
“It’s me?,” Joey asked, quizzically.
“Yes! The shawm has chosen you!"
Joey held up the oboe to inspect it more closely. “The shawm? I thought it was an oboe.”
She put a hand on his arm, and he looked at her. “It belongs to you now,” she said intently.
She nodded. “This is no ordinary oboe, my son,” she said, looking up at him over her glasses. “It once belonged to the Muses - the nine sister goddesses of music, song, and dance, and the minions of Apollo.”
“Uh huh”, Joey said, not really believing the words he was hearing.
“It has special powers,” she went on, waving her hand over the glowing blue note on the ground. “But be warned. Now that it has awoken, others will come for it.”
“Yes. And they must never obtain it!”
Joey extended his arm and held out the oboe to the woman.
“Here,” he said. “Maybe it’s better if you keep it.”
“I cannot,” she said. “It belongs to you now.”
Joey’s gaze returned to the glowing blue note on the ground. “What else does it do?,” he asked. He looked up, but she was gone. Just as he was about to call out to her, everything went black, and he was surrounded by complete darkness. A moment later, the light returned, and Joey suddenly found himself standing outside, oboe in one hand, it’s case in the other. Bewildered, Joey looked around, struggling to understand what just happened.
Less than a minute later, his father pulled up to the curb and rolled down the window. “You didn’t steal that, did you?”, he asked, only partly kidding.
“No. I, uh, won it,” he lied, still a little fuzzy on how he got outside.
That was two years ago. Now fourteen, and hiding behind his house, Joey found himself strongly compelled to protect the oboe, though he wasn’t sure why. He also didn’t understand why it was so important to keep it out of the Society’s hands. For the last two years, it had done nothing special, other than produce beautiful music. That is, until today.
He crouched down, trying to be quiet, considering his next move. Suddenly the oboe began to glow brightly and tremble in his hand. A tendril of blue light emerged from the end, and the same blue note he’d seen at the music shop appeared on the ground beneath him. Rapidly, the blue glow extended up from the ground, enveloping Joey in a transparent blue sphere. He stared at in awe, and just as he reached out to touch it, a bullet careened off it, startling him. He looked up, only to see an agent from the Antiquities Society charging towards him, gun raised and firing. Bullets continued to ricochet off the blue field of light, leaving Joey protected and completely unharmed.
Closing fast, the agent tossed his now empty pistol aside and drew a sword from over his shoulder. He raised it high and, when he reached Joey, brought the sword down violently. Joey pressed himself against the back curve of the blue sphere that continued to surround him. There was a flash of blue light as the blade came in contact with the shield, which sent the agent flying backwards, unconscious before he hit the ground. Joey was breathing hard, both from fear and adrenaline.
“I gotta get out of here,” he said aloud. With his words, the blue musical note on the ground became brighter, pulsed three times, and there was a brilliant flash of light, forcing Joey to shield his eyes. When he uncovered them, his surroundings had changed. The dirt and grass where he had just stood had been replaced by cobblestone. And where the hedgerow behind him stood there was now a large building. Strange music played in the distance, and the smell of fresh bread wafted over him, causing his stomach to grumble.
More confused than ever, he inched his way along the edge of the building, then slowly peered out around the corner. In the distance he saw what looked a lot like the Eiffel Tower. He’d seen it in books and online, but never in person. Joey scratched his head. The strange music started to make sense. Somehow, he had been transported to Paris in the blink of an eye. He still held the oboe in his left hand. Looking down, he saw the strange blue musical note still under his feet. Somehow, it had not only protected him, but magically whisked him thousands of miles away from danger.
He looked up at the Eiffel Tower and wondered if the Antiquities Society knew where he was. He started walking, headed towards the incredible smell of fresh bread. He needed food. Then maybe he could wrap his head around what was happening. As he walked, the blue note on the ground kept pace with every step, and he took comfort knowing it was there. He may not know how he got here, where he was going, or what was next, but he knew the blue note on the ground would protect him.