Jean Archer Quartet #2 - All Fall Down
by Jason A. Anderson
(THIS IS A PRE-EDITED COPY. NO CONTENT OR DEEP COPY EDITING HAS BEEN DONE.)
Metal Boy and Metal Blades
The ocean blue eyes of Cristoff Rainn grew large as he tried to take in everything at once. Before him stretched the exhibit of Chaz Black, one of his favorite shock metal rockstars. His music and band imagery was saturated with ghoulish themes and nightmare imagery. He and his band, Vein Drain, were so good at it, in fact, that they’d recently been asked to score an upcoming horror film anticipated to be a major blockbuster success.
Following on that momentum, Chaz Black had jumped at the opportunity to tour his personal selection from the assortment of artwork he’d finished over the last two decades.
Taking up the entire interior of one of the VIP pavilions at the local fairgrounds was a maze of black chain-link pathways on which hung the vast collection of portraits, landscapes and figure studies, and at the center of the maze rested over a dozen sculptures. All in black, they had an organic, creepy feel to them, reminding Toff of the work of H.R. Geiger and the Alien sci-fi horror films. This year’s Pine Bow County Fair had already proven to be the biggest in local memory and this expansive collection was just a part of it. A very detailed “Sci Fi Through the Years” exhibit inhabited the building to the northwest of the pavilion and Toff intended to take the time to thoroughly experience it, as well.
He stood outside the entrance to the art exhibition, looking up at the banner with the attractive rocker’s face splashed across it, taking in the nostalgia.
“Come on, baby brother!” Spring Rainn -- Toff’s oldest sister -- said, taking him by the hand and leading him into the maze of Chaz Black’s collection. Her age superiority was relative at best, since the oldest of the Rainn quintuplets, Noel, was killed in an accident when they were kids. However, as the only boy, Spring, Summer and Autumn never missed a chance to poke at the fact that Toff was the youngest.
Ignoring the teasing tone in his sister’s voice, Toff followed without protest as she undid one end of the red tape blocking entry to the maze of portraits and walked inside. Had he noticed the printed sign on the table beside the entrance announcing Chaz Black’s personal appearances hadn’t begun, he may have waited until after the Opening Ceremonies before venturing into the “unknown”.
A massive fanboy of Chaz Black’s, he was familiar early on with the high quality of his band’s CD cover illustrations. To the left hung the black-and-white half-Marilyin-half-automaton painting from “Clockwork Corpse”; to the right, the desolate, crimson-soaked desert landscape of “Blood Ryche”.
Toff wasn’t sure if it was the genuinely creepy imagery all around him, or something more, but the deeper he delved into Chaz Black’s twisted mind, the more uneasy he felt. It came on like an upset stomach after eating something spoiled: a sourness tickled the back of his throat; he began to feel sweat on his neck and his heart started racing. By the time he reached the center of the exhibit, where the bulk of the sculptures stood on display, he hardly looked at the paintings and fairly stumbled into the cluttered open space.
Seeing his condition, Spring said, “Toff, are you okay?” and hurried over to him. Before her outstretched hand could touch him, a sudden darkness fell all around and Toff was gone, lifted off the cement floor and hurled against the permanent northern wall. His head smacked against the cinder-block with a sickening “thud!”
“Cristoff!” Spring cried out.
The darkness closed in around them; even though the abundant exhibit display lights remained on, they only gave off a flickering, yellowish glow.
Spring lunged for Toff, but before she could reach him, the young man’s limp body shot into the air high enough to strike against the bare wood slats of the pavilion roof, before arcing across the open space and crashing into several of the free-standing sculptures. A couple of them shattered, being made of sculpturing clay, the others scattered around.
Without warning, one of the heavier sculptures, a shiny black scarab beetle the size of a car battery shot across the space and thwacked into the side of Spring’s head. The strike pitched her to the side and she lost her footing, sprawling to the floor. She lay motionless for several seconds, during which Toff’s flaccid body slowly rose from the stone-and-clay debris pile. Blood flowed lightly from a ragged gash on his back, made more obvious when the Entity rolled him in mid-air, floated him over to the large dining table sculpture and flopped him down on it. Toff grunted at the impact, but didn’t regain consciousness.
Rising into a half-crawl, fully disoriented, Spring made her way forward, disappearing into the shadows of one of three maze entrances.
Toff couldn’t tell how much time had passed. Everything seemed to swim in and out of his vision, and as one image would move away, the yellow lights above almost made him blink from irritation.
First he saw his sister Noelle, but that couldn’t be, since she had died years before. And she looked older, like he pictured her if she were in her twenties. How he knew it was her and not one of the other three sisters, he couldn’t fathom, but he did know it was Noelle.
Before he could call out to her, his field of vision swam away to his left and all he could see was the ugly yellow light above him. Then it went dark as he thankfully closed his eyes.
He sensed movement around him and a sudden urgency to wake up caused him to gasp, then cough violently.
With the metallic taste of blood in his mouth, he managed to open his eyes and Jean’s concerned face drifted into view and he felt a warm glow in his stomach, despite the rest of his body and limbs feeling sluggish and extremely cold. He could feel her hands on his face.
“Hey, Metal Boy,” she said, “what’re you doing here?”
Toff’s gaze drifted to the sickly yellow light above them and coughed again.
“What happened?” Jean asked, then she left his field of view and a sharp stab of pain shot from his lower back, up his spine, through his abdomen and localized near his heart.
The memory of Noelle flashed through his mind, accompanied by the image of his other three sisters. His love and connection to them flooded through him and he nearly panicked when he thought of them without him. When he blinked, he saw Jean, again.
“Sisters,” Toff managed to mumble, blood bubbles nearly blocking his throat. “Take care of them.”
“You’re going to be fine,” Jean said, despite the tears streaming down her dusty cheeks, creating small streaks on her skin. “Just stay still.”
Toff rallied the last of his strength and managed to grab Jean’s wrist. “Sisters!” he exclaimed, staring straight into her eyes.
After a moment, Jean nodded.
The panic he felt began to lessen and he smiled at Jean, blood darkening his lips to a deep crimson. Using the last of his physical strength, he reached up to touch her face, his fingertips leaving red streaks on her pale skin.
“Hey, Nerd Girl,” he whispered and managed to wink at her.
Everything suddenly went dark.
After a few uncertain moments of nothingness, Toff heard Jean’s voice call out, “Toff?” then, with more urgency, “Cristoff!”
Before he could respond, a tugging sensation overcame him.
Seconds later, his vision cleared and Toff found himself standing in thick, white, swirling fog, but it didn’t feel cloying or cold. The coalescing whiteness cleared and his gaze fell on the most beautiful valley he’d ever seen. The green of the grass beneath his bare feet looked so rich and vibrant that he stooped down to touch it with his fingers.
Yep, feels like grass, he thought, surprised that it didn’t feel wet, the color was so deep.
That was when he realized his clothing had changed. No longer in the casual garb from going to the Fair, he now wore simple tan pants and a loose shirt, no shoes.
“Hey, baby brother,” a familiar voice called, drawing his attention back to his surroundings.
A beautiful blond woman, so much like a perfect blend of his sisters and mother it almost made him ache inside, walked toward him.
“Noelle!” he called out and ran to her.
Before they collided, he stopped abruptly, uncertainty on his face. He desperately wanted to throw his arms around the sister he’d not seen in so many years, but he feared she would turn out to be phantom images from a fevered coma and just vanish like the white mist.
Realization passed across Noelle’s face. Smiling, she said, “Come here, baby brother,” then reached out and pulled her only brother into a warm embrace.
Toff couldn’t help but hug her back...tightly.
After several seconds, Noelle stepped back and looked up into his eyes, which was when he realized he was a couple inches taller than she.
“Come on, I’ve got so much to show you,” she said, as she put an arm around his waist and guided him toward the well-trod dirt path that meandered into the distance.
(C) Copyright 2016, Jason A. Anderson