Rounding the last curve in the tunnel, Kid’s fingers stretched through the darkness until they felt the scrape of wood, pulling his focus from the memory. Leaning into the door, Kid pushed into the cave that was his home, soft light from the pool like a torch after the pitch of the tunnels.
The crates of empty jars lined the wall further from the entrance, and the bookshelf boasted some recent additions, fruit of Kid’s exploratory efforts. Kid entered the room, swinging the heavy door almost shut behind him. Past the desk as he unslung his bag, and unzipped.
The two avatars entered to join their frizzle haired third who was seated at the desk paying strict attention to a small assortment of portraits affixed to the wall of the cave. One of the entrants walked over to the almost empty bookshelf where the small table found a home beside a small globe filled with water. The darkest of the trio turned to the deepest corner of the cave, tucking in next to the wall.
Kid pulled out his new book with care, dropped the bag on the floor, and curled up on the stack of blankets in the corner to read, until the light from his pool faded, and sleep claimed him.
The frazzled haired figure at the desk did not cease his intense scrutiny of the small portrait, most of his attention devoted to an aged wrought iron frame bearing a grainy monochrome etching of an older man with a mop of dark hair pasted back and across his head in contrast to the faded curls of hair covering most of the man’s cheek but neither his lips nor chin.
After depositing the table on the shelf the last of the three lingered, tapping the table, then the water globe, and again. After a while he went to join his darker friend on the blankets.
Fuzzy sat at the desk, muttering at the portrait long after the others had drifted off to sleep.
When Kid awoke his pool was still dark, so he wound his way to his bag by memory and feel, and then made his way up toward the Needle. The sun had just begun to bother the lowest fringes of the eastern sky, so he wandered for a while. The Needle stood in the middle of a large block that was a curious cluster of park, museums, and theaters. Kid crossed between the Needle and the glass garden, heading toward what Twitch called an Imp.
I know so much about this building, from all the climbing and sliding, you know.
I totally know!
I know where the easy ways up are, all the cameras, which windows open.
Which is none of them, by the way.
I’d even say this is one of my favorite buildings in the entire city.
So what’s weird?
I have no idea why I never wondered what was inside.
Guess it’s time to find out, right?
Kid ascended a long ramp that passed beneath the docking station for the elevated rail, trailing an idle hand on the shade cooled metal panels of the building wall. He stopped facing the door, reading the words emblazoned on the glass.
Home of the science fiction and fantasy museum.
I mean, it was already the coolest building in town.
All slidey and twisted and colorful.
And it might be even cooler on the inside.
Speaking of inside, the doors are kind of locked.
Says it doesn’t open until ten.
Any idea when ten is?
Watch. Get a watch.
Any other way in? Recheck the windows?
The windows don’t open. Or, don’t open from the outside. That I could tell.
Huh. I guess we just wander for a bit?
Let’s wander by somewhere with food.
Kid retreated to take a lap through the nearby park, hopping from some trees up onto the roof of an old building on the park’s edge to watch the sunrise peak in slivered reflections through the glass wrapped towers filling the downtown corridor.
When the light show diminished in grandeur Kid dropped back to the surface level. He popped through some of the closer groceries and delis grabbing a bagel, some fruit and cheese in turn, before heading back toward the Needle.
You know, I bet some of these other places have some cool stuff inside them, too.
Maybe the domey one with the dinos?
Um, yeah, that is a great suggestion. Weird.
You aren’t useful often.
Don’t be mean.
Gah, it’s just ahead, past the choral floral titans.
The large facility with the towering arches and matching domes had the gates standing wide and some kids had queued up to make their way toward the doors. Kid tucked onto the end of the group, not looking at the guard as he slipped into the building, and then broke away to explore.
The area just past the entrance featured large pulleys and weights illustrating the laws of physics in action and Kid looked across at the mirrors playing with the reflective and refractive nature of light and felt a familiar tightness across his chest.
Um, why are the funny mirrors making me want to cry?
You know they are funny mirrors?
Yeah, they make you all tiny or huge.
Like they did when we were here…
Ah. Great. So we just get a sense of doom that something may or may not jump out of our forgotten past and punch us right in the metaphysical stomach whenever we encounter something familiar. Thanks for that, life.
That’s twice we have recognized something,
While not recognizing it.
Just this week. Maybe we’re getting better?
Better at breaking into tears in public? Doesn’t sound like an improvement.
I was just saying.
So, what do we know?
Seems like we spent time at both the Library and the science center, you know. Before.
And what do we know about this place?
Kid took off running, up two flights of stairs, through a section of the center that did not even register, throwing open a glass door and looking at a room full of games.
Games that we know. Just looking at them, and it’s like the the rules were always there, waiting like words that we know but haven’t used yet.
Kid wove through the different games running fingers over the pieces, which felt familiar and brand new in a disconcerting way.
Here, a life-sized, for a small child, chess board, the tallest of pieces coming up to Kid’s chin; there, a similar sized checkers board. Three dimensional tic-tac-toe, GO, and Chinese checkers. He fiddled with a few game pieces, and assembled a three dimensional puzzle of some manner of winged thing with six legs.
On the far end of the game room Kid left through a pair of large glass doors and he stepped into a courtyard full of running water, with several bronze sculptures placed as though standing upon the surface of the water. Kid wandered over the bridges and toyed with the spirals, nozzles, paddles, screws and pumps that illustrated a variety of fluid dynamics. Some while later he crossed back over the courtyard toward the EMP.
I like the Imp.
Um, did we ever come to a conclusion on what we hope to get out of our next meeting with Twitch?
You mean if we find him?
Not really. Why do you ask?
Just seemed relevant is all.
What do you. . . Oh.
Lounging atop the stairs leading up to the Imp, sprawled against the bottom of the handrail, was the lanky boy from the bookstore, big grin spreading wider with every slowing step Kid took.
“Thau’d’ye migh’ fin’a here,” Twitch said, as he ratcheted himself up along the railing, ginning all the while. “Thi’shi’ cos’ li’e, meybe, fi’teen bux’a get i’. J’go’tha?”
He leaned against the rail and popped a hip up to slide down to the bottom of the stairs, where he landed with a kind of flounce, single eyebrow raised in inquisitive arch.
Kid squeezed the handles of the bag on his back together in front of his chest, and pressed his lips into a thin line. He tried to raise one eyebrow.
What? How does…
After pushing his eyebrows, both, up and down, while trying to squint first one eye, than another, Kid settled for twisting his face, scrunching in the middle a bit. The older boy laughed.
“Ha, I gachoo. Loo’, ‘s eazy: ja wanna chekit ou’ er na?”
Kid looked beyond Twitch toward the twisting colorful folds of the metal building behind him and then back to the older boy.
“J’ga’ fi’teen bux?”
Kid offered nothing but a scrunched face in response, and Twitch turned, climbing the stairs to the Imp. Without looking back he threw an invitation over his shoulder.
Kid shrugged, shifting the bag on his shoulders and followed the older boy into the blue metal entrance to the building. As they entered the building, Kid came to an abrupt stop, staring up at the ceiling.
Hundreds of guitars, all different makes and models, colors and styles, hung suspended from the ceiling, welded together to form a man made stalactite reaching forty feet toward the floor. He stared up at the hanging pillar of instruments, jaw dropped and head tilting as he took slow steps to give him a better angle.
Well, no impendy doom thingy here.
Guess we haven’t been inside before?
Cause this seems like the kinda thing that would leave an impression.
Hey, where did Twitch go?
“Perty nea’, huh?”
Kid jumped as Twitch spoke over his shoulder.
“Na’ really a gee-tar guy, m’self, but tha’ shi’s pretty fuggen cool,” Twitch stuck out a hand, wagging two fingers with blue circles of wrinkled stickers stuck to the ends, “Take one. They’s the ticket’a this join’. Mos’a time, ‘ough, people jus’ drop’s ‘em in’a trash, so’s jus’ giv’a bin the looksie ‘hene’er y’an’a come.”
As Kid took one of the stickers, Twitch took the other and waved it quick before slapping it to his chest, indicating that Kid should do the same, and walking toward a hallway beyond the guitar sculpture. Kid stuck his sticker to his shirt and hurried after the older boy.
It is tempting, always, to try and identify the singular moment when a particular path was defined, for a person, for a society. We establish dates, and commemorate them as anniversaries. We spent centuries trying to define the one link between humanity and her neanderthalean forbears, when the fact of the matter is that such change is a gradual thing, for species, worlds, and individuals.
All of the little details that define an era create a general cluster in the concept space. We tend to identify a given period by the most relevant common characteristic, or the general impression the era makes after the fact. Over time, the gradual chaos of life and entropy flip some of those little details, adding new ones, deleting the obsolete until the previous name for the cluster no longer obtains and we need to find a new one. Did the last piece of information, the one that lost the critical mass for the previous impression, define or make the change happen?
No. But it can be convenient to talk about change in such way.
If we were looking for such a moment in the life of a child, the critical addition of information that swung the center of that child’s concept cluster in a particular fashion, for this one child, one might suggest that this day, in the museum of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, could be such a day, one such moment, and not be too far from the mark.
The late earthbound years had experienced an artistic explosion as the technology to be able to capture and express the human imagination ballooned to try and keep up with the species. Amalgamations of the arts sprang to life, drawing melded with acting, acting with singing, singing with dancing, all digitized and mass distributed through the informational precursor to the hivemind, called the Internet. They broke these disparate modes of expression into thematic categories, like horror, fantasy, and science fiction.
The horror category encompassed all number of representations, evocations, and remittences of the most basic of human emotions: fear. Whether cathartic, ironic, or perverse, the horror culture was ubiquitous in those late years.
The fantasy category was devoted to the expression of imaginal worlds, with a predilection to ascribe to the character’s populating those worlds a wide range of abilities, dominated by metaphysical manipulation of the physical world: magic.
The science fiction category was similar to fantasy, except focused more on the technological manipulation of the physical world. The last two categories had a high degree of crossover where the supposition of alien life was concerned.
“Com’o’, thi’z’ma fav’rit’ shit.”
Twitch bounced down the hall and then down some stairs at such a pace that Kid had to jog to not lose the older boy. At the bottom of the stairs was a glowing wall, blinking into existence little portraits from the floor to the ceiling. Kid stopped to stare.
Twitch slipped around another corner, and Kid broke away to follow, shooting a quick glance into the room they didn’t enter, a room with an entrance ringed by lines of lights, streaking forward like a portal into the future.
Twitch was standing just inside the next room, which had a slime green floor and low lighting. He was facing a wall, with a light behind him casting his shadow onto the flat white surface. Kid looked at Twitch, cocked his head a bit. Twitched laughed, thrusting a hand toward the wall, and contorting his fingers.
Kid turned to look at the wall, and launched a quick two, three steps back as he saw Shadow Twitch grow horns from the top of his head, and long jagged spikes out of his shoulders. Shadow Twitch’s hand twisted into a open gaping mouth with fangs jutting out, fangs that were… dripping.
We should bail before this gets worse.
A small bunny appeared on the wall next to the demon mouth, hopping away as the demon mouth chomped after, long antennae springing up from above the mouth, twisting after the little rabbit.
A bunny? Now it’s worse.
Figures our first friend would be a shape shifting monster from the abyss.
Not worth it. Running?
Kid shot a panicked look at Twitch, and his hand, ready to bolt back down the hall, up the stairs, back to his window and his cave to never return above ground again, ever, no matter how alone he felt in the dark, when Twitched laughed. Kid saw that Twitch’s hand was still a normal hand, and no horns or spikes anywhere.
“It’z’a fuggen trick, menh.”
Twitch waved his arms out to his sides, nodding at the wall. Kid turned to see Shadow Twitch’s arms morph into snakes, then wings as real Twitch changed the way he moved.
Trick. Right. Ha. Because shape shifting abyss lords aren’t real.
Are we sure?
Um, pretty sure? But in light of recent events I’m not closing the door on the possibility.
But we don’t need to freak out about it right now.
It’s just the light from the machine, right? Making shadows?
Like we do with the pool light?
Sure. Very likely. Shouldn’t hurt.
Twitch flapped an arm at Kid, inviting him to join. Kid ducked in front of the light, turning to see his own shadow warp and kind of shimmer as if being wracked by lightning. He moved, and little strands of shadow trailed his arm, twisting into a spider web beneath his armpit.
No actual webs hanging on us, right?
Hey, webs happen, but no, I think we’re good.
Do we feel more spidery?
That isn’t a word.
You know what I mean! It isn’t doing stuff to us while making the shadows?
Not that I can tell?
“Cool shi’, righ’?”
Twitch tucked his hand into his armpit, and Shadow Twitch lost a hand that flopped to the ground before exploding into butterflies that evolved into monstrous birds as they ascended off the screen.
Yeah, kinda ominous entrance.
But it is cool.
Kid looked at the shadows for a moment longer then up at Twitch.
“Go che’tha res’a’tha place ou’. ‘S swee’.”
If this is the entrance, I can’t wait to see what exhibits they have.
I can kinda wait?
Twitch waved off toward the rest of the dark room and the lit hallway at the end. Kid looked up again, bit off a scowl and trudged off. He wandered through the dim room, weaving past the few adults wandering the museum. What sparse lighting the room featured served to illuminate the gory, if creative, tools of terror which were the horror industry’s calling cards.
So, there are movies.
And we know what movies are.
And horror movies apparently are horrifying.
I guess? I mean, seems like a lot of tools for yard work.
I imagine that yard work is horrifying.
Maybe they are all just afraid of cleaning things, because this kinda seems like a collection of the dirtiest tools ever.
Kid lurched to a stop to read a detailed board describing the sliding scale from mass murderer, through serial killer and on to pure sociopath.
Wait, um, it seems like all of these are about different styles of killing.
People. Killing people.
So all those dirty tools.
Used for killing people. And I don’t think that was dirt.
Wait, the vacuum . . . How would you . . ?
Wrong question. Why. Why would you. . .
Kid shivered and became aware that Twitch was standing by his shoulder. Kid looked up at the older boy.
Twitch rocked back on his heels to look down at Kid, one eyebrow flicking up and down. Then he leaned in to hear Kid over the music.
“So much death…”
Twitch rocked back again and then looked at the room, as if seeing it for the first time and then at the display in front of them.
“Ah, d’kna. Hmph, meybe, i’s juz’tha way we deal wit’it, y’kna’. We all gotta die, righ’? I menh, ya gotta fuggen laugh, righ’, or cry?’
Twitch stopped talking as a little squeak escaped Kid.
Kid was not looking at the exhibit any more, staring with eyes wide up at Twitch.
“You mean everyone dies? I’m going to DIE?”
Twitch looked down at Kid, switched which eyebrow arched with a rolling wave, cocked his head.
“Yeah? Kin’a how it works?”
Kid looked away, staring back at the display, or through it.
“Righ’. I’ma go make shadow monsta’s.”
Twitch walked away with a shrug that might have just been his shoulder jumping.
Um. Can we take a minute?
Meh. It rubs off.
So. Gonna die.