by clysm | written in 2001
There was nothing especially odd about the architecture of
Fred's house, but it was unique in the way it stood alone on a
grassy hill with no trees or bushed around it. Its perfect white
paint caught the moonlight at night. Simon could see the house now
as he stepped down from the school bus. The house was not very far
from the iron museum, where the classes had come today on a field
trip. Once when Simon had visited the museum before, he had seen
Fred's father outside mowing the grass. He had worked feverishly,
seeming impatient with the job as he pushed and pulled the mower
under the looming house.
The iron museum had once been an old cathedral, but long before
Simon was born the city had decided to open up the old building
again, which had not been used in years. They removed most of the
pews, replacing them with the first of the strange black iron
sculptures the building now held and was named for. The ornamented
walls had not been changed significantly, nor had the worn hardwood
floors. When the sculptures had become too numerous to fit inside
the building, they had created outdoor exhibits, with some
sculptures anchored on cement slabs and others simply planted in
For the school outing, the teachers had not planned an organized
tour, but had instead made worksheets with questions about the
museum and its sculptures. The answers could be gathered from the
plaques that accompanied the art pieces.
Who was the creator of the first sculptures in the
What mythological characters are the subjects of his first eight
works that form the main circle in the museum?
Most of the answers were simple. Simon had read many
mythological stories in his classes, of the powerful beings that
were supposed to somehow balance forces in the universe. Each had
its own legends and each was connected to something in nature such
as rain, gravity, or color. They were not believed to have caused
these things, but were just somehow connected with them.
There were two pages of questions in all, and most of the
students gathered into large groups, running between the different
areas and comparing answers to get their work finished quickly and
have some time to roam freely.
Simon didn't go with any of the groups. He had never liked
crowds, but didn't know whether it was because he just didn't enjoy
the company of large groups or because he didn't feel like he would
be accepted if he tried to join them.
He sometimes took the city bus to the iron museum there just to
sit on the benches and read. He enjoyed looking at the dark angular
sculptures, and often based pictures he drew on their strange
Fred was sitting on one of the few remaining old pews that ran
along the walls as reminders of the building's historical use.
Simon saw that Fred was playing with some kind of electronic device
that looked like a radio.
"What's that?" Simon asked as he approached. Fred was startled,
but relaxed when he saw that it was Simon.
Fred seemed to consider the question for a moment, and then
replied, "I don't know. It's my dad's." They weren't really close
friends, but Simon thought he might very well be the only person in
the school who ever talked with Fred.
"You don't know what it does?"
"Then, why do you have it?"
Fred looked down at the object in his hands. "I . . . I don't
know. I just decided to take it."
Fred held the device out to Simon. "You can look at it if you
Simon took it and turned it over in his hands. "I can't imagine
what this might be."
Fred shrugged. "I don't know what any of my dad's stuff does. He
has promised to tell me some time, but so far he never has. I don't
think even my mom knows much about what he does."
"So, why did you move into that house, anyway?" The enormous
museum doors were open, and they could see the white house where it
stood some distance off past the sculptures in the yard and the
grassy field beyond. The sky was overcast. "My mom told me that no
one lived there for years before you guys moved in."
"I don't know. My parents bought it before I came to live with
them. I was adopted."
One of the instructors approached them, a tall gray-haired
woman. "Have you boys finished your worksheets?" She could see
Fred's untouched paper on the bench beside him. "You'd better get
working. We don't have too much more time here." She smiled kindly
and walked toward a group of students gathered at one of the oldest
sculptures. It was a human form with large bat-like wings and
unnaturally long limbs that reminded Simon of the legs on a wasp.
Prominence, it was called.
The group moved to the adjacent Phalanx, a short
crouching six-armed figure with an armored shell. These two
sculptures, along with six others, formed the main circle. They
were the oldest of the collection and the largest, and Simon had
always thought that they all looked like insects. He turned back to
Fred. "Do you want to work on our questions? They don't look very
"Sure, all right."
Before they had started, Fred's parents appeared in the large
doorway. They stopped and his father scanned the room until he
found Fred. He walked toward the two boys, and when he reached
them, he first turned to Simon. "I'll take that, please." Simon
handed him the mysterious device, shy at Fred's father's
businesslike tone. "And now, Fred, we need to go home." He spoke
calmly, but Simon could feel an uncomfortable tension in the
"Okay, I'm coming." Fred stood and followed behind his father to
the entrance where his mother waited. Fred didn't look back when
Simon said after him, "See you tomorrow, Fred."
Simon looked down at Fred's
worksheet on the bench.
How is the sculptor believed to have died?
The next day at school, Simon found Fred outside before class.
He was standing against the chain-link fence that surrounded the
schoolyard. "So, what happened yesterday? Did you get in trouble
for taking that thing of your dad's?"
"Yes. I'm not supposed to touch any of his equipment." He
paused. "Do you always like your parents?"
"Me?" said Simon. "Well, yeah. I mean, we don't always get along
perfectly, of course, but, sure, I like them. Why?"
"No reason. Hey, do you have a computer?"
"No. I want to get one, but my parents say we can't afford one
"Oh. Well, I have one with some really good games. Want to come
to my house some time and see it?"
"Yeah, sure. I've actually wondered what your house looks like
on the inside. Maybe after school one day."
"How about tomorrow?"
The bell sounded, and Simon watched the kids on the playground
start to move toward the buildings. Turned back to Fred, he said,
"All right. I don't think I have to do anything after school
tomorrow. I'll take the bus home with you."
It was raining slightly as they stepped from the bus at the stop
near the museum. The door hissed shut behind them and they started
for Fred's house. As they walked, Simon thought that Fred seemed
Fred ran his hand through his hair to get it out of his eyes.
They were both getting wet. "When we get in the house, we can't
bother my dad. He's working on something and doesn't want to be
disturbed. Maybe I can show you some of the things he works with,
but we'll have to stay in my room most of the time."
"All right," Simon replied. He wondered why Fred seemed so
They walked around to a small porch on the side of the house.
They shook some of the water out of their hair and off of their
backpacks and Fred unlocked the door with a key he carried on a
shoestring around his neck. They went inside and Fred led the way
to his room. The walls were paneled with wood and the floor
carpeted gray. In Fred's room, they put down their backpacks and
Simon sat on the bed. Fred pulled the chair from under the computer
desk and turned on the machine. "Do you want something to drink or
"Nah, I'm fine. Thanks."
Fred stood up from the desk. "I'll see if I can show you some of
my dad's stuff first. Wait here while I go see what he's doing."
Fred left the room and pulled the door almost closed behind
Simon looked at the walls. There was a poster on the back
of the door depicting a cartoon man in a green jumpsuit holding two
swords-a character from a computer game. Over the computer hung a
small painting of a coastal scene. On the computer screen, the
cursor blinked, waiting for a command.
Fred soon returned, and again seemed nervous. "Okay, we can go
into one of his workshops." They went farther down the hall to the
front room, which held the main entrance to the house and the
stairway to the second story. The floor was white tile and the
stairs were dark wood like the paneling in the hallway. Simon could
see through the translucent windows next to the front doors that
the rain had stopped but the sky was darker.
Fred led the way up the stairs and down another hall that looked
like the first one. "My dad's working downstairs so we won't bother
him up here."
"Where's your mom?
"Oh, she's probably in the kitchen. She's usually either there
or cleaning something up. She never comes upstairs."
"What do you mean she never comes upstairs? Why not?"
"My mother is deaf and mute. As far as I know, she has never
learned sign language or anything. She spends most of her time on
housework and, except for when she goes to the store for groceries
or goes somewhere with my dad, she never goes anywhere but a few
rooms in the house. Here's one of my dad's work areas." He flipped
on the light as they entered the room. "Neat, huh?"
The room held several large gray machines. Simon couldn't tell
what their functions were any more than he had been able to
identify the device Fred had brought to school. They had buttons
and switches and colored lights, and one had a screen like a
computer. The walls were covered with schematics and sketches of
different things, mostly different machine parts. There were also a
few maps, one of which was lying on a table in the center of the
room. It was printed on semi-transparent plastic, and consisted of
several layers that were taped together. "Hey, do you know what
this looks like? A map of the iron museum." They both stepped to
the table Simon looked at it more closely. "I think it actually is
the museum." He pointed to one of the corners. "Look, it even shows
the basements. I've been in those, but not many people know about
them. The museum workers don't like you going down there. There's
one in each corner of the main hall and they're full of old junk.
Great places to hide."
Fred watched the door. "Yeah, well, let's go back to my room
now. We shouldn't mess with any of this."
"All right. But I wonder what these other maps are that are
taped to the one of the museum. They seem to go along with it, but
there aren't any other buildings shaped like that that I know of.
This second one looks just like it but it's divided into rooms. And
this third one is strange. Look at the symbols on these circles
around the room. They look like the symbols of the deities in the
myths. I wonder what they mean." He laid the two top layers back
down, watching how they lined up with the bottom map. "It looks
like this could be a three story building-if the iron museum had
Fred looked a little pale. "We need to get out of here now."
Simon dropped the map back into place and shrugged. "Okay. But I
wish we could see more. I-" Fred's mother had appeared in the
doorway. She was smiling pleasantly and she looked at Simon. She
wore a white apron over a plain yellow dress.
Fred's eyes were wide as he moved toward her. He lifted his hand
in a wave to her, glancing over his shoulder at Simon and then back
at her. Simon smiled and lifted his hand in greeting, not knowing
what else to do. Fred had reached the doorway and couldn't walk
past her so he pointed to the stairs to show her that they were
leaving. She just stood there, smiling. She was still staring at
Simon. Fred turned back to him. "She's never done anything like
Just then, they heard Fred's father's voice from somewhere
downstairs. "Fred? Are you home?" The color drained from Fred's
Fred began to shiver slightly. He talked quietly "Um, I actually
wasn't supposed to show you any of this. In fact, I'm not allowed
to have anyone over. I'm going to bring my mom downstairs. I know
this sounds funny, but after we leave the doorway, can you hide
behind one of those machines until I come back to get you? I'll get
in trouble if my dad finds you here." Simon nodded and looked
around the room for a good place.
Fred started to push past his mother, taking her arm to lead her
away, but she wouldn't move. She still stared at Simon. Fred pushed
himself through the doorway beside her and pulled her arm gently.
She didn't move, nor did she look at Fred. Simon could hear
footsteps down in the entryway. His father's voice came again.
"Fred? Where are you?" Fred pulled at his mother's arm more
urgently, but she still didn't respond.
The footsteps were on the stairs, and then coming up the hall.
Fred had pushed back into the room and he motioned for Simon to
hide now. Simon ducked behind the machine with the computer screen.
Fred stayed at the doorway with his mother as his father reached
them. Simon could not see them from where he crouched.
"What are you doing up here? Why is your mother here?" Fred's
father sounded as if he was on the verge of becoming angry if he
found something he didn't like about the situation.
Fred's voice quavered, "I . . . nothing, dad. I just . . . I was
looking at the machines. I'm sorry. I know I'm not supposed to,
"What's wrong with you? You sound like you're hiding something
from me. Why are you suddenly so interested in my work? I told you
I'll explain it to you when the time is right." As he spoke, Simon
could hear him getting closer. He thought that he must be standing
by the table now. "Were you looking at this diagram? I . . . what
is your mother looking at?"
Fred's voice was frantic, sending a jolt of fear through Simon.
"Dad, no, I . . ."
As Simon looked up, Fred's father appeared over him, his face
darkening. He was a very tall man, and seemed especially large from
that angle. Simon watched him turn his head toward the doorway.
"Fred," he growled, "I told you not to bring any friends to the
house." He turned back to Simon. "Stand up, son." Simon stood and
walked from behind the machine.
Fred's father lowered his face into his hand and grasped his
temples. He spoke calmly again, an obviously forced calm. "I don't
know exactly what to do about this. What's your name, son?"
"Simon, what do you think of the things you saw here?"
Fred broke in "I only showed him-"
"You," His father's voice was contemptful. "Be silent." Simon
noticed a strange quality to his voice. It reminded him somehow of
a metal grating sound. He turned back to Simon. "Answer me, Simon.
What is your impression of these things?"
Simon didn't know how to answer. "I . . . I think the machines
are interesting. I don't really know what any of it is, and-"
"And now you'll go and tell all of your friends about it. I'm
sorry, but you're going to have to stay here for a couple of
"What?" Simon looked toward Fred, who avoided his gaze. "I don't
know what you mean. I can't stay here. I won't talk about your
house to anyone if you don't want me to, but-"
Fred's father motioned to his wife, who moved toward Simon,
still smiling. Simon didn't know what she intended to do. He
noticed her hair, how perfect it was under her thin metal
Fred's father continued, "I realize that this is unusual, but
you wouldn't understand the situation even if I explained it to
you. I . . ." He suddenly looked as if he remembered something, or
more like he had heard something unexpected. He frowned and looked
slightly worried. Without another word, he made a gesture to his
wife and quickly left the room. Simon heard him moving down the
stairs. It sounded as if he were running.
Fred's mother reached Simon and grasped his shoulder. Fred gaped
at her and at Simon. "I'm sorry, Simon, I don't know what she's
doing. My father is . . ." Fred took his mother's arm as she
reached to hold Simon's other shoulder. He tried to pull her away,
but she ignored him as if he wasn't there.
Simon tried to pull away, but her grip felt like iron. "Fred,
get her off me. She's hurting me." She held him fast as if she
planned simply to keep him in that very spot until Fred's father
returned. Fred continued to pull at her arm, as surprised as Simon
at her strength.
From somewhere in the house they heard a sound like something
large and metal shifting into place. Then a resounding crack and
footsteps running back up the stairs and the hallway to the room
where they struggled. Fred's father entered the room. "You boys are
going to need to come downstairs. Now." He was sweating. He
motioned to his wife, who released Simon and walked toward her
husband. Simon rubbed his painful shoulders and looked toward Fred,
who nodded after his retreating parents.
They walked down the hall back to the stairwell. A red light
filled the main hall from outside, as if from a brilliant sunset.
Simon looked the door over carefully as they moved down the stairs,
and when they reached the floor and turned to go down another
hallway, he sprinted to the door and began throwing the locks open.
There were several, but he had seen that none of them required a
key from the inside. Fred's father heard the sound of the door and
turned toward him. Instead of angry, his voice was now concerned.
"Stop, Simon. Don't go out that door!" He raised his hand, as if to
put it on Simon's shoulder from across the room. "You don't
understand what's going on here." He started to run toward Simon
but he was too late. Simon pushed open the front door and rushed
down the porch steps out into the front yard.
It was not just a sunset. The sky was still covered in a blanket
of clouds, now a dark red. Simon looked back at the house and saw
Fred's father in pursuit. "Stop! Come back! You don't understand!"
Simon started off toward the museum at a run. He heard another
enormous crack behind him and looked back at the house. It was
engulfed in flames. He didn't think a fire could possibly spread so
Fred's father stopped and looked back as well. Behind him, Fred
and his mother were following, Fred running and his mother walking
in a sort of stupor. Fred's father uttered a single syllable in
desperation, "No . . ." He slowly turned his head back toward
Simon, his eyes seeming to reflect the throbbing fire behind him.
Simon had never seen such a pained expression. Again Fred's father
reached an arm toward him. Simon heard strange popping sounds and
realized that the arm was stretching farther than it should be able
to. The scene seemed to slow and Simon could feel his pulse in his
head. He was turning to run again as he saw out of the corner of
his eye a white rushing movement and heard a sound that made him
clench his teeth. He turned back to see skeletal wings protruding
from Fred's father's back, spanning at least three times as wide as
he was tall. He had his head upturned and his eyes closed, tears
coursing down his face.
He lowered his head and opened his eyes as Fred caught up with
the two of them. The singed figure faltered in his speech and
pointed toward the iron museum. "Go . . . take me . . . to the
basement . . . to the tunnels." He fell to the ground and
The tunnels. Mythological portals that supposedly were
the means by which the mythological deities were incarnated. The
map layers must have represented unknown basements under the
museum. The legends were true.
Fred's father struggled to stand. "Help . . . me." As he fell to
his side, one of the wings partially shattered, dropping bony
fragments onto the grass. He winced with pain and opened his
blazing eyes again. Beyond the twisted figure on the ground, Simon
saw the upper story of the house collapse, sending a wave of black
smoke up into the intense red clouds. "Fred . . ." he gasped,
"Simon . . . I must . . . reach the tunnels."
Fred knelt at his father's side and tried to help him stand.
Simon didn't know what to do. Fred spoke slowly. "The tunnels are
under the iron museum. I've looked at my dad's diagrams before.
Those maps you saw are underground levels. I think my dad is
Simon thought of the winged iron statue with the wasp limbs and
tried to connect it with the pitiful creature being supported by
his son as he moved across the grass. "Not . . . Prominence,"
Fred's father was struggling to say. "Only half." He passed out and
collapsed on the grass, Fred unable to carry his full weight.
"Simon, you have to help me get him there. To the tunnels."
Simon was beyond fear. He simply nodded and helped Fred lift his
father from the ground and drag him toward the museum. Fred's
mother was slowly plodding toward them, midway between the blazing
ruins of the house and the point where Fred's father had
When they reached the iron museum, they found it closed for the
evening. The main doors were not locked, however-they never were.
They leaned Fred's father against the wall, careful with his wings,
and Simon dragged open the heavy doors. He ran in and found the
light switches, illuminating the hall. As they lifted him again,
Fred's father regained consciousness and looked up groggily. He
pointed a bony arm toward one of the corners, his arm visibly
stretching as he did. The bones snapping so close to Simon's ear
made him wince.
When they reached the basement that he had pointed to, Simon
went down the wide stairs to find the passage to the lower levels.
The basement was full of broken furniture. He couldn't reach any of
the walls without clearing away objects much too heavy for him to
move. He ran back up the stairs and looked at Fred. "I can't find
the way to the tunnels. The basement is full of junk."
He heard Fred's father's weak
voice. "Wait . . . get behind . . . me." Simon stepped behind him
as he lifted his arms, stretching them even further than before,
and the basement floor fell away in ashes, furniture clattering
down in a cloud of ancient dust. Simon coughed and closed his
irritated eyes. When the dust cleared somewhat he looked and saw
the smoldering edges of the hole peeling back to reveal a
continuation of the stairs.
"Okay, let's go." They lifted him again and dragged him down the
stairs through the hole. The remainder of the floor crumbled at
their touch. Some of the remains of the crates and furniture were
scattered along the length of the steps, and they had to maneuver
around the larger pieces.
They reached the basement and could see nothing but
blackness. Again, "Get . . . behind." They did, he reached out his
arms and again a section of the floor was incinerated. The
remaining junk that had fallen to the bottom of the stairs fell
again. This time there was little dust, and they continued
immediately down the newly revealed third section of the stairs. As
Simon's eyes adjusted, he saw a greenish glow coming from below. As
they progressed downward, it became slightly brighter. Then they
reached the second basement.
It was an immense, roughly cylindrical cavern, with what
appeared to be luminescent algae on the walls and ceiling. The
walls were covered with what looked like fishing nets and large
iron hooks, poles, and anchors. In the center of the chamber was a
large dark pool the size of several swimming pools. To Simon,
that's what the place looked like, a sort of large indoor swimming
pool. Around the main pool were eight holes in the cement floor,
each about eight feet in diameter. On the wall behind each hole was
a space cleared of the nets and metal tools with a large symbol
carved into the rock and overgrown with the glowing algae.
This time Simon recognized the symbols immediately. Each
represented one of the eight deities, and presumably marked the
tunnel that corresponded to that deity. Simon had no idea what
symbol represented which. He had studied the myths, but not too
extensively. He did remember that four of the deities were supposed
to be benevolent and four demonic. He remembered that Prominence
was not one of the demons.
The winged figure stood on its own and stumbled toward one of
the tunnels. Just on the edge, he tripped and collapsed, falling
forward and hanging his arm down into the hole. His wings flapped
once, clattering together and breaking further against each other.
"I think he needs to go down the tunnel," said Fred. "Let's help
him." They went to his sides and lifted him again. His wings
flapped again, and Simon felt a stabbing pain in his back as one of
the broken pieces caught him. They pushed together and sent Fred's
father headfirst into the tunnel. The ends of the bony wings
snapped on the rim of the tunnel and the pieces fell down after
him. After the initial rush of his fall, they heard nothing.
They waited several minutes in silence. And then Simon felt the
cut in his back. "Would you look at my back? The wing hit me when
we were carrying him." Fred lifted the back of Simon's shirt, which
had a dark circle where he was bleeding.
"It doesn't look like you're bleeding too badly. You'll have to
get is checked when you get back home." Home. The reality of the
situation hit Simon then and he found the idea of returning to his
normal life after this somehow absurd. He laughed and flinched at a
stab of pain in his back as he did.
"Well, what do we do now?" Simon said to Fred, who was staring
down the hole where they had deposited his father.
"I don't know. I guess we should go back to my mother and just
see what happens. You can go home if you want. Your parents will
expect you home pretty soon, won't they?"
"Yes, but . . ." Simon didn't know what to say. The situation
was so bizarre, there was no help he could offer. "Let's go check
on your mom." As they reached the bottom of the stairs, they heard
something behind them, coming from the large pool in the center of
the chamber. They turned and saw a ripple in the water. The pool
then erupted into an immense splash as two enormous yellow orange
wings unfurled. They flapped once as the figure that bore them
alighted on the edge of the pool. The figure was humanoid in shape
with extremely long arms and legs. It rested gracefully on all four
limbs and looked at the two boys with burning eyes. It then turned
its head toward the stairs and thrust forward, moving at blinding
speed across the room and through the opening. Simon heard
something clatter on the stairs and an old crate rolled into view
and down to the floor.
"Let's go!" They ran up the stairs as fast as they could move
and ran through the old cathedral doors to the yard. They looked
past the statues silhouetted against the red clouds, which were now
moving as if pushed by some great wind. They saw no trace of
Prominence, but did see Fred's mother standing out in the grass.
They ran toward her. As they did, four giant dark spikes shot out
of the ground just behind her. What followed them was a creature
that looked vaguely like a centipede. It was another of the eight
deities, but disproportionately large compared to the others. When
it had burrowed out of the ground it towered over them, its many
legs flailing in the air like monstrous lances.
With a single swipe the creature sent Fred's mother flying
through the air as if she was weightless. She landed heavily many
yards away and Fred rushed toward her, unable even to scream. Simon
followed, and when he got to Fred's side, Fred's mother's face slid
from her head and clattered to the ground. It revealed a series of
circuits padded by soft foam. Fred stared in disbelief.
The monster had been turning in circles and now it seemed to
train on them. Its legs carried it impossibly fast toward them, and
Simon realized that he was going to die.
The smoking ruins of Fred's house burst open and a golden winged
figure emerged. It made a sweep of one of its limbs and the
centipede became soft brittle ashes just as it crashed into Simon
and Fred. The heat was intense as Simon was buried in the ashes,
but he pushed his way out and turned back to see Fred doing the
same. They had not been seriously burned.
Prominence leaned in their direction and covered the distance to
them almost instantly. He hovered over them and then landed on the
ground before them. Simon knew that he would never be able to
express in words the serene majesty of this creature. The sky had
faded to a dark purple.
When Prominence spoke, it sounded like grinding metal, but
somehow intensely beautiful. "Fred. Your father enabled me to be
reborn into this world. He viewed it as his destiny, and it is now
fulfilled. You will find him changed without my aura that he has
carried for as long as you have known him You will now know him for
who he is. You may wait, or go to meet him now." His eyes moved to
Simon. "And I thank you for your help."
"How do I go to him?" Fred asked.
"In the tunnel of my likeness." As he spoke the last word, he
rocketed toward the cathedral in a blur and disappeared inside.
"Are you going to do it?" asked Simon. "Are you going to jump
down the tunnel?"
"Yes, I think I am."
"What's going to happen when people discover the tunnels? This
will change the world."
Fred looked at the museum. "I don't know. I'm going now. Good
luck trying to tell your family about all this." He smiled and
walked toward the building.