Archie was having a scunner of a day. At 14 years old, he could think of a tonne of things he’d rather be doing than chaperoning his little brother around the National Museum. Mostly, It wasn’t that he’d been here at least 3 times before; or even that that Saturday afternoon was prime gaming time.Mainly it was because his brother was a menace. At 14 Archie tended to low opinions on those in single digits, but Frankie, all nine years of him, was a special case…
Frankie was special; if something could be broken, he would find a way to break it. Archie marvelled at his brother’s expertise in this area: it was as if he produced an aura of destruction. Nothing was safe. His earliest stuffed toys were quietly binned as they descended into mutilated retirement; mobiles were denuded as soon as his stubby arms could reach. Before he could walk, he’d taken a stab at breaking Archie; a plastic fork to the eye leaving his big brother with an eye patch, and trail of pirate jokes that took years to die out.
Archie had been so innocent, trusting in his parents’ assurances that Frankie didn’t mean badly, and would grow up to be his best friend in the whole world. Archie quickly learned to keep distance from the crawling grasp, taking with him anything he valued. Once Frankie could walk, matters only grew worse.
There was little surprise when the TV remote controls got ‘Frankie’d’, and Archie really blamed his parents for that, the sofa armrest was not a secure location. Frankie’s speed was, admittedly, impressive, and he needed less than 3 minutes of parental non-vigilance to do his work. His grotty little fingers were surprisingly dextrous, surgically removing buttons, and depositing whatever sticky residue dwelt on his fingertips inside. The replacement “Magic remote, to work all devices” was magic alright; you used it and truly surprising things happened. The last time Archie tried, instead of Cartoon Network, someone tried to sell him, ” a genuine two sided fleece: expose your inner wolf on one side, or invoke your guardian angel with the other.” Archie’s dreams of a flying wolf promising to keep him warm if only he stopped running left him chary of the TV afterwards.
This handset, however, was spared by Frankie, who seemed unwilling to break something already defective. Not so fortunate were random crockery; Frankie now ate on plastic, with plastic – the dog simply wouldn’t stop sneakily throwing his plates on the floor. That 200lb Newfoundland really did know how to Ninja it up, it seems; at least he came in a natty Ninja black colour. Less fortunate still was the household printer which developed an alarming skew to everything it produced, before retiring to be sold for parts. How Frankie/Snorlax then broke the TV confounded Archie; Frankie surely wasn’t tall enough to reach the wall mount. His parent’s explanation of the dog reaching up to press random buttons with his nose until it broke seemed even less probable.
Once Frankie grew up enough to have limited independence within the house, things only got worse. His inaugural unsupervised visit to Theo’s room had left carnage. Theo’s beloved, never unpackaged action figures were later found unpacked, and unmade, in the dog’s basket. The lack of teeth marks, and the presence of suspicious grotty smears left Archie in no doubt as to the culprit. His parents, however, seemed almost eager to blame Snorlax, despite Archie’s protestations. Archie saw what was coming, and knew nothing of his would be safe ever again. In the 2 subsequent weeks of Archie’s pleading for the key to his door, he lost a game-pad, all his posters but one, trading cards, school work, school books, and even a pair of shoes. His parents pathological obsession with blaming the dog became almost frantic; Archie never did hear their explanation for Snorlax’s amazing dexterity in negotiating bag buckles . Finally his mother relented, and Archie was given the key. Other than suspicious smear marks on his bedroom door handle, the destruction epidemic spared his room afterwards. After that Archie was content to leave Frankie to be Frankie anywhere but his room. Snorlax was the best loved, home destroying dog in Scotland, and Frankie didn’t get the mental help Archie was sure he needed. Relaxing afterwards in relative safety, Archie could even see the funny side of the motivational poster that survived, the tag-line read:
“Sincere practice, makes the impossible possible” Dada Vaswani.
That one wasn’t even really his, it was a gift from his dad he hadn’t had the heart to take down.
Curiously, Frankie, personally, was a nice kid. It wasn’t that he pretended to be decent, he really was. Frankie clearly cared for his family, and his friends. Defying his destructive wake, Frankie was always giving cuddles; once he could talk, his family were never unaware that he liked, and loved them, dearly. If Frankie thought he had something that someone else needed, he would give it to them.
Frankie cheered like a lunatic when he was brought to watch Archie play football for Portobello High School under 15’s. Asking him why he kept breaking things was hopeless, he would simply stare in blank non-understanding before shrugging and changing the subject. There was ne’er a hint of guilt, no furtive glances, no change in tone, nothing. Archie never once felt his brother was being evasive; he wasn’t sure whether the unsettled feeling that gave him was worse than the anger he would have felt at a clearly conscious destroyer. Archie liked his brother, you just didn’t leave anything you valued within reach of him, and ideally you left it behind lock and key.
Thus it was that chaperoning this destroying angel around a museum was near the bottom of Archie’s list of preferred activities, along with watching QVC, and double maths on Monday mornings.
Frankie’s grasping digits were a risk to every exhibit. Archie, trailing behind as a faithful keeper stared in dumb fascination at little hands seeming to float in unseen eddies, drawing them to where they should not be. Museum attendants, realising their stern glares were lost on Frankie, transferred their disapproval to Archie, their furrowed brows trailing his steps. It didn’t help when an attendant finally came across and asked their parents to, “be careful your little boy isn’t touching anything he shouldn’t. It’s fantastic he’s so … interested, we just want to keep the exhibits safe.” His parents had simply replied that his big brother Archie was, “on the job.”
“Go me”, Archie thought.
Feeling weary from preserving the menagerie of deceased beasts, and their skeletons, from his bothers desecrating touch, Archie slogged into the Space and Astronomy room. He felt instant relief; so much of this was behind glass! He could relax, safe in the knowledge that his brother, probably, could not destroy the remaining lumps of metal and rock that actually invited you to touch them. You just didn’t want to be the poor sod who touched them afterwards. He started to look around; no matter his ennui at trips to the National Museum, space, and anything connected to it, got his attention. It felt almost like benign fate that the one exhibit area that could make this trip worthwhile for Archie, was the one most immune to his brother.
His eyes fell on a side-room, which hadn’t been open when they’d visited last he was sure. The sign above the doors read:
Fallen from Heaven – see the Greenock Meteorite! Opens today!
He called, “Hey, Frankie, over here, let’s see the this then!”
Then he was off, just for this part of the trip, Frankie could follow him. The room was quite dark, and a clear, female voice recording was playing over speakers he could not see, “On a clear night around 9:00pm on August 12th, 2017, a spectacular shooting star was reported by those living near Greenock, on the west coast of Scotland. Witnesses, as far south as Ayr reported a bright, flashing light crossing the sky, whilst those nearer its impact site experienced tremors strong enough to shatter glass, and cause structural damage to properties.”
Archie’s gaze passed over the dioramas depicting the meteor’s path, stopping whilst he read text explaining that the meteor had not been predicted by the ‘Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS)’ based in Hawaii, and that investigations were on-going as to how this had occurred, or even been possible. The voice-over continued,
“Estimated to have had an initial mass of 15,000–17,000 metric tons, damage to civilian properties came mainly from the huge shockwave the object created as it hurtled through the Atmosphere. This was an even larger impact event than the previous Chelyabinsk meteor which impacted in Russia in February 2013. Similar to that event, the meteor disintegrated during its descent, peppering the ground below with tiny meteorites, and fortunately, a final, larger fragment impacted in a body of water, in this case, the river Clyde.”
He came to a table where examples of the tiny meteorites were set out under glass. With each was a picture of the finder, clearly captured from mobile phone, proudly posing with their galactic booty. Archie thought they all looked quite sad, grinning like lunatics with their space pebbles. The lady with the cinematic voice was not done yet,
“A team of experts drawn from both Glasgow, and Strathclyde universities later recovered that fragment, weighing 550kg, exactly, from the river bed. Samples have been taken for analysis, though initial analysis suggested it to be a relatively unremarkable stony-iron example. It was unofficially dubbed, ‘the Faberge egg’ due to its ovoid shape, the translucent silicates appearing to bejewel the otherwise slate grey surface. A small section has been demarcated for you to touch.”
Archie finally arrived at the impressive pedestal that had been set-up to host the meteorite, and he understood why the organisers had dimmed the room. Spotlights were angled on to make the meteorite sparkle, light dancing off multi-faceted, vaguely yellow silicate deposits interspersed on an otherwise matt grey surface.
Archie’s attention was so focussed on the rock that he started when a nearby screen leapt to life, images pieced together from amateur footage tracking the meteor through the Scottish night sky. The light was dazzling, cameras quivering in the shockwave; CCTV showed office windows shattering, and people cowering in the streets of Greenock, bathed in flickering iridescence. The light played over his face, and his eyes widened in captive appreciation of the meteor’s grandeur.
Archie’s attention returned to the egg, and he reached out his fingertips towards its rough surface. A voice spoke directly behind him; “What’s wrong with you Archie?” said Frankie. Archie jumped, a strangled yelp issuing from a suddenly tight throat.
“Frankie! You can’t creep up on people like that! It’s …creepy!” Archie’s voice was higher than normal, and Frankie stared at him, head angled to one side like a bemused cat, bafflement leaving his mouth slightly agape.
“Archie, I’m no creeping. I asked you why we were in here a minute ago, but you totally blanked me.”
Archie was confused, normally his brother only had to make the smallest of noises, the least of movements, and his instincts put him on instant alert. To have missed an entire sentence, not least to have taken his eyes off his brother for who-knew how long, was an invitation to calamity.
A little defensively, he replied “There’s nothing wrong. Why would anything be wrong?”
“Well,” Frankie said, “there was that sign saying ‘no entry’ and stuff. I think we’ll get in trouble if we get caught.”
Archie looked back at the door they had entered through, and sure enough there was the edge of a free-standing sign just past the frame. Maybe he missed it looking back to check Frankie was following before. His eyes adjusting to the gloom a little, he started to recognise the room’s unfinished state; kits to make other displays lay unpacked in corners, others were as yet half-built skeletons. Still, as his father would say, “in for a penny, in for a pound.”
“Frankie, it’s ok. No one’s got onto us yet. We’ll be out of here in a minute; it’ll be fine.”
Archie returned his attention to the meteorite, his hand reached out towards its surface.
Touch here, read the sign, and Archie couldn’t think of any reason not to.
“Where are the guys meant to be sorting this out though Archie?”
Archie turned his head to look at his annoying brother, “How would I know?! They’ll be on a break or something.” He looked around and could see signs of people having been here: a tool box lay open near another table, there were a couple of water bottles, half-finished, sitting on top. Model planets, destined for suspension to model the solar system, lay scattered on the floor. Someone had even left a shoe behind the display erected behind it, which even Archie thought was a wee bit over casual.
“Aye,” responded Frankie, “but you’d think they’d be hurrying like, it’s meant to be open today.”
Archie huffed, “I dunno Frankie, maybe we’re just in too early. Give it a rest would you?”
Archie, finally done responding to his brother, returned to the business of the rock; he only had to touch it and then he and his brother could get going.
“Mum and Dad will be wondering where we are. You sure we shouldn’t get back fore they get angry?” Frankie interjected.
Archie twitched his head and shoulders back around to eye his brother. “Frankie, shut up, we’ll be going in a minute. I have to babysit you all the way around this bloody museum so you don’t wreck shit, can’t I have a few minutes to myself?!” Archie could hear the petulance in his voice, and was louder than he’d intended, but Frankie just wouldn’t give him any peace.
He turned back and slapped his hand, hard, against the rock. Weird, he thought, it wasn’t cool to the touch; maybe the spotlights were heating it up. Other than that it seemed unremarkable, so he lifted his hand and started to turn back towards Frankie. His gaze, however, arrested on the cast-off shoe, his eyes better able to see with the illumined rock behind him now.
The shoe wasn’t cast-off, he simply hadn’t seen the hem of dark trousers, or the dark sock, in the gloom. The rest of the presumably prone figure was hidden behind the display. Much to his chagrin, Archie found himself walking towards the shoe, slow steps taking him inexorably closer. He felt, rather than saw, Frankie fall into step behind him to one side.
“You fancyin’ a new shoe Archie?”, Frankie asked dubiously.
Frankie’s voice came again, quieter, more urgent “There’s someone there Archie, come away!”
The voice in Archie’s head was in strong agreement, yet Archie’s feet didn’t stop, and his steps began to angle so that he saw more of what lay behind the display. The shadows obscured much, but what he did see, stopped him dead. The figure was splayed, the head thrown back, so that he couldn’t see the face; it didn’t look like a comfortable position to sleep in. The darkness spread beneath the head had a dull shine that Archie definitely did not like the look of.
A click sounded behind him; he didn’t know why, but he knew it had come from the egg; Frankie’s fingers found his own, and Archie discovered his usual objections to holding hands absent.
“I don’t like this room much Archie”, said Frankie. All Archie could do was nod in agreement, his voice trapped behind a clenched jaw. They turned together, first looking at each other, and then at the scene behind them. Not seeing imminent doom, a relieved sigh escaped Archie, only to be catch in his throat, when he noticed the meteorite.
“I don’t think it’s supposed to do that”, offered Frankie. Archie couldn’t think of anything else, so he just kept nodding.
The egg lay open, segments fanned in a circle, reminding Archie of a Chocolate Orange. Emanating from the now exposed interior was a weak, yellow glow, and Archie thought he could something lying in its centre. Archie had had quite enough, and was turning to make for the exit, when he felt Frankie’s fingers slip out of his grasp. He looked back to see his little brother making for the table which bore the meteorite; left hand outstretched, fingers reaching. Archie’s mouth dropped in horror as he saw something shift in the egg’s centre, and in two steps caught Frankie by the shoulder and arrested his progress.
“Frankie, God’s sake man, come away” he hissed. Frankie shuddered and when his gaze turned to his brother, it was a second before Archie believed he actually saw him.
“Ok Archie” Frankie mumbled numbly, and as one the brothers turned for the door. Before they took a single step, though, the rustle of clothing and a shadow of movement at the edge of their vision froze them dead. In dismayed unison, the brothers turned their necks in time to watch the ‘man with the shoes’ stand up, looking directly at them.
“Hi, ” said the man, “I’m sorry, it looks like I’ve given you two quite a shock.” He looked old to Archie, at least 25, with long hair tied back, and had a carefully styled beard that looked like far too much effort to Archie. Other than the daft beard though, Archie didn’t think he’d have noticed the guy except for the wound in his forehead.
Following his gaze, the resurrected man lifted fingers to his forehead, and gave an enthusiastic “Ouch! Must have tripped and knocked my head on the table. Not my day at all.”
Archie found a croaking voice, “Aye, looks sore,” then his voice relaxing, “you should get that sorted out. Definitely a plaster at least.”
“Sounds good, where can I find plasters?” the man inquired
“I dunno, out there someplace I guess? You work here right?” Archie replied, gesturing to the doorway. The guy must have hit his head really hard, but Archie had seen Adam Mulrooney tell his mum he was going to sell her on Ebay, after a particularly bad tackle. That was before breaking down in tears, sobbing that the Hedgehogs would steal his porn and show it all to Gandalf; so shoe man’s behaviour seemed reasonable.
Shoe-man turned to regard the door, and Archie saw that there might be call for at least two plasters; even in the restricted lighting he thought that Shoe-man’s bloody forehead was slightly caved in.
“Oh yeah, I’ll have to think about that,” said Shoe-man, his voice growing a little stronger.
Archie felt Frankie tugging at his hand, “Archie, look at that, it’s really weird!”
Having had enough of ‘horrible surprise’ tennis, Archie did not turn straight around, instead taking a pace away from the line between shoe-man and the meteorite table, and turning so he could keep both in his vision. He surprised himself when he didn’t scream. Something resembling a metal snake had arisen from the exposed innards of the egg, and what he took for its head was currently directed at the door. The absolutely best part, was when both man and snake turned their attention back to him. Some instinct, born of family visits to less salubrious parts of the world, such as Glasgow, warned him that sudden movements or noise would be a very bad idea indeed.
Frankie, on the other hand, seemed too fascinated by the alien snake to appreciate that this sort of weird was spelled “bloody terrifying.”
“Mr, I think me and my brother should be going, our parents will be worried by now. Sorry we came in, didn’t see the sign, thanks for …” Thank you for not feeding us to the space snake seemed a poor choice, so he finished with just, “thanks.”
“I don’t think you two should leave yet, you haven’t seen the best part of this exhibit yet. It’d be a pity for you to miss it.”
Shoe-man’s tone had changed, gone was the slight bewilderment of a brain injured beard sculptor, and in its place something far more calculating.
“No, it’s ok man,” said Archie, “you need to get your head seen to.” Thinking this might be a bit rude, Archie added, “We missed the sign coming in too, so we’ll get out of your way.”
Frankie, who had turned to regard the now chatty Shoe-man interjected, “I saw the sign though Archie!”
Archie slid his eyes to regard his helpful sibling, not daring to move his head, lest shoe-man do something else whilst he was faced away. “Not the time Frankie, really, not the time.”
“No, no … mate, I insist, I really do,” enthused shoe-man, and then, before Archie could say anything more, had crossed to the open door way and closed it. He turned back to look at the boys, eyes widening, “Well will you look at that, the visitor wants to greet ya!” His tone was far too enthusiastic, his grin too broad, his teeth too white.
“No, no, you’re cool” stammered Archie, wondering why they hadn’t run for it earlier, whilst they weren’t just juvenile trespassers finding a harmless body.
Shoe-man looked at him reproachfully, like his grandpa had done when he’d spoken to Archie about his “unfortunate choice of language” after spectating at one of his games. Frankie piped up once more, “Is the visitor what you call the thing inside the meteor then Mr?”
“That’s bang on little dude!” gushed Shoe-man, “Oh and call me Wayne. It was, is, my name”
With that Wayne the shoe-man strode towards them, and, gathering a brother under each arm, ushered them towards the waiting “visitor.” Caught off-guard, Archie failed to resist, and Frankie maintained his strange passivity to the unfolding situation. Resistance would have been futile, however, given that Wayne had a fair grip on him.
The visitor, for its part, twisted it’s sinuous body to regard each of them in turn. Drawing closer Archie could see no features typical of eyes, or mouth. What he took for the head did appear a slightly darker hue than the rest of the chrome-bright form; other than that he saw only metallic uniformity.
A few feet from the table, Wayne released his hold, and took another few steps forward, before stepping aside, sweeping an arm towards the alien creature, an unlikely ring-master, introducing an unlikely act. He did not turn aside before Archie got a look at the back of his head however. That ‘bump’ on the head, it transpired, carried right on through. The noise Archie emitted was neither groan nor giggle, but a disturbing hybrid. Frankie turned his head to look at his big brother. The sick fear that had settled into the pit of Archie’s stomach had not touched his brother, his brother looked … excited.
Wayne cooed over the visitor, “Wayne, I mean, I, was working with the ‘egg’ when this little guy came out to play. He didn’t mean to be so rough with me, but human physiology is … new to him.”
Archie focussed on not wetting himself as Wayne continued,
“He’s not really a ‘him’ of course,” Wayne chuckled, even as Archie saw a tear run down his cheek, “‘he’s also a ‘she’ technically. He’s here to get to know us, before reporting back on whether Earth would make a good place for my, his, race to settle.”
“Aha,” uttered Archie, beginning to feel a little calmer as he watched the visitor began a sinuous dance. Indeed, Archie started to feel the urge to help the valiant voyager from beyond the stars. Buoyed by these solicitous feelings he offered, “maybe they could make a metal snake bit at the zoo?”
“The visitor likes you very much, come closer so it can see you properly.” Wayne indicated for him to close in.
Archie was looking forward to getting acquainted, but just as he made to move, Frankie stepped in front of him. “Me first bro.” Before Archie could object to his brother skipping the queue, Frankie was at the table, face to snake. Archie watched as his brothers hands and arms began to rise up, and he thought Frankie was going to give the visitor a cuddle. Archie thought this was a bit familiar, but understood the sentiment and approved. He was dismayed then, when the visitor’s dance changed, it’s calm serenity broken by twitching distress. Then the dismay was gone, and suppressed adrenaline fuelled mounting terror as he watched his little brother dance with the visitor. That was the only word to describe how he, and the serpentine alien moved together, one moving, the other responding.
A scream burbled from Archie’s throat as the visitor darted with preternatural swiftness, at his brothers brow. His brother’s head was simply not there when the blow arrived. His swaying grace moved his head from the path of the blow, seeming to anticipate the strike before the visitor conceived it. Then his hands were on the metallic surface and the visitor’s motion evolved to a jerky dislocation.
Archie also saw Wayne’s face contort in horror, and pain, mirroring the visitors spasmodic response to Frankie’s touch. He saw Wayne begin to move toward his little brother, and knew his little brother would never see him coming.
“Don’t you fucking touch my brother” yelled Archie, running at Wayne, only to be batted away with casual ease. He hit the floor hard, rolling till he connected with one of the display tables. It seemed to rain rocks for a minute, as the tiny meteorites cascaded to the floor before him. Ignoring the pain in his hips and elbows, Archie took up these missiles and began to pelt Wayne with them. Meteorites from areas unknown took a final flight, as Archie battled to save his brother from the space snake and its brainless human servant. Archie wasn’t an amazing shot, and it was luck, more than skill that saved his brother from a rock to the head; but a few glancing blows was enough to keep Wayne’s attention.
Once Archie was out of rocks, however, Wayne dismissed him and turned back to Frankie. His body now between him, and Frankie, Archie couldn’t see his brother. Wayne, however groaned, and one of his knees buckled. Archie was sure Frankie was beating the visitor, somehow, but he was also sure that if Wayne got his hands on him, things would go south, fast.
Archie looked around, and saw what he needed; using the time that Wayne took to recover himself and regain his feet to get in position.
“Hey, hole-heed! Over here ya numpty!” Archie yelled. Wayne turned in time to get Mars in the face. The planets, it turned out, were made from something rubbery. Archie might be rubbish with stones, but he never missed a goal from 10 feet. Wayne staggered back, blood trickling thickly from a newly flattened nose. Before Wayne could recoup, Neptune took him in the stomach and then Pluto knocked his right leg out from under him and sending him sprawling.
Archie was feeling a little insane, and gave a battle-cry, “Aye, and that’s not even a planet anymore!”
Wayne made it to his knees, a face arrayed in confusion, not pain or anger, turning to regarding his teenage opponent, “My people mean no harm, once the technique is refined, our hosts are treated well. We are symbiotes, our hosts never know sickness, they share in our technology, we will be great together!”
Wayne was crying again, Archie didn’t think they were the alien’s tears.
“Being on your team looks rubbish” answered Archie, taking a couple of steps back “I bet if we asked Wayne, he doesn’t fancy being a space snake’s puppet much!”
With that he surged forwards and Wayne was planted on his backside when Jupiter made contact with his sternum. Archie turned his head back to his brother, and gaped, seeing his brother entangled in metal coils. It reminded him of David Attenborough documentaries, but without the comforting narration to lessen the dreadfulness. However, he realised that the visitor didn’t have his brother, his brother had the visitor. He loops he wore looked limp, dead, only a few feet remained animated, and it was frantic. Its strikes, however, though lightning swift, were in vain, and his brother went about his work unfazed.
Wayne sat up, shaking his head, gazing at Frankie, just as Archie did. In a faltering whisper Archie heard, “I’m about to dash for your brother, stop me.” Then Wayne was moving, injuries ignored, fast, and predatory. Before he could reach Frankie however, Archie’s sliding tackle took him in the ankles, and they went down in a tangled heap. The Mulrooney special hadn’t lost any of its potency, and coming in low compensated for his relative lack of mass. Wayne’s head smacked the floor beneath, and he lay still. Archie scrambled away in time to see Frankie finish his work, and the last of the snake fall lifeless in his grasp. He sloughed it off his arms and shoulders and walked over to help his brother stand up again.
All Archie could do was stare at his brother, saviour of the planet. Wayne stirred, head turning to regard them, “Thanks little dudes” he croaked. Then, causing both brothers to scramble backwards, both Wayne and visitor erupted in blue flames, and were nothing but black smears on the floor in seconds.
Frankie looked up at his big brother, and said
“Sincere practice, makes the impossible possible.”
Archie just nodded.
They had barely surveyed the devastation surrounding them, before the doors were thrust open and their parents, accompanied by two museum attendants walked in. Their eyes fell on the children, and then the ruin that lay around them. Not missing a beat, the brothers chimed, “Snorlax did it.“