Swept Away by the Fine Arts

Submitted into Contest #242 in response to: Write about a gallery whose paintings come alive at night.... view prompt

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Funny Adventure Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“Dad, this is the girl of my dreams. I’m sorry, but I’m not taking her to Crusty’s. No matter how good the chilly dogs are.”

I may not be the most experienced guy when it comes to romance, but I know that there are certain places you should never bring a girl on a first date: McDonalds (obviously), monster truck rallies, your parent’s house (or any relative’s), and any establishment that sells food and gasoline under one roof. Crusty’s may be a local legacy—rumor has it President Roosevelt once stopped in and bought a corn dog—but it’s the poster child for unromantic eateries. They may have the best burgers in town, but it’s one of those places you don’t intentionally go: you just kind of wind up there when you need gas and then end up walking out with a plate of fried chicken and a sausage biscuit.

I love Crusty’s—we all do—but tonight has to be perfect.

Dad unmuted the History Channel and I continued scrolling through local restaurant reviews. “This looks like a good one. Marabella’s. It’s downtown, a bit more upscale, and it has great reviews.” Dad slipped his glasses down to peek at the picture on the screen. “And” I added, “it’s right around the corner from the movie theater. Dinner and a movie. That’s good, right? It has to be good.”

Dad sat up in his chair and lifted a finger like he was having an epiphany. “The girl of your dreams, you say? I’ve got an even better idea than the movies.” He pulled something from his back pocket and held it out.  

“Now listen, Paul. If you screw anything up, it could cost me my job.” He handed me a thick, scratched-up card that said “Caroway Art Museum” on the front and “Employee Access Card” on the back along with Dad’s picture and his name, William Anderson.

“The art museum? But they close at five.”

“Not for my boy and the girl of his dreams.”

Most people would probably say he was an idiot for giving a twenty-year-old, testosterone-inflated college kid access to the most prestigious cultural center in town, but I’m no bull-in-a-china-shop, meathead. I’m at the top of my class in my statistics program (sexy right?), the dungeon master at Friday night D&D, and I didn’t get my license until last year because, well, frankly, I’m terrified of driving. Forty-three thousand fatal crashes occur each year in just the US alone!

Basically, I’m the last guy you have to worry about destroying an art museum.

I took the access pass and clipped it to my shirt. “This is perfect, Dad.” I held out my fist and bumped it to his. “Kara is actually an art major. I think she’s taking a sculpting class right now.”

Dad unmuted the History Channel and chuckled. “Then she’s going to love Conan.”


***


“Close your eyes.”

“I am!” Kara clutched my arm as we ascended the steps. “I’m going to trip, Paul.”

“I won’t let you fall, trust me.” I swiped my Dad’s access card and pushed open the heavy glass side-door to the museum. A rush of cool air enveloped us, smelling like paper, pine-sol, and fresh paint. I flicked on a few lights and led Kara to the front entrance where “Caroway Art Museum” was displayed in bold, gold print above the arched walkway.

“Okay. Open them.”

Kara blinked, letting her eyes adjust. “Oh my.”

Below the sign, gracing the grand entryway, loomed a large statue of a nude man wrestling a leopard. They were both carved in exquisite detail, every rippling muscle and bulging vein visible in their battle for survival.

“That’s a big penis,” she said.

I’d always questioned the placement of Conan (as most people jokingly called him). Maybe the curators thought if visitors saw Conan first, they’d assume the rest of the place was equally as exciting. Or maybe they thought of it like ripping off the shock-value Band-aid, like “hey everyone, now you’ve seen a giant, marble dick. Don’t worry, that’s the worst of it.” Either way, Conan made it into most of the tagged pictures of the museum on social media.

“Come on.” I tugged Kara’s hand, leading her down the wide hall. “We’ve got the whole place to ourselves.”


***


We strolled through the post-modern exhibit first, where I showed Kara a structure made from stacked metal blocks. “They didn’t use to be soldered together like this.” I pointed out where the blocks had been fused together. “Apparently, my Dad brought me to work with him when I was maybe two or three, and I climbed up here and knocked the whole thing down.” Kara giggled and I decided her laugh was my new favorite sound.

In the Baroque exhibit, I pointed out one of my favorite pieces—it wasn’t anything all that special, it just made me laugh. In the ornately framed painting, a woman with a strikingly large forehead and a tent-like dress held a duck by one foot, while behind her, an obese baby was riding a bony dog around the sparsely furnished room. The woman’s eyes were bored, tired slits of non-descript brown, but the dog had a terrified expression on its narrow face, and the whites of its eyes drowned its tiny black pupils.

We stopped in front of it and stood in silence for a moment. Then Kara spoke, lowering her voice into an accented monotone. “Persius, how many times do I have to tell you to get off the damned dog. You know she has arthritis.”

I joined her game, stretching my vocal cords taut, squealing like a cartoon pig. “But Ma, she’s my emotional support terrier. I simply must be physically close to her or else how will I regulate my turbulent feelings?”

We burst into laughter and started toward the next painting.

“Don’t let the corpulent infant deceive you,” a voice said. “He is actually a grown man.”

Kara and I both jumped, colliding with one another. We turned around, but there was no one behind us.

Something wavered in my peripherals. I glanced at the painting. Then the big-foreheaded woman pivoted, her face protruding from the canvas.

Kara shrieked. I lurched backward and tripped over her shoe.

“Yes, yes, a talking painting, how disturbing. Are you quite through with your hysterics?” Forehead said.

What is happening? Did I eat some bad alfredo? Was this some kind of carbohydrate-induced hallucination? Is that even a thing?

The woman’s eyes widened, and she leaned out even further. “Are you both deaf? Or just dumb.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled to Forehead. “You just surprised us is all.”

Kara gave me the side-eye and spoke through clenched teeth. “Why are you talking to it?”

It can hear you,” Forehead says. “I may have diminutive ears, but they work perfectly well.”

“Sorry,” Kara mumbled.

“You, boy.” The woman leaned all the way out of the painting and stopped inches from my face. She fingered the access card clipped to my shirt. “You're not Bill.”

She called him Bill. Not William. She knows my father?

I struggled to my feet and gripped Kara’s arm. “Bill is my dad.”

“Ah, yes. I can see the resemblance.” She leaned back into her painting and picked up the dead duck, suddenly appearing much less intimidating.

 Kara looked at me, eyebrows raised. I felt like I was trapped in the tail end of a lucid dream, standing at a crossroads: part of me wanted to get as far away from this painting as possible and the other part wanted to explore this statistically impossible phenomenon.

“So. You were saying,” I cleared my throat, “that the baby in the painting is a man?”

“Oh, yes. Dimitri, my husband.”

We waited for her to continue. The overhead lights hummed faintly, like a distant swarm of gnats. “May I ask, why is he a baby?” I said.

Forehead began plucking feathers from the duck’s thigh. “Because he behaves as an infant: throwing tantrums over land disputes, overindulging in drink and sweets, and lying about while the property falls to ruin.” She slammed the duck on the table. “All he does is mope and whine about every little thing—so I depicted him as a pitiful, fat baby.”

You painted this?” Kara asked.

“She shows signs of intelligence,” Forehead said to me. “Yes, I painted this. I felt like I was always painting images of everyone else—the children, my nit-wit husband, the dog; I have far too many paintings of the dog—but no one ever painted me. So, I took it upon myself to capture my own likeness. What do you think…girl?” Forehead turned to Kara, then to me again.

“Oh, this is Kara. She’s my…friend.”

“I see. And what do you think of my work, Kara?”

Kara chewed her lip.

Oh no. She’s freaked out. She’s going to run away and delete my number for sure. My shot with her is definitely blown. First and last date with the girl of my dreams.

“It’s, well, a bit depressing.” Now I was the one giving her the side-eye. “The whole left half of the room is shrouded in shadow, and it makes the house seem claustrophobic and uninviting.” She pointed in demonstration. “There’s a dish here with a crack in it, and you’ve painted all the furniture with this spiny, spindly sort of look. It’s all very sickly, like the wood is shriveling up.”


 I braced myself for a tongue-lashing from Forehead—something about how we were dumb and rude. But she only continued plucking her duck. “Go on.”

Kara cleared her throat. “The whole piece imparts a sense of deterioration and malaise. I don’t quite understand the dog, though. Why is it so scrawny? And why is the baby… I mean, your husband, draped over it like that?”

“She’s a clever one, your Kara.” Forehead said tapping her large, sloping skull. “The dog represents our land. It’s sick. Dying. Useless. And my husband is a leech upon it, sapping what little life it still has to give.” She laid the plucked duck on the rugged table and reached for a butcher’s knife. “He’s a better gambler than he is a farmer. And that’s saying something, given he lost fifty acres in a game of whist.” Whack. The duck’s head rolled to the floor.

Kara and I jumped back a step.

Just then a new voice called out. “Aye, you may have fooled these folks, but I know what a strapping lad your husband is. He’s no wee babe.”

In the painting beside us, a man in a high-necked black robe stood holding a scalpel and hunching over a rough-hewn table. On the table lay a naked man, draped semi-modestly with a white sheet. The prostrate man began to shift, and a leg slipped out from under the sheet. The man sat up and leaned out of the painting. “And ye can’t deny he’s a charmer in the bed! I’ve seen all those snot-nosed bairns you’ve got running around. Aye, like rabbits the two of you.” He turned toward Forehead. “I can hear the bed frame creaking from all the way over here. Night after night.” The sheet slid off his lap and onto the floor.

“Oh, shut up, Malcolm. Lie down.” Man in Black shoved him back onto the table.

“Malcolm, for the love of St. Peter, cover up! I’ve seen enough of your dirty plum tree shaker to practically impregnate me. And poor Kara here is a fair young maiden who doesn’t need to be spoiled by the sight of you.” Forehead turned to Man in Black and waggled a finger toward Malcolm’s crotch. “While you’ve got him on the table, take your little knife and just cut the whole thing off, why don’t you? He’s a danger to womenkind.”

Kara looked at me and we both began to back away from the painting.

“Well, this has been a real pleasure, guys,” I said. “A night I’ll certainly never forget.”

Just then the ground began to vibrate, and a deep voice boomed in the open space. “Did I hear there’s a fair maiden in danger?” The paintings softly clattered against the wall.

Man in Black sighed, “Oh, here he comes.” Malcolm shot up again. “God, not this arsehole.” Man in Black pushed him back down.

The footsteps grew louder.

Someone turned the corner, and eight feet of perfectly sculpted marble male strode into the exhibit holding a limp leopard above his head, giving us all an unobstructed view of his impressive…abs.

Conan.

“What a specimen,” Forehead leaned onto her elbows, right in the duck blood pooling on her table. “I’d give fifty acres for him to plow my fields…if I still had fifty acres.” She winked at Kara.

“What a loathsome oaf,” said Man in Black.

Whatever he was, he was running straight toward Kara and glaring at me with cold gray eyes. I stepped in front of her, only to be knocked to the floor by a rock-solid dead leopard. Conan dove after Kara.

“Put me down you jerk!” Kara screamed, fists beating against his back. He turned and ran deeper into the museum.

“Yeah! Put her down!” I yelled, running after them. Voices pinged at me from the exhibits on either side of the hall. “He’s taking her to the roof!” “Run, boy, run!” And other exclamations I couldn’t translate.

I panted, trying to keep up with his impossible stride. I was ten paces behind him when a woman darted in front of me. I dove to the side to avoid colliding with her, which I’m glad I did, being that she was crafted entirely of nails. Her rusty brown-gray body looked like metallic ground beef, the way the long iron nails were soldered together in wavy rows. There must have been thousands of them.

“Are you alright, Sugar?” She leaned over and pulled me to my feet. “I wasn’t expecting to run into anyone at this hour.”

My hand was bleeding from where hers had stabbed me.

“It’s okay, but I really can’t chat. Conan—or whatever his name is—ran off with my date. He’s heading to the roof.”

“Oh, that old dummy. Thinks he’s slicker than owl shit.” She wrapped her arm around my shoulder, trapping me beside her spiky metal breasts. “You just gotta learn to play his game.”

“I don’t have time for games! I have to help Kara!”

“Look at me, boy.” Metal Lady grabbed my face. “What’s your name?”

“Paul.”

“Okay, Paul. Here’s what you’re going to do: I need you to hit me.”

“What?”

“Hit me. Right now.” She tapped her steel cheek. “Give it a real good sucker punch.”

“I’m not going to hit you. Look, he’s getting away! We don’t have time for this!”

“Do you want to get Kara back or not? I said hit me!”

“Ugh! This is the weirdest night ever!” I shut my eyes, reared back, and punched the metal sculpture in the face. She let out an ear-piercing wail.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I told you didn’t want to hit you.”

Metal Lady winked at me. “That’s just for theatrics, Hun. Keep ‘em coming.” I peeked behind her and saw Conan had stopped running. He turned around, watching us.

I got a running start and kicked Metal Lady right in the ribs. The impact reverberated up my whole leg.

“Save me! Oh, someone save me from this monster!” Then to me, she whispered, “Now choke me.”

“What? No! God, this is getting really out of control!”

“Do it. Now!”

I reached up and wrapped my hands around the sculpture’s neck. Conan zeroed in on me and began to sprint. “Unhand the lady!” he bellowed, shaking the room. He was nearly to me when he dropped Kara and lifted two balled fists.

“Go. Now!” Metal Lady said. Then she shot out her arms and wrapped them around Conan’s bicep, intercepting his trajectory. “My hero!”

“Paul!” Kara called, waving at me to follow her to the exit. We raced back through the halls together, cheered on by Forehead and Malcolm and Man in Black. Metal Lady’s buttery voice echoed after us. “Ya’ll come back and visit any time!”

We pushed through the glass exit doors, chests heaving, and we collapsed in a heap by the hedges. The sounds of the city nightlife slowly cut through the fog of adrenaline. Car horns. Music. Airplanes. Traffic. Breathing. 

“Kara—I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that was going to—”

“Paul, you're bleeding!” She reached for my hand. My knuckles were chewed and bloody. “You should get this looked at.”

I laughed. “What do I say? ‘Hey, can you fix my hand? Yeah, I beat up a lady made of nails to save my girlfriend from a rampaging statue man.’”

“Girlfriend?” Kara said.

I froze. “That’s not what I…well, I didn’t mean...” Say something, you idiot. “If you want to be my girlfriend, I would love that. Like big time. But after tonight’s disaster, I would understand if you never wanted to see me again.”

Kara held my mangled hand in hers. “Disaster? That was probably one of the best dates I’ve ever had. Definitely top five.” She winked at me. Her stomach growled then, loud and hollow. “I’m sorry. I was so nervous at dinner. I didn’t eat much.”

“I noticed,” I said. “Let’s go get something. I’ll take you wherever you want.”

“Ok,” she said, “there’s this really divey place across town that sounds kind of gross, but they have the best burgers. Ever been to Crusty’s?”

March 21, 2024 18:57

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14 comments

Alexis Araneta
02:09 Mar 22, 2024

What a comeback to the site ! An adorable, very imaginative story full of humour ! The details of this are astounding. Great flow too. Splendid job !

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Aeris Walker
19:28 Mar 22, 2024

Hey Stella! Thanks for the "welcome back read." I had a bit of a break in between semesters and really missed writing for fun :) I'm glad you found the story humorous. Quirky and fun was what I was aiming for. (And maybe slightly irreverent lol.)

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Helen A Smith
14:40 Mar 28, 2024

Hi Aeris, Phew! A great take on the prompt in this unusual action-packed wacky date. I loved how they finished it off by deciding to go to Crusty’s for the best burgers in town at the end of it. Lively fun story. Welcome back! You have been missed.

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Wally Schmidt
01:28 Mar 28, 2024

I love a story with a moral and the moral of this one is 'when in doubt, eat at Crusty's". 😉

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Darya Black
21:16 Mar 27, 2024

Oh wow, fantastic ending! Love the humor, and Paul's personality really shines. I felt like I was on a fun rollercoaster ride the entire time. :) Excellent writing and flow. Great work!

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Aeris Walker
18:45 Apr 17, 2024

Thanks so much, Darya :)

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Harry Stuart
02:26 Mar 27, 2024

Your story had me laughing out loud more than once- entertaining and cleverly written, Aeris! I’m anxious to check out your prior work.

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Aeris Walker
18:06 Apr 04, 2024

Thanks for reading, Harry! Humor isn't usually my go-to genre, but keeping things fun and lighthearted kind of helped me jump back on the writing train. I appreciate the feedback :)

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Hannah Lynn
15:14 Mar 24, 2024

Great sense of humor in this story, so much fun to read! :)

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Aeris Walker
19:59 Mar 25, 2024

Thanks for reading, Hannah!

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Viga Boland
03:34 Mar 22, 2024

Fabulously imaginative! Great dialogue and visuals. Loved it!

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Aeris Walker
19:47 Mar 25, 2024

Thanks, Viga :)

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Mary Bendickson
23:53 Mar 21, 2024

You're right. This was funny!

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Aeris Walker
11:24 Mar 22, 2024

Thanks, Mary!

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