JL Bryan's Fairy Metal ThunderA teenage garage band steals instruments from the fairy world and begins enchanting crowds, but their shortcut to success soon turns them into enemies of the treacherous Queen Mab.
"Fairy Metal Thunder has the same feel that the movie Labyrinth has, this wondrous fantasy world that you're desperate to have at least a small part of, even to the point of stealing." -- Review for Fairy Metal Thunder, Bending the Spine
Chapter OneAfter school, Jason rode his bicycle across town to Mitch's house for band practice, with his guitar case strapped to his back. His palms coated the handlebars with nervous sweat. He'd spent the whole day ignoring his teachers while he furiously scribbled lines of the new song, crossed them out, and rewrote them. He'd accumulated three notebook pages' worth of jumbled, blotchy words, plus ink stains all over his fingers.
During sixth period Social Studies, he had very carefully copied these bits of song onto a single page, using the most legible handwriting he could muster. He'd titled the song “Angel Sky” and then hesitated a minute before writing “For Erin” underneath the title. Then he'd folded it into neat squares and tucked it in his pocket, where it now burned like a handful of hot coals.
He paused at the top of Mitch's street. He could see Mitch's house, four doors down, the garage door open and waiting for him. He could hear Mitch warming up on the keyboard, the fake piano sound echoing through the tree-lined neighborhood.
Jason's nerves were rattling. He'd never shown the group any of his songs. Erin was the singer and the songwriter of the group. Like Jason, she was a junior at Chippewa Falls High. Unlike Jason, she was actually talented at writing lyrics.
“Hey, little kid, need a ride?” a girl's voice asked. He jumped in surprise and nearly fell from his bike. While he was lost in thought, Dred had pulled up alongside him in her beaten-up '97 Chevy van. She snickered at Jason. Dred was a year older, close to graduation. She was a broad-shouldered girl who liked Doc Martins and ragged plaid shirts.
“You’re hilarious,” Jason said.
“Race you!” Dred stomped her gas pedal until she was halfway down the street, then slammed her brakes and twisted into Mitch's driveway.
“Yeah, that's fair,” Jason muttered as he pedaled down the street. Dred—or “Mildred” if you wanted to get punched in the face—was the band's drummer. She was a senior like Mitch, a year older than Jason and Erin. Her van was perfect for transporting the band to gigs. Hopefully, they would actually have a gig one day.
Jason turned into Mitch's driveway and parked his bike just outside the open garage. Dred was already there, juggling her drumsticks as she sat down behind her drum kit.
“Yo, Jason!” Mitch said. He sat at the keyboard, his long hair unleashed from the plaid driving hat he usually wore, and he pushed his John Lennon-style glasses higher on his nose. His t-shirt depicted ghosts chasing Pac-Man through a maze. Pac-Man's thought balloon read: “This is a stupid way to live.”
Behind Mitch hung a poster of pop star Claudia Lafayette, in concert, wearing a pink dress and a headset with a microphone, pointing straight out to the audience while she sang. Mitch claimed the poster of the cheesy singer, whose bubble-gum songs could stick in your ear and repeat themselves all day long, was supposed to be ironic. He said the same about his Claudia Lafayette T-shirt.
“What's up?” Jason asked.
“Just stoking the flames.” Mitch resumed playing his keyboard, switching it to a deep electric organ sound. “Making the magic happen, man.”
Jason sat in a lawn chair and took his guitar out of the case. He plucked a few chords and tried to tune it, but couldn't hear anything over the keyboard.
When he looked up, he realized Erin had arrived, and his heart skipped. He gave her an awkward smile and tried not to stare. He thought Erin was beautiful, with her intense green eyes and blond hair dyed with blue and green streaks. Her hair was long and usually hung down all over her face. Jason always wanted to brush her hair back behind her ear so he could see her better.
He waved to her, but she'd already turned away to hang her jacket on a hook over the workbench.
“About time!” Mitch yelled over the noise. Then he realized he was the source of the noise and stopped playing the keyboard. “Where have you been?”
“Zach had to drop off a couple other people first,” Erin said. “Chill out, Mitch.”
“It's Mick,” Mitch said.
“You can't be Mick. Mick isn't short for Mitch,” Dred said. “It's for Mickey, or maybe Michael—”
“Don't tell me what nickname I can be…Mildred,” Mitch said. “It's a free country.”
“Don't call me Mildred!”
“Don't tell me I can't be Mick!”
“Okay, kids,” Erin said. “Do you want to fight, or do you want to play?”
“Fight,” Dred replied. She aimed a drumstick at Mitch's head.
“I'll be ready as soon as you admit that I can use 'Mick' for my stage name. It's really not that far from Mitch—”
Dred interrupted him with a short, loud drum solo, ending with a cymbal crash. Mitch scowled.
Jason tried to work up the nerve to tell Erin he'd written a song for her, but he couldn't seem to get his mouth working. Though he'd gone to school with Erin since her parents moved to Chippewa Falls back in ninth grade, he hadn't spoken with her very much at all. The sight of her always seemed to lock up his mouth, and his brain along with it. He'd been thrilled when Mitch asked Jason to join their band a couple of months earlier. According to Mitch, their previous guitarist had been “a total spaz who never showed up for practice.”
Instead of talking, Jason strummed his guitar to warm up his fingers.
“Good,” Erin said. “At least somebody takes this seriously.”
“Let's go,” Mitch said. He played his fingers across the keys, and an electrically synthesized piano buzzed over the speakers.
Erin blew a short tune on her harmonica, then spoke into an imaginary microphone.
“Hello, Wisconsin!” she shouted. Mitch played the sound of an audience applauding from his synthesizer. “We are the Assorted Zebras! Who's ready to rock?”
“Don't say that,” Dred said. “It's cheesy.”
“Just count us off, Dred,” Mitch said.
“What are we playing?” Dred asked.
“This is a song I wrote for my boyfriend Zach,” Erin told the imaginary audience. “It's called 'The First Road Out of Here.'”
Dred tapped out a beat, and then Mitch and Jason joined in with the keyboard and guitar. The song started slow, with long, sad sounds from Erin's harmonica. Then she sang:
We've been in this town so long,
I forgot the world outside...
So let's escape tonight,
It's time to take a ride...
Then the song became loud and fast.
Let's run together
To that place where there's no fear,
The place we want to go,
The first road out of here!
Jason's fingers flew across his strings as the tempo accelerated. A few little kids from the neighborhood, three boys and a girl, showed up on bikes and scooters and sat in the driveway to listen, as they sometimes did. Erin smiled and waved, clearly delighted to have an audience, even if they were in elementary school and one boy was more interested in picking his nose than watching the show. Two of the kids were even nice enough to applaud when the song ended.
“Can you play some Weird Al?” the nose-picking boy requested.
“Yeah, do a Weird Al polka!” another boy said.
“We're just practicing our own songs right now,” Erin told them. “Want to hear those?”
“Who cares?” the biggest boy asked. He rode away on his scooter, and the two other boys followed. The little girl remained, but rested her chin in her hand and looked bored.
“I've got something fun,” Erin said. “It's called 'Cinderella Night.' Want to hear it?”
“I guess,” the little girl sighed.
Dred tapped out four beats, then Jason and Mitch joined in. Erin sang the upbeat song about a girl sneaking out and meeting a boy in a nightclub.
The little girl smiled, entertained at last.
They played two more of Erin's songs. Jason tried not to pay attention to Erin's hips swaying as she danced, or the pale stretch of her belly that sometimes peeked out over her low-slung jeans. He tried to focus on making the music.
Erin stopped halfway through the third song.
“We need to mix it up,” Erin said. “It's all fast, dancey stuff.”
“What we really need is a killer love song,” Mitch said. “One of those everybody-get-out-your-lighter things.”
“I don't have anything like that,” Erin said.
“Maybe I'll write one,” Mitch said.
“You? Writing a love song?” Dred snorted.
“Like you could do better,” Mitch said. “Yours would probably end with the girl killing her boyfriend and burying him in the back yard.”
“I think your songs are good, Erin,” Jason said.
“Thanks, Jason, but Mitch is right. We need a good, slow love song. I just don't know how to write something like that.”
Jason's hand dropped to his jeans pocket. The song was folded up there, “Angel Sky,” all about falling in love. He hesitated, wishing he hadn't written “For Erin” underneath the song title. Everybody would laugh at him if they saw that. Erin would probably think he was a weirdo for writing a song for her.
“I'll be right back,” Jason said. He put his guitar aside and walked toward the door into the house.
“Whoa, hold it,” Mitch said. He stopped Jason with a hand on his elbow. “Where are you going?”
“The bathroom.” Jason planned to find a pen inside the house and scratch out the dedication. Then he could show everyone the song without getting ragged on. Or at least, they'd pick on him a little less. And Erin wouldn't decide he was an obsessive stalker freak to be avoided.
“No way. My mom says nobody's allowed in the house when she's not home,” Mitch told him.
“Since when?” Dred asked.
“She says some of her jewelry's gone missing or something.”
“And she thinks we stole it?” Dred asked.
“Well, my mom didn't accuse any of you of stealing, exactly,” Mitch said, but he glanced at Dred. “She just says nobody's allowed in the house if she's not home. She's doing the night shift at the hospital, so that's a long time. Jason, why don’t you go whizz in the back yard?”
“Oh,” Jason said. That wouldn't help. Jason doubted he would find a pen or marker out back.
“What's wrong?” Mitch asked. “Were you going to drop a number two?”
Jason felt his face turn red. Why did Mitch have to say something like that right in front of Erin?
“He was!” Dred said. “Look at him blush.”
“I wasn't!” Jason said.
“Yeah, right,” Mitch said. “Just hold it, man.”
“I'm...” Jason realized he couldn't think of a single thing to say that would make this conversation less humiliating. He wished he could escape into a hole in the earth somewhere, and maybe never come back.
He was saved by an even worse turn of events. A red Mitsubishi Spyder pulled into the driveway with its top down. This was Zach Wagner, a senior over at the Catholic high school, who was best known for modeling in the “Plaidwear” section of the Fleet Farm catalog since he was thirteen. He had flawless skin, a haircut that probably cost a hundred dollars, and dark blue eyes. Erin's boyfriend.
Zach stood up inside his car and drummed his hands on the top of the windshield. He pushed his sunglasses on top of his forehead. “Let's go, Erin! Those orphans aren't going to entertain themselves.”
“What's up, Zach?” Mitch waved, falling into suck-up mode at the sight of Chippewa's most famous male model.
“Yo, Mick! Dred! New guitar guy!” Zach gave a mocking little salute. “Sorry to take your singer away, but we've got a busy night of important stuff.”
“You're leaving already?” Dred asked Erin.
“I have to. We're going to a benefit for Stuffed Animals for Orphans, over in Minneapolis. Zach says everyone else in the Minneapolis acting community is helping out.” Erin gathered up her purse.
“He’s not an actor,” Jason said. “He's a male model.”
“You can't go now,” Dred said. “We have the audition next week.”
“Erin! Yo! Orphans! Stuffed animals!” Zach shouted.
“I'm coming!” Erin grabbed her backpack.
“You guys want us to play at the benefit?” Mitch shouted to Zach. “Cause we could do that. We can just pack it up into Dred's van and follow you to the Cities.”
“Um...thanks anyway, Mick!” Zach said, with a wink and a thumbs up. “Stuffed Animals for Orphans appreciates your support. In fact, if you guys want to make a donation, I'll pass it along. There are lots of orphans out there who don't have stuffed animals.”
“Oh, that's a good idea,” Erin said. “Does anybody want to donate?”
Mitch grumbled something under his breath as he took out his wallet and gave Erin a couple of dollars. Dred donated a five-dollar bill from her money clip.
Erin smiled at Jason as she walked toward him, holding out her hand.
Jason searched all his pockets. He came up with twelve cents.
“Sorry, I don't have more on me,” Jason said sheepishly. That's me, he thought, no money and no car.
“That's okay. Thanks.” Erin gave him a quick half of a hug. “I'll be back here for rehearsal tomorrow.”
Jason watched her climb into the car with Zach, kiss him, and drop into the passenger seat. He felt a little despair as they pulled out of the driveway and drove away.
“You know, I like that guy,” Mitch said.
Jason nodded. Everybody liked Zach, of course. Perfect Zach.