Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here. You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.
Normal thing: Museums (preferably art museums)
The museum appeared suddenly, without notice, in the old sporting-goods store. At first Clara Achziger thought it was a Halloween store, the kind with the plastic tarp sign strapped to the front of the hollowed-out storefront, fake walls put up inside to block off any unused square footage. Costumes, plastic masks, makeup, stubby weapons that small children would wack against their parents’ thighs. Spiderwebs spun out of plastic. Candy bowls that grabbed back.
But no: The Pritchford Museum of Arts & Sciences, Now Open! The lettering was all wrong for a Halloween store, the sans-serif font self-respecting yet easily read. The museum’s logo of a Greek temple in a circle clinched it: surely nobody would bother to make their Doric columns properly if the place was only meant to be a joke.
She paid seven dollars and went inside.
The rooms were arranged to make it feel like you were traveling on a time machine through history. The first room was a cave, where a wax Neanderthal painted shimmering buffalo on the wall. The major inventions of the era (fifty to ten thousand years ago) were language, art, farming, and culture. The next room was set in 3200 B.C.E., showing the art and sciences of the Mesopotamians. Cuneiform script was presented on re-creation clay tablets. A children’s table—had their been any children on that Wednesday morning—featured a kind of polymer surface in which messages could be written with pointed styluses. Childishly, Clara wrote “Kilroy was here” and, down in one corner, drew a little bald man with nose and fingers hanging over an edge. Strange, winged, half-human gods in bas-relief looked at her from niches in the walls.
Time passed as she wandered through the rooms. In 604 B.C.E. was the birth of Lao-Tzu, the founder of Daoism. In 500 B.C.E., the caste system of India was established. In 124 B.C.E., Alexander the Great’s empire reached its furthest extent. In 408 C.E., Theodosius II became the emperor of Byzantium and contructed his walls around Constantinople.
Slowly, gradually, with increasing tension in her shoulders and a slight ringing in her ears, she worked her way back to the present. She lingered in the room spanning the lifetime of the Persian poet Abu al-Qasim Firdawsi (940 to 1020 C.E.); she practically set up shop in the Ghenkis Khan room (1206 C.E.), she blew a kiss to Marco Polo (1271 C.E.); she sat on a carved stone throne in the Aztec Room (1502 C.E., lead by Auitzotl, conquerer of the Mixtec) and contemplated the tastefulness of blood sacrifices versus standing in line at Starbucks; across the hall (also 1502) was the memorial room of the first slaves reported in the New World, where she knelt and wept until her knees felt like they were made of stone; she skipped the Columbus room (honestly, who needed it?); she drifted through the room of the Emperor Wanli in China (1572 to 1620 C.E.) wearing a complimentary silk robe that she returned carefully to its hook by the door as she left; she looked through Galileo’s telescope in 1604 to peek at other worlds than these; she invaded Egypt with Napoleon, calling him a syphilitic ass the entire time; she grieved over the Taiping Rebellion; she bled with the Crimean War and then, in short order, saw the bodies stacked like wood in the photographs from the American Civil War and thought, I think I’m getting a migraine; World War I arrived and left her coughing and stumbling to grab one of the gas masks on the wall; in the World War II room the floor was made of bits of something that crunched underfoot and which she didn’t dare look at; the Korean War and the Vietnam War made the back of her throat raw and her joints ache, her eyesight dimming; the Cold War echoed in her ears like a million-voiced punk rock concert; the Second Civil War was a room covered with yesterday’s headlines—she covered her eyes with her arm but walked bravely onweard through the room anyhow; and then she was at a black door marked EXIT in glowing neon letters.
Clara lingered there until two security officers told her it was closing time. And then when they tried to make her leave she fought; she fought to stay; she fought to return to a room, any room, no matter how terrible, in the past.
They threw her out and nobody has heard from her since.
I couldn’t help but think of The Circus of Dr. Lao, written by Charles G. Finney in 1935, as I wrote this.
Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.