I’m allowed to tiptoe out of the gate.
They don’t mind that.
It’s within the rules, you see.
Oh, you know. The Rules.
Don’t dress too loud, or too flashy. It draws attention.
Don’t move too fast, or too well. It draws the eye.
Don’t be too loud. They might hear you.
Don’t feel too much. They would be uncomfortable.
Because it’s really all about them. And if they don’t have to see you, hear you, think about you… then they don’t really care.
It’s all about how you can steal moments that mean something, but within the cage.
It’s all about how you eventually make yourself so very small, that they forget you exist to the degree you once did. You’re simply what they’ve made you. What they need you to be – or not be. What use you have.
And eventually, they get distracted by some other shiny, loud, emotional thing.
And you can tiptoe quietly through the gate.
Into the light.
Into the air.
Into the sound of beautiful, terrible, wonderful things.
Where you can slowly unfurl and grow.
And they remember, that their mouse was once a giant dragon.
That is when you have to decide: do you let them coax and woo you, to win you back?
Or do you burn them?
So that they never try to shrink you down to nothing again.
Normally, the museum was a quiet place at 5am. I mean, the cleaning staff usually cleaned after closing at night. So at the most, what you had was research fellows and maybe some conservation staff. The staff for opening the museum to the public didn’t start until closer to 7am. So, when there was a thunderous sound from one of the far wings, it seemed louder than it perhaps was.
That’s what I was telling James anyway, after we both caught each other peering out of our office doors, jaws agape, eyes huge. We had decided to head down the hall to investigate. We ran into Jessica and Regan at the next hall, apparently having the same talk.
“It wasn’t thunder. It was a crash. It’s not even cloudy out.” Jessica was fairly calm, and shoving her glasses up on top of her head. She only needed them for reading and she must have realized they were in her way.
“I’m telling you, it can’t’ve been a crash. That’s an active wing, conservatory staff and the janitors would’ve noticed if something was off balance last night and fixed it.” Regan’s voice was raspy, and sounded like she’d either not had enough sleep or her nicotine patches failed and she’d picked up the habit again.
“I dunno, I was thinking it was a crash.” James voted, quietly. “But Megan thinks it only sounded so loud ’cause hardly anyone’s here at this hour.”
I shrugged and nodded.
Regan stopped, blinked and nodded. “All right. I could maybe get behind that theory. Echoes in empty halls exaggerating the sound.”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “Well c’mon then, lets go see what fell.”
By the time we made it to the far end of the building, we realized we were near the mummies. A huge wooden box that normally stood vertically near the door had fallen so that it was now horizontal on the floor.
“Echoes on echoes.” Regan muttered. “Empty hall and empty box. ‘Course it made a god-awful racket.” She was rubbing her upper arm half out of habit and half out of irritation. So either out of patches, or at least recently quit of them.
James stood by the box, rubbing the back of his neck with the other hand on his hip. “I dunno if we can move this guys. I mean, it doesn’t look damaged at least? But it’s kinda heavy.”
Jessica had walked around to the other side of the box. “I thought they locked up the exhibition rooms over night?”
The door was standing cracked open. Or as if it hadn’t closed all the way. They were huge heavy things, designed to look like stone tomb movie sets. She was standing and craning her neck, trying to see inside.
“Uh, Jessica, if this was a burglary gone wrong, shouldn’t we just call security?” I was mostly just saying it because someone should. I was walking around the casket myself.
James bent over, messing with the corner of the wood. “Guys… I thought this thing was supposed to be empty all these years?” He stood up with a small leather journal in his hand, the leather strap wrapped around and tucked into itself to keep closed. It had a deep crease in it and was scratched.
Regan stepped up and took the book, unwinding the strap. “That’s not the right period. That’s modern. Must’ve belonged to whoever knocked it down.”
Jessica’s hand was resting on the door, but she was looking back at them. “What’s in it? Shopping list? Archaeology notes? Love letters?” She scoffed at the last, and Regan snorted lightly, smirking but then frowning.
“Buncha nonsense mostly, but some lists. Yeah. Maybe it’s a short-hand I don’t know?” She passed it over to me, only because my notes were classic for being illegible to anyone but me. Everyone accused me of doing it to prevent cheating, but to be honest, I mostly did it because it was fun. Sometimes it back-fired, and even I forgot what the lecture had been about. I flipped open the journal and frowned, leafing through it.
“Yeah, I dunno. Some of this might just be a language thing. It looks kind of Latin based though? I mean this list here is titled ‘Necessita’ and uh…” I frowned, then looked up at Jessica. “So maybe we should stop, and get security. Seriously?”
“Seriously? C’mon. What do they need, Megan?” She frowned at me. James and Regan didn’t help, chiming in with “yeah” and “c’mon?”
“A ‘mummia’ among some other words I don’t recognize? And before you ask again, yeah. Seriously.” I turned the book around to face the others and jabbed my finger at the word on the page.
“Well, crap.” James sighed and stepped around the casket toward the door.
Regan and I rolled our eyes at each other and I wrapped up the journal, offering it to her before shoving it in my back pocket when she waved it off. Jessica was already slipping in past the door with James close after. It was open enough that none of us had to push it any further into the room.
The lights were low: just the security exit lights and the exhibit illuminations were on at this hour. That of course meant it felt extra creepy. We bee-lined to the only mummy on display. It was supposed to be a hand-maiden for one of the priests, as far as the Egyptologists could tell, based on the pictographs of the tomb they’d found her in.
Regan mumbled quietly, “Why her though? Why this exhibit? I mean, there are a lot of mummies back in the conservation areas.”
I shrugged, “Maybe she’s still there. Maybe it’s all a coincidence.”
I didn’t believe me; and I felt validated when I heard James curse “damn it” softly a few steps ahead.
The glass door was open to the exhibit, and the sand and other staging was disarranged and tracked through. The mummy was gone.
Jessica, being a dark humorist, had to laugh. “The one time you actually want to find the dead body.”
James, not being a dark humorist, grumbled. “Not funny, Jess. Not just now.”
Regan, being much more common sense about things, was pointing at the tracks that lead out to the flat bed dolly in the far corner by the exit. “So if they carried her out that way, why was the door cracked, the box fallen as if bumped into, and the journal trapped underneath? It’s like things happened out of order or something.”
She had a point. And it looked like something was still on the dolly anyway. So off I went to examine whatever had been left.
Before I got far, I could hear a soft whimpering. That meant running was required. Obviously, the others agreed and we stopped abruptly together around the cart.
It was a bundle of linen rags, wrapped around and sticking to a tiny, wet baby.
Who was getting all worked up to cry. “Damn it.”
That did it. The baby was definitely crying, now. “Megan!” Jessica leaned in and picked it up, linens and all, to cuddle close. “Seriously?”
“To be fair, I didn’t intend to say it out loud. Sorry. But … um. Wet babies are either just bathed or just born, and I don’t smell baby shampoo.”
James was leaning over and carefully peeling cloth back. Since he had two daughters under the age of 4 at home, he was actually probably the most experienced when it came to small humans. “Uh, yeah, Jess? Megan’s got a point. Also, he’s a boy. With a fresh umbilical. Although it’s knotted, so small favors and all?”
Jessica was attempting to use her finger as a pacifier, but the baby was objecting to the lack of actual food being offered and only got fussier.
Regan backed into the exit, pushing at the release bar. “C’mon people. Let’s get out of here and after whoever took the mummy.” She paused to swallow what was probably a hysterical laugh. “Heh. Mummy. Bring the baby with.”
Shaking our heads, we trailed after her. It was a little brighter in the corridor as opposed to the exhibit hall, but not enough to be blinding. And it was just dark enough so that lights crossed across the floor from the offices that had them on. We could see a faint trail of debris leading off toward the conservation rooms. Regan obviously felt justified in her earlier comments and pointed, “See? What’d’I say?”
I nodded and we both stepped ahead of James, Jessica and the baby and went down the hall. Pushing slowly through the swinging doors, we saw a light on in the far back area, where the largest tables were set up.
After a quick, reassuring glance at each other, Regan and I snuck that way. Jessica and James weren’t too far behind, whispering furiously at each other. It sounded like it was something about the baby, but we weren’t listening. We were just bracing ourselves for whatever was around the other side of the shelves. Still, we weren’t prepared for what we saw.
I mean, technically, we found the mummy. And a young man from Italy, I remembered now had been auditing some courses. Pretty thing. He was standing down by her feet and was chattering away in a very excited fashion to the… uh, person up by her head. I mean, technically, she was sitting up and talking too. And wagging her finger. And looking not entirely happy with being mostly naked. Hard to tell though. Not sure anyone in the room, other than the… person by her head, spoke whatever language she was speaking. Although, the head tilt suggested he was listening fairly carefully. But then again, jackals do seem like they listen, and his head was certainly as jackal-like as they always say in the stories. Behind us, the baby let out a furious wail and the three in front of us whipped their heads around to look our direction. Anubis waved a hand toward us and murmured something in a reassuring tone. The Italian student stepped back and had a myriad of expressions race over his face: fear, guilt, sheepishness, relief, frustration, hope and excitement were all there. I mean, why not? The mummy, well she did what any new mom would do and got down off the table, wrapping the sheet around her and imperiously extending her arms and demanding her child. Because, obviously, that’s who he was.
Jessica whimpered, James transferred the baby, and Regan and I just looked at each other.
“I mean, everyone said New York had weird museums, but maybe the crack of dawn shift was a bad idea for quiet research?”
It often feels like I discovered the lily pond just yesterday.
I’d been walking along the bike path and decided to detour off the pavement along one of the hiking trails between the trees. The air was cool, with just enough of a breeze to make me wish I’d stayed in the sun. It was so magical there. The sunlight dappled the ferns, moss and dirt.
How ironic I’d thought that. Or do I mean prophetic?
I have a hard time recalling words, trapped here in this ornamental globe at the center of a naiad’s realm.
I miss my life.
The memory we used to share is no longer coherent.
She stared at her phone, wondering who sent the text. It was compelling, certainly. Actually, it was frustrating. What memory did anyone have that was coherent unless it was recent, and even so, one could chew a recollection to swiss cheese with so little effort these days.
These days. Who spoke like that anymore? Well, she did. In her head. Maybe because she finally felt middle-aged. Or old. Sometimes it depended on what she saw on her Twitter feed more than anything else.
The screen had gone black while she thought, so she clicked it on again. “Used to share” implied someone she didn’t share memories with anymore. Maybe an ex? She forcibly dimmed the screen and shoved her phone in her pocket, attempting to pay more attention to the other passengers.
The train car rocked slightly as it ran down the line. The sun steamed in the windows; bright white off the snow and ice. She’d expected tunnel sides. She’d been distracted longer than she thought.
Not too many people were going into the city today. Perhaps their offices were having work-at-home days. Near the doors, one lady protested winter by wearing the brightest red scarf imaginable against a dark red, wool pea coat. The flash of black in the collar of the coat made her think of a cardinal. A gentleman leaning against the pole had his arms crossed and his head down, eyes closed. She wasn’t sure why he would willingly sleep standing up. There were so many seats available. Perhaps it was easier on his back? Two kids were in the rear facing seats near the front of the car, hoodies pulled up high to cover their heads. She could still see the white wires coming out from beneath crayon colored ear muffs. They held one device; a splitter allowing them to share to the sound. “Was it a video, music or a game?” she wondered, then glanced back out the window.
The text bothered her. The area code was in state, but not local. Well, not local to her. Local to the city. Where so many exes lived. Ex-lovers, ex-friends, ex-coworkers. Why had she isolated herself in the country so many years ago?
Thinking back, she realized the hodgepodge of reasons sounded petty now. This friend sided with that lover. Another lover started work with her company and to avoid him, she turned in her notice. At the time, she’d thought herself brave; stepping out on her own! How entrepreneurial! Now, she wondered if she’d been a whiny brat who wanted her circle to cater to her feelings. Was she horrible? Or brave? Which reality was real?
A brief screech and a soft thump made her look back into the car. No emergency lights, so they hadn’t hit anything dangerous. Maybe a fallen tree? The train kept on although there was an inconsistency to the motion now. A sort of hitch like a hiccup every few thousand feet. Or maybe hundred. She frowned, but no one else seemed to care. But where was the gentleman napper? She glanced around the car looking for him. A pile of clothing in the back corner seat hunched into itself. She frowned, but then watched it look up to blearily stare into the center of the car, brilliant blue eyes surrounded by weathered brown skin cracked with wrinkles. She wasn’t sure if the person was male or female, or even if they were actually homeless. The clothing they were wearing was just so random and layered.
The eyes blinked then ducked back down, hiding at the unintended direct contact. Rule of public transit #353 had just been broken. She smiled. She liked eye contact. She wished that more people made it. Or smiled at each other. Did anyone anymore? Other than with people they already knew, she wondered, anyway. Sighing, she glanced back to the pole wondering where that gentleman had gone – and dropped her jaw.
Swaying slightly with the rocking of the train car, there he stood, still sleeping arms crossed, brown leather gloves tucked deep into his wool covered elbows.
She knew he hadn’t been there a moment ago. She didn’t imagine him gone, but he was there. Coming back to herself, she snapped her mouth closed and blinked several times, then looked again around the car. Everyone was there. Cardinal-bird lady, hooded teens, sleeping gentleman, even tumbled pile of clothing around brilliant spring-blue sky-eyes.
Everyone was where they had started. She glanced out the window, and saw they were coming into the city. Another ten minutes, maximum, and she’d be at her station. She’d have to decide.
She sank into herself, back against the seat. She didn’t want to deal with this in person, but she’d tried everything else. She’d called. She’d emailed. She’d secure mailed. She’d left threatening messages warning horrid reviews left on every social media site she could think of if she didn’t get an answer. Nothing. Complete and utter silence.
This was the last step before that. She had to meet with someone. Make them explain. No one had to her satisfaction. The service was unreachable, for some unforeseen reason. Everyone treated her as if she was crazy. But it had functioned for years! Accessible like clockwork, on the 15th of every month, for a 6 hour window. For heaven’s sake, she still had the original “print this for your records” sheet from when she’d created the account!
She clicked her phone on, intending to dial the service again and the maddening text appeared. Lifting her finger to swipe it away, she paused. The exchange was the same. The area code and the exchange of the text were the same as the service. She opened the message, her finger hovering over the pictograph for calling, instead of replying. And then she realized: The memory that we used to share is no longer coherent.
Her phone fell to her lap and she smothered herself, turning toward the window and pressing her head against the glass.
It was gone. Terrified, she stared into her own spring-blue sky-eyes. The service was no longer stable or available. She’d never be able to access the memoriam again. Ever. It was all gone … SHE was no longer coherent.
The bell chimed. “Tribute Station. All for Tribute Station, stop 353.” The doors eased open. A pause, two more chimes, then the doors slid shut.
From the rear of the car, the faded blue eyes watched as the seat by the window stopped the odd pixelated flickering in the light and finally became empty again.