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In the Depths of the Museum

R. Rozakis has the amazing superpower of causing professors and technicians to stare at her lab equipment and say, "I've never seen it do that before!" Her current job in marketing in New York City seems so much safer, really. Her biggest argument with her exceedingly patient husband is in what order they should show Star Wars to their toddler. Previous work has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Allegory, Liquid Imagination, Every Day Fiction, and the anthologies Substitution Cipher and Clockwork Chaos.

"And no one had even seen a live giant squid until 2005," the precocious little mite recited. "But they found squid parts in whale bellies and sucker marks on their faces."
Don kept a pleasant smile fixed on his face. Docents weren't supposed to strangle visitors. The teacher was glancing at her watch again. The rest of the class milled around, aimlessly poking at cases.
"But that's not the weirdest thing down there," the boy continued, almost bouncing in excitement. "There's this other fish that's almost all teeth, only there's this itty bitty light hanging off the top. But it's so dark at the bottom of the ocean that little fishes just swim up to it. They don't even see all the teeth until--chomp! there goes the little fish."
"Yes, and if there's time, you can go back to the hall of ocean life," Don said. "But right now, we're looking at the Incan artifacts. Kids, can you find the Royal Llama? First team to tell me what color it's wearing gets a point."
The kids scattered excitedly through the hall, but the Ocean Kid stuck stubbornly to Don's side. Don just wanted thirty seconds of silence. Was that too much to ask? Maybe he was too old for this after all. The volunteer coordinator had muttered something about flaky seniors and their tendency to quit abruptly. Don had thought he still had more stamina than this. Time to pull out the big guns.
"Did you know there's a case of shrunken heads?" He watched Ocean Kid's eyes go wide. "In the back."
They weren't really supposed to point it out--it was one of those things that the museum couldn't quite make up its mind whether to be embarrassed by. Like the tiny cigarette in the miniature farmer's mouth in the diorama downstairs. Remnants of another time. But it was enough to halt the endless recitation of ocean facts.
Don strategically wandered a little deeper in the exhibit. Shrunken heads notwithstanding, there wasn't much back here to attract the tourist crowd. With the kids scattered all over the gallery, it was strangely quiet. It would be soothing if it wasn't so creepy. There were some really weird things back here.
He heard something.
A voice, high pitched. Not discernable words. Crying. He picked up his pace. Around the corner. There. There was a little girl, standing at the edge of the shadows, hands covering her face, sobbing as if her heart had been broken. She seemed young for his class. Maybe some tourist's kid?
"Hey, there, sweetheart, it's ok," he said as he approached slowly. "We'll find your folks."
She didn't look up. There was something strange about her, he realized as he got closer. Her edges kind of... blurred into each other. Like her hands weren't distinct from her face. There was something wrong about the crying, too--he couldn't put his finger on it, it just wasn't quite right. And she kind of... glowed.
He never even saw the teeth.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, July 7th, 2016

Author Comments

At night, the dioramas in the American Museum of Natural History don't actually come to life. But that doesn't mean it doesn't get really creepy in the back halls if you have to work late. In the five years I worked in the traveling exhibitions department, I never heard of a coworker going missing. A coyote did get loose in the basement once, though. (Oh, and the shrunken heads and the tiny cigarette are still there, or at least they were in 2012. Next time you visit, see if you can find them!)

- R. Rozakis
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