It was something of a relief though; with Jimmy out of the way she could get on with getting ready to open the museum. The doors officially opened at 10am, but she’d never had anyone come in any earlier than 10:30, and that had been a small party of school-children with a harried looking teacher who’d been interested in doing brass rubbings. They had a very small collection of brasses, so that hadn’t taken very long and then they’d left again without a single other patron coming in. She hurried through the jobs anyway – checking that the janitor had put away all of the cleaning equipment, checking that the displays were in order and straight, and checking that the reception desk had a float (stored in the safe overnight) and enough tickets for the day. The last task was an easy one; Janet did keep a tally of everyone who came in, and the record for a single day currently stood at ten. Then she stood still, her hands on her hips, and looked at Jimmy’s latest find.
The statue reminded her vaguely of some of the African carvings that she’d seen in books, though it seemed a little more elongated and stretched out. The green marble, streaked with yellow and white, seemed diseased, and now that she had time to study it properly she could see little dark pits where its eyes were supposed to be. The rest of its head was oddly smooth though, almost egg-like. She supposed it was all part of the stylization of the statue, but the longer she looked at it the more her skin crawled. She sighed, and picked it up, though as soon as her fingers touched it she recoiled back from it, and had to force herself to grip it again. It was still cold, which seemed impossible given that the statue had been sitting in a heated room for the last three-quarters of an hour. She set it down again and rubbed her hands; obviously the stone it was made from absorbed heat very efficiently indeed. She pulled the sleeves of her cardigan – grey wool, her favourite – over her hands and picked it up again.
The Northern Hemisphere wing consisted of two rooms that the public were allowed in, two rooms for storage that they weren’t, the janitor’s supply closet and the catalogue room that the public weren’t supposed to go in, but sometimes wandered into by mistake. The lock on the door didn’t work, but the room was so small and the visitors so infrequent that Marie never wanted to close and lock the door anyway. She set the statue down on the desk in there next to the registration catalogue and looked out of the door. She could see through both rooms of exhibits from here, and she considered where it might go.
There was a cabinet free in the Canadian section, but she wasn’t sure that the statue belonged there. Jimmy had mentioned the far North, and she supposed that Canada probably qualified for that, but she had a feeling nonetheless that the Canadians, if they ever came here, might not appreciate a connection with the statue. There was a pedestal free next to their collection of Icelandic runes, carved in black volcanic rock, and that seemed more promising to her. Then she paused, thinking about how cold the statue had been, wondering if it was entirely safe to have out on display where people could actually touch it. Was offending Canadians really such a worry?
She reached for a pen as she reached her decision, and as she touched it the room changed around her.
The walls fell away into darkness, and then new walls swam through the darkness, hazy and shimmering as though obscured by a great heat. They slotted themselves into place, further away than the walls of the catalogue room, greyer, and steadily mottling a steel-blue colour. She squinted, trying to focus on them, and for a moment they felt like they were resisting. Then she could see clearly, and could see that the mottling was actually carvings; they were pictographs of some kind. She leaned forward, wondering what they were exactly, and something cold resisted her, bands across her chest, her wrists and her thighs. She looked down.
There were chains, each link of which was the size of her hand, across her chest, and smaller-linked chains across her thighs and smaller still around her wrists. She pulled against them and realised that they were holding her pinned against a chair, so she twisted to look at that, to loosen and free the chains.
The chair itself was carved from stone and appeared to be some kind of throne; the seat was wide enough to seat two people side by side comfortably, and the back reached two feet about her head. The arms of the chair were broad and long and terminated in stone balls. There were further carvings all along the arms, but the chains holding her arms in place made it impossible for her to see what they were. She pulled, but the chains had almost no slack in them and refused to give. She strained harder, feeling the cold metal bite into her flesh, but gave up after fifteen seconds, feeling as though she’d achieved nothing.
Something behind her skittered.
She felt goosebumps rise on her arms and the back of her neck and she shivered. For the first time she realised that her breath was visible in the air in front of her, and the chains around her wrists and thighs seemed tighter somehow. She stayed still, listening.
There was nothing, just silence. No footsteps, no skittering, no breathing. Just the silence of the abandoned room, far away from civilisation. She tested the chains at her wrists again, but there was no change. Then she tried her legs and then her chest, but all of the chains appeared to be solid.
Something skittered again, and across the room from her a shadow stepped in front of the wall. The skittering noise was coming from that direction, but didn’t quite seem to be coming from it; it seemed delayed somehow as though it were just an echo and she’d never heard the initial sound. The shadow moved again, and she was sure that it was a person.
“Hey! Hey! Over here!” She called out boldly, her voice strident in the cold, quiet room. “Hey, help me! I’m stuck here!” The shadow wavered and then seemed to turn; as it did she noticed that it was quite a spindly shadow. Clearly whoever it was was very tall “Can you hear me? Can you help me, please?”
The shadow turned a little more, and the skittering noise got louder. It started to move towards her, but to her surprise it stayed a shadow, somehow silhouetted again the wall behind it. She squinted, and was sure she could make out some small details, but it was almost as though it was absorbing the light falling on to it. As it got closer she began to see just how tall the person was; they had to be at least a foot and a half taller than her, and she was just under 5’9. Then it shifted to the side slightly and more light fell on it and she realised that its legs were much longer than she was expecting them to be; they seemed to take up almost half of what should have been his or her waist and chest. It reached out an arm, and the arm kept reaching, kept unfolding, getting longer and longer. She tried to scream, but her throat was dry and it came out as a hoarse hiss. The skittering noise got louder and louder until it was as though it was inside her ears, and the arm kept growing longer and longer, reaching towards her.
Something cold and sharp landed on the back of her neck and dug in. She sucked in breath as deeply as she could, closed her eyes, and screamed.