It was a Tuesday morning at about 8 or so when I visited the Curator at the local museum. Now the Curator himself was a rather strange fellow, don't get me wrong - he's a wonderful person so long as you don't touch the statues - but occasionally it seemed to me that the man had far too much to drink; after all, only a drunk man would smile the way he smiled, a lopsided, twisted grin that had all his teeth showing. I had met the Curator somewhere in the past year, when the story I was writing required me to investigate a particularly ancient and valuable Egyptian vase. I still remember his first words spoken to me that day:
"It's all fine, all fine, perfectly preserved, the tablet. Looking is fine I suppose…just no pictures and whatever you do, do not touch.”
And so it was with a pair of gloves and a bottle of "Dr Husby's Hangover Cure" that I approached the museum. Recently there had been quite a big hoo-hah about the town I was living in, what with the government plans for upgrading and all that, and the editor of the magazine I work for had requested that my latest article include a short write-up about the current "cultural preservation riots" that were taking place in the town.
Well, at that time I thought: if it be anything cultural, old Mr. Gregory would have quite a bit to say! So here I am, standing outside the museum at 8am, while the rest of the town sleeps, banging on the iron gates and waiting to be allowed in. Of course I had booked an appointment with the man the week before, but in general it was considered polite to announce your presence when one comes to "visit".
It took a while of course, but soon the Curator hears my shouting and hobbles over to the gates with the key. Large, brass keys like something out of a castle, the locks on the gates reminding me of some giant dungeon. Somehow the museum, with its grey, stone-worked walls and Victorian architecture, did little to assay this image. All in all, it looked like a scene out of Dracula, with the manservant Igor coming to invite the unsuspecting guests inside for, as the Count himself would say, "A bite to drink."
"Morning Greg!" I called, waving at the man. The Curator merely stared a bit before smiling his trademarked "Drunken Sailor" grin, thin, claw-like hands struggling to pick the correct brass key from its heavy chain. There seemed to me an assortment of keys, large and small, simple and strangely ornamental. Like the man needed that many keys to run a museum! Still, there were always countless doors about the place...
As the Curator led me through the wooden floor of the Museum I caught out of a corner of my eye of the many strange doors marked "Staff Only" alongside the passageway. What had caught my eye was not so much the sturdy, iron frame as the flickering blue light that emitted from the cracks underneath. In the shadows of the half-lit, un-opened museum it seemed rather eerie. Before I could comment about this to the Curator though we arrived at his office, a small oak door with the words "Curator" carved upon them in cursive script.
"So, what is it you wished to see me about?" spoke the Curator. His voice had an oily, smooth quality to it, a quality ruined somewhat by the constant grin upon his face. "I believe it had something to do with the recent attempts to culturally reform this village?"
"Somewhat" I replied, pulling a series of papers from my pack "a large number of people feel that the government's attempts to...revitalize the tourist situation here will ah...destroy the 'spirit' of the place."
"Indeed, and this is because...?"
"A large number of protests, some going on this moment, say that the government renovation of their homes and shop-houses will destroy the culture here. They insist that the ethnicity of the place has already been, to quote, 'poisoned' by the introduction of other cultural places, such as Indian Curry Restaurants...or Russian Dance Centers-"
A brief flash caught my eye. From under the wooden door came the same blue glow I had seen outside.
"Indeed that is true," replied the Curator, his smile disappearing for a minute, wrinkled arms coming up to rest upon his desk, "many a time in history a civilization has lost its culture due to the interference of governments...the Chinese Revolution for instance, where billions of books and cultural knowledge were destroyed in the span of days...the Spanish, whom leveled the Aztec temples and built what is now known as America to the rest of the world...all this due to war, due to people, due to governments. Such incidents are common occurrences in history."
"And what do you, as Curator of this museum, think of it?"
"What do I think? What am I supposed to think?" he answered, the grin slowly re-emerging, "that we can resist the all-consuming tide that is Progress? Man has tried, over the millennia, to build markers and structures that would last forever. Only the Egyptians have succeeded, and even now their eternal pyramids sacred tombs are raided by explorers and crumbled by industries today."
"I for one, would like to see this stop, but there isn't much I can do, can I?" smiled the Curator, “progress eats at our heritage and eats at our past. Soon even the museum may be washed away…”
The blue glow intensified, and a faint hammering drifted in from the outside. Things were getting stranger by the minute, though the Curator looked curiously unaffected.
“…though some may say it is important to be forward looking, I for one, believe in reflecting on the past…”
There was a faint thud, and the blue glow suddenly grew impossibly bright, so much so it seemed like a searing beam of light was outlining the frame of the door. I blinked, eyes watering, trying to point out this strange phenomenon to the Curator.
“…so they said there is a high chance the Museum itself would be closed. Excuse me” added the Curator, rising from his seat. In a few strides he walked over to the door and opened it. For a moment, the world went white. Pain seared through my eyeballs as though someone had shone the beam of a flood lamp directly into my irises. It was bright, so bright that even my other senses seemed to be affected…there seemed to be screaming…
Then the light faded as the Curator came back in, closing the door. The blue glow was gone.
Shaken, I stumbled about the room trying to stand up, one hand massaging my eyeballs, the other steadying the rest of my body against the table. Briefly, I managed to gasp,
“What in the name of God was that?”
“Nothing much really…though I suppose…yes” the Curator begin to look thoughtful, his grin growing wider with each passing second, “yes…I could show it to you…an excellent example of the 20th century…I do believe…yes…” he continued, simply staring at the ceiling. Then all of a sudden, he looked down at me, straight at my eyes, which were still half-blinded by the light, and smiled his favorite little smile.
“Well, come along with me, and you can see. Don’t touch though, don’t touch!” he added, rising from the chair. Was it me, or did his last sentence had a slight pitch to it?
When the Curator opened the door once more I cringed and covered my eyes, as any fool would when he had been blinded by what was behind that big block of wood. But this there was no light, save for the orange radiance of the morning sun, and the dark shadows that ringed the hallway.
“Come,” he said, the sound of keys echoing about the corridor.
Like a frightened dog I followed, though I hesitate to use such a term to describe myself, there was no other phrase that was more accurate at that time. It was terrifying, somehow, the light that had blinded me. It was as if my entire body knew, at that moment, that the beam of light was more than just a mere scattering of color. It was as if the glow had – and how my editor would hit me if he saw this – a sense of dread to it; horrifying, blinding, all-consuming dread.
Before long we passed once again in front of the metal-framed door. But this time the Curator stopped before it, holding up in his hand one of the more elaborate keys in his possession. There was a click as he slid the metal piece into the keyhole, all the while muttering, “Just don’t touch anything! Don’t touch!” It was at this point that I noticed that the faint glow from earlier had disappeared.
By this point I was ready to bolt and everything, to run down to the bar and drown my throat in alcohol. Maybe if I ran far enough I could somehow forget this incident, convince myself that Old Gregory here was just playing around, that being cooped up in this old museum was screwing with his mind, and maybe we could call some doctors and psychiatrists down for the poor old man.
The Curator reached for the brass handle and pulled-
Only to reveal what seemed to me to be, for all purposes and intents, and overly large and highly stuffed janitor’s closet. As anti-climatic as it was I nonetheless decided to wander inside the closet, waving my hands about while poking at the odd mop handle in a bid to find whatever it was the Curator felt was so interesting.
“What was it you wanted to sho-” I started, only to feel the impact of something large and heavy upon my skull. The world went dark-
-and brightened up again, almost immediately after. When I opened my eyes again the whole world around me seemed so blurry. Strange images and echoes haunted my senses and I gazed about the place trying to orientate myself. And then I realized;
I was at my desk. In my office. Five hundred miles from where I was.
Could it be a dream? What was going on? Wasn’t I having an appointment with Mr. Grego-
I froze. Looking at me though the office window was the silently grinning face of the Curator. This would not have been such a horrifying sight if not for the fact that my office happened to be located on the seventh floor.
A giant floating head-
“Hello” said the Curator.
-that spoke as well was not doing wonders for my already confused psyche.
“I suppose you’re wondering what you’re doing here? Don’t worry, don’t worry. You’re perfectly safe in there. Just make sure to behave normally, would you? It wouldn’t do good to spoil the exhibit”
By now I had rushed over to the window and pulled down the curtains. I had also taken a few large wads of tissue to stuff into my eardrums. No good, the voice was still coming through;
“Really, it was rather strange coincidence that you would happen to visit me today, even more that you would wish to discuss, of all things, my favorite topic. See, all my life as a museum curator I had wondered: what happened if all those books could be preserved? Everything changes, you cannot fight change. You know about the theory of entropy? About how all things must degrade, in time? What if there was a way to stop that? A way to preserve our heritage…forever?”
His grin grew wider, more macabre. All around his head was the same eerie blue glow I had seen from under the door.
“See, I can stop people from touching. I can corner off walls and build gates all around. But sooner or later the government will come in. Time will come in. All things will fade, there’s no fighting progress. But progress needs time, and there I have the weed by its roots!”
Here the face stopped, as if for dramatic effect. The Curator’s eyes sparkled as a phantom finger raised itself into the air.
“Stopping time - A ridiculous task, an impossible one. But what if it could be done? What if there was someway to preserve something…preserve it as it was, people and all, without ever losing the moment?”
“You’ve seen motion pictures. Seen how they can be played back, then forward again? I heard some of the larger museums have those. Giant exhibits designed to show simulations of life back then. A poor imitation, if I ever was a judge.”
By now the Curator seemed to be rambling, his eyes were bulging, his grin was definitely crazed, and blue glowing spittle seemed to be flying from out of his mouth.
“The Egyptians had the right idea. And now I can have my exhibits, and even if one or two escape occasionally it wouldn’t matter, because they’ll always find themselves back here again…”
“Just behave naturally, and things would seem much better, less confusing. I would forget, if I were you. Good bye, and remember not to touch!”
The voice faded away. For a brief moment I stood there, stunned, not believing what I heard, what I saw. Then I tried dashing over to the door and opening it, but the moment I touched the knob-
-I found myself back the desk again. Any attempt to do anything short of sitting at the desk typing causes the whole thing to reset itself. And each time it happens I remember less and less, like my memories are slowly being sucked away, becoming less permanent, less reliable…
So I sit here at this desk, typing for all its worth. It’s been thirty minutes since I started typing, and nothing’s reset itself so far. I can only pray that the information within the computer can be kept, at the very least it can help my enforce my mem-
It was Tuesday morning at about 8 or so…
This moment seems oddly familiar. Perhaps the head had already-
It was Tuesday morning…
I think I typed this bef-
It was Tues-
No! No! Everything is-
Outside, surrounded by mechanical vats of glowing blue light, the Curator grinned as he admired his latest exhibit. With tender, almost loving care the old man reached into his pocket and brought out a small brass sign, hanging it carefully from a hook protruding from the machine:
“Do Not Touch”
The public did not know, but their culture would be preserved. He had seen to that.