A museum curator's assistant finds an artefact with mysterious powers; by Ray J Robbio.
Let me back up and explain what's happening.
I was hired two months ago as an assistant curator for the Chicago Museum of Natural History. It was a huge step in my career and goal to become a full-fledged archeologist. Dr. Duval was the current curator and, well, let's just say he was eccentric. He was a short, stout man with thinning hair. I think he thought his comb over would fool people, but it was obvious what was happening on his increasingly balding head. He took his job seriously. I would say too seriously. His days would be spent researching various artefacts. Their origins and their authenticity were all put under his scrutiny until he was satisfied that the objects he was receiving were the real deal. That's where I came in. A large part of my job was receiving the weekly shipment of assorted pieces, cataloguing them, and placing them either in storage or out for display. It was amazing to see the list of objects that came in every week. One week it would include a pallet of rocks from the Pilbara region of Australia. All needed to be identified, catalogued, and stored for possible future displays. The next week would be clay pots and utensils from Machu Picchu in Peru. Needless to say I learned a lot in the few months I was there.
This particular Friday was like every other. The shipment arrived as usual around 5pm. I reviewed the manifest to make sure that all the boxes were accounted for. On each box was a list of the artefacts contained within. After checking in the boxes, they were moved to the storage room where I would spend the next eight hours opening each one, making sure the items matched the inventory list. At six o'clock, Dr. Duval came in to go over the manifest before going home. He always did that. However, this day, he seemed extra careful.
"Roger," he said, "did we get everything we expected?"
"I'm still checking everything in, but I think so, sir," I responded. "Looks like another long night for me." I smiled at him, but didn't receive one in return.
He reviewed the manifest, comparing it to the boxes piled up on the pallet.
"Did we get box D-11?"
I dug through the boxes until I found the one in question. It was a small box, and I carried it to him. He snatched it from me like a thief taking a wallet from his victim.
"I'll take that Roger," he said with an unusual amount of enthusiasm. He walked to his office in the corner of the large storage room, and placed it on his desk. He returned to me, locking the door on the way out.
"Roger, make sure you take care of box D-31 first. It's the brain we're using in the "Body" display on the third floor. It needs to be put in the fridge as soon as possible."
"Yes sir," I said. "Body" was a new exhibit that was being constructed in the anthropology wing on the third floor. We were lucky enough to have procured a brain from the University Of Chicago Medical Center. I'm really not sure how it all worked, but the display was supposed to be ground breaking. The exhibit was scheduled to open on Monday night, and all that was missing was this brain. I remembered listening to the museum director berate Dr. Duval earlier about it. The director would not accept another delay, and threatened the doctor's job if it wasn't ready.
"I'm going home now," Dr. Duval said, "have a good night Roger."
"Goodnight Dr. Duval."
I started unwrapping each box and examining its contents. I loved this part of my job. Some might have seen it as boring, or busy work, but for me it was like touching living history. Each piece I picked up with my gloved hands was a treasure all its own. I imagined our ancestors handling these same pieces in a time long ago. The asteroid fragments were particularly interesting to me. It was amazing to me to think that the rocks I was holding began their trip light-years away and were now in my hands. I could only imagine the trip they took to get here.
However, as I continued my work, my mind was drawn to the box sitting on Dr. Duval's desk, D-11. I was curious, and it was ultimately that curiosity that led to my problem today. I checked the manifest for any more information.
It said, "D-11. Origin: Salon, France: Michel de Nostredame."
It hit me immediately! Nostradamus? Really? I mean, it's not like his work was widely seen as historical, or accurate. I had studied him at length during my time at Cornell, and the prevailing attitude was that most of his so called predictions were, to put it kindly, open to interpretation. What could Dr. Duval have found to be interesting enough to have it shipped here? I moved to the office door, and studied the box through the window. Instinctively, I turned the knob, already knowing it was locked. I had to get in there! Somehow I managed to wedge a window open and slip through, tumbling onto the cement floor. I looked at the box, picked it up and felt its weight. The plain cardboard box had very few markings on it with the exception of the box number, pallet number, and place of origin. I decided that I needed to see inside. Carefully, I cut along the top of the box trying not to tear the packing tape too much. After all, I would need to tape it back up before Dr. Duval came in on Monday.
I lifted back the box top and studied its contents. There was a simple ceramic bowl. It was quite wide and shallow, and shimmered of gold, although I could tell with a glance it wasn't. A bowl? Under the bubble wrap packaging was a handwritten note:
This is the piece I spoke to you about on the phone. I have no doubt about its authenticity. Please be careful. I'm not sure why you have an interest in something so dangerous but I pray you know what you are doing. There are some things men are not meant to know. Knowledge is NOT power, it's dangerous. If I didn't need the funds so desperately for my darling wife, I wouldn't have considered selling it to you. I pray it's in good hands.
My mind wandered. How could a simple bowl be dangerous? I took the box across the hall to my office. After searching online for a few minutes, I hit on something of interest. Nostradamus would use what he called a "magic mirror" to see the future. It was basically a bowl with water in it. He would stare in the bowl and he would see events still to come. Surely this was a tall tale. It certainly couldn't work, could it? Well, I had to try.
I shut off the lights and lit a couple of candles, placing them around the bowl. I opened a bottle of water and poured it in the bowl. The waves in the water and the light from the candles danced all around me, reflecting off the walls and ceiling. The effect was mesmerizing. I stared in the bowl for what seemed like hours. It was entrancing! I must have dozed off because I was dreaming of truly amazing and terrifying things. Other worlds. The Earth in flames. Small alien figures surrounding me, poking and prodding me. Kids wandering about the museum, staring at me as if I were one of the wonderful things to see. My mind couldn't wrap my head around what I was experiencing. I felt like I was drowning, but I wasn't. I couldn't breathe. I started to panic. Just as I was about to scream, I woke up. I was drenched from head to toe in sweat. I didn't remember exactly what I had experienced, but it all felt so real. I jumped up from my desk and slapped my hand down into the bowl, spilling the water everywhere. It took a moment for me to realize that I was awake. I shook the cobwebs from my head and went to work re-packaging the box and setting it back on Dr. Duval's desk. Just then, the phone rang in my office.
"Roger, it's Dr. Duval. Did you find D-31 yet?" he asked. I could hear the tension in his voice.
"Hold on sir," I replied. I ran out to the stack of boxes. I had been so consumed with the mysterious package, that I hadn't finished checking everything in. I searched through the boxes frantically, trying to find the right one. After an exhaustive search, I returned to the phone.
"Um, sir? There is no box D-31." I swallowed heavily, realizing the implications of what I was telling him.
"Roger, it has to be there. You must have missed it!"
"Sir, I checked, and double checked. No D-31. I'm sorry."
"Shit! Um, I have to go." The tone of his voice was scary. It almost didn't sound like him. I had never heard him that angry. It was about 2am when I felt the blow on the back of my head, and it would be the last thing I would ever feel.
You see, that brings us to now. Everything was dark until I felt a jolt of electricity surge through me. Electrical stimulation is a freaky thing. I kind of feel like Frankenstein. Now that I can see myself in the reflection in the glass, I can understand why I feel so strange, and what the "magic mirror" was telling me.
How do I describe it so you will understand? Evidently, Dr. Duval didn't want to lose his job. I, well, my brain, is submerged in liquid, with what looks like electrodes stuck in it like a pincushion. I see my eyeballs staring back at me, loosely attached to my brain, slowly bobbing up and down in the liquid. Other than my brain, the rest of me is gone! My brain is telling me to scream, and thrash about, however there is nothing there to receive and follow its commands. So I lay here helpless as visitors tap on the glass, and read the descriptions posted next to a display that reads "The Living Brain".