NaNoWriMo 2020 – The Museum of Stranger Things

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Cast of Characters

Chapter 1

by Marian Exall
2266 Words

The Walker Museum Board Meeting had exceeded its ninety-minute allotment of time, and still no resolution had been reached on the single item on the agenda: the museum’s dire financial situation.

Archibald McNair raised his eyes to heaven and steepled his hands as if in prayer. But his silent entreaty was addressed to another place. Why the devil did I accept the position as Board President? He knew the answer: as Professor Emeritus of History at the University he had felt obliged to step in and provide a historian’s perspective. He’d imagined spirited debates on Principles of Preservation, not endless wrangles over money, which he found vaguely sordid. He would serve out his three-year term and then retire; he had the excuse of age, eighty-four next birthday. He attempted to refocus on what Lindsay DeMan, the young museum director, was saying. Lindsay attended the meeting ex officio. She didn’t have a vote, but she did have a powerful voice. And she knew exactly how bad things were.

“A capital campaign is necessary, but it’s not enough! We have to think of the future. If we’re able to save the museum—” There was a sigh of protest around the table, rapid intakes of breath and a whispered no!—“Yes, I said if—we need to re-brand it.” Lindsay instantly regretted her use of the word. She saw the professor wince at the marketing-speak. Luckily, Ted Davis intervened in a strident tone.

“No shit, Sherlock!” Another hum of disapproval but Ted never apologized for profanity. “The collection’s a hodge-podge of mediocrity. Collections, plural, I should say. We’ve got Victorian dolls next to a display of stuffed seabirds; my aunt does better watercolors than the ones in the gallery; and the Native American section is a complete disgrace!”

Lindsay bridled but bit back on voicing a defense. She had tried her best to clean up and add context to the exhibits accumulated over decades, mainly gifts from the town’s wealthier residents when they cleared out their attics or died. She agreed with Ted about the Native American display. She had reached out to the local tribe for help but it was slow going overcoming the suspicion built up between the reservation and the town.

Ted glowered—his normal expression. He had run for town council in the guise of working-class hero, lost badly, and was on the Board to polish up his civic credentials before making another attempt at elected office. He wore a bushy beard, Carhartts and a motorcycle jacket. His fingernails were rimmed in black. Lindsay knew he had a degree in environmental policy, and one-on-one he could be quite engaging, but at meetings it was always Ted against the world or, rather, the elitist world he thought the Board represented.

Jefferson Hansen, a banker, broke the ensuing silence. He placed his hands on the table and levered his portly frame to upright.

“Well, I’m afraid I have to leave. My wife’s not well,” —a lie– “and I promised her I’d be back by eight.” Another lie; he intended to visit his mistress. “It’s half-past now, so I’ll say good evening.”

He was walking toward the door when the realtor spoke. Antonia (“Toni”) Masters wore tailored pants suits with stiletto heels. Her expensively balayaged blonde hair curved in generous waves around her face and over her shoulders. Her lipstick always matched her nail color; on this evening, a dark blood red.

“We could sell the building. Use the money to build something smaller and more appropriate. Developers are looking for historic buildings to repurpose as condos or hotels. Marriott did that with a former bank building in Chicago. And look at the Trump Hotel in the Old Post Office in DC.”

Hansen stopped and turned. “But this is not Chicago or DC.” He left, leaving the click of the closing door to punctuate his sentence. The remaining members shuffled their papers, hoping that Hansen’s departure signaled the meeting was over.

“We-ell, I suppose it’s time to…” murmured Catherine Walker, the Board secretary.

“Motion to adjourn seconded!” Ted announced. “All those in favor?”

A show of hands and buzz of assent overwhelmed Lindsay’s faint protest. Catherine was the first to leave; she faced a long drive home and the roads were poorly lit. She had been reluctant to serve on the Board, but she helped out as a museum docent and one Board position was traditionally reserved for a volunteer. Also, Josiah Walker, the logging baron who had constructed the building as his private home a hundred and fifty years ago, then promptly moved to Seattle to swim with bigger fish, was a distant relative. Catherine accepted on the condition she could be secretary, thinking that the duty of taking notes would allow her to avoid participating in discussion. She was shy and hated talking in public. It was fortunate that there were so few visitors to the museum these days that her docent duties rarely required her to talk to anyone.

Mother’s probably already in bed, she thought, peering over the steering wheel into the cone of light provided by the Prius’ headlamps. The home they shared was thirty minutes outside town, surrounded by woodland. A delightful place on a summer’s day, but threatening on a stormy November night. The house had been in the family for years. She’d grown up there, but her childhood had not been happy, and she longed to move away. When Mother goes, she promised herself as she quietly opened the front door. The cats slid out from their hiding places and wound themselves around her legs. She fondled them.

“Did the old bitch forget to feed you again, my loves?”

***

Ted unlocked his bike and pedaled away hard, taking his frustration out in physical effort. Committee work irritated him. He was a man of action. There was so much injustice in the world, even in his own town, and he ached to do something about it. He was more Malcolm X than Martin Luther King. The museum Board was not a good fit for him, but he saw it as a start. Every revolution starts with a single spark, he thought. Was that Lenin? He had a few ideas about rejuvenating the museum, making it a center for social and environmental justice, but he knew he had to bide his time. Only when things got really bad would a chink open up in the wall of bourgeois complacency. And things weren’t that bad…yet.

***

Jeff Hansen had his own key to the apartment a five-minute walk from the museum. As he hoped, Carmen was waiting for him in the dimly-lit bedroom. She was wearing a lacy camisole and matching undies. Her honey-colored skin glowed, and his pulse quickened. She indicated the bottle of prosecco and two glasses on the nightstand.

“Let’s have a drink first.”

Hansen swallowed his disappointment. He’d been thinking about sex with Carmen all day, but he knew better than to show his impatience. That might drive her into a huff that would spoil the whole night.

“I’m going to need something stronger than that after the evening I’ve had. Do you have any scotch?”

“Of course, darling.” Carmen sashayed past him and returned in a minute with a tumbler containing whiskey. Jeff had shed his jacket and tie and was sitting on the bed. She didn’t join him there, but wandered around the room, ending up at the window, where she pulled back the side of the blind to look out.

“Miserable evening. Has it started raining?” She avoided his eye.

“Carmen, what’s this about?” He began to feel uneasy. She knew he didn’t have much time. Usually, they were naked and going at it within seconds of his arrival. She turned then, but didn’t approach. Her arms were crossed tightly under her breasts.

“I have to tell you something,” Carmen said.

***

Toni stood looking out over the bay through the floor-to-ceiling window of her penthouse condo. Her husband Pete brought her a glass of merlot that perfectly matched her lips and nails, then retreated to the black leather sofa with his own glass.

She murmured her thanks and sipped, while clicking through her mental rolodex for the names of developers who might be intrigued with the challenge of converting an historic building to a twenty-first century purpose.

“How was the meeting?” Pete asked.

No reply.

He sighed but did not repeat his question. He appreciated that his wife’s career and the wealth it earned enabled their luxurious accommodation, his Porsche in the underground garage, the country club membership and so much more. Her success depended on relentless hard work and a keen focus. If that left him feeling lonely from time to time, he accepted that it was no more than any spouse of a high achiever felt. Lonely and bored. He needed to find something he could be passionate about, something meaningful, something that would impress Toni, and, just maybe, pull her attention away from her work and back toward him.

***

Lindsay was the last to leave the museum. She set the alarm, locked the heavy oak doors behind her and descended the ADA non-compliant steps to the sidewalk. She was surprised to find Andrew Stein waiting there. He was the newest Board member and she didn’t know much about him, other than he had appeared at a crucial moment when membership had dipped below the minimum mandated by the By Laws for a quorum. He was a planning consultant—whatever that meant—and had moved to town recently from the East Coast—Boston or Philadelphia, she couldn’t remember which. He had said little during the meeting; it was his first since taking a seat on the Board.

“Hi, Lindsay. Have you eaten? I thought of strolling down to the Brewery. They do great yam enchiladas. Care to join me?”

Lindsay realized she was starving. She’d been going all day on coffee and a small bag of salted almonds she found in the bottom of her purse. She hadn’t even been able to snag one of the cookies she’d purchased for the meeting before they were all eaten.

“Yes, that sounds great,” she responded.

As they walked, she snuck a glance sideways. Hmm, not bad looking. Average height and build, a thin face with a hawkish nose surmounted by fashionably-framed glasses. Mid-thirties, she thought. She wondered if he was married; it was too dark to see his ring finger, if that was even a clue these days. He had thick dark hair cut close to his scalp that made Lindsay itch to stroke it like a cat’s fur. Stop it! She told herself as she felt her cheeks grow warm. It had been a while since she’d been in a relationship. Keeping the museum open used up all her energy, and she hadn’t even hung out with her friends for weeks.

“I totally agree with you, by the way,” he said. “A capital campaign can’t succeed until we make people care about the museum.”

Had she said that? She didn’t remember, but it sounded good.

Andrew continued. “And to make people care, you have to make them notice—”

Please don’t say social media,” Lindsay interrupted. “I’ve done everything I can think of short of an Instagram photo of me standing on my head naked, and we still get the same six ‘likes’.”

He laughed, seeming to enjoy the mental picture she had created.

“No, not social media. I’m thinking of something more…interactive, unique, experiential.” He saw her skeptical frown. “Well, I haven’t really worked out the details; it’s just a vague idea at the moment.”

“Go on,” Lindsay urged, but he just laughed again.

“Believe me, you’ll be the first person to know when I have something. Now let’s talk about something else. How did you get a job as museum director at your young age?”

“My superior qualifications, I guess. And the fact no one else applied.”

They reached the pub. He held the door open for her, and they entered the noisy, hop-flavored warmth of the tap-room. After the business of finding a table and placing their orders, conversation veered cheerfully away from the museum and its problems.

***

As the last footsteps faded away, the Walker Museum settled with an almost audible sigh. The building had served many uses since it had been abandoned by its first owner a century and a half before: a jail, a house of worship, even a bordello during Prohibition. With each reincarnation, a room, a floor, or a wing had been added, so that now the exterior resembled a gothic wedding cake, a patchwork of grey stone and red brick, with turrets, porticos, and useless little juliet balconies tacked on randomly. Inside was a rabbit warren of oddly shaped rooms, winding corridors, and staircases, some imposing and some no better than a ship’s ladders. The edifice was impossible to heat or clean effectively.

Now, dust motes danced and shadows shifted in the dim emergency lighting. A floorboard creaked. A draft from nowhere ruffled the balance sheets and profit and loss statements Lindsay had left on her desk when she hurried to greet the arriving Board members. In the picture gallery, portraits of long-dead town worthies with stiff collars and luxuriant moustaches eyed each other with suspicion. The stuffed Great Auk in the natural history diorama on the second floor dropped another feather, while the Victorian dolls in the adjacent display case maintained their prim, close-mouthed smiles.

And the hairline crack in the dome over the Grand Staircase grew another two inches.

Chapter 2 

by Jes Stone
1667 Words

The museum sighed. At last, the pesky Living Ones were gone—if only for a few hours. Her children were now free to move about—to romp and play, to snarl and snivel. They could go and beat their drums and dance. They were released to call out insults from their gilded frames, now able to preen thick feathers and scratch matted fur. The Living Ones spoke of her children as being acquired, but she preferred the term adopted. Each one, no matter what shape or size, had been welcomed into her safe embrace.

Over the many decades, she’d been the gracious hostess to a horde of Living Ones. Still, none of them, not even the clever Good Time Girls, had given her as much delight as the members of her large and culturally diverse family—dysfunctional as they might be. The life they shared—in the darkest hours—was a good life, and she wanted it to go on for centuries. But now, something threatened her family, and this worried her.

The Living Ones wanted to make changes to her world—changes to her family. Some of them wanted to rearrange the housing, do a little remodeling. Well, certainly, she could live with that. Some of them wanted to bring in more children—paintings from France, sculptures from Italy. Bravo! She’d welcome them all. But some of them—at least one of them—wanted to break up her family. And there is nothing worse than splitting apart members of a family. A female Living One seemed the most threatening. That Living One—the one they called Toni—wanted to sell her and scatter her family members to the winds—probably through a massive yard sale.

As the dolls bickered among themselves and the dinosaurs chomped plastic greenery, the museum thought of the Living Ones, and she wondered what she, an ancient, crumbling building, could do to protest her clutch of adopted children.

***

Pete Masters leaned against the black leather sofa in their massive living room and waited. He’d always considered himself a patient man though lately, he’d begun to feel antsy—uneasy. True, his boredom and his loneliness had something to do with his feeling of discontent, but there was something else. A nagging hunch that something wasn’t right. A suspicion that maybe, just maybe, he’d outstayed his marital welcome.

Despite the fact that Toni seemed proud to introduce him to colleagues and to show him off to clients, he had a sense that somehow, it was all a show—that somehow, his wife was playing a role she no longer found entertaining.

Pete had approached Toni with his concerns on two different occasions, but both times, things had gone poorly, and he’d been forced to let the issue drop. But she’d seemed, at least to him, to be unusually preoccupied with her work over the past several weeks. His need to discuss his fears, to find out what was going on with his beloved wife, had grown intolerable. He felt it was time that he knew where he stood. It was time to learn the truth—no matter how much it might hurt. No matter what it took, he would find out how his wife felt about him—about the state of their marriage, and he would find out tonight.

But he had to be careful with the timing. Toni’s feelings, and sometimes her thoughts, were as secret as black ice. And, like a sleek Siamese cat, she could go either way—she might respond with a sensuous stretch and a rumbling purr, or she could strike with talons and teeth. The very thought of her fury gave him gooseflesh.

As he watched her pace the room, he thought about who he could talk to—who might listen to his concerns. Who might offer reasoned council?

He didn’t have any close confidants in this town—all their friends, their dinner guests, the people they met for cocktails—they were all associates of Toni, they were all rungs on her personal ladder. Nice enough, as casual acquaintances go, but no one that he felt he could share this sort of thing with. He did enjoy chatting with the young museum director, Lindsay DeMan. Whenever Toni dragged him to a fund-raiser or a collection opening, he would seek out Lindsay’s company. Lindsay always attended events as a single person—never brought a plus one—and she was consistently friendly and seemed interested in what he had to say. But she was too closely associated with Toni and with the other members of the museum’s board for the two of them to discuss anything more than the weather and the museum’s recent acquisitions.

He thought about the only person he’d taken into his confidence since they’d moved to this town—the barista at the Subdued Brews Coffee and Pub. Her green and lavender dread-locks were exotic and bizarre in a fun sort of way, and the three silver rings in her lower lip intrigued him. But more than her looks, he was attracted to her kindness—to her openness. She seemed to know all the regulars by name, and she frequently asked them about something they’d shared during their exchanges at the coffee counter. He especially liked the way she always beamed when he walked up to the register. They had not shared much more than brief, friendly banter as he gave his order each morning. Still, in less than a month of triple lattes—decaf, hazelnut, no fat, no foam—he’d learned that she was working toward an on-line MFA and was on the eighth draft of her novel, a sci-fi romance set under the sea in the City of Atlantis. And, over the course of those thirty sugary drinks, she’d somehow managed to draw out his secret desire—he too, wanted to become a writer. He told her that he wanted to write western romance novels set in Utah during the Nixon era. When he’d mumbled about his wife having dismissed the idea as pure insanity, Sunburst Fawn-Flower (the name on her badge) had reached across the counter and touched his hand. Her fingers were warm and slightly sticky with hazelnut syrup. Now, while he waited for Toni to speak—or to do whatever she wished—he thought about those sticky fingers on his skin and about how he hadn’t washed his hands for the rest of that day.

“Pete? Are you paying attention?” Toni stood in front of the sofa and held her empty glass to him.

“Sorry, darling, I must have drifted off. I’ll be right back.” He stood, took her glass, and walked to their kitchen for a refill.

When he returned, he found that Toni had changed from her tailored slacks and silk blouse to a flowing satin robe. She’d tied the robe—loose—at the waist.

“Thank you, sweets.” She took her glass and raised on tip-toes to brush her lips across his. “You are such a dear.”

“What’s this about? Let go of the stressful day?” With his heart thumping, he took a sip of wine and tried to look casual, calm. Toni was up to something—this he knew for sure.

“Yes, it was a stressful day. Problems with the Henderson deal, foreclosure on the hotel, a hit to my portfolio, and, to top it all off—that ridiculous museum board meeting. Bunch of small-town ninnies who want to preserve a conglomeration of junk that probably wouldn’t sell at a garage sale. Which brings me to a little problem, and I’m hoping you can help me work through it.”

“Anything, darling. You know that. What can I do for you?”

Toni smiled, sipped her wine, and looked at him over the rim of her glass. Her eyes glittered. She sat the glass on the table and smiled.

For the second time that evening, Pete shivered. He thought of the seductive danger of cats.

“It’s just that I need to work something out, and sometimes, when we’re close—you know,” she glanced at the sofa, “it helps to clear my mind—helps ideas to flow.” She tugged at the satin tie on her robe and gave a small shrug. The fabric slid from her shoulders and pooled at her feet.

Pete didn’t say a word. He simply set his glass on the table next to hers, wrapped his arms around his wife, and lowered her to the sofa.

Their time together was a well-choreographed dance that rarely held surprises. Toni knew precisely what she wanted and how she wanted it. Early on, she had educated him, and he’d been a perfect student. Now, at the apex of their love-making, he glanced at their reflections shimmering in the expansive wall of glass—wavy images backlit with points of light—star and city. They fit so well together—male and female, taunt in mid-arc, husband and wife, melding. If only the rest of their marriage could be this effortless. He looked down at her beautiful face—her eyes closed, fringed with long lashes, her pouting lips open just wide enough for a gasp. He breathed deep, moved slow, now faster, now only a single shudder away.

“Wait!”  Her eyes snapped open.  

He froze, mid-thrust—held her immobile. He hoped that she wanted…but he knew she didn’t.

“What?” His word came out like a croak.

“Paul Hanson.”

“Who?”

Her eyes flashed sparks in their dark pools. “Paul Hanson—the developer. He’s looking for a building—something with character—something Avant guard. He wants to create a high-end community with condos, galleries, a café. The old museum is exactly the right property. And I would represent both the seller and the buyer. Oh, darling…” she dug her nails into his shoulders, her voice breathy, “Do you think the timing is right?  Do you think it’s too late for me to call him?”

Pete pulled back, lowered his wife to the black leather, and stood.

“No, my darling. Your timing is perfect.”

Chapter 3

by Amory Peck
1694 Words

“The evening went by so quickly. Thanks, again, for suggesting the enchiladas. Great choice, very tasty,” Lindsay called out as Andrew walked away from the table.

Turning back for a last look and a wave, Andrew grinned and said, “You bet! Let’s do it again soon.”

Swell, just swell, Lindsay thought. Thanks for suggesting enchiladas. That’s the best you could do?

The spontaneous meal at the brewery was the first time in weeks she’d done anything other than work, improvise a meal, sleep, and repeat. She hadn’t spent any time with her small circle of friends in weeks, and she certainly hadn’t been dating. Dating? Who would she date? The Walker Museum didn’t attract eligible young men. Truth be told, it didn’t attract many visitors at all. Regretfully, the museum had become her world.

As they had walked the few blocks to the brewery, Andrew again mentioned the superiority of the enchiladas. “I’ll just order them for the two of us, okay?”

With a gulp and a touch of disappointment, Lindsay had concurred. “Of course, sounds great!” Although she hadn’t been out much lately, the brewery, with its handy location to the museum, great food, dynamite locally crafted beers, and friendly ambiance, was one of her preferred places in town. She definitely had her favorite on the menu. Friend Linda would usually opt for the healthy Harvest Salad. Lindsay ignored the good-for-you option. She was a fan of Mama J’s BBQ Pork. While Linda was pleased with, and filled up by, her mixed greens, apples, grapes, walnuts, and gorgonzola, Lindsay was smitten by the taste of shredded pork, BBQ sauce, caramelized onions, and coleslaw on the brewery’s house-made ciabatta roll. Put their roasted potatoes next to the sandwich and give her a pint of the seasonal flavor, and Lindsay was in gastronomic heaven.

Lindsay wouldn’t call herself a pub-regular, but she did stop in often enough to have her face, and her usual order, known. That evening she’d held her breath when the server approached. Lindsay was concerned she’d say, “Don’t tell me—Mama J’s, right?” Andrew got their order in quickly enough that possible embarrassment was avoided.

Though they had a bit of museum conversation, they agreed to put shop talk aside for the night. Instead they wandered through the sorts of things new friends discuss when propelled by rich, greasy food and glasses of the brewery’s best IPA. Topics ranged from choice of pizza toppings, both agreed, no pineapple. Schitt’s Creek, yes. CNN or MSNBC was a split vote. When one or the other raised the topic of PJs or in-the-buff, there was a mutual decision to end the night’s conversation. OMG, thought Lindsay. I’m weighing the merits of sleeping nude with my boss. Andrew’s so new to the board, he may not even know I report to him!

After a few end-of-the-evening comments, the non-date dinner came to a close. Andrew excused himself, but Lindsay wasn’t ready to head home quite yet. One more beer seemed called for.

In the condition where one more beer seemed a good idea, Lindsay’s mind wandered over her day. Andrew seemed to be a nice guy. Good looking, in just the way she liked, not too tall, thin, thick hair. Single (she hoped) and thoughtful. Sincerely interested in the museum, much more so than those others. Ted was such a prickly thorn. A foul-mouthed thorn. Though we agree on more than he knows, she reflected. We both want to make a difference in our community. Why does he have to make everything so difficult? Then there’s Jeff. It does help to have a banker on the board, but he doesn’t seem to care. The only thing that really seems to get his attention is the motion to adjourn. Toni’s just “so Toni.” All appearance and opportunity. She sees our museum as an investment opportunity. Catherine could be an ally, she’s the one who really knows our place. No one knows a museum like a docent does. But, how do you engage such a silly, quiet mouse? Andrew, well, there’s potential there, especially if one could figure out exactly what a planning consultant plans and does. Lindsay had her fingers crossed that his skill set included figuring out the museum’s problems and planning its way to success.

The biggest puzzle, though, was Dr. McNair. Lindsay felt sorry for herself that he ever agreed to be on the board. Yes, he certainly knew local history and was dedicated to preserving the town’s heritage. But, damn it. The old coot is just waiting out his time until he can gracefully retire for a second time.

What a set of bosses! School did not prepare me for working with such an uninspired group.

As she thought over the dinner conversation, Lindsay was dismayed at her response to Andrew’s question, “How did you get a job as a museum director at your young age?”

Her response, “My superior qualifications, I guess. And the fact no one else applied” was demeaning to the hard work she’d done to get her degree and untrue to how hard she’d prepared for her interview. Yes, she was young to be a director, but, by golly, she was trained for the job!

Lindsay was proud of her BA in Art History and Museum Studies from Radford University, in Radford, Virginia. It had been hard to leave the Northwest for four years among the loblolly pines and the bluebells and asters of the south, but she had her mind and heart firmly set on curating the past. Nothing touched her more than being a steward of memories, a keeper of history, and a caretaker of the culture.

Her dad had been doubly opposed to her choice of school. He didn’t like his little girl going so far away from home. Didn’t like it at all. Even more than that, though, he vehemently disagreed with her choice of museum management. “Why spend all that money, all my money, to prepare for a job where you’ll make only peanuts? Who even cares about old, dusty stuff? Good riddance to it, I say.” Nevertheless, he’d been there at her graduation, proudly taking an embarrassing number of photos.

So why, when asked about getting the job, did she sluff off the query with an untruth, “no one else applied”? Perhaps it was because she’d been so embarrassed about her inabilities at the board meeting—how could she own up to her hard-earned degree when she’d been so bamboozled by her six recalcitrant board members.

That’s it, enough of my self-indulgent pity party! Time to regather, recharge, and redo that waste-of-time meeting today. I’ll start planning a special board meeting right now. I’m off to my desk, no time to waste.

By now it was 10:30. If she’d thought about it, Lindsay would have recognized she’d never been in the museum so late at night. On the occasions when she had work to be done in the evening, she’d bagged up everything she needed and toted it home. But tonight, she needed the feel of the place around her. She was determined to save her museum, and that should be done from the hub of the place itself, her office.

Lindsay put her key in the lock, and shoved the door open with a push from her shoulder. The heavy old door was always difficult to open, but she’d learned the right technique needed to gain entrance. It couldn’t be done without the door making quite a screech. Ah well, by now that complaint from the door was just part of all the quirky sounds she’d grown accustomed to in her beloved but cranky old building.

Lindsay whistled as she entered. It wasn’t that she was afraid in the dark building. It was just a trait she’d picked up from her dad, a jaunty attitude while walking alone. “Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho. It’s off to work we go,” she whistled, as happy about going back to work as were the Seven Dwarfs.

Not afraid at all. But still, Lindsay was startled by the sound of, no, the sense of scurrying around her. There couldn’t be anyone else in the building, the custodians did their work in the mornings. With a shake of her head, and an increase in the volume of her, “Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho,” she continued to her office.

She reached her desk and noticed it was in more disarray than she remembered. She spotted her pile of balance sheets and profit and loss statements lying haphazardly on her desk. On her desk! Oh shit, she thought, I was so fixed on getting those silly cookies arranged on the board table that I plum forgot to take all the financials with me to the meeting! Stupid, stupid mistake!

Lindsay settled in at her desk, determined to make right the mistakes of today’s meeting. To reassure herself, she glanced at the small bookshelf to her right. Old friends like Managing Museums and Galleries by Michael Fopp and Museum Basics by Timothy Ambrose were right there if she needed their help.

Now, focus. What was it Andrew said this evening? Oh yes, he had said he was thinking of something interactive, unique, experiential. Well, I can think about that, too! What could we do that would bring people in, get them involved, having fun…donating money? Lindsay continued to ponder, determined to have the board reconvene soon. She was determined they’d hear and understand the financial straits the museum was in, as well as her plans on what could be done.

Lindsay sat in deep contemplation, and also a touch of drowsiness. She had ordered two Silver Linings IPAs with Andrew and a third while she sat there alone. In that state of reverie, she noticed, but only slightly, whispering noises around her. She snapped from her dream state with an explosive exclamation of “People! We need people in here at night. Wine tastings, PJ story hours, haunted house tours!”

At that, the museum emitted a sorrowful, angry moan. Lindsay’s 1904 first edition of M.R. James’ “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary” fell to the floor at her feet.

Chapter 4

by Linda Quinby Lambert
1743 Words

Hell, no. I’m not going to “bide my time.” That’s not how you start a revolution. Sure, “Every Revolution Begins with a Spark” but somebody needs to jerk the fire into being. It’s gonna be me.

Then he remembered, but was glad he hadn’t said anything out loud: the quote wasn’t Lenin’s. It was from Katniss in Hunger Games. That girl could fight. And I have to figure out how to fight.

Astride his bike, he thought about how he could transform the museum into a center for social and environmental justice. He paused. But maybe I should ask what kind of museum the people in my town want. Maybe I should stop stereotyping everyone as bourgeois complacents. Listening might help me in my next run for office.


Despite the lingering light of early evening, most people were already home. Who should I interview?  

Five minutes later, he slipped his feet from the pedals, wrapped a lock around the rear wheel and attached it to a parking meter. He reached for the door at Subdued Brews. What luck! Only one customer hovering over a laptop in a corner booth, and Sunburst Fawn-Flower behind the counter. He knew exactly what he was going to say:

“Isn’t this strange? I heard you were working on a sci-fi romance novel that takes place under the city of Atlantis and the name of my bike is a Rivendell Atlantis.”

 *  *  *

Ted Davis’ full name was Theodore Chandler Davis, III, the only child of Angela Marie Smithfield, a high school language teacher, and T.C. Davis, Jr., the owner of a string of profitable One Dollar Only stores.

On the day of Theodore’s birth, T.C. said, “We’re not calling him Teddy and never Theo. With a handle like Theodore, he can be anything—a judge, a stockbroker, or a doctor”­—which happened to be the wish list he’d had for himself before discovering the work his gifts matched. People needed inexpensive, well sourced products and he found low rent buildings to house them way before dollar stores became a “thing.” Like all parents, he wanted a wide range of choices for Theodore.

In early childhood, Theodore was a minefield of hyperactivity: fidgety, impulsive, belligerent: a clever, precocious preschooler with a tear-drenched face when his Jenga blocks toppled, the Gameboy was extracted from his hands, or he lost a Big Wheel race with his best friend Chase Morgan.

Neighbors were not spared Angela’s reprimands: Theodore’s first name shouted in three elongated syllables. Or if her son’s wildness expanded into a tantrum, she upped the decibels in an extended expression of all seven syllables: “Thee…Oh…Door..Chand..Ler…Day…Vis… Stop it!”  

“He’s normal, Angie,” T.C. said, dismissing his son’s behavior with the wave of a hand. “It’s just a stage. You know, terrible twos.”

“Yeah, honey, but he’s four and you know that and I’m going crazy. I used to be able to coax him into laughter with his Tickle Me Elmo, but now all he does is get loud and restless and angry. I’m afraid there’s something wrong with him.”

T.C. wasn’t having any of it. “He’ll grow out of this. Boys are like that.”

Frustration drove Angie to do something she, a well-educated woman, did not approve of: she followed the lead (albeit a more reasonably priced version at ten dollars a minute) of President and Nancy Reagan.

“Hi, Welcome to the Astrology Help Line. What is your date of birth?”

“March 31, 1990, but it’s not my date of birth. It’s my son’s.”

“Ah, an Aries. Aries are full of fury. An explosive Mars is the ruling planet.”

Angie didn’t know what that meant, but she didn’t interrupt.

“Aries kids are always on the move. They hate waiting around and doing nothing. Does that sound like him?”

“Oh, my, yes,” said Angie.

“Aries children grow up to be motivated and confident,” she continued.

“They can be relentless, imaginative leaders.” The astrologer, tabulating the number of accumulating ten-dollar bills, rambled on, padding the conversation.

“Let’s consider the context. George H.W. Bush was president in 1990. Pope John Paul II was leading the Catholic Church. Michener’s best-selling book was Carribean. Did your son turn out to be interested in any of those things—politics, religion, reading?”

“He’s four! We don’t know what big topics he’s interested in.” Why do I have to hammer this into the hard T.C.-like head of a so-called professional to whom I am paying good money.

She calmed herself.“He’s unmanageable.”

“I see. Is he strong? Athletic? Does he like playing Spider-Man and Captain America in Dr. Doom’s Revenge?”

Obviously, this individual was uncredentialed as a parent. Angie imagined her flipping through a pad of pat questions and pat answers. Maybe her name was Pat.

Angie reinstated composure. “No Nintendo. He has a Game Boy with one Super Mario cartridge. And he’s energetic. He never stops running.”

“I suggest you get him into sports. Aries people are excitable. You know, they’re rams!  He has a lot of energy to expend and will be willing to try almost any sport.”

“Thank you. I’ll do that.” She declined to ask what list of sports existed on the astrologer’s pad of paper and decided to interpret the only practical advice she’d wrested from the conversation: increased activity.

Angie hung up the receiver, resolved to hide the phone bill when it came, and, before her next step of calling a child psychologist, she took Theodore to Wal-Mart to buy him the Huffy Dirt Dog bike advertised in the Sunday paper.

Biking turned out to be the psychologist.

The Huffy was the first of many bikes to become the supreme channeler of his childhood, teenage, and young adult energy. Next came a BMX 2000 Millennium Interceptor and a vintage Schwinn he took apart and rebuilt. His buddy Chase kept the parts organized, assisted with replacement of brakes and handlebars and tires. Together they found a couple of beat-up Gary Fisher mountain bikes at a garage sale.

“Gary Fisher—the guy who invented mountain bikes and got suspended from racing because his hair was too long!” gasped an excited Chase. “Those people didn’t know what they had.”

Ted and Chase polished ’em up for a couple of road races because the county chapter of Chicks Who Ride Bikes had signed up. They were there—all flashy, sporty females in their twenties—but paid no attention to two fifteen-year olds.

For high school graduation both the Morgans and the Davises bought the boys bikes and tickets to northern California on the Green Tortoise Bus to pick them up. The Tortoise, dubbed as ‘Woodstock on Wheels,’ ‘a highway hostel,’ ‘a rolling commune’ featured meals cooked alongside the bus and stops at hot springs. Bathers “stripped down to their smiles,” an activity unadvertised in the company’s brochure. At night the bus was transformed with weird platforms with mattresses and hanging bunks. After four days, the Tortoise arrived at the San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal in a dim, deserted back alley at 6:00 a.m.

“Let’s hitchhike to Walnut Creek.” Thumbs up on the short access road to the Bay Bridge, snagged a ride in an old Deux Chevaux from an SF State student on his way to hike the wilderness trails near the bike factory housing a Rivendell Atlantis for each.

Grant Petersen himself, the owner! the founder! the guy who got his company’s name from The Lord of the Rings! greeted them. “Hey guys, you’ve had a long trip, and you’re going to have a longer one riding home. This your first long ride?”

They nodded, showing him their copy of Bicycling the Pacific Coast and mentioning that they had three months before school started in the Fall.

“You’ll love riding the Atlantis. It’s all steel, been pumping these out since 1994. Green and cream colored only. Nothin’ better than serviceable steel.”

“Be safe. Have fun…like when you were little.”

“By the way”, he added, I’ll send you a copy of my book when it’s published. Watch for it: Just Ride. There are a couple of gravel grinder races on your way home. Might check them out. Like the Oregon Coast Epic.”

“Being in a gravel grinder is like riding a road bumpier than your great grandmother’s washboard,” he said, “but you’re young. Try it.”

Neither knew what a washboard was, but they took the challenge, levitating over exposed rocks and a pothole that necessitated a crawl to a first aid station. Chase had a two-inch scar over his eyebrow, a visual medal for his bravado.

“I’m looking forward to some smooth tarmac,” he said, smoothing out the row of butterfly-bandages holding his skin together and ignoring watery dribbles of blood seeping at the edges.

* * *

In spite of parental objections, in college, Theodore became Ted. The casual brevity suited him. Four years later with a new environmental policy degree, he spilled out into the job market with hundreds of other environmental enthusiasts. His unrelated experience (waiter, summertime roofer) and no internships, qualified him for a half-time starter job.

The company’s noble mission was “to transform sewage infrastructure into public health observatories.” Though he worked with pee and poop each day, he was impressed with data scientists tracking the use of opioids and other effects on community health. Working with fetid pollutants wasn’t his long term goal, but the job gave him freedom for other pursuits.

He signed up for an online certificate program at Arizona State, Social Entrepreneurship and Community Development, and ran for city council, sure that he could be an informed player in environmental decisions affecting his community.

His schtick as a bike-everywhere, working-class hero held little persuasion for voters. In a town trying to beef up its arts district, he was aced out by the middle-aged maestro of the local symphony who had a sprawling network of contributors to the arts.

“You visited all those crazy museums,” his mother advised, “sign up for the museum board. There’s a vacancy.”

The UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico, and the Bordello Museum in Wallace, Idaho, were not intentional destinations—just diversions on long haul rides. So, he sprinkled his application with his weird museum visits and ended up with a seat on the board where he was a strident voice. He needed the cooperation of other board members and community members too.  Perhaps “No shit Sherlock” should watch his language and appear to be more professional.

But he wasn’t going to be called Theodore.

Chapter 5

by Abbe Rolnick
1873 Words

“Quiet.” I say quiet over and over, an impossible task for people. You all leave me with your voices, your thoughts, your careless remains. You’re gone but I still hear you, echoes of time. These walls have listened, counseled, borne the brunt of centuries of good and bad intentions. I’ve made the decision to show you the consequences of your folly.

Josiah, even with his excesses and abandonment, had built his house to endure. He had hired the best workman, loyal patrons to his logging empire. Men he trusted with all his wealth. Josiah left his legacy within me. I still feel the obligation to his ancestors. If only his distant relative, Catherine, would listen to me now. She never uses her own voice, quiet anger brewing. Her mother is of no help, but I need her to turn the fate of the Walker Museum.

Lindsay held promise. The young director, with ideas and visions. I’ve just got to turn her focus from what is on the floor, as in the words of the brash Ted Davis, “the collection is a hodge-podge of mediocrity,” to the structure, the essence. I have within me treasures that Josiah intended the world to reap. I have the stories of the criminals, the innocent, the faithful and unfaithful, and lovers with passions misplaced but deeply felt.

Josiah knew that there would be thieves, robbers of materials. He worried about ideas, history, the personal stories of the less fortunate. I miss him. He left me with a huge task. I don’t trust the banker, Mr. Hanson, or the rich realtor Toni. Josiah warned me with his gentle touch, his inspections of the walls, the floors, the pegs and joists, that trust begins with the hands, the sweat, the detail is just for show.

I’ll begin today, with the rustling of dust, a shake or two of floorboards, a malfunction of the furnace. I hope I can guide Lindsay to the Grand Staircase, and even outside to the useless balconies. I need her to see.

***

Lindsay arrived at the museum at precisely 7:50 a.m. Her habit of arriving early had been with her since a child. The youngest of four kids, she’d learned that to beat the crowds in the bathroom she needed to slip in before her sisters. To get food, she’d eat before they were down from primping. Efficiency made her the prodigy at the university. Not only did she have a librarian’s degree but also a master’s degree in art history. She’d made a joke of her qualifications to Andrew, but it was true that no one wanted to curate at a run-down museum.

After she unlocked the doors, turned off the alarm, she took her ritual first breathe—she called it the scent of age. Everyone complained about the displays, the lack of audience. But Lindsay knew in her bones that the museum had potential. She sniffed again. Cursing under her breath, she followed the burnt smell to the furnace room.

The bowels of the museum groaned as Lindsay rubbed her hand along the bumps on the wall. They cried for attention, black soot and lines covered so many years of neglect. The furnace clicked over and over. A sure sign that the electric starter had failed. Fearful that the whole building would explode she turned it off. She shivered in advance, thinking how cold the upstairs would be if she didn’t get the furnace fixed soon. Catherine would freeze giving today’s tours. Lindsay should warn her.

Lindsay dialed Catherine’s house. The phone rang and rang and finally someone picked up. “Hi, this is Lindsay over at the Walker Museum. Is Catherine there?”

The woman on the other end took forever to answer, as if the world had impeded on her dreams. When the woman finally spoke, Lindsay’s heart went numb. “Catherine, you mean Catherine my daughter. She isn’t here. She leaves me alone, to take care of the museum. I need her. It’s the curse that has a hold of me. They say Josiah left a fortune for the town. But he left a home a century ago, and still, there is nothing for his family. Catherine knows that place better than she knows me. Why are you calling me? I’m lost. Can I help you?”

Lindsay knew the signs of dementia, the signs of mental fogginess, that placed a loved one in a different state. “Mrs. Walker, you are so kind to ask. I’d love to hear about Josiah and his life. I’ll ask Catherine if I can come by one day. I want to make sure she has a sweater as the furnace isn’t working.”

“Yes, the cold touches the bones. Hardens the heart. You could check in the basement or in the hidden rooms. All the good stuff is stashed there.”

Just as Lindsay hung up, Catherine walked through the doors. “It’s freezing in here. What’s that smell.”

The walls shuddered, one of the Victorian Dolls fell off the display. Lindsay caught it before it hit the floor. “I just called to warn you that I had to turn the furnace off. Maybe we should dress like these dolls, in layers like they did a century ago. Petticoats, tights, corsets. It’s a wonder that the ladies could even move.”

“Not my style. I assume you have a list of repair men who can come out quickly. We open in two hours. Maybe they’d donate their services for a good cause.” Catherine took the doll from Lindsay’s hand and screwed it to its pedestal. Each turn emitted a tiny screech.

Lindsay noted Catherine’s closed mouth, the set of her jaw. She assumed it was her reference to her mother. “I’ve got an idea. I’ll make a few calls and then let’s pop in at Subdue Brews Coffee before the museum opens. We can warm ourselves up and order food for later.”

***

The last thing Catherine wanted was to be around people. No one knew how far-gone her mother was. Now Lindsay would go soft on her, ask questions. Sometimes secrets were meant to stay hidden.

Lindsay held Catherine’s arm and guided her into the café. Catherine chuckled to herself. Patrons might think they were a couple. A silly idea. Lindsay was as straight as an arrow and too focused on the museum to even notice men let alone women. Even so, the human connection felt good.

Sunburst called out, “Catherine, so good to see you and the same to you Lindsay. We’re real busy but I’ll find you a table. You two don’t usually come in together or at this time. Must be important.”

Lindsay laughed, “It’s about survival. Thanks for being here. You are a bright light.”

Catherine bristled at Lindsay’s cheerfulness. No one had the right to be so happy, young, and smart.

Lindsay sat by Catherine’s side instead of across from her. “I hope you don’t mind, but I want to watch for the repair guy.”

“Makes sense. Tell me, what did my mom say. She usually doesn’t answer the phone.”

Lindsay extended her hand, a gentle touch. “I could tell she was confused. I don’t want to pry but I have some experience with this. My father had to take care of my mother. She had early onset dementia. We learned to be with her where she was at. I know you go directly home after all the meetings. Do you have help or is it all on you?”

“I know you mean well, but this is private. Unless it impacts my work, please observe my privacy.”

“You are so important to the museum. As the docent you know all the nooks and crannies. Your mom mentioned hidden rooms, she inferred that your ancestor Josiah, left valuable artifacts in them.”

Catherine choked. “She’s been saying that for years. Believe me, I wish it were true. Claims that the story came from her great grandfather.”

Lindsay looked at her with pleading eyes. “This is important for the museum and I bet it might help your mother, repeating stories that are imbedded from the past. I know it helped my mother and father communicate.”

Despite her reluctance to expose her life, Catherine felt appreciated, seen. “What do you need?” The smile on Lindsay’s face reassured her.

“The only way we can find out is to look at the original plans of the house. I bet the entrances have been closed off. I’ll search for files at the museum and in the archives. Maybe I could visit you and your mom. Just talk. You never know where it might lead.”

“Promise you won’t tell anyone? I’m embarrassed, feel resentful. My mom probably doesn’t even care.”

“Absolutely, hush is the word. I don’t want the board to know until we’re sure. Even if we don’t find anything, it might help your mom, and maybe you.”

Catherine covered her eyes with her napkin, a few daps and she was okay again. Emotions didn’t serve her well. When she looked up, she saw the repair truck going by. “Lindsay, better rush over to the museum. Our furnace repairman just passed.”

“Thanks, see you back at the museum. Take your time.” She put twenty dollars down on the table. “Have Sunburst wrap up our order. She is a gem of a person, one of my favorite friends.”

***

Lindsay ran out of the café with her brain on fire. Catherine’s dilemma burned a hole in her heart. She’d learned the lessons of love the hard way. She didn’t want Catherine to face her mother’s illness alone. Her own weak spot for family kept her honest. The museum could benefit, but more important was the community—Catherine and those who live here. Who knows what would happen if they found Josiah’s treasures?

From the corner of her eye she noted Toni, walking with one of her clients towards the café, so deep in conversation, that they didn’t see Lindsay wave. Across the street she noticed Jeff Hansen leaving an apartment building. His face flustered as he adjusted his tie. She laughed to herself when she spotted Ted zip by on his fancy bike. He was headed to the café. Sunburst would fill her in later.

Lindsay arrived at the museum just as the repairman finished parking. Breathless she fumbled with keys. As she opened the door, she heard what she thought was a bird flying. It probably flew in because she left the windows open to let out the smell of burning. The Victorian doll that Catherine had reposition on its pedestal lay on the floor.

Within an hour the furnace hummed, but not until the burnt wires had been replaced. The repair was just a band-aid. They’d have to open the walls to rewire the entire electrical system. Lindsay saw money flying out the window.

Upstairs on the second floor, the stuffed Great Auk rolled out of the diorama. It lay by an open window. Lindsay leaned against the window, rested her hand along the edge. She felt a pulse, hers, and that of the museum. How was she going to breath life back into the building? Josiah had died but his spirit seemed to have lingered.

Chapter 6

by Janet Oakley
2178 words

Once she finished her coffee, Catherine Walker decided to go back to the museum even if the furnace wasn’t fixed. She’d just put on an extra sweater. She ordered a to-go latte and left, deep in thought.

There was so much to do. True, the museum saw few daily visitors, but the one thing that was going well for the institution were the school tours. I may be shy around adults, but I do love showing kids our local history. Tomorrow, the entire third grade at J.D. Walker Elementary School was coming for a hands-on activity workshop. Catherine had sent instructions ahead to the parents on how to run it while she did her tour. That way she could split the group in two.

Doing tours are the one thing that keeps me going here. Though, she thought, as she unlocked the front door and headed down the main hall to the elevator, there was a time when I loved coming to the museum when I was girl. Mr. Van, the education curator (when the museum could afford to have one) gave the most wonderful tours. Thinking of you, Mr. V, every time I take kids through.

As she passed the grand staircase that led to the second floor, she looked up to the top of the stairs where a huge portrait of the museum’s founder hung. Josiah Disparais Walker. My great-great grandfather. For a moment she paused to study him. He looked like a man of his time dressed in a somber suit and a cloth necktie that went around his thick neck a couple of times before ending in a bow. Catherine didn’t quite understand the fashion of mutton chops but there was nothing about him that was prissy. A Civil War Union vet from Pennsylvania who came out West and joined the booming logging industry in Washington Territory that fed lumber to California’s growing cities, Josiah had worked hard to make his first million. That fortune built the mansion that became the Walker Museum in the late 1940s. Catherine had always been drawn to the portrait. Great-grandma Lydia said that he was a kind man for all his formal nineteenth century manners.

Today, when Catherine looked at the painting, she thought that his eyes had shifted, like they were appealing something to her. Or had something else in the painting shifted? Whatever it was, it didn’t scare her. The museum never scared her except for that one time when her fifth-grade class did an overnight camp out at the museum. Things got a little weird. She could swear the Great Auk on the second floor had come into the ballroom where everyone was sleeping.

From the backside of the staircase came a clanking sound and voices from the open doors that led down to the basement (and at one time, the city jail). That would be Lindsay and the furnace man there. Catherine hoped they would get the furnace fixed soon. Her office on the top floor under the clock tower would be freezing. She jingled her keys and stepped into the anteroom/small exhibit room where the elevator was located. Once the elevator doors closed, she pressed the button for the fourth floor and leaned against the wall as the elevator shuddered, then rose.

The top floor of the museum was part of the house’s original structure. Why Josiah had insisted on putting in a clock tower was still a mystery—the town was pretty much in a struggling pioneering stage with its small shops and an astounding number of saloons and cat houses that served the workers in the mills, waterfront, and the rowdy loggers who came in for the weekend. Maybe it was just for show. Whatever it was, this floor was a maze of heavy beams and rafters hewn from old growth timbers that supported the roof and clock tower. In the center was an iron spiral staircase that led to the trap door below clock’s inner workings. When she was a little girl, her father would take her up there in his strong arms to show her the view. As an adult, Catherine felt a bit dizzy when she had to go up there, but memory of her father was powerful and sustained her.

Catherine turned on the light in her office. The room was separated from the expansive floor space that held crates and shelves of artifacts by framed walls. It had been years since they could afford a curator of acquisitions so there was a huge backlog of cataloging. At least here in her office there was some organization. Though windowless, her office felt snug and safe with its bookshelves and cabinets and a large poster of the bay at the turn of the century on the wall. All I really need is good wifi and a working phone. And the furnace on. Everything else was in order. Dad would approve.

She put her coffee down on her desk and eased into her computer chair. For a moment she did nothing except to sip on her latte.

I suppose it’s what Lindsay said, she thought. I know the board has pushed her into a corner, but she was really trying to be nice and let me know that she doesn’t think I’m some sort of obligatory lump like the rest of them do. Especially, that Toni Masters. Catherine looked at the small picture frame on her desk. I trust Lindsay, Dad. For moment, she thought he was nodding back at her. Maybe the creaking rafters were approving, too.

“I will have to explain to Lindsay, though,” Catherine said out loud, “that despite her kindness toward Mother’s condition, there are some things she’ll need to know about her. Mom is not a Walker.”

She smiled at the photo of Dad. It was taken when she was leaving to go to college in Seattle. He had his arm around her and he looked so proud. “You’re going to do well, Honey,” he told her. “Remember our family motto, “Je disparais mais je retournerai.

Catherine remembered her reply and his answer. “Disparais. My great great-grandfather Josiah’s middle name, right? It’s French.”

“More than that. ‘Je disparais’ means ‘I disappear’ in English. The second part, ‘Je retournerai’ means ‘I will return.’ I have relied on that second part many times since the Walker mansion became a museum. I have always thought it was the perfect fit for the old building. I recently found I was proved right. Some time when I have a chance, I will explain it further.”

But you never got a chance to explain it to me. A month after she graduated from college, he was killed in a terrible car crash on I-5. That was fifteen years ago. A lifetime ago.

For a few years or so the museum continued do well, but something was missing. After a time, it began to struggle. The last five years were especially hard.

And Mom was no help. Of course, she was grieving, but sometimes Catherine wondered if she just didn’t care, never believed in Dad’s vision and love of the old mansion’s new purpose—it’s true purpose— a museum. Disappointed, Catherine got a job as a secretary at a non-profit two counties away and left town. It was a job in which she felt wanted.

Then, six months ago, several things happened. First, Mom had a bad fall. After she was released from the hospital into rehab, Catherine learned that Mom was experiencing some memory loss issues.

“She’s struggling with simple things like where she left her keys to leaving the gas burner on,” a friend and neighbor told her. “But it’s not like Marilyn to walk off and leave the car running all night. Maybe you should come home.”

The second thing that happened was Lindsay DeMan’s hiring as the director of the Walker Museum. Catherine read about it in the newspaper. She was young, maybe a bit too young, but she had some experience. Maybe the museum would get back on track.

It was the third and final thing that happened that would eventually bring Catherine back home to help out her mother. Just after Lindsay’s hiring, Catherine started to have weird dreams. Sometimes, it was her father. Or Mr. Van. Sometimes, it was Josiah himself. The dreams were always situated in some part of the museum or at least the parts she knew. Sometimes, they were completely strange and confusing. The only consistent thing was a whispering voice saying, ”Je retournerai.”

A loud banging noise made Catherine sit up straight and nearly spill her cold coffee. As it gained momentum before settling down to a rumble, warm air came through the vent in the floor. The furnace was back in action. “And so should I be,” Catherine said out loud to the photograph on her desk. “School tours, Dad.”

She got up and unhooked a clipboard on the side of the file cabinet next to her. She studied the names of the teachers and checked off the supplies she needed to put on a cart for the workshop. Sixty kids. It would be a big group and something she and Lindsay had hoped for.

Lindsay. She said that she would look for the building’s plans. Some, Catherine knew, dated back to the 1870s. And newer. Years ago, Dad had shown her a copy of a map he discovered from the 1920s. It had been sketched out on a cloth napkin from the speakeasy rumored to have been in the building. Where that map was Catherine didn’t know. It was lost along with Dad.

As for talk about hidden treasure, Dad never spoke of that. She wasn’t even sure if that story was true. Nice thought, though. It could help with the museum’s finances. She’d let Lindsay explore that.

Catherine finished up her tasks for the tours. The fourth floor was finally warm, but she had to squeeze her hands to bring warmth back into them. She moved around some old posters from past exhibits rolled up into tubes in a tall box. She unrolled one and smiled. It was from an exhibit on masks from back in the 1990s. They had been incredibly lucky to get one of the two or three Darth Vader masks used in the filming of The Empire Strikes Back. The museum was doing so well then. Dad was on the museum board and loving it. But what is my purpose here?

“Je disparais mais je retournerai.”

She rolled the poster up and stuck it down into the box. Something stopped it from going to the bottom. She jiggled the other posters around, but it still wouldn’t go all the way down. She pulled out the mask poster and leaning over, she reached deep into the box. Her stiff fingers touched the smooth metal of a box. She pulled her hand away as if it had been burned.

“What?” Catherine reached in deep again and pulled out an old cash box. There was a faded label with a red border on top. What remained of the handwritten notation was too hard to read. The only way to find out what was inside was to shake it. She expected the sound of paper or at least the clinking of coins. Instead, the box rattled a single clunk. “Seriously?”

Catherine took it back to her desk and tested the latch on the front. It opened with—was that a sigh? Catherine looked around, feeling an odd presence in the room. Taking a deep breath, she laid the top back. Inside she found a brass key and a note: For the elevator.

Catherine held the key in her fingers and turned it around. Why did it end up in the bottom of the storage box? It certainly was not one of the museum keys kept secured in the main office. It was small and old. “I wonder.”

There was a keyhole below the elevator’s panel. No one knew what it was for. Lindsay had made Catherine search the office for it when she came on board as secretary. “I wonder.”

She went over to the elevator and pushed the button to send for it. The doors immediately opened. Stepping in, she tested the key in the slot. It slipped in like a knife in melted butter. Suddenly, the elevator doors shut. The elevator began to descend.

“Wait!” Catherine shouted. “I didn’t say, ‘Go’.” She frantically pressed on the second floor button and watched in horror has the elevator passed it and continued on down. “It has to stop at the basement. Please stop.”

It didn’t stop at the basement.

“Help,” she cried out. She pounded on the panel and door. When she tried to take out the key, it stayed stuck. The elevator kept going until it slowed down like it was floating on air.

Catherine was close to fainting when the elevator came to a gentle stop. It rested, then opened its doors.

“Who are you?” she addressed the figure in the dim hallway.

Chapter 7

by Kari Diehl
1784 words

“Brrrrrrrrrrrrrring. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrring.”

Archibald snorted awake in his armchair, his post-prandial afternoon snooze interrupted. What the heck?, he thought. The book he had been reading before dozing off, Suttles’ Coast Salish Essays, fell to the floor as he struggled, still only half-cognizant, to stand up.

“Brrrrrrrrrrring. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrg.”

Where was the damned cellphone?! He began patting his various pockets—nothing there except lint, a roll of spearmint Lifesavers, and a fountain pen. The side table? Nope, but his car keys were under a pile of scholarly journals. That was good to know.

“Brrrrrrrrring.”

Whichever Einstein had decided that phones should be untethered from their cradles and allowed to roam free had done a disservice to humanity, Archibald decided. Right before the sixth ring, he realized the cell had fallen into the crack behind the cushion in his wing-backed leather chair.

“Hello? HELLO?” he yelled into the thing.

“Professor McNair? Are you there? Professor?” Lindsay DeMan’s impossibly chirpy voice blasted into the room, pitched at a volume that would wake the dead. Archibald extended the phone to a safer distance from his ear. Just because he was old as God didn’t mean he was deaf, he thought. None of the Millennials seemed to get that.

“Speaking” He sighed lightly. “How can I help you, Lindsay?”

“Professor, I’m here at the museum, with Catherine Walker. There’s something we need you to see.”

***

The disturbing smell of a malfunctioning furnace greeted Archibald as the museum door slammed shut behind him, courtesy of an offshore wind that promised to turn into a gale by evening. Good God, he wondered, shaking the raindrops from his overcoat, what fire was he being called upon to put out this time?

The blue-and-white “Welcome” sign had been switched to “Closed”—an ominous portent.

“Professor!” Lindsay’s voice came from the top of the grand staircase. “Thank goodness you’ve come so quickly!” She bounced down the slippery steps like Tigger the Tiger, a large yellow LED flashlight gripped tightly in one hand.

Archibald looked at the flashlight askance. “What’s happened? Why is the museum closed during business hours? I hope you aren’t expecting me to fix something, with my bad back…” He tapped his cane on the floor twice, for effect.

“Oh, no, no, no! Everything’s fine—well, the furnace broke this morning, but it’s fixed now. It’s just that—we’ve made such a remarkable discovery downstairs, and we need your expertise to know what it means. Catherine’s there now.”

Lindsay led the way to the ancient elevator and pushed the button, pulling open the brass door guard when the lift arrived from the floor above.

“Just wait until you see what Catherine’s found.” She inserted a tiny key into the elevator’s control panel. “Turns out, the Walker Museum has its very own Chamber of Secrets.”

They descended downward—to and then (what?!) past the basement, finally settling with an uncomfortable lurch. Lindsay turned on her flashlight before exiting the elevator. “Mind your step, Professor. The floor is uneven in places.”

The flashlight’s strong beam arced forward, revealing the bare brick walls of a vast room that might once have been a wine cellar. Massive pillars stood foursquare in the center of the room, soaring to support an unexpectedly high vaulted ceiling. The rectangular blue glow of the cellphone in Catherine Walker’s right hand barely revealed her presence next to the closest pillar.

“Lindsay? Professor McNair?” Catherine’s normally soft voice echoed loudly, tinged with the excitement of uncertainty. She gave only a quick glance over her shoulder at them before directing the weak light of her cellphone’s flashlight toward the center of the room.

Archibald hobbled forward across the ragged flagstones, then leaned heavily on his cane when he saw the figure revealed by the two combined flashlights.

“Oh. My. Word.”   

***

The room’s sole guardian towered to within a few inches of the fifteen-foot ceiling. Identical red-and-black faces were painted on the four sides of its high pedestal, grinning in menace and mockery, tongues outthrust.

Archibald gave a low whistle. “Would you look at that? Lindsay, focus your light higher.”

A single torso and head, carved from western red cedar, arose from the boxlike pedestal, looking for all the world like a sprung jack-in-the-box. Its puppet-like face was painted white, with black hair and—could it really be—mutton chop sideburns? Huge, googly eyes reminded Archibald a little bit of the old, silent “Felix the Cat” movies he’d watched as a kid. Except Felix had never sported a disproportionally tall potlatch hat or sat on an elaborately decorated bentwood box.

“It looks like…like some sort of totem pole?” Catherine lifted her arm up and tentatively ran her fingers along the seamless edge of the pedestal. “But, Professor McNair…I’ve never seen a totem pole that looks like this, with just a single figure. Shouldn’t there be other characters? Bears or wolves or eagles? And…it’s painted to look like…like…”

“A white man.” Archibald finished her sentence for her as he slowly walked around the totem, marking its characteristics. “It’s the caricature of a white man.”

“Is it some sort of a joke?” asked Lindsay. “From a carnival or something? A fake totem pole that somehow ended up in a hidden subterranean chamber?” She rolled her eyes.

“It’s no joke, my dears,” Archibald responded, shaking his head. “Never, in all my years as a Pacific Northwest historian, have I encountered one of these this far south of Alaska. Or—at least—not one this old. I’d need better light to be sure, but I think this must be nineteenth century—perfectly authentic and perfectly preserved. See how vibrant the colors are—bright as the day they were painted. This looks like it’s never felt the rain or even seen the light of day. Which would be incredibly odd because…”

He pointed. “See how, while the face is white, the ears and nostrils have been painted red? That’s telling. This is a shame totem pole—the kind the nineteenth-century Coast Salish and Tlingit and other indigenous carvers made when they wanted to publicly embarrass someone for failing to pay a debt or to right a wrong.”

***

“I’ve never heard of a shame totem pole,” admitted Lindsay. She’d suggested that they return upstairs so she could open the doors to visitors (although no one, as usual, was braving the rising gale to demand entrance).

She made a pot of coffee, and the three of them were now gathered around a small circular table in the museum’s foyer. “I’m afraid I focused more on early modern art and portraiture in college and grad school.”

“Well, they aren’t as common as the totem poles most people are familiar with,” said Archibald as he poured cream into his mug. “You know—the sort of house posts and mortuary poles they have in the First People’s Gallery at the Royal BC Museum. The best example of a shame totem pole is the Seward Pole in Saxman, Alaska.”

“Seward?” asked Catherine.

“Created to mock William H. Seward—formerly Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State.” Archibald gave a tiny smile. Oh, it felt good to talk history, for a change, instead of museum finances. “What happened, basically, was that Seward visited a Tlingit community—Tongass Village—in Alaska in 1869. Chief Ebbits greeted him with an extravagant potlatch, complete with gifts and ceremony. Seward seems to have just taken this as his due—never so much as sent a thank you note, apparently.

“After about twenty years, the villagers realized that Ebbits’ gifts were never going to be acknowledged, much less repaid (as was their cultural expectation). So, they carved and erected a shame totem pole of Seward in Tongass Village in the 1880s. Although they would’ve taken it down had Seward or his heirs repaid his potlatch debt, this—of course—never happened.”

Archibald leaned over and refilled his coffee mug from the pot on the table.

“Sixty years later,” he continued, “Tlingit descendants who’d moved to Saxman decided to replicate the old Tongass Village pole, since the original one had deteriorated. It’s one of history’s cool ironies that they were able to do this as a federally-funded CCC project. Basically, the U.S. government paid for a totem that continued to shame a former Secretary of State. The very man who, by negotiating the sale of Alaska with Russia, helped to rob the Tlingit of their ancestral lands.” He laughed outright this time.

“So, you’ve actually seen this reproduction?” Lindsay, fascinated by the story, had let her coffee grow cold.”

“Not this one, no. The story gets even better.” Thrilled to have two captive (and, even, attentive) listeners, Archibald continued. “The one I saw—I have a photograph of it, somewhere, at home—is the third, most recent version. A Tlingit carver, Stephen Jackson, started working on this one in 2014, and it was erected on the 150th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase. And so it is that the shaming of William Seward continues to this day…and shall for eternity, I suppose—at least until that debt gets paid.”

“Hmmm…” Lindsay, as usual, couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. “What a marvelous story! If original, nineteenth-century shame poles are so rare, I’d bet that a lot of people will want to see this one. We’ll need to get some better lighting down there…and feature it strongly on our website…”

“Hold on, just a second.” Catherine looked at the younger woman, frowning slightly. “Don’t you think we need to learn a lot more about this totem pole before publicizing it? My Dad never mentioned it, and he was a docent here for decades. It’s been sealed, for God knows how long, in a room that my parents and grandparents never knew existed. Where do you think it came from? And why on Earth would anyone hide a totem pole, of all things, in a concealed chamber?” She stood up, pacing toward the grand staircase.

“You have a point, Catherine.” Archibald raised one hand to scratch the side of his nose, an unconscious gesture that indicated that his mind was operating on full burners. “The point of shame totems was that they be seen. It would be curious to know who carved this one, how it got here…”

“…And who it was meant to shame.” Catherine paused at the foot of the stairs to look up at her great-great grandfather Josiah’s portrait.

And, in the back of her mind, the dream-voice returned to its favorite refrain: “Je disparais mais je retournerai.”

I disappear, but shall return…

Chapter 8

by Carol McMillan
1676 Words

Lindsay’s mattress felt hard and unyielding. Pushing herself up on one elbow, she punched her pillow a few times, then resettled back onto it, hoping some adjustments might lure sleep to her. Thoughts chased around her brain like a roomful of puppies, each one grabbing the tail of another.

That pole! The image was unsettling. It was decidedly ugly and certainly didn’t evoke a sense of graceful beauty like much of the Northwestern Native art she admired. She might not like it as a piece of art, but Lindsay knew it could be useful in restoring public interest in the museum.

A shame pole, wasn’t that what Archibald called it? Lindsay mentally reviewed his story about Seward’s pole, imagining a descriptive placard placed at the entrance to the carving’s room. Everyone would have to enter via the elevator, but how many visitors could that old elevator accommodate per hour? Was that room handicapped accessible? Did it meet ADA standards? Maybe the carving would have to be moved. But it certainly was striking being the only artifact in its own huge gallery. Hopefully they could leave it there. But maybe not.

Ted! He liked to point out how pitiful many of the exhibits were. Well, just wait till he sees this one! And Andrew—what was he mentioning at dinner? Interactive exhibits? Yes, most museums now have interactive exhibits. But could visitors interact with a carving? Oh, the hat! The man on the pole was wearing a potlatch hat. Maybe the tribes could teach visitors to weave cedar hats? No, too hard. But maybe they’d demonstrate making a hat? Maybe have visitors weave something small. Little cedar mats, perhaps. How could the museum get the cedar for weaving? But, then again, why would the tribes want to help? No one from the reservation had ever gotten back to her when she’d asked for help with the exhibits before…

Lindsay shoved herself up again, suddenly wide-eyed. What if they knew! What if the local Tribes knew about the pole? Maybe they didn’t want to have anything to do with the museum because they had known all along there was a shame pole inside? Was it wrong for the museum to have it?

Sighing, she lowered herself slowly back down, pulling the covers up over her shoulders. Closing her eyes, Lindsay breathed in to a slow count of four, held it, then breathed out to the same count. I need to think about this tomorrow. She concentrated on the slow breaths until her mind calmed enough that she finally drifted off.

***

Across town, Catherine’s eyes sprang open just as Lindsay’s were finally closing. Another strange dream. What was it? She’d almost lost it, but now she remembered. Someone or something had taken her hand. They were in the museum, and it was leading her up the Grand Staircase. Reaching the top, Catherine could smell the musty air of the old building. Her guide stopped in front of Josiah’s portrait. Catherine studied it; she felt there was something important she was meant to notice. Her mind scanned the familiar visage of the old man. The tie wrapped around his neck and tied in a bow, and…mutton chops. Where else had she just seen those funny, overwide, extended sideburns?

That’s when Catherine’s eyes had sprung open. The carving! The carving had mutton chops. Native men generally didn’t have sufficient facial hair to grow mutton chops. Archibald had talked about Seward’s pole; he’d said the museum’s shame pole must also be for a white guy. So, it wasn’t just the white paint that gave him the clue, but also the mutton chops. But who was the caricature pole of?

Realizing sleep would elude her for a while, Catherine grabbed her fleece robe from the hook on the back of her bedroom door, and padded downstairs in the dark, waiting to switch on a light till she entered the kitchen. As the light clicked on, she startled to see her mother seated in one of the oak kitchen chairs. Marilyn’s long grey hair reached down the chair’s ladder-back.

“Mom! What are you doing sitting in the dark?”

“He ate my sandwich.”

“Huh? Who ate your sandwich?”

“Your dad!”

Catherine walked to the table and looked down to see breadcrumbs scattered on the blue-patterned salad plate in front of her mom. “Oh, Mom. I’m sure you ate it. You’ve just forgotten.”

“No! Turkey! I’d made it with mayonnaise and mustard and lettuce—just the way I like it. Then he ambled in, leaned on the table, didn’t even say a word, but picked it up and started eating.”

Catherine had lost patience with her mother’s strange stories. “Mom, dad’s been gone for years now. Ghosts can’t eat sandwiches. Think about it; once he bit into it, it would just fall right through him onto the floor.” She recognized the futility of her weak logic even as the words came out of her mouth.

“You never believe anything I tell you. You don’t care if I live or die!”

Catherine went to the fridge and took out the turkey carcass and condiments. “I’ll make you another sandwich, Mom.”

Laying out four pieces of bread, she decided she might as well make herself one too.

Her mom made no comment, but at least the offer stemmed the wave of complaint that had been about to flood the kitchen.

“Mom, you spoke to Lindsay, my boss, on the phone yesterday. Do you remember?”

“That woman who called?”

“Yes, I’m sure it was her.”

“What did she want? She didn’t even want to talk to me. She just wanted you.”

“Well, she does want to talk with you. She was wondering if she could come by to meet you. She’d love to chat.”

“With me? I suppose so. Do I have to wear a dress? I don’t like to wear dresses.”

“You can wear whatever you want, Mom. How about your Seahawks’ hoodie. Don’t you love that?” Marilyn nodded, accepting the sandwich Catherine handed to her.

“OK, I’ll see when she’d like to come.”

They ate their sandwiches in silence. Catherine wondered what thoughts made their way through her mother’s deteriorating mind.

***

Lindsay’s unwieldy museum key was just opening the front door when Catherine came panting up to her side.

“Lindsay, I hoped I could catch you,” she gasped for air from her short sprint. “We have to go look at the pole. I think I figured something out!”

Removing her key from the opened door, Lindsay pointed to the small brass one dangling beside it. “I have the elevator key right here. Yes, I suppose we can go down right now.” She knew Toni had mentioned something about bringing special visitors to the museum that day, but she didn’t know when, and she wasn’t certain her presence would be needed.

The elevator creaked on its way down past the basement. The two women inside rode silently. A temporary light had been wired into the room the night before. Lindsay pulled the chain and was greeted by the four-faced carving with its pop eyes and creepily blood-red nostrils and ears.

Catherine leapt forward. “Yes, mutton chops. Look. See, it has curly mutton chops. What Native man do you know has that much facial hair? That’s why Andrew was so certain that it was made to mock a white man.”            

Lindsay nodded, catching her drift. “You mean, like Seward’s pole. Andrew did say this one is a white man too.”

“Yes, and…oh my god! Yes! Look! It has a bow on its neck. Just like Josiah’s! In his portrait. He’d wrap his tie around and make a bow in front!” Catherine had reasoned that the carving might be a caricature of Josiah, but she wasn’t positive until she saw the bow tie.

“You think this pole is a shame pole for your great great grandfather?”

“Yes, yes. It must be!” Catherine could scarcely contain her excitement. “Do you suppose my mom knows? Is it part of the hidden rooms she mentioned? Oh, gosh, I forgot to tell you. She agreed to meet you for an interview.”

“Goodness. I don’t know what to think! That’s excellent news. But about the pole. Such an interesting thought. Thank you for all this, Catherine. I need to go to my office and try to digest what you’re suggesting.”

***

Lindsay rode the elevator to the main floor, and left Catherine to continue up to her room below the tower. In her office, Lindsay hurried to her computer to Google the Seward pole. She wanted to check on the information Archibald had given them.

Yes, there it was. Seward went to Alaska and met with the Tlingit Chief in 1869. He sailed there on the steamship ‘Active’. 1869. The museum was built in 1850 as Josiah’s home. Did they know each other? Had Seward’s ship stopped here on its way? In fact, was it possible that Josiah had accompanied Seward to Sitka? Lindsay’s mind had new material to spin through its always active cycles. She heated a cup of day-old coffee in her microwave and sat to sip and cogitate.

***

An hour later the museum’s heavy front door creaked open again. Toni led in two men dressed in neat, expensive suits. The taller one carried a briefcase with the logo for Seaview Properties, Inc. embossed in the leather. Toni made no attempt to contact Lindsay, in fact, she subtly hurried the men into one of the corridors where she hoped their presence wouldn’t be discovered.

“I can’t guarantee anything, but I think the owners would be more than interested in selling, if the right offer were made. You will see that on the west side of the building most rooms have excellent views of the water.”

Even as Toni spoke, the walls of the museum gave a shudder. The crack over the Grand Staircase opened wider. A few chunks of plaster disintegrated into powder as they dropped onto the marble floor.

Chapter 9

by Victoria Doerper
1730 words

Margaret the Great Auk found the window’s placement ironic. Just outside her diorama. West wall. Windowsill a feather or two higher than her head. Spectacular view of the rocky shore and sea, so she’d been told. As close as she would ever get to the sight of anything resembling her former habitat. And she couldn’t see it. If she fell down and rolled to stillness at just the right angle below the window, she could catch a glimpse of clouds gliding by, though, almost feel the rhythm and lap of waves against her feathery sides, the excitement of dives into the thrilling watery depths, the sight of her mate paddling toward her. But then she’d startle back to reality and realize where she was, on an unforgiving hard floor. She’d need help getting up. When she’d been a Living One, she’d spent most of her time at sea. On land, she teetered and wobbled on her webbed feet. Her stubby little wings took her rocketing through water, but they were useless for liftoff from either sea or land. Even then, land had felt almost alien, but not nearly as alien as this place.

Margaret had always known where her bodily presence belonged, alive or dead. She’d been dead for over a century. By now her body should have disassociated and transformed. Maybe into seawater, ebbing and flowing. She could have felt the sun again as she swirled, crested, and foamed over the rocks of Iceland’s shores. Or perhaps a bit of her would have become a scattering of bright algae, riding the waves, eating the light. But here she was, stuck in this phony environment. Kept intact by stitches and glue. Lately the Living Ones had failed to reattach feathers that had loosened and dropped to the floor. What were they thinking? But then, Margaret’s experience led her to believe that human Living Ones rarely thought about the consequences of what they did, or did not, do.

Margaret and her mate had been killed over a hundred and fifty years ago by two fishermen. After that, they’d sold her body to a dry, soulless collector of rare specimens. He’d sent her to a taxidermist to be stuffed. Humiliating. And then she’d been bought, sold, and traded, as if, in life or death, she’d never been more than feathers, beak, and bones. As if she and her species had never had any other role to play in the great, grand pattern of planet Earth except as a benefit to the humans. Of course it was right that she not live forever. Each individual would die. When they died they gave space to others who would come after them, a gift to the future. Each one received and each one gave back. But the human Living Ones had taken and taken and taken, without guilt or shame, and never given back.

And now here she was, on the floor next to this crummy diorama. Eye to the sky. With nothing to do but ponder the past until someone wandered in and returned her to her place, right behind the placard labeled “Great Auk. Extinct.” Some debts can be repaid, thought Margaret. For others, there is only punishment or atonement. One way or another, balance would be restored. She was sure of that.

***

Toni noticed the building shudder. It wasn’t the first time. She didn’t believe in ghosts, but sometimes this old building gave her the creeps. She pushed aside the feeling and quickened her pace, heading for the Grand Staircase.

“Did you feel that?” Paul asked. “Was that an earthquake?”

“I didn’t feel a thing,” Toni replied with a smile. She did not need Paul to start thinking about earthquakes and structural integrity. “I think a new furnace is being installed in the basement,” she continued. Not quite a lie since she didn’t say she knew for sure. “It could be the rumble and commotion down there.”

Paul nodded, then whispered to Gerald, who scribbled something into a small notebook. Toni moved them along. A firm believer in the dazzle-factor, an aficionado of the dramatic pause, she shepherded clients from highlight to highlight, steered them away from flaws, and did her best to keep them from lingering in one spot for long. Lingering meant a client might discover an imperfection. If they were interested, clients would eventually find a property’s problems, but on the first visit she wanted to create an impression of beauty and possibility. Even seasoned developers like Paul were not entirely immune to this approach.

At the foot of the staircase Toni paused for effect, striking an “alluring-woman-displaying-expensive-car” pose. “Isn’t this staircase glorious?” She walked over to the thick carved newel post and gracefully rested her slender hand on its smooth top, blood red nails gleaming incongruously next to the ancient wood. “This is, of course, original. I believe Josiah Walker brought the post back from one of his many trips. A gift from someone he’d visited.” Well, she did believe that was true but wasn’t sure of the details.

“I’m sure we can investigate its provenance if it comes to that,” Paul said. “This is clearly a valuable piece. Beautiful carving created by a skilled artist.” He bent down to further examine the carved images. “Orcas. I don’t know a lot about tribal motifs, but I do know that killer whales are auspicious.”

Gerald, his assistant, perked up. Darlene, a woman he’d been dating off and on, was obsessed with Northwest Indian art and he’d tagged along with her to a couple of lectures. He hadn’t paid much attention to the speakers, though, distracted as he was by the press of Darlene’s thigh against his. But he always made a point of remembering a few facts. He was surprised to find an opportunity to use one of them now.

“I’m pretty sure the orcas symbolize family and harmony.”

Paul looked at him in surprise. Gerald and his non-descript suits, average brown hair, forgettable face, subservient manner. He rarely contributed to a conversation. Maybe Paul had underestimated him.

“The orcas were protectors too,” Gerald continued, “kept people safe when they traveled, guided them back home.”

Well, Toni thought, the orcas were guiding this part of the tour in the wrong direction. Too much lingering. “Let’s move on to the second floor,” she urged, clicking up the stairs, Paul and Gerald in her wake. She hoped Paul would notice the scarlet soles of her stratospherically expensive Louboutin shoes. She’d closed multi-million dollar deals in these very heels. But failing that, she was sure she could capture his gaze with the provocative sway of her trim hips as she sashayed up the stairs. With any luck, he wouldn’t notice the crack in the dome above them.

***

Ted watched Sunburst at the espresso machine, her movements deft and sure. Purple and green dreads bobbed as she measured, tamped, pulled, steamed, and poured. She had told him early evening was usually a slow time, but a group of women, probably about his mother’s age, bustled in right after him, placed their orders, and settled down at a far table. Ted noticed that each woman carried the same book. Flowers on the cover. “The Keeper of Lost Things.” Must be a book club. His own mother was probably a member of a club like this.

In a few minutes, Sunburst had completed her latte masterpieces and delivered them to the table. She joined him at the counter.

“What will you have? Espresso? Americano? Macchiato? Some incredibly complicated version of a latte?”

“Thanks. A decaf Americano, one shot, would be great.”

“Heavy duty.” She gave him a smile that went on for miles. A smile so intimate that he felt his face flush. Or maybe he was just wishing that her smile had been a special one. Probably her regular customer-friendly smile. Oh well.

“Any room for cream?” she asked.

Before he could answer, his phone buzzed to life on the counter.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I need to see who this is. No cream.” He smiled back at Sunburst, then glanced at the phone, shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry, I have to take this.” Sunburst ambled away toward the other end of the counter and began to conjure up his Americano.

“Hi Mom,” he said. “This isn’t a very good time. I’m a little busy right now.”

“This won’t take long, honey. I need to give you a message.”

“I’m in the middle of interviewing someone for a project at the museum. Can I call you back?”

“Is the name of this person you’re talking to Catherine?”

“What? Who is Catherine? I’m meeting with a woman named Sunburst.”

“The-o-dore, Sunburst is not a real name, and you know it. You’re just trying to put me off.”

“No, mom, I’m not trying to put you off. I’ll call you back in awhile. And, yes, Sunburst is a real name. And a real person. I’ve been talking with her.”

“Well, wrap up your conversation then. You need to talk to Catherine.”

“Mother, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Have you been drinking?”

“I have not, Theodore. You know I quit drinking years ago. I’m with Jasmine. She told me it was extremely important for you to get in touch with Catherine.”

“Who the heck is Jasmine?” If it hadn’t been his mother, he would have used a much stronger word than “heck.”

“Jasmine is my astrologer. Remember, I told you a few months ago.”

“Mom,” Ted continued in his most patient voice. “Is this the same astrologer who told you someone stole my bike?”

“Yes! And don’t you dare criticize her for that. Your friend borrowed the bike. How was Jasmine to know? Anyway, she was right that you didn’t have your bike.”

“Right.” Ted sighed. “Who is Catherine?”

“Jasmine went into something like a trance a few minutes ago. When she came out of it, she told me I had to let you know immediately that you must call Catherine. It’s very important! So I’m giving you the message right now. I’m calling from Jasmine’s office. Would you like to talk to her?”

“NO Mother! OK, I’m going to have to hang up now. I need to finish up this interview. Thanks for calling.”

“Talk to Catherine,” he could hear his mother shouting as he disconnected.

Chapter 10

by Dick Little
1703 words

The day after the discovery at the museum, Archibald McNair needed some processing time. After dinner and helping with the dishes as usual, he repaired to his tasteful, book-lined study. He gave perfunctory jabs at the fire with a wrought-iron poker, replaced it in its rack, then settled into his leather easy chair. He reached to the end table for the Venetian cut crystal decanter of his favored twelve-year-old Scotch and poured himself a healthy glassful. He didn’t suspect that his wife Emma regularly refilled the bottle with the cheapest swill she could find at BevMo.

Whatever the mystery that he no longer knew one brand from another, “Archie,” Professor McNair (Ph.D., History, Southwest New Mexico A&M, ret.), did enjoy his Scotch. He took a few sips, then tapped a plug of imported Mac Baren tobacco into his beloved meerschaum pipe, the soft amber of its bowl bespeaking its age, and lit up. He was not fooled about pipe tobacco, particularly the “Scottish” brand. He just chose to ignore the fact that it consisted of Virginia tobacco, accentuated by a smidgen of Scotch whiskey.

Ah, memories of a well-lived life of eighty-four years. He loved his Emma (fifty-five years and counting). They lived in a fine home, in a small, cozy town, and, while not affluent, were well-off. Their three adult children and their spouses each lived just the right distance away but came home for enjoyable holiday visits with grandchildren.

That said, at his age, Archie’d read every book he imagined reading, published enough books and articles to sate his ego, and deliberately partook of zero interest in current affairs. His only nod to academia and his career these days was to help guide the fortunes, or lack thereof, of the local Walker Museum. Even there, his interest had been waning; too much teeth-gnashing about money, not enough about esoterica. But yesterday had come as a surprise, even to his jaundiced self.

As he slowly puffed on his pipe, he contemplated recent developments—specifically, the ramifications of a Seward shame totem he’d waxed so brilliantly about. In his reverie this evening in front of the flickering fire, he nodded off. His pipe, now safely extinguished, slipped from his palm to his lap. Wife Emma tiptoed in, placed the pipe on the mahogany end table, and kissed her husband goodnight on the forehead. She went quietly upstairs to her bedroom.

Archie blinked his eyes open. When he was sure Emma’d left, he got out of his chair. He listened carefully (she rarely came back down after her evening toilette), then slipped into his forest-green, fleece-lined, monogramed Patagonia parka from REI and let himself out the back door. On the landing, he reached into the jacket pocket and took out a plastic baggie filled with a certain “vegetable material” he’d gotten from his fellow museum board member, Ted Davis. (“Scored,” he remembered was the term.) The quid pro quo had been a promise to support young Ted in his next political venture, whatever that might be, about which Archie neither knew nor cared.

He shook the ashes out of the pipe and replaced them with a nub of sticky “B.C.” cannabis, lit up, took a long drag and held it. Another hit followed before he set off across the back lawn, a bit woozy already but under control, to the road that led to the Walker Museum. It was 11:30 on a moonless, completely silent night. His fuzzier and fuzzier head felt appropriate to the occasion, and with the help of his cane, he knew the way like the trek to the bathroom at night.

“God, you’re finally here,” said the voice, which made Archie jump a foot.

“Christ, of course I’m here. What is this, a timed event?” His mind-altered state didn’t mean he wasn’t cantankerous.

“A, it’s freakin’ cold. B, it’s late. And C…oh, whatever.”

“So do we stand here jabbering, or get on with it.”

“What on earth have you been smoking?”

“Under the circumstances, that’s no concern of yours, certainly.”

His companion, same height and hooded against the cold, produced a key and unlocked the back door of the museum. They went in, passed director Lindsay DeMan’s office, took a right down a darkened hallway, then down unlit stairs, eschewing the elevator, and stopped. In front of them was a makeshift, boarded-up doorway of uncertain provenance. It had rusty hinges, but the padlock securing it looked new. Archie held the flashlight while tumblers spun. The lock clicked open. They gave the door a shove and walked in. His companion secured the door behind them.

***

When Archie didn’t come down for breakfast the next morning, Emma went up and checked his room. The bed hadn’t been slept in, the bedclothes were undisturbed. He wasn’t in his bathroom. She went downstairs and, after looking in the den, the dining room, the entry hallway and out front, in the kitchen she found the door to the backyard was unlocked. Outside, she yelled “Archie” into the quiet morning. No reply. Back inside, she called the police.

***

Catherine Walker stopped into Subdued Brews, her fav morning haunt, for a day-girding latte. Last night with Mom had left her exhausted. She needed to vent, but Sunburst Fawn-Flower was backed up with other customers. Catherine looked around the brewery-slash-café, then grinned. At her customary table in the corner, thankfully, sat the town’s resident sage, Ruth Bader. Doctor Ruth Bader, counselor, author, former legislator, and wicked bridge player—all in all, formidable, as the French would say. Catherine walked over and pulled out a chair. Ruth held up a cautionary hand from behind her open laptop before continuing to tap away. “No doubt some brilliant article for the paper,” thought Catherine who was in no hurry at all, now that she’d found a friend.

Ruth Bader, looking more fiftyish than her seventy-something years—black turtleneck, pearl necklace, white jabot collar—stopped typing and closed the lid. “You look like I did the morning Hillary lost,” she said. “Except for the smile. I didn’t smile.”

“I guess that’s a compliment, Ruth.”

Catherine reached a hand across the table. Ruth took it, caressed it a moment, then said, “Spill it. Mom again, I suppose.”

“Actually, no. Well, yes and no.”

“More museum difficulties?”

“Well…and maybe I’m not supposed to talk about this…but…”

“Darlin’, I’ve heard more secrets than a priest at confession.”

Catherine took a breath, then a sip of latte foam. “We’ve discovered a scary Native totem. In the basement. In a room we didn’t even know existed.”

“That’s a good thing, right? Brings in visitors.”

“Except the carving’s not like the ones you usually see.”

When Catherine got to the part about the blood red nose and ears and the mutton chop whiskers, she had Ruth’s full attention.

“And Professor McNair was with you?”

“Yes, why?”

“What do you know about him?”

“Well, considering he’s been our board president for three years, I guess not much.”

“I did a piece once on a book he wrote. I even researched where he taught. In Deming, New Mexico. Ever been there?”

Catherine shook her head.

“I suppose it has its attractions, and heck, fully-tenured is fully-tenured. But I was just curious why a historian in the desolate southwest was interested in historical preservation of Native American artifacts,” she paused, “in the Pacific Northwest.” She grinned. “And at an ‘agriculture’ college in a desert.”

Catherine didn’t answer. Her mind was reprising what the Professor had told her in that brick-lined basement room. And her family motto, especially the retournerai part.

Ruth reopened her laptop and started typing. Twenty minutes later, the two of them left Subdued Brews, each in a different direction.

***

To say Jeff Hansen’s lust-filled evening with the luscious Carmen after the museum board meeting hadn’t gone well was like saying Sarah Palin wasn’t McCain’s best idea.

Carmen, in her camisole that left nothing to the imagination, turned from the window and said, “Jeff, I’ve met someone.”

Jeff spat out his whiskey. “Someone!” he choked. He jumped up from the bed. “What the f…!”

“Jeff, I’m sorry. You and I…well, we’ve been…like, like this for, what, over a year.” She started to sob.

“You’re telling me this, all tarted up like that! Like we’re gonna be bed-wrestling any moment.” He threw his glass at the wall. “Or are you and ‘someone’ having the sex these days, and I’m a stand-in?”

Carmen didn’t answer.

“What’s the champagne for? Are we celebrating?” He cackled like it was all a joke, a bad joke. “Oh, I get it. The condemned man ate a hearty last—”

“Stop!” Carmen turned and faced him. “Jeff, you’re married. I’m not. Am I ever going to be?”

“Now that bothers you. Dare I ask who’s the guy? Is it a guy!”

“You don’t need to know who. He’s new to town anyway. You only need to know I’m tired of the pretense, the sneakiness, the…well, all of it.” She began to cry again, her blatant sex outfit only exaggerating Jeff’s anger.

Jeff paced around the apartment, his ample stomach in a knot. Now this, after promising himself he might finally try to start losing a little weight; like walking the six blocks to work rather than driving. But bankers were supposed to drive nice cars, weren’t they?

Angry voice shaking, he said, “Okay, this’ll stop alright. Starting with your—make that my—bank card.”

With a reserve of restraint, at least he didn’t hit her. He did reach past her and sweep the champagne and flutes to the floor. He turned, grabbed his jacket, and stormed out slamming the door. He forgot his tie.

For the next day, he didn’t speak to his wife other than morning grumbles. He would have kicked the dog, but they didn’t have one. He growled at the restaurant server where he went for breakfast. Yelled at a teller. Twice.

She could keep the freakin’ tie.

***

Carmen’s ringtone woke her the next morning. The caller ID number was unfamiliar, but at least it wasn’t Jeff’s.

“Hi, Carmen. It’s Andrew.”

Chapter 11

by Noelle Davenport
1703 words

“Oh dear,” I say to myself, not wanting to worry the children, when I feel a disturbance down below. Someone was fighting to open my back door. She preferred to be sweet talked a little, finessed before allowing passage into our sacred home. Even for a person with the key, without the right technique, she would only give way after a serious struggle, a bit of profanity and a loud screech that alerted the whole family to any visitors. There were two visitors tonight and even at this unusually late hour, the children didn’t pay them much attention. They were familiar with both these visitors, one more so than the other. Plus after dark was their time, not to be wasted on the Living Ones downstairs. There was only a brief lull as they acknowledged the presence of the visitors before resuming their activities. The stuffy old men in the portrait gallery went on arguing over the establishment of law and order in the frontier states, crossing their arms over their chests and huffing defiantly. Charles the manatee was yet again attempting to create a ramp with his body for Margaret to scale in her never ending quest to look out the second floor window. Unbeknownst to her, Charles confided in me some forty years ago that he had a bit of a crush on Margaret. And I could see why. She definitely put the Great in Great Auk. And the Victorian dolls were out of their cases and in a tight circle, dusty foreheads touching, giggling like school girls. I don’t even want to know what they are going on about!

“Oh dear, oh dear!” I just couldn’t think of anything else to say as I watched Professor McNair and his sneaky companion make their way in the dark to the locked door. This just can’t be! I would have to accelerate my plan to capture the attention of Catherine and Lindsay. I must get them to the Grand Staircase—they must notice me! They must find the treasure before McNair. Subtle nudges in that direction simply won’t do any longer.

Catherine finding the elevator key was a stroke of good fortune. And perfect timing too. Catherine’s trust in Lindsay had been building since she realized the dreams she had been having, the ones where her dad or Josiah or even Mr V were leading her around the museum, had begun right around the time when Lindsay had taken the position as Director of the Walker Museum. Her dad and I both knew that these two, Catherine and Lindsay, needed to trust each other and work together if we were going to preserve not only the historic treasures inextricably bound to Josiah Walker and his family, but also the very literal treasures buried within me.

Yes, trust took Catherine directly to Lindsay with her discovery at the end of that terrifying elevator ride. My hopes were high in that moment for these two deserving women to uncover what mysteries lie within me. I believed that they alone could be trusted with everything. I believed they could be the keepers of the secrets that needed to be kept, while sharing others that might ignite the curiosity of the public and bring relevance and new energy to the Walker Museum. I didn’t dare even imagine what could be done with a plentiful bank account! New wiring, spiffing up of all our various coverings, air conditioning! And most beautifully, new adopted children to welcome into our family.

So crestfallen was I to hear Lindsay’s excited voice almost yelling into the telephone, “Professor, I’m here at the museum, with Catherine Walker. There’s something we need you to see!”

No, no, no. Please not that man!

***

“Hey cuz! What’s with the burner phone? I almost didn’t answer.”

“I thought it would be better that way. The less connection, the better. You still have to live with these people after this is all over. Did you get rid of that sleazy, good for nothing banker?”

“The first chance I got! He was sleazy all right, but he was good for one thing—“

“Hey I gotta go.”

Carmen heard a muffled, “Oh hi Lindsay!” before Andrew hung up the burner phone.

She put her phone back down on the night stand and snuggled back in under her big down comforter and warm flannel sheets. She smiled when she remembered that she had purchased all of it, plus a few sexy nighties, with Jeff’s bank card only last week knowing full well that by the time everything was delivered, she would have gotten what she needed from him. At that point…bye, bye Jeff. “Stupid shmuck!” she said out loud and hunkered down even further under her new comforter. She thought about her cousin Andrew and Jeff and how after all this time, their plan seemed to be moving into its final phase.

Although Andrew was the one with the Planning Consultant title, which he had graciously given to himself about eight months ago, she was the true genius behind this plan. They had grown up on adjacent farms in rural Pennsylvania, he four years, but only three grades, ahead of her. They were both average in every way. Average grades, average popularity, average ambition. Both went to average colleges, but this is where things shifted, and their paths diverged. Carmen graduated with a Bachelor’s in history and went on to grad school. She still wasn’t very driven or creative, so she just stuck with what she knew, history. Andrew, on the other hand, dropped out and begrudgingly went back to Pennsylvania. They went on with their lives of mediocrity and their communication just naturally fell off.

Carmen was at the end of her master’s program when she called it quits. She had had enough! The head of her department was a pompous ass misogynist who’s only complaint about her work was that it was too emotional, just all around too feminine-driven. What the hell did that even mean? 

He was doing some very specific research that interested her, the historical preservation of Native American artifacts, in particular the little-known shame totem poles created by the Tlingit community of Alaska. At first, he had been excited about her interest and her willingness to “collaborate,” which really meant that she did the bulk of the initial research and picked up his coffee and lunch orders. She didn’t mind so much; this was the first project that had really grabbed her, and she wanted to learn all she possibly could.

They were digging deep into the Seward shame pole, even toying with taking a research trip to Alaska. Although Carmen wondered how the professor’s wife would feel about that. He was pretty old, but not that old for it to be inconceivable…gross, she didn’t want to think about that. She wouldn’t have to worry about such a thought for long though because he had abruptly cut her out of his research. Just when it was getting really juicy! They had uncovered a mystery player in the Seward story. There was something about a millionaire logger, a second shame totem pole that had been hidden away and a legendary treasure. She had actually experienced the propulsion of drive that she heard others speak of. Finally felt passion for her work deep in her bones, only to be ripped away.

When she complained to Dean about the professor, he started an all out character assassination campaign on campus. So she quit. She packed up her belongings into her light blue ’77 Cutlass Supreme, pointed it toward the Pacific Northwest and didn’t look back. She vowed that day to never again set foot on the campus of Southwest New Mexico A&M, and to find a way to make that professor suffer as she had. To let him get excited and filled with hope, only to rip it away from him.

“Almost there, professor, almost there,” she thought as she closed her eyes and smiled, rolling over to get some more sleep. “God I love these sheets.”

***

I noticed Momma wolf cleaning up her three adorable cubs. “Come on boys, we need to get you looking sharp for the third grade tour tomorrow. You are always such a big hit with the under 10 crowd,” she said with pride. The school tour tomorrow! I had forgotten all about it. This is my opportunity to get Catherine and Lindsay to the Grand Staircase! If I play my cards right, I can get the children screaming…or laughing, you just never know what you’ll get with them these days. The children are sure to get Catherine’s attention. Come to think of it, I really should try to make the children scream rather than laugh. Screaming children are more likely to get Lindsay running in to see what happened. I need her here too. I just need to make sure I can get both of them to look up at the dome. I need them to see the crack, or more specifically what is on the other side of the crack. I think it’s wide enough now.

“Josiah Disparais Walker! Are you paying attention? If you want to save the treasure that you so lovingly placed within me, and maintain your legacy and that of all the Walkers after you, I sure hope you’re listening! And that persistent old professor is on to you after all these years, or at least he thinks he is. And did you notice his duplicitous little accomplice? I am very frightened. And I need your help tomorrow.”

I hoped this last bit would land with the appropriate gravity to elicit a response. I waited in silence. The only noise I heard was the rumble of the dinosaurs playing on the old wooden stairs. Children! I thought to myself. I’ve told them a thousand times not to play on those stairs. One night they’re going to crash right through.

Preoccupied as I was with the dinosaurs on the stairs, I didn’t notice the screech of the door as the visitors made their way out into the pre-dawn darkness. Thankfully Josiah was paying attention. He was always paying attention.

Chapter 12

by Mary Lou Haberman
1856 words

Charles the Manatee relished the feeling of Margaret the Auk making her way up his back in her quest to see out the second-floor window. The claws on her webbed feet massaged his taut skin; flaming the fantasies which came in waves when she nipped, then gently tugged at the folds of his neck.

He often remembered the day he fell in love with Margaret. He had seen her rocketing through the clear sea in the shallow waters of the tropical Atlantic. Oh, what grace, oh what confidence she had. Then, much to his chagrin, she had disappeared. He was deeply disappointed that his true love had come and gone so quickly. Morose, he lumbered through the waters and had to rest on a beach where, to his delight, he found her resting.

He settled into the steamy sand and gazed at her. He loved her avian beauty and intrigue, and, with the confidence of a true lover, he nuzzled her webbed foot. She startled at first, then sank into pleasure. They laid in Earth’s palm and, sighing deeply, fell asleep. Time had no meaning, and they were content.

Until the day they were frolicking in the sea and an enormous floating monster appeared above them. They heard raucous human laughter coming from the monster. “Ye, sirs. Today’s the day we get the thing, take it home and scoop up the money! Let’s heave ho!”

Next thing he knew, his beloved Margaret was flailing right in front of him. He felt the frantic vibrations of her screams through the water and saw a long barb in her flank. He called out to her, but she couldn’t hear him; and then she vanished. He heard the humans cheer, “Good catch! The professo’ will be so excited his teeth’ll fall out when he sees our find! And we’ll be well paid! Break out the rum, boys, and drink to that!”

As the monster floated away, Charles’s heart broke and he wandered the sea, morose. He hoped to find a pod of orcas to help him. But, however long it was, it wasn’t long before he was barbed by the same humans and dumped onto the monster’s deck. The humans’ raucous voices disturbed Mother Sea, and she roiled her waters until the humans writhed and exploded chunks of undigested food all over themselves. He was grateful the vomitus missed him.

He didn’t remember what happened next or how it was that he ended up here in this museum, in this spot—this warm, safe place—with her. Like Margaret, he too yearned for the freedom of the sea. No matter how long it took, he was committed to helping her go slowly, but gracefully to get to her destination. His mother had called him “the teddy bear of the sea” and he knew he was destined to do good. He often sighed, resting in the fact that for more than a hundred and fifty years, he’d felt held in the palm of something—something mysterious. It didn’t matter what it was because he and Margaret were together, and he would do anything to make her happy.

***

Catherine was restless—something just wasn’t right. She looked fondly at her dad, wishing he could help her find an answer to the question burning its way into her consciousness with increasing frequency. Why was it taking so much energy to create a happy place—a warm nurturing interesting place where kids and grown-ups of all ages could learn about and delight in the awesomeness of nature and history? What can I possibly do?

Lindsay was restless too. She knew she was gifted as a steward of memories, keeper of history, and caretaker of culture. What did she need to do to be able to joyfully share her glorious gifts?

What was it that Catherine had shared with her over coffee just recently? Was it a dream about a manatee? She shivered as she remembered Catherine had said, “In my dream, I was walking along a sandy beach and came face to face with a wrinkled manatee with serious eyes. He seemed to know me and through his stiff whiskers he spoke in a booming voice with such authority I was nearly frightened.”

Lindsay had murmured, “Strange.”

Then Catherine had gone on. “The manatee told me to be more bold and less passive. He said, ‘if you don’t gamble, you won’t get anywhere. He said, use your appetites for life to do good.’” After she said this, tears came into her eyes. “His words massaged my heart.”

At this, Lindsay shivered. What was going on? With fear of being thought crazy, she told Catherine about the dream she had had in which a manatee had said, “Lindsay, use your gifts and talents to make a positive impact on people and change the world for the better.”

They looked at each other quizzically and each sat pondering what this shared dream could mean. Then they agreed whatever it was, it was vitally important.

Lindsay hesitated, then confessed, “Catherine I have no idea. What can I really do to help the museum glow for our community, our state, country, and world? The board doesn’t support me. I feel like I’m failing.”

“Oh?” Catherine didn’t mean to sound disinterested. She was strongly determined to find out what was going on. Her heart was committed to saving the museum no matter what it took. But she was a bit skeptical that Lindsay was telling the truth. She thought, Maybe she was copying me to get closer to me. I think we could be great friends. But I’m just not sure. She had to check out the veracity of Linsey’s dream. “Did your manatee resemble Charles the manatee downstairs that looks old but cuddly?”

“Yes.” Linsey whispered. “Yes. Yes. Yes.”

They looked at each other, fueled by their passion to care for the museum. They didn’t know that sometime later, each woman would gaze into the eyes of the other, fueled by mutual passion.

Then Lindsay said, “Catherine, you could start this journey with learning more about the pole from Dr. McNair.”

Catherine thought, Lindsay admires Dr. McNair for his knowledge. She wants his expertise to make the museum historically credible. And, from what Ruth Bader said, I’d better learn more about Dr. McNair himself.

***

For a while I was hoping the invasion of these human Living Ones was a nightmare—I didn’t want to believe that my very existence and that of my family was threatened with the cruel extinction so many of my loved ones have suffered. Should I seek revenge? No, I’m committed to justice, protecting my family, and opening our hearts to whatever creatures need a safe and nurturing place to live. It’s time to mobilize our collective love and lead Catherine and Lindsay in the right direction. The third graders are coming tomorrow for the tour! I’m calling an emergency family meeting for tonight after the darkness enlivens us. And good fortune is with us—it’s a full moon.

I was impressed but not surprised that my darlings had created a code to communicate during daylight when anything scared them. Word quickly spread that I had called an emergency meeting. I could feel the pulse of every family member beat more strongly with anticipation. They were being called together for something serious. Something was pulling them, each and every one, close together. They were uniting. I suspected each of them had been feeling apprehensive about something. Something. Valuing the importance of family and using the code, they sent hugs through an invisible thread that vibrated with their thoughts.

We met that night in the second floor room where Margaret and Charles rested—both exhausted from their toils. I told the family members—in terms they could understand (being the innocents they are)—what I needed their help with. Without going into much detail, I was honest with them about the situation. Some of them embraced the sweet ones who cried out of fear about what they didn’t quite understand. The old guys in their frames vigorously nodded their heads and their eyes sparkled in anticipation of an adventure. Anything besides the same ‘ole same ‘ole they went through every day, every week, every month, every year for at least a dozen decades.

I was happy to hear the Carolina parakeets confess, “We’ve used our invisible feathers as coats to spy on the humans. You’re right. The only one to be deeply trusted right now is Catherine. But we have to help Lindsay find out what sort of person McNair is and then she and Catherine can bring safety, beauty, and harmony to our precious family.”

I waited a few seconds for everyone to pay attention, then clarified our mission. “We must capture the attention of Catherine and Lindsay and get them to the Grand staircase—they must notice me, look up at the dome, see the crack and, most specially, see what is on the other side of the crack.” Silently, I reminded myself, It’s wide enough now. They must find the treasure before McNair. I can’t wait any longer. Dearly beloved family, I’ve thought this through carefully. The best way to get our friends Catherine and Lindsay up there is to make the children scream.”

The family members looked at each other, skeptical. Then, a pulse of cooperation and love for each other flew through the invisible thread. They felt what needed to be done and agreed with my plan. I believed in the power of their love for one another. “Family, what will make the children scream?”

The dolls leaped up and sang in perfect harmony, “We can coo, we can screech, those children we will reach.” The other family members cheered them on until they shouted in unison, “we will scare the hair right off their necks!”

“Now, now,” I said, holding back a chuckle, “we don’t want to hurt them. We want them to scream when they are on the tour with Catherine, so Lindsay will come running to find out what’s happening.”

The dinosaurs looked at each other. What could they do to scare the kids? After a brief consultation with each other, the elder dino reported, “We could peek at them behind every corner when they come in. We could look real mean like we want to eat them. Grease their love of scary things—get them ready to scream.”

It did my soul good to hear the others clap and hoot in agreement. I was getting excited. And even more excited when the wolf lined her cubs up in front of her. “Ok, kits, let’s hear your howl.” The cuties’ chorus shook the shy corner spiders right off their webs. She grinned and licked each cub, “Good job.” Then she motioned for the spiders to sit with her.

I was so proud of them. None of their plans would hurt anyone; and working together they would scare the kids and draw Lindsay and Catherine’s attention upward.

Surely it won’t be long until all is well.

Chapter 13

by Judith Shantz
1952 words

Josiah Disparais Walker fancied himself a polymath, a renaissance man. That might be a bit grandiose. Perhaps jack-of-all-trades would be more realistic.

But truth be told, Josiah was, indeed, very clever and definitely a self-made man. His only limiting factor was that he was far too easily distracted to ever stick with one project for any length of time.

Oh, I certainly had a thing for him, right from when I was first a twinkle in his eye. He was so imaginative, so big-hearted and big-mustachioed. I like men like that. Burly. Assertive. Plenty of facial hair. Like that new man, Teddy. Reminds me a bit of Mr. Roosevelt. I certainly felt a spark for that Teddy in my day.

I was broken-hearted when Mr. Walker locked my doors and went away. I had wanted to provide him a home, to watch little Josiahs and Josephines running up and down my grand staircase.

But in due time, he did return. With that woman on his arm. The Lady Lydia. Of course, she wasn’t a real lady, this being the United States and all. He just called her that to charm her. I admit she was as pretty as a china doll and he paid plenty to keep her dressed like one. Layers of hand tucked petticoats and velvet ribbons woven into her sleeves. She could act demure, she could smile and blush, but when no one was watching, her eyes shifted shrewdly looking for some advantage. Not at all attractive in a real lady.

Josiah brought masons and woodworkers and carvers. He threw open the doors and proceeded with the work of finishing his prized building project. But the Lady Lydia was having none of it and, putting her pretty, kidskin boot down firmly, demanded a home in the country on acres of land—something a little more like the plantation she thought she deserved.

***

Josiah had been an optimistic, curious teenager when he left home to join the Union army. He was not a stranger to a musket and believed he could hold his own against those seditionists. On his second reconnaissance he was lucky enough to take a ball to the shoulder—lucky because he was quickly pulled back behind the lines, lucky because that probably saved his life.  By the time the wound had healed he had made a reputation for himself as a young man who could fix, invent, or jury-rig anything. “Get me Walker” was a frequent call from an officer’s tent. He drilled and pounded and wired broken pistols and Gartling guns into something serviceable again and even fashioned a workable leg for some poor lad who had lost his own. In short, he had made himself indispensible in camp.

In 1866, he mustered out with pay and decided to follow his middle name down some new highways and by-ways—he would “disparais” into the vast open lands of the west. By the time he reached the Pacific Ocean he had become a new man—competent, well-informed, optimistic and a great admirer of the native peoples he had met along the way.

The rest of his tale is in the archives. He had made quite a bit of money buying and selling timber, then grew restless and journeyed to Seattle to ply his trade there. However, finding that market nasty and cut-throat, he started over. He took passage on a steamer heading up the northern straits to Alaska and he spent a year living among the Haida on Queen Charlotte Island. It was there that he met the wood carvers whom he would later bring to work on his home.

For a few years it appeared as though he had conquered his restlessness and found domestic tranquility. He appeared in town regularly to supervise the building work or to escort his lovely wife to the theater. Lydia did her wifely duty and produced a son.

And that began three more generations of Josiahs. All were serious men with serious careers and each inherited characteristics of the patriarch. They read widely and worked hard and loved generously. They were gentle men who were easily overcome by a pretty face. In matters of the heart they all chose unwisely.

***

The Lady Lydia, pretty, petty, and manipulative, one day simply disappeared. Her child was still a toddler and her husband was overwrought. Volunteer search parties combed the county for weeks. Every lawman west of the Cascades showed up at one time or another. Some suspected foul play. Some even suspected Josiah himself but he was so stricken with grief, and looked so ragged, and everyone knew that he had adored her.

For a while he lost himself in building. He created all the dioramas. Then he started the finishing work on the second floor, occasionally doing some of the wood work himself but more often devising various hinges and locks. He seldom seemed to eat and the flesh melted from his strong frame.

“Well, ‘ave ya seen it now, Billy?”

“No – what ?”

“He’s got some new gimcrackery thing he wants to use. We haveta build some kinda fake walls up where those dumb balconies are.”

“What for?”

“Hells if I know.”

The carvers sat apart, pretending they didn’t understand English. They had their own suspicions. But Mr. Josiah had been good to them. Silence was their specialty.

Then, after about a year, Josiah snapped out of it—just like that. “About time” said the townspeople. I have to admit I wondered. It was true that Lydia wasn’t any good for him but—not a clue? There must have been something else. I always thought he knew more than he let on and I confess I lost some trust in him.

***

So far, Catherine was the end of that line, a shy woman wondering what part she could play in the great family saga.

She set out the sign reading: “Welcome. Please note that school tours are currently in session.” She doubted that she need bother. So far there had never been anyone from the general public show up on a Wednesday morning during school tours, especially a sleety November morning. Never, until now that is, when Pete Masters trudged up the steps, pulled open the huge oak door and went looking for his wife. He had heard that she was often at the museum. But doing school tours? Not very likely, he thought sourly. He headed to the office looking for the director.

Catherine had divided the children into two groups. A teacher and two parents would take a group to one of the adjacent wings and conduct a hands-on workshop. Catherine would lead the other group to the second floor.

She always saved this part of the tour for herself. It was her favorite. She gathered her thirty students at the bottom of the grand staircase. She invited them to put their hands on the newel posts to feel how smooth they were. Almost as if they were machined metal. She showed them a plane and a chisel and explained how those were the only tools the woodworkers had in those days. She mentioned that they would see a demonstration later of how the tools were used.

The children were starting to fidget and Catherine knew she would need to move them on quickly. She invited them to follow her up the stairs and she was gratified to see that a few of them ran their hands along the banisters, admiring their sleek beauty.

At the top of the stairs, Catherine turned and had the children spill out into the grand ballroom. This was where she would build anticipation.

“This is the second floor where we keep all the creatures, from dinosaur skeletons to wolves and birds and even little field mice. They are set in glass cases in settings that show where they lived when they were alive”.

Somewhere behind her there was a soft oomph—a sigh or an audible sound of disgust. She paid it no attention. She was used to this being a living, breathing building.

“This room is the grand ballroom. All along its walls and down the halls you will see decorative wood panels, carved by members of the Haida and Tlingit tribes. Mr. Walker, who built this museum, was very friendly with the tribes of the Coast Salish people and invited their artisans to do work on the building many years ago.”

A hand shot up from a little girl. “What’s an artisan?”

“It’s someone who does art, Dummy,” stage-whispered a boy beside her before Catherine could answer the question.

“That’s right,” said Catherine, “but it can be many different kinds of art, not just drawing and painting. In this case it was wood-carving. Try to see how many different animals, birds and fish you can identify in the carvings.”

.

The boy pushed past Catherine to get closer to the panel on the wall behind her. “I see an orca and a salmon.”

Another child rushed up to see. “And a pelican!”

Catherine was losing control of this group and partly because she could no longer ignore the noises she could hear above the children’s chattering.

What were these noises? What were the faint rumblings? Was there a fault line running underneath the museum?  Something seemed on the move.

A little girl had reached another panel and her fingers were working the smooth, intricate lines of a pod of orcas. “Look, Ms Walker. Look at the way they seem to be chasing each other.” She cupped her small hand around the leading whale in the carving as though she was inviting it to turn another way.

And it did.

At first there were the audible gasps emanating from the dioramas down both corridors. Then the metallic sound of a tumbler falling into place. A pause. Then the screech of sprung mechanisms all through the grand ballroom and clicking sounds from down the halls on either side.

The children seemed more excited than nervous but Catherine was terrified. A flight of seabirds actually appeared to become airborne as a panel lifted up to reveal a set of drawers behind. A huge groaning, splintering sound filled the air from above. Catherine pulled on some reserve of inner calm and started ushering the children back toward the stairs—only to see Lindsay running up the stairs toward her, accompanied by a man she had never seen before.

Pete, Lindsay, and Catherine spent the next minutes rushing the children to safety, carrying the ones who were frozen in fear. Plaster dust rained down the stairwell. Anxious parents and teachers with clipboards, checking off names, tried not to show their own anxiety.

Once the noise had quieted down, a couple of the students started shouting, “Cool. Way cool.” The adults laughed a bit nervously but every one of them had different words ringing in their ears—‘potential lawsuits’. Lindsay stepped aside and introduced Pete to Catherine as matter-of-factly as she could, as though this was the way people normally made new acquaintances.

Catherine smiled shyly at Pete.

“Pete is Antonia’s husband – you know – Toni from the Board.”

Pete shook her hand, then held it for a second. What a shame, she thought. She couldn’t quite imagine this nice man as married to that rapacious woman.

Both Lindsay and Catherine had become aware of the soft, querulous sounds starting up around them, from the children, from the walls, from deep within the dome. But Lindsay’s larger worry at the moment was the media. She was sure they would be bursting through the doors at any moment.

“This is either going to be our doom or our salvation.”

Chapter 14

by Kate Miller
1766 Words

Archibald settled into his chair in the back of Subdued Brews, while his ex-student, Carmen, got their coffee drinks. He hoped the poor lighting and corner booth would keep people from looking in and spying him with Carmen, as everyone on the board knew she was Jeff’s mistress. He should get home but Emma was usually a late sleeper and he was so excited about what he and Carmen had uncovered in the old files they had found at the museum, he needed to process what they had learned first. He and Carmen needed to figure out what in the world to do next!

****

Carmen didn’t know her old professor/nemesis had ended up in this small college town in the Northwest when she had finally settled here, but Jeff was nothing if not a gossip and soon let it slip that Archie had retired to this town a few years ago, to be closer to his grandkids. Jeff then told Archie as well, that his old research partner, who he had unceremoniously dumped so long ago, had recently moved to the city of subdued excitement. 

So when Archie saw the Shame Pole, and began to suspect who he thought the pole was created to shame, there was only one person in the country he knew he could confide in, and lucky for him, he thought, she was just a phone call away. Archie was generally a nice person, but he was always self-serving, concerned with his career above all else. Sure, as an old white man, he had been quite a misogynist in the early days. He didn’t think twice about drawing on Carmen’s expertise, and would never have guessed that she might have carried a grudge from the days at the university, he had moved on when the time was right for him, and never looked back at the brilliant research assistant he left behind. But now he needed Carmen.

They met at the back door of the museum and she let them in using a spare key that Jeff had forgotten when he stormed out. Archie knew the combo of the lock and they were in the bowels of the old, musty, mostly unused storage facility in the basement where dusty files, old maps, and older discarded museum artifacts were stored to die yet another death in the afterlife of the forgotten.

Ah, but this is the realm of archivists and historians and anthropologists, where ancient stories are stashed to be hidden and clues to old wrongs can be unearthed if one looks hard enough. Archibald remembered, as he stared at the un-weathered Shame Pole with blood-red ears and nose and incongruous mutton chops, the millionaire logger who had visited the Tongass Village. Archie suspected that the millionaire was Josiah Walker and that he met and made deals with Secretary of State William H. Seward, who “purchased” Alaska from the Russians, ignoring any of the multitude of indigenous claims to the lands. Much of Josiah’s work involved the buying and selling of lands to be logged. That he had never actually purchased from the tribes who lived there, used and claimed those forests for centuries, was beneath his notice. The tribes had probably seen Josiah as an accomplice to Seward and built the shame pole for him then. It was even more valuable because it must have been transported and stored here for decades, surviving the elements that destroyed Seward’s Pole, appearing as if it were brand new.

Carmen and Archie had spent the whole rest of the night sorting through old broken boxes with files and odd papers spilling out in all directions, they were exhausted, so strong caffeinated beverages were in order. Carmen reached over and placed Archie’s drink in front of him, pulling up a chair for herself.

“What do we do now, Archie?” Carmen blew on her hot drink and looked at him. “We can make Josiah’s shame public, but that would make stuff worse for the museum, tarnishing the name of the original founder, and revealing his debt to the Tlingit, which only puts the museum in a worse place, both financially and culturally. Debts should be paid.”

“Well, now we know why the local tribes don’t want to work with the museum.” Archie said. “It’s a shame because putting the pole and its story up for public view would sure draw in the visitors, both local and tourists alike. And that might help the museum’s revenue.”

Carmen leaned back in her chair, taking another sip of her mocha latte. She looked Archie over critically. He had aged, was almost 85, round and wrinkled and benign, not the nasty boss she had remembered. But he had ruined her life at the time. What did she want now, she mused? Did she still want revenge? He seemed harmless, sitting there drinking espresso in a Bellingham coffee house. Past his prime for sure. And he had brought this mystery, this old passion of the art and history of the Northwest back to life in her, being partners in this new discovery made her feel more alive and more useful than the scheme she and Andrew were working on, which truth be told made her feel bitter and old, just like using her body to get what she needed from boring Jeff, made her feel cheap. She was more than ample breasts and satin sheets, damn it, she was smart!

***

Meanwhile, chaos ruled at the museum. Lindsay and Catherine and Pete helped get all the children downstairs and with the guidance of the teachers, dressed the kids in their raincoats and hats and ready to board buses back to school. Almost all of the kids had decided the whole tour was an exciting adventure, now that they were ready to leave, and were exchanging stories about dinosaurs creeping through the halls and dolls dancing on the shelves and wolves howling in the elevator and a Great Awk and a Manatee rolling around the ballroom floor like they were dancing. And when they had looked up at the huge dome above the stairs, they all swore they could see the sun glittering through the crack in the ceiling even though it was pouring outside.

***

After the museum doors closed behind the last of the tour, Lindsay and Catherine collapsed on the stairs under the dome, brushing plaster dust off the smooth marble stone. Pete was about to sit down as well when the settling silence of the museum was broken by high heels rapidly descending the stairs. Toni came into view, looking unusually flustered, brushing plaster chips out of her blond tresses. She was obviously trying her hardest to make light of recent events, reassuring the two men following her that the building had passed rigorous testing for earthquake standards and had in fact been upgraded in the past year (so she hoped!). One of the men was looking nervously at his watch and the other man was clearly shaken.

Toni almost pushed right past Pete without noticing him, but he caught her arm, saying “Toni, wait!”

“Oh, Pete, what are you doing here? I’m right in the middle of a sale for goodness sake!” Toni flicked off his hand and turned to look down the hall, just as Paul and his assistant made a quick exit into the rain. “Damn, I had almost convinced Paul to buy the building when the floor began to shake. Was that an earthquake?”

Catherine and Lindsay looked up at Toni in astonishment. “You were trying to sell the museum?” Lindsay shouted, “The Board hasn’t even hired you as our realtor and we are not in the market for one! This is none of your business, Toni. We are not for sale.”

Catherine’s mouth was open. She stared first at Toni, then at Lindsay, then glanced at Pete, then stood up and started walking up the grand staircase, slowly and firmly, a woman on a mission.

Pete reached for Toni’s hand, but she brushed him off and rushed for the exit, trying to catch up to her disappearing prospects. Pete looked at Lindsay and shrugged once, then, shoulders drooping, followed his wife out the door, shouting after her “Toni, darling, wait!”

The museum let out an audible sigh, startling Lindsay, but she couldn’t help it, she was so relieved that everyone else had left, leaving her alone with the two Living ones that could be her family’s salvation, if only. Her family had done her proud, making the kids scream, more in excitement than terror, or so she hoped. Now the women who might just be able to discover her secrets were alone with her. At last, she sighed again.

Lindsay stood up and ran up the steps until she caught up with Catherine, who had stopped and was staring up at the gap in the dome. The dust had cleared, and a jagged crack split the white ceiling above their heads. Through the crack glowed the most amazing bright light, like rays of sun spilling through dark clouds and filling the whole stairwell and entryway with glittering gold. Catherine gasped and grabbed Lindsay’s hand. They both shook in astonishment as the gilded light infused the air, covered the floor and spread down the stairwell like melting butter.

The women looked at each other in wonder. They knew that the dome had not cracked fully open, that the rip in the seam of the dome had only exposed another ceiling above the white plaster. But what was that glow? That light that shone like the sun, but was not the sun? Could the ceiling showing through the crack be gold leaf? But why cover over that beautiful light with plain white plaster? None of the architectural maps either of them had seen had hinted at any space between the inside of the dome and the outside roof. And in this museum, these women were learning, where there were hidden rooms and corridors and nooks and crannies (and unexpected sub-basements) there was treasure! Now the only problem was how to get into that secret space between the dome and the roof of the museum. What amazing mysteries waited for them there?

Lindsay and Catherine looked down at their clasped hands, up into the fire sparking in each other’s eyes, and laughed in glee. It seemed as if the museum was laughing delightedly along with them.

“Well then, we’d better get busy looking for more secret entrances to this golden crawl space,” Catherine said. “Time’s a wasting and what’s been disappeared has to appear again sometime!”

Chapter 15

by Laurel Saville
1781 Words

Sunny glanced up from the counter, noting Pete’s lips worming and wiggling over his unnaturally white, obviously capped teeth, his man-scaped eyebrows lifting and lowering, the occasional shrug of his gym-toned shoulders, and the shifting tilt of his coiffed head. She nodded and smiled, let loose a short, barking laugh, and furrowed her eyebrows at all the correct junctures in his monologue. She knew she was getting it right because his lips kept moving.

He had no idea that she could not hear a word he said.

It wasn’t just that the wet hissing and aggressive grinding of the machines she was gracefully moving between made a wall of sound between them. She simply was not listening. Not only then. Not just with Pete. The truth was, she rarely listened to any of her customers. Not that they noticed. The less actual attention she paid, the more they went on. And the irony of all ironies was how often they complimented her on being a wonderful, sympathetic, empathetic listener. All she really had to do was just let them talk. And talk. And talk. She could nod and smile and keep them happy and her mind free for other things.

When she first started pulling coffee drinks, her customers’ self-absorption infuriated her. She’d take out her frustration on the physical mechanics of making hot beverages, packing the coffee extra hard into the portafilter, slamming the used ground extra hard in the garbage can, smacking the milk pitcher a little too heavily onto the counter. She found the clashing metal comforting, even as her customers droned on and on. To Sunny, they were the lost souls in Plato’s Cave, thinking, when they looked at her, that they saw a real person, with no idea that all she gave them was her shadow self.

She liked this funny little city in the Upper Left, even as she knew that her completely conventional customers, with their first-world, self-inflicted woes and their lifestyle-in-a-cup drinks saw her as nothing more than another young, extravagantly-haired, multiply-pierced woman with little ambition beyond earning extra tips she could spend in one of the many microbreweries and mountain bike shops. Never mind that she didn’t drink alcohol or have a knobby tired steed. They never asked and wouldn’t have believed her anyway, so she didn’t bring up her engineering degree from MIT, her expertise in AI, fluency in multiple software languages, lucrative side gig as a cyber security consultant, and high-ranking hacking skills. She worked as a barista because it got her away from her screens doing something that didn’t tax her mental capacity so she could let her mind wander around in search of new solutions to the problems her clients and colleagues gave her.

One of her best cybersecurity skills was seeing the things that others missed about themselves, noticing the contrails they did not realize they left behind as they moved through the world. So even though Sunny was not listening, she was paying attention. She saw how Toni assessed everything and everyone as a means to the end of making money. She noted that Pete was feeling castrated by his wife’s single-minded success and teetering on the edge of exerting his ego in some Porsche-fueled, self-destructive, extra-marital way. She felt Claudia’s moodiness about her mother’s disease, her unstated worry that her own life would begin only when her mother’s ended. Her photographic memory couldn’t help but record some on the contents on the coffee-stained piles of paper Professor McNair, with his cheap-scotch-and-stale-tobacco-from-the-night-before breath left scattered around the table.

These fragments, scattered pieces of a discarded jigsaw puzzle, started to clutter her mind. Tidying them up was how she found herself, in spite of herself, interested. Interested in the logging industry and the spiritual traditions of the native peoples, the extravagances in turn of the century architecture and the mystique and messages contained in totem poles. The strange habits of Victorian collectors. Pacific northwest myths and legends, ghost stories, and tall tales. The natural history of trees and scientific research showing they were connected communities that communicated with pheromones. She began to see it, all these invisible connections, the underground mycelium, undervalued, underappreciated, and yet doing so much work of both growing and decaying, living and dying.

So, Sunny knew about the secret basement in the museum months before she overhead Lindsay and Catherine whispering about it over their mugs of fat-free, sugar-free, denuded-of-all-physical-pleasure drinks, because she had found a hand-drawn, much scribbled over original building plan archived in the bowels of the planning and permitting offices. She knew about the shame pole long before she saw the scrawled notes on the Professor’s legal pad because she’d listened to a scratchy, oral history recording of an ancient native woman, her voice as rough and wild as a winter sea, the translation from a now dead language as stripped of its original life and beauty as a piece of driftwood. She knew about Josiah’s fortunes, both good and bad, before she heard Toni and Pete whisper fighting over the fate of the museum, having found in the far corner of a cluttered used bookstore a dusty, moth-eaten, self-published, gossipy history of the family, written by a lonely spinster looking for occupation for her formidable and unutilized brain.

Sunny’s mental collection of facts and myths, history and rumor also turned up plenty it seemed no one currently connected to the museum knew. Most notably, how their stuffed wolf was the essential connective tissue between the fanciful edifice that housed the collection, the ascent and decline of the capitalist timber baron, his missing wife, the legacy of the shame pole, the cracks and crumbling foundation of the decaying building, and the mystery of a lost fortune.

Sunny heard about the discovery of the shame pole and its resemblance to Josiah Walker. Some seemed to think the disgrace it enshrined was his greedy destruction of so much old growth timber. No one seemed to notice the irony of cutting down a tree to shame a man for cutting down trees. Sunny had discovered a different outrage is what prompted the creation of the totem. Josiah had killed a wolf, a mature alpha female, a pack leader full of wisdom and experience hard-won through years of successful breeding and effective hunting. The natives held her in deep respect and regard, say how her skill helped feed other forest denizens and returned key nutrients to the soil and the trees. They saw how Josiah killed this wolf for nothing more than sport and vanity, a wild thing he could tame only through death and enjoy only as a stuffed object. Every chop of their axes and slide of their carving knives impregnated their totem pole with curses on Josiah and his creations. This was why his wife disappeared, his fortunes faltered, and his home was full of flaws.

Sunny also discovered that while the totem was full of curses, the wolf that started it all might be full of money. The rumors that Josiah had a fortune sewn into the belly of his stuffed wolf cropped up in many places. There was an interview in an obscure hunting journal with a taxidermist who mentioned a rich industrialist asking him to hide a large quantity of gold and cash in the belly of a she-wolf. The spinster’s history made passing mention of the legend. The native woman’s voice on the scratchy recording said something oblique about the wolf he’d killed one day saving his legacy.

But what made Sunny really perk up and take notice was the rainy morning Carmen and Andrew came in, separate and acting all surprised to see each other, like bumping into one another was a happy accident. Carmen had come in first, sat at a corner table, and fixed her eyes on the front door, even as the rest of her body twitched and jittered as if she’d already had a triple espresso. Andrew walked in a few minutes later, made a too obvious point of first ignoring and then suddenly noticing Carmen, and just so happening to have an unscheduled hour to catch up. After a couple of air kisses and fake how are yous, they bent their heads and lowered their voices. Sunny casually came and went near their table, bringing them unasked for glasses of water, wiping down the perfectly clean shelves a few steps away, rearranging the display of bagged coffees and mugs in the nearby window, and offering them “specials” that she made up on the spot.

Of course, they never noticed that she was listening in. That’s the way it was in this job—half the people thought you were paying attention when you weren’t and the other half assumed you were not listening when you were.

“He was drunk when he mentioned it,” Carmen told Andrew, her voice a stealthy hiss in the air. “But he’s a banker. He would know. He said he was looking in the archives, doing some research on Josiah’s finances, trying to help the museum. There was some irregularity. Some missing chunk of money. Like a lot of money.”

“So, what?” Andrew scoffed. “That was ages ago. The bills would be worthless now, even if we knew where they were.”

Carmen shook her head. “You don’t get it, Andrew. He didn’t mean paper money. He meant gold.”

Andrew stared at her, his face suddenly serious. “Gold?” he whispered, incredulous.

“Yeah,” Carmen nodded. “If we could get our hands on that, we could…”

“Yeah,” Andrew said, nodding along. “We could.”

Sunny didn’t know what they left unsaid, hanging there at the end of Carmen’s unfinished sentence. She didn’t care. All that mattered was this fantasy fortune wasn’t theirs and they had no right to it, but if there truly was a cache of gold in the taxidermized remains of a once noble wolf, it not only belonged to the museum, it could be enough to save the museum. That’s why, the next time Catherine came in and left her keys in her coat pocket when she went to the bathroom, Sunny “borrowed” them for a couple of hours, eventually dropping them at the museum saying she’d found them on the floor of the café while cleaning. That’s why Sunny started spending her insomniac hours sneaking into the museum, outfitting various inanimate objects with micro drones and tiny, remote control robots. Sunny wasn’t sure exactly what she was doing, but she did know this: if the money was in the belly of the beast, Carmen and Andrew weren’t going to find it, and no one would know that Sunny was going to make sure Catherine did.

Chapter 16

by Carol McMillan
1849 Words

Lydia Walker had grown tired of her husband’s lack of enthusiasm for increasing their fortune. Despite her delicate appearance, she slowly took over what was generally considered to be ‘men’s business.’ The bank had grown accustomed to her being the family member most apt to make deposits and withdrawals to the Walker account. Not only did Josiah not complain about his wife’s increasing control over their finances, he scarcely noticed. Josiah had become disenchanted with the harsh materialism of the timber industry, and also with the increasing number of businessmen arriving in his precious Pacific Northwest, determined to milk every available resource for every last penny they could find.

Although he adored Lydia with every fiber of his being, Josiah was frustrated with his inability to please his wife. After keeping her dressed in the latest fashions—not a small accomplishment on the western frontier—and making certain they attended all the cultural events possible, still, she had complained of the city life and had requested a move. Abandoning his beloved home in town, Josiah purchased a large estate outside the city. Their relationship had improved with the move, especially when they were soon blessed with the birth of a son, Josiah Walker, Jr., an heir to Josiah senior’s legacy. Soon, however, Lydia began leaving most of the childcare to a young, immigrant nanny they hired. The family had little unity, and Josiah found himself, once again, increasingly depressed. Throwing himself headlong into the completion of the town mansion, he tried to suppress a longing for the idealized year he remembered with the Alaskan Natives. Eventually Lydia encouraged him to make a trip north, to revisit his native friends and re-establish old contacts. Heartened at the prospect, Josiah organized a trip, and in early spring he left his family for a third trip north.

***

Workmen at the downtown building watched the small vessel steam its way out of the bay. Finally, they could drop the pretense of enjoying working for Josiah Walker. With limited communication, it had taken many months for the information to reach them, but the elders of their community had sent word that a shame pole was being carved for Josiah. Apparently, the wolf that was now stuffed and standing on display downstairs in the building had been shot by Josiah a few years before, when he and William Seward had gone out for an afternoon of hunting animals for no reason other than a vain ego boost.

The wolf and her ancestors had been known to the village for decades. Much respected and revered, her family included human members of the Wolf Clan, for which she had been the living matriarch. One of the carvers working for Josiah on the home-cum-museum cringed upon hearing the news. Scarcely able to contain his welling tears, he mourned the loss of his clan mother.

***

Minutes after waving a scented handkerchief at her husband’s departing ship, Lydia erased the coy smile from her face and allowed stern determination to take over her countenance. Turning on an elegantly slippered heal, she headed directly toward the bank. Motherhood had not come naturally to Lydia; she had never felt the nurturing bond most women melted into upon first holding their newborn. Feeling guilty about not being a better mother, however, she wished to leave a legacy for her son. She wanted his inheritance to be safe from appropriation by any unsavory relations of Josiah’s that might appear, and even from Josiah himself.

As she turned the large brass knob on the bank’s imposing door, the odor of floor wax and damp woolen clothing ushered Lydia into the building.  

“Could you see if Mr. Hansen is available, please?”

Theodore Hansen had founded the city’s first bank, beginning what would become a long lineage of bankers.

“Certainly, Mrs. Walker. I’m sure he will be delighted to see you.”

A few minutes later, Lydia was led into the bank president’s sizeable office. “Thank you for taking the time to see me, Mr. Hansen.”

“Of course, Mrs. Walker. What is it that I can do for you?”

“Well, as you may know, Mr. Walker has just left again for another trip to the Alaskan Territory. He has left me in charge of the continued construction of the building downtown. I’m afraid that he has allowed many accounts to become significantly in arrears! He just must have been so preoccupied with his upcoming journey that he’s failed to pay his workmen and many other bills that have now piled up. I will be forced to make quite a large withdrawal to alleviate the situation.”

“And how much cash would you like to withdraw?”

Lydia named a sum that caused the bankers skin to pale beneath his practiced neutral expression. “I’m afraid we don’t keep that amount of cash on hand, Mrs. Walker.”

“Oh, I don’t need it in cash. Some of the creditors don’t trust paper money anyway. I will be needing it in gold, please. Surely you have nuggets and such from those California miners who pass through, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, actually, we do. But that amount in gold will have considerable weight. It might be a burden to you.”

“I will be able to handle it, Mr. Hansen. Oh, and do you have any of those lovely new quarters they’ve been minting in Carson City? The ones with Miss Liberty seated? I hear there’s just a limited edition of those, and I’d love to have some.”

“Yes, they’ve sent our bank several hundred, I think.”

“Oh, lovely, I’ll take them all! I’ll return tomorrow to make the withdrawal. Thank you so much for your time!”

Bending her diminutive frame in a slight bow, Lydia made her way out the door and down the street to her waiting buggy. “Johnathan, we’ll have to return tomorrow, and you’ll need to bring several sturdy canvass bags.”

***

The Walker’s nanny had been seeing one of the Native carvers who was working on the museum. While feeding Little Josiah a few weeks ago, she had prattled on to Lydia about how the workmen were actually quite upset with their boss over some kind of hunting accident or something. They wanted to find ways to get back home, but didn’t have enough money for the steamship passage. She added that she probably shouldn’t be saying all that, being as how Mrs. Walker was his wife and all. Lydia assured her that the information would go no further, and that it was probably just idle workmen’s chatter anyway. The young woman thanked her, but said that Indians don’t chatter much, so they probably meant it.

Lydia stored that information, later using it to refine her developing plot. In the weeks that followed she had several devices built with rollers similar to those in the new kind of washing machine Josiah had bought for her. The rollers on her devices were made of stone, however, and they were adjustable, down to only the thinnest of gaps between them. She hid the devices in the barn, and had found several local Natives who had agreed to work on a project to be explained at a future date.

***

When Lydia returned to the bank, she was gratified to see piles of small sacks loaded on a table beside a balance scale. Mr. Hansen, himself, conducted the weighing and calculation of the value of each bag, until finally reaching the total Mrs. Walker had requested.

“And here are the quarters you asked for. I’m afraid you’ve wiped out our entire allotment.”

“Oh, I’m so very grateful, Mr. Hansen. It’s a pleasure doing business with such a considerate institution.”

Johnathan loaded the bags of nuggets into his larger canvas bags, carrying each out to the carriage where Lydia, clutching her embroidered bag now filled with all the bank’s 1870 Seated Liberty quarters, remained standing, keeping watch until everything was loaded. Returning to the estate, five Native men were waiting to help them unload the sacks into the barn. They promptly began the process that Lydia had been able to research and could now describe for them. Each nugget was repeatedly rolled thinner and thinner by adjusting the width between the metal rollers on the devices she’d had made. Days later the bags of nuggets had been transformed into paper-thin sheets of various sizes. The Natives had been sworn to secrecy about the tasks they’d performed, and paid well to maintain that secret. With sparce communication between whites and local Natives, Lydia felt her project would be safe from prying eyes and ears.

The workmen loaded the gold back into the carriage again, this time in flat boxes. Lydia drove herself back into town, wanting as few people as possible to have any idea what was going on. Driving to the back entrance to the museum, the Native carvers greeted her and carried each box up to the top of the grand staircase, where a huge dome had just been completed.

“Paint each section with adhesive, as I showed you, then press the gold foil. Try to make the pieces fit together as much as you can. Start at the center of the dome and work out till you run out of gold. The weight should be distributed evenly enough that it will hold. When you’ve finished, you will construct the second dome, just below the first. When the second dome is completed, you may go to the bank. They have cash waiting for each one of you; enough to more than pay for your return trip home. You will be extremely well rewarded for your workmanship and your secrecy in this matter.”

The men nodded. Lydia knew they were proud of their craftsmanship, and that the work would be done to the highest standards. With their return north, there would be little chance of word leaking out.

Lydia headed downstairs. She had a key to a small basement room, merely a closet off a slightly larger room. Being a limited edition, she knew her coins would have great value by the time Josiah, Jr., would need to cash them in. She’d leave him a map and an explanation for both treasures when she wrote out her will, which she’d been meaning to do since his birth. Even if someone discovered the false dome, she doubted anyone would find these coins in the back of the basement. Settling the bag onto the top shelf, Lydia turned to leave. Suddenly the walls began to shake. A loud moaning sounded throughout the building. Stones began falling, and the ceiling of the room right outside the closet collapsed, sealing Lydia’s fate as she vainly rattled the door, already choking on the dust-filled air inside the small space.

The Museum cleared her non-existent throat. No one was going to cheat Josiah and get away with it, if she had any say about it. The workmen wondered at the earthquake, but the dome remained intact, so they set about their assignments. While each man worked, he was already visualizing a return to his homeland of giant cedars.

Chapter 17

by Amanda Blaine
1724 words

Carmen tried to focus on the feel of the sunlight on her face rather than the stiff cold of her fingers.

She knew she would be warmer if she got up and walked, or went up to her apartment and got her long winter coat (her friends here called it her “Vermont coat”—funny how Northwesterners just lumped all the Northeast states together—Pennsylvania was nothing like Vermont), but if she went up there she would probably not make it back out. Now that the coffee and the exhilaration had worn off, she just wanted to crawl into her flannel sheets with a hot water bottle tucked against her belly and escape into sleep, and escape this tight feeling in her chest. She didn’t want to have to decide anything right now. 

But it was her rule for herself that if the sun happened to come out during the daylight hours this time of year, no matter what she felt like, she had to go outside. She had learned that the hard way after a lonely, angry, and rainy first winter, when she had made it to Seattle on fumes straight from the New Mexico. It had taken months to pull out of that dark depression. Now that she was further north and in a sleepier town, the drop everything rule was even more important.

So she looped her scarf around her head to cover her ears and closed her eyes, face pointed toward the sun, leaning back against the back of the bench.

“Rawrrrrr!!!!!” she twitched and opened her eyes, dream-distorted images of shame poles and late 1800s petticoats slipping out of her attention. Some of the children who lived in her building were just arriving home from school, and they were playing in the courtyard by the bench where she was sitting. 

“How come your class got to go to the museum, and we didn’t?”

“Because little kids like you would have been scared! There were real wolves and we had to escape an earthquake!”

At the mention of the museum, and especially wolves at the museum, her body straightened. Which family was this kid from? Did she know his name? Part of ending things with Jeff was her bitterness at not having a family of her own. And part of the consuming desire to get back at Professor McNair was how her life had been waylaid by his destruction of her career; she had wasted years in cycles of depression and shame. It was because of that calamity that she ended up in dead-end relationships with men who wouldn’t marry her, like Jeff. Now she might never have a family. That might be why it was so hard to maintain connections with the kids around here. She felt both a draw and a bitterness and couldn’t manage to be consistent. They mostly ignored her at this point, except at Halloween.

Juniper? Was that his name? No, some other kind of tree or hippie name. Hickory? No that wasn’t a local tree…Cedar. That made more sense.

“Hey, Cedar, did you go on a field trip today?”

The words caught on the way out of her throat; her voice was scratchy and weak from the long night. He didn’t turn toward her. She stood up and went closer. “Hey Cedar!”

The girl was shrieking and running, and the boy was snarling and stalking her through the grass. They didn’t notice her.

“Stop it!! I’ll tell mom!!!” he chased her a little longer, then as she started crying, he straightened up and said, “fine, you don’t have to tell on me, instead we can both be the wolf cubs, and we can be stalking all the kids.”

She paused and just listened. There were wolf cubs at the museum, too? And was the stuffed wolf really just out in the open, in the exhibit all, for all to see? She laughed to herself. That seemed too obvious. 

She felt a shiver, and a knot formed in her throat. Ugh. Now she REALLY needed to decide what to do. If finding that fortune was actually in reach, did she want to go for it?

It had been so satisfying to move forward the plan with Andrew and feel a sense of movement and agency in her life that had been missing since…certainly since arriving in the Northwest. That was more than fifteen years ago. To see how he took her authority for granted, and not because he wanted something from her in the way all the other men did. As her cousin, he had the same tie to that family farm in Pennsylvania—and the same motivation to address what had happened—as she did. That was what had finally given her the oomph to end things with Jeff (though not quite enough to just tell the truth, and instead lie and say she was with someone new).

But it had seemed abstract, and it seemed the only option, and it had such a poetic beauty—the connection to Pennsylvania, and the original Josiah Walker coming from Pennsylvania too, and the revenge for the smear campaign by McNair… 

Now she was feeling something unfamiliar, or at least something she hadn’t felt in a very, very long time. She felt torn between the two paths ahead of her. Her dive back into her historian-self last night, and the irresistible draw to keep discovering what was true, had been, well, almost joyful. How strange that the man who had taken this away from her was now the one to bring it back into her life. 

How could she reconcile that with the many years of rage? How could she betray herself by feeling a sense of companionship with that man? He had destroyed her life, and she wanted to him to feel her power now. But how did that fit with the old man of last night who could hardly walk without a cane? Her chest felt tight and she just wanted it to be simple again.

The kids were now crouched in the bushes and snarling, then whispering, then talking loudly. The cubs had transformed into humans. 

“No way!” the girl was saying.

“Yeah, and then the round ceiling thing cracked and practically fell on top of us, and even though it was raining out it was sunny in there!”

“No fair! Can my class go see it next?”

Strange. She knew they were playing, but these details didn’t make sense. Did the dome actually crack? And what did that mean about it being sunny in there? The electrical system was old and no one, not even a child, would mistake the 1990s institutional lighting for the sun. She gave up trying to talk to the boy. She sat back down on the bench. Andrew was going to call at some point in the early evening, and she had no idea what she was gonna do with all this, whether she even wanted to tell him about the wolf, and how she felt about Archie/Dr. McNair…now she was spinning again. She found herself checking her phone, hoping something would break the looping thoughts and the tension in her chest. 

No new texts. She opened her email, even though she knew there was no email that was gonna get her out of this.

There was nothing personal, just useless lists and promotions. She absently dragged her thumb down to refresh, like scratching an itch. A new email popped in from “Daily Inspo”, something she hadn’t read in ages and probably signed up for in one of her “come to Jesus” self-help kicks. The subject, though, caught her attention: “What’s the Most Powerful Antidote to Shame?”

She snickered. Finding out the mystery of a 150 year old Tlingit Shame Pole? 

She opened the email. “‘If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive’ says Dr. Brene Brown. Click here to learn what happens when people confront their shame head-on, and why empathy is the most powerful antidote there is.”

There was a video of a blonde woman. She clicked. 

She watched for a few seconds, then stood up abruptly. She didn’t like the thought that had just intruded in her mind, and she tried to ignore it. She walked toward the door to the building. I should just take a nap. The sunlight was gone and while it wasn’t dark yet, she noticed her toes were almost numb. 

As she climbed into bed, dreading the impending monotone ring of her burner phone, she tried not to think about shame and…Shame. Namely, that they were the same thing. She had never connected her research topic—Shame Poles of the Tlingit people—with the shame in her own people, non-practicing descendants of Pennsylvania Dutch. In fact, she’d never thought of herself as having a people. She didn’t know what it was about those papers she and McNair had looked through last night. Maybe now that she’d had a whole adulthood, and could relate to the losses and heartbreak in the testimonies, in the emotionless wills that hinted at ruptures between parents and children, she realized that her own story was not outside history or context. She felt such a raw, unbearable feeling in her chest. She didn’t like it. Clutching the warm sack of the hot water bottle, she finally slackened into sleep.

For what must have been just a few minutes. Now the phone was ringing. She felt a rush of irritation as she came to consciousness, then a spike of fear as she remembered what was happening. It must be Andrew. She wasn’t ready. What would she say to him? If she didn’t answer, he’d probably get worried and come knock on the door. She’d have to figure something out quickly. She flicked on the light, blinked, and looked around at the walls, searching for some kind of guidance or hint. There was nothing really notable—it was still all oriented toward impressing Jeff, meaningless, contextless, expensive. She needed more time. She’d have to figure something out. “Hi Andrew,” she said, “what did you find out?”

Chapter 18

by Mary Louise Van Dyke
1916 words

Jeff Hansen paced through the empty kitchen, tuning out all the kitschy 1950s knick knacks scattered around the room. The highlight was a Formica-top table and matching metal framed chairs that Dorothy claimed brought back memories of her grandmother rolling out apple pies.

Yeah, yeah, what freakin’ ever. Not that he didn’t like apple pies, his ample stomach was testament to that. And roast beef dinners on Sundays with extended family.

But the only kids to sit there belonged to siblings.

Jeff groaned as he plopped down on the green ’60s style recliner in the living room.

Yeah, no kids. He and Dorothy had blamed each other for years until a simple (well according to the doctor) test that showed it was Jeff’s fault. With that announcement, Dorothy moved into the guest room, filling it with 1950s décor. Jeff redid the master bedroom in neutral shades.

He picked up the remote, one of the few modern conveniences Dorothy permitted. Click soap opera images appeared on the screen. Click the rerun of a Seattle Seahawks game from five or seven years ago when the Legion of Boom reigned. Click. Ellen DeGeneres floating out her famous humor for the audience.

He envied Ellen, her smile and easy way of talking. Yeah, he had anger management issues. Maybe he should call…

Nah. Didn’t he have a right to be angry? After all Carmen had used his bankcard lavishly. Including the camisole she wore when she sent him packing.

His stomach groaned. Yeah, maybe even envied all those football players who’d really accomplished something spectacular with their lives.

Him do anything spectacular? Hah. He tossed the remote onto the floor. He would be the last of the Hansens running the bank, starting with great grandpa Theodore Hansen. Unless his sister’s kids wanted to take over. Which they probably didn’t.

The phone rang. “Yeah,” he growled into the receiver.

“Did you hear the news,” said Sally Knowles who lived across the street. “My kids are talking about their trip to the museum today. There were dinosaurs moving around and a bird—I think a hawk—getting friendly with a manatee.”

What kind of weed was Sally smoking—and her kids too? Naw, kids weren’t allowed marijuana.

“Jeff, are you there?”

“Erm, yeah. Yeah. Sounds really exciting, but I have to go,” he lied.

“Tell Dorothy hi from me!” Sally rang off.

What the freak? Why hadn’t director Lindsay DeMan called him, called the board for a meeting to discuss weird happenings?

Sometimes she took too much on herself, for all that she was running the museum. She was supposed to report all strange occurrences to the museum board. They were the backbone of Walker Museum, the ones who’d lived here in the city of Subdued Excitement for decades.

Backbone. He wished he had one.

He heated up a microwave meal for himself and set it on a tray table in the silent living room. Dorothy was away for the night, supposedly at a work retreat. And maybe not. He peeled the film off and picked up his fork.

The chicken was all right. He dug his fork into instant potatoes and chewed. Ugh. Tasted like paste but he continued eating until the white goo was gone. A hungry man was a hungry man, right? 

He should call Lindsey and find out what was going on. He would in the morning between meetings and trying to find creative but trustworthy solutions to people’s money woes.

Theodore Hansen would allow no less, not even for the last of the Hansen bankers.

He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Images of Carmen floated through his mind, alluring in that skimpy cami, telling him to go to hades.

He expected to feel angry. Instead sadness snaked through him. He hadn’t told Carmen he was incapable of producing children, the way a real man should be. No, it had been all show and bluff with her, trying to find some release in pleasure.

Maybe she’d find someone else. Hades, of course she would. Prime-looking woman like her. He stopped for a moment. Was that considered sexual harassment to think those words? But she’d liked being complemented for her looks during their times together. Probably. He’d faced one sexual harassment suit when a brief affair with an employee went south.

Lesson learned.

Yeah, Carmen was a beauty and she didn’t want diddly squat from him. Neither did Dorothy, really, beyond not caring how she decorated the house.

Sleep claimed him, sucking him into depths of oblivion as if he was on an elevator. Descending down down down into dream land.

The doors whooshed open and cold air surrounded him. Jeff stepped off frowning as he stared around him here in a cave?

What the what? A man dressed in old fashioned clothing of high collared shirt and a vest perched over a rounded stomach, walked toward him, holding a lantern in one hand and a large droopy bag in the other.

“Grandson, you’ve arrived finally!”

Jeff stared at the man, shaking his head hard. “Who are you?”

The man’s walrus shaped mustache drooped. “How could you not know who I am? Is your brain as muddled as your life?”

Jeff’s fists came up. He wasn’t going to let anyone else trash him. “My brain is just fine. So who are you and why are you saying I’ve arrived finally.”

“You have work to do.” The man tossed the bag at Jeff’s feet and Jeff instinctively stepped back. “You’re supposed to be looking for these.”

The dream man poofed into nothing and Jeff gasped. He bent over to lift the bag, opening it—and feeling the weight lighten. He plunged his hand in and found—nothing. Except one solitary coin, about the size of a quarter, but strangely smooth-edged.

He wished he’d thought to bring a light to show him what the smooth metallic disk was—but none appeared.

He slipped it in his pocket and stared into the gloomy blackness. There was a light over there, two lights, like eyes? Huge red eyes high up expanding into deep red fire.

As if Jeff was in Hades. Fear washed over him—too many broken ends—and the voice inside his head yelled RUN!

Jeff bolted, gasping with each stride. He would purchase a freakin’ gym membership. Soon.

***

Lindsay hurried up the museum’s exterior staircase the next morning, excitedly thinking of the work ahead for her and for Catherine. How tall was the museum’s extension ladder or would they need to purchase another ladder?

She shivered and pictured the museum’s plunging into deficit finances. Where would she find funds for a taller ladder or renting scaffolding? She and Catherine needed a safe base to stand on when exploring the crack in the dome.

Meanwhile, groups of fourth graders were scheduled to tour the museum today; and she could only hope that the museum exhibits would remain still. The Great Awk at its post, Victorian dolls posed in their cases. She smiled and headed into her office. Not that yesterday hadn’t been exciting! Almost like a Halloween play with costumed actors.

She laughed and felt the floor rise slightly underneath her knockoff Louis Vuitton pumps. She stiffened. Surely not another earthquake, please.

“Lindsay? How was your night?” Catherine asked behind her.

Beyond her usual work, scratch together dinner, sleep, rinse and repeat? Lindsay whirled around. “I have a marvelous idea! What if we could replicate yesterday, only with people posing as dolls and mother wolf and her cubs. The Great Auk! As a story museum volunteers act out for classes when they come for tours. I mean,” she laughed nervously, seeing Catherine frown. “We can’t count on having an earthquake every day and the kids really liked hearing the dinosaurs roar.”

Catherine’s eyes shifted away from Lindsay. “One word. Funds.”

“But it would be exciting! Schools from all around the county would sign up for their students to tour here, not just classes from Subdued Excitement.”

“Hmmm,” was all Catherine would say.

Lindsay wished her co-worker was still as excited as yesterday when they’d seen the huge crack. Her enthusiasm dimmed. She wilted. “Well, it’s just an idea. But it would be a living exhibit of all we have and nothing I’ve ever heard of any other museum doing. I think it could guarantee our survival!”

Catherine sighed and slipped off her coat. “At least its back to being warm in here. And sorry, I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer. But this morning Mother was…” She stopped. “Sorry, TMI as my neighbor’s teenager would say.”

“Well,” Lindsay struggled to sound positive. “We can discuss my idea later. Today, after the fourth graders tour is over, let’s get out the extension ladder and see if we can discover something more about that crack over the grand staircase!”

“About the crack? What about it?” Banker Jeff Hansen strode into the office, arms crossed across his chest. He glared at Lindsay and Catherine.

“It opened up,” Catherine said and the floor shook.

“Really? And when were you going to call a museum board meeting about that interesting fact?”

Lindsay watched the floorboards rise and fall as if someone was pushing from underneath. Jeff grabbed the edge of her desk for ballast.

If this was an earthquake, it was the strangest one she’d ever encountered. “I was going to work on a memo today,” she lied.

His brown eyes narrowed. “Well, my neighbor shared the news with me. Seems like it’s hard to keep a secret when scores of third graders tell their families what happened.”

The floor rippled again, harder and higher, bearing Jeff up with it. He floundered, lost the battle with his balance and smacked down on the floor. A heavy vase slid off Lindsay’s desk and clunked his head.

Lindsay and Catherine stared at the unconscious man and at each other. “I have the feeling something’s not pleased that he’s here,” Catherine murmured.

“I know I’m not,” Lindsay agreed.

This was their quest, hers and Catherine’s. Deep inside, Lindsay realized the museum wanted them and no one else to find its treasures. If the museum was sentient that is and not just rock and wood and glass.

“What do we do with him?” Catherine leaned over and felt for Jeff’s pulse. “He’s alive but I’ll bet he has a tsunami of a headache. What do we do with him? He isn’t part of the plan. None of the museum board is.”

Lindsey glanced out the window and saw the first of a line of yellow buses pulling up. “Swell, just swell. The kids are here.”

The line between Catherine’s eyebrows pinched together.  “We can drag him down to the basement and leave him there. Hopefully he’ll take the hint when he wakes up and amscray.”

The bus doors opened and kids streamed off the first bus. “Fine, I guess we can drag him there via elevator and let him chill out for an hour or two.”

The two women heaved his unconscious body forward. “This man definitely needs to diet,” Lindsay grunted.

“He needs something,” Catherine agreed and punched the basement button.

The doors refused to open when reaching—and passing the floor. “Dratted elevator,” Lindsay fussed as the doors finally opened to the shame totem’s subfloor. “To leave him here is almost mean.”

“Almost.” Catherine huffed. “He’ll be fine. We need to get back upstairs pronto.”

Chapter 19

by Al Clover
1803 words

With dirt grinding into his face Jeffery groaned, “No more drinking Fireball.”

Grunting like he does when getting out of bed in the mornings, he rolled over onto his back, bringing his hand to the lancing pain at the back of his head and touching a lump. What happened? The dirt floor he was resting on gave no indication as to where the hell he was. Or how he got there. Still groaning, he struggled to his feet. He was in the dark both figuratively and literally. He tried to remember what gave him the knock on the head realizing the pain he felt wasn’t from imbibing too much Fireball but from having hit his head on something hard. Not being one who was afraid in the dark but wanting to know what the hell was going on, he stood there for a moment trying to get his bearings. The pounding of his head wasn’t helping. The silence combined with uncertainty and darkness was getting on his nerves though. Wait, his memory was coming back.

“What did those bitches do to me?” Now he was just angry.

“No, the floor moved, and I fell. Did I hit my head on the desk? Geez where am I though?” His anger helped settle him, they weren’t going to get away with this. Determined to figure out where he was, he shuffled his feet forward hoping to run into a wall as that would give him some semblance of location. Well it’s a dirt floor so am I outside? Crap I wish there were some light. He held his arms straight out in front of him so he wouldn’t slam face first into something in the dark. A spot ahead appeared darker. He kept moving now waving his hands in front to make contact first. His hand hit something shoulder high and he felt for the smooth surface of a wall.

“What the hell!” He jerked his hands back with a sharp intake of breath, feeling a jagged corner rather than a flat surface. And with that breath he tasted the stale air and something else he couldn’t identify. Pausing, he reached out and touched the dark shape again. Feeling protrusions, he could tell it wasn’t something small but a rather large piece of wood? No, a substantial piece of wood that went from the floor to as high as he could reach. Continuing to touch the surface, Jeffery realized it was a human-like face but not human.

“What is this? I have got to get some light. I can’t keep stumbling all over the place like a drunk in the dark.” So, turning around and placing his back to the wooden object, he started walking forward at a slow gait, back in the direction he’d just come from. He again raised his arms out in front of his blind eyes. After about ten steps his hand brushed something hanging down.

“Christ!” The jolt caused him to stumble into the wall he’d been searching for. “Dammit!” He could feel the blood start to ooze from his nose. After wiping his nose on the back of his shirt sleeve, he reached ahead and his fingertips brushed the wall. Okay now let’s see if there’s a light switch. Feeling about to his right something brushed his wrist. This time he held his water and brought his hand around to find a string that was hanging from the ceiling. Tentatively he grasped the string and pulled. Success! His reward for bravery was light! And an elevator door. Finally, but where was the button? How do I get out of here? How did I get down here is the question also? The wall was smooth except for the elevator door which was closed. After a minute of unfruitful probing he gave up the search.

Twisting around to view his prison he came face to face with a massive totem pole. But it wasn’t a totem pole like any he’d seen before. Jeffery knew what totem poles looked like and this wasn’t a normal pole. The four sides had faces on each, painted red and black and a mouth that grinned with menace and seemed to be mocking the visitor. A torso and head finished this unusual totem with a white painted face and black hair and topped with an odd hat. At least Jeffery thought it was a hat. The pole was immense, brushing the fifteen-foot ceiling, becoming the elephant in the room. Hmm weird but not helping me get out of here. Going to have a talk with someone about this—that’s for sure. Walking back to the elevator door, Jeffery looked at the wall hoping to have missed the UP button but still didn’t see anything. Well shit. Okay maybe there’s another way out. Stairs? He started walking around the room searching for another door or something that would help him escape this chamber of weirdness. He tried to ignore the pole but it gave him the creeps. He kept it in the corner of his eye but the hairs on the back of his neck rose.

Moving clockwise around the room, Jeffery walked with his left hand brushing the wall trying to find any semblance of an opening or panel that moved. Maybe there was a secret door that opened to a stairwell or another elevator that opened to freedom. Jeffery’s head was still pounding as he moved behind the totem pole. Wishing he had some aspirin or a drink, that would be good too, his hand touched a spot on the wall directly behind the totem and it gave way, with a push, a click, and then, phissshhh, a sound much like a soda pop opening. There was an outline of an opening that was concealed by the perfection of the fit. Jeffery grabbed the edge of the portal and pulling it, another room was revealed. Peering in, the light from the totem room cast shadows and lit up only a small portion of the room. Jeffery could see the outlined shadow of a bar and the room seemed to be filled with tables and chairs. Hey, Jeffery thought, maybe I can get that drink after all. The rumors of a speakeasy looked to be true. He stepped into the room and the door shut behind him throwing him into darkness again.

“Oh, come on.” Turning around he felt along the wall for the door handle but there was nothing there. The wall was smooth to the touch. Okay Jeffery don’t panic…wait I’m an idiot. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his phone, fumbled with it. The light app on his phone glared in the darkness but the wall in front of him was blank—no door handle or indication there was ever a door to begin with. Turning his light around exposed the room he was now trapped in. The corners were shrouded in shadow, but Jeffery could calculate—those math skills are good for more than counting money— the space was about the size of his living room and kitchen combined. There were four tables with chairs situated in the middle of the room with one wall opposite the bar sporting three cozy booths and then the bar ran the entire length of the other wall. Dust was everywhere. The tables were covered in inches of it. Likewise, the floor was dusty and as he moved further into the room kicking up a dusty cloud, he struggled to not sneeze.

Jeffery was pleased to see there were still bottles lining the mirror behind the bar. Bottles of liquor. He wondered if they were still good. Hope so, he thought. Walking behind the bar he set his phone down lighting the ceiling. He picked up a bottle and blew the dust off. Looking at a perfectly preserved bottle of Old Grand-Dad bourbon—still sealed. Not his usual, but in a pinch it’d do. Under the bar the glasses were beckoned as if waiting for the bartender to get back from a break. Grabbing a bar towel and wiping the dust from the glass that had gathered there over the decades, Jeffery cracked the bottle open and poured a healthy slug of booze. With a taste of the decades-old liquor, Jeffery sighed then gulped down the rest and refilled his glass. He grabbed his phone and liquor-filled glass then walked around the room examining his current location, pointing his phone in one direction and then another— no windows but the walls were covered in dark wood paneling and there were some paintings hanging on the walls. Then as if appearing out of nowhere he saw an opening in between the bar and the booths.

It was an entryway leading to stairs going up! Jeffery almost tripped in his haste to reach the top of the stairs. They ended at a door. This door, he was happy to see, had a doorknob. Reaching for the knob with the same hand as the phone he was holding, he was surprised when it turned and the door swung in. Another dark space. There was an odd smell as he swung the phone canvassing the room. It was a rather small room, almost a closet, with a set of shelves to the left and…Eureka a door! He focused on the door moving forward and he tripped over something on the floor. Falling onto his hands and knees he looked down.

“What the fuck!!!” he jerked away from the skeleton that was sprawled out beneath him. Well there’s the origin of the odd smell. He scrambled on hands and knees away from the body pushing up against the shelving and the impact knocked a bag from the top shelf landing on his already painful head. The pain exploded behind his eyes in a white spot that blinded him for a moment. The glass of alcohol had fallen and splashed all over the corpse. His phone was where he left it on the floor, illuminating the skeleton with clothes deteriorated from the ravage of age. Rents and holes from rodents and moths had reduced the clothes to rags but the age of the clothes was still identifiable. Turning away and not looking in the direction of the dead body he focused on the pain in his head and then the bag that had contributed to that pain.

Moaning at the pain he then reached for the bag. Pulling the heavy bag toward him, it clinked and something shifted inside. Unzipping the top, he was intrigued as the contents sparkled from within. Completely forgetting the dead body and reaching inside, his hand encountered a mass of what felt like coins. He pulled out a handful and found himself staring at a handful of shiny quarters.

Chapter 20

By Heidi Beierle
1472 words

Catherine couldn’t keep her thoughts straight during the tour with the fourth graders. They were squirrely, demanding, and disinterested in anything that didn’t move, which was everything in the exhibits if she didn’t count the two flies spinning on their backs on the windowsill in the doll room.

Her mom seemed lucid that morning, although what she said didn’t make sense. “Josiah has something important to share. He’s frustrated that you won’t listen.” And then her mom started sobbing. When Catherine asked why she was crying, her mom had spilled months and maybe years of bottled up feelings. “You see me as senile and a burden, and you resent me for it. The richest part of my life is with people in other places and other times. Angie is one of the few people in my life who believes communing in the 5D is possible. She is a salve to what is otherwise the burn of my life as an Intuitive.”

Catherine had felt better about her relationship with her mother over turkey sandwiches the other night, but this was a lot to process. Her mom was an Intuitive? Who was Angie? Which Josiah? The one in the painting? Was this just more delusion? But her mom was right, Catherine had held herself back because of what felt like familial duty. She resented her mother for it.

***

Lindsay was returning the vase to its place on the shelf after the commotion of the fourth graders’ arrival when a sharp, “Hey,” startled her. She whirled around.

“Didn’t mean to scare you,” Ted said.

Lindsay let her breath out. “Oh. Ted. Hi. Crazy morning. Whew. You did. What can I help you with?”

“Sorry. I was over at Subdued Brews and overheard a couple moms talking about how much their third graders loved their visit to the museum yesterday. I thought they were talking about the Children’s Museum in Seattle until one of them said, ‘I can’t believe that dump has anything interesting in it. Where did they get mechanical dinosaurs?’ Maybe they meant here. Did third graders visit here recently?”

“Dump? That’s offensive.”

Ted arched a brow.

“Yeah. Sixty third graders yesterday. Catherine has the fourth graders on a tour right now.”

“Catherine?”

“Yes, Catherine. You’re on the board together. She’s the secretary and also a docent here. Ring a bell?”

Ted couldn’t call a picture of Catherine to mind, but he wondered if she was the one his mom said he needed to talk to. All that was hogwash, what his mom said. “Catherine,” he said scratching his chin.

“Was there something else?” Lindsay was nervous standing so close to the vase. Who knew when the floor might heave again. She scratched the back of her head.

Ted took a breath to speak. His phone rang. An attractive woman with panic in her eyes swished in. Ted stepped out of the way and said to Lindsay, “Excuse me a moment while I get this.”

“Hi,” Lindsay said to the woman, anxious about the vibe the woman was giving off. “How can I help you?”

“A friend of mine might be here, and I’m concerned he’s having a health issue.” She wrung her hands.

Lindsay was having whiplash. Who was in the building? What were emergency protocols? “Is your friend a fourth grader?”

“No.”

“Does your friend have a fourth grader?”

“No.”

“Does your friend teach fourth grade?”

“No.”

Ted’s voice got loud, interrupting them, “The wolf in the museum? What kind of crazy shit is that?” He reddened when he registered Lindsay and the woman staring at him. He turned his back to them and lowered his voice.

“What makes you think your friend is here?” Lindsay asked.

“He sent me a text message. Well, a series of them. He said the last place he remembered being was here.”

Could she mean Jeff? Who was this woman? “Do you believe him? I mean, does he work for Feller Heating & Air or do general maintenance?”

“He’s a banker, on the board here, but I’ve never known him to spend time at the museum unless there was a meeting.”

Lindsay’s stomach dropped.

Ted’s voice intruded into the silence, “I gotta go, Mom.” He turned around pocketing his phone. “Jeff’s here?”

Just then, a man’s wail penetrated the museum’s nooks and crannies, “I don’t want to die.” Throughout the building, metal slid, clicked, and rotated, closing, latching, and locking doors, windows, and drawers. The power went out.

“That sounded like him,” the woman said, wringing her hands again.

Lindsay scratched the back of her head. “What about his health?”

“I don’t know,” the woman said. “We had a fight a couple nights ago. I haven’t heard from him until the texts he sent earlier. They’re crazy, like he’s drunk, having a dark night of the soul, in a closet with a skeleton, and having a stroke and a heart attack all at the same time.”

“Text him,” Ted offered. “See if he responds.”

She did. Nothing.

Lindsay went cold. “Oh shit.”

***

Catherine had just left the dinosaur room where the fourth graders were lingering with three adults when the wail let loose. The door swung shut, locking her out. She rushed to the top of the grand staircase thinking the cry came from there. The sound of a different man’s voice spun her. He chuckled.

“Oh, Catherine,” the portrait of Josiah Disparais Walker said. “This is good fun.”

Catherine rubbed her eyes. “For real?” she asked in a small voice, eyes wide. The tall windows and the light stone of the stairs gave the room a cold blue pallor. Overhead, the crack in the dome revealed a gash of radiance.

“Je retournerais!” Josiah boomed. “It feels good to use my voice. I encourage you to try it while you have the ability and people don’t look at you like you’re a talking portrait.”

Catherine shivered. Goose bumps rose on her skin. Maybe her mom was an Intuitive. She hesitated. “Is there something you wanted to share with me?”

“What do you love, Catherine?”

“Uh, my cats?”

“What gets you out of bed? What propels you from one day to the next?”

“Coffee.”

“Come now. I’m being serious.”

She looked at the floor. “I don’t know. Today isn’t the best day to ask me that.”

“Why do you spend so much time here?”

She looked up. Josiah’s eyes bore into her, and she teared up.

“Mmm. I see,” he said. “Tender. You’re not the only one.”

“What do you want?” Catherine asked, feeling poked.

“Me? Nothing. But maybe there is something you can do for you, this place, and children in the future.”

“I’m listening.” She heard a thump from somewhere under the stairs. And then a ping like a notification. She instinctively reached for her phone, but it was in her office. She had a rule to model attentive behavior when leading tours. No phones allowed.

“Find the man, Ted. He is here in the building and has been given instructions. He can be relied on to transport the item that will repair a long-ago wrong I was party to.”

“Does this have something to do with that shame totem?”

“It does, but it might not be what you think. Enlist the passion of other women. Like you, they do not yet know their roles, but they are open, creative, talented, seeking. They found their way here, so in that sense you have all arrived. You are in the right place at the right time. They, too, are tender.” Josiah winked.

“Catherine?” Lindsay called up from the first floor.

“Yes, I’m here.” She descended.

Lindsay looked up at the gold radiance showing through the crack in the dome then at Catherine. “That old portrait doesn’t creep you out with its eyes following you all the time?”

“No. It’s more like watching out for me.”

“Ah. We have some problems.”

Catherine nodded. “Like fourth graders locked in the dinosaur room?”

“Let’s add that to the list. What about this one – Jeff?”

“What about him? Apart from scared and headachy if he’s awake.”

“Didn’t that wail sound like him?”

“Maaaaybe. I can hear him say, ‘motion to adjourn.’”

Carmen thinks he wailed. His texts to her were strange, and he could as likely be hallucinating as having a heart attack.

“Wait. Who’s Carmen?”

“A friend of Jeff’s. She showed up right before the wail. Uncanny timing.” Lindsay gently tugged Catherine’s sleeve. “Come on. Let’s see if the elevator’s working.”

“The power’s out.”

“I know.” Lindsay dangled the tiny key. “How much you want to bet it works even with the power out?”

“Ok. Fine. What should we do about the fourth graders?”

“Your call.”

“Tough one. Liability or fate.”

“We’re insured.”

Catherine grabbed Lindsay’s hand. “Where’s Carmen? She should come with us.”

Chapter 21

by Isabel Castro
1193 words

Marilyn used to be able to tell the difference between 3D and 5D. Now it was all blurring together. The fall hadn’t helped either. She still didn’t understand what had happened. She was standing on that small kitchen stool, like she had a million times before. She was cleaning out those old cupboards in the hallways where her husband had kept old family knickknacks. Something had seized her, pushed her knees forward, and down she went. Of course no one would understand that—no one except for Angie.

Oh, dear Angie. She was definitely an oasis for her in this 3D world. Even their meeting was out of this world.

They’d met at Village Bound, the local bibliophile watering hole. Marilyn was scanning the metaphysical section for a book on dream interpretation, while Angie had rekindled her interest in astrology. They somehow struck up a conversation, and kinship, right away. Not having any friends to talk to about their ethereal explorations, they ventured to Subdued Brews and started to make a regular thing out of it.

“I’ve been having these dreams,” Marilyn recounted. “A woman, maybe from the 1800s, is wandering dark passageways. She mumbles to herself about providing for her children, about having to do everything. She’s looking around, trying to find where to hide something. And then—everything just goes black. It always ends like that.”

Angie listened. She asked open-ended questions to find meaning from the experience. “Is there something you feel like you’re not providing your daughter? Do you feel supported by your husband?”

Their conversations were long and windy, but never came to any definite conclusions. There was always more to explore.

Angie expressed her worry about her son. He had so much energy, from Aries apparently. He just didn’t know how to manage it in a constructive way. He burned a lot of bridges, turned people off. She’d hoped he could get into local politics, use his energy to build something lasting. She knew he was passionate and wanted to support the community, but he’d have to work on his collaboration skills if he was ever going to get anywhere.

Together they poured over astrology books to understand themselves, and their children. Their interests started to venture into the other shelves of the metaphysical section. Their favorite find, by far, was The Spirituality of All Things. In it, Amadea Rosenthall explores the common threads across indigenous cultures, and introduces the idea of 5D as it links to quantum reality. A modern-meets-ancient kind of text, bringing the edge of modern science full circle to ancient wisdom known the world-over. Soon they found themselves communicating with beings on all levels, from a crow on a park bench, to an old family armoire. They couldn’t get enough. They explored her next book, which discussed various methods of communication across time. Before they knew it, they were contacting generations before them. Of course they couldn’t tell anyone else.

After Marilyn’s fall, they didn’t see each other anymore. It wasn’t a conscious decision; it was more of a drift with the tide. Angie didn’t feel comfortable taking her old clunker on that drive, and Marilyn was too unsteady and forgetful to leave alone.

***

Ah, a day off. Finally she could see what was happening in the museum. Sunny logged into her computer and connected remotely to the drones and robots. Everyone was talking about a big crack in the dome, and animals moving about. There was just enough light to go about exploring while no one was around. She directed a drone up to the top of the dome. 

There was definitely something golden there, but there was nothing special in the plans she found. She repositioned the drone to get a better look.

Her mind wandered to that old spinster’s book. What had she said about the bank and Lydia Walker? She’d taken out gold bars while her husband was away. Maybe she’d sent him away too? But then she’d disappeared.

Huh, plaster. It looked plastered over.

So she plastered a dome in gold and then ran away? There had to be secret treasures hidden all over this place. First the totem pole, then the wolf, now this? How would she ensure that none of these would get into the wrong hands?

***

In shock from all the recent happenings, Catherine, Lindsay, Carmen, and Ted crammed into the elevator wordlessly. Each preoccupied by a landslide of thoughts, questions, and fears they missed the Carolina parakeets catching a ride with them. To their credit, the birds were wearing their invisible feathers. As they began their descent, Lindsay reached out to squeeze Catherine’s hand. They exchanged uneasy looks, but found comfort in each other’s touch.

Bracing themselves for the obvious need to explain a secret totem pole hidden in a basement, they waited for the doors to open.

***

Carmen could hardly believe her eyes. Her heart leapt, her eyes watered. Scarcely seeing the details in the dim light, she ran to it. In awe and ecstasy, she ran her fingers over the skilled carving. All her studies, all her efforts, they all brought her here. Everything else faded. She awoke from her daze with a wail.

“Oh, damn it,” she remembered Jeff. “We’re coming Jeff! Hold tight!”

She snapped herself to attention, and took notice of her surroundings.

Catherine and Lindsay were each examining the walls, presumably for a hidden door. Ted stood in complete confusion. Carmen looked like she’d found a lost treasure she’d been looking for all along. The others seemed to turn their backs on him as soon as they’d arrived. What was going on?

“I found it!” shouted Lindsay from behind the totem pole.

“A door?” asked Catherine.

“No, it’s a window,” answered Ted. Remembering to try and keep people on his side, he quickly added, “Sorry, it’s all just a lot right now. I didn’t expect to be on a mystery house adventure today.”

As if she hadn’t heard Ted, Lindsay responded, “I think so. Jeff must have gone through here.”

Wanting more time with the totem pole, and unsure if she wanted to end up like Jeff, wailing from the other side, Carmen suggested she stay behind. “You know, just in case. To get help if we need it.”

Lindsay and Catherine looked at each other, reading each other’s minds.

“We’re staying together,” declared Catherine.

Slowly they ventured through the portal. Ted offered to go first. Phone flashlight in hand, he saw some chairs nearby. He grabbed one and brought it back to the door to keep it jammed open. “I saw this in a movie once. There’s so much funny business going on here. We don’t need this door closing behind us.”

As their eyes took in the speakeasy, Lindsay’s gaze went straight to the few paintings on the walls. Cubist! Wow, compared to some of the work they covered in art school, these looked pretty amazing. They all looked like they were the work of the same artist. She’d have to come back to that later.

“Jeff?” called out Catherine. “Jeff!”

“Uuuugggghhhhhh” came a moan from behind the wall.

Chapter 22

by Brenda Asterino
1820 words

“The Carolina Parakeets, the only parakeet to exist naturally in the United States, were known for their flashy orange, yellow, and green feathers before their extinction in 1918. These last two Carolina Parakeets died in captivity.” 

“That is our epitaph that Josiah wrote for us,” one parakeet states to the other, as if the other doesn’t already know. But they do have their daily rituals to carry out, even if it is in this old musty sub-basement. So they grab the minute here or there to preen themselves and each other. They find the ride down in the elevator exhilarating, but with their vivid, almost firecracker-like colors, the invisible feathers are necessary. Flying off the elevator wire frame, they landing on top of Josiah’s Totem. This will be a new ritual. After rearranging a couple of feathers, Avery attempts to look like a wooden statue walking about the Totem’s shoulders and head which makes Billy Bob laugh. They quickly hush each other so they won’t be heard. It’s fun to fly above the human’s heads over yonder and into the speak easy. They attend well to the human’s chatter, making mental images for their report upon their return upstairs.

The parakeets signal each other when one wants to make sure the other notices or hears the activity that is noteworthy. Billy Bob signals Avery to pay attention to the man on the floor. Disgust passes over his beak. Their unity of mission with the others is clear. And they also have their own thoughts about the Museum’s future. They can’t, won’t, let that creek rise! They have no intention of viewing their own extinction twice. The parakeets will do their part to keep the Walker Museum alive. Otherwise, they know they will be packed in a box until mold requires a funeral pyre. Then, no one will know about Carolina Parakeets. “Why, we’ll blow us up a storm if need be!”

Avery signals Billy Bob to watch the human called Jeff spewing forth obscenities mixed with groans. Billy Bob gives a signal meaning, “not worth the hulls of eaten seeds”. Avery flies closer and whispers, “Even the turkey vulture has a larger function that serves the good of all.”

***

“She’ll be comin’ round a mountain when she comes..”  hesitation…“Whoo,  WHOOOO….” Marilyn smiles. “This is a good day…” to the same tune, she adds… “A good day is comin’, if I can find that mountain…to climb, whoo, WHOOO.” Thoughts are coming, too, if she can just keep going with these tunes, she feels like she will remember more, “whoo, WHOOOO.”

It’s not a mountain, but it’s going to feel like a mountain to climb?? Hmmmm, there are two and one is iron…so is a train! Marilyn rubs her forehead. Oh, If I could just get some straight thoughts together. I need a string of pearls. “Where are those pearls? The Walker pearls?”

“whoo, WHOOOOO”     

Settling into her favorite wingback chair, Marilyn takes a deep breath. It’s a chair that her husband’s father used. That Walker lineage. Marilyn reaches for her water bottle on the side table. Catherine always leaves her a bottle of water next to her favorite chair so she has water in easy reach. Marilyn gets it open and drinks from it. Water helps. Maybe a small nap, too, just for a few minutes. Then, she’ll check the refrigerator to see if there are some snacks or sandwiches. Dear Catherine always leaves her something. She fights back the sadness. She feels Catherine’s stress and wants to hug her. Marilyn’s brow furrows as she thinks about Catherine, probably at the Walker Museum. She knows Catherine has too much to deal with, but doesn’t always remember about what. There are things to tell her, though. She’s sure of that!

Falling into sleep, she hears a man’s voice, “whoo, WHOOOOO”. He looks so familiar. The man has mutton chops and his hat keeps falling off. Sometimes, he picks it up and it is a top hat. Sometimes he picks it up and it’s a worker’s hat from another time. He waves it before he puts it back on. Then, it blows off again and as he waves it, it changes into a civil war hat. The dream blurs and comes to life again. He’s checking the contents of the box cars of the train. One is full of manatees and auks. The animals try to get out, but the man stuffs them back in. Sometimes they look alive and sometimes they are more like toys, stuffed animals. He’s constantly smiling and it fills her with joy to see the kindness in that smile.

There are flat cars on the train and those have logs. There’s that man waving his hat again. He looks like a logger now. And Marilyn sees another man with him. He looks so familiar, too. They look a bit alike. Only this man loves her. What happened to that man?

The older man with mutton chops, though he looks in his thirties, pays special attention to another car. He disappears in and out of the box cars. Sometimes they look more like rooms. When she ponders that thought, he squats near the box car, and seems to look directly at her, smiling that broad smile, again. As, he opens that special sliding door, Marilyn sees the faces of wolves. The faces morph like moving backward in time turning into the faces of Native Americans. Their mouths open and close, open and close and she hears drums beating. She seems to travel to the box car and looks inside. It feels like she falls into the box car, only the fall is soft and it goes on and on…and she seems to be traveling through so many rooms. There are secrets in these rooms. When she turns to her left she sees things that sparkle and seem to call to her. When she turns to the right, she feels into the future. A thread of one future is full of light and laughter. There are other threads. Her heart feels too heavy to take that walk.

The wind is blowing the man’s hair as he grabs the bar on the ladder that goes up the end of a box car. He’s smiling as he seems to swing in the wind and joyfully leaps onto the ladder. As he climbs the ladder, the train is picking up speed and spiraling up the steep hill. Muttonchops man is gleefully hanging on and stands on top of the train as it curves uphill and against the wind. Some of the cars of the train fragment and fall away. She squirms against the chair wanting to stop the disintegration. She yearns to feel a younger, stronger body to dispel what is happening; to jump into the fray. Ole muttonchops looms in her face and spreads that big smile again and then recedes into the spiraling scene pointing to…what?

The bending rails become tighter, moving the train up the hill getting steeper until it seems to be approaching a pinnacle. Through a haze, Marilyn seems to make out more pieces of iron. Two lines of iron on a broad white circle. Sliding in like some slimy. decaying leech, the monster starts ravening the train. Sick with anxiety, Marilyn hears ticking, like a big old hallway clock. And another tune starts, “Time, time is ticking…”  

And then, she sees the box cars again and all the doors are sliding open, but this time, shapes are falling out of the box cars. Triangles and squares. Some seem to be falling out of oval openings. Another sound starts. Marilyn strains to hear, but it is barely there.

The shapes move like multiplying bacteria. They split or just appear. Crazy geometric shapes building on one another in whimsical shapes bending and slightly twisting. Triangles joining to make rectangles and then moving into 3D blocks. Momentarily, some triangles join to make squares and then cubes. Equilateral cross marks form dividing up the squares into smaller squares. The equilateral cross marks take on a life of their own and fly off the squares spinning, spinning with such force as they flit here and there as if looking for a place to land. Sometimes, the individual simple forms multiply so fast, it is too much for the eye to watch. Sometimes they multiply in strands, kinda like watching DNA. These keep reaching out in new directions. And the boxes that birthed the equilateral crosses fall back into triangular shapes that sometimes form pyramids and then merkabas. The merkabas also spin and move about like power units.

Now, she hears that sound again. It is clearer. Thud- thud. Like a heart-beat. And the merkaba spin and the movement of the forms pattern their speed and movement within a dance to that beat. Now the drums start again to enrich the rhythm and flow.

Marilyn is now also conscious of herself, her whole body, as in a waking dream. Is this a dream or a vision? Is she seeing the mega or micro universe? She is startled by her own thoughts, by the terms she is using in her thoughts. Thoughts! Clarity! What is happening? Is this temporary or permanent?

She is aware of her own heartbeat. Feeling more integrated, she pats her legs and arms and feels herself as whole. Her mind is better matched to her body. And she feels less tortured in her thoughts from her past.

“I must find a way to see, to talk with Catherine. I must do it now before this clarity passes”.

***

At Subdued Brews, the phone at the front checkout counter rings, “Sunny speaking, we hope you are having a blessed day. Ask me about our specials. May I take your order?”

“Hello, Sunny. Yes, I want to order a coffee, just a large regular decaf coffee with cream and sugar on the side. And, oh, yes, I want to order twelve large sticky buns. Put those in a nice box, please. Could you include napkins? This is a very special order. Could you deliver please? It’s to the old Walker house.”

“Oh, well, we don’t deliver.” Sunny thinks for a moment, it’s the Walker house! An answer to my question earlier? Well, maybe there is a universe helping. “Ma’am, I have a break coming up soon. I’d be happy to deliver to the Walker house. It would be my pleasure.”

“Sweet Girl, you are so kind, so thoughtful with your time. Thank you. Please knock loudly on the door and give the poor dear living there time to get to the door. She’s elderly.”

Sunny, eager for this opportunity to get a connection to the Walker Museum, thinks to ask, “And who is this, please?”

“Oh, and before I forget, please put it on Catherine’s tab. I’m calling from the Museum for her.”

“And your name, please?”

“Margaret.”

Chapter 23

by Sky Hedman
2168 words

The moan from behind the wall echoed in the speakeasy as the foursome stood still.

Catherine was the first to spot the opening between the bar and the booths. “I think he’s through here,” she said, as she tentatively approached the doorway. A faint light drew her eyes up a slippery stone stairway, at the top of which, a door stood ajar. She started up the stairs.

“Be careful!” Lindsay said, cautiously following Catherine’s lead.

“Jeff! Jeff!” Carmen shouted, rushing through the narrow door, trying to push aside Lindsay and Catherine. Lindsay fell forward, catching herself on her hands, blocking Carmen’s pass. Carmen stepped on Lindsay’s hand with a crunching sound. Catherine looked back at the sound of Lindsay’s stumble, then Carmen pushed Catherine to the side, causing Catherine to lose her balance. Catherine reached fruitlessly for a handhold on the smooth walls as she fell backward down the stairs. She landed on top of Lindsay, her fall ending only when her head knocked on the lowest stone step. Carmen finally vaulted over the human carnage that separated her from Jeff.

Avery and Billy Bob, the Carolina parakeets, observed it all from their vantage point on the top of the totem. They could see Ted watching the wreckage unfold from behind, his arms reaching out ineffectively into thin air.

The parakeets fluttered and chirped. Humans are so clumsy.

No one heard the loud knocking on the front door of the museum. Sunny waited an appropriate time, and then let herself in.

***

Sunny surveyed the empty entrance hall, closed the door behind her, and stood with the dozen sticky buns and the large regular decaf coffee with cream and sugar in her hands. The building seemed alive, almost like the light got brighter as she entered, yet no one appeared to greet her. She could hear children’s voices from upstairs, accompanied by banging on a door. Even more intriguing were the shouting sounds coming from the basement. They got louder as she walked by the elevator. 

Sunny set down the order, wondering who the coffee was for, and ascended the grand staircase under Josiah Walker’s watchful gaze. She breezed through the exhibition hall noiselessly, attempting to downplay the curiosity that gripped her. She had been here so often after hours, she had read so much about this building and its history, that she was on first name basis with Josiah Walker. She felt close to Lydia, and now Catherine. The noise was coming from her left. The sign pointed to the dinosaur room, but the door seemed to be locked.

“Hello! Hello!” rang a woman’s voice. It was mixed with the sounds of children, some growling and wrestling, some crying.

“Can you hear me?” Sunny called. “If you can, knock three times.”

The knock came immediately, three sharp taps. Sunny knew how to open the door from the outside, knew that the tumbler’s code was “1776,” but debated to herself how she would explain later that she knew it. Attempting to deflect her inside knowledge, she made a vociferous display of prying the heavy door open, while deftly putting the code in the lock.

“Oh, I’m so relieved I was strong enough to open it!” Sunny said. She was now face to face with an anguished middle aged teacher in a pumpkin sweater, her sweaty face dampening her bangs, blotching her foundation and smearing her mascara. Behind her, the children who had been pretending to stalk each other as dinosaurs, turned, and gave a disappointed sigh.

“You didn’t tell us that this was an Escape Room,” the teacher blustered. “Next time, I’ll use the bathroom first.”

The students, still involved in their dinosaur imitations, loosely followed the flustered teacher down the staircase. She gruffly helped them locate their coats and hats, and marched them out into the November gray.

Sunny now had to deal with the scene in the basement. Deciding against revealing her presence, let alone her knowledge of the building, she called the police to report the commotion. She took one more long look, and let herself out.

***

Catherine was propped up against the Great Auk display, one hand holding the ice pack the medics had given her to the back of her head, nibbling on the last of the sticky buns. Her hair hung in wisps around her face, falling loose from the ponytail that she had casually gathered this morning. The brown wool scarf around her neck fell half unraveled over her heather colored sweater, now smudged with the hundred-year dust from the floor of the speakeasy. Her black leggings crept up from her clogs, revealing just a few inches of smooth pink skin.

The long morning of being interviewed by the police and trying to explain who everyone was, including the mysterious skeleton in the basement closet, had been exhausting. She still wondered what happened to the fourth graders in the dinosaur room. And, who called the police? Margaret, the Great Auk, found the whole story very entertaining, perfectly posing within her display case, but hanging on eagerly to every word.

Catherine had been relieved when Jeff was extracted from the basement and carted off in the ambulance, Carmen dramatically releasing his hand only as they loaded him into the red and white vehicle with its flashing lights. Other than dehydration, acute alcohol poisoning, a few bangs from his foray in the museum’s dark underworld and embarrassment at being found tangled up with a corpse, Catherine figured that he would be okay. Carmen left to drive herself to the hospital to attend to Jeff, who most likely was going to have to explain her presence at his side to his wife, Dorothy.

Ted had lingered in the aftermath, seeming to tether himself in front of the wolf display, crouching down and craning his neck to examine it from all angles as he munched on his sticky bun, the only thing he had eaten all day. He remained physically unscathed, although seemingly befuddled with the discovery of the skeleton and the new rooms.

“You should probably have someone look at your head,” he offered when Catherine tried unsuccessfully to get up from the floor. She slumped back down.

“The world is spinning,” she said, grabbing her head and closing her eyes.

“You need to go home,” Ted said, hoping to make a quick exit himself.

“If someone could just help me to my car, I have to get home to my mother.”

“You can’t drive yourself home,” Lindsay jumped in. “You’re in no shape to make that long drive, and besides, you have a head injury. I’ll drive you.”

“You can’t drive with that broken finger.” Lindsay’s left hand was splinted with tongue depressors and adhesive tape from the museum’s aging first aid kit, uncovered in the bottom drawer of the overstuffed file cabinet. It was right under the archival glue used to re-attach the feathers to the Great Auk.

“It’s my left hand. I can drive with my right.” Lindsay’s hand throbbed, but she suddenly didn’t want to let Catherine out of her sight. Truth be told, she wanted to give Catherine a big hug right now. So much was becoming clearer, but so much else needed to be explained.

***

Catherine nodded off immediately as they left the city limits and turned onto the lightly traveled county roads. She snoozed during most of the thirty-minute drive to her house. Lindsay was left with her own thoughts.

The shame totem was at the top of the pile, although vying for first place was the skeleton in the basement closet. Jeff’s reason for being there last night needed an explanation, although the reason for Carmen’s sudden presence became clear. Ted’s appearance at the museum this morning seemed random.

Lindsay suspected that she and Catherine were the only ones who knew about the gold leaf ceiling. Now all of the Board members except Toni knew about the shame totem and the priceless art in the newly discovered speakeasy, as well as the bag of gold coins.

In the dim light of the closet where Jeff was found, with the commotion caused by Catherine’s fall and Jeff’s condition, she had only briefly looked at the skeleton. Still, some clues were evident.

“I’m no archeologist,” Lindsay thought, “but that looks like a female skeleton.” For sure, most of it was decayed or was eaten by rodents. But they were able to pick out metal buttons. Askew under the skeleton’s feet were the soles of the skeleton’s shoes. Even Lindsay’s amateur eyes could see they were delicately sized, the remains of a female. In the crumbled dust, when they found that the left hand had a tarnished gold ring, Lindsay knew in her heart that they had found Lydia.

Lindsay had never met Catherine’s mother, but when Lindsay pulled into their driveway and an anxious face pulled back the sheer curtain and peered out the picture window, she knew immediately who it was. Catherine opened her eyes and stirred when Lindsay turned off the car.

“You’re home,” Lindsay said.

Catherine murmured “Thank you.”

Lindsay took Catherine by the arm to steady her as Catherine walked up the gravelly stone walk. She was glad to be there, glad to be helping Catherine, glad to be touching her, even through her coat. Marilyn held open the front door.

“This must be Lindsay,” Marilyn thought. Something about Lindsay’s fresh face seemed familiar, but how could that be? The way she pulled her long dark hair up on top of her head, those dark eyebrows and fawn colored skin…no, it was her earnest eyes and honest skin that made her a familiar.

Marilyn and Lindsay helped Catherine to the sofa, freshening her ice pack and lowering the blinds to make her eyes more comfortable. Marilyn found a throw from the recliner and spread it over her daughter. Lindsay was reluctant to leave Catherine, the one person in her life who never asked for anything for herself, who ended up falling backward on the stairs, trampled by Carmen, in an effort to help Jeff. Jeff, the two-timing banker who used their Board meetings as a cover for meeting Carmen.

Marilyn was dismayed when Lindsay headed for the door after Catherine was settled.

“Mutton chops,” Marilyn sputtered as Lindsay stood with her hand on the doorknob.

Lindsay turned sharply toward her. Catherine resembled Marilyn, same coloring and softness. Although Marilyn’s feebleness set them apart, Lindsay could see their kindred spirits. It must be hard for Catherine to witness Marilyn’s slide into dementia, she thought.

“Mutton chops is on a train,” Marilyn continued, and smiled weakly.

This is our chance, Lindsay thought. She had wanted to talk to this living member of the Walker family for months. “Do you know Mutton Chops?” she asked tentatively.

“I rode with him on a train,” Marilyn said. “There were wolves, too.” The images were flooding back in. “I miss him. He loves me. Time is ticking, he says.”

Lindsay retraced her steps, and asked Marilyn, “Maybe I should stay and visit with you a while. Would you like a cup of tea?”

Marilyn sat in her husband’s father’s wing back chair. The brown patterned upholstery had worn through in spots, but the quality of the original workmanship could still be detected. Her eyes shone. Lindsay went into the kitchen and found the tea kettle. She could hear Catherine’s mother talking. “Catherine thinks I’m demented and she won’t listen to me.” Lindsay poked her head back in the living room to listen.

Marilyn was pleading. “Catherine works too hard and my husband won’t help her.”

“I think your husband has passed away,” Lindsay said gently.

“Away, away, disparais…” Marilyn had a dreamy look in her eyes. “Josiah took me for a train ride.”

Lindsay listened. Josiah had been dead for eighty years. Marilyn’s husband had been dead for fifteen years. But Marilyn spoke of them in the present. “Can they help Catherine?” she asked.

“We must find the Walker pearls,” Marilyn said.

“Pearls?”

“Yes, that’s what they called the sayings that Josiah passed on down to us. Do you remember them?”

“Tell me about them,” Lindsay said, hoping to leave the conversation open ended.

“Well, they are here, right here,” Marilyn said. “I just remembered that he left them for us under this cushion. My memory is so bad,” she laughed lightly. “Sometimes I can’t remember my daughter’s name!” Marilyn slid her shaky fingers between the cushion and the arm of the chair. She struggled to gain a hold, then pulled out a well worn sheaf of pages, folded neatly in half, filled with flowery handwriting. “I can’t read them anymore, my eyesight is so bad.” She held the pages close to her eyes, squinting and then adjusting the lamp shade to get more light. “No, I can’t read them, but probably you can.” The pages trembled as Marilyn extended her arm towards Lindsay. “Here, this should help.”

Chapter 24

by Laura Rink
1674 Words

Carmen sat in her car in Archie’s driveway listening to the slow staccato of light rain on the roof, hood, and windshield. When he had first reached out to her about the shame totem pole, she had made a point of addressing him not as Dr. McNair, but as Archie, as a peer, not a superior. She hoped their collaboration would continue and she was taking this good faith measure of coming to him with what she now knew, because he was a member of the museum board and she was not. He held a position of respect and authority, and she did not. She blamed him for that. Fifteen years was a long time to blame someone else for your current life. She had taken the opportunity Archie offered her when he asked her to join him at the museum the other night and now, today, she had taken the initiative to be further involved with the history that was her calling.

What exactly did she want to tell Archie about what had happened earlier today?

When Carmen received Jeff’s texts, she’d been confused. Why would he reach out to her—a lover who had broken it off with him? Why not call 911? Or his wife? Or anybody but her? But then she realized where he was texting from—some part of the sub-basement which also held the shame pole. The pole Archie was so eager to tell her about but claimed he didn’t have access to, that only Lindsay or Catherine had the small key needed for the elevator to descend into the sub-basement.

This was Carmen’s opportunity and she took it. She presented herself to the museum director as the concerned friend, hand-wringing and all. She could barely contain her excitement as they descended in the elevator and she ceased to contain it upon seeing the totem pole, which consumed her attention until, with great effort, she remembered she was here not in her professional capacity but as a concerned friend of Jeff’s. But not concerned enough to initially continue on with the others into the next room. She used the flashlight on her phone to examine the totem pole. Pristine condition just like Archie had said. Her dilemma rose again, her dilemma between sticking with Andrew and working with Archie on the shame pole, a return to her first career, a second chance. But would Archie burn her again?

She glanced at the door propped open with the chair. Jeff had mentioned a skeleton in his text. Could that skeleton be connected to the shame pole? What else might be down here? Depending on how well her continued working relationship with Archie went, this could be her only chance. She also felt a tug of concern for Jeff—what was that all about? You’re human, she told herself, stop being so hard-edged and let yourself feel a little. But historical interest and a little humanity didn’t seem enough to explain her mad dash through the speakeasy literally trampling those women to reach Jeff first. No, to reach that storage room first. She’d wanted to discover something herself but with all these people around, any discovery was mutual. In the end, they all saw the bag of gold coins, some still grasped in Jeff’s hand; they all saw the skeleton. Carmen hid her reckless rush, and a bit of embarrassment, with her dramatic overconcern for Jeff, who seemed a bit delirious. She called 911 and was surprised to learn the police were already on the way. We need an ambulance, Carmen shouted into the phone. She was worried about Catherine’s head injury. While Carmen pretended to fawn over Jeff and Ted kept Catherine still, Lindsay hauled the bag of coins out of the tiny room, her hurt finger at an odd angle, and through the speakeasy, refusing help from Ted, and then she returned before the cops or the medics arrived.

Now in her car at Archie’s, Carmen rolled her eyes at herself clinging to Jeff until he was lifted into the ambulance and her lie to Lindsay that she would go to the hospital. What a farce—even if she was still having an affair with Jeff she wouldn’t go to the hospital and risk seeing his wife. No, Carmen had only one plan and it didn’t include Jeff and it didn’t include Andrew either, though she wasn’t thrilled to abandon her cousin completely, though Jeff and Andrew were both board members and bound to be included at some point. Or would they? What was the board’s required quorum to make decisions?

***

Archie was surprised when Emma opened his study door and let in Carmen. He hadn’t asked her here. Emma peered at him, letting him know she was still on high alert since he pulled that all-nighter at the museum a few days ago. She refused to go upstairs in the evening before him now. Her words still rang in his head, “You’re eighty-three years old!” as if his age corresponded to a particular bedtime.

Archie watched as Carmen, without waiting for him to indicate she should come in, let alone take a seat, crossed the room and planted herself into the second of the two leather easy chairs placed before the fireplace, the stack of wood from his morning fire now reduced to red coals in a bed of white ash. He heard the soft click as Emma shut the door.

Without waiting for him to begin or even excusing her intrusion, Carmen turned to him and said, “Archie, I saw it.” He knew what she meant. There was only one “it” these days. Her face was flush with what he recognized as enthusiastic determination. He remembered so long ago how well they had worked together. What had happened? He felt his own face flush—Oh, it had been something to do with him, perhaps. Or had she just left in an emotional huff about nothing? No, she had been committed to their research. He didn’t want to think about this. He wanted to think about the totem.

“It’s marvelous, isn’t it?” He wanted to have someone to talk with who shared his historical interests. “But how did you get down there?”

Carmen waved her hand dismissively. “Too long a story. Did you know there is a speakeasy down there? Tables, chairs, a bar!”

“Yes, of course I knew that.”

“Cubist paintings on the walls?”

“Really? I haven’t been in that room.”

“Why not?”

To Archie, her words felt like an accusation, not an inquiry. “I haven’t been through every nook and cranny of that place.”

“Why ever not? Who knows where historical artifacts may be hidden?”

More accusatory words, not to mention her sharp tone. Archie thought of the staircases and narrow passageways and cold drafty alcoves and his wife’s pointed “You’re eighty-three years old.”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re not losing your curiosity now are you, old man,” Carmen seemed to bite her lip after saying those last two words.

Archie thought to take offense but hell he was an old man, with all the accrued wisdom and body aches to prove it, aches that were sometimes subdued with his medicinal use of B.C. bud, as Ted called it.

Archie smiled. “No, not the curiosity. Didn’t I prove that the other night, sneaking into the museum with you.”

Carmen smiled. “Sure.” Then she frowned and Archie felt uncomfortable again. He wished he had a fire to stir up. He glanced at the charred pieces of wood tinged light red, almost extinguished. He lifted his head as Carmen spoke.

“The other morning in the coffeeshop, our conversation about the shame pole, about shame in general, I think we were looking at it wrong, both of us. I thought making Josiah’s shame public would hurt the museum’s reputation and you thought making the totem public would bring in visitors and thus increase revenue for the museum.”

Archie leaned forward, “But you made the excellent point that revealing Josiah’s shame is also revealing a debt that might have real monetary consequences for the museum, not to mention the museum’s standing with the local tribes and by extension the Tlingits.”

“Thank you for acknowledging my excellent point, Archie.” Carmen looked at him like Emma had, making him feel exposed.

“Well, of course, I-I—” Archie tripped over his words.

Carmen held up her hand, saving him from having to compose a coherent sentence. “Listen, here’s what I came here to say: Shame only has power when it stays hidden. You bring it out into the light and that light can dissolve it. Well, not just the light. It takes more than that. It takes acknowledgment, and atonement. Whatever debts Josiah incurred, they exist and have repercussions, whether the museum board acknowledges them or not. Who knows if Josiah’s debts can be repaid in full, but surely acknowledging one’s mistakes means something, especially these days.”

Again that piercing look at him. She didn’t say Josiah’s mistakes, she said one’s mistakes, anyone’s mistakes. Archie had the sense that maybe he had made some mistakes, though mostly he felt that he had just lived his life.

“Are you saying the museum should own up?”

“Yes. Well, perhaps. Acknowledging a wrongdoing even if it is too late to change the outcome is still a chance for atonement, don’t you think, Archie?”

Why did he feel like they were having two conversations?

“But what if that atonement requires giving up the shame pole? How does that help the museum?”

“Is the pole helping the museum now, stuck out of sight in the sub-basement?”

Archie didn’t want to lose that pole. “But what about your excellent concern about monetary damages the museum might be liable for?”

“I’d like to say doing the right thing shouldn’t be quantified but I’m now less worried about the museum’s financial prospects.”

Archie raised his eyebrows.

“Do you know much about old coins, Archie? Because I do.” Carmen unzipped her raincoat pocket and pulled out a shiny silver coin.

Chapter 25

by Mary Lou Haberman
1678 words

Lindsay looked quizzically at Marilyn, hesitated, then accepted the pages. “These are the pearls?”

“Yes they are and now you must read them outload.”

“Do you mind if I sit down?”

“No, my dear. Please do. You are more of a familiar to me than you know.”

“A familiar?”

“Oh, silly me, I meant you seem familiar to me for some reason. Anyway, I trust you and Catherine. And you two are entrusted by others to nurture something. She giggled. “I just don’t rightly recall right now what it is, but I think these Walker Pearls will help.”

Tears came to Lindsay’s eyes and her lower lip quivered. She absentmindedly adjusted the infinity necklace she always wore. She felt whole when it hung right between her breasts, over her heart. It was a gift passed down through the women in her family from her great-grandmother, Eloise. She’d never known her in person, but always felt her presence when she was on the edge of change. Lindsay was aware of a pulsating sense of purpose deep inside her belly.

“Oh, Marilyn.” Her voice quivered. “Catherine and I and some of the others need so much help right now. We don’t want to lose the museum, but we have no money to preserve it and take care of it. We want to help the museum become all she can become, but we just don’t have the funds. And the board members are diverse enough, but not connected. There is no shared vision.”

Marilyn nodded the gentle nod of wise women, “Yes, my dear, I know.” She reached for Lindsay’s hand and patted the sofa, “sit down right here while I get our tea.”

Lindsay felt herself drifting to the stuffed sofa she hadn’t noticed before. She floated down onto the sofa and curled her legs under her—like she had been imagining she would when having a heart-to-heart chat with Catherine—someday, when things sorted themselves out.

On the way to the kitchen Marilyn mumbled to herself. “I think white tea is called for at this moment. As bad as my memory can get, I remember clear as a well that white tea is what Angie and I learned is good for cleansing, clarifying ,connecting with spirits and deities, psychic abilities, and new beginnings.” She felt a warm breeze on her cheek and knew that Angie agreed.

Lindsay was confused by the feelings bubbling up inside her: eagerness, apprehension, curiosity, anticipation. Then, she felt eager to unfold the pages and did so. She chose to wait for Marilyn who returned and alighted beside her.

“Here, my dear. For some reason, I think this is a magical moment.” She laughed lightly, “I have no idea why I would say that!” And she remembered the way the man who loved her would wink at her when they teased each other not so long ago.

Lindsay reverently opened the folded pages—there were six of them. The top one, on paper that seemed to shimmer were the words Je disparais mais retournerai. She frowned and looked at Marilyn. “I don’t know what this means.”

Marilyn clapped her hands together in glee. “Oh, sweetie pie, it means ‘I disappear I will return.’”

Not wanting to be rude, Lindsay shrugged and shook her head oh so slightly, “Oh.” And thought she hadn’t been mistaken about Marilyn’s lucidity.

Nonetheless, she read on the next page, “You Can Never Go Wrong Doing The Right Thing” and as if to be sure the pearls were to be taken seriously the next Walker pearl read, “ Better To Do The Right Thing At The Wrong Time Than To Do The Wrong Thing At The Right Time.” Although she thought, I’ll have to think about that one, she knew in her gut what it meant.

The next page read, “It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn.” That’s true for sure. The next page read, “Follow Your Dreams.” She paused and pondered that one. She had indeed been following her dreams despite several obstacles. And the last page, in large black block letters read, “You Never Know What Goes on Behind Closed Doors.” Ominous, she thought and shivered and smiled at the same time.

Lindsay felt lightheaded and turned to Marilyn. “So, these are the Walker Pearls of wisdom? All this time I thought the stories of hidden treasures in the museum, if true, were about things—items—something that could be held in one’s hands. But these words are from a loving guardian telling the way to live.” She stopped. “But I’m embarrassed to say, I should understand them all, but I really don’t.”

“That’s normal honey. It usually takes some time to understand certain things”. And then suddenly her voice became deep, gravely and, with glowing red eyes she growled, “But, you don’t have that kind of time. You must take action by the next full moon.”

Catherine felt an unfamiliar sense of power. “I have to share these with Catherine.”

“Yes.” Marilyn nodded. “But you’ll both need your rest for the next few days. Go ahead and crawl into bed with her and we’ll all break the fast together in the morning before you go.”

That night, after she crawled into bed and spooned with Catherine, she fondly remembered the hours she spent with Mr. V, the docent when she was small and was puzzled to hear him say what Andrew had said several days ago, “A capital campaign can’t succeed until we make people care about the museum and to make people care, you have to make them notice.” She knew she had to take action and she couldn’t do it alone and gently poked at Catherine.

“Hey.” Catherine stirred, rolled over, saw Lindsay, and smiled. “Hey, yourself.”

***

Ted Davis found himself confused as he pedaled hard through the pounding rain. What’s happened to me? I used to think every revolution started with a single spark. But what the hell does that even mean? All I know is deep down I want to make a difference in this community.

He grabbed his toupee from under his helmet and tossed it into an open curbside bin. “Fuck politics. I might as well admit my mother was right. My energy is misdirected.” He started to cry. “So what in the world am I doing here? I like the people I’ve met here, but…”

He pedaled with more vigor up the one hill in town, squeezed the brakes in the middle of the street and screamed to the universe, “I hate committee work.”

Feeling deflated, he went home, drank a carrot juice spiked with vodka and went to bed. That night, he dreamed he was the chief decorator and landscaper at the Walker Museum. In the dream, he had all the resources he needed—money, tools, time, and permission to do things that delighted him and others. In one scene, he used exotic flowers to catch visitors’ eyes and their amazement as a Venus flycatcher ate a fly and then opened up and let the fly go all the while humming a vibrant colorful tune. He thought he heard the fly giggle. Then, he turned around and saw ponds filled with creatures long extinct and parks where dinosaurs roamed and—look, there are beaches for auks and manatees. In his dream, these were his creations and gifts to humanity. He saw some of the other board members rushing toward him with open arms and his smile was as big as the universe. He finally felt at ease. Peaceful. His mother would be pleased. She had never given up on him. In the morning, he struggled to get out of bed. He was distracted by the dream. It was incredibly intense, puzzling, unreal, but, oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have so much freedom, so many friends, and so much important work? He sighed, If only…

***

Toni found herself in a tizzy—not an excited happy one like she got when a big sale went through, but a tizzy of fury. Who did that Paul think he was anyway to tell me he needed to think about working with me? I’m the only way he’ll be able to do anything with the dilapidated museum and those moldy stuffed animals. Where did he find that goofball who said that crap about the orcas? Damn him. Now what am I going to do? She started to doubt herself. Maybe it wasn’t even worth selling. It was just too far gone and should be torn down. She didn’t bother to take off her stilettos or pancake make-up. She’d been up all-night pacing, smoking, and fuming until she decided to take another look—at least take a closer look at the outside of the monstrosity. Surely she hadn’t been wrong about selling it to Paul.

She jacked herself up on coffee at Subdued Brews and thought, what a sad excuse for a woman that girl is. Sunny, with her special powers, heard what Toni thought, and pondered the nature of evil.

Leaving the shop with her nose pinched and adjusting her Chipcard sunglasses, she marched toward the museum.

Soon she stopped, stared, and, with hands on hips, declared with a terrible screech, “Unbelievable. What a piece of garbage. Not even mediocre. Just crap. Thrown together like the architect was one of those disgusting narcissists who think no matter what they do, it’s a gloriously holy masterpiece.”

Just then, she felt a tremble under her feet. She wobbled. One of her heels broke off and pain shot into her ankle. Then she heard an ear-splitting gasp and cough as if someone were about to cough up a lung, looked up and saw a car-sized ball of dust coming straight toward her—closer and closer until tiny bits of dirt shattered her eyes. Toni panicked, froze and whispered, “oh shit” as she took in her very last breath. The museum snickered and her beloved children cheered.

Chapter 26

by Cami Ostman
1863 words

The museum breathed in the taste of victory as the ambulance came to collect Toni’s remains. Now there would be no need to press back against a potential sale. As if She could be sold, like an object! As the matriarch and host of stories both victorious and dark, she was ready to bring everyone together and unfold her mysteries and to guide her family, all of them—the Living Ones and the children in the collections—to justice, truth, and reconciliation. But she would need them all present. Each and every player. And it had better be after dark, when the children inside her safe-keeping could animate and move about as needed. She would open the maw of her heart and draw them to her. Board members. Community. And ghosts.

***

With the Walker Pearls in hand, Lindsay and Catherine entered the museum somberly. They’d agreed they would file the Pearls immediately in the cabinet in Lindsay’s office, and so after they’d rested, they drove back into town together. They also concurred that Lydia’s skeleton should not be left in the secret room off of the Speakeasy and had decided that as unpleasant a job as it might be, they would not let her bones rest one more night alone. Catherine kept thinking about Madeleine Albright’s quote, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Neither Lindsay nor Catherine wanted to be in that hell, but in getting Jeff out of that room and into the ambulance, the bones had been left unattended. The two women would put Lydia in the doll’s encasement for the night.

Lindsay believed…hoped…that Marilyn had given her a gift of great wisdom with the Pearls, but she genuinely didn’t understand why these phrases, written as titles across the six pages of yellowing paper, could be significant. And Marilyn could say no more when questioned. The mini-strokes she’d had, resulting in her seeing odd shapes and disconnected images, may have given her the second sight into realms beyond, but they’d also scrambled her language center.

Lindsay had immediately shown the Pearls to Catherine, who had only shrugged. “Something passed down from the Walker side of the family for sure. I can see the watermark of Josiah’s initials when I hold the pages to the light. See here?” Catherine had held up a page in the direction of the light coming from the window of her room. “But I can’t see, other than these containing advice to live by, why my mother might have saved these.”

Inside the museum now, the entryway was dark. “I’d forgotten the electricity was out,” Lindsay said. “I have a few candles in my desk. I know we aren’t supposed to have an open flame inside this building, but sometimes when I’m here at night by myself, I light one on my desk to keep me company. I’ll get them.”

“And I will get the flashlights out of the first aid kits in the closet off of the dinosaur room.”

As the women were ready to part, cell phone flashlights in hand to guide their ways, there was a low rumble in the air from above them. The dome? Would they be rained on again by plaster? But the sound was rather more like a deep voice. Catherine knew what it was instantly, for she had heard it many times, but she observed that Lindsay appeared frightened—eyes opened wide and ears attentive. It had been such a strange few days. Catherine herself was tired, but she could see Lindsay was bone weary too. What strangeness now would require them both to rally?

The rumble was at first muffled, and then the words began to emerge more clearly. Catherine looked up at the painting of Josiah. She watched his eyes. He was staring into her. Serious. Repeating a series of names:

Lydia, Andrew, Carmen, Jasmine, Jeff, Archibald, Sunburst, Ted. And again: Lydia, Andrew, Carmen, Jasmine, Jeff, Archibald, Sunburst, Ted.

The names repeated, with Josiah’s voice becoming clearer and clearer with each repetition until it was obvious he was giving a list of names. Finally, Lindsay spoke in a whisper, “Catherine, am I hearing things or are you hearing that painting of your great-great grandfather speaking to us too?”

Catherine, though, was typing quickly into the notes function on her cell phone. She ignored Lindsay’s question and read back into the sky, “Do I have them all, Josiah? Lydia, Andrew, Carmen, Jasmine, Jeff, Archibald, Sunburst, Ted?”

Silence. But then. The Wolves, the Manatee, the Great Auk. All those who have been wronged.

“What does he want from us?” Lindsay asked. She was trembling in the darkness of this strange living building.

Catherine kept her eyes on the painting. “I’m not sure.” Then she spoke up toward Josiah’s visage. “What do you want us to do? Why are you giving us these lists?”

But all that came back was another list: Totem, gold, coins, Pearls. Totem, gold, coins, Pearls.

Lindsay was visibly upset now. “Catherine, let’s get out of here. We can bring Lydia up tomorrow. Maybe have someone help us. This is a mind fuck. I am hearing things and you’re obviously doing the same.”

Catherine assessed Lindsay for a moment, but then rose to her full height. This shy woman who’d had to really stretch herself to give tours to children not so long ago suddenly felt a conviction so strong she had to hold on to the stairway’s railing to steady herself. “No, Lindsay. The time of reckoning has come. I believe the Museum…Josiah…maybe both of them are ready for their reckoning.”

“What are you talking about,” Lindsay pulled her coat more tightly around her.

“A meeting. Josiah is calling a meeting. And he’s telling us who—or what—needs to be there.” He’s telling us who holds all of the pieces. Or, maybe he’s telling us what the pieces are.” Catherine could feel in her bones this was exactly what Josiah was doing.

“The pieces to what? To how to save the Museum?”

“Maybe,” Catherine replied, “Or maybe how to save ourselves from the shame of this place.”

With that, a brisk wind blew through the building. And She groaned. Yessssss….

***

Inside of an hour, Catherine and Lindsay had had gathered flashlights and candles and situated them, along with several chairs, the stuffed creatures Josiah had asked for, the bag of coins, the Walker Pearls, and Lydia’s bones in the sub-basement around the shame totem. And then they called together Andrew, Carmen, Jasmine, Jeff, Archibald, Sunburst, and Ted, trusting that each of these people would somehow know why they were being invited to this strange meeting.

Lindsay waited at the entrance of the museum for the others to arrive, and when they were all assembled in the dark foyer, she used her key to shuttle them down into the “totem room.”

“Ah shit,” Ted said when the doors opened into the candle-lit chamber. “Are we having a goddamn séance?”

Jasmine, his mother’s long-time astrologer, laid a hand on his shoulder from behind and said, “Not a séance, Ted, but certainly some kind of sacred space has been created here.”

He shrugged her hand away. “Why are you even here? You’re not a bored member.”

She studied him for a moment. “Do you know that moment you had not long ago where you decided you might walk away from ambition and trade it in for joy?”

“How do you know about that?” he looked astounded.

“I know because some things are known outside of the realm of the five senses, my dear. To answer your question, I don’t know why I’m here, exactly, but I suspect it’s because whatever is going to happen here tonight, it was written in the stars. Just as it has been written in the stars that your life here on planet Earth is meant for joy and not for ambition. Anyhow, I’m guessing my services may be needed. We will wait and see.”

When everyone had arrived, Catherine asked everyone to find a chair. She stood at the edge of the circle and said, “Thank you everyone for coming. And so late at night and with such a cryptic description of why you’re here.”

Carmen, turned to the professor now and whispered, “I think we know why we’re here, don’t we?” Archibald McNair nodded gravely.

“Well,” Catherine went on, “here’s the thing. As you know, we’ve been talking for many months about how to save this museum. And then lately, some very strange things have been happening. For example, we found the dome above the staircase is covered in gold.”

Several people gasped. “What the…?” away Andrew said. Andrew, who didn’t have a clue what all of this was about. He’d joined the board to put his skills to good use, and he’d taken a slight fancy to Lindsay—though it was clear her interests lay elsewhere—but he was sure he’d resign after this dramatic stunt. Still, gold in the ceiling? That was interesting, right?

“So tonight when Lindsay and I came into the foyer, we…” she faltered here knowing what she was about to say would seem ridiculous. “We heard the painting of Josiah Walker speak your names. We believe this building holds the shame of oppression as surely as it holds the pride of my family. And we think Josiah wants us both to save this building AND to pay for his shame.”

There was a murmur in the small group. “What are you talking about?” Jeff asked.

“I’m talking about this shame totem,” Catherine said. “I think if we pool our knowledge, we’ll understand what is to be done with it. And with the gold in the ceiling and the coins we found in the secret room off of this room earlier today.”

“Okay,” Jeff rubbed his head. He’d only been released from the hospital an hour earlier and had had a hard time getting Dorothy to let him come out again. “But what’s with the stuffed animals and my creepy girlfriend being here with us?” he asked, indicating Lydia’s skeleton.

Before Catherine could answer, the Museum breathed. Everyone felt it. A deep, heavy breath in, almost as if the walls expanded and rounded outward. The flames of the candles flicked just a little. And with the building’s exhale, the room grew warm.

A voice, disembodied and rumbling, spoke low…barely audible, but understood by all. Hold the Pearl’s up to the candle-light. Look for the message beyond the message.

Everyone held their breath collectively. And then Sunburst, MIT graduate turned MFA student, the subversive expert on all things Walker stepped forward, picked up the papers from the floor in the center of the circle where they were sitting, and held up one of the papers to the candle-light.

Several people leaned forward. “Well,” said Dr. Archibald McNair, “will you look at that.”

Mouths were agape as the words appeared is if by magic in the dim light: Display your shame. With compassion, look into your own eyes and, without judgment speak what is true.

“Well, what the hell does that mean?” Ted said.

Chapter 27

by Seán Dwyer
1729 words

Catherine paused a moment to see if Lindsay would speak up, then she replied to Ted’s question.

“Josiah is talking about himself. He feels shame over the way he dealt with the Tlingit people whose land he scarred, and with the workers he cheated.”

“How do you know?” Ted asked, a bit of his previous snarkiness coming out.

“He has told me many things in dreams. Lindsay can confirm it, because she has had similar dreams.” She turned to Lindsay, who nodded vigorously.

“Sorry to sound combative,” Ted replied. “So there’s my shame coming out. I’ve been unhappy for a long time, and now I am ready to seek joy. Tell me how I can help the Museum.”

“Josiah told me to call you to this meeting, so I think your role will become clear soon enough. First, let’s see what Josiah wants us to do about his shame.”

Carmen spoke up. “The Shame Totem is in his image, and it’s remarkable for its craftsmanship and its condition. Even if we have to confront his misdeeds in public, displaying his Shame Totem for all to see will bring in locals, draw tourists, attract historians and,” she paused to take a breath, “start to heal the rift with the local indigenous groups.”

Excited murmurs arose from all in the circle. The candles glowed brighter, as if the Museum had squeezed out an extra blast of oxygen.

“I’ll see what we can do to get the totem upstairs as soon as possible. We’ll need a media campaign ready before we unveil it. Andrew, you were thinking along those lines. What do you say?”

He laughed. “My turn to show my shame. I came out here because Carmen asked me to. We’re cousins. This trip is the only thing I’ve ever planned. I design websites. But I’m not the only one.” He turned to Sunburst. “I detect a bit of knowhow in your non-barista life, eh?”

“True enough. And while I won’t go into everything I do with my tech knowledge, I think you and I can make a digital splash for this Shame Totem. Deal?”

She held out a fist for a bump, and Andrew bumped it. “Wait a minute,” he said. Sunburst cocked her head. “Are you vaccinated? I am. If you are, we can actually shake hands again.”

“Omigod, yes!” She grasped his hand firmly in hers. “Wow, that felt good.”

“Get a room, you two,” Catherine said. Andrew and Sunburst looked at each other, holding their gaze for several seconds.

“Josiah’s shame is taken care of,” Lindsay said. “What else do we have on our plate?”

Sunburst held up the sheet that said, “Better To Do The Right Thing At The Wrong Time Than To Do The Wrong Thing At The Right Time.” The candle warmed the invisible ink, and everyone could read in a large script, “There is never a right time to do some things. Babies are always too expensive. Yet we have them when we want to.”

“Well, what the hell does that mean?” Ted said.

Again, Catherine knew what her ancestor meant. “Dude, you don’t have to ask every time. I promise I’ll give you an interpretation.”

“Cool,” Ted replied. “So, what the hell does that mean? Uh, sorry.”

Catherine sighed. “You’re a goofball, Ted. An occasionally adorable one, thank goodness. So, what is our baby?”

Archie spoke up. “The Museum!” Murmurs of comprehension this time, plus a rustling as Margaret the Great Auk lay her head on Charles the Manatee’s rounded shoulder.

“Right!” Lindsay and Catherine shouted in unison, loudly enough to rattle Lydia’s bones.

“And if it’s never a good time economically to have a baby,” Lindsay continued, “it’s really not a good time to shore up this building and make it an Eighth Wonder. But it’s the right thing to do.”

“We’ll have to start a capital campaign as soon as we tote the totem upstairs,” Jeff said. “We—”

“Helloooo?” A loud male voice called from above, the word echoing through the various pathways to the totem room. “Josiah told me to come. Not sure why.”

Everyone looked at Catherine for an answer. “Sounds like Pete Masters. Do you think Josiah wants him here now?”

“Helloooo?” came the call again.

“I want him,” Josiah’s deep voice rumbled. That was good enough.

“Pete?” Lindsay yelled.

“Yes!”

“Take the elevator down. You’ll find us when the door opens.”

Carmen frowned. “Why isn’t he at the hospital, or whatever?”

The elevator stopped rattling, and the door opened. Pete stepped hesitantly toward them, peering into the pale light.

“Josiah. He’s dead. But believe me, he talked to me when I was identifying Toni’s body.”

“Oh, we have no doubt,” Catherine said. “Pull up a chair, and we’ll see soon enough why you’re here.”

Archie filled Pete in. “We’re going to display the totem, and we’re going to renovate the building, if we get enough money from a capital campaign.”

Lydia’s bones rattled loudly and long enough that everyone turned to her. But Pete spoke up.

“I’m not sure capital is an issue,” he said. All heads jerked in his direction. “Toni has put aside a ridiculous amount of money,” he continued. “It’s obviously mine now.” He sighed, but he didn’t shed a tear.

“I’m really sorry about Toni,” Catherine said, and everyone concurred.

“You don’t need to be,” Pete replied. “Toni had it in for this place. She thought she was Goddess, knowing what was best for the building—and for her. A juicy commission so she could walk away from this looming mess even richer. As if she had the right to find a buyer.”

Lindsay nodded slowly. “That’s what led to the accident with those developers. And, I don’t want to say it, but I think the Museum may have had a hand in the weird accident that suffocated her.” She put her hands in her face. “I’m sorry to be talking about her, Pete.”

“Go right ahead. She kept me as a lap dog, one she mostly ignored, one that should have bit her and run away several years ago. I’ve been so lonely and bored.” And now he covered his face and began to sob.

“Oh, Pete,” Carmen exclaimed. She hurried to his side and put her arms around him.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I’m not sure why we don’t need a campaign,” Jeff said.

Pete sniffed and said, “I can front up to five million as an interest-free loan.”

“That’s wonderful,” Archie said, “but I’m not sure much of your money will be needed.”

“That’s true,” Jasmine said. Her eyes glazed over. “Lydia here. Those quarters bear a Carson City mint mark. They are uncirculated, and even if the market price drops a bit because of this bag of quarters, they may fetch you $20,000 each. I did the right thing, yes?”

Everyone sat, stunned. Lindsay spoke up finally. “Very much so, Lydia,” she said. “How was it that you bought these quarters?”

Jasmine again spoke for Lydia. “I wanted to flee, and I wanted my son to have an inheritance. This building is that inheritance, along with the coins.”

“The coins are great,” Archie said. “But the building isn’t much of an inheritance for now.”

“Nonsense,” Lydia replied. “I know several of you have seen what lies under the dome.”

“Gold leaf?” Catherine asked.

“Gold bullion,” was the reply. “I fully expected the house to go to my boy. The entire dome has a lining of bullion. It should go to his heir now.”

Everyone turned to Catherine. She turned white and grabbed Lindsay’s arm to steady herself.

“I suspect my mom’s the heiress.”

“My grandson, your father. As he is now on this side, either she or you will be viewed as his next of kin now. Either way, welcome to your new life, Moneybags.”

Everyone applauded, but Catherine held up a hand.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As I see it, we have these quarters to sell on behalf of the Museum. But my mom may claim them as her property. And heaven knows what she’ll want to do with the gold.”

“A bigger long term question is what you, Catherine, will want to do with the gold and the coins.” Lindsay looked frankly into her eyes. Everyone murmured assent again.

“I think the proceeds from the metals belong to the Museum,” Catherine said. The heat came on, and the Museum sent a warm breeze swirling around the committee, a tender hug.

Lydia spoke. “Use what you need to repair the structure, and give the rest to my great-granddaughter.”

Jeff was now in his element. “Absolutely. We’ll create a trust, and if Catherine is willing to support a portion of the reno, the Museum should not question the notion that the rest of Lydia’s money goes to her.”

“Hear, hear!” Archie said. “Would this arrangement suit you, Catherine?”

She burst into tears. “I love this building. Nothing would make me happier than to have a share of the treasures hidden in it serve to keep it alive and well.” Lindsay hugged her, and Catherine sobbed freely.

Jeff added, “We should still hold a capital campaign to lower the personal cost to the Walkers for the improvements. The family is not responsible for the dilapidation over the decades.”

“I’ll kick in half a mil,” Pete said. “The Museum gave me my freedom. Sorry to sound so cold.”

“We get it,” Catherine and Lindsay said in unison again. They laughed.

“First up,” Catherine said, “we create an ADA-friendly ramp. And we house Margaret and Charles together, despite their differences.”

“Oh, heck yeah,” Andrew said. “How about a diorama with Charles in deep water, and Margaret standing on his back, facing the sun?”

Margaret fluttered her wings just enough for everyone to notice.

“Ya got a winner there, Andrew,” Ted said.

“This is insanely cool,” Andrew said.”

“Or just insane,” Jeff replied wryly. “But seeing is believing. I think we have this under control so far.”

“Let’s see what the other messages among the pearls say,” Sunburst said. She looked at the remaining pages:

“It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn.”

“Follow Your Dreams.”

“You Never Know What Goes on Behind Closed Doors.”

She held “It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn” up to the candlelight.

The clock in the tower struck 5 a.m. Suddenly, the she-wolf sat up and howled.

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