I’m Sure We Have It Here Somewhere
by Joanna Horrocks
This contemporary urban fantasy story has a chilling, Twilight Zone feel. Welcome to the Museum. Trade is how this Museum survives and grows. The seeker must be willing to part with something of their own if they want to acquire something from the Museum. “As for what you’re looking for and what of your own you’re willing to give, that’s entirely up to you.”
Ah, good morning. How nice to see you! Of course, we’re open. Please, come in.
Don’t worry, he won’t bite you. Lift his leg, perhaps.
What kind of place is this? Well, it’s the Museum, isn’t it? It says so right there on the plaque by the door knocker, the one made of iron, the skin of a traitor, and that small, oddly shaped bone. No, no, not the plaque, the door knocker. Any fool can see the plaque is carved from a much larger piece of bone.
Please don’t ask where we got it. It’s not of interest unless—oh, dear, you’re not one of those, are you? I thought not. You don’t have the fingers for it, I can tell. Please, do sit down and have a cup of tea.
Oh, you mean what kind of museum is it? What kind of museum would you like it to be?
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be facetious or offend. It’s simply—well, a simple museum, really, not a museum of anything in particular. Give the people what they want, and all that nonsense. How one longs for the day when museums specialized, so that you didn’t waste your time spending all day drifting up and down the halls, losing your way between the basilisk collection and the Bridge of Sighs, walking in on the taxidermists at a most inopportune moment—although they’re always nice enough to apologize about the bleating, and a competent cleaner can usually remove the stains, or at least the memory of how one came to have them—and encountering room after room of bejeweled scarab beetles and antique tatting, when all you really wanted to see was Raskolnikov’s pastel drawing of Van Gogh’s ear. Damned annoying things, too, those scarabs. Always buzzing and humming and humming and buzzing. Ah, well. It pays the bills.
Whatever your interests might be, I assure you, you can see it or hear it or feel it here. Sometimes you can even smell it or taste it, although to be honest, I do hesitate to recommend the latter. I don’t suppose you’ve ever sipped the liquefaction from a canopic jar found in the sarcophagus of a minor pharaoh from the twenty-second dynasty? Anubis willing, you never will.
Now, the distillation from the sarcophagus of the sister of the queen of Sheba, on the other hand—ambrosia. It always reminds me of the time the queen’s sister and I—
But let us not dwell on the past. We must look forward, must we not? We are the Museum, after all.
Now here—mind the pythons—is our main collection. Have you ever seen anything so magnificent? No, of course you haven’t. I would have remembered had you been here before.
Take this lovely piece, for example. No, please, I do mean take it. There. Feel how lightly it weighs upon your hands? You won’t find anything like this in that sordid little room in the back of that pornographic bookstore, not even in that cabinet in the corner where they keep your very favorite dolls, masks, and accessories, I promise you.
Please, don’t pretend. It’s extremely unbecoming.
Over here is an astonishingly well-preserved hindquarter of a yeti; over there are three turquoise roses, as fresh and fragrant as the day they bloomed, that were placed upon the tomb of Oscar Wilde in 1900 by an anonymous admirer with an escort from the Queen’s Regimental Guard. Look above you—there, just below the bust of Noah—do you hear the F-sharps dancing in the shattered stained glass window? You thought they’d been lost forever, didn’t you, when you bolted from the room during your recital in the seventh grade. And here, a faded picture of your sister, smiling, that you took with your old Polaroid camera from the driveway of your house on the day before she disappeared. There, a bowl of rotten apples; the screams of an old man on a roller coaster; a dreadful sinking feeling recovered from the belly of a whale.
How did we come by such remarkable finds? Well, our visitors come here looking for something, you see. Something they want. Something they need.
And then we do what museums have done to acquire treasure from time immemorial. We trade.
Yes, that’s right. Just a simple trade.
As for what you’re looking for and what of your own you’re willing to give, that’s entirely up to you.
What would you give for the perfect gift for your starving mother, the very loaf of bread stolen by Jean Valjean?
What would you trade for this pair of ruby slippers, a piece of penny candy, your imaginary friend’s lost Teddy, a taste of balm of Gilead, three golden threads from the epaulette of an admiral who died with his crewmen while circumnavigating Moscow, your last breath, this old tin whistle, the January sky?
What will you give for that baby in the window—think hard, now. I promise you’ll only have to feed it once a year.
Oh, come now. You must have something you’d like to trade away and something else you want. One small thing you wish to be rid of, one greater thing you’ve wished for all your life, although you haven’t known it until just now? Look deep inside your pocket and your psyche; you must have something there.
What’s that? Speak up, I can’t––ah!
Like to give us a challenge, I see.
No, no. Not too difficult at all. I’m quite certain we must have it here somewhere.
Let’s just have a look through our records, shall we? Now, let me see—no, not there—or perhaps—no—wait! Just as I thought. It’s down below, hiding with the rusted toys and brittle wishes.
How did we acquire it, you ask? Well, that is a secret, and a gentleman never reveals a secret. Nor does a lady. Nor do I.
If you’ll just follow me.
Be careful coming down these stairs. The things that live behind the wallpaper are often asleep and dreaming of palm trees and soft breezes at this time of day, and if you disturb their restive slumber, they will not be pleased. And we would not want that, would we, now? Please trust me when I say we would not, no, especially not on a Wednesday, no, not at all.
The flames along the corridor? Yes, they are pretty, aren’t they? I’ve always thought that to be a particularly pleasing shade of green. Made of? Well, they’re not made of anything really, you see, they’re just—let’s see now, how shall I explain this—well, the simplest way to say something is always the best, our Curator says, so I shall do the same. They’re not made of anything, really, because they’re not really there.
Oh, yes, I do agree. They give a lovely glow.
Now the Curator—oh, no, I am not he, he seldom appears in public. Or in private, for that matter, and especially never on Wednesdays. It is he to whom we owe the very concept of the Museum, he who collected that first angry feather and enshrined it in a pickle jar in a most disgusting tavern on that dreary day in Kitty Hawk in 1903. It was he who ensured the Museum’s financial stability through its licensing as a brothel, he who oversaw its wretched relocation that appalling August midnight through the city’s sewers, its reformation following that unfortunate debacle with the passenger pigeons, and its cancerous distension into the magnificent edifice you’re walking through today.
Oh, you won’t be able to visit the tavern, I’m afraid. The Great Fire of 1822 wiped it off the map.
Be especially careful coming through that doorway.
No, I don’t think it would be wise to tell you why.
Ah, here we are. According to the Inventory, it should be in one of these small boxes. Of course, the Inventory has been known to lie. We’ve tried to break it of that habit, but each time we try to pin it down and put the fear of the Curator into it, it simply dislocates its wings and zips off down the drainpipe to wherever its nest is. Touched the wings myself once while they were pinned down but still flapping. Unpleasant, that.
Let’s see. Box number 62 dash R dash 57A. It should be here somewhere, in between boxes number 18B and 26758. If you wouldn’t mind handing me that lockpick that’s next to—No, not that one!—yes, that’s right. I do so wish the little buggers wouldn’t do that.
Ah, here it is, just as I suspected. The year Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-Two.
Not much to look at. Are you certain you wouldn’t rather have a nice jar of blended canopic juices instead? No, I don’t blame you. What about next year’s favorite shade of lipstick or a silver spoon? No? Well, to each his own, I always say. Or her own, as the case may be. By the way, which—no, no, it’s none of my business, really. And it’s never too late to change your mind.
I’m sorry? Oh, that’s right, the year. Well, yes, I suppose the bottle is quite small, if you’re looking at it from the outside.
Hmm. We could take out the stopper to make certain it’s in there, but then we might never lay eyes on it again. That blasted Inventory, don’t you see.
But I assure you, it is the entire year. Every Monday, every Tuesday, every Wednesday—well, it may be missing one or two of those—every January, February, June and July. Was there anything in particular you were looking for? No? The entire year. Yes, I see. A good one, was it? Or a bad one. Oh, well, it makes no difference, really. Once it’s yours, it’s yours to do with as you please. Except get rid of it entirely, of course. Wouldn’t that wreak havoc with the atlases and maps!
Well, that just leaves us with one more order of business. Have you thought about what it is you’d like to leave in its stead?
Are you certain about that?
No, no, the Museum would be quite pleased to accept in trade that which you offer. Flattered, really. Even honored, I dare say—well, that may be a wee bit strong. Let’s leave it at flattered, shall we? It’s just that—that is, you can never tell when you might need—but of course, it is entirely up to you.
I honestly can’t persuade you to change your mind?
I thought not. No, no, it’s not my job to understand.
So, then, if you’re absolutely positive—but are you sure I couldn’t interest you in giving us one of your eyes, or perhaps one of your arrest warrants, instead? After all, you do have more than one of those—yes, yes, I do apologize. I shall stop now. As I have said, it is entirely your choice.
Truly, that is all there is to it. We don’t stand on Ceremony here. She taught us all quite a lesson the last time we attempted that.
Well, it’s yours now. You have what you came for.
Oh, but of course you did. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here talking now, would we? We would not have your—well, you know—and you would not have your year.
I see—you were just out walking. You just happened to pass the Museum, just happened to climb the sixty steps to the landing, just happened to be intrigued by the plaque beside the door knocker, just happened to lift the knocker, just happened to rap upon the door.
Well. Who am I to question what someone else believes?
The exit? It’s only over here—yes, that’s right. Just through this door, the same way we came in. Stairs? A lighted corridor? No, I’m certain I don’t know what you’re talking about. Good Lord, wallpaper? In this building? I’m sure the Curator is turning over in his grave. Now, please, if you will—really, I must insist—ah. There.
See? Here is where you came in. There’s the park with the pedal boats and the bandstand, and just beyond that is the street with the bookstore and the coffee shop where you gaze so longingly and unrequitedly at the barista when she makes your caffè latte every day. Do bring me one of those the next time we see you, won’t you? Skinny, if you please. No, no—not her, the latte.
Oh, but of course we’ll see each other again. Even as fine an item as the one you’ve chosen will get old after a while. Especially the month of April—now there’s a bore. And when you tire of it, we have plenty of other trinkets, gauds, and caprices left to choose from, and you have plenty left to trade. Not quite as much as you had when you first entered here, perhaps, but more than enough to make another visit worth your while, I’m quite sure.
Our address? That’s hard to say. Yes, that’s right, we may be moving soon. I told the Curator not to let our visitor liability insurance lapse, but does he listen to me? It seems another dreadful midnight voyage through those unwholesome passages may be in store.
Nothing to worry about, however. When it’s time to make another trade, there’ll be no need for you to find us.
We’ll find you.
Goodbye, now. Do have the most delightful day.