Xerox, Coelacanth, Paprika
Cathy DeBaria had forgotten and left her papers on the desk again. Now if she intended to get any work done this weekend she would have to return to the museum, and walk all the way to her office. Aggravated with herself, she turned to run back in. She would have to take a later bus. The harried ichthyologist would be late for her writer’s group meeting and the dinner afterward, although there was still a chance to make it if she hurried and went straight to the hall from work. Everyone brought a covered dish and Cathy usually made deviled eggs with a little paprika sprinkled over the top. She hated showing up without food, but this time it could not be helped.
It was beginning to storm. The wind slapped her coat around and turned her hair into a whip that stung her eyes and cheeks. By the time she reached the service door the rain had soaked her to the skin. Lightning flashed overhead and thunder crashed immediately afterward. The key skittered across the lock and wouldn’t go in at first, and then she had the door open. Suddenly a heavy gust of wind pushed it back against her. She lost her footing and slipped, hitting her head on the cement floor.
When she woke a minute later, Cathy crawled through the doorway for shelter. The rain was cold and the wind made it so much worse. She sat shivering on the floor in the dark; lightning must have struck a transformer. She put a hand to the back of her head and felt a lump. A flash of lightning lit the storeroom momentarily. She got to her feet and put out her hands, eyes wide, feeling her way forward. Lightning spider-webbed across the sky. It pulsed like a strobe. In the flashes Cathy could see that the room held a lot of boxes. There were varying sizes, but all were rectangular. Were these here a minute ago? They must have been. Oh, her head hurt terribly.
She made her way out of the back room and out on the main floor of the museum. Something looked different but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She walked around the fossilized bones in the center of the room and looked down the hallway.
“Hello?” She called.
“What? Who is that?” A pair of guards grumbled as they made their way around the corner. They saw the woman standing there and both stared for a minute. What was this? “How did that get out here?” The larger of the two growled. Now he was going to have to lug this thing back upstairs. All at once they saw it move!
Cathy saw the guards coming toward her and her eyes got very wide. Is this for real? When the guards pulled out radios to call for help and then started coming toward her she turned and ran back the way she had come. What on earth? Those were no security guards; that was a giant pair of Asian Small-Clawed Otters! She knew what they were because she had worked on their exhibit only yesterday. She ran back into the main room and put her back to the wall. Thankfully the lights flickered back on.
Wow, she thought, I hit my head so hard that I’m seeing things! Cathy looked at the bones of the giant dinosaur, and realized there was something wrong with them. Why, that…that looks like a human foot. How could that be? It was as big as her kitchen table! She backed around the exhibit slowly, mouth open wide. The skeleton was not that of a dinosaur, it was an ancient human being! The otters in the hallway were as tall as she was, and yet this thing was, well it was huge. She looked around the room and saw that all the exhibits were of humans! What is this place? The otters came around the corner and while Cathy didn’t have any answers she knew she had better stay ahead of the guards if she intended to find out what was going on. The otters chased her into the storeroom and cornered her by the door.
“I say, what’s going on here?” An old, raspy voice inquired.
Cathy was almost afraid to look. Coming toward them, swimming along as though he was underwater was a…is that a Coelacanth? She counted (being an ichthyologist it was force of habit) his fins and sure enough, there were two dorsal, two pectoral and two pelvic fins, as well as one anal and one caudal fin. She added them up, that’s eight. This is a coelacanth, and he’s floating around the museum. How surreal. Cathy felt a little light-headed.
“What’s this now, a human?” He looked to the guards, shaking his head. “Is this intended as a joke then? What is it doing out of the exhibit?” Cathy rattled the doorknob again, causing the old fish to jump. Silvery scales wafted down in the air.
“It’s alive?” He could not believe it. “Why it is! Where…how…there’s not been a live specimen seen in, in millions of years,” he sputtered all over himself. Flustered, he dropped several files, sending Xerox copied papers flying in all directions. He never even noticed. “Bring it this way boys, come come!”
Cathy screamed and tried to run but there was still a puddle by the back door. She slipped again, her feet going out from under her as she slammed to the ground. For the second time that evening everything went dark.
“Wake up! Are you alright? Wake up!”
Cathy could hear the guards, she could feel them moving her arms and she began to fight. They would not get their hands…their paws on her!
“No, no stop! You can’t take me!”
“I’m just trying to see if you‘re okay.” Cathy opened her eyes and saw the regular night guard, Fred Vickers.
“Oh Fred, am I glad to see you!” She hugged him.
“I say, what’s going on here?” She heard the old weathered voice again. Cathy cringed.
“Don’t let him stuff me!” She cried.
“Why that’s just Doc Murdoch, Miss. He isn’t gonna do anything to ya.” Fred said, smiling. The elderly curator came into sight. “I think she hit her head Doc,” Fred said to him.
“But, but Fred! You…well there were two of you over here,” she sat up, pointing, “and the Doc, he was a coelacanth over there.” she trailed off as she realized that it had all been a dream. How silly she must sound.
“Well I think you should go to a doctor Miss DeBaria, are you well enough to walk?” Doc Murdoch asked. Cathy nodded, standing.
“I’m fine, really. I think I’ll just go home gentlemen.” She replied. “But thank you Fred, Doctor Murdoch.”
“Well if you’re sure then, good night everyone.” Doctor Murdoch said, already walking away. Fred helped her with the door.
“Good night Fred, see you on Monday.”
“Good night Miss DeBaria.”
Fred stepped back inside and looked at the puddle on the floor. Might as well get a mop and clean that up before someone else falls, he thought. Something on the floor nearby caught the light. Now what do you make of that? He wondered. There were a bunch of silvery fish scales scattered on the floor.