Locked Out of Time

Chapter 1

Forbidden Artefacts

Lissy and I loved to go the museum. There was never anything new, but it was always fascinating and a little sobering sometimes to see the items of past eras laid out on display. We, neither of us needed to read the descriptions of the artefacts, or even skim over the history lessons written on posters taller than we were on the walls. That's how many times we had gone to the museum.

Admittance to the museum was cheap for repeat visitors like us. Tourists all year long had to pay around five dollars a pop, but Lissy and I got in for a quarter. In return, we picked up any trash we found, and cleaned handrails and glass in the evenings. There had been one glorious time when we had had to research for a piece that was being brought in and was to have its own display - our work became the description of use and who had used it, still posted beside it exactly at eye level.

Tonight was one of our cleaning nights. Lissy was taking care of the Chinese displays in the next room, and I was doing the Egyptian. These two rooms had the most traffic for obvious reasons - visitors loved the exotic mystery of Egypt and China, and the beautiful and puzzling pieces that both cultures had come up with. The Egyptian one had more artefacts than the Chinese side for now, which meant there was more glass and room to clean - usually Lissy and I flipped a coin to decide who got it for the week.

There was a buzzing of excitement crackling along my spine, making my hands slightly shaky as I ran the cloth over the polished handrails. There had been a new shipment today. It was the first new piece in years, and it was something to go in pride of place in the very room I was cleaning. There was already a new display box on a stand in imitation of a Greek column, the light inside illuminating the empty square glass box already. There was soft white cloth folded artistically in the bottom, but the support for whatever the artefact was hadn't been brought in yet. It was the only bright spot in that part of the room, so I could only flick glances at it occasionally rather than stare eagerly; as if it would make the new acquistion magically appear.

Finishing with the handrail, I realized I needed to get more window cleaner, and turned away from the tempting displays. The janitor's room was back past Eastern European, so it would be quite a trek. Perhaps I could try and sneak a peek in at the offices again. The last time, I had been partly successful, seeing the crate and wrapping for the artefact before the door had shut.

"Lissy!" I called, "I'll be right back! Going for more cleaner!" There was a muffled noise of assent from the next room. She was probably listening to her MP3 player again, and hadn't heard I word I'd said. I dropped the empty bottle of cleaner I had into the trash can as I exited the Egyptian rooms, and passed at a trot through the various rooms to Eastern European: Greece and Italy, Roman Empire, Europe - Eastern European.

Just in the hall outside the EE room, the janitor's offices were hidden in a nook by the bathrooms and water fountains. The door was slightly ajar, as it always was when Lissy and I took over for the evening. Just inside the door frame to the right would be the big plastic bucket of cleaners, sponges, and cloths, with the brooms and mops were stacked in an old plastic trash can nearby so they couldn't fall everywhere as they were wont to do.

But a few yards up the hall to the left was the lesser-used offices of the curator and main historian. This was where anything new or in need of repair was stored; all the paperwork and more office-type things were kept in the main office by the entrance to the museum. Maybe the door would still be unlocked?

Sneaking a peek to either end of the hall, I jogged to the left instead of the right, and tried the handle. Locked. Heaving an aggrieved sigh, I turned and walked to the janitor's office. I guess I'd have to wait until the display was finally finished to find out what it was. I knocked the door open wide, and bent to find the window cleaner.

"He can't be out here too," I muttered, being unable to find another bottle. It was typically so easy to find, having a spray nozzle unlike most of the other bottles in the bucket. "It's not there." I straightened and put my hands on my hips, looking around at the rest of the room.

It was a proper office, not a locker as many janitor's holds were depicted. There were metal and wood shelves on the three walls in front of me, and hooks for keys and clothes on the wall with the door. Across from me was a window, the blinds slightly opened so there were strips of black, the night obscuring the usual view of trees and sloping hill beyond. In the middle of the room was a big round table, and against the window was a small desk. The desk was big enough to hold a computer, but right now there were a few odd history books propped against each other and extra printer paper stacked on top. And on the round table - the extra bottle of window cleaner!

I frowned at the sight. That table was usually covered in all manner of junk, namely Lissy's and my purse, and our jackets and hats if it was colder weather. Memos, receipts, lists, and overflow brochures or maps from the visitor section normally hid the wooden surface completely from view. I walked up to the table suspiciously, and gingerly grabbed the bottle. Jerking it back quickly, I froze, waiting for something to happen. Nothing. Nothing except:

"Keys?" There was a ring of keys laid out exactly behind the bottle so I hadn't seen it before. My heart skipped a beat. What if one of these keys unlocked the door to the office? What if this was my ticket to seeing the artefact early?? I snatched up the keys, forgetting the oddness of the situation, and raced out the door. I didn't even bother to check for others before I started trying keys.

The third key, that's the one that unlocked the door. It swung open quietly, and the box - the wonderful, amazing box - was there in front of me. I dropped the keys on the table beside the box, and quietly closed the door behind me.

The box was ordinary, and very small, considering the size of the glass box prepared for its display. The box still held some charm however - though usual cardboard, it was wrapped in brown paper, and tied with twine, just like those on movies. The twine was undone and the paper ripped on this one though, the box underneath gaping open. The inside was curiously black.

I reached down and pulled the flaps of the box up and out of the way. The square container was filled completely with black velvet, and whatever was stored inside was hidden amongst the many folds of cloth. My excitement doubled and tripled as I lightly lifted and moved the cloth to each side, trying to find what exactly had been discovered.

I couldn't help it - I gasped. This was amazing. This was stunning. This was - this was truly a forbidden artefact. This. . . . this made everything else obsolete and dull.

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