Actions

Work Header

Night at the Museum

Work Text:

The mood had been festive among the speakers and academics who gathered for drinks and conversation at the end of the first day of the Salisbury Festival of Archaeology; and darkness had fallen softly over the Cathedral Close by the time Alex and Peter made their way – a little unsteadily - back to the Museum.
“Our talk went well, didn’t it,” said Alex, rubbing his hands together in satisfaction at a successful day’s work.
“I think you did most of the talking,” Peter corrected him. He thought for a moment, and then went on ruefully, “You always were a good talker.”
Alex grinned. “The audience were in stitches when they heard the behind-the-scenes story about the jelly.”
Peter scratched his ear doubtfully. “I wish you hadn’t explained that business about the lollipop, though.”
“I wonder if historians in the past had real-life fans?” Alex mused. He smirked. “It’s a good thing ours don’t scream and throw their knickers.”
Peter considered this, and then added, “Fans of Full Steam Ahead would…throw coal, maybe?”
“No,” said Alex dryly. “They’d throw jelly. At you.” He laughed as they scrunched up the gravel drive of the Museum, and gestured appreciatively at the Festival poster pinned to the front door.
“There we are, look. Poster-boys for Archaeology. Doesn’t that look great?”
Peter sighed. “You look great, Alex. I just look old.”
“Yeah, well, archaeology’s all about old things, isn’t it,” remarked Alex smugly, “so that must make you the perfect exemplar!” Peter pulled a face.
His friend continued: “I seem to have been upstaged by a shovel, though.”
“Why can’t you just call a spade a spade!” Peter joked.
Alex groaned, and retorted tartly, “It’s a really dirty spade. It must be yours.”
“I hate you.”
“Oh, don’t start that again!” Alex unlocked the door. “Now, here’s your torch and here’s the keys. I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
“What?”
Alex gave his friend a disingenuous look. “You’re guarding the Museum tonight. You promised Adrian, remember?”
Peter stroked his chin and looked suspicious. “I don’t remember that.”
“I’m not surprised! Do you have any idea how many pints you drank?”
Peter couldn’t remember that either. Wrinkling his brow, he followed Alex into the entrance hall. After the busy day, a quiet darkness lay over the Museum.
Alex looked around them. “You might want to put a few lights on, Peter,” he said pointedly. “I don’t know; it might be a little spooky in here at night. Old building...all those ancient remains. You know how they say, in a good museum, “history comes alive”...?”
“Stop it,” said Peter, warningly.
“You’ve seen the film, though, haven’t you - you know, Night at the Museum - where the T-rex skeleton comes to life and…”
“Alex…”
“And the monkey…”
“No.”
“And then Attila the Hun…”
“I don’t want to hear about it!” Peter said firmly. Alex shrugged, patted his friend genially on the shoulder, and with a cheery wave of his hand, went out, closing the door behind him.

Peter went into the shop, settled himself into the swivel chair by the cash till, and yawned. He’d lock up later, but first he could do with a little rest. The past few weeks had been hectic: Chalke Valley, then Waterloo Uncovered, and now Salisbury, all on top of one another. And after all, there was no hurry. It wasn’t like the exhibits were going anywhere!
His eyes wandered over the shelves, where in the shadows lurked postcards, gemstones, art print umbrellas and tote bags, and other high-end gifts, and under the soporific influence of the beer he’d consumed that evening, his head began to nod lower and lower, until it was pillowed on a stack of illustrated Museum guidebooks, and he began to snore.
Outside it was a moonless night, and the sky prickled with stars. The shadows in the Museum entranceway were dark and deep – so deep and dark that even if Peter had been awake, he would perhaps have missed the patch of deeper, darker shadow that slipped down the corridor and into the education resource room.

Several hours later, the pile of catalogues slid onto the floor, and Peter was jolted awake with a crick in his neck and a dizzy feeling of disorientation. As he rubbed his aching shoulders and began to recall where he was and why, a qualm of dismay went through him – he had never locked the front door! Peter ran his hands distractedly through his hair, then fumbled for the torch and keys on the desk, and pushed himself sleepily to standing. Catching his breath as the torchlight shimmered over the shiny glass eyes of the stuffed Great Bustards, so that they looked almost alive, he went quickly to the front door and, glancing guiltily around him, secured it. He sighed – everything would be okay of course, no-one would’ve even tried to get in; but he’d best have a walk round the Museum and check on the exhibits. Deciding he might as well start at the beginning, both organizationally and historically speaking, he raised the torch and headed into the Wessex Gallery.

Entering the darkened Gallery, Peter passed the beautiful Wilton hanging bowl, then was startled again as the light from his torch picked out the prehistoric head reconstruction, its unseeing eyes staring into the blackness. Moving into the room, the Warminster Jewel lit up with a gentle glow, and the Monkton Deverill torc glinted in the torchlight. Further into the Gallery, the mysterious jadeite axehead lay mystically in the darkness.
Peter stopped and let the torchlight run over the skeleton and grave goods of the Amesbury Archer. He and Alex had had the chance to practise archery with a replica longbow in the Museum garden that afternoon, and Alex of course, with his interest in traditional skills, had also spent some time with Ancientcraft, having a go at arrow-making using authentic Bronze Age materials. Peter studied the scatter of little arrowheads more closely - it really was marvellous how sharp the flint edges still looked after being in the ground for so long. If one of those had hit you, it must’ve really hurt.

In a cabinet on the far wall, the torch illuminated a little model of Stonehenge, putting Peter in mind of Fudgehenge, the miniature Stonehenge that had proved so popular in the window of Roly’s Pantry, the fudge shop by North Gate. So renowned had Fudgehenge become, that the Pantry had been asked to recreate it as part of the Museum’s Art of Stonehenge exhibition.
Peter returned through the shop and hauled open the heavy glass door that currently led to the Art of Ancient Landscapes. Around him in the gloom were ranged Henry Moore’s dramatic lithograph, Eric Ravillious’s visionary watercolour of the Long Man of Wilmington, and Barbara Hepworth’s 2 slate forms, all redolent of cosmological energies and metaphysical power. Peter shone the torch through the holes in the Hepworth sculpture, stifling a snigger when it lit up the oil painting by David Inshaw, in which a big black crow appeared to have designs on the Cerne Abbas Giant’s most famous member.

Passing out of the downstairs exhibition rooms, Peter turned left and started to climb the stairs to the smaller gallery upstairs where the Art of Stonehenge display had been set up – sadly without Jeremy Deller’s bouncy Stonehenge, which was unfortunately far too big to fit in. There, among the paintings and engravings, alongside a nice reproduction railway poster, a snowglobe, and the English Heritage Ring of Stones board game, sat the Fudgehenge, looming stickily out of the darkness in its display case.
Licking his lips, Peter pulled a penknife from his pocket and inserted it carefully under the edge of the acrylic panel. Slowly and gently he pried it away from the pedestal, until the lock clicked softly open. [Don't try this at your local museum.] Eagerly Peter raised the lid, and gazed down on the delicious exhibit, his mouth watering at the sweet scent of the seasonal Real Ale flavoured confection. Snatching up the largest trilithon, he bit into it, letting it roll around his mouth and savouring the rich, hoppy taste. He settled down with his back resting against the pedestal, and took another bite.

Suddenly there was a sharp whistling through the air beside him. Peter jumped up just as a long, pointed object skidded to a halt on the floor in front of him. Cautiously he picked it up out of the shadows, and shone the torch on it. A straight wooden shaft held, at one end, carefully shaped feather flights, and at the other, bound with plant fibres and resin, a fierce, barbed chip of flint. It was an arrow, a Bronze Age one by the look of it, but appearing as fresh as if it had been made that very day.
Peter dodged aside as 2 more arrows flew across the Gallery, rebounding off the wall. He spun round in time to see a shadowy figure duck into concealment at the far end of the room. The swish of a cloak, a flash of gold in the darkness - Peter was put in mind of the long-dead Amesbury Archer, whose remains he had seen down in the Wessex Gallery. Was it possible? In the small hours of morning, could the long-dead bowman have come to life?

The long stave of the bow, as tall as the Archer himself, was visible as 3 more arrows were loosed, singing down the gallery, one of them grazing Peter’s trouser leg. He dropped the fudge and ran for the door, choking with fright as another arrow buried itself in the doorframe by his head.
Peter yelped and scrambled across the landing into the Ceramics Gallery. He hurtled straight through into the Wedgewood room before he realized it was a dead end. Cowering in the farthest corner, Peter shivered and waited for the final, fatal shot. But the Archer, it seemed, had found other business to pursue, or had chosen not to follow him into the silent darkness. After a while, Peter warily crept back into the King’s Room, where he hid behind one of the cases of knitted and crocheted spoons made by the WI, until he was sure he was no longer being used for target practice.

It occurred to Peter that he hadn’t yet inspected the Costume Gallery. Grasping his torch firmly, he stole tentatively back across the stairwell. As he peered around the doorway, faces were visible in the gloom as the cold light of the torch-beam struck them. To Peter’s relief, as he entered the maze of wood-framed display cases, the mannequins stood stiff and lifeless, and he began to breathe more easily again. Here was Captain John Swayne, smart and proud in his red military coat; an elegant Edwardian woman in her hobble skirt and ostrich-plumed hat; a well-dressed gentleman, his sword at his side, and a lady, a pair of gloves in her inert hand. The historic dolls stared out with mask-like faces from their cabinet.
But as he entered the narrow corridor where a replica of the surgery of Dr Neighbour, a former physician at Amesbury, was displayed, a tall figure stepped out from the shadows, and Peter’s blood froze within him.
“Mr Ginn?” Peter nodded mutely. “Take a seat. I’ve been expecting you.” The figure flicked a switch and lit up the 1940s consulting room. Peter recognised his tweed plus four suit – it was just like the one the Dr Neighbour mannequin usually displayed here was dressed in. The man’s face, though, was partially obscured by a surgical mask, which also somewhat muffled his voice.
Peter sat down heavily in the chair, and gestured nervously at the tableau of mannequins seated behind glass on the other side of the corridor, in re-creation of the doctor’s waiting room. “What about them? They’ve been here a lot longer than I have.”
“Oh, a few minutes more won’t hurt them!” The doctor’s eyes seemed to glitter with amusement. “Mr Ginn, I shall need to make a full examination. Lift up your shirt, please.”
Reluctantly, Peter pulled up his shirt, wincing as the doctor applied the cold chestpiece of his stethoscope and listened. “Raised heartbeat,” he nodded solemnly. Peter fidgeted uncomfortably on his chair.
“Have you moved your bowels today, Mr Ginn?” enquired the doctor astutely, removing his stethoscope and waving an ominous-looking piece of tubing with a squeezy bulb in the middle. “If you should be suffering from constipation, I can offer a gentle enema procedure as a solution.” Peter grimaced, and shook his head decidedly.

The doctor palpated Peter’s belly thoughtfully, and tutted. “A person, Mr Ginn,” he said, shaking his head reproachfully, “generally knows when he is becoming too fleshy. As a rule, however, he shuts his eyes to the fact, and believes it to be only temporary, until he suddenly realizes that he has gained many pounds and no remedy appears to be forthcoming.” Peter gave him an affronted look.
“Thankfully,” the doctor continued, “the wonder-drugs of modern medicine can help. I suggest we start you on a combination of amphetamine, thyroxine, digitalis, and a laxative and diuretic. And maybe a barbiturate to help you tolerate the stimulant.” [Dangerous cocktails of drugs such as these were considered an exciting new way to treat obesity in the 1940s.]
Peter looked about him anxiously and began to tremble.
“You appear to be living on your nerves, Mr Ginn,” the physician pronounced. “It is only too easy to go on neglecting yourself when you are over-worried, or subject to some unusual nervous strain. I shall prescribe a tonic to restore you to vitality and health. Some Metatone perhaps.” Peter thought he could detect an evil glint in the doctor’s eye. “The strychnine is a marvellous restorative for the nervous system.” [Depending on your view of strychnine, you will either be relieved or disappointed to learn that modern Metatone doesn't contain any.]

Peter leapt out of the chair. “This is impossible!” he cried. “Or am I dreaming? First the Amesbury Archer comes to life and tries to shoot me, and now you, a model in a museum, also appear to me to be alive and speaking with me! I can’t believe this is happening!”
The doctor grasped Peter firmly by the arm and, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder, laid him on the couch. “Hallucinations...” he mused sadly. “Mr Ginn, this is a serious case of hysteria, but we may perhaps yet have some success with the new electric convulsion therapy.”
Galvanized into action, without the need for any such treatment, Peter flung himself off the couch, pushed past the doctor and hurtled through the small exhibition gallery and down the stairs.
Under his mask, the doctor smiled a wry smile.

Peter careered down the staircase, relieved that the doctor didn’t appear to be pursuing him. At the bottom of the flight he paused, gasping, and gazed down the corridor that led to the History of Salisbury Gallery, which he’d not yet entered. Around the edges of the window blind, a greyness was beginning to show – it wouldn’t be long until dawn now, he just had to hold himself together for a little longer. Grasping the torch defensively in front of him, Peter ventured down the corridor, past the miniature locomotive and the locally made firearms, and squinted around the corner into the still, windowless room. He flickered the light around the room, over the weights and measures, the display about bell-founding, and up to the bearded, enormous yet benign face of the Salisbury Giant, processional figure of the Tailors’ Guild. Then he brought it down to illuminate the Giant’s sinister companion, the hobby-horse known as Hob-Nob. He froze in horror as the light faded into empty space: Hob-Nob was gone. This was all his fault for not locking the door earlier! The damage to Fudgehenge could be explained away – mice, perhaps? but a whole exhibit missing? How was he going to account for that?
Then a frightful thought occurred to him. What if Hob-Nob, like the Archer and doctor before it, had come to life, and was even now lying in wait for him, somewhere in the Museum? Hob-Nob was a baleful-looking creature; not the sort of thing you’d want to meet on a dark night, or indeed at any other time.

Peter tiptoed silently through the narrower part of the Gallery, where the objects found in Salisbury’s old drainage channels are displayed, pausing to look at the case of baluster pitchers from Laverstock. He’d been made to hold a replica of one of these during the photoshoot for the Archaeology Festival poster, which had given Alex the opportunity to make several tasteless remarks about “holding big jugs”. He pulled a face, and passed through into the darkened exhibition room where, during the day, Derek Jarman’s Journey to Avebury flickered evocatively over a screen.
All was quiet; so quiet in fact that Peter could hear his stomach growl. It occurred to him that perhaps something to eat would settle his uneasy nerves. Going into the King’s House café, he ran the torchlight over the counter. There under one of the domes sat several King’s House flapjacks – the special ones with the cornflakes in. They lay there temptingly, looking crispily up at Peter. Lifting the cover aside, he reached out and picked one up.
But just as he did so, a dark shape sprang up from behind the counter. Peter shrieked and dropped his torch in surprise – although he held onto the flapjack - and staggered backwards as a terrible face reared up out of the shadows. Its red-rimmed eyes leered menacingly at him, its hairy moustache bristled contemptuously, its swivelling ears followed his every move. It was Hob-Nob, and it had come to destroy him!

Peter turned and started to run down the Whistler Corridor. He heard the hollow thud as the creature barged its way out from behind the café counter and began its pursuit, its feet pattering fitfully along the tiled floor. Peter clattered past the meteorite and around the corner, sweating with fear, and all the time he could hear the demonic hunchbacked thing gaining on him.
Fumbling with the keys in a panic, and with the evil beast’s nail-like teeth snapping at his heels, he somehow managed to drag the heavy door open, and fled into the front garden, still pursued by the creature. Peter darted across the grass and hid behind the monumental sculpted head by local artisan Julian Sainsbury.
Then he heard a scuffle, followed by a muffled curse. Peter looked out, and to his bewilderment the monster that had been pursuing him now lay, crumpled and oddly lifeless in the dawn light, over the pit excavated by Phil Harding the day before. A carelessly overlooked pick, which it appeared to have stumbled over, lay on the grass.

In the friendly light of the summer morning, somehow the creature looked a lot less supernatural. Peter frowned. Putting the flapjack in his pocket, he walked back to the flattened costume and lifted a corner of it aside. A familiar face looked sheepishly back at him.

Peter was furious. “ALEX!!!” he shouted angrily. “What the hell are you doing?! I nearly died of fright in there!” His eyes widened with growing realization. “And I suppose the Archer and doctor were you as well!” Alex giggled and nodded satirically, and waved an arm at his friend. “Um…you couldn’t give me a hand and help me out?”
Peter folded his arms grumpily. “No. I’m going to leave you in there.”
Alex considered this for a moment, then blinked innocently and said in a sad voice, “Oh. Now I won’t be able to buy you breakfast.”
Peter gave a snort of defeat and held out a hand. Alex clambered out victoriously and brushed the earth off his trousers.
Peter looked into the hole, the sides of which had been badly scuffed by Alex’s boots. “Phil’s not going to be very happy when he sees what you’ve done to his stratigraphy.”
Alex looked airily at the damage and waved his hand dismissively. “I’ll give it a brush; it’ll be fine.”
Peter laughed, took out the flapjack again, and bit into it, and as he did so, Alex turned back towards the Museum. “Let’s go and get you a nice cup of tea, Peter, shall we?” he smiled. “Then as soon as it opens, I’ll show you where they do the best breakfast in Salisbury.” He put a conspiratorial hand on his friend’s shoulder. “There’s this little place on the Market Square...”