Ezra T. Gray
“How long have you been The Curator?” the little boy asked.
The boy appeared to be no more than eight, maybe, and small for his age.
“Not long,” The Curator snapped, irritated. Then, to himself, he muttered, “not long enough.”
The Curator was slender and not particularly tall, though his narrow frame made him look tall from a distance.
The boy persisted. “How long, huh?”
“Five years. And that is not long.”
“Son!” a man’s voice thundered. “Son, get over here and leave the nice man alone.”
The Curator looked up to see a huge man who stood half a head taller than himself, and possessed shoulders you could hang drapes on. The man was obviously the boy’s father.
“Get over here, son, now.”
The Curator looked at the man. His face was hard and chiseled. He was a soldier, perhaps, or maybe a cop. Whatever he did, he was a tough. For a second, a wave of panic swept over The Curator.
What if he heard me! What if…. Will he do me violence? A knot formed in The Curator’s stomach. No, he wouldn’t dare harm me. I am The Curator, the one and only Curator, chosen by the people to be in sole command of the People’s History Museum. The heritage of the Great and Mighty People has been entrusted to me. He wouldn’t dare harm me.
But Curators had been hurt before, even physically removed from the museum. Then a worse thought took hold.
What if — what if he heard me snap at the boy and he tells someone? I could be removed! Oh, God, what would happen if I was removed? My work…. My mission would surely fail.
The Curator had to act, and act fast. “Oh, don’t be concerned, he is fine. As a matter of fact, he is better than fine.” The Curator patted the lad on the head. “He is just curious, curious about our Great History, how we came to be here, and how all this took place.” The Curator held up his hand, gesturing grandly toward the great halls and exhibits which littered the complex that was the Great Museum. “He needs to know his history.”
“Thank you,” the man said with a smile.
However, even though the man smiled, the Curator could see that it was forced. The man’s eyes were cold and blue…. Stone cold blue.
“You are a Forward Defender.”
“Yes, Sir,” the boy’s father said, “I am.”
The curator recognized the blue eyes immediately. No other group of people had eyes quite like the Forward Defenders’. Some say it is because of their training — that there something in the water at the front — others say it is due to the goggles they have to wear, while still others whisper of a weird DNA change. No one knew for sure, but all Forward Defenders had them. No matter what your eye color was when you began, sooner or later your eyes turned blue.
The Curator’s eyes were brown. He had never been a Forward Defender. He had not even been a Rear Guard. He was nothing. He did not go to Defender School. He had opted out, choosing instead to serve in the Entertainment Corps. It was more of a cop out than an opt out.
The blue-eyed man picked up his son. “Sorry he was bothering you. He’s just really inquisitive for five.”
“Five? He is big for five, I thought he was seven or eight. His linguistic skills are very developed.”
“Yes,” the man said, “he was always that way. He started speaking in whole sentences when he was only a year old.”
“Well, thank you for coming to the museum.”
“I wanted to bring my son to see it, before —”
“Before… nothing.” The man turned to go. “Have a nice day, Curator.”
Some day his kind will be gone. Some day.
The truth was the heroes would never be gone. However, The Curator was rabid about his illusions. That was why he became The Curator—to change history and, in so doing, change the Great and Mighty Nation into something different that it had been in the past.
The big man stopped at one of the exhibits. The Curator could see the man explaining the story to the boy. Then he saw the big man shake his head. He could almost read his lips.
“No,” the big man, mouthed, “that was not the way it was.”
The Curator strained to listen. If he could’ve, he would have heard the man say, “the flying monkeys were wearing yellow shirts and they were carrying axes, not swords. And the giant sloths were not there then, they came later.”
The Curator did not have to hear. He knew what the man would say. He’d heard it all before. He knew the rhetoric. He knew the true history, too. And he knew the Frontier between the Great and Mighty Land and the Barren Land was still a place of danger, but he just refused to accept it.
The Curator also knew that he was never supposed to change the exhibits, but he did. He did it all the time. He had taken an oath not to, but to him, that oath meant nothing. Every Curator took an oath, and most held that oath sacred, but not this Curator. For you see, the Great Museum was more than just a place of entertainment. It was more than just a gathering place for family to come together and have a good time. It housed the historical record of the Great and Mighty Land, the only historical record there was. To change the exhibits was tantamount to changing history. It was the sacred duty of The Curator to preserve the history of the Great and Mighty People, honestly and loyally. It was the greatest dishonor to change anything—but he had. He knew the ugly truth.
He and his cohorts had carefully planned out his career. From the beginning, to the position he now held, he had been carefully groomed and schooled on what to do and say. And the fact was, he should not have even been The Curator. The secret society he belonged to had doctored his papers and his records to allow him entry into the selection process, and he was helped along the way. Now, because of that deception, he was The Curator, plain and simple, the 44th Curator in a long line of Curators. Most of the curators who came before him were honorable man. He was not. He had always, from the beginning, wanted to change the history of the Great and Mighty Nation and now was his time. He had won. He was doing it.
The big man and the boy walked out of the museum and The Curator watched them go. He smiled because he believed in his heart that the boy, no matter what his father said, would believe what he saw in the exhibits. He believed that through the youth and some misguided older folk, he could change the Great and Mighty Nation into a different place — a place more fitting for those he served.
He smiled again as the boy and the man got into their car and started to pull away, but his smile turned to a grimace as he looked past the vehicle and into the flower gardens that sat at the edge of the museum property. Standing just beyond the flowers were four men, dressed as men would 200 years ago. He knew well who they were. They were the Four Originals—or at least an apparition thereof.
You see, the Four Originals had started the museum back in the infancy of the great and mighty nation to preserve the history, to show forth the sacrifices given, and to remember the brave souls who had left the Barren Land and settled in the wild place that is now the Great and Mighty Land. They knew that it was important to remember how the Frontier was formed and how the Forward Defenders had fought and died for freedom, how the laws and rules for freedom had been laid down, and how the nation was born. And most important of all, they set down a charter that was never to be changed and that charter was simply that never, under any circumstance, were the exhibits to be changed.
The charter was written and signed, and a legend was born. If any future Curator was to change the exhibits, the Four would return from the great beyond and exact an awful revenge.
Of course, the 44th Curator did not believe that silly superstition. As a matter of fact, he believed nothing. He was void of belief and woefully lacking in intellect. He was mostly a puppet. Recently, though, he had become concerned about these visions. First he had noticed the Four at the far edge of the field next to the museum, then in the middle. Now they were in the garden. He had seen this vision five times and each time they were closer. He blinked his eyes and shook his head, and they were gone.
“Foolish,” he spat. “I have been working too hard. I don’t believe in this poppycock.”
He turned on one heel and walked back into the museum to resume his work — the devil’s work.
The two men sat in armchairs looking into the fireplace. They were nondescript and the room could have been in any house. The chairs were separated by a table and turned so the men could converse while still watching the fire.
“He changed another exhibit today, you know,” one man said nonchalantly.
“I know,” said the other, “I read the report. I’m glad our agents took the photographs before he did. All of the exhibits have now been preserved.”
“Good,” said the first man. “He will be done soon, and then we can get an honest man into the position.”
“Hopefully. Hopefully we will.”
“We will,” said the first man, firmly, “we will. The people are fed up. They know what he’s doing. They know.”
The ex-Curator awoke suddenly. He was sweating profusely. Ever since he left the museum he had been having these horrible night terrors, these horrible visions. The Four Originals were always there, always looking at him, always stalking him. The worst part of it was that, besides the night terrors and the visions, his work at the museum had been reversed. The new Curator had changed everything back — back to the way it was. He hated the new Curator. The ex-Curator was nothing now, just a ruined man forced out and left alone, dishonored and thrown out on his ear.
He walked into the kitchenette that was the heart of the little studio he lived in. He had once been one of the most powerful men in the world, but now he was living in one of the worst neighborhoods in a rundown tenement. He drew a glass of water from the tap. The dreams were taking their toll.
“God, this is awful.” He sighed. “Awful.”
“Awful.” The voice came from behind him.
“Awful,” another voice agreed.
“It’s not awful yet,” came yet another voice, “but it’s coming.”
The ex-Curator turned slowly. There before him stood the Four Originals.
“Time to go!” one boomed. “Time to pay the fiddler!”
“No! No!” the ex-Curator screamed. “No! I am great! I was the best curator ever…. Everyone is wrong….”
The ex-Curator’s screams continued, but no one was there to hear them. There was only blackness and forever, the faces of the four, and their terrible judgment.