I get paid to watch paintings at night and sometimes they watch me back. - Chap 2
“No way.” Said Felix, swiping his black shoulder-length hair to one side.
“Way.” I said.
I was telling him about what a mess my first night at the art museum had turned into. Morning sunlight crept around the edges of the blinds near the bed. I was pacing back and forth while he sat on our bed with his arms crossed in a hoodie at least two sizes too large for his scrawny frame.
“You starting to believe in spirits and ghosts and stuff?” He asked, prodding one of his snake-bite piercings with his tongue.
“No. Of course not. That’s more your thing. But someone was fucking with me. Maybe I’m on a reality TV show.” I shook my head. “I think it’s that creepy Mr. Calgary. I’m telling you man, he’s really weird.”
“Well you’re pretty weird.”
“Thanks.” I said, crossing the room and putting my hands on my hips. “But I don’t exactly give off serial killer vibes, do I?”
Felix cocked his head to the side, examining me with his dark green eyes. “Maybe.” He laughed.
I snatched a pillow from a nearby chair and lobbed it in his direction. He fell into another bout of giggles, cradling his sides. “You’re stupid.” I smiled.
“Yeah-yeah.” There was a pause between us. “So, you’re totally going to sneak me in, right?”
“Why would I do that?”
“C’mon, you know I love stuff like that! Spooky stuff, exploring places with activity.” He wiggled his slender fingers in the air while smirking. That much was true. Felix had made me watch too many ghost shows. This normally ended with me slinging the snack bowl into the air; we’d find pretzels in the couch cushions for days after.
It would be nice to not be alone in that big place all night. But If I got caught, I’d undoubtedly be fired on the spot. “No.” I shook my head.
His shoulders slumped. “Okay.” He moped.
I checked the clock. “I need to sleep if I’m going to be even half coherent tonight.” Then I idly wondered if they’d let me set up a coffee pot in the camera room. I would have to ask about that.
Sleep was nice enough at first, but my dreams were eventually consumed by the previous night’s events. I was being chased through black marble hallways with the artwork coming to life. They brandished knives and spears and screeched for my death. How nice.
I showered, slipped into my uniform, and saw that Felix had already made a pot of coffee for me before stepping out. A note clung to the counter scrawled in sharpie: Have a good night at work. There’s some tuna salad in the fridge.
I made my way to Mr. Calgary’s museum well after any patrons lingered and so my work shoes clicked through the halls, echoing all around me, making me feel more alone already. Before taking the stairs to the second story, I took a moment to peek around the corner, down the hall where Before Fall sat on its wall. She was in the painting. Just as normal as can be. I stepped around the corner, readying to take the first step leading up, stalled, and whipped my head back around the corner. Still there. I pointed at her from the opposite end of the hallway. “You stay right where you are.” I squinted my eyes at the inanimate object. It did not move. “Good.”
I jumped at the sound of my name being called and spun around to find Daryll standing there with his arms crossed.
“Only one night and you’re already talking to yourself, huh?”
I stammered. “No! I do that all the time anyway!”
His eyes were totally serious, but the corners of his mouth did twitch. “C’mon. I’m already getting OT. I need to head out.”
“Sorry.” I said sheepishly. “Let’s roll daddy-O.” I gave him the finger guns. He did not reciprocate.
“Don’t call me that.” He said gruffly, leading the way to the camera room.
As we walked, I asked, “Does Mr. Calgary give you the creeps?”
“Oh, don’t you get me started on that.” He waved his hand dismissively. “I get paid and that’s all I care about.”
“But don’t you ever notice anything strange around here?”
He craned his head around. “Now that you mention it, yeah.”
“You. You’re pretty strange, buddy.”
“Don’t be that way daddy-O. I’m just trying to settle into the new job. Learn the ropes and junk.”
He sighed, shaking his head. “God, you’re greener than most.”
We entered the camera room and I settled in, looking over the monitors. My eyes lingered over the one I’d seen the shadowy figure pass across. He pulled up a spot on one of the monitors and clocked himself out, offering me the keyboard.
“Another day another dolla’.” I said. “Dolla’s make me holla’.” I placed the keyboard back on the desk and ‘raised the roof’.
He swiped his nose with his forefinger and left, only stopping in the doorway long enough to say, “Be safe tonight.”
What was that supposed to mean?
I immediately broke into the tuna salad I’d brought, scarfing down plastic spoons of the stuff while intently watching the lobby monitor. It was essentially a static image. Nothing new to see here peeps. I pushed the empty plastic container to the side and sipped on my coffee.
“What are you hiding?”
I touched the edges of the monitor, seductively.
“C’mon now, open up about your problems. Just let me in. How is this relationship ever going to work if you don’t trust me?”
The lobby monitor said nothing, of course.
I sighed and craned back in the office chair, spinning my flashlight in one hand, and softly singing, “Foxtrot, Unicorn, Charlie, Kilo.” Under my breath.
Just as my eyes started to flutter from boredom, my phone’s alarm went off, alerting me that I needed to make the first rounds of the night.
This time, I flung the door open and bolted into the dark open halls of the museum, darting my light around in all directions. “Come out you cowards!” This did a little to quell my anxieties and I began walking to the first spot on the list, the rear of the building.
The sculptures I’d passed the previous night took on a new glow and seemed somehow more nefarious and bore down on me as I went. I slid my card and briefly cast a glance at the restrooms, then at the hyper realistic painting of the girl in the bonnet. Everything was fine. Too fine if you ask me.
I took the stairs and my footfalls echoed all around me, making me ever more aware of all the empty black space around me. I focused on the beam of the flashlight and ignored it as I swiped the card through the reader at the entrance.
Just as the beep of reader signaled it read my card, I heard a thumping sound echo from the rear of the museum. My mind immediately thought of the painting Before Fall. “Oh no.” I whimpered, removing the pepper spray from my belt. “Don’t try anything or I will melt your eyes!” I called out, trying my best to sound intimidating. As my voice echoed back at me, I realized I sounded just like a scared little boy.
I took my steps cautiously and peered around the corner near the stairs, squinting to see better. The beautiful woman sitting in her painting was still there. Good. This quickened my speed and I maintained the pepper spray facing out, following the beam of the flashlight.
Coming to the rear of the museum, I saw a figure crouched just outside the glass doors leading out to the garden. I approached cautiously.
“Fuck. A prowler.” I ran to the door. “Hey! If you don’t leave, I’m calling the cops!”
The figure, stood, decked in all black and cupped its hands to the glass. It took a step back and waved at me. Jesus. I knew that wave. I crossed the space and opened the door, pushing my head out. The cool night air met me. “What are you doing here you stupid idiot? And why are you in black-face?”
“What? Oh shit.” Felix dabbed at the prowler makeup on his face. “That is not what I was trying to do. I’m just being sneaky.” He threw his hands around like a karate master. “Does it really look like I’m in black-face?”
“Little bit, yup.”
He took the wrist of his hoodie and began scrubbing away at his cheeks. The makeup came off in streaks so that his pale skin shone through inversely. “Better?”
I sighed. “Why’d you come here?”
“I couldn’t help it.” He slipped his hair behind an ear. “I wanted to see it.”
“Well. At least come in so you can wash off.”
He grinned. “Alright. Will you show me the painting?”
“Alright.” I clipped my pepper spray back onto my belt. “Just don’t touch anything.”
Felix slipped in and I locked the door behind him, swiping my card through the reader near the glass doors. We moved through the dark museum together and I have to say, it did feel much better not being alone.
I pointed the painting Before Fall out to him and he hissed in through his mouth. “Yeah,” he said, “It’s really something.”
“You don’t like it?”
“Nah, I mean, it’s alright. But I wish she weren’t looking right at me. Makes me feel like I’m being watched.”
“What?” I stared at the painting. Were we not seeing the same thing? The woman in the picture was in her original pose as far as I could tell, gazing up at the sky. “She’s not looking right at us.”
He slapped his hands together and rubbed them over in themselves, “Whatever. So, where’s the bathroom?”
I led him upstairs and my eyes never strayed far from the cameras we passed. God, I really hope they don’t check those things.
He pushed his face beneath the running water in the sink basin, running his fingers over his face and scrubbing away the makeup. After drying himself with the front of his hoodie, he turned to look at me. “Hey, you know what. You look pretty good in uniform.”
I never knew how to respond when he’d compliment me like that, so I shifted around uncomfortably. “Thanks.” I inspected my feet. Yup. They were still feet alright.
He approached to straighten the collar of my security jacket. We were inhaling one another. “No homo.” He joked, giggling.
I grinned. “What? No! Of course not!” I pulled up my pantleg to expose a tube sock. “I’ve still got my socks on.”
He kissed me gently on the lips, ignoring my dorky quip.
I withdrew after, “Ahem. Alright. You’ve gotta’ go. I’ve still got a job to do.”
That’s when the thumping I’d heard earlier started. Again. My heart sank. Felix’s eyes grew wide. “What’s that?”
“I don’t know.”
We moved together and I peered over the railing of the second story landing, down into the lobby. There, as clear as day, was the naked statue from the previous night, the one with the immaculate crevice work. It wobbled and rocked on its base as though possessed by a spirit as it shifted across the lobby tiles.
“What the actual fuck?” asked Felix beside me. He was craning over the railing and looked as terrified as I felt.
The statue responded to his remark by turning it marble head and looking directly up at us.
“Ah!” I screamed.
“Ah!” Felix screamed.
I cantered to the camera room with Felix hot on my heels.
We locked ourselves in the room and watched the monitors come alive as the figures in the paintings pushed from their frames and stepped into the real world. The statues stiffly burst from their molds and began moving with new-calf limbs.
“What the actual fuck?” repeated Felix.
“Well,” I smugly turned to him, “You wanted activity.”
He stuffed his arms into his hoodie front pocket. “Right! Of course.”
“Scared?” I asked him. I sure was.
“No. This is perfectly natural.” He said coolly.
“No! I’m freaking out!”
In the midst of the sick pit growing in my stomach, I cracked a grin.
We waited in the locked room together, waiting for the night to be over. I threw my security jacket over the monitors so we wouldn’t have to look at the things out there.
At some point or another, we passed out and were only awoken by the sound of something rattling the door handle.
“They’ve found us!” I screamed in a half-asleep stupor.
“Open up!” said the voice on the other side of the door. It was Mr. Calgary.
I checked the time. It was morning. I glanced at Felix who was mouthing something along the lines of, we are turbo screwed.
I unlocked the door just in time for Mr. Calgary to spill into the camera room. His normally slick hair spilled down his forehead in strands. He pushed it back with the swipe of a hand, looked at me, looked at Felix, then unwrapped a piece of chewing gum and placed it in his mouth. He chewed it through a sigh, closed his eyes, and rubbed his temples.
Right at that moment, I was sure I’d be fired.
“Go home, Perry.” Said Mr. Calgary.
“O-okay sir.” I said.
We slipped past him in the doorway and started to leave.
“Wait.” Said Mr. Calgary. I pivoted to face him. “Expect a call from me later in the day.”
I nodded and left. Felix reached out to reassuringly squeeze my hand as we descended the entrance steps of the museum.
Am I going to lose my job?