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Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge - Strange Photos

Thought I'd have a go at one of these.  

Challenge was to search "Strange Photos" and pick one, write 1000 (or 1146, in this case) or so words of whatever comes to mind because of it.  My dip into the 'strange photos' section of Google Images dumped me right in the lap of the Merrilyn Cryptid Museum which is full of the apparently re-discovered remains of various mythological creatures, all preserved and displayed all scientific and stuff.

Anyway, here is... dun dun dun...

The Collector

Photo Credit: Alex CF 2016


In the basement, the boxes lie.
A rustling of parchment.  Flicker of the gas lamps.  Scratching of nib against paper.  But otherwise, silence.  And a forest of boxes.
The man at the desk put down his pen and blotted the ink.  He surveyed his handiwork, double checking for mistakes.  There were none, so he spread a layer of paste in the appropriate space and pressed the label into it:
Homomimus Alatus (Common Fae)

Above the label, pinned to the card with wings stretched, was the tiny skeleton of the species in question.  He had taken some pains to preserve it just so, though performing a necropsy on such a small creature had proved difficult in ways he had not expected.  
The man surveyed his handiwork.  Everything was just so.  Perfect.  
Good.
He closed the case, folding it shut in a squeak of brass hinges.  He brush his hand across the top, gliding across the smooth varnish and sighed happily.  Right angles and smooth edges, and all the words and wings in their proper place.  The world was good.  
He pulled another piece of parchment across his desk.
Pen dipped in ink.  Hand poised while the words assembled in his mind.  His hand dropped...like a conductor of an orchestra, the sweet symphony of pen strokes making music in the silence.  Scratch, scratch…
Rustle.
He stopped.  Listened.  Silence, though the flames in the gas lamps flickered.
He resumed.
Rustle.
He stopped.  Turned his head to catch the sound.  There was no one to disturb him here, just the long rows of boxes.  Mrs. Poole knew not to come down here.  Not to disrupt his work.  She left the trays of food at the door.  Sometimes he even emerged long enough to eat before descending again to his work.
Silence.
He turned back to his work, and frowned.
The pen had dripped.  A large drop of ink ruined his work.  He sighed, and moved the sheet off to the side.  It would go into the fire later.
A new sheet.  The pen dipped in ink once more.  The words resumed.
Scrape.
He put the pen down.  He was a man of science, after all.  He could speculate about the source of the sound or he could investigate.  He lifted his hurricane lamp, walked down the stone floor, through the rows of boxes.
Skeletons stared blankly as he went past, eye sockets empty and dark with shadows.  The lantern illuminated labels and boxes alike, gleamed off of varnish and brass and bones.  Every label, every index card, was painstakingly written and placed.  Every fact recorded here, and in his journals.
Icthyosapien
Draco magnus
Homo lupus
There was a child’s skeleton, strung together on wires, on a stand under a cloche.  Horns grew from its head.  The Little Devil.  The result of a conception forced against Nature.
There were hundreds of boxes and cases, and every single one of them contained a specimen, or specimens, of cryptozoology.
The only sounds were the scuffing of his shoes on the stone now.  He reached the end of a row and listened.  Waited.  
Rustle.
Turned right.  Deeper into the cellar.  Past the fully preserved body of a full-blooded Lycanthrope, standing on hind legs, teeth bared.  Past the Eldrich Study Bureau.  The mummy of a Pharaoh.  
He stopped.
Here, the gas pipes did not run.  The light from those was behind him, golden and beckoning.  Here, there was nothing but his lantern, and shadows.
A voice sighed and moaned in the darkness.  Outside of the pool of lamplight, it was all just half-glimpsed refractions of light off varnish and glass.  Shadows and silently gathering dust, in the back of the cellar against the brick walls and stone floor.
He turned around.
The Lycanthrope was looking at him.  Glaring, with dead eyes.  It’s head had turned.  It’s mouth moved and tried to speak, but it was dead, so it had no real voice.  It’s arms twitched, but the taxidermist had been too good.  It couldn’t move properly.
Rustle.
He turned again.  
The Pharaoh was screaming, mouth agape, but no sound save a wheeze escaped.
The Collector walked away, faster than he liked.  
Dead hands reached for him.  
Tiny, moth-like wings fluttered against glass windows.  
The Little Devil shook against the wires that held it in place.
He ran.
Free us, they whispered, with their dead voices.  Freeeeee usssss.
He took the stairs two at a time.  The whole collection was rattling and rasping now, reaching and banging against the boxes.  Screaming without voices and begging for real death.
The door slammed behind him.  He leaned against it.  Panted.  Waited while his heart calmed.
The lantern rattled in his hand as he opened the door again.  A crack.
Silence.
Slowly, he descended the stairs.
A man of science, he reminded himself.  That was what he was.  A man of science.  He preserved and he catalogued.  He did not give into the vapours.  
The collection was back to normal.  Nothing moved.  The Little Devil didn’t rattle in its cloche, and the Homomimus weren’t trying to escape, or tear their wings from the displays into which they had been so perfectly placed.
Slowly, he relaxed.  Perhaps he just needed some more sleep.  Mrs. Poole could prepare him a nice meal…
The pressure built.  He felt it, under his feet.  A roar of rage and desperation, building just outside the range of hearing.   
Glass and wood rattled and shook, and the collector dropped his lantern to put his hands over his ears, trying to block a sound he wasn’t really hearing.
FREEEEEEEEEE USSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!
He scrambled up the stairs.  The broken lantern lay, extinguished, on the floor behind him.  He didn’t look back, but slammed the door again and leaned against it.  It rattled under his hands.  Something was trying to break through.
“Sir?”
The pressure stopped.  The sounds ceased.  The door rattled no more.  
Mrs. Poole was standing there, tray in hand.  
“Sir, are you alright?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
A man of science, he thought.  He took a deep breath, and stood slowly.  There was a key on a string, next to the cellar.  He used it to lock the door, and then turned to face Mrs. Poole, who hadn’t moved.
“Have Mr. Poole send for the stonemasons,” he said.  “I need this door sealed.  No one is to ever set foot in that cellar again.”
“Sir?”
“Just do it!”
She scurried away, tray rattling.
He pocketed the key.
He would seal them, down in the dark.  Leave them there.  No one would ever set foot in that cellar again.  Certain, he stepped away from the door.  When it didn’t rattle, he moved even further.
Free Us….
He stopped, and then started walking again, perhaps a little faster than was warranted.  
I didn’t hear that, he thought to himself.  I am a man of science.  
***

Bonus Weirdness:  The Runner Up Picture.


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