Adrian could feel the excitement building up inside him. He’d been looking forward to this moment ever since he heard about the museum and now they were finally outside the door, he could hardly contain himself. If he had been a puppy, rather than a boy, he probably would have peed himself by now but he wasn’t a puppy. He was an eight year old boy, virtually an adult really and there was no way he was going to allow such an indignity to befall him. Nevertheless he could feel his forehead getting hot and his hands getting clammy, why was it taking so long for the door to open, what was going on for goodness sake?
Richard Atkins couldn’t believe he’d been persuaded to drive into the middle of nowhere (and it was in the middle of nowhere), to visit a place called ‘The Museum of Scientific Curiosities’. A place that his eight year old son had found advertised in the back of one of his comic books; he must really be crazy, especially considering everything going on at work. No one could blame him if he had gone back on his promise, which was actually what he intended to do. No, actually that wasn’t true; when he made the promise he had crossed his fingers so it didn’t count, he only did it to stop the incessant nagging. Then as usual, somehow, Ade had managed to get round him. So here they both were standing outside some godforsaken old folly, up to their ankles in mud, waiting to be let into a place which by the look of the door had been abandoned thirty years before they arrived.
‘Are you sure about this Ade, it all looks deserted to me, perhaps we should go back to the car’
‘No dad, give it a chance, someone will come; it will be OK’
‘A couple more minutes then but if no-one comes we are heading back and I don’t want any arguments’
He took his hands out from where they were buried deep within his pockets and pulled the collar of his heavy winter coat up around his ears, dam but it was chilly out here he thought. To make matters worse a thick sodden mist had started to descend all round them, giving the place an even more spooky and unwelcoming feeling than it already had; which was saying something! He rapped aggressively on the large metal knocker and stood back a few paces as if he were expecting something dangerous to appear from behind the massive oak door.
The museum was indeed built in the style of a folly so it looked a lot older than it was. In Victorian times many public utilities were housed in such buildings which could be made to look like anything from Gothic castles to old fortified towers. This particular structure was of a square symmetrical design, it had three visible floors and at each corner there was a decorative castellated tower. The windows which peeped out from the rooms and corridors were narrow and slit like, with the occasional contradiction of a bigger more modern window, glazed with oppressively thick lead lighting and shrouded from within by heavy lined drapes.
All in all, the place was pretty uninviting, more suited to a dungeon than a museum thought Richard.
After what seemed like ages but was probably only a few seconds, the massive door swung inwards. Adrian was expecting a tortured creaking sound from the door and had sort of prepared himself for it. He was therefore taken a bit by surprise when the door opened with a silent well oiled whoosh. But whatever surprise he may have felt in response to the silent door was as nothing to his reaction to the personage who stood behind it. Never had Adrian (or his father) seen anyone or anything like it.
The Curator, for that was his title, was the strangest man either of them had ever seen. Dressed in a grey uniform with blue piped edges and wearing a bell hops coned hat, and enormous gauntlet like gloves, The Curator looked for all the word like some kind of outsized child’s toy. His chubby mobile face was paler than a normal persons, giving the impression either that he was wearing some kind of heavy make up or that his skin was really made of plastic. Whatever the truth was, the result was pretty disconcerting, especially as he was also a very big man both in height and girth. Richard Atkins, who had apparently lost the ability to speak or move, just stood there with his mouth open, slack jawed in confusion. Nevertheless, in spite of the shock he was still able to estimate that the curator must be at least six foot six and weigh upwards of twenty stone.
Adrian in the mean time had involuntarily shrunk back towards his fathers left leg which he grabbed hold of with his right arm for protection. At the same time and without being aware of it himself, his left thumb inserted itself into his mouth, something he hadn’t done since he was six years old. If the curator had done anything in the least bit menacing, there is no doubt that the pair of them would have took to their heels and been off out of there without even a backward glance. Instead however, the strange looking man widened his face and beamed at them with a genuinely genial smile. His mobile features were compelling in an odd kind of way, almost mesmerising. Neither Adrian nor his father could take their eyes off The Curators face; it was as if they were being transfixed by the power of his will. There was something about his eyes, they weren’t right, they were a bit too blue, the pupils a bit too large and there was something else as well, something about the way they moved which registered as unnatural. Adrian felt that the Curators eyes reminded him of a swirling kaleidoscope, anyone who looked into those eyes for too long could get lost and never find their way out.
‘Don’t just stand there, come in come in, the others are waiting, we can’t be late, come in, come in’
The Curators voice was thinner and tinier that his size suggested. Also there was a staccato quality to his diction which reminded Adrian of a robot he one had, no, not a robot, a Dalek. The Curator was bending slightly forwards; his right arm outstretched his hand waving them towards the entrance in a semi welcoming, semi ushering gesture which seemed somehow irresistible
Adrian pulled his thumb out of his mouth, briefly giving it a look of disgust before looking up at his father.
‘Dad, I’m not sure if…..’
He was struggling to complete the sentence. In spite of the appearance of the Curator, or perhaps because of it, there was something inside him that was so fascinated by the museum that he couldn’t wait to go inside, no matter what lay in wait for them. But there was also another part of him, call it the sensible part or the frightened part, that was telling him to get the hell out of Dodge before the shooting starts.
‘What’s the matter Adrian, don’t be so silly, it was you who wanted to come here wasn’t it? Now do what the man said, spic spot and stop being such a baby’
Richard Atkins had used his son’s childish fear to disguise his own reservations. It was ridiculous, the whole thing was pathetic, he was not a scared little child he was a fully grown adult, a father for goodness sake and he was not going to let some weird looking guy in a uniform intimidate him, no Siree Bob! Richard Atkins made a supreme effort to regain his composure and taking his reluctant son by the arm he tugged him inside the museum.
As they followed the odd looking Curator into the museum, Richard and Adrian both felt a sense of relief as they realised the large well lit entrance hall was full of other people. On the left there stood a group of adults crowding round someone who could best be described as a female version of The Curator himself. On the right there was an undisciplined group of around a dozen children who appeared to be fanning out across the hall in an attempt to cover as many of the multitude of doorways as possible.
The Curators metallic slightly nasal voice split the atmosphere like a knife, everyone, including the adults fell silent.
‘Children, gather round, the tour is about to commence’
The children appeared to understand what was expected of them and started to form a rough semi circle in the middle of their half of the hall, leaving room in the middle for the Curator to address them when ready.
The Curator turned his attention to Adrian’s father.
‘You sir are late’ he announced
‘You must join the others for the adult tour, we will meet back here in approximately one hour, if you have any questions my assistant will be pleased to answer them, I hope you enjoy your tour’.
There was something in the Curators tone which did not allow for argument, Richard however was not going to be bossed around so easily, he started to open his mouth but no words came out just an exasperated sputtering noise. Suddenly he felt all the adult eyes on him and losing his resolve completely he meekly started to comply with the Curators order.
As he turned to go, he caught Adrian’s eyes and managed a gesture which said ‘are you alright’? Adrian, putting on a braver face than the one he was wearing inside gave his dad a brave smile and nodded towards the group of waiting adults.
‘I’ll see you after the tour, don’t worry, I’m fine’
This exchange parent child exchange was brought to an abrupt end as Adrian felt his hand being encircled By the Curators massive glove as he was half led, half dragged over to the group of waiting kids. It wasn’t the most auspicious of entrances, being late, being dragged hand in hand by a strange grown up, Adrian could feel his cheeks starting to burn with embarrassment as he tried to meet the stares of the children with a level gaze. To make things worse, it became immediately apparent that he was the smallest and most probably the youngest kid in the group, he estimated by at least two years. ‘Oh no’ he thought this is just great, now I’m going to be treated like a baby’.
Just as he felt like tearing his hand away from the Curators grip, something he felt deep down would probably be impossible, the Curator relaxed his grip, giving him a final shove towards an open slot in the semi circle. Then, turning on his heels, the Curator walked back to the adult group to give some last minute instructions to his assistant. Left alone, the group of kids began to lose its integrity instantaneously. Although most had never met before, they had already formed into cliques, cliques to which Adrian did not belong. Although he was no more than a few feet away from the nearest child, Adrian felt isolated, even rejected even though he realised it was stupid to feel that way, deep down in the pit of his stomach he could feel something turn over, if he didn’t settle himself down he was going to be sick.
‘That will be just great’ he thought, ‘way to make an impression Adrian, turn up late, act like a baby and then throw up over everyone’. This reverie of self pity was brought to a premature end by the row that was taking place immediately in front of him. Two girls and two boys had squared up to one another and appeared to be going from an animated discussion, to a heated debate, to a full on argument; all in the space of a few seconds!
‘OK then’ the bigger of the two girls yelled, ‘we’ll ask someone else then’ She turned away from the red headed boy in front of her and her eyes alighted on Richard. She looked him up and down as if assessing whether or not he would suit her purposes. Apparently he did because the next moment she called him over.
‘Hey you, little boy’
Adrian looked over his shoulder as if to imply that it could not be hime to whom she was referring.
‘Yes you, come over here, I need you to do something for me’
Now ordinarily Adrian would not respond to this kind of overbearing behaviour, especially by a girl, but there was something so ardent and intense about this girl that it made him want to comply. He stepped forward only to find himself being grabbed by the forearm and dragged into the centre of the group.
‘OK then’ said the girl, ‘I want you to feel this boys arm muscle and then feel my sisters arm muscle and say which one is bigger’.
Adrian stood there dumbly trying to process this command and found his hand being guided impatiently onto the red headed boy’s bicep.
‘Right then, give it a good squeeze’ The Red headed boy was tensing his muscle for all he was worth and it was working because Adrian could feel it growing into a pretty impressive mound of sinew.
‘Now feel Annabel’s’ Adrian was turned around and his hand placed on the arm of the second girl, they were clearly sisters and looked very alike, Annabel was slightly more slender and a bit smaller, probably a year younger than her sibling. They were both clear skinned and fresh faced, not pretty exactly; more clean cut looking with regular boyish features and long catlike limbs.
Adrian squeezed Annabel’s arm and it was quite obviously a lot smaller than the red headed boys. He looked up into her face and could see the immense effort she was putting into tensing it, her whole face was turning puce with the strain. There was something about the earnest look in her eyes that made him want to both laugh and cry at the same time, he had to bite his lower lip hard to make sure he did neither.
‘So, what’s the verdict then? I’m Kate; sorry I know I am being very rude, what’s your name by the way’?
‘Adrian, my name is Adrian; don’t worry about being rude, I think that they both have big muscles, very big, about the same I’d say, nothing in it really’
Kate looked puzzled and exasperated, Adrian also noticed the other three children glaring at him, clearly his response, designed to keep everyone happy had had the affect of uniting the group against him.
‘Sorry’ he mumbled and turned to go. ‘No, wait’ ordered Kate, ‘its not your fault, let me introduce you, this is my sister Annabel and this is Ollie’ She motioned to the red head, ‘and his brother Sam, we’re cousins you see, we argue like this the whole time, you’ll get used to it’.
Kate broke into a good natured smile, a smile which was infectious and the other kids all started to smile and reach out to shake Adrian’s hand confirming the introduction and his provisional acceptance into the group.
‘Come on Children, gather round, the tour is about to begin’
The Metallic tones of The Curator cut through the babble and the children turned towards where he was standing, just in front of the inner porch leading to the enclosed central stair well. Once he was sure he had everyone’s attention, The Curator removed a large metal ring from where it had hung unnoticed on his belt and deftly pushed the many keys it held out of the way until he came to the one he was looking for. This was a long slender key made of a bright metal, probably an alloy which somehow looked out of keeping with the age of the building and the door for which it was meant. The Curator inserted the slender key deep within the lock and applied two jerky movements with his wrist. There was an audible click as the heavy tumblers fell into alignment and the heavy door swung open.
The curator disappeared into the stairwell, leaving the children to organise themselves behind him. There was a general lunge towards the door as the majority of the group seemed to want to go first. Adrian knew that in cases such as this it was normally better to stay at the back. Whenever he had been on tours before, the most interesting things either occurred or were seen while the group was doing something else. Being at the back gave you freedom to explore (within reason) and to do so without too much attention from anyone else. In this case it seemed he was not the only one with this idea. Ollie, Sam and their cousins were hanging back as well, Ollie was eyeing him curiously and then he winked a knowing wink as if to say ‘so, you know how the game is played as well’.
By the time the last child had passed through the doorway, Adrian and his friends were firmly established at the back of the group and already starting to look around and assess their surroundings in more detail. The first thing they noticed was an odd looking plaque which hung above the door to the stairwell. It was a dull black with shiny black writing embossed onto its mottled surface, for some reason the sight of it sent a shiver down Adrian’s spine, the plaque read
‘In the land o the blind the one eyed man is King’
Ollie was also looking at the plaque and his face showed puzzlement but nothing more, Adrian felt somehow reassured by Ollie’s reaction and the sense of foreboding which had settled on him suddenly lifted.
They could hear the Curator unlocking the door on the first floor landing and they could feel the tide of children receding above them. Deprived of his position of back marker by Ollie, Adrian kept in step, mounting the coarse stone stairs, easily keeping up with the bigger children. As they spilled through the doorway, they found themselves in a narrow dimly lit passage which ran away to the left and right for what seemed like an unfeasibly long way before making a right hand turn and disappearing from view. Lining the passage were a series of doors, one of which was open and emitting a warm yellow glow. The Curator entered the room and the group filed in behind him. Adrian could feel a growing sense of excitement as he waited behind Kate, it was as if a strange energy was coming from somewhere inside the room, an energy which felt dangerously familiar.
The room itself was smaller than Adrian had imagined and it contained a series of trestle tables the tops of which were edged with wooden borders giving them the look of hug trays. Each table was covered with what at first looked like random bric-a-brac but on closer examination turned out to be collections of old plastic toys. There were robots and dinosaurs, various superhero figures and all sorts of unopened boxes containing games which were long since obsolete. The thing that all the items had in common was a science fiction or fantasy theme.
The tables were not however the focus of The Curators attention, he was standing in front of a six foot high metal suit which itself stood on a two foot high display plinth giving the suit the look of a metal giant. It looked very heavy and cumbersome, over engineered and under styled would be a good description. It was clearly far more than a suit of armour though as the wiring which poked out between the joints of all the limbs bore testament. The Curator cleared his throat authoritatively, and the stragglers who had started poking through the contents of the table looked up and started to gather round the iron suit.
‘This is the original suit worn by Anthony Edward Stark, otherwise known as Iron Man’
The announcement was made with proprietary pride, The Curators voice swelled noticeably and after the announcement there was a pregnant pause as he allowed the momentous news to sink into the group’s consciousness. As if to check that everyone was suitably impressed, The Curator scanned each of the children in such a way that even those who had never even heard of Iron Man tried to look as if they knew what he was talking about.
‘Anthony Edward "Tony" Stark was born with extremely high intelligence. At the age of 15 Stark entered the undergraduate electrical engineering program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he graduated at the top of his class. At the age of 21 he inherited Stark Enterprises when his parents were killed in a car accident. During an East Asian conflict, Stark Enterprises developed mini-transistors that Tony thought would help the war effort. While checking on his plant, which had been plagued by sabotage, Tony was injured by exploding shrapnel and captured by warlord Wong Chu. Chu forced Tony and another captive, famed physicist Ho Yinsen, to create weapons for him. All the while the lethal bit of shrapnel was slowly working towards Tony's heart. Tony and Yinsen created an iron suit that would keep Tony alive and allow them to escape. During the escape Yinsen was killed, sacrificing himself to allow Tony time to change for the first time to Iron Man.
The suit has evolved considerably over the years but we at The Museum are proud to be the custodians of the original version which though a little battered is still in full working order’
Now Adrian didn’t know much about science but he knew a lot about comics, in fact he liked to think of himself as a veritable mine of information when it came to super heroes and the like. But even if he hadn’t been such an expert, even if he had only the vaguest of knowledge, he would have known one thing for absolute certain; Comic book characters are made up; no arguments about that and as they are made up, this costume had to be a fake, which made the rest of the museum a fake to. Adrian felt a tinge of disappointment, there was something in him which had expected more, he wasn’t sure exactly what, creatures from outer space maybe, alien beings, a working teleportation device. Anything believable really and even though his imagination was that of a child, even he was unable to bridge the credibility gap and buy into the reality of comic book characters he knew for sure were not real. Then just as he was about to tie the whole argument up with a bow, a phrase popped into his mind ‘In the land of the blind the one eyed man is King…beware the one eyed man’ It was the same phrase he had seen on the plaque downstairs but with the addition of a warning, again he felt a shiver down his spine as a voice inside his head repeated the words ‘beware the one eyed man’.
The tour continued and in each new room came more wonders. There was more Comic book memorabilia equally as unlikely as Iron Mans first suit but there were other exhibits which were just as fantastic and in some cases even more so. Adrian was intrigued by what the Curator introduced as the worlds first and only fully operational Teleportation device but then they came across one exhibit in particular which caught his attention and his imagination to the fullest. It was not the most impressive looking or the mast preposterous; neither did it occupy an especially central place in the room where it was displayed, nevertheless, there was something about it that called to Adrian, it was as if the thing was trying to speak to him in a way that went beneath normal communication, it was as if this object was tugging at his soul.
‘Here we have an interesting object. Its origins are I am afraid a little obscure. Some say it is the side arm weapon of a great alien General, others that it is really an unconvincing fake with no practical functions at all’
Adrian looked at the gun, because that was clearly what it was and his heart flip flopped in his chest. It looked like something Dan Dare might have worn at his side while fighting the Mekon. Adrian imagined what it would feel like to wear it himself, the confidence it would give him that he could deal with any situation or threat which came his way. The feeling was euphoric, intoxicating and dangerous. What Adrian was staring at felt like pure power, which like power in all its forms had the ability to corrupt those who wielded it.
The Curator continued
‘What we do know about this weapon is that when worn by someone who knows how to operate it, it has the capacity to cloak itself, making it a formidable asset to an agent wanting to work undercover or infiltrate a secure facility where the carrying of weapons is forbidden’.
Some of the other children were sniggering and giggling while The Curator was talking. This behaviour had started very soon after the tour begun and was steadily increasing at each exhibit. It was a familiar pattern to Adrian who had seen it many times before in the classroom. He knew that it was only a matter of time before there was a show down between The Curator and the disruptive children, depending on the outcome of the showdown, the tour would either proceed or disintegrate into chaos and indiscipline. Adrian noticed that Ollie was aware of what was happening as well and he could tell by the way he was pinching up his face that he wasn’t happy about it. He nudged Sam and pointed at the big hefty kid who appeared to be the ring leader. Once he had Sam’s attention he leant over and whispered something in his brother’s ear and the two of them started to move through the group towards the source of the disruption.
In no time Ollie and Sam had positioned themselves discreetly on either side of the big fat kid who seemed oblivious of their subtle incursion. He carried on sniggering and making remarks, egged on by a willing band of smaller followers. Then, Ollie who though of a much slighter build, was the same height leant over and whispered something in the fat kid’s ear. At the same time Sam moved in closer an extended an arm around his waist, Adrian imagined he had taken hold of the fat kid’s belt at the back and was twisting it forcefully. The combination of whatever it was Ollie said and whatever it was Sam did had a profound effect. The fat kid lost the sneer from his face, the colour drained out of him and he became quiet.
In the meantime, The Curator carried on with his monologue but all the while he was observing Ollie and Sam carefully. Adrian thought he could see a strange look in his eye, a look which gave the impression of appreciation combined with something else, greed perhaps, no not greed, with a shudder Adrian realised that it was a look of hunger. Finally, when Ollie and Sam were finished, The Curator widened his face into a cadaverous smile, revealing a set of greying teeth which, to Adrian, looked a bit too functional for comfort. The fat kid in the meantime went very silent, his face was flushed and he looked like steam was about to start coming out of his ears. Without their leader, the other kids settled down as well and the tour continued with calm and order restored. Sam and Ollie made their way back to the others and despite his curiosity being aroused; Adrian resisted the urge to ask Ollie what he whispered to the fat kid that made him shut up. Kate and Annabel treated the whole incident as normal, as if they were used to their cousin keeping the peace and took their behaviour for granted. It was only later that Adrian realised that the fat kid had disappeared and no-one had noticed him leave.
Even though he was only eight years old Adrian realised that none of the incredible exhibits he was being shown by the Curator could be real. They all belonged to fictional characters, comic book characters to be precise. No, Adrian was a bright boy, some said unusually bright and therefore far too sensible to be taken in by such obvious fakery. But still, there was a corner of his eight year old imagination which was able to bridge the gap between the reality of the visible world and the something else which exists beneath it, something which fades as the years go by and eventually becomes unreachable to the adult mind. So although on one level Adrian knew that it was not superman’s actual cape that he was looking at, or the real Green Lantern, or the Silver Surfers genuine surf board, nevertheless there was a corner of his mind which was still able to integrate the possibility that they were real without contradiction oR conflict getting in the way.
As the tour progressed he found himself lingering longer than the rest at each exhibit and as a result gradually getting left behind by the rest. During these increasing periods of solitude, Adrian found himself thinking more and more about the strange words swirling around in his head ‘In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king’; what did it mean? And why was it bothering him? He awoke from one of these short reverie’s to realise that he was on his own, the group had moved on without noticing that he had been left behind. At first he felt panic rising up from deep inside his stomach, not surprising given the situation he was in, all alone in an old spooky building full of weird unexplainable stuff. Then, the panic was suppressed by something more powerful and more natural to his character, a combination of excitement and curiosity overwhelmed him. Yes he was on his own but that meant he was free to explore, to look into the rooms the Curator didn’t want him to see, it was an irresistible thought and one he was powerless to resist.
The room dissolved into a black swirling vortex highlighted by grey ridges and silver shadows. At its centre lay an unblinking eye, iris of which was pulsating to the beat of Adrian’s quickening heart.