The lights flickered.
Mark Wentworth sighed as he shone his flashlight around the darkened hall. Night watchman at the Arkham Historical Society was hardly the most auspicious of careers, however for the last ten years it had been his responsibility to ensure the security of the museum. That it was an important responsibility was beyond doubt – the Historical Society housed many artifacts from ancient times and civilisations, and their total worth was more than Wentworth could ever hope to achieve in his entire life. During the day the museum was open to students and professors from Miskatonic University, as well as visiting researchers and scholars from other parts. The public was also welcome to view the artifacts, however very few availed themselves of the offer.
Wentworth himself was no scholar or researcher. His dedication to his job was founded purely in financial necessity, and he would be the first to agree that his wages were very reasonable. He made his way through the Mayan wing, walking a well-worn route and shining his torch into the various nooks and crannies where a person may be concealed. His flashlight lit up some of the exhibits, the light glinting from golden plaques and jewellery. Over the years he had heard rumours that one or two of the pieces had not been accurately identified, and were categorised primarily by what they most resembled. Wentworth did not care for any of this. His duty was to ensure that these artifacts were safe, not that they were academically sound.
Other rumours had also reached Wentworth’s ears. Shortly after attaining his position as night watchman Wentworth had visited one of the more disreputable speakeasies of Arkham – prohibition was as much a legal requirement here as anywhere else, however the police were known to turn blind eyes, and one could usually find a couple of off-duty officers indulging in the forbidden vice. The rumours spoke of previous employees of the Historical Society, and how some of them had left under mysterious circumstances. One or two had outright disappeared. Stories of strange noises and strange visions abounded, however Wentworth was not given to such nonsense. It was a job and he would make the best of it.
His inspection of the Mayan wing completed, Wentworth made his way to the Australian exhibits. He very carefully avoided one particular item – a tall tiara made of solid gold. Wentworth had no idea what it was, nor where it came from, but he still felt a sense of unease whenever he came near it, his contempt of superstition notwithstanding. Above him, the dimmed lights flickered again. Wentworth shook his head. The wiring in this building was old, almost as old as the Society itself, and was prone to small outages. His flashlight was working well though, and he shone it before him as he continued his well-practiced route. The entrance to the Australian wing was just ahead, and Wentworth was about to enter when he thought he heard something to his right. He quickly shone his flashlight in that direction but saw nothing. Wentworth decided it must have been his imagination and moved forward.
The Australian wing in and of itself interested Wentworth as much as the Mayan wing did – that is not at all, however nothing here gave him any discomfort like the strange tiara did. Statues and carvings watched him with unseeing eyes as he again shone his flashlight around the hall. Once again his searching beam turned up no intruders, although some of the corners had several layers of dust which would benefit from cleaning. His inspection of the Australian exhibits passed without incident and he made his way around the remaining few exhibition halls.
Finally, Wentworth stood before the final wing. The Egyptian wing. To an outside observer, his route would not have seemed the most efficient, indeed he had passed the entrance to the Egyptian wing several times on his rounds, but he always kept it until the end. He would never admit it to anyone, and would violently disagree with anyone who suggested any sense of cowardice, but something about the Egyptian wing felt wrong. He had his duty though, and, raising his flashlight before him, he crossed the threshold.
Golden masks of long-dead pharaohs and statues of ancient Egyptian gods lined the walls, the gold reflecting the beam from Wentworth’s flashlight, the eyes lifeless and staring. Wentworth moved slower around this hall, taking care to examine each alcove and shadow. His feet led him in a decreasing orbit to the centre of the room, where the source of his unease stood. As he approached he felt the atmosphere grow colder and a chill ran down his spine. He tried to tell himself that he was being foolish, that nothing else was alive in here, but he still felt cool sweat on his brow.
The centrepiece of the room was a statue of a pharaoh rendered in black stone. The statue was approximately life sized but even a casual observation showed some unusual features. The shape of the body was a bit too tall and thin, with legs that were unnaturally long. The thin, wiry arms held sceptres of unholy design. The face was out of some nightmarish phantasy. The skin was depicted as being stretched too tightly over the skull, giving the statue the cruellest of sneers imaginable. Wentworth saw all too briefly the placard that had been set up next to the statue.
Nephren-Ka, Third Dynasty.
The lights flickered again, and Wentworth thought for a moment he saw the carved face of the pharaoh move, as though it smiled horribly at him. For a moment the eyes of the statue seemed to look at him and through him. Wentworth took an involuntary step backwards and collided with something that wasn’t there before. He whirled around and brought his flashlight up to see what he had crashed into.
“Oh, it’s you Mr Bonhomie,” Wentworth said, a tremor in his voice that he tried unsuccessfully to hide.
The person before him smiled widely. “Please, Mr Bonhomme. I am so sorry to have startled you. I did not know you were here. Ha ha ha.”
Wentworth had seen Mr Bonhomme only in passing but knew him to be an Egyptologist engaged in research on the Third Dynasty, in particular the evil pharaoh Nephren-Ka, whose statue stood nearby. Despite the french sounding name, Wentworth had never been able to detect any trace of an accent, although Mr Bonhomme did have a peculiar way of speaking, which Wentworth attributed to an eccentricity so common to the academic types.
Wentworth suddenly remembered himself. “Mr Bonhomme, the museum is closed now. I must ask you to leave and return in the morning.”
Mr Bonhomme smiled. “Of course. How one loses track of time. I was just reaching an important stage in my studies and I did not have a clock to hand. I will gather my belongings and leave at once.”
Throughout the entire conversation, Mr Bonhomme’s smile never wavered, and to Wentworth it seemed that the grin was a bit too wide. Mr Bonhomme’s eyes did not seem to reflect the light of the flashlight, and Wentworth found himself staring intently at them, as if he was falling into them. Wentworth suddenly shook his head. The atmosphere was getting to him and playing tricks with his imagination. Maybe it was time he too found new employment like so many before him. He nodded at Mr Bonhomme.
“Of course sir. I hope you’ll have a good night.” He nodded in respect and moved away to complete his patrol and make his report.
The person calling himself Mr Bonhomme watched Wentworth leave. He smiled again, the corners of his mouth almost reaching to his ears. Let the fool think he had some authority. It would not be too long now.
The lights flickered, and then there were only shadows.