15. The Thing at the Bell Pettigrew

Charlotta Ivanovna is spinning on the rope ladder she’s lowered through an upper window of the museum, her little dog tucked under one arm, a torch between her teeth. Her feet touch the floor, and she sets the dog down. ‘Stay close,’ she says.

They move together through the rooms of glass cases, leaving a trail of cashews as they go. The beam from Charlotta’s torch moves over the yellow eyes of a cat bear, the tentacles of an octopus, the thigh-bone of a Diplodocus, the scales of a peludo armadillo, the tail of a St Kilda house mouse, the toes of an unua sloth, the iridescent plumage of a resplendent quetzel, and the fangs of a vampire deer. The little dog stops to glare at the deer, but Charlotta is already shouldering one of the cases aside, having made out an outline in the wall of a small door. A sign on the door says, ‘Do not open without Curator’s permission.’ Charlotta tugs at the latch, and at last the door swings open with a creak.

The air that comes from the door is dank and cold, and the dog now bares its teeth, growling. Charlotta bends down to peer inside, but before her eyes adjust something comes towards them, slowly, slowly tapping its way forward.

Tap, tap, it goes. Tap, tap, tap. And then, in a moment that happens in the blink of an eye, the thing shoots forward, scattering the trail of cashews as it skitters across the floor and up the rope ladder, up, and round, pausing only at the very top at the window as if to take its bearings, before scuttling down the outside wall of the Bell Pettigrew museum, across the carpark, and away down the Long Walk towards the centre of town.

Follow that Thing, says Charlotta. The little dog wags its tail, and eats a cashew.

Drawing of pepperpot, kitchen table (mixed media)