When Veronkia emerged on two floors up, the elevator said it was between the fourth and fifth floors. She patted her hair back into shape and looked around her.
To the right, she could see a railing where the second floor opened up into the large cathedral-ceiling area around the front desk. To the left, there was row after row of glass cases, each one labelled with tidy handwritten cards. Forward were rows of bookshelves. She was pretty sure Ancient Acquisitions ought to be to the left, although she had no map of this area.
If she didn’t leave this place in frustration after a day, she was going to map it all out, every inch of it, if she had to do it on lunch breaks for the rest of the year.
She turned her cart to the left, checked her hair again, and headed into the rows of glass cases. To the left, she was looking at displays of ancient garbage – pot shards, broken tools, a cracked tablet – where some wit had slipped in a couple modern pieces of similar junk with the exact same style of placards. To the right, a complete section of a frieze gave way after several meters to a section of hieroglyphs.
She had questions about the organizational system of this place, but those, those she would have to sit on until she’d at least gotten through her first day.
She wandered through more prehistoric and posthistoric junk and a few pieces of early graffiti, a portion of Hadrian’s Wall (according to the placard) and a reproduction of a section of the Great Wall of China, a very interesting case of hair care throughout the millennia and a series of mannequin heads showing off many of those hairstyles.
She blamed her first-day jitters for the fact that one of the heads seemed to turn to look at her as she moved past it; obviously those sorts of things didn’t happen, certainly not in a fine establishment like the Bellamy. The Fillion’d had a couple ghosts and one corner where you just didn’t go unless you couldn’t avoid it, but that was the Fillion. Nobody outside of the small town it had been erected in barely even knew about the Fillion. The Bellamy was another matter altogether.
Once past the creepy (or just old) (almost certainly just old) mannequin heads, Veronika found a place to turn left and did so. If things worked out in any sort of logical way, the wall mostly above the Local History department ought to be in front of her –
She was far too relieved to find that there was, indeed, a wall and, even better, a door in front of her. When it turned out that the door actually said Ancient Acquisitions, she let out a very undignified sigh.
“All right,” she told herself. “You are an experienced archivist and temp. You have handle mouse corpses and angry patrons. You have handled the Fire Inspector. Surely-“
“You can open a door,” finished a dry voice behind her.
Veronika, to her mortification, both screamed and jumped. Then, trying to pretend that she hadn’t just done so, she cleared her throat and turned slowly around.
“Hello.” The woman now in front of her was very tall. Very tall, even taller than Eleanor. If Veronika kept her job here after her so-far rather shameful showing, she was going to need to invest in boots with lifts in them. After that, looking up, Veronika noticed the long red scar running from forehead to chin and the pucker of a missing eye that said scar bisected. She noticed, too, that the woman was wearing a very smart three-piece suit in shades of teal and maroon, the tie printed with images of hands in what Veronika at first thought were Standard Sign Language position. Holding her black mop of hair back from her face were a set of goggles, although Veronika could barely see them from her much lower altitude.
The woman was giving her the same once-over Veronika was giving in turn, so she cleared her throat and tried “Hello” in turn. “I’m Veronika Bellamy,” she added uncertainly. “I’m the new-“
“You’re on your test run, yes. And the door?”
“Ah. The door.” Veronika turned and slowly opened the door, finding that, yes, indeed, she could open it. “Is this your department, then?” She stepped out of the way to allow the woman to step in, in part because the door was so short that she could barely clear it and she was curious how the woman managed it.
“It is this week. Some weeks it belongs to Juian Coxeole. There are a few departments which rotate as such, to keep us from growing, mm, complacent, I suppose.” She stepped forward, leaned over nearly into an upside-down L, and walked through the door. “Do come in. I assume you’d like to get your test run done before the new year?”
Veronika chuckled nervously and pushed her little cart in. She was faced with a space which must be three stories tall inside, the shelves all labeled and stacked with boxes of various sizes, each of those then also labelled. “At least before the second elevator makes it to the first floor,” she joked nervously.
“Oh, you’ll want to get done before that. How did you get up here, then?”
Veronika coughed. “I, ah-” The shelf nearest her was labelled donations from Pompeii. She wanted to get her hands on those boxes more than she had wanted anything in her life, and she had once campaigned her parents for three years straight to allow her to have a pony. “I carried my cart up the stairs.”
“Clever. Yes, that’s a better option than either the first or the third elevator. The second one is a sweetie once it gets to know you, but there’s certainly the risk of it taking a week. When we see it, we all try to remember to stock the snack cart in there – try to do the same. You never know if it’s your own life you might be saving.” The woman had made her way behind the desk, which only came up to her thighs and barely that, and was flipping through papers in her wooden inbox.
“I, ah. I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.”
Finally, finally, the woman smiled at her. “We were all new once. We’ll all be new again some time. It is nothing but self-kindness to be kind to the new.”
“That’s an interesting way of looking at it.”Want more?