They sat there, gazes locked, the trainee archivist and the – well, and the woman with horns who had been here quite a while, as awkward a descriptor as that was.
The moment held for a heartbeat, another, another. Then Amanana chuckled and the mood broke, and Veronika allowed herself to look away.
“I believe – I believe of everyone who has come through here, perhaps you do actually see. Very good.” Amanana took an item from the case behind her, wrapped it up in a handkerchief, and slipped the package in a little box. She signed the outside of the box with her loopy signature. “There. That’s your item from here handled, and now let’s get you to the skeleton room. I do believe that one is required on the first day. Even coming from the Fillion as you do, they like to know that new people can handle the basics, like skeletons.”
At this point, Veronika couldn’t do anything but laugh a little helplessly. “The basics, yes.” She considered matters. “Yes, those really would be some of the basics, wouldn’t they? Archaeology, paleontology – and those are only the ones that obviously hinge on skeletons, much less – oh dear.” She put a hand to her mouth. “I have really got to consider my habit of speaking before I think a little bit more, before it gets me in trouble.”
“Fear not. Here – here that is not the sort of thing which can get you in trouble. Perhaps it might expose more than you meant to – but sometimes that can be a very good thing.” Amanana patted Veronika’s arm. “Come now, let’s move on to the skeletons. I’ll show you a short cut. And this one is a bonus – nobody showed me this one ’till I’d been here several years.”
“As long as it doesn’t involve any time hijinx,” Veronika muttered. What day was it? Was she ever going to know how long her first day had been?
First and last day. That was what Sylvester had said about the fancier meals. She was starting to wonder if they had a psychic on duty, or if they just meant when you were fired or gave notice, and not, say, when it was going to be your last day on Earth.
“This particular shortcut involves no hijinx of any sort except architectural. And those, well, you can hardly blame me for those. If anyone is to blame, it’s more likely a relative of yours, no?” Amanana’s smile was sweet, bright, and for once, absolutely did not fool Veronika at all.
Veronika mirrored the expression back at her – or, at least, the best she could do. “And there’s something weird about it you’re hiding, then. Or there’s something else you’re covering up.”
“Tch, I’ve got to get you out of here, don’t I? You’re starting to be able to see right through me, and that’s no good at all. What am I, if not able to tell the truth without telling the truth?”
“A slightly less skilled archivist?” Veronika hazarded. She left beautiful unspoken, not because it was untrue but because she had not walked into this day (however long a day was turning out to be) planning to flirt with her co-workers, rather the opposite, and she had a feeling if she started flirting with this co-worker, she might never stop.
She might also never leave this department, not because of any danger to herself, but because Amanana was just that intriguing, beautiful, endearing – she let her smile grow and shook herself out of the haze.
Amanana blinked. “Oh. My apologies, did I- You flustered me; that doesn’t normally happen.”
Veronika did not ask which did not happen, being flustered or whatever the end of the question starting with did I had been meant to be. She shook her head.
“There’s no problem. So, this shortcut?”
“This way, yes. And there’s nothing particularly weird about it, which around here might be, indeed, the weirdest part of all. I’m serious,” she added, as Veronika stifled a laugh. “It’s a perfectly normal short-cut, in that the only thing vaguely supernatural about it is the ghost who likes to wander about the middle. Just a ghost – she can give you the willies on occasion, but that’s it, she just likes to wander around trying to file things, but since the only things filed there now – okay, I’m going to start from the beginning. Let’s get your cart and make sure you’re all set.”
They retrieved Veronika’s cart from the front of Supernatural and Occult and Amanana led her down a side passage, past shelves of books which seemed to wriggle and shift inside their locked glass cases. “So the building itself has been built onto several times over the decades, centuries. And at one point, there was a set of stacks on the second floor, where, I believe, local records were kept – deaths and births and marriages, that sort of thing. The Bellamy really does like to store everything. Most of that is on microfiche now, or down in Records, but some of old file cabinets were too – well, to be honest, I’ve never been clear if they were too heavy, too bolted to the floor, or just too attached to the building, but when they redid the second floor and added on the greenhouse and the aviary, they created one of those hallways which didn’t connect to anything the same way anymore, and they left some of the file cabinets where they were.” She opened a door which was not so much hidden as inconspicuous, the sort of thing one might expect led to a broom closet; inside was a stairway made of metal grating. “This was, back in the day, a sort of overflow for the local records, and this stairway would have been the easy access to the top of the storage. I believe the records which were over a century old with no change came up here. There’s a little rail at the side, you see, where they used to send things up and down; you can put your cart there.”
Veronika had been half into the story, picturing the way that old buildings were built onto, expanded, and changed. She hadn’t seen or even heard of the greenhouse or the aviary yet, but now she wanted to see how they’d changed the second floor.
Later, she told herself. Later, she could dig up old records and look at the architecture of the place. Later, she could see how an aviary was connected – although, if they got live donations commonly enough to have a room for such, maybe they simply had gotten that many strange birds. Later, she could see what local records looked like, and what an update to a record might look like after death.
For now, Amanana helped her set her cart on the clever little rails and continued her story as they headed down the narrow staircase. “The Records department was one of the first parts of the Bellamy, after the original art collection, or so I understand it. Because once you write down something like this was painted for Sir Charles Creaton’s Wedding to Lady Domia Saveur, then you want to know when that wedding was, and maybe who Sir Charle and Lady Domia were, and then you might want to know why they wed and who their children were – you see. It went from there. But as I was saying, this section here was cut off from the rest of the second floor by that addition, and then a little more so when they installed those elevators – you know the ones. So there’s a little hallway here, and it’s not beautifully lit or anything, but it does well at skipping much of the trouble.”
They reached the bottom of the stairs, Veronika’s cart gliding off the rails to a tidy stop. They were in exactly what Amanana had described: a section of building, the old stone wall on one side, with three tall, narrow windows unevenly along it and one place where a window had clearly been, and on the other side, a more modern wall, smoothly cutting off the old parquetry floor. Down the middle, three wooden file cabinets stood, plenty of room on either side for carts – and indeed, the rail for the carts ran all the way along the left side of the cabinets.
Of course, having been warned, the ghost standing at the second cabinet, rifling through the files, was far less of a surprise than she might have otherwise been.