“This place,” Amanana explained, “was originally put together in the time – such as we measure time here – when Glorianna Staeghart was Chief Archivist; she served under Henry, primarily.”
Considering Amanana had led with as we measure time here, Veronika didn’t ask Which Henry or even if that was a King she was referencing or something else, such as, for instance, the head of a governing board.
“It was intended as a way to interest children in the Library portion of the Archives, and from there, in history. You see, it is Christmas all the time here, although it is sometimes a little more Christmas than other times. “
“Well, I am somehow not surprised that someplace with as fuzzy a relationship with time as the Bellamy here has would have a room where it is Christmas all the time.” Veronika looked around again, turning slowly in the snow-like stuff on the floor. Front and just to the left of center was a tree which took up the whole small height of the room. To the left wall, house fronts were probably not painted but built up inside the room, while the backs of the houses were probably painted backdrops. It meant kids could go in and out of the houses, like a playhouse. To the right, a small skating rink rink took up the lion’s share of the floor, and the painted backdrop seemed to suggest a forest which went on for a very long time. To the right of the tree, painted so it looked as if it were up in the sky, was a “miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,” only just visible.
“It’s lovely.” She took a tentative step forward. “But you said-”
“Learning, yes. The Bellamy never does anything solely for the purpose of being pretty or entertaining. Even when we really ought to – like the holiday parties we sometimes have. This way.” Amanana led to the first “house” on the left, a one-story cottage with a lit-up tree – a small one, not even as tall as Veronika – in the front yard and small fairy lights lining the walk. She walked right in, gesturing again to Veronika to follow her.
She’d promised this area had no unpleasant surprises (did the ghost even count as an unpleasant surprise? She hadn’t been nice but on the other hand, she’d been interesting), so Veronika followed her in. The whole foyer and what looked like a shallow living room were decorated for Christmas, presents stacked up under the tree, garlands on the windows.
“We allow children who come through to take one present. Not from each house, just in general. There’s a team of us – it’s quite a few people, really – who make sure the presents stay wrapped. And then -”
She strode to the back of the living room and opened a door. There shouldn’t have been a room there, or, at least, from what Veronika remembered, the house only went back that far before encountering the wall.
But just inside that door was a small room with a series of dioramas heading off to the right. “Come on, they’re fun even when you’ve seen them a thousand times,” Amanana coaxed.
“Have you? Seen them a thousand times?”
“Oh, come now, that’s just mean. I’ve seen them – oh, you know, I’ve lost count.” She turned to the left with a gesture that suggested Veronika do the same, and Veronika did the same.
She would have like to say she considered the action and decided that turning was a good idea, because it would make Amanana happy, but there was no consideration, just turning and looking.
The first diorama was almost as wide as her outspread arms, and reached from waist height to the ceiling. It lit up as they stepped forward to it: part of a small city in Western Asia in the time normally pegged as Jesus’ birth. That region wasn’t Veronika’s area of study, but it looked completely accurate.
There was an inn and a stable just left of center; a very large star shone brightly as the sky headed to night time in front of them.
Silent Night played in the background, softly. For a moment, both Veronika and Amanana stood also in silence, respectfully.
Then a voice read the bible verses relating to Jesus’ birth, each one followed by a historical fact of the area. It was short, and for each verse, figures in the front of the diorama moved. Veronika thought that if she had been an 8-year-old with a short attention span, she might have still been rapt with attention as the tiny figures – they were each around 8 to nine inches tall – moved; the wise men and the shepherds approached, the small family moved around, the minuscule child stirred.
She had not considered herself particularly religious, not when the world was full of so much other than that taught in church, but this, for a moment, made her feel reverent.
When they moved to the next diorama, she felt her heart had lifted a little, and she found she was smiling.
The next diorama depicted Neolithic, Copper Age, and Bronze Age settlements in an arc; the sun rose and set on each of them in turn. Music that Veronika had never before heard, something with a heavy and somehow melodic drum beat, played; the voice described several early solstice celebrations, and the evidence that had been found revealing these.
A couple pieces of evidence mentioned Veronika had never heard of. She glanced at Amanana in question, who smirked.
“You have to be careful with the archeology,” she murmured. “You don’t want to mess up the time-line. But sometimes you can get in just after a disaster and learn things that would’ve been lost to time and erosion.”
“You can…” Veronika blinked. “You can? How do you know? That is, how do you know what won’t be found – oh. Because you can go to a place that has been dug up in a modern era, note what what was found there, and then take things that were not found. Or simply take things which won’t be preserved the way they fell.”
“Well done!” It had the potential to sound condescending, but, somehow, it managed not to. Veronika beamed. “So we can further the study of time periods or locations that would otherwise be lost to history.”
“Brilliant,” she breathed. The little figures in the Bronze Age diorama were doing a dance. It was a lovely thing, complicated in its entirety, but simple in any specific step. She watched, entranced, until the whole series of movements had finished and the figures were again still.
The rest of the dioramas were equally lovely, educational, and amazing. They followed early Christmas celebrations, places where the holiday was not permitted and thus celebrated quietly and stealthily, the over-the-top modern displays, parades, Santa Claus and St. Nicholas, and, of course, Krampus. At the end, Veronika found herself feeling both invigorated and rested.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? I love it. During the holidays, we have a series of robes here that the children can wear – and a few in adult sizes – so they can run about the Wonderland looking like some iteration of Santa Claus. And they get quite rowdy. There’s only so long you can ask children to be quiet, after all, and this place gives them a chance to blow off some steam.”
“It’s beautiful.” She looked around slowly. It was. It was amazing, and educational, and completely in the holiday spirit – and she could see how kids would love it, too.
“There’s quite a lot here, even in the small space. I don’t want to to take up more of your first day, but you can come back here at any point. You remember how we got down here?”
“I do,” she confirmed. “It doesn’t, ah… it doesn’t move?”
“No, this one doesn’t. The things most clearly meant for the public rarely do. It’s too stressful on the building – and on the public. Back up we go, then. You’ve got skeletons to look at. And, I assume, to collect something from?”
“Of course. I hope it’s not a finger bone.”
“We’ve got some, of course. But it’s rarely anything too awful. For some people, the fact that it’s a bone at all – right, upstairs first.” Amanana looked around as if apologizing to the room. “None of that talk in the Wonderland.”
They headed back up the stairs, leaving behind the beautiful little room. Veronika only barely managed not to wave as she stepped out of the room; she did turn to look back one last time.
“It will be there when you return.”
For some reason, the way Amanana said it made it sound like a promise. For some other reason, Veronika found herself holding very tightly to that promise.
Ancient Stone Age Music? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6U2eiaqVRQ – I don’t know what their sources are but it seemed to fit.
1:8 scale is, uh, not a dollhouse scale, it’s a model car scale, but I couldn’t help myself. It was the height I was picturing them. Sorry, Eseme!