Storytime: The Exhibition.

November 7th, 2012

It began, as most troubles do, with mail.
The pamphlet was cool, slim, and professional; a really sleek and ergonomically designed piece of work that looked almost triumphantly uncomfortable in the rusty, wall-eyed mailbox that the mailman had stuffed it into not thirty seconds before. Howard’s puckered old fingers shook with excitement as he yanked it free and gently nudged it out of its sheath. A quick ogling confirmed his joyous suspicions, and he couldn’t contain his glee.
“Consarn it Howard shut the hell up. What will the neighbours think?”
“Nothing! They live forty miles away and who gives a flying fig, Lyle? Who really does give a single sweet jumping fig if I feel good in the mornings, eh?” Howard skipped his way back up to the front door with the verve of a younger and less arthritic man, waving his mail like a trophy. “Look! Look at this!”
Lyle’s face was already a mass of frown lines, but they seemed to deepen by oh about a foot each as he looked at the pamphlet. “Museum,” he said, each syllable elongated with disgust. “A Special Exhibition. Eugh! Tastelessness!”
“Oh Lyle, really?”
“The history of mankind and womenkind is the history of tawdrykind, Howard! You know mother warned us off against that sort of thing! Half the informationable boards will be filled with luridness and cheap filth, no doubt! Best to keep yourself at home and yourself’s mind out of the gutters. The turnips need weeding.”
“I weeded the turnips yesterday afternoon, I did, I did. Almost lost a finger but I did I swear it’s true. And besides anyways, this is an exhibition of prehistoric and archaic flora and fauna – no humans at all.”
Lyle’s watery, razory eyes blinked with venomous slowness. “No humans?”
“Not even so much as a baby sandwich.”
He considered this. “Not even a…small baby sandwich?”
“Not even that. No sliced bread or babies for at least a million years after their youngest item on display.”
“Pah, even worse then! At least people have the decency to do….that sort of thing… indoors behind closed curtains and locked doors and guard dogs! Animals get up to that sort of…business… in the streets! Prehistory?! Nothing but a long, sweaty, pounding tour of fortification!”
“Oh Lyle, don’t you mean ‘fornication’?”
“I know what I said that I meant what you knew, damnit! Isn’t proper English good enough for you? I’ll get in the car while you sort yourself out and pack us a lunch. And be quick about it! My lumbago is acting up.”

The Museum had been renovated in the last twenty years since Lyle and Howard had visited it; a giant crystal sprouted from its side and bulged shining light all across the street, a monument to architectural excess and the relative cheapness of reinforced glass in the modern era.
Howard loved it, and didn’t even need to ask Lyle’s opinion on it because Lyle gave it to him right away and he could ignore it safely.
“Now when we’re in there,” he told his brother, “you must NOT, I repeat, must NOT, I repeat, MUST NOT, one more time, MUST NOT AT ALL buy any CHEAP TOURIST TAT, are we clear on this set of particulars, Howard?”
“I have never done any such thing Lyle and I don’t feel that saying that to me is particularly fair.”
“Phah, we’ve both seen that look in your eyes when you look at….that sort of thing. You’ll spend half your life’s savings on monkeys in barrels and prostitutes and bagels if I don’t keep a sharp eye on you.”
“I don’t have any life’s savings, Lyle.”
“All the more important that you safeguard what you don’t have then! You’re a spendthrift soul, Howard. Why, you would’ve had us pay for parking even! PAY, for the privilege of being shut away in a great dirty underground garage!”
“It really was much nicer out in the fresh air,” agreed Howard. “Bracing, too. The thrill of the hunt for a parking space! The honk of horns, the screams of slurs…”
“I don’t see how everyone had missed that last space. It was plenty obvious. Public territory, too. Perfectly sound as a perfectly sound bell’s sounding.”
“I don’t think people nowadays are used to cars parking on the sidewalk.”
“They had plenty of space to squeeze round unless they were fat. And I say me to you, Howard, if any man today realizes what he has done to his belly to make it swole as a result of squeezing round our car, we have committed a minor act of grace without even trying.”
“Wow,” said Howard.
“Excuse me,” asked an extremely polite and very annoyed voice that they had been ignoring for the past two minutes, “are you two going to buy any passes?”
Lyle squinted through his ornery eye at the ticketmaster. “We were having a conversation, young, young, young lady,” he said severely. “No need for that sort of lip.”
Howard handed over a small and neatly shuffled sheaf of bills from a few decades back. “Two for the special exhibition, please.”
“Right. Here’s your stubs.”
Howard dithered. There was a specific way in which the foot is held and the hands work as the human body dithers, one that is hard to describe. Howard’s hands practically oscillated.
“I don’t suppose I could get a hand stamp?” he asked hopefully.
“Got rid of them ten years back.”
“Oh. I’m quite sorry,” he said, as kindly as he could manage.
“Just as well,” said Lyle. “Leads the youth to tattoos and violence and eating fries with the improper sort of condiments past midnight. Good riddance! Where’s the first stop?”
Howard unfolded his map. “Well, it’s….hmm. Some Triassic fossils!”
“Walking ones?”
“No, just regular old ones.”
“Well that’s just failing for lack of trying. What about giants? They got any giants?”
“They’ve got a giant ground sloth, but that’s part of the main museum.”
“A giant giant ground sloth?”
“Just a proper regular giant ground sloth.”
“Well this is turning dull. I believe you’ve picked up the wrong map, Howard. As is usual of you as our mother warned me of.”
“My feelings are being hurt, Lyle. Right here, just above my breast-bone.”
“Don’t use words like that in public or I’ll wash your mouth out with stoats. “
Howard sighed. “Excuse me miss, but do you have another map?”
“Sir, would you please get out of the way of the line.”
“Absolutely, just in a moment. You know, the OTHER map.”
“No sir. There is no other map.”
“The one with-“
“The good stuff,” interjected Lyle.
“-the good stuff, yes.”
The ticketmaster looked at the fifty-person buildup in her aisle, looked at the two withered old men, calculated the cost of making a fuss or calling security versus playing along with the burdens of senility. It was the sort of math that only a human brain could do, and hers did it very quickly indeed.
“Of course, sir. The other map. Here you go.”
Howard took the map politely and Lyle snatched it from his hand. “Thank you very much, miss. Have a pleasant day now.”
“You shouldn’t give away that sort of thing for free, Howard. People will get used to it.”
“Nobody can ever have enough pleasant days,” said Howard with perfect serenity. He ruffled his map. “How odd. She seems to have gotten mixed up. This is just the regular map with a doodle of….a stegosaurus. In pen.”
“The heat must have cooked her poor stupid young brains on account of being young, Howard. You should know about that sort of thing. If you hadn’t gotten your stupid young brains cooked on account of being young.”
“Sure enough, Lyle.” Howard tapped the map gently with his thumb and shook it four times. “There we go. All sorted out. See, here’s the entrance! Just besides the elevator you hit the wall with your thumb and it sends it to the bottomth floor.”
Howard did so. The wall cracked open, broke into little pieces, and opened up into a large, bulky device made mostly of quartz and extremely unfriendly angles.
“Never did trust these things,” muttered Lyle. “You can never trust anyone who doesn’t trust Euclid, mind you those words.”
“Euclid wasn’t due to be born for…” Howard flipped through his pamphlet. “…seven million years or so when this elevator was built, Lyle. Says here it was made by a race of terrifying monkey-men who worshipped the other side of the moon that no man has ever truly known.”
“No wonder the damned thing gives me the heeblies. Cheap monkey-man labour never did last reliably; I know a man who knew a man who had a sister that bought a watch off one of the little hairy bastards that only lasted two hundred years before it snapped in half and let all the demons out.”
“Lyle, you can’t just pass judgment on an entire people like that! What will the neighbours think?”
“They’ll hate our guts on account of us being the wrong colour, same as always. Why should I care?”
“I’ll admit that you make a convincing argument, Lyle.”
The doors creaked, groan, and mashed their way through another wall, disgorging the brothers into a space that was more cave than basement. Occasional marks on the stalactite-infested walls showed where someone had optimistically attempted to place a brick before giving up in perfectly rational disgust.
“Now, what’s up first? And be sharp about it! We want to get done with this place and leave before you learn anything that isn’t good for you.”
Howard flourished his map. “Let’s see…well, we’ve seen the protosimian transport. Next up is the trhinosceros.”
“Nothing but a cheap hoax, a P.T. Barnumism. Sew a third horn on a rhino, bam wam mystical magical creature cross my heart swear to god very cheap thank you very much sir. And then you take it home and it doesn’t have enough supernatural hootenanny in it to fertilize the turnip patch.”
“No, no, no, this one’s real! Not like the one that Lewis sold you.”
“Who said that was the one that Lewis sold me? I was doing him a favour, that was all. Rhino-sitting. For money. Which I paid him. There was no…grift involved!”
“Of course, of course.”
“We skip it,” said Lyle firmly. “What after that?”
Another map-ruffling. “A Lemurian Dodecahedramid.”
“Huh. They bring the whole thing in?”
“It says they had to leave it wedged halfway through the wall. But you can go in and wander around!”
“Pass. Damned lemurs loved traps. Getting forcibly devolved in the great interprimate wars was too soft on a bunch of critters that got that much joy out of making razor wire and bottomless pressure-plate-operated pits, I’ve always said that and I always will. Hope the whole lot of ‘em get poached out of existence toot sweet.”
“Extinction is forever, Lyle,” said Howard primly.
“No it isn’t. Remember the right whale?”
“Yes I do and I still fully support that action.”
“Damned hippiemancers. They sucked the flavour out of canned tuna for all time just to power the comeback of one itty-bitty extinct goddamned whale.”
“You hated canned tuna, Lyle.”
“Well I hate it MORE now. Forever. What else they got in here?”
Ruffle ruffle. “The skull of a mammoth-king.”
“What rank?”
“Hmmm…. Third dynasty, first Epoch. Fifth from the throne, ended his cousin’s reign by backstabbing and frontstabbing and side-smashing and skull-crushing.”
“How big’re his tusks?”
“That’s just not the sort of question you ask!”
“The mammoth’s been dead for thousands of years, Howard, and unless some goddamned hippy brings one back in the next ten seconds none of them are going to get offended at me so you can take your self-righteousness and piss on it. How big were those tusks there?”
Howard stalled and hummed, then caved in. “Ten feet,” he whispered. And blushed.
“Hah! Compensating for something, was he? Ten feet. Hah! Aha! Ha ha ha ha ha!”
“ANYWAYS,” said Howard, much, much too loudly, “they’ve got him in the third vault on the left if you want to take a-“
“Oh hell no Howard! Looking at that sort of thing is straight-up-straight-down-indecent and it might get IDEAS in your head. What else is there?”
“Let me see….oh! Oh!”
“What oh now?”
“They’ve got the bones of the last sorcerersaurus!”
“And, uhm, also the bones of the first sorcerersaurus.” Howard crossed and uncrossed his map, squinting at it.
“Apparently there was a bit of a time paradox.”
“They’ve got those damned things here? NOW? Near PEOPLE?! Get us the hell out of here five minutes ago damnit!”
“Calm down, Lyle.”
“I’m not calming down! You don’t calm down when you’re four seconds from being possessed by something seventeen clades away from your biggest throwback of a relative! Christ on a cracker with cheese what if he’s already GOT someone? Get in the elevator, get in the elevator, GET IN THE-“
“No, it’s fine. They’ve got his bones locked up in a ten-foot-thick solid iron cube made of leftovers from the Yucatan meteor crater.”
Lyle considered this, hand frozen halfway to the enormous rusty lever that summoned the lift.
Lyle’s body lost the nervous tension that had temporarily rid it of fifty years of wrinkles. “All right. Alright. All is right. Damnit, don’t do that sort of thing to me. You KNOW I got a bad heart.”
“You replaced the heart fifty years ago, Lyle. I picked the baboon out myself.”
“And you picked a damned lousy baboon, Howard. I told you and I told you and I told you again and again, you have got the worst way with monkeys I’ve ever seen or heard of.”
“No need for insults, Lyle. Shall we go see-“
“No. I’ll stay in the same building as that…thing but there’s no way in hell’s left clavicle that I’m going to be the closest breathing object to it when it decides it’s time for a jailbreak. Now shut up and tell me what’s next on the list.”
Howard said nothing.
“I thought you wanted me to shut up.”
“Oh quitcher sulking and gimme that.” Lyle snatched the paper from his brother’s unresisting fingers and ran a cursory squint over it. “Lessee….uh. Uhm. Hmmm. Ah. Okay. That’s good. And uh. Right. That’s no good. Right. Yeah.”
“Would you like me to read it to you, Lyle?”
“Look they make the damned print too fine nowadays, you know? It’s all those computers. Too much binary makes your alphabets shrink.” He thrust the pamphlet back into his brother’s hands. “Go on then. Show off. See if I care.”
“Well, there’s a fully crystallized mammal resistance stronghold. Half a mile across originally, shrunk to the size of your Adam’s apple. Part of the sorcerersaurus exhibit.”
“Howard, the only thing duller than living rats is dead, crystallized rats. And the only thing duller than THAT is self-important holier-than-thou underdog rats. And these are all of those things at once except for living. So no. Let ‘em be.”
“These are our ancestors, Lyle, who fought against a dreadful power for the future of their children!”
“Sure as hell not THEIR kids then, ‘cause they got fossified to their sixth degree of relation. Pass – there’s enough living idiots for us to gawk at; we don’t need to go find dead ones. Go on, what’s next.”
“The Tyrant’s Tassled Tscepter,” said Howard, rolling the words like bowling balls.
“I won’t tolerate tassles in the house, I won’t tolerate tassles in the public. Next.”
“It was an emblem of might and strength for a multi-million-year succession, Lyle.”
“Yeah but not a man jack or woman jill of ‘em thought that putting tassles on their instruments of authority was anything less than the bee’s knees and I don’t see why I’ve got to put up with that sort of tripe. Next! NEXT! Next.”
“A leviathan’s rib, fresh from Greenland.”
Lyle squinted up at the cavern’s ceiling. “They could fit that in here?”
“Well, a one-tenth square model. Half of it. Well, almost a third. Rounded up.”
“Pass. We’ve got no time for the little stuff.”
“The bones of the first sorcerersaurus.”
“You already mentioned that!”
“Well, the list IS chronological, Lyle, and I DID say there was a bit of a time parad-“
“I’ve said my piece on the damned thing. What, are you trying to make me say everything twice? Hoping I’ll run out of air, choke to death, leave you the house to yourself? I should’ve known you’d pull that sort of trick and as you can see I have, so you can take your plotting and shove it lengthwise, you little sneak!”
“Lyle, I would rather die than cause you a moment’s intentional distress, I swear it upon mother’s grave.”
“Oh you ain’t good enough to kill me intentionally. You’ll just get careless one day, see if you don’t. But I’ve got my eye on you, and THAT’S how I’ll get the jump, you’ll see.”
“Yes, yes.”
“You’ll see, you know, you’ll see.”
“Of course.”
“What’s next now?”
“Ummm… a Dimetrodon High-Knight in full regalia.”
“Chivalry isn’t obsolete enough; you want to drag me to a version that was old, dusty, and extinct by the time of the first tyrannosaurus?”
“The Great Tower of the Scorpions.”
“Fat lot of good it did them against the spiders if you ask me which you did.”
“I didn’t!”
“Yes you did. Go on.”
“The First Step.”
“The what now?”
“I don’t know, let’s see…uhm….’The rock where the very first little bug intentionally hopped out of the water to avoid a predator, then successfully hopped back in. Do not touch.’”
“Bah, a tourist-trap. Just trying to sell plastic assembly kits of it in the gift shop, no doubt!”
“No, no, no! But they do have grow-your-own-First-Sprout kits.”
“What now?”
“’The very first little green algae that grew just barely outside the splash zone of the shoreline.’ They’ve got its fossil here, and you can buy a little kit that lets you-”
“The garden is for turnips. Our mother planted it and grew turnips, we have grown turnips in it, we are growing turnips in it right now, and we will continue to grow turnips in it in the future. NOT tourist tat. Understand my words, Howard?”
“Clear as crystal, Lyle.”
“Is there anything else?”
Flip flip flip. “Just one.”
“Yes, the very first copulation. They caught it on record – they think a mudslide trapped the couple mid-”
“Well, they didn’t know what to expect, I suppose – it says here that they were asexual up until that moment and the pleasure sort of caught-“
“Alright, that’s it. We’re off. Time to go home.”
“No buts! Not a single but until your butt lands in the car and you get to driving!” Lyle spat on the floor. “THAT! A grown museum for grown humans and other grown sapients displaying THAT like it’s something to be proud of! Hah! A signal to head home if I’ve ever heard one!” He pursed his lips in thought. “Does the gift shop have reproductions of it?”
“Err…yes. Assembly required, thou-“
“Good enough, here’s the money, go fetch it. And don’t spend more than ten dollars on yourself, you hear?”

Getting home took a bit longer than expected. Somebody’d attached a truck to their car and was trying to move it, and Lyle had to yell for over ten minutes before he gave up and let them go.
“Senility is god’s gift to the elderly that haven’t got it, that’s what I’ve always said,” said Lyle, cradling the extremely calm and plain brown paper bag his prize rested within. “No excuse quite like it in all the world.”
“That’s the truth, Lyle,” said Howard, as he pulled into the driveway. “That’s the truth.”
“I still can’t believe you spent money on that tripe. It’ll rot your brain and drive your gonads to depravity while leaving your wits in Muddles, Alabama.”
“The Scientific American is a fine publication, Lyle, and their articles on dinosaurs are most entertaining. This book will last me for hours and hours of joy and discovery!”
“How good can it be? They still think there’s only three periods in the Mesozoic, for the love of Jesus’s littlest toenail!”
“Ignorance is bliss,” said Howard. “And we all need a little bliss in our lives, eh? Admit it, this trip was fun. A nice bit of relaxing to soak up the afternoon.”
Lyle peered into his bag. “Yes. Yes I suppose you could say that. Yes indeed. Now do me a favour and piece this together for me; the print’s too small to read.”

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