Anima Legata

March 28, 2024

The old grandfather clock dongs ferociously, jolting me awake from my slumber. The copy of Romeo and Juliet I’d been holding falls to the floor, losing my page, and I rub my eyes with the palms of my hands. It’s midnight. Louis should be here soon to take over for his part of the night shift. Louis used to visit the museum as a boy, and then worked as a security guard for years. Now he’s a grandpa and cannot stay awake for the whole night shift, so the museum hired me to cover the first seven hours. Of course, I clearly can’t stay awake either.

I have never much been a fan of museums. Museums are on par with graveyards, and there’s just something about them that seems so… final. But when a job came up as a security guard in the small Italian museum, it was too good to pass up. It fits perfectly with my schedule at the university and means I have time to study while working. The lack of sleep is quickly catching up to me, though.

I sigh and pick up my book, the squeak of the chair grating in the silence. I only get another few lines down the page when there comes a series of loud knocks on the old front doors. Louis must have forgotten his key again. He’d forget his toes if they weren’t attached! The knocks come again but louder this time. 

“Coming, Louis! Hold your horses.” I grab the keys from the bottom drawer of the desk and put a finger between the pages of the book to not lose my place again. 

When I open the door, however, it is not a chubby-cheeked, balding old man who greets me but a young man with the most crystal-clear blue eyes I have ever seen. He can’t be more than a few years older than me, and he grins when I cough and mutter in my broken Italian, “Siamo chiusi ora.” I hope through my awful accent he can gather that the museum is closed.

A warm summer night’s breeze wafts through the door, caressing my arms and hair. 

“You must be the English one, Anya, yes?” His voice is deep and silky and fits him perfectly. 

I cock my head, trying to piece together how he knows who I am. 

As though he can read my mind, he reaches out a hand, “I’m the director of the museum.”

I eye his hand suspiciously and move my body, so it blocks the doorway. “The director is a lady.” 

He is silent for a moment, studying my face as he rubs the back of his neck, “She’s my aunt, and we share the title.” 

I nod. It seems reasonable I suppose, and she had spoken of a nephew during my interview. I must remember to ask Louis about him later. Louis knows everything there is to know about this place.

“So, are you going to let me in?” 

I move aside, and he strides in. When I lock the door behind, I turn to find him only a foot away from me. 

“I must check on some exhibits. Will you accompany me?” he asks.

A blush settles across my cheeks. Is he flirting? I nod.

“You have the keys for all the cabinets, right?” 

Embarrassment floods my veins. and I march forward, dumping Romeo and Juliet on the desk, flicking on the lights to the different halls and not daring to glance at him. 

“Romeo and Juliet didn’t love each other, you know,” he calls out from behind me. 

When I turn, he has his arms crossed over his chest. “Pardon?” 

He nods toward my discarded copy. “Their story. It wasn’t of love and heartache. They were just stupid teenagers with a lust for what they couldn’t have, which destroyed them both in the end.” Something familiar glints in his eye, but I can’t quite place it. 

I scoff, clenching my jaw. “I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong you are. Their love was pure and innocent. It wasn’t them; it was those around them who couldn’t fathom such a love, who sent them to their doom.” An amused smile crosses his face. “You know what, I’m not going to waste my breath on you.” With that, I turn and begin walking through the halls. 

It doesn’t take long before he catches up to me. Our footsteps pad on the carpeted ground, and every now and then his linen shirt scratches my bare arm. The Byzantine architecture, the tall circular ceilings, and the ornate gold detailing are so well preserved, it is like walking through history itself. I can’t help but marvel at its beauty. It pays to have someone you’re trying to ignore, so you can appreciate what is around you. 

We have walked through a few exhibits, but he still has not stopped us yet, and my eyes are growing heavy again. 

“So, you’re a literature student as my, uh, aunt tells me. Why are you working here? Aren’t you a bit small to be a security guard?” 

My blood boils, and I am pretty sure steam is coming out of my ears. I have had enough of this pretentious man. “Why? Because I’m a woman?” 

He staggers back slightly, gasping for something to say. “I, no, not at all. I must apologize, Anya, it appears I have offended you this evening. It is with my deepest regret that I have done so. I am sorry.” 

I let his apology sink in before sighing. “Look.” It occurs to me at that moment that he hasn’t told me his name. “Thanks for the apology, but it doesn’t matter. Can you just hurry up with your silly little relics and then leave?” I gesture to the room filled with glass cabinets containing all sorts of items, all probably costing more than my yearly salary. 

For the first time this evening, anger crosses his face. “Relics?” He grabs my hand, and before I can process, he pulls me, unwillingly, to a cabinet that holds some kind of heavy, rusted sword with dents and notches indenting the blade. 

“How do you know that this Anglo-Saxon sword has lived to see great battles, tasted blood, and taken lives?”

Is this a trick question? I mean, we’re in a museum. Of course it has. “It’s old.” 

He shakes his head. “That’s not why. Everyone has a part of them that can feel the history behind this magnificent weapon. Open the cabinet.” 

It takes me a while to find the correct key, but when I open the cabinet, he carefully lifts the sword from its stand and holds it in front of me. “Can you hear it? The buzzing of the energy it holds?” 

I take a step back. He’s completely mad.

“Just listen.” He holds the sword out for me, and I humor him. I would rather I’m the one holding something sharp than him right now.

The instant my skin hits the blade my vision blurs, and smoke fills my lungs. I choke for a breath, for oxygen to relieve me. I look around, and the world is on fire. Wooden houses are ablaze, and the heat alone is suffocating, let alone the smoke. People are screaming and crying, metal clangs together, and fear courses through me. My village is under attack. My village?

I look down at my hands, they’re large, manly, and coated in a layer of dirt. I am gripping the sword tight. My father passed it down to me, but I had never thought I would wield it. I shall make him proud. A roar, that is akin to a wild beast, comes from behind me, and I turn to see a large man charging toward me. His yellow beard is streaked with blood, and he’s swinging the biggest axe I have ever seen. I hold my sword out in front of me, praying that my body will know what to do, something wet trickles down my leg. He is approaching fast, the chaos around me doesn’t stop, and I shut my eyes before a splitting pain rocks my skull. 

My eyes fly open. I’m in the museum, my hands are elegant and mine. The sword rests in my palms.

“Did you drug me? What the hell was that?” My breath heaves as I try to make sense of this. 

He takes the sword out of my hands and gently places it back into the cabinet. He doesn’t seem surprised at my reaction, but he speaks softly as though I am an injured kitten, “I didn’t do anything to you. You just allowed yourself to see.”

I shake my head, “I was there, but then I knew I wasn’t really, but I felt everything he could and he—” The realization of what I had witnessed sinks in. “He died.” 

“That’s the most important part of that sword’s history. That is the moment burnt into it.” 

I stare at him, the confusion muddling my thoughts. “But how?” 

He crosses his hands behind his back and turns to walk to the other side of the room and stops in front of a mirror. I follow. It is nothing particularly special with a plain gold frame that catches the light. “Our souls get attached to things.” He grabs my hand; it engulfs mine in a calming warmth. “Do you trust me?” 

I stare into the mirror. “I don’t know,” I answer honestly. I don’t know how to make sense of any of this. 

Gently, he reaches our hands forward to touch the frame. A spark of electricity shoots up my arm, lighting fireworks in my eyes, and when my vision clears, I am standing in front of the mirror, but candlelight flickers, and the room is cozy. A canopied bed stands behind me, and a pearl necklace lines my collarbone. I stare into the hazel eyes in the mirror, and they are mine. My eyes. My hands are the same, with long fingers, but a jeweled ring sits on my finger. A powder-blue ball gown cinches my waist in a corset, and layers of delicate fabric float to the floor. I touch my face and my pinned hair. I am beautiful. I am me.

My body moves on its own accord to reach into the little jewelry box on the marble-topped table in front of me. I take out a pair of pearl earrings, but the sleeves on my dress stop me from reaching my ears.

“Damien, may you help me, please.” I call out toward the door. 

“Yes, my love.” 

I let go of the mirror and stand for an eternity. Memories from a life past, my life, wash over me, and I am still. The museum’s stark light burns my eyes, but it is not them which makes the tears fall. 

I turn and stare up at the face I have spent a lifetime with. A lifetime loving. I could have lived another and never known. “Damien?” 

He bows slightly, holding out his hand. “My love.”

Eliza Wilson has always had a wild imagination and a need to share it with the world. Now in the final year of her Creative Writing degree, she is honing her skills on the page and working on her fantasy trilogy, Secrets of Pinewood. You can usually find Eliza sitting in a cozy corner of a cafe, oat milk, iced vanilla latte in hand, hunched over a notebook, and escaping into the world at the tip of her pen.

 

 

Featured image by Ricardo Cruz.

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