“I acquired this piece after a lengthy court battle,” the Curator said, motioning to his left.
I gazed intently at the ornate sarcophagus housed in a dimly lit display case. The golden skin and ruby eyes of the case no longer looked like the face of the dried and shrunken mummy inside it.
“I really wondered during some of the deliberations whether I would win this artifact in the end,” the Curator droned. “The back-and-forth, back-and-forth was tiresome. I really wish some people wouldn’t take so long in making up their minds.”
“And what decided the case in your favor?” I asked.
The Curator’s voice held a smile, though I couldn’t see his face. “Oh! His heart was hardened and embalmed long before the actual scientific process took place. When the Counsel’s arguments were rejected, the case was as good as mine.”
I leaned over the case and peered at the shriveled hands of the mummy.
“But you said it was a drawn-out case?” I inquired.
“Well, the fool didn’t want to listen to the Counsel, but he also didn’t want to listen to me. It seemed to be decided in my favor from the outset, but then, when evidence appeared to turn the tide, the specimen wavered. He wanted compromise,” the Curator explained.
“And he could not have it?” I prompted.
“No,” the dry voice of the Curator echoed in the dim corridor. “The Counsel doesn’t make deals with me, nor I with Him. Specimens belong wholly to one or the other.”
I studied the trinkets and weapons that had been buried in the pyramid with this Pharoah. They were good for nothing but collecting dust now.
“I was happy to add such a fine specimen to my collection. Even before the case was decided, I had this special display made to house it,” the Curator said.
He gradually directed me further down the corridor. Another display case held a variety of teeth.
At first, I found myself trying to identify what type of animal they might have come from, but then, I noticed that one of the molars contained a filling. I started back in horror.
“Yes,” the Curator drawled lazily, “this is all that’s left of these poor souls. Some were lost at sea. Some were incinerated. Others have long since crumbled into dust. All I get is their dental record!” His rattling laugh sounded more like a cough.
I began to feel rather warm and in need of fresh air as we moved hastily to the next exhibit. The Curator’s black robe trailed on the floor, and in the dim light, I could hardly see to avoid tripping on it. I don’t know how he saw at all, for his long, black hood was pulled low over his face.
“Here is a piece well worth seeing!” he encouraged me to step closer to a rotating display case.
Only the palms of two hands and soles of two feet hung inside next to a skull. “I made a deal for this one,” he said, “and I won it.”
Goliath’s severed head, Nebuchadnezzar’s fingernails, Belshazzar’s golden goblet, and the worm-eaten corpse of Herod featured prominently in the Curator’s collection.
I grew tired of hearing his gloating long before he was tired of detailing it.
Finally, we had toured the entire museum. Only one exhibit remained.
“Perhaps you are pressed for time. Would you like to just skip the last exhibit?” he asked.
Before he asked the question, I would have jumped at any chance to be out of that place; but now, his obvious reluctance to show me the exhibit made me want to finish the tour.
“I can spare a few more minutes,” I said.
The black cloaked shoulders shrugged, and I followed him to the remaining display.
It was an upright glass case, and it was the first one I had seen that was well-lit. A single light illuminated the white shelf inside. The case was taller than a man, and I would have had to step up on a pedestal to get into it. As it was, I stood tiptoe to get a full look at the shelf.
The only thing there was a pile of linen.
I looked inquisitively at the curator, but his hood still hid his face.
“This is the only exhibit I haven’t been able to retain. You know, it’s popular nowadays for museums to be forced to return artifacts and specimens to the countries and tribes where they originated,” he said.
“So, you were forced to return this piece?” I asked.
He simpered for a moment, turning his cloaked head this way and that. “Well, as a matter of fact, this specimen returned Himself.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Indeed? That seems quite wonderful!”
The Curator shook his head. “I have never seen anything like it. I only had Him for parts of three days, and then, He walked right out of here and went back to where He came from.”
We both stood looking at the empty case.
“The horrible thing is that He has sued me for every artifact and specimen that belongs to Him,” the Curator said.
“And will you comply?” I eagerly wanted to know.
“I have very little choice in the matter,” the Curator replied, “so I guess I must content myself with what is mine. The trick of it is, though, that I can fool so many into hallowing my collection.”
I thought back on all that I had seen that day. The dusty, gory artifacts didn’t seem worth hallowing.
“How will you do so, sir?” I inquired.
We turned to walk away from the last exhibit.
“I will secure their devotion to these ancestors of theirs. ‘You are what you worship,’ or so the saying goes! The more of them that revere what I have here, the less I will have to give up to my Competitor.”
“And how will you get them to ignore His collection?” I asked.
“Well, no one can view them! When people are busy revering Death, no one thinks about Life. I certainly have the advantage.”
I looked over my shoulder at the empty case. I felt that Whoever had walked out of there had the advantage in every way.