By Barbara Diggs
Lamar Williams wasn’t afraid. His classmates giggled in nervous anticipation. The Schneider twins clutched each other, already squealing. But Lamar stood on the plush red carpeting of the museum’s lobby with shining eyes. He’d wanted to visit The Little Wax Museum of Modern Horrors since forever. He loved scary stuff.
His teacher, who had disappeared for a few minutes with the gruff-faced museum guide, returned with her arms full of fluorescent yellow safety vests.
“Children! Settle down and put these on.” She began handing around the vests. “It’s dark inside the exhibit hall. We’ll see you easier with these if you get separated from the group.” She arched an eyebrow. “Not that this will be a problem, right?”
As the children put on their vests, the museum guide, who wore black tactical fatigues, swaggered to the front of the room. He began to pace, barking at them like a drill sergeant.
“Kids, I won’t lie,” he said. “What you’re about to see is disturbing. But this museum was created because people need to understand the truth about the world we live in. Fact is, some monsters are real. Now, step this way.”
The class tittered anxiously as he marched them into a darkened corridor lit only with tiny pinpoints of blue light along the floor. A minute later, the guide stopped, and a spotlight switched on, illuminating two waxen figures.
Lamar blinked. The scene was of a restaurant kitchen. A dark-haired woman was crouched next to a stainless-steel, six-burner oven. One arm was wrapped around her knees, the other was wrenched above her head, caught in the grip of a man wearing dark fatigues like the guide. Lamar marveled at the waxwork’s realism. The woman looked up at the man with parted lips and wild, white eyes, her terror unmistakable. Lamar felt his flesh pimple.
“This is Maria Gonzalez,” said the guide. “She worked as a dishwasher, fruit picker, nanny, and hotel maid without having proper documentation. She evaded capture for over fifteen years—even raised a family—before the law finally caught her.”
A shiver ran through the children like the wind through trees.
“Job-stealer,” one whispered.
“She looks plain evil,” breathed another.
Startled, Lamar looked at his classmates. She looked evil? It was the man, with his dead eyes, his set, stony mouth, that made Lamar’s stomach clench.
“Don’t worry, children,” chuckled the guide. “We sent her back to wherever she came from. But this is the horror you’re up against. Thieves. Lawbreakers. Liars. Let’s keep moving.”
The spotlight switched off, and the children shuffled through darkness, the reflective strips on their vests glinting in the blue light. As the guide arrived at the next installation, the spotlight flipped on again. The children gasped.
The scene featured a heavy-set man with skin just a shade darker than Lamar’s, surrounded by policemen. One yanked him backward in a chokehold, another twisted his arm. Just seeing the scene made Lamar want to claw at his own throat, throw off the vise-like grip.
“You might recognize this one,” said the guide. “We got him for selling untaxed cigarettes. See how this animal fought the police? They barely escaped with their lives.”
The Schneider sisters had their hands over their mouths, and several children peeked at the installation through splayed fingers. A freckled kid named Jerry raised a trembling hand.
“Di–did the policemen get hurt?”
“No, son.” The guide smiled. “They’re just fine.”
Lamar stared at the display in bewilderment. The guy seemed to be fighting for breath, not the police. He raised his hand.
“What about the guy?”
“The perp? Oh, he’s dead, don’t you worry.”
A sigh of relief arose from the group. The sound brushed against Lamar’s neck like a feather.
“How did he die?”
“Suffocated due to his own actions.” The guide shook his head. “He made bad life choices, some of which brought him poor health.”
“He suffocated himself?” Lamar persisted.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“But the cops—”
“Now, look.” The guide frowned. “Don’t go feeling sorry for that monster. Wasn’t the first time he broke the law and resisted arrest. He got what was coming to him.”
“Enough, Lamar!” The teacher hissed. “Excuse him. He’s always looking for trouble.”
“There’s always one.” The guide flicked a look at Lamar, cool as cigarette ash.
The group moved on. With every scene, Lamar’s disquiet deepened. Either his eyes were playing tricks on him, or the guide was. Maybe even the entire class. Where the class shuddered at figures the guide described as menacing, nasty, and vicious, Lamar recoiled from the blank shock or fright etched in the waxworks’ faces. Where the guide lamented over the boyish innocence in the male figures whose bright futures had been tainted by melodramatic women, Lamar saw only smug entitlement.
“What are you looking at? Are ya’ll blind?” Lamar kept asking, louder and louder until the teacher threatened to call his parents.
At last, the spotlight flicked onto a large elaborate scene of a rushing river with marshy, grass-filled banks. Lamar first thought the installation was empty, then he gasped. Two figures, a man and a child, lay face down in the muddy shallows, their bodies entangled in reeds. It was so lifelike that tears sprang to Lamar’s eyes.
“Excuse me, sir?” Jerry raised his hand. “What’s so horrible about this scene? It’s just a river.”
The guide studied Jerry for a moment, then turned to grin at Lamar. Lamar looked back at him, saying nothing. The guide smiled at Jerry.
“Nothing to see here, son. Nothing at all. Let’s keep going.”
The group moved off into the dark, but Lamar hung back until their footsteps grew distant. Inching forward, he felt his way to the two figures fused to the waxen mud. He took off his fluorescent safety vest and draped it over them. Then he sat next to them, his heart thudding, feeling the darkness pulsing around him as he waited.
“They’ll see you,” he whispered.