Museum Mishap Monday: Recap

I started Museum Mishap Mondays in 2012. I’d written a Gashlycrumb Tinies parody of things in a museum that could kill me, and decided to write out each letter of the alphabet as a flash fiction playing out some of these hazards. I’m really glad I eventually finished. I think I’ve learned a lot in the process, including that I don’t particularly enjoy killing myself in fiction. Starting next week, I’ll be taking the time to explain what really goes on behind the scenes in museum collections. No museum fiction for awhile, but plenty of non-fiction to come.

And now, to commemorate finishing this series I’d like to post what started it all. Some of these changed when it came to writing fiction, many did not.

A is for arsenic which coats taxidermy

B is for botulism in old jars and cans

C is for carbon tetrachloride, which turns to nerve gas

D is for dry cleaning fluid in old mayonnaise jars

E is for ethyl alcohol specimens which stink and can spill

F is for firearms with still chambered rounds

G is for gravity, it’s quite the bitch.

H is for haunted museum, or at least some people say

I is for insecticide sprayers with pesticides historic

J is for jabbed by an old rusty nail

K is for knives found in surprising dark places

L is for lead, its corroded powder easily inhaled

M is for Mold, black and quite toxic

N is for negatives that spontaneous combust

O is for ordinance unexploded and still live

P is for picric acid used to treat burns and explosive when dry

Q is for questionable donor who wants to meet in secret

R is for radium, they painted on all sorts of things

S is for shelving and its trend to tip over

T is for thermometers and other mercury devices

U is for uranium, found unexpectedly

V is for veterinary equipment coated with pathogens

W is for waste once used medically

X is for x-ray machine still irradiating

Y is for your own carelessness– most dangerous of all.

Z is for zapped by old wiring you meant not to touch

If you’d like to read them all again- Museum Mishap Monday can be found in its entirety here. 

Museum Mishap Monday: Arsenic to Zimmerman

Minerva let Chekhov’s gun fall to the floor. Her creator unraveled to text, which itself fell to dust.

She took nothing, did not glance at the moose head above her desk as she left. Hundreds of staring doll eyes met her gaze on the other side of the door, but Minerva ignored them. More taxidermy watched her flight down the steps.

“Are you–”

“Story’s Over.” Minerva replied, cutting off the front desk volunteer. She didn’t slow down, swept through the gallery and pushed open both sets of doors, batting away a buzzing fly that flew at her face.

Her car chirped as she unlocked the doors. She didn’t know where she was going, only that it was away. No more museums. No more mishaps.

Minerva narrowly missed pulling out in front of the bus painted to look like a cow. That was not how this ended. Her creator would have ended it there. Thought only of how it was an amusing and embarrassing way to die. This Minerva didn’t want to die.

She pulled out on to the highway and headed east. No driving into the sunset. No heading off of a cliff. Minerva Zimmerman’s story wasn’t over.

Museum Mishap Monday: Fear Yourself

Minerva sat at her desk adding inventory data to the computer catalog system.


Minerva looked up and saw herself standing there. “What the–”

“Hi,” said her doppleganger. “Author Minerva here again. Have you figured out what all these Museum Mishaps have in common my fictional self?”

Fictional Minerva looked confused. “A museum?”

“Well, mostly– but the only thing they ALL have in common, is you– Fictional Minerva and your extreme carelessness. When I decided to write all these mishaps I thought it’d be a lot easier to kill you with museum hazards, because they ARE real and can be deadly. However, I’ve had to force you to be kind of a nitwit to imperil you again and again. The REAL Minerva can be lazy and do shortcuts for most things, but I never take the kind of chances I’ve forced you to take again and again. I mean, partly it helps that I managed to convince the doctor to do an arsenic test and I came up clean, but really just writing out how badly things have to go to kill me has made me feel much safer at my job.”

Fictional Minerva sighed. “Well, catharsis is healthy. I’m glad I helped you out in some small way. However, you’ve forgotten one thing.”

Author Minerva took a step back. “What’s that?”

“This isn’t the real world.”

Fictional Minerva took out a .38 Colt revolver with “Chekhov” written in red paint pen down the barrel. Author Minerva put up her hands, but her fictional self didn’t miss.


Museum Mishap Monday: X Marks The Spot

The phone on Minerva’s desk rang. She picked it up. “Hello?”

“Hey, another light burned out in the gallery. Can you bring one of the replacement bulbs down?” asked her boss.

“Sure, no problem. Be right down.”

Minerva hung up the phone and walked around the large cabinet that the back made one wall of her desk area, blocking her off from the rest of the workroom. She opened the middle cupboard and rummaged around looking for the box of replacement light bulbs for the gallery lights. She pulled out the box labeled “bulbs” and noticed another strange box behind it. She crouched down and realized it was a machine of some kind, its switch switched to on.

“Huh,” said Minerva. She set the bulbs on the table behind her and grabbed the large box-like machine. It didn’t move. She sighed, grabbed the bulbs and ran them downstairs. When she returned, she wiggled at the box, still unable to pull it out of the cupboard. It was stuck fast, its metal stand somehow stuck against the painted wooden shelf. Probably had rubber non-skid pads that had chemically reacted with the paint.

Minerva got a flashlight and peered around the device, finally finding an accession number on the side: 91.348.1

She found the ledger book for items donated between 1987-1998 and looked up the item:



Not A Drop To Drink

“So, there’s some water downstairs,” said Les. “Should I just mop it up or is there some kind of procedure?”

“Like, seepage?” asked Minerva.

Les looked ponderous. “More like, leakage. I think it’s coming from the ceiling.”

“I’ll be right down.” Minerva sighed and drank as much of her caffeinated energy water as possible in a few gulps and headed to the basement exhibit space.

At the bottom of the steps, water was everywhere; it pooled under objects and rust-tinted water dripped from dozens of points in the ceiling. Minerva did the mental geography to make sure the bathroom wasn’t above this part of the building. It wasn’t, just a drainage pipe. It was going to be a very long day.

Soon Minerva was on hands and knees sopping up dirty water with rags and towels. Les mopped at the larger pools but it was hard to tell if he was making any sort of positive changes or just spreading the water around. Minerva worked her way backwards toward the outside wall trying desperately to get water away from objects and displays.

“I’m going to go empty the bucket,” said Les. “It is getting kind of dirty.”

Minerva nodded, even though she was internally rolling her eyes. It wasn’t like the water they were mopping up was going to get any cleaner. Neither was she. Her khaki pants were already smeared with grime from the floor and she could tell her hair had already frizzed out in an impressive halo from her ponytail.

It had been raining a lot recently and apparently a drainage pipe from the roof had backed up and run water back into the building. At least that was the theory and the plumbers were going to blow out the drainage pipes. Minerva had her doubts. There seemed to be a lot of water.

A drop of rusty water hit her on the nose, then another. She moved as the drips became a steady stream and then the floor above gave way in a torrent of water from the broken pipe.

Museum Mishap Monday: Vectors of Virus

Seventeen pairs of tiny hands dragged along the railing into the museum. Four pairs were attached to sniffly noses. Two sniffly noses were just allergies. One pair of hands carried H1N1 and their nose showed no symptoms at all. Quiet voices argued over who got to hold the door. A child with brown hair in pigtails eventually became the designated door holder.

Inside, Minerva waited to greet the class field trip. “Hi, I”m Minerva and I’m the Curator here at the museum. How many of you have been to the museum before?”

Nearly every hand went up.

“Awesome. I want to welcome each and every one of you to our museum today. Does anyone have any questions?”

The children looked suddenly shy.

“Well, we’d love to answer any of your questions and please don’t hesitate to ask us if you think of one while you’re here.”

Mrs. Walker reminded the students about using their inside voices and split them into groups between the adult chaperones.

Minerva smiled as seventeen pairs of hands held the railing as they descended into the basement.

Unexpected Uranium

Minerva stared in horror at the box of rocks and tried to calculate exactly where her desk was in relation to where the box had been sitting. Had she really been sitting under a pile of uranium for the entire time she’d been working at the museum?

“You know that can’t really hurt you, right?”

Minerva looked up. “Who said that?”

“I did.”

“Who are you?” Minerva frowned.

“Your author, Minerva. You’re me, but you do dumb things that get you injured or killed. Things I’d never actually do, most of the time.”

Minerva clutched at her head. “Oh god, I’ve finally lost it. Now I’m hearing authorial voices.”

“Oh come on, admit it, you’ve always suspected. All the dying and the lack of any appreciable supporting cast… it was pretty obvious.”

Minerva pointed at the box of rocks. “Uranium? Am I dying in alphabetical order or something?”

“Pretty much. Though it turns out it’s pretty hard to die from uranium samples. There’s a reason they have to enrich the stuff to turn it into fuel. The radiation doesn’t travel very far and it’s effectively blocked by the box, let alone the floor and tin ceiling between you and it. Though, in my reality there is a box of uranium I’m not actually sure exactly where it is being stored.”

Minerva sat down on a folding chair. “So I’m safe?”

“I wouldn’t say that. You are fictional.”

Minerva shrugged. “But I’m you.”

“Well, yeah. It didn’t feel right to kill off friends and loved ones in flash fiction. Killing or injuring myself with
museum hazards has proven kind of therapeutic. I’ve had to research all of the things that I’ve assumed could kill me, and several of them are actually much less deadly than I thought. Though I really should get that tetanus shot…”

Minerva dusted off her hands and squinted up at the disembodied authorial voice. “Like the uranium?”

“I’m pretty disappointed about it.”

Minerva turned over her hands. “Guess I’ll just have to live this time.” She looked up and scrambled back out of the chair, crab-walking backward across the attic floor. “What’s that cursor doing here?!”

“Unexpected authorial interference.” The Author repeatedly backspaced until Minerva was erased entirely.

Oops… suddenly, the museum collapses

The average typewriter weighs around fifteen point six pounds. I don’t know how many typewriters the average museum has, but this one had 863. They were all stacked in neat rows on shelving units in one area of the attic (minus the 36 on display) over approximately 25 square feet. The floor beneath the units had always been a little creaky, but no one had given much thought to the load limit of the floor joists beneath the units.

Minerva certainly hadn’t. When she moved five typewriters from a shelf unit near the wall to one closer to the center of the room, it was the furthest thing from her mind. She was too busy thinking about how her back was going to be aching later and what she should make for dinner later. Sure the floor had complained under her weight, but it always did that. The building was nearly 100 years old.

At her desk on the floor below, Minerva didn’t hear the warning groans of snapping wood over the sound of her headphones. She noticed when the first piece of tin ceiling hit her desk, but by then it was too late.

Typewriters fell, Minerva died.

Always On The Top Shelf

It was cold in the attic. Minerva stepped around the plastic-draped and possibly animatronic Santa and looked up on the top shelf. There was, in fact, a moose up there. Only in museum work could you lose one taxidermied moose, and when you went looking for it– find three, none the one you were looking for. She reached up and turned over the artifact tag on the moose antlers.

Make that four meese, and one still missing. Damn things were breeding somehow.

Minerva backed up against the opposite shelving unit and peered up at the top shelf. It looked like there might be another pair of antlers up there, maybe two? She looked around for the step stool, but remembered it was downstairs.

She set down her clipboard on an antique saltines tin, and placed her left foot on the opposite shelf. She pushed off and got a foot on the second shelf of the moose shelving unit, her fingers hooked over the top shelf, the plastic dust sheeting over the moose antlers brushed the back of her hands. Minerva pulled herself up and stepped up to the next shelf.

There were four more sets of elk antlers and one very small set of moose. She reached across the shelving unit and started dragging the second set of antlers closer. As the antlers got close enough for her to almost read the tag, the shelving unit started to tip toward her. Antlers tumbled toward her and things on the lower shelves started to slide.

Minerva tried to shift her weight toward the shelving unit to stabilize it, but it’d tipped too far. She felt a disorienting rush of blood in her head as she and the unit fell into the other shelving unit with a crash. There was pain, then the second unit started to fall in a chain reaction.

Nibble nibble

The bottom of the cardboard box fell out and landed at Minerva’s feet with a putrid wet slap.
“Oh god,” she groaned, and then regretted the inhale of breath required for speaking.
The contents of the box were, to use a technical term–Beyond Reasonable Conservation. A layperson would probably say something like, “Auuugh it stinks!”
The plastic bags wrapping whatever had been in the box originally had been gnawed up into bedding. There were rat droppings throughout the contents. The whole thing would probably glow under blacklight like a horrible rave grab bag. In the middle of ruined artifacts and shredded wrapping, was a very large and mostly decomposed rat.
Minerva dropped the empty top half of the box and opened the large roll-door. The fresh air from outside was still tinged with the scent of excrement and rot. She looked down and realized the sleeves of her jacket were damp with filth.
This was how a quick trip out to move things in the shed building turned into a trip home for a full change of clothes and a scalding hot shower.
Minerva used a shovel to pick up the pile of wet trash. The rat corpse fell into two pieces releasing a new, stronger smell.
Maybe two showers.
She dumped everything on the trash pile outside, and went back in. The sooner she got this done, the faster she could get that shower. Minerva used a broom to smack the side of the next box on the stack. It was dirty and stained too, but mostly on the top, though there was some indication of gnawing by the handle holes.
Nothing moved in the box. Minerva hit it again. She heard scurrying over on the other side of the building and jumped back. She went to run hands over her hair, and stopped before she made the contamination worse.
She picked up the box and jogged a few steps, swinging the box back to fling it toward the trash pile.
Something shifted inside the box. A soft weight slammed into her hand. She let go, but not before something sharp bit into her hand.
The box fell to the concrete floor and a rat went drunkenly scurrying under a pallet. Minerva ran outside, heart pounding in her chest, and breathing in terrified gasps. Blood welled up in a series wounds across her fingers.