The curator walked the new security guard through the premises. “Have you visited the Museum of Improbable Things before?” he asked.
The guard shook his head.
“Well,” the curator said, smiling, “I suppose I should take you on a quick tour through some of the exhibits, so you can get an idea what it is you’re protecting. I would recommend you come back some time during normal visiting hours to get the full experience, though. It’s all very fascinating.”
He stopped in front of a case containing a coin. “That,” he said, “As far as anyone can tell, is a regular quarter. It’s not weighted, not double-sided, nothing like that. The strange thing about it is, when you flip it, it always lands on whatever side you want it to land on.”
The guard grunted.
“Moving along,” the curator said, “Next up we have one of my favorite exhibits.” Inside the case was a copy of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. “Playing it forward, it sounds like it should, but if you play ‘Stairway to Heaven’ backwards…”
“Let me guess,” the security guard said, “Satanic messages?”
The curator shook his head with a smile. “Not at all. If you play it backwards, you can very clearly hear ‘Glory to God in the highest, for God is great.'”
The guard stared at him.
“We don’t have enough time right now,” the curator whined, “But if you’d come back during normal visiting hours you could, of course, see the demonstration.”
“Continuing,” he said, walking to the next exhibit, “This is a VHS of ‘Return of the Jedi.’ The interesting thing about it, is that the ending is not the same. In this version, Luke turns to the Dark Side and joins Darth Vader, they kill the Emperor and take over the galaxy.”
“Never seen Star Wars,” the guard said, “But lemme ask you something, how do you know this, or that album, aren’t fakes?”
“They could be fakes,” the curator said, “They could be, that’s true. But if they’re fakes, the quality is incredible. The actors in the ending of this Star Wars, they look and sound exactly like the real actors. Of course, everyone involved with the film denies that anything like this was ever filmed, but…” the curator shrugged.
“So what the hell is it, then?” the guard asked.
The curator brightened. “That’s a very good question. Nobody really knows where the things in the museum originally came from. But it certainly shows that we live in a much stranger world than anyone thinks, eh?”
“Guess so,” the guard said.
Slumping his shoulders and returning to his “official” mode, the curator continued on. “All the exhibits in that part of the museum are pretty harmless,” he said, “Next up, in this section, we have things that are a little more dangerous.” He stopped in front of a case containing a hardbound book called Able Elba.
“What’s so dangerous about a book?” the guard asked.
“My friend,” the curator said, “Books are the most dangerous things of all! Books have resulted in more upheaval and societal change than…” catching the guard’s stony glare, he cleared his throat and changed the subject. “This particular book was written by a severely mentally disabled woman. According to her caretakers, the woman is barely even literate. Apparently though, one day she just sat down and wrote this book in twelve hours straight. The remarkable thing about it, is that it’s written entirely as a palindrome. A palindrome is a word or sentence that reads the same backwards as forwards…”
“I know what a palindrome is,” the guards said. “That’s definitely improbable, but why’s it dangerous?”
“Well,” the curator said, “Most people, after they read the book, they find themselves unable to speak in anything but palindromes. Apparently for the rest of their life.”
The guard raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
“This is all well-documented,” the curator said defensively, “The book actually sold fairly well at first, what with its ‘inspirational’ back story and all. The publisher stopped printing it once the reports started coming in, though. It got banned from schools and libraries. In fact, it got so bad that the Department of Defense bought up as many copies as they could, burned them, and arrested the woman and her caretakers as threats to national security. You can look all this up, it was in the news.”
“I’ll have to do that,” the guard said.
They walked to the next exhibit.
“This,” the curator said somberly, “Is a camera that takes a picture of how you’ll look when you die.” He lifted what looked like a regular Polaroid camera out of the case and pointed it at the guard. “Say cheese!”
“Don’t.” the guard said, putting his hand in front of the lens.
“What’s the matter?” laughed the curator, “Afraid to know?” He glanced at his watch. “Damn it, I’ve got a dinner with the Board of Trustees across town in half an hour, I’ll have to show you the rest of the exhibits later. That OK?”
“Sure,” the guard said.
“Alright,” the curator said. “Well I’ll see you later. Don’t touch anything, I know how interested you are in this stuff!” he slapped the guard on the shoulder and dropped the camera rather unceremoniously into the case before running out the door.
The camera’s circuitry must have been pretty damaged. The bump from hitting the bottom of the case caused it to take a picture, nearly blinding the guard with its flash. After blinking for a few seconds and regaining his sight, he gingerly reached into the case and took the picture out of the camera’s slot. He shook the photo a bit as it slowly came into focus.
The photo showed him lying on the floor of the museum in a puddle of blood.
He lifted his eyes from the picture and stared into the depths of the museum where the rest of the “dangerous” exhibits lay, suddenly wishing he’d listened to more of what the curator had said.