Off the Wall
“I don’t want to go,” Jane whispered to herself. “I don’t want to go.”
Ahead of her the huge, cavernous lobby of the Templeton Memorial Museum was ringing with the clamor of fifty other girls Jane’s age. They were lined up in front of a long table, eagerly signing in for the Templeton Lock-In.
A poster on the wall above the tables blasted the neon-pink words: THRILL TO AN OVERNIGHT EXPERIENCE BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE MUSEUM! But from her place at the end of the line, Jane was not thrilled. Not at all. Not one bit.
“It will be good for you,” her mother had said to her
that morning. “You need to socialize with more girls your own age.”
But what, Jane wondered, am I supposed to say to girls I’ve never seen before in my life? And how on Earth can I possibly spend an entire sleepover with them?
She cast a miserable glance around the lobby—a bustling hive of girls and their parents and all their random good-bye conversations.
“Dad, I don’t need an alarm clock! They’ll wake us up, I swear!” And “I don’t see your allergy pillow, honey. Where’s your allergy pillow?” And “Fine, then! I don’t want to hear another word about it!” And “No, Mommy, don’t hug me. Everyone will think I’m a baby.”
I’m just not anything like these girls, Jane thought. I can tell just by looking at them. Why, why did I have to—
“Are you here to register, dear?” came the friendly voice of a woman in front of her.
Jane jumped out of her thoughts. The line had been moving along without her noticing, and now she was standing right at the registration table.
“I guess so,” said Jane. Nervously she twisted a hank of her blond hair around one finger.
“Okay! What’s your name?”
The woman glanced through a sheaf of papers and checked off Jane’s name. “Have you done a lock-in with us before, Jane?”
“No. We—I—uh—just moved here,” Jane stammered. “I don’t know anything about anything.”
The woman chuckled. “Well, then, you are in for a wonderful surprise. This is going to be the best night of your life! Now, where’s your sleeping bag?”
Jane pointed to a pile of blankets in her basket.
“Oh, no sleeping bag?” remarked the woman. “Did you bring a foam pad to put under your blankets? That floor can feel awfully hard.”
“Foam pad?” exclaimed Jane. “I’ve never heard of using a foam pad! Oh, I knew something was going to go wrong right away!”
“Don’t look so worried!” said the woman. “They’ve got extra foam mattresses in the Great Hall for people who need them. And you’ll have a wonderful time. The lock-in is one of our most popular events. There’s a huge waiting list every time.”
“She’s right. The lock-in is really, really fun.” This voice was coming from behind Jane. She turned around to see a
girl—who had dark hair and brown eyes—smiling at her. “I’m so excited!” the girl continued. “I’ve been waiting to be old enough ever since my sister did a lock-in here three years ago. Hi, Mrs. Crawford,” she added. “I guess you know I’m here to register for the lock-in tonight.”
“Yes indeedy, Lucy,” said the woman at the table. “I’ve got your paperwork right here! Jane, this is Lucy Nasim. Lucy has attended every single Templeton Museum event in the history of the world.”
“That’s pretty much true,” said Lucy. “Pottery workshops, plant hunts in the park, Meet the Owls—you name it. I love this museum. I totally wish I lived here.”
Jane smiled shyly at Lucy. At this moment, she wasn’t exactly feeling the same way, but she could already tell that Lucy was really nice.
Mrs. Crawford handed each girl a name tag. “Lucy, this is Jane’s first time at the museum. Why don’t you take her to the Great Hall? The group leaders are already there. And help her get a foam mattress, okay?”
“Of course I will,” said Lucy, shouldering her backpack.
“And Lucy—none of your practical jokes tonight, okay?” Mrs. Crawford turned to Jane and said, “Lucy can be kind of a prankster. Don’t let her play any tricks.”
Lucy rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. “I’ll try to be good. Let’s go, Jane. I know everything about this museum,” she added with a laugh as they began walking. “The Great Hall’s where we’re going to be sleeping. It’s down at the far end of the building. I think the museum people put it there because they like you to walk past some of their greatest hits on the way.”
“Oh, you know, like some of the most famous stuff. There’s a pearl the size of a baseball, for instance. And what some people think might have been King Arthur’s crown. And in there is the Hall of Mythology,” said Lucy. “It’s superpopular.”
Jane looked around at all the lifelike statues. Most of them were beautiful, but some were a bit creepy. Jane shuddered. In the center of the gallery, a marble boy was struggling to free himself from the tentacles of a massive marble sea serpent. Behind the sea serpent, Jane could see a wall mosaic of a ten-foot-tall woman who seemed to have snakes for hair. And next to the snake-haired woman, even taller, was a battered wooden statue of some kind of monster with not one, but three ferocious dog heads.
“Those myths can get pretty weird,” Lucy said cheerfully. “But I guess people like the exhibit—it’s always crowded.”
It was thinning out now that the museum was about to close. People were hurrying past the girls on their way toward the lobby, and as Jane and Lucy passed the next exhibit hall, its lights blinked off. Glancing back, Jane realized that the mythology gallery was also dark now. For some reason, she didn’t like the thought of that sea serpent and the snake-haired woman standing silent and motionless in a darkened room.
“Ta-da! Here’s the Great Hall!” Lucy exclaimed.
The Great Hall was a huge round chamber with a vaulted ceiling so high above the girls’ heads that Jane wasn’t sure she could actually see the top. As they walked in, Jane noticed that the hall had four identical entryways spaced at equal intervals, like the directions on a compass. She and Lucy were passing through the south entrance. It had an old-looking map of the South Pole over the door, but that was the only thing that distinguished it from the other three entrances.
“I always go in through this door,” said Lucy. “I love Antarctica.”
But Jane wasn’t paying attention. She was staring into the Great Hall, which was now a hive of excited girls. Some were laying out their sleeping bags and arranging pillows on top of them. Some were studying the murals lining the curved walls. Some were standing around chatting in groups of three or four. And all of them were shouting at the top of their lungs—or that’s how it seemed to Jane.
“There’s Lucy! Loooocy! LOOOOCEEEEEYYY!” someone screamed, and a girl with curly red hair and round blue eyes raced up to them.
“I was beginning to wonder when you were going to get here,” the girl said, panting. She looked over at Jane. “Hey, who’s this?”
“This is Jane. It’s her first time here,” Lucy answered. “Jane, this is Cailyn. She goes to school with me.”
Cailyn tossed Jane a quick smile and instantly launched into a long description of her summer. “And then we went to the Silver Islands and I learned how to water ski and almost broke my leg, but it turned out to be a sprain, but I think a sprain hurts even more, and then I went to camp for two weeks and I got the most horrible sunburn you ever saw, and then my brother and
I went to my aunt’s farm in Danville . . .”
“Lucy! I’ve missed you so much!” Another girl had just rushed up, and two others followed her. Is everyone here a friend of Lucy’s? Jane wondered. Within a couple of minutes, she and Lucy were surrounded by a cluster of excited girls.
About twenty conversations seemed to be going on at once. Jane did her best to keep up. All these girls seemed pretty nice, she realized. Probably kids who wanted to spend a night in a museum were interesting and fun.
There was one girl in the group, Megan, who seemed to be even more nervous than Jane. “These floors are awfully slippery,” she told Jane earnestly right after they’d been introduced. “We’re going to have to walk very carefully. I made sure to wear shoes that have a lot of traction.”
So yes, it was probably safe to say that Megan was scared too. Also, Jane reminded herself, she couldn’t be the only shy person in a group of fifty girls. What about that girl hanging back at the outer edge of the group, for instance? The one with the straight dark hair and the sour expression? She looked sort of scared, sort of stuck up, and sort of, well, angry, Jane decided. But what was there to be mad about?
Abruptly the girl seemed to realize that Jane
was looking at her. She glared back at Jane, her eyes narrowed.
Jane felt bad for being rude. She gave the girl an embarrassed smile.
But the girl didn’t smile back. If anything, she seemed to get even angrier.
I dare you to speak to me, her look was conveying. I dare you.