“Alright, I know the bell is about to ring, but I have one last thing to remind you. Tomorrow is our field trip to the American Museum of Natural History. It is an overnight trip. We will be leaving tomorrow morning and returning on Wednesday afternoon. Make sure you pack appropriately for a two day trip. And don’t forget to return your permission slips, otherwise you will stay here at school.” said Mrs. Bernado in her commanding, no-nonsense tone.
I shook my head and leaned back in my seat. By the time we were Juniors in high school they should just give up on taking us to field trips like this. I’ve been trying to get out of this for weeks, but the trip is “educational,” so I can’t argue through this one.
The bell rang and I grabbed my bag as everyone shuffled out.
“Gwen!” someone called.
Ugh, I just wanted to go home. Reluctantly I turned around and faced the busy hallway. Elle was sprinting toward me. Her blonde hair was short and choppy, and her eyes were bright with most likely the latest gossip, which never interested me.
I guess you could consider us friends. I mean, I’m not really big on friends, but I’d hung out with Elle 5th grade. That counts, right? We talked, somewhat. She was always so bubbly and bright, so unlike me.
“Gwen!” she practically shouted. “You’re going on the field trip right? You better be. I’m not going to survive two days in a museum by myself.”
“Yeah, don’t worry I’ll be there. Wouldn’t miss it!” I replied sarcastically.
“Oh thank God! Andrea and Catrina are assigned to our group and I can’t handle those two by myself. They’re so into that Dr. Who stuff and I have no idea what they’re talking about half of the time. I mean, what the heck is a spoonhead? Alright then, I’ll see you tomorrow!”
I gave her a slight smile and took off towards the doors. If I can just make it to the door without anyone else stopping me, it will be a good day.
I really shouldn’t be so mean. Elle means well, but she reminds me of a Starbucks addicted cheerleader who just found out she won the lottery.
The end of the day is always my favorite time. New York is full of commotion, but after school it seems to move slower. People haven’t finished work yet and most kids from my school have sports or clubs that they go to. No one is really out and about. The lunch rush is over and stores have hit their afternoon lull. It is a pretty peaceful walk home. Well, as peaceful as New York can be.
The air feels warmer today. I only brought a sweatshirt with me this morning. After a winter full of -40 F temperatures and countless snow storms, this weather is gladly welcomed. The trees still look dead, but hopefully summer will peak its way through soon enough.
My walk takes me past the bagel shop, park, and library. The library was always my favorite place when I was young. My dad would walk me home and every week we would stop in and return our books in search of new ones. The children’s section is something out of a movie. The walls are painted with scenes of disney characters and popular books. My favorite mural had Mowgli and Baloo from the Jungle Book singing what I’m assuming was Bare Necessities.
I never stop there anymore. But I do always say a silent hello to the stoic stone lions guarding the front entrance. We are old friends.
My apartment was just a block from the library, so the rest of the walk home was short. I came up to the plain brick building with a cast iron railing and walked up the three steps to the door. Our newspaper must have just came. It was wrapped up in its plastic bag sitting on our welcome rug.
I reached for the key inside my pocket and unlocked the door. As soon as I put my hand on the knob I heard little feet patter on the floor.
“Kota!” I said, my voice about 5 octaves higher than it needed to be.
She scurried over and laid down in front of me, paws up. I sat down and rubbed her belly. It was part of my afternoon routine. Walk home, play with Kota, do my homework, go to bed.
“Here, let’s go to the kitchen,” I said to Kota as I got up.
She sprung up and took off down the hallway. I tiptoed over the creaky wood floor, careful not to make too much noise. My dad was still sleeping. He works nights at his lab and doesn’t usually wake up until dinner time. He does something with analyzing DNA. He’s tests for people’s genetic histories and also does work with many of the museums in New York on testing their artifacts. As soon as they get a new shipment in, they take them to Dad’s lab and he and his team analyze them to see if they could pick up any traces of DNA and match it with evidence they already have on file. Once in a while he gets really excited about a new discovery. I mean, downright giddy, but I don’t understand him when he talks about “Alleles” or “Haplogroups”. All I can get out of it is that he’s usually the one to figure out a really difficult puzzle and gets a big high-five from all his other lab geek friends. I smile and usually say something like, “That’s really awesome, Dad.”
Kota and I made our way to the kitchen. She waited patiently by the fridge. I laughed and grabbed her a treat. She looked up at me expectantly. I threw it down the hall and she chased after it. I heard her paws scratching at the floor as she skidded around the corner. Shaking my head I turned back to the fridge. It was my turn to make dinner. I was thinking Mac n Cheese. You can never go wrong with that. I can’t cook, but boy can I make a good Mac n Cheese.
After about 20 minutes I heard footsteps walking down the hall. Just in time. My dad came strolling in the kitchen, obviously still half asleep.
“Mac n Cheese?” he asked.
“You know it,” I said. It was my signature dish.
He laughed and sat down. I brought both of our plates over and sat down as well. Kota came over and eagrily sat by my feet waiting for something to drop.
The usual dinner conversation began.
“So,” asked dad, “How was school?”
I shrugged. “Same as always I guess. We are taking our trip to the museum tomorrow. Oh, and you need to sign my permission form before you leave otherwise you’ll get a phone call from Mrs. Bernardo.”
We both shuddered at the thought.
The next day the bus pulled up to the curb near the museum and stopped. The museum was enormous with four towering columns near the front of the building. The entrance itself was large and dome shaped with tons of stairs leading up to the door. There were banners and posters hanging from the pillars advertising the newest exhibits and experiences. It was a beautiful museum. There was light streaming through the windows near the top of the entrance. From here I could see the very top of what I assumed was a skeleton of some sort.
“Alright,” said Mrs. Bernado, “I’m going to go inside and get us all checked in. Make sure you have your bags and your nametag. I’ll be right back.”
She stepped off the bus and walked briskly up the steps to the entrance. I swear, the moment her shiny kitten heel hit the pavement, the bus erupted in what could only be described as madness.
I leaned my head against the window and put my earbuds in. Kids were shouting and singing and bouncing from seat to seat. I turned my music up louder.
I felt the space next to me sink down. I turned and saw Thomas. He was wearing blue jeans as usual and had his black hair pushed back. It was way too long, but he refused to cut it.
“I don’t know about you but if I don’t get off this bus soon,” he stopped and shook his head, “Well I don’t know.” he laughed.
“Here,” I offered him an earbud. “What song do you want?”
“Hammer to Fall,” He said with a grin. “What else?”
I laughed and searched through our playlist. We made one a while ago with all of our favorite songs. There was a little variation to it, but most of it consisted of Queen and the Beatles. Sometimes there was a little Elton too.
We sat there listening to Queen for the next couple of minutes, but then Mrs. Bernado returned with all of our tickets and instructions.
“Better get back,” said Thomas with a smirk as he handed my earbud back and retreated to his seat near the back of the bus.
Thomas was my best friend. I don’t know how I would survive without him. He was always so calm and collected. He was the rock I needed in my life. I’d known him since sixth grade. He moved to New York that year and somehow ended up next to me in band. We both played trumpet. The rest, as they say, was history.
“We’re all set!” yelled Mrs. Bernado.
She stepped off the bus once again, this time with us trailing behind her. She handed out a ticket to each of us. It was small with a number on it and the museum information was printed on the backside. I tucked it away in the front pocket of my sweatshirt.
We headed up the steps of the museum.
The doors opened. As soon as I walked in I saw a staircase leading up through the ceiling. It was made of piano keys. Next to that was the huge skeleton I had seen earlier. I walked over and brushed my hand over the inscription of the dinosaur.
“Margaret the T-Rex,” it read. I smiled to myself. She appeared to be smiling as well.
The rest of the kids filed in with the same look of awe on their faces. The ceilings were high and beautiful with banners and lights. To the right was a model of what appeared to be the Wright Brothers and their first plane. To the left was a hall to the oceanic creature exhibit. I saw rays of light reflecting off the wall as if there were waves reflecting the sun. Amazing.
“Hey! Gather around,” said Mrs. Bernado. “This is Julia. She will be our tour guide for both today and tomorrow morning. She will also be getting us settled in for the night. I expect you to listen to what she has to say and be respectful and polite.”
I walked back to the rest of the group. I tried to spot Thomas. He usually stood out with his unruly hair, but he wasn’t anywhere in site. I did find Elle though. She was almost impossible to miss with her bleach blonde hair. She spotted me at almost the exact same time. She came walking over. I guess I was pretty hard to miss too. With my waist length red hair I didn’t exactly blend in. Today I tried to subdue it with a braid, but no such luck.
“Gwen! There you are. I tried to find you on the bus, but you know how crazy it can be,” she said with a giggle and slight eye roll.
“Yeah I was near the front. Tried to distance myself from the commotion,” I said trying to be as nice as possible. I really did have to try harder to be decent to her.
“Well, how about we stick together for the tour? “ she said.
“Sure Elle. That would be great.”
I secretly hoped Thomas would find his way over to us. He’s the one I really wanted to talk to. He was such a nerd for these things. I bet he knew more than the guide herself.
The tour guide began to talk and led us toward the Wright Brothers. We passed them and surrounded the staircase. It was two stories tall. The tour guide stepped on the first step and it made sound. Middle C I think. She continued her way up the staircase. Each key played an actual note. She stepped down and let us on them. You can only imagine how well that went.
Then we moved on down the hallway. There were glass cases filled with exhibits. There were caveman and dioramas of tiny villages and civilizations. After those, we moved to another room. This one held a jungle scene with real life sized animals and plants. Attached to that room was a desert. I’m assuming it was the Sahara. There were elephants and gazelles and lions all placed around. There was a space exhibit as well. Stars shone above us and planets swirled around our heads. I didn’t think an exhibit could look so realistic.
Next we moved on to the oceanic exhibit. There was a whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling and fish in aquariums placed all over the room. That explained the sun on the waves affect. It was all so beautiful.
“Alright kids. This exhibit will be our last stop. For today at least. Don’t worry, we have plenty in store for you tomorrow,” said Julia.
“This exhibit is our newest addition. It came to our museum just 2 months ago. Similar exhibits can only be found in a few select places around the world. It is a new technology that was invented by Simon Smith. A technology of this kind is the future for museums like ours. Right this way.”
We followed her to a separate branch. When we arrived, I looked up in surprise. There was an entire wall that had a picture of the pyramids of Giza. It was about 30 feet tall and just as wide. It was the most realistic thing I had ever seen. It seemed as if the sand around them was blowing in the wind. I think I was seeing things. No, there it was again. The sand blew up and swirled around the base of the pyramid. I turned and looked at Julia.
“Now, this is not just a picture of the pyramids, nor is it just a regular camera. Here, just wait a minute. The next tour should be arriving any minute.” said Julia.
I turned and looked back at the pyramids. Nothing was happening yet. Then there was a hand, and a person. The person was moving towards the screen. She seemed to be the same height as me. She walked in long strides and was there in front of me in no time. She seemed to be looking at something. I took a step closer to the screen and stared at her. She smiled and waved. Then she motioned to others and pointed to the screen. Could she see me? I waved back tentatively. No way this was happening, but others waved at me from behind her. Oh my goodness! We could see each other! I took a step back from the screen and let my classmates crowd around it. They had the same reaction.
Julia laughed as we all said “hi” to the people on the other side. They were talking, but we couldn’t hear what they were saying. How could something like this even work?
“These are called ‘Immersion rooms’,” said Julia. “Each exhibit has one. It is placed at the beginning as an entrance into the actual exhibit containing artifacts and information. These immersion rooms allow us to see monuments and places around the world in real time. We can see everything that goes on. In turn, they can see everything that is going on here. Unfortunately, there is no audio technology available. Yet. I’m sure Simon is working on improvements.”
These were magnificent. We traveled to another room in which it showed the Eiffel Tower. It was nighttime and the tower was all lit up. Trees surrounding it swayed in the breeze. It looked like a lovely night.
The next exhibit was much like the others. There was an immersion room showing the Winter Palace which was located in St. Petersburg, Russia. I’d never actually seen the palace. It was a marvelous place with walls that were painted a turquoise blue. Gold edging surrounded the windows and the doors. It had hundreds of windows and a large courtyard in out in front. It was nighttime in Russia, and there didn’t seem to be any visitors there this late.
The corner was slightly different from the rest of the screen. It seemed blurry. It was probably just because it was night. Everything looks different in the dark
We moved to the room adjacent to the immersion room. It looked a lot like the palace itself. The walls were white with gold edging. It looked as if they replicated the waiting room of the palace. There was a chandelier hanging above us and the walls had floor to ceiling paintings.
There was a crown in a glass box sitting atop a pedestal. It was pure gold with rubies lining the base. It had dainty gold swirls making their way up the spiked of the crown. The center spike contained a large sapphire.
“That was Anastasia’s,” said Julia, coming up behind me.
“It’s gorgeous,” I replied.
“Here, come with me,” said Julia.
She led me to the far corner of the exhibit. There was a painting. In it was a king and queen along with their 5 children, 4 girls and 1 boy. There was a girl not much older than me. She had brown hair that curled perfectly and a hair comb decorated similar to the crown. It had golden spirals dotted with rubies.
“Is this Anastasia?” I asked
Julia nodded her head.
“This is the entire Romanov family. This is the Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. They had 5 children. Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei. They were the last of the Russian Tsars.”
I looked at the picture once again.
“Her hair comb is beautiful,” I said.
“It is. Unfortunately we never found it. Well, Anastasia herself was never found. She was the last of her family to be executed. For a while afterwards rumors swirled about her supposed escape. There were claims that the lost princess had been found, but no one was ever able to prove the fact.”
I shook my head. She looked so young. Surely she hadn’t been executed. It wasn’t fair.
I looked around the exhibit some more. There were little informational panels with facts about the last royal family. Nicholas had been the last of the Tsars. But during his reign, he made terrible decisions that the people resented. They grew restless and unhappy. Eventually his decisions cost him the throne. He and his family were taken away and imprisoned before they were executed on July 17, 1918.
Before today, I hadn’t heard much about the Romanov family. I think I saw a disney movie about Anastasia once, but I couldn’t be sure.
After we were done visiting that exhibit, we were shown our room for the night. They had set up a room under the planetarium. We could see the stars and the moon all around us.
I set up my sleeping bag and grabbed my backpack to go get ready for bed. I was heading toward the bathroom when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Hey,” said Thomas
“Where were you?” I asked. “I haven’t seen you all afternoon.”
“I was off on my own. There is so much of the museum I haven’t seen yet. I wanted to get the most of it before we left.”
“Of course you would,” I said. “You’re such a nerd.”
I shoved him away.
He laughed and tried to regain his balance. He didn’t have anything with him. I frowned.
“Did you bring anything for the night?”
He laughed again. “No, I must have left it on the bus. Got distracted I guess.”
I let out a sigh. You would think a 17 year old boy would be responsible enough to remember his own stuff. Apparently not.
I reached into my bag and pulled out a fuzzy blanket. Then I threw it at him.
“Here. Your lucky I actually remembered my stuff.”
He smiled and picked up the blanket.
“Alright, I owe you. I guess I’ll meet you back at the planetarium.” He said, slightly embarrassed.
“Yeah yeah,” I said as I headed toward the bathroom again.
I washed my face and changed into my pajamas. I kept my sweatshirt on though. It was cold in there. I should have brought an extra pair of socks. The floor was a hard stone that allowed the cold to seep through.
I looked into the mirror and saw what a mess I’d become. My red braid was falling out, and my blue eyes looked extremely tired. I had put on makeup this morning but it must have rubbed off. I carefully rebraided my hair, and removed any remaining makeup. There. I was semi-presentable again.
I walked out of the bathroom with my bag in hand. I checked the time. 11:00 p.m. No wonder I looked tired. I passed by the Russian Immersion room as I walked back to the planetarium. The screen was lighter now. The sun must be coming up there. It was glinting off the gold edging and the fountain in the courtyard cast a shadow.
I arrived back to find Elle snuggled up next to my sleeping bag. She definitely didn’t need to be as close as she was but I didn’t want her to have to move.
“Oh good you’re back! I hope you don’t mind me sleeping over here. I didn’t really want to be over there.”
She looked over at Andrea and Katrina. They had on matching Dr. Who pajamas. I didn’t blame her.
“No no that’s fine,” I said as I arranged my things around me. My phone was plugged in and I had everything else tucked away in my bag. All set.
“Those stars are so beautiful. I can’t believe how many there are.” Elle said as she looked up at the ceiling from her red sleeping bag.
I settled into my own and looked up as well. There were thousands. I’d never thought I would get to sleep under the stars like this. Living in New York, there wasn’t much of a chance to see the nighttime sky. With all the lights, it sometimes didn’t feel like night at all.
I put my earbuds in and set my playlist to shuffle. The last thing I remember was Benny Goodman’s Orchestra playing Sing, Sing, Sing.
I awoke with a start. I quickly looked around me. Elle was turned away from me. Was she snoring? Sure sounded like it. I laughed a little.
I scanned the rest of the room. Everyone was sleeping. I spotted Thomas in my bright green blanket. He’s so lucky I had that with me. His arm was tucked under his head and his hair was flattened to one side. I chuckled softly. He was nothing more than a 6 foot kid.
I checked my phone. 2:56 a.m. I wiped my eyes and tried to wake up. I had to go to the bathroom and it was quite the walk from here. Reluctantly I stood up and stretched. It had gotten even colder as the night wore on. I brought warmer sweatpants to change into.
I quietly walked around the maze of sleeping kids surrounding me. I let out a small sigh as I reached the doorway. This was way too much for me to navigate at 2 a.m. in the dark.
The hallway to the bathroom was poorly lit so I turned on my flashlight on my phone. Everything looked so different at night. I passed by the Russian Exhibit again. It was day time there. People were walking about the court yard hurrying from place to place. I stepped closer to the screen. There was light snow falling. Winter still must be in the air.
I smiled a little as I turned towards the door. I checked my phone again. 3:00 a.m. A flash of something caught my eye. I turned back around and saw a glitch in the corner. It was the same one as earlier. It was clear, then it turned gray as if the screen in that area had died. Maybe it just needed some adjusting. My tablet did that sometimes. I walked around the edge of it and gently pushed on the graying corner.
But my hands didn’t stop. They continued through through the screen the same as they would through an open window.
The last thing I remember was falling, hard.
I looked up and saw stone. There was snow falling and it was very cold. I felt the side of my head and flinched. When I pulled away there was blood on my fingers. Shit.
I slowly sat up and tried to readjust to my surroundings. My vision was blurry, but there was a fountain to the side of me and stone on the ground. I still held my sweatpants in hand. I slowly put them on. Everything inside of me ached. My head was bleeding and my side throbbed. I braced myself of the fountain beside me. A wave of dizziness came over me and I sat down. It was so cold and I didn’t know what was going on. There were people passing by. I heard the banter of a market nearby, and there were voices calling out. It sounded like children playing.
The women around me were wearing light dresses with shawls and cloth handkerchiefs covering their hair. The men were wearing dark pants and light shirts with a heavy blazers and fuzzy hats. That was odd, I didn’t think the people in Russia dressed like that anymore.
Great. I wouldn’t blend in at all here. My red hair was a mess and I had on a light blue sweatshirt with Welcome to Miami! written across the front. It was from my trip there last year. My sweatpants were plain except for my school name written down the leg.
I reached up to touch my head again. There was still blood, but not as much. I should really find something to put on it. I stood up cautiously and walked around the fountain.
I stopped. There standing in front of me was the Winter Palace itself. There were guards standing near all the entrances and there were workers bustling around carrying supplies in and out.
No, this wasn’t happening. I walked back to the opposite side of the fountain and sat down again. Maybe if I went back to sleep I would eventually wake up from whatever this was and be back in the museum. It was late. I was probably just dreaming.
I sat down and curled into a ball next to the fountain. I waited. If I fell asleep now I would be fine. Right? I sat there for the next couple of minutes, but I just became cold. The snow was falling harder now and was piling up around me. I had to go somewhere.
But I was tired and didn’t want to move anymore. I eventually drifted off.
“How long has she been here?” a gruff voice asked.
“Couple of hours at least, she hasn’t moved since I’ve been on guard.”
“Mmm. Get her up. She needs to go,” said the first guard.
I registered what they were saying, but not quickly enough. Hands pulled me up by my arms and hoisted me to my feet. My head was still spinning. I tried to pull away but the guards were on either side. I started to kick. They held me tighter. I started to panic. I didn’t belong here and there was nowhere for me to go. I screamed and people turned to look at me. But then they turned away, fear in their eyes. Where they going to help?
The men continued to drag me until we got to a small automobile. It was vintage, it looked like the model-T. The men opened the door and threw me in the back seat. They then walked around the front of the vehicle and the first guard got in the driver’s seat.
The car started up and began to move. We drove past the palace and began to move down a street. He couldn’t take me. I needed to get back. Or wake up. Just something.
I began to unlock the door. I could jump, he wasn’t going that fast. I moved my hand and fumbled with the lock. The guard slammed on the brakes and I flew forward into the front seat. I reached for my head. It had started to bleed again.
The guard cursed and turned to look at me.
“I know where to take you. You don’t belong on the streets.”
I stared him in the eyes and felt myself losing control. Tears were streaming down my face. Were they going to kill me?
He shifted into gear and began rolling. I took off my sweatshirt and pressed it to my head. There wasn’t anything I could do. If I pushed my luck he would kill me. I was sure of it. The look in his eyes was terrifying.
The city sped by in a blur. The buildings were gray and tall. Some were made of brick and stone. I think we passed a bank, maybe a library. I couldn’t be sure.
He came to an abrupt stop by a large stone building. Here was my chance. I grabbed the door and unlocked it. I tumbled out of the car and clumsily got up to run. I didn’t have a plan, I just couldn’t stay here.
The guard immediately noticed and raced after me. He blew a whistle and yelled. There were footsteps speeding after me. I ran faster. I dropped the sweatshirt in my hand and turned down an alleyway. I ran past a woman out behind her house and changed directions to another street.
The footsteps were still there. The street was coming to an end. It veered off to the side and I followed it.
All of a sudden a man and a cart came out of nowhere. I tried to turn but I couldn’t stop in time. My side hit it first and I fell to the ground, hard. Newspapers went flying everywhere. They were scattered around me. I looked at the headline. Bolsheviks Take Over Russian Monarchy. The date read March 6, 1922. 1922! Oh no. Someone was yelling at me and I couldn’t get up fast enough. Soon there were hands on my shoulders and I was being hoisted up again. There were two guards yelling but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I wasn’t going to fight anymore. They practically dragged me back towards the car. I was so tired and everything hurt.
I stumbled along with my head down. The snow was coming down and made the ground slick. My feet were heavy as I tried to walk through it.
We neared the car. But instead of heading straight towards it, they turned us down a side street. Confused I looked back. They had completely passed the car.
Up ahead of us was a large grey building. They turned towards it. I looked at the guards. They stared forward and paid no attention to me, which I guess I preferred.
They marched me into the large gray building. Upon entering I saw women in white uniforms walking around. Many holding clipboards or medical equipment. A hospital? The floors where a white linoleum and the walls were a bright white as well. Clean. IV’s were being pushed from room to room and stretchers lined the hallways. A woman sat outside her room in a wheelchair and stared off into the distance. She looked so lonely.
I snapped back to the guards and found that they had rounded up a nurse to talk to. She was looking at me with pity and a certain amount of distrust. Yes, I looked like a mess but that didn’t mean I appreciated her pity.
“She was on the streets walking around like a mad woman. Just look at her clothes – they are unlike any I have ever seen. She had a cut on her head and was holding a cloth to it. I don’t know where she came from but I don’t think she belongs out,” a guard said, pointing to the door.
I shook my head slowly. What did they mean?
The nurse looked at me again.
“Strange, the whole situation. I’ll get her checked into the ward. There is actually a room available right now. The girl living in there wanted a roommate. I’ll go check with the staff in the East wing,” said the nurse.
The guards nodded. One of the guards let go of his grip on my arm and walked out, I’m assuming towards the car. A single guard remained.
“Why did you bring me here?” I asked.
He laughed like I was stupid. Like it was so obvious.
“We didn’t take over this city for people like you to be wandering around. You don’t belong out there. You never will by the looks of it.”
I slumped again. Once they put me in here, I was never getting out. There was no one to go home to. They would never let me leave. Hell, they probably won’t believe anything I tell them. This was a Psych Ward. I was never getting back to the museum.
With the little amount of energy I had left, I began to kick and shove the guard. He was taken aback by the sudden resistance and I managed to hit him square in the jaw. He swore and pushed me down. I continued to scream and fight. I couldn’t be here. Nurses came rushing over, alarmed. None of them could stop me. The last thing I remember was a pinch on the inside of my arm. After that, the commotion faded away.
When I was little, I always hated the doctors. It wasn’t the bright lights or the shots or the uncomfortable ear, eyes, and nose checks, it was the smell. It smelled like antiseptic and cleaners of all kinds. It made me want to throw up.
That was the smell I woke up to. I tried to reach up and cover my nose but my arms were stuck at my side. Of course. They wouldn’t trust me at all after my episode by the front desk.
There was an IV in my arm. There was also a bandage on my hand. I must have hurt it in the fight with the guard. It was well worth it. That bastard deserved it. My head felt stiff and cloudy, almost like my forehead had been pulled tight. Maybe I had stitches. I didn’t realize that the cut was that bad, but then again I hadn’t really had time to analyze the situation.
I looked round the room. I was dark, but the curtains were open. The moon was out in its full glory tonight. I couldn’t see it as clearly as I would have liked because there were bars in front of the windows.
I looked to the other side of the room and there sat another bed. There were small snoring noises coming from it. Great, I had a roommate. You think they would put me in my own room after what had happened. No such luck.
There was a knock at the door and I quickly closed my eyes. I didn’t want to talk to them tonight. The door opened and a man in a white coat came in. A nurse trailed closely behind. He was talking to her in hushed tones.
“So no family, or name, or identity of any kind? We have our work cut out for us then,” said the doctor in a heavy Russian accent. He chuckled a bit.
The nurse came over and checked my IV. The doctor was writing information down on his clipboard. Then he came over and gently set a hand on my forehead. I did my best not to flinch at the touch. He slowly peeled away bandages that were placed there. It stung, bad. I couldn’t keep this up much longer.
He clicked his tongue and sighed.
“This needs to be recleaned in the morning. Her forehead is hot.”
The nurse nodded again.
“I’ll change the bandages too,” she replied.
The doctor nodded and turned towards the door. The nurse did one last check of my IV and followed him out.
The next morning was painful. The adrenaline of the fight and new environment had worn off. I was just in pain all over. The sunlight was streaming in through the windows, but the bars gave it an ugly shadow on the wall. Were those really necessary? I wasn’t planning on jumping from the window anytime soon. I couldn’t even get out of bed because my hands were still fastened to the sides. I looked over at my roommate and got my first real look at her. Her hair was cut just below her chin and was quite messy. She was thin, but not overly so. From this distance she looked to have blue eyes, but I couldn’t be sure. She was reading. I didn’t know what to do next. Should I introduce myself, or just wait here in silence? The clock read 9:00. The nurses had to be coming in sometime soon to check on me. I tried to quietly make myself comfortable again but the bed creaked. The girl turned to look at me. She did, in fact, have blue eyes.
“Good morning,” she said.
I stuttered. “G-Good morning.”
She set down her book at the end of her bed. Then she swung her feet over the edge to face me. She was about my age, maybe a tad older. She was not very tall.
“Welcome to the Psych Ward. You probably will be here for a considerable amount of time so I suggest you sit back and get comfortable. To your right is a window looking over the scenic soot-covered rooftops of factories. Quite the view. And to you right, your lovely roommate,” she flashed me a smile. “And and in front of you is a wall painted with the ugliest shade of white you will ever see. It could be considered gray at this point.”
I laughed uncomfortably. Was this a joke? Hopefully. It was too early and I didn’t even know her name yet.
She looked at me again and laughed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think you had much of an introduction to the place so I figured I’d give you a tour,” she gestured to the extremely bland room. “ I know, there is a lot to take in all at once but trust me, after about a day you will have the number of tiles on the floor memorized. Boredom will drive you to do those things.”
I didn’t know how to take this girl. I gave her a slight smile and then looked away.
“So, how in the world did you end up with me? You don’t look crazy.” she continued.
I didn’t know what to tell her. That I time traveled through a screen in the future? Somehow I didn’t think that that would go over real big.
“I was on the streets and they thought I was dressed strangely. I guess I stood out to much,” I said.
She laughed, but it was full of hate. “Those damned Bolsheviks will put you in here for anything. And you can’t resist them. They don’t exactly appreciate diversity. For some, it has landed them in an early grave.”
I shuddered. They could have easily killed me yesterday after all my stunts. I wondered why they didn’t.
“How about you?” I asked tentatively. “Why are you here?”
She sighed and looked up at me. “Let’s just say they accused me of fraud. So, they threw me in here. They thought I was crazy for my claims.”
I nodded and said, “Gwen. That’s my name in case you were wondering.”
She smiled. “ Natasha Ivanov.”
I smiled back and settled into my bed. She picked up her book and began to read.
We didn’t say anything for the next couple of hours. I didn’t think there was a need. We had covered everything from the floor tiles to our her hate for the government. It was quite the morning. She continued to read and I drifted in and out of sleep. At some point my hands were undone from their restraints. The nurses came in one time to deliver my lunch. I didn’t eat it.
A couple of hours later I heard a thump and I turned towards Natasha. She was moving suitcases out from under her bed. They were old and sounded heavy. I wondered how long she had been here. I thought she would be out around the hospital. She was healthy and there was no reason to be stuck in this room. Me on the other hand, that was a different story. I’d looked better.
She struggled to lift the suitcase onto her bed. It landed with a crash. She opened it and took out dresses and pictures and books. Lots of books. The suitcase was about half the size of the bed, and it looked like she had packed everything she owned into that one space. She sat carefully on the bed and began to page through all of the pictures. I felt as if I was invading her privacy somehow so I cleared my throat to let her know I was awake.
She looked at me with the pictures in hand. One fell to the floor and she leaned down to retrieve it. I caught a glimpse and saw her on the lap of a woman on a large chair. The woman was beautiful and elegantly dressed.
“It seems like you packed a whole library in there,” I said, trying to be light.
She shook her head almost sadly. “Trust me, I tried,” she said, nostalgic. “Do you want to hear the entire story of why am I here?”
I shrugged as if indifferent, but honestly I did want to know.
“Well, they picked me up off of the streets and accused me of fraud, as I said earlier. For a couple of weeks prior I had been traveling from place to place trying to find my Aunt. She is the only family I have left. I must have started a commotion because rumors started to swirl and they were no doubt the result of my mouth. When I arrived at St. Petersburg it wasn’t long until the police heard about me. They said I was claiming to be someone I was not. They asked for my name and I told them truthfully. My honesty angered them. They had mistaken it for a lie. They dragged my here as fast as they could. I’ve been here ever since.”
“How long has it been?” I asked.
I shuddered. They were never going to release me. This girl was completely sane, and yet she had been imprisoned her for 3 years of her life.
“I’m so sorry. They had no reason to bring you here. You weren’t threatening to anyone.”
“I was threatening their power. We can’t have that you know,”
I agreed but was confused. What did she mean?
“Anyway, you are here now. I have always wanted a roommate in here. It helps pass the time. How are you feeling anyways?”
I looked at my hand. It was sore and the bandages had been taken off. It was bruised, but not broken. My head still ached, but it had dulled to a slow throbbing.
She looked down at her books. The pictures were still scattered around on her bed. Many were years old. They looked fragile and yellowed. Some looked newer and shiny.
“Can I ask you a favor?’ I said.
“Can I read one of your books. I didn’t have anything with me when they took me and I just need a way to pass the time. I don’t care which one. I’ll take anything.”
She considered this for a moment and looked through her collection. She pulled out one with a purple cover. It had beautiful writing on the front. I couldn’t see a title from here.
“This one should do fine. It is quite fantastic, it seems like something that would appeal to you.”
I grabbed it and flipped through the pages. It was all in Russian. I had never thought of that. I couldn’t reveal that I didn’t know how to read a lick of Russian. I had been lucky so far. Enough of them spoke English that I could communicate. But it wouldn’t always be that way. Eventually I would be found out. I had to get out of here before that happened.
I turned through the pages at a slow pace making it look believable. She didn’t seem to notice.
We became fast friends. She was friendly and had quite a sense of humor. I didn’t expect that out of her. She made the time pass quickly and I appreciated that.
We fell into a routine. I became better and slowly regained my strength. It was crazy how much that one day took out of me. The nurses would come in at 8:00 and give us our breakfast. Then we would eat and read. Then at noon they would bring our lunch. We ate and told stories. Then finally at about 3:00 they allowed us to walk around the halls. It was our exercise for the day. They didn’t trust us around other patients so we kept to ourselves. I’m pretty sure we were two of the most sane patients there, but it didn’t matter. I think the staff was worried about making the police mad. The Bolshevik were always around, lurking right beyond the corner. It was unnerving. They even came to check on us one day. I pretended to sleep, but I don’t think it was believable with all my shaking.
Weeks past. I stopped thinking about the museum. I’m sure they missed me when they woke up. They were probably looking for me now, but they could look all that they wanted. They were not going to find me. I wasn’t even in the same time in history. I was nearly 100 years in the past.
I stopped. If I continued to think like that I wouldn’t survive in here.
Days past and Natasha and I spent our time making up games and trying to play tricks on the nurses. We got our hall privileges taken away but it was worth it. Things like that kept us sane. For the most part.
But one night I heard a crash and sprung up out of bed. Were the police back? I hurried over to Natasha’s side of the room to wake her if she wasn’t already awake. She wasn’t there. I scanned the room. I crawled over her bed to look on the other side. She was sprawled on the floor. Her books were scattered around her. I quickly kneeled down and put my hand on her shoulder. She looked up at me, her eyes red and puffy. She had been crying for a while.
“Natasha,” I said quietly. I didn’t know what to do.
“You know what?” she asked gently, her voice empty and her eyes staring vacantly.
I looked at her and didn’t say anything.
“My name isn’t Natasha. It is Anastasia. Anastasia Romanov. I-I am the last of my family. My family was killed 4 years ago by the Bolshevik Police. They were murdered, actually,” her voice broke as a sob tore through her body. She continued. “When I was a girl I was a princess, and my Father was the last of the Russian Tsars. His name was Nickolas. My mother’s name was Alexandra. I had 3 sisters and a younger brother named Alexei. He was always the baby of the family. And then there was Anna. She was my 4th sister, and my twin. We looked alike and acted alike. We were inseparable. None of the public knew she was alive. She was very fragile. She had a disease called hemophilia. It caused her to be very weak and if she was injured, she would bleed out,” Anastasia breathed out and stopped talking. She let her head look down at her hands and when she looked back up, her eyes had taken on a different look. It startled me.
“My Father wasn’t a good ruler. He was a wonderful Father, but not a ruler. The people grew to hate him and his decisions over time. He couldn’t lead them the way a Tsar should. There were riots and protests, but they were ignored. The people were starving and suffering from the effects of WW1, but us Romanovs lived the lives of luxury. It’s as if the war didn’t even affect us. Our parents continued to throw extravagant parties and we still had all the money and food in the world. But the rest of our country was slowly deteriorating. People grew angry enough and things were growing violent quickly. A man named Vladimir Lenin came to light and rallied the people against our Parliament. My Father was forced to step down,” Anastasia stopped the story again and her eyes welled with more tears.
“Anastasia, you don’t have to continue. It’s okay. Here let’s get your back into be-”
She turned to me again and looked me in the eyes. “I can’t. You need to know the whole story.”
I nodded and sat back. She started up again.
“I still remember the night they took my family away. Just a week before, my Father had given up his throne. Lenin was coming to power and the Monarchy was destroyed. They police came in the middle of the night and seized the palace and we awoke to gunshots. They were killing anyone that got in their way. They were trying to find us. I got up out of bed and rushed to wake my sisters. They were just across the hall, but I shared a room with Anna. She had woken up and was trying to get out of the bed, but she was weak. She couldn’t move very fast. I hurried across the hall and woke up my older sisters. Alexei’s room was near my parents in another wing. I couldn’t get to them in time. I grabbed my sisters and we went back to my room. While I was gone a maid had come to help Anna. She was now standing, but I could tell she was drained from all of the movement. I had to get her to safety, but she wouldn’t be able to continue much longer. There were footsteps pounding down the halls, searching every room. They would be here soon. I rushed to Anna to scoop her up because we had to run. She didn’t want to come with me. The maid tried to carry her as well but she refused. I was panicking. If she didn’t come with the rest of us, she would die here. My parents must have heard the commotion and waken up. I prayed that they had Alexei.
‘Anna,’ I pleaded. ‘We need to go. They are going to be here soon and you can’t stay. They will kill you! Please.’ tears filled my eyes.”
She shook her head. ‘No. I’m going to die whether I stay here or go with you. Let them take me. You go with the maid. She will get you out the back. We look the same, and they won’t question a thing. Let them take me. You can still escape this.’
I sobbed begging her to come with. But she told me that I should stay. Finally the maid took her side and started to pull me away. She was going to sneak me out. I could hear the guards coming. With one final tug the maid and I were out of the bedroom and down the stairs. There was a back way out of the kitchen. That was the last time I ever saw Anna. She went with the guards in my place. As she said, they didn’t suspect a thing. They thought they had gotten all of the royal family. I never got a chance to thank her or hug her or tell her how much she meant or-,” Anastasia broke down in a heap and sobs took over.
She was struggling to breathe and she was curled up around herself. Tears filled my eyes and spilled out over my face. She was a broken girl trying to keep it together, but she couldn’t any longer.
I laid down next to her and wrapped my arms around her. There was so much pain and I didn’t know how to fix it. I couldn’t even believe what she had told me. After all these years the lost princess was found. Anastasia did actually survive despite her family being brutally murdered. I just held her until her breathing evened out again.
“They were taken away,” she said. “They were imprisoned in a terrible place not far from the palace. The guards watched them all day and all night. They were never left alone. They were tormented for weeks until finally they were murdered. They were all shot on July 17, 1918. I didn’t find out for a week. They only mentioned the killing of my father, but I knew. They wouldn’t have let the rest of them survive.”
She looked at the wall behind me. There was no emotion on her face anymore. I stood up and walked around the room. I was angry. They couldn’t keep us here any longer.
I crouched down and looked her in the eyes.
“Anastasia, I believe you. I know no one else has, but I do. We need to get you out of here. You can go find your aunt. And I can get back-,” I trailed off.
She looked at me confused. “Back where?”
“If I tell you, I’m truly going to sound crazy. Just trust me. I need to go back to the fountain in the courtyard near the palace.”
She nodded, slightly dazed. “What do we do?”
It was time for our walk, but we were in our room packing. Anastasia had given me one of her dresses so that I would blend in. She had put on 4 dresses and hid books and pictures underneath them. She was going to have to carry everything she needed. Yes, it was risky wearing outside clothes in this hospital, but we had to pray that we would resemble visitors. Hopefully we would be overlooked.
We would have to escape and wait to move until nightfall. I would sneak back to the fountain and Anastasia would get on the nearest train to a small Russian town outside of the city. She would take cover there until she could get an idea of where her Aunt was.
We packed everything up and shoved the rest of her belongings back in her suitcase and slid it under her bed. The room was empty. We got ready to go on our walk. We moved briskly but not too fast in case we drew attention to ourselves. We got a few glances, but no one bothered to stop us. We walked right out of the doors. It seemed too easy. It was cold outside, but there was no snow falling. We moved quickly into alleyways and around buildings and eventually found a place to hide in an abandoned shop. We would have to wait there for a couple of hours until dusk.
Anastasia sighed as we settled in. It would be a long wait.
“Thank you,” she said finally.
I didn’t say anything.
“I would still be there if it were not for you.”
I wrapped her in a hug.
“We’ll make it out of this. You are going to find your Aunt and I’m going to get home. We are going to be okay.”
She nodded and we stayed locked together for awhile. I think we were both too scared to move.
After some time Anastasia fell asleep. It was beginning to grow dark. We had to move. I gently tapped her on the shoulder. She woke up and I pressed a finger to my lips. From this point on, we couldn’t make any mistakes. She nodded and we both slowly got up. We secured what little possessions we had on us and set out. The snow had begun again. Great. We would be leaving tracks. The train station was South and the Winter Palace was North. We would have to separate and get to our destinations on our own.
I could feel myself tearing up. I didn’t want to leave her. I wanted her to come with. She didn’t have anyone to go to. But I knew that wouldn’t work. I hadn’t told her where and when I was from. She had to go.
She wrapped me in another hug.
She whispered to me. “Chances are I won’t see you anytime soon, so I want to thank you. I didn’t get the chance to do that with Anna and I want to make sure that you know. I appreciate everything that you have done. I hope you get to where you need to be. And please, be safe. The guards heavily patrol the streets at night.”
I pulled away from the hug and looked at her.
“I’m going to make sure that you aren’t forgotten. I know that the Russian government is doing everything in its power to do so, but trust me. What is your aunt’s name? Do you know where she was last seen?”
She thought for a moment. “Her name is Vera. Last time I saw her she was in Reznikov. It is a city outside of Moscow. That was years ago. I’m sorry. That is all I have to go off of. Why do you need to know?
“Maybe someday we will meet up again. You never know,” I said.
I hugged her again and thanked her for what she had done. She was so strong.
We began to go our separate ways. We had to hurry. We were going to get caught soon. I waved, then I turned to go. I took a few steps.
“Wait!” she called. I spun around. That was loud. Someone must have heard.
I looked at her alarmed. “What?”
“I have this for you,” she held out a hair comb. The same one as in the painting.
I stuttered. “I-I can’t take this. It’s too much. It is part of your family.”
“And you are part of that family. Please take it. It would mean a lot.” She placed it in my hand and closed my fingers around it. She gave me one last goodbye and turned to run. I did the same.
It was growing colder as the night wore on and time was running out. It was a miracle I hadn’t been spotted. Then I heard them. The footsteps.
I turned and ran. The courtyard was not far from here. I had to move. My breathing became harder and harder and my footsteps louder. I heard yelling. They must have seen my tracks. The snow was falling fast, but not fast enough. I could see the fountain, but it was still to far. The guards came around the corner and spotted me. They yelled and ran my way. My heart was racing and I felt sick. I couldn’t come this close and not make it. All I wanted was to go home. The ground was slippery but I ran fast. I looked behind me and there were so many of them. They were only a couple of seconds behind. The fountain was right here. I threw myself at the base and began to feel around it. There had to be a certain spot or a certain time or certain way. No, I was running out of time. The were almost to me. The clock in the square chimed three times. 3 AM. I panicked and my heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest. I wasn’t going to make it. I put my hand on the side of the fountain to steady myself. And then I fell through it.
I slid on to the museum floor. It was cold. The room was dark and quiet. I could see the planetarium from here. I stared at the ground in shock. I made it. I MADE IT! I giggled like crazy and it echoed throughout the exhibit. I slapped a hand over my mouth. I would probably set off an alarm or something. I looked around me and realized I was in the Romanov exhibit. I looked over at the painting. There sat young Anastasia with her family. They looked so happy. And there in her hair was the comb. The comb. I had forgotten about it. But there it sat, curled tightly into my palm. It was a miracle that I hadn’t broke it. It was just as beautiful as ever. I looked at the painting again. Anastasia was looking right at me. I gave her a smile.
I looked down and was surprised to see my bright blue sweatshirt. It was still here. I reached up and touched my forehead. It was smoothe. No stitches and no scar. I checked my pockets. My phone was there. It read 3:01 AM. No time had passed. It was the same day as I had left. Wednesday March 12, 2020. My head was spinning. I couldn’t believe it. I faced the screen again but backed up. I didn’t want to get to close. It was day time there in St. Petersburg. Snow was falling lightly and people were walking around the courtyard. They were wearing heavy winter coats and carrying coffee and talking to their friends. Some were checking their watches or talking on the phone. Nothing had changed.
I shook my head and stepped back. Wait. It was the same day. My school would still be here. I ran around the corner to the planetarium. There sat all of the same sleeping bags with the same people inside them. I spotted Elle near the entrance. She had taken my sleeping bag and was using it as an extra pillow. I covered my mouth to keep from laughing. I had never been so happy to see her goody self. I looked to the end of the room to find Thomas, and there he was. He hadn’t moved since I had left. I felt like crying out, but I smiled through my tears. Slowly I crept over and laid down next to Elle. I let her keep the sleeping bag. I faced away from her and let out a deep sigh. The stars still shone above me, but now brighter than ever. I opened my hand and revealed the comb. The rubies and sapphire glinted off the starlight and the gold shone with such beauty. It was my little piece of Anastasia. The lost princess had been found.
Gwen took Anastasia’s comb and gave it to her father and his team to analyze. For months they worked on the comb, trying to extract as much information as they could. Finally, they got what they needed. They were able to trace the DNA to a little town outside of Moscow. There they found Anastasia’s grand daughter, Avery. After that they were able to locate the grave of Natasha Ivanov, also known as Anastasia Romanov. She died in 1985 at the ripe old age of 84. She had gone on to get married to an Adrian Sokolov. They had 3 children together. 2 girls and one boy. Gwen, Anna, and Alexei. She had become a librarian for a small community library where she started a workshop to teach young children how to read. The library dedicated the program to her after her death. Her children grew up to have children of their own, and great grandchildren. Many of them still live in the same village today.
Gwen never did see Anastasia again. She lived out her life in the 21st century. She graduated high school and found herself working as a historian. She had a particular interest in Russian history. With the combination of her father’s work and some work of her own, they were able to prove that Anastasia really was the lost princess and that she escaped to live a life entirely her own.
Just as Gwen promised, Anastasia was never forgotten.