This is my entry for the RG's WCC for January 2012.

The clock chimes.

A little boy follows his class on a tour through the Museum of History. The air conditioning is broken. Sweat runs down more than one small face, and the tour guide fans herself with her clipboard, strands of slick hair sticking to her forehead.

She's saying something, but the little boy isn't listening, as little boys tend to do. He peels his damp shirt away from his skin and looks at the knight's armor the tour guide is pointing to. There had to be some sort of historical significance to it by the way she was talking, but all the boy could think about was that the knight must've been awfully hot riding around in the summer wearing that suite.

After a few minutes, the tour guide moves on, the class trailing along like ducklings. The little boy is the last in line. Behind him, he can hear invisible footsteps going click click click.

The clock chimes.

He's still a boy, but he's not so little anymore. He puts an arm around the shoulders of a girl as they wander by an Egyptian exhibit. It's winter now, and the heating system is not broken. The warmth smothers them, melting the snow off their boots and hair as they walk, and they leave wet prints on the floor behind them. Whether they're in love or not is not important. They smile and laugh.

Behind them, a pair of invisible feet do not leave wet prints one the floor, but the boy and the girl are at an age where they hardly notice such things.

The clock chimes.

The young man doesn't watch where he's going as he trails along the railing of the upper floor balcony. Busts of presidents and kings and conquerors stare at him as he passes, his eyes glued to a notebook as he studies his unintelligible scrawl. A coffee rests in his other hand. Sunshine streaming through the windows plays on the museums exhibits, making twisted shadows of Abraham Lincoln and Genghis Khan.

Absorbed in his thoughts, the young man doesn't hear the footsteps behind him quickening, getting nearer. When the clickclickclick is right behind him, his eyebrows raise and he twirls to meet his follower, but he keeps moving through habit and runs into the railing. His balance fails him, and before he can catch himself he's dropped his notebook and his coffee. The former lands in the first floor exhibit of stuffed rainforest animals, while the latter sprays coffee over an old woman and her granddaughter sitting on a bench.

The young man sees no one behind him. The footsteps have retreated to a safe distance.

The clock chimes.

A rain-drenched man brings his rain-drenched children with him into the Museum of History. As the scamper off, he calls after them, telling them not to run or they'll make the floor wet and slip. But they're children, and they don't pay as much attention to the invisible footsteps as their father.

Clay pots are boring. Where are the mummies? The knights? The shrunken heads? As the pass one of those shaggy-haired, browned relics the man smiles knowingly. The footsteps caught up sooner than you would've liked, didn't they?

The click click click is always steady, always there. The man knows they'll catch up with him one day, just like they did to the man whose head now rested in a museum display case.

The clock chimes.

The man knows these hallways by heart, these tiled floors like family. Only exhibits change. Exhibits, and the efficiency of the air conditioning. The museum is as cold as public buildings dare to be during the summer, making you wish you'd dragged a sweater through the heat just so you could wear it.

Passing the Egyptian room, the man smiles knowingly at the different tools and decorations used for mummifications and rituals. He teaches about such things now.

Close behind him, the invisible footsteps click click click away, always a little closer than before. The man isn't afraid of them. They catch up to all of us one day.

The man stops at the second floor balcony where one day many years ago he'd almost fallen to his death. The footsteps seem louder at this point, and closer. The man smiles and thinks, not then and not today.

The clock chimes.

The old man's cane thuds against the floor in a rhythm as solid as that of the invisible footsteps'. Every time he comes here, the stairs seem a little taller, the exhibits farther away from each other. Sometimes he feels closer to the mummies and the shrunken heads than the fast-moving crowds.

The sun is setting, the museum is closing. The security guard tips his cap to the old man, a familiar patron. The shadows play tricks in the half-light, and sometimes the old man thinks he sees a shadowy figure next to him. Other times it's only the ever-present invisible footsteps striding along beside him like an old friend or lover. Sometimes it feels like the person belonging to the footsteps reaches out and offers a hand for support. The old man hasn't accepted it, not yet, but one day he will smile and take his old friend's hand. One day soon.

The skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex eyes the old man and his invisible companion warily as they exit the museum. After all, the footsteps caught up with him, too.