Chapter 1:

I Destroy the Museum of Natural History

Alex Paige: The Red Sanctum

Look: I didn’t wake up this morning and go “I want to blow a chunk out of the Museum of Natural History today!”. It just happened. It always happens.

I didn’t ask for magic, nor was I looking for my whole view of the world and life itself to change in the span of twenty-four hours. I don’t want that for you either, so this is your warning.

Have you ever been dead sure you saw something extraordinary? Beyond the norm? Or maybe you got caught up in something unexplainable and weird. Yeah, those moments, those times that seem so illogical; those were real. That really happened.

If you want to live your life in blissful ignorance, here is your cue to exit. The red stoplight. Close this book and never look at it again. Put it back on the shelf you got it from, return it to the bookstore, or throw it in the trash. Just don’t read any further.

But if you want the truth. If you’re ready to peel back the curtain and see the wizard behind it, then keep reading. I only hope you know what you’re getting into. I sure didn’t.


My name is Alex Paige. I’m fifteen years old, and I’ve been bouncing in and out of schools for my entire life. I’m not quite sure how many at this point: I’ve lost track. Every year at least, sometimes more, something always happens. It’s always my fault, and I always get expelled.

This year will be different, my dad said. Yeah, right.

You see, when I say something always happens, I don’t mean anything normal. I’m not getting expelled for bullying, cheating, or skipping classes. Most of the time, my expulsion was due to “dangerous circumstances”.

When I was twelve, there were some bullies making fun of me at school. The usual, I guess. Being the new kid with rumors of being a troublemaker, of course, you’re gonna make some enemies. The kids shoved me into a vending machine, I got angry, and out of nowhere, the vending machine malfunctioned. A torrent of carbonated beverages flew out of the machine, pelting the bullies as they ran screaming away. I was, as you could guess, completely unharmed. The Soda Witch, they called me. I got in trouble for “hacking” the soda machine and was expelled.

Another, last year, was during prep for the school football championship. I was helping to set up the fireworks for the half-time show when some of the football players decided to give me a little “spook” by dousing me with ice-cold Gatorade. Let me tell you, ice cubes running down your back when you’re focused on something else is a great way to have a panic attack. I kind of blacked out, but when I came to I was lying in the middle of a small untouched circle surrounded by scorched grass. I guess the fireworks went off right there and put some of the football players in the hospital. Of course, because I was in the only non-burned area, they assumed it was on purpose and blamed me for losing the championship and I was expelled for “explosive behavior”.

So you see what I mean? Odd things always happened around me. I couldn't explain it, and it was making my life miserable. I swore that it couldn’t get any worse.

I was wrong.


I found myself in yet another “institution”. A boarding school in Rhode Island called Harmony Hills Academy.

“It’s to help you build character”.

My dad was sending me away this time. Completely separate from him. I guess I couldn’t really blame him. It was hard to keep up with all the schools I was kicked out of and told to never come back. It was wearing him down, trying to constantly move, work from home, and deal with me at the same time. He was young, in his later thirties, but his hair was already starting to come out from stress. I would assume mostly because of me. I thought I deserved to be sent away.

However, Harmony Hills was anything BUT “harmonious”. It was more like a jail than a school. Forced to share a room with three other people who never bothered to talk to me, much less learn my name. The walls were adorned with a gray, peeling, paint that made the whole room feel as if it were saturated. Teachers that were a mix of either complete imbeciles who had no idea how to handle a class full of high schoolers, or militant, dictator-like instructors who yelled more than they taught. They patrolled the hallways day and night, keeping eagle-eyed vision for anything they could yell at you for. I hear rumors of a kid getting thrown in “detention”. Most of the kids called it “solitary confinement” due to the rumors of the detention hall being a padded room with nothing but a desk and a pencil to write with.

There was, however, one shining light amongst the saturated fields of Harmony Hills. Mr. Terrell. He absolutely should never have been accepted into Harmony Hills as a teacher, because he was nice. Kind. He was capable of smiling. He was young as well, probably in his early twenties. Dark brown hair cut off at the shoulders, hazel eyes, and a bit too much strength for his frail-looking body proportions.

He taught history, and it was always the highlight of my day. I didn’t particularly care about the history portion of the class, but it at least felt like the one class I could be myself in. For some reason, I felt safe in Mr. Terrell’s class. I couldn’t explain it. Almost like there was an enchantment around the door frame, and every time I walked in was a breath of fresh air; like I hadn’t seen the sunlight in months. When he talked it was soothing. A melody that soared through the classroom. But it was like only I could hear it. The others in class completely ignored Mr. Terrell. Acted as if he was another teacher they could step all over. They never did though. Everyone was well-behaved in his class, whether they listened to him or not.

I listened.

Or at least I tried to. I’ve never been the best at listening to someone monologue. It always turns into that Charlie Brown trumpet noise.

“Bwah, bwah bwah bwah bwah. Bwah…” You get the idea.

It was six months of this, going to classes in this horrid school, dealing with roommates who didn’t know I existed, and every once in a while being able to relax in Mr. Terrells’ class.

That was until our spring field trip.


Harmony Hills field trips are lovingly called “retreats”, as it’s the only time you get to see out of the gray, plastered, walls that make up the academy. I have to admit, it was a little funny to try and watch all these teachers wrangle us high schoolers into three buses, packed in like a sardine can. I was placed in the window seat, luckily, but I swore under my breath when I learned who would be sitting next to me. None other than Harvey Dunn.

Harvey was a short and pudgy kid. Rotund wasn’t really the right word. Maybe big-boned? His dark brown hair was always in an undercut, really making the roundness of his face noticeable, and the perpetual five-o'clock shadow made him look way older than the rest of us. Cause he was. If the rumors were to be believed, Harvey had been held back five times. A record even among students at Harmony Hills. He was underhanded and slimy, constantly trying to get out of work, prank teachers, and pick on anyone that wasn’t a part of his “squad”. Your typical bully, only this time they were much older than you.

“Ugh, why do I have to sit next to the dweeb,” he groaned.

The feeling was mutual, but I turned to face out the window. Attempting to ignore the snide remarks he would continue to make for the rest of the bus ride. I was lucky that Mr. Morris, our fitness teacher, was in the seat across from us. I bet Harvey would have tried to pull something if he wasn’t. Mr. Morris was the only person in the whole school who could keep Harvey under control, so I was glad to have him there for once.

It took maybe an hour and a half before we really got to the city. They hadn’t even told us where we were going. They just set us up on a bus and went on their way, but at this point, it was obvious; New York. You could see the towering concrete buildings from miles away. I found myself staring at them through the window in awe, wondering how anyone could build something that tall without having it collapse. I guess I wasn’t the only one, cause at this point all eyes on the bus were directed toward the city. This is when Mr. Terrell, who had been sitting in the front seat, chimed in:

“As you can all now see, we are heading into New York.” There were a few gasps from the girls in the back that made me roll my eyes. “Now when we get to the museum I want you all on your best behavior.”

A museum? The students burst into whispers and rumors. Where would we be going? There were so many museums in the city.

“Um, where are we going?” I asked, sheepishly raising my hand. Mr. Terrell smiled as if I had just asked him about his favorite moment in all of history.

“The Museum of Natural History.”


I had been to New York a couple of times, but never to the Museum of Natural History. As the bus pulled to a stop, we could see the building standing tall in the broad daylight. The tall Roman-esc pillars soared into the sky, with statues atop in various poses and a large archway leading to the main entrance. In the center of the large square in front of the building stood a pedestal with a greenish statue on it. It was hard to tell from this distance, but I could swear that it looked like a person in a large-brimmed hat riding a horse and holding some sort of stick in the air.

They filed us off the bus one by one, making sure to do a head count as if we would have lost someone during the ride to the museum. I could see Harvey on the other end of the line, currently aiming to flick a piece of gum into a girl's hair. I was able to get a better look at the statue now that we were closer, and it was…different. I must have been seeing things before because what I saw now was obviously just a dude on a horse with what looked like Native Americans to either side.

“Wasn’t that statue wearing a hat?”

I didn’t really mean to say it out loud, but Mr. Terrell looked up from his itinerary sheet with an odd expression.

“Excuse me?” He looked perplexed.

“Sorry, I just,” I was trying to find a way to word my question without sounding absolutely bonkers. “I thought I saw a hat on the statue. It must have just been a bird or something.”

I felt like Mr. Terrell was staring into my soul with the look he gave me. He said something to me. His lips moved as he spoke, but whatever he said didn’t register with me. It was as if I was hearing trumpets again.


“Nothing,” he said, turning to address the students, “Time to go inside. Remember, behave!”

I had to catch my breath as we walked through the front entrance and into the main lobby. The inside was huge, almost as if it was bigger on the inside. The columns and Roman architecture were continued within as the stone walls soared up around 50 or so feet before turning into a cylindrical dome at the ceiling, and that wasn’t even the crazy part.

Standing on large rock displays were two enormous dinosaur skeletons. One with a long neck that nearly touched the ceiling, rearing on its hind legs. It looked like it was in the midst of a battle with the smaller skeleton, looking like some sort of raptor ready to pounce. Just passed the display was a circular desk with a “Tours & Information” sign above it. I could see a woman in a blue suit handing out the same information pamphlets that we had received earlier, looking extremely happy with her job. Even further beyond, there was a circular area with multiple hallways extending out from it, like a hub location for going to different sections of the museum. I could just barely make out the labels. “Biodiversity Hall”, “Hall of Ocean Life”, “Birds of the World”, and one that was a little hard to read. It wasn’t as if it was too far away. In fact, it was the closest hall to the group. But whenever I tried to focus on it, my vision became blurry.

It took a solid minute of gawking at everything before anyone was able to focus on Mr. Terrell calling us to one side of the room.

“Students, this is our guide for the tour, Mrs. Jin.”

The lady in question was tall and lanky, with tanned skin and long black hair reaching beyond her shoulders. She wore a nice black dress and was carrying a tablet in one arm while waving with the other. She was also wearing like six layers of makeup. I think there was more foundation on her face than I had ever applied in my life.

After the initial greeting, she explained that we would be taking a tour of the museum for a couple of hours, stopping for lunch, and then continuing for a bit more before the bus ride back to the academy. To be honest, I wasn’t listening much. It was hard to with the noise of so many people around. It was such a busy place and my head started to hurt a little. This always happened when I was around a large crowd of people. As if their collective presence somehow drilled itself into my mind. It felt like a needle having little pokes into my head. I turned to Mr. Morris next to me.

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

I had asked the wrong person. Mr. Morris may have been able to handle Harvey, but that didn’t mean he was nice. He flagged down an attendant and made them show me where the bathroom was. I could tell what the attendant was thinking cause of the face he made.

This is NOT part of my job description. With a look from Mr. Morris though, he complied. I felt a little sorry for him, but it was better to get away from all these people for the moment until my head started feeling better. Then I would catch up with the group.

It only took a couple of minutes, as usual. As soon as I was in the bathroom and had washed my face a bit, the feeling went away. I felt I was able to breathe. Looking in the mirror, it was obvious that I had not been prepared for this “retreat”. My silvery gray hair was a mess. I could never keep it straight, which is why I usually chopped it at the shoulders, but even then it was difficult to take care of. I also had bags under my eyes from my roommates constantly keeping me up with their phones. I took a moment and tried to untangle my hair before exiting the bathroom and being escorted back to the lobby.


When I arrived back in the lobby, I distinctly noticed that my group of rowdy teenagers was nowhere in sight. I turned to talk to the attendant, but he was gone. Disappeared like Batman. I had to hand it to him, it was impressive, but where was my group?

I took a couple of laps around the lobby, clocking the people I saw along the way for anyone I recognized. No luck. I could have simply gone to an attendant and asked them to help me find my group, but my social ineptness would not stand for it. Talking to a random stranger? No thank you. I would rather pick a random direction and go.

And so I did, not understanding that I had made such a simple choice that would impact the rest of my life going forward.

I was in a bit of a hurry trying to find everyone, as I wasn’t too keen on the counselors noticing I was missing and getting in trouble, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the exhibits around me. I saw vague things in my peripheral vision. Skeletons, wax statues and mannequins, a wizard, a dinosaur…hold up.

I had to do a double-take. I backtracked my way down a hall and stood in front of an exhibit. I swore that there was a mannequin doll of a wizard-looking guy casting a spell, but now all I saw were two knights in medieval armor. The plaque in front of it said something about the Great War of Aldham. I had never heard that name before, but for some reason, it struck a chord with me. My head started hurting again.

“And over here you can see…”

I heard a familiar voice from down the hall. I speed-walked my way down and turned a corner to see a small group of teenagers, counselors, and Mr. Terrell.

I had found them.

Slowly, so as to not draw any attention to myself, I made my way down the hallway towards the group. It didn’t take me long and I was easily able to slip back with everyone else without anyone noticing. Everyone seemed weirdly focused on Mr. Terrell as he was explaining something. It was odd, though. The tour guide…Mrs. Six Layers of Foundation was nowhere to be seen. It almost seemed like Mr. Terrell was being the guide and explaining something about…

What was he explaining? I tried to focus in on him. I could see him in front of me, and I could see all the students and counselors, but whenever I tried to focus on the exhibits, my vision became blurry. All I could hear were trumpet sounds. My head was hurting.

But it wasn’t going away. The pain I was feeling was only getting worse as I watched Mr. Terrell's lips moving without being able to understand what he was saying. It’s not like it was another language. I just couldn’t seem to focus on the words.

“Mr. Terrell, what are you talking about?” I had raised my hand and asked a stupid question, but I hoped that it would help me focus on him and start to understand. What I didn’t expect was for him to stare at me with wide eyes like a deer in a headlight. He was shocked, dumbfounded even. Like I had just asked what was two plus two. I felt my cheeks flush as I lowered my hand, about to apologize for my question, but then he was directly in front of me.

“What are you doing here?”

The question was odd and it came out with such conviction that I took a step back. He was glaring at me. He was upset. I don’t think that I had ever seen Mr. Terrell upset at Harmony Hills. My head was pounding now. Like a drumbeat in my head.

Thump, thump, thump…

Everything was telling me that something was wrong. Something was seriously wrong.

“I…I don’t,” I stammered, not able to string any words together.

“You need to go back. You shouldn’t even have been able to find us here.”


“I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

“Go!” He yelled. He was yelling at me.


Every inch of my body was telling me to run. Run away as fast as I could. So I turned around and sprinted. Or at least I would have if I hadn’t immediately run into one of the students who was standing behind me, sending us both tumbling to the ground.

“OW! Watch it!”


I steadied myself on my knees and turned to help the person I had just knocked over. I was not prepared for what I saw.

The air escaped my lungs in a gasp that felt like my soul leaving my body. Where I should have seen a normal-looking student, I instead saw purple, rough-looking skin. I saw horns coming from the top of their head, twisting into small loops and ending in sharp points. Pointed teeth just poking outside of their top lip creating an overbite. Cat-like slits where their irises should have been. It was like seeing something out of a fantasy TV show.

“What are you looking at?”

I fell to my bottom, pushing myself away from them as quickly as I could. I had never seen anything like this. THUMP!

My head was now screaming with pain. My vision started to oscillate between blurry and not. A student and a demon. My head couldn’t tell what it was seeing.

“Alex. Alex are you alright?”

I turned my head to see Mr. Terrell, kneeling beside me reaching out a hand to touch my shoulder. He looked normal to me, but I shoved him away. I didn’t understand what was happening, and my anxiety was ready to burst.

I managed, somehow, to right myself and get to my feet. I was seeing double. In one eye, everything looked normal, but in the other, I could see a mess of faces. Where the students were standing, instead there were a plethora of creatures. Monsters. One with cat-like features, some with pointed ears, one even looked like a reptile with scaly skin. I turned around to leave only to come face to face with a wall of fur in front of me.

I looked up to see a bull staring right back at me, on two legs. It stood tall, well over six feet. Its snout was pointed down towards me and its beady eyes felt like they were looking straight into my soul. More curved horns that looked even sharper than the students. I couldn’t help it.

I screamed.

And that’s when everything went white.