Rebecca Barry: Things that go bump

Early Saturday evening, and while the sun was still out and two wedding parties were having their photos taken on the steps of the Auckland Museum, I folded my picnic blanket, oblivious to the disturbing, clandestine world I was about to enter.

The museum doors would normally be bolted shut at 5.30pm. Tonight they remained ajar. A steady stream of mortals with torches and small children were walking inside.

Undercover, grass-stained and armed with nothing but my cat-like reflexes, I too was to spend a night at the museum. I slipped in quietly behind.

We met Harry in the foyer. Harry was a night-shift security guard with a torch on his head.

"Whatever you do, don't run," he said conspiratorially, before we set off upstairs. "There's a lot of stuff around you can bang into."

Yeah, I'm thinking. Like big, man-eating dinosaurs.

My eyes were adjusting to the dark when we rounded our first corner and I almost face-planted a display cabinet of dead birds. I decided to take a child as my personal shield but Harry called them into a circle. Their little lights cast creepy shadows on their faces.

He said, "Something has been making strange noises around here."

Then, just like in the movies, there came a loud, pounding from behind the wall. I wanted Mummy. Then I remembered it was meant to be like in the movies, specifically the one starring Ben Stiller.

I had to focus on something normal if I wanted to stay calm. As I inspected a cabinet of taxidermied crayfish - aka stuffed crusts - the children started whimpering. It was a ghost. A nice ghost from the olden days called Lottie. She was a nurse from the Scars on the Heart exhibition upstairs. She said she'd just popped down to, y'know, say hi and stuff. I wanted to know what was the point of this supernatural activity when clearly it was not Lottie making all the banging noises.

So there we all were in the dark, standing in one petrified unit, as Lottie conducted us in a macabre rendition of Jingle Bells. Only this one had lyrics about being stuck on a hospital ship. They celebrate Christmas differently around here.

After the apparition singalong, Harry led us past several more displays of stuffed birds, the children touching every pane of glass to mark their territory, until we came upon a small clearing next to the dinosaur display. It appeared to be a library. Quite what a library was doing in the middle of a dinosaur display was unclear but it was the sight of the giant penguin next to it that would haunt me for days afterwards.

A woman was there too, this one very much alive. She had been guarding a secret she could no longer bear. She put a tape into a VCR to show us. On the TV screen in fuzzy black and white, were two baby dinosaurs, squirming in their cave. One of the teens in the group couldn't contain himself.

"Eetz niiice!" he cried, a moment of Borat-inspired insanity that pierced the silence.

As the woman brought the baby dinosaurs out of their cave - I swear I'm not making any of this up - out of the corner of my eye I saw something move. When I turned, all I could see were the motionless skeletons. Then it moved again.

At this point, the rest of the group appeared a little spooked. An overpowering stench overcame the room. Dinosaur droppings they were not - one of the children had succumbed to the perils of the frontline.

Several cried out in alarm as a real-life dinosaur trudged towards them at a frightening pace, swung its tail dangerously over their heads, then plodded off as though nothing had happened.

No wonder there's an exhibition called Scars on the Heart upstairs.

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