The Archaeologist

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
She found it buried beneath brambles and dank autumn leaves. Two thousand years it had lain, its Celtic stories preserved in a sod of clay.

Submitted: August 25, 2012

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Submitted: August 25, 2012

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She found it buried beneath brambles and dank autumn leaves. Two thousand years it had lain, its Celtic stories preserved in a sod of clay. The first time she wore it, it came to life, infused with the energy of her presence like a torch given new kindling. And she shone with it. People were more friendly, colleagues more obliging, men more interested.

At first they came in dreams. Strange faces and unfamiliar voices, speaking words she did not understand. Then she would see them even while waking, spectres in the landscape, going through the motions of their lives. She filled a diary, and then another, recording the events she witnessed. Slowly, she began to piece things together. Digging through library archives, ancient chronicles and archaeological finds, she learned their identities, followed their lives, recorded their histories.

Over time, she realised the stories changed as the necklace had passed from owner to owner. And then one day the stories stopped, and she understood this was when the necklace must have been lost, entombed in the earth where she’d found it. She continued to wear it, not merely to enjoy the charm it seemed to confer on her, but so that it would record her own life as it had all the previous owners. One day she would give it to her children, and they would inherit something of their mother that no other legacy could give.

Her academic work received great attention. Colleagues marvelled at her ability to turn up new evidence, to see connections between apparently disparate and unrelated finds, to invent interpretations that seemed compelling and inspired. She wrote papers on ancient languages that answered long-standing puzzles. One critic complained that her theories went beyond the evidence, and indeed they went beyond any evidence she could present to others. So she took to writing popular historical biographies and did very well out of that too.

She had learned that by taking the necklace off for various periods of time, she could make it restart the process of telling the ancient stories at different places. The longer she removed it, the earlier the stories it would tell when she put it back on. Yet there was a curious side-effect. Every time she removed it, she seemed to forget where she’d put it. It was almost as if the necklace were trying to hide itself from her. Worried that she would misplace it for good, she began keeping records of where she kept the necklace each time she took it off. And each time she removed it, she would forget again where it was, only to find from her notes that she’d placed the necklace in exactly the same place as always: a jewellery box in her bedroom wardrobe.

And then came a day when the necklace was really gone. She had wanted to revisit the very earliest stories and so had locked it in the wardrobe for a full month. When she thought about putting it back on, she had - as expected - forgotten where it was. She’d also misplaced her notebook which recorded the location. But she’d thought of this in advance and had prepared a back-up. In her most recent published work, she’d written a rhyme in the Dedication so that she would never forget the location of her treasure:



the stories of our ancestors remain

ancient ornaments hold their refrain

empty clothes in a wardrobe

the tears they cried still hold



But the wardrobe was bare. The necklace had vanished. It was not where she had put it, or she had not put it where she thought.

She set about investigating the disappearance like she would an archaeological puzzle. She took forensic samples, inspected all her records, scrutinized everything that had occurred in the previous month. As a professional finder of the lost, she knew one thing: it must be somewhere. She considered whether it could have been stolen, whether a jealous colleague had found out her secret, stole into her home and raided her prize. She began to regret the stupid lyric in the book. Surely it was obvious what it meant? Had she just broadcast her secret to the world, invited someone to come and take it for themselves? Why the hell had she not put the thing in a bank deposit box? But the truth was, there simply were no clues to be found, and if she couldn’t find them, no one could.

As resignation set in, depression came with it and her work dried up. She became obsessive about little routines around the house, began muttering to herself, lost interest in her appearance. Her family sought medical intervention, which began a spiral of increasingly desperate treatments. Each failure only increased both the concern and the severity of the remaining options. At the age of 40, a year after the necklace’s disappearance, she was committed to an asylum where she remained until her death some 35 years later.

Within a year of her committal, she had been largely forgotten. In the beginning, the nursing staff had listened indulgently to her stories of her “greatest archaeological find” without ever understanding what she was referring to. Some even remembered seeing her on TV once or twice, but she quickly faded into obscurity. Her last visitor was her mother, some fifteen years before she passed away.

“Where do we send her stuff?” a young orderly asked.

“Dunno. Think there’s a name in her records, cousin’s daughter or something. I’ll go check.”

Left alone in the empty room, the orderly ran his fingers over some old tomes sitting forlornly on a shelf. He noticed with surprise that one had her name on the spine. Ancient Ornaments, Empty Clothes. Strange title, he thought. As he opened the binding something fell to the floor. Picking up the curious-looking necklace, he hesitated for just a moment before slipping it into his pocket.

“Be a nice present for the girlfriend, that will.”


© Copyright 2017 dick todd. All rights reserved.

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