Archaeologist’s Agony

The expedition had gone terribly wrong and I was all alone now in the ruins. I had fallen down a passage. I had used all my supplies. I had cut my leg and infected the wound. With the last piece of candle, I had limped down a dark, pointless hallway, until I reached a dead end filled with human skeletons.

I lay on the floor, holding the candle close to my face, three blankets around me trying to keep the cold at bay. I thought of the surface world, and stars at night (I could no longer imagine sunlight) and all the wonders of the universe.

Slowly, my thoughts began to wonder, a familiar experience from falling asleep before, though with grimmer undertones this time. I thought about my companions, the many human skeletons, who had fallen asleep and lay there too long, until flesh fell off their bones and there was no more waking up. I longed to see what they dreamed off.

In my imaginings, I befriended one of them. A commoner from ages ago, whose name escapes memory now, but who spoke in a very soft voice and had a peculiar philosophy of the universe. His views were very unscientific, but charming, mirroring those of my private teacher, Mr. Cold. Or was he called Mr. Dark? Or Mr. Motionless?

I tried to recall a single woman in my life that had not been my mother, but I found myself unable to. I wondered if after death I would re-enter my mother’s womb and feel warm again. I marveled at the many creatures within other creatures that would have to exist in the afterlife to make that possible. The kindly commoner next to me agreed it was a compelling vision, but something about it made him afraid. He crossed the pile of bones and scrambled down the dark hallway that I could not see.

“Worry not,” he called, “For you will be able to follow me soon.”

Meanwhile I sunk slowly through the floor, through the earth, into an underground ocean full of glowing cephalopods. They moved about me so gaily, I could do nothing but smile and smile.

Rusted Knife

When renovating the house, we tore up the floors and Skip found a rusted knife. It was a French knife, the kind chefs use in the kitchen, with a plastic grip and a broad blade. It was embedded in the soft moist earth, surrounded by some blackened pieces of china. Looked like the remains of a shattered vase or something.

“Must be from when they built the house,” said Skip.

“You think,” said Marcy, “Hard to imagine, this house is almost two hundred years old. They didn’t used to have knives like this two hundred years ago.”

“I dunno,” I shrugged, “I guess they re-did the floor at some point.”

“Then it must be from a crime someone committed.”

“I guess we’ll never know,” I said.

Diamond Mine

Out of boredom I think, we dug around one beggar patient’s brain and found a diamond. We thought we should check and, after a few useless skulls with nothing but brain, we found another. Naturally, we started rounding up the poor and the downtrodden under the pretense of vaccination, and we cracked open their crane-shells. It turned out roughly one in seventeen had a diamond inside, some as big as my fist.

Soon enough, we made enough money to cover up our indiscretion and the hospital began to flourish. In a dreary twist of fate, I grew weary of the city to the point of nausea, so I moved into the countryside. I set up a small office at the top of an ancient tower from way back when this place was some kingdom or other. I enjoyed the gorgeous view of the evergreen forest, especially at sunset and the occasional patient, especially at night.

Years later, led by an eerie intuition, I cracked open the skull of a village maiden and dug around in her soft wet pink brain. This time, it was a ruby. I raised it to the light and wondered. One in about five thousand, I assume. Perhaps even rarer.

My Shiny Bully

Jeremy C. Shepherd was a classic bully. He took our lunch money, he beat on us, he made fun of us for being nerds, and he had a host of followers who stood behind him as he did his evil. I hate to admit it, but he was an important part of our lives. We whispered about him at lunchtime and talked about him when we met after school. We were sure he tortured and killed small animals. Also, he made us realize that we were all sheep, all people everywhere, and only folks like him were wolves.

Then something changed near the end of junior high. Jeremy started giving us a pass in the hallway, he ignored us at lunch, he sometimes even said hi. We wondered what brought about the change and speculated wildly, until one day I walked into the boys bathroom on the second floor and saw him cutting deep marks into his forearm with a razor.

“Oh, Jacob,” he said when he saw me. He had never used my name before, “You see what I need to do in order not to punish you? I am punishing myself. For you.” There were tears in his murky blue eyes.

We did not know what to make of it, but we had to admit that we lied it. He evolved from “simply not hurting us” to “being human towards us.” He said hi, kept his host off our back, sometimes even cooperated on projects, like when we were preparing a dance or a trip.

On my last day of high school, I was anxious about the great vistas that were about to open before me. I stood in the hallway, reminiscing, when I realized Jeremy was standing next to me.

“Hi, Jacob,” he said, “I guess this is it,” he nodded slowly.

“I guess it is,” I said. I thought about him cutting himself, about all that might have motivated him to bully us and then let it go. It made me angry that somebody could be so evil, but then I just let it go.

I moved on to go to college and learn about our big old world. Jeremy was never a part of my life again. Not in person.

Suddenly Born

Pete suddenly came to life in Machine City and he wondered the block for a little bit until he stumbled into a little shop where somebody was making iron bannisters. That somebody was rusted and dented and moved with a lot of screeches.

“Hello, I am Pete and I am an eight-year-old boy,” said Pete, using his voice for the first time.

“Hello Pete, I am EG-78,” said the old man, “I make iron bannisters, what do you do?”

“I don’t know,” said Pete, “I just came to life over there, in that place around the corner. I don’t know much about living and doing things.”

“You should have a proper job,” said EG-78, “A purpose. That’s what makes life worth living.”

“I guess what you say makes sense,” said Pete, “And I don’t know what else would. So what can I do?”

“Well, seems like making iron bannisters is the best thing I know to do. But I’ve seen other folks do other things. Some clean the streets, removing the green stuff that seems to appear places overnight. Some move things in giant boxes. There’s one fellow comes and picks up the bannisters I make.”

“All those things seem like somebody is already doing them,” said Pete, “Maybe I should come up with something of my own. Something that needs doing just there’s nobody to do it.”

EG-78 scratched his old beat-up head and thought hard. “I once saw a fellow who did nothing,” he said eventually. “He would just sit on the fence yonder and look at the mountains, or play with the thing that sends out little white fluff when you blow air on it. I would often wonder what he did, never thought to ask, though.”

“Did somebody come over and grab him?”asked Pete, “Make him back into parts so he could fit to do work?”

“Not sure,” said EG-78, “One day I just stopped seeing him.”