January 19, 2005

A Short Story

As they posed for the photographer, Kirsty looked at the cave they had dug out. All that effort, just for a box when they weren't even sure what was in it. A few obscure references in a small collection of unreliable documents. But they'd turn out to be right in the end, she was sure.

Jack stared at the box as they held their poses while the photograph was taken. He was a little nervous, wondering what would happen next. Would the contents crumble as they were exposed to the air? Egyptian papyrus held together well over time, but who knew what conditions it had been exposed to. Would they open the box they had looked for, for so long, just to see a pile of old dust? Or would it be the treasure they had longed for, the records from the census that could tell them so much about a long forgotten world.

Jack carefully stepped down, and a mixture of anxiety and concentration crossed his face as Kirsty passed the box down to him. He placed it carefully on the floor, and she slipped down after, feet nestling into the dust, causing a small cloud to rise up. Jack, bending over the box, took a breath just at that moment, and started coughing energetically. His chest rose and fell, as his asthma fought back and threatened to suffocate him. Kirsty reached in a panic for her bag, where his inhaler was kept, and watched in horror as an immense spasm sent Jack sprawling forward. He put his hand out, and the full weight of his portly frame went crashing down in front of him to the precious object below. A crash rang through the air backed by a chorus of gasps as Jack's hand broke through the precious casket. Under his fingers centuries’ old parchment crumbled away into nothing as he grasped urgently trying to stop his fall.

Silence for one infinite moment before his coughing resumed, and Kirsty hurriedly turned back to her bag, trying not to let the tears come bursting through her eyes. She handed him back the inhaler wordlessly, her gaze steadfastly not meeting his, and desperately trying not to look at the arm protruding from what was left of their life's work.

Jack said nothing, just took the inhaler and drew deeply. He stayed crouched while he recovered and then drew his hand slowly out from within the broken wood. A steady stream of blood flowed from a large cut on his wrist, and dripped down his palm and over his fingers.

"That's going to need stitches" said the photographer, awkwardly trying to fill the silence. The archaeologists turned to look at him, both faces reflecting astonishment that he could think of something like medical attention at a time like this.

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