And with a sound like delicate thunder, it was over.
It was an event that never should have happened. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t fit, it wasn’t a good story. But it occurred anyway. The flask, an artifact of a mysterious and long-dead civilization, lay in pieces on the lab floor. Oh, they had found other artifacts on the dig, of course. You can’t spend eight months searching ruins without finding something, but the others were all just…data. They had progressed this far in stone working, this far in pottery, they ate these kinds of foods, and so on. But the flask, that was something special. It had been full foot tall, covered in images and symbols that they all hoped were writing…
And now it was in shards on the floor of their lab. Just data. There was no crime, no negligence, no incompetence. Entropy had simply claimed its right, as it always will.
Ben, Chris, Daniel, and Elizabeth, four of the five brave souls who had spent eight months on that dig, sadly and carefully put the shards back in the large wooden shipping crate. The flask was gone, but someday, after a few glasses of perspective and a healthy dose of time, they would still be able to glean precious insights from the fragments. The last shards were poured in, the latches re-latched, pointless though it may be now, and the four filed out silently. They turned the lights off and tried to forget, tried to pretend nothing had ever happened. And reality rippled just a bit.
Perception shapes reality. Eight eyes had seen the flask hit the concrete floor. Four minds knew that this one little piece of the past was now itself history. Those same four minds were trying to cope with the fact. In those four minds, the crate they had built was now holding nothing but…data. Dust. Not art, not a thing designed by a person and crafted with his own hands, not a glimpse into the glory and ritual of an earlier time. Just pieces, something to use to increase knowledge. Not something that moves the heart and soul.
And those four minds were holding onto this new reality, if reluctantly. It was a struggle. It didn’t make sense. It was easy to believe that it hadn’t happened, easy to believe that if they went back to the lab now the flask would still be there, unharmed. Ready for them to photograph and study. It made more sense to believe that they had something to show for all the time and money they had spent, all the opportunities they’d passed up for the past eight months.
Some had it easier than others. Chris and Lizzy had each other, and that helped. Pain shared is grief halved, as they say. Certainly they had it easier than Ben and Daniel, who called a few days later, hungover and bewildered, from a bus station in Tulsa and a youth hostel in Amarillo, respectively. Apparently they decided to see how far west they could each get before sobering up.
Alexandra hadn’t been there. Oh, she had been on the dig, she helped build the crate out of wood they found around the site, she helped pack it and guard it to the airport. But when they opened it she had been in a lecture hall, teaching a freshman history course. And suddenly reality had a little wrinkle.
Because in one mind, the flask still existed. Alexandra hadn’t seen the flask fall, hadn’t felt her heart stop as it tumbled to the ground. She was untroubled, and a little excited to get to work on trying to decipher the markings on the flask.
And so she headed back to the lab, where their crate was waiting. She guessed that the others had already looked at it; she would have in their shoes. Well, she was making up for lost time now. She got out her camera and went into the lab.
Alexandra’s hands shook a little as she unclasped the lid. She’d spent time studying the flask on the dig, of course, and had some speculations about its purpose. It wasn’t really a flask, of course; Ben had jokingly called it that because it was rectangular, flattish, and had a cap, and the name stuck. The civilization that had created it had died off thousands of years ago and had left behind few clues about themselves. Ancient civilizations could be irritating like that. Many hours of work had gone into making the flask, or whatever it was, and its purpose was very likely ceremonial.
And it was Alexandra’s job to try and figure out what that purpose had been. She lifted the lid, set it aside, unwrapped the flask and set it on the workbench. Then she got the lights arranged and started taking pictures. Reality rippled a little bit more.
Chris’ first clue that things were not as he had thought came when he checked his email, while his world famous pasta sauce was simmering on the stove. He almost dropped his phone into the saucepan, but if this day had taught him anything it was to hold on to things tighter. Nervously he looked at the timestamp on the email, then at the pictures. Part of his mind, the part that had spent all day refusing to believe the flask was gone, crowed exultantly. Part of him wondered if he was going crazy. Or maybe, somehow, if Alexandra was. Could crazy people change history? Eventually, his eyes not leaving the pictures on his phone, he yelled out “Liz? is your phone close? I…I just got an email from Alex, and I think you should read it…”
Splashes and muttering echoed out of the bathroom. Elizabeth had just gotten comfortable in the tub and the last thing she wanted to think about now was the guilt she was feeling about not telling Alexandra that all their work was wasted. A few moments later she emerged from the bathroom, dripping wet, eyes wide.
“Did…did. I could have sworn. Earlier, did we just imagine…”
“I can still hear the crash in my head.”
A few minutes later they were in their car driving up to the university, sauce and noodles cooling on the table, far from the stove. Alexandra may be able to somehow reverse bad decisions, but Chris wasn’t taking any chances.
The team had found tons of clay pots, broken, whole, whatever. Clay pots were everywhere. But this was different. Calling the flask a “clay pot” was…well, it was sacrilege, even the atheists on the team would agree.
The hands that crafted the flask were those of a master. There were no lines, no thumbprints, no imperfections in the surface. The glazier who had fired the flask knew what they were about, and had given it a sheen that seemed to glow from within. This was the work of an artist in his prime, a true masterpiece. And it had been made to last. Thousands of years later, after the craftsman had died, after his kiln had crumbled into dust, the flask was still there, solid, beautiful, untouched by the passage of time.
Chris and Lizzie walked into the lab. Alex was asleep, her head down on the desk, her camera plugged into her laptop. Behind her, on the workbench, surrounded in lights and glowing, stood the flask.
And today it still stands, now housed in a cube of glass, a treasure in the University’s museum. Four people still harbor memories that…make no sense. But they don’t question them too rigorously, or hold them too closely. Perhaps thinking too hard about what was, or what might have been…Maybe remembering the sound of delicate thunder will remind the universe, and it will undo whatever magic Alex did.
And time flows on. Someday entropy will claim the flask. Someday it will fall and shatter, and perhaps on that day someone will notice, up on the inside of the cap, there’s a thumbprint in the glaze.