Opening my eyes, I am staring at the night stars through a small rip in the canvas over my head. Checking my watch, I am unsurprised at the time displayed there, 5:30 AM.
It had been over a year since I had experienced the once frequent dreams, the night before having been the first time. They had been instrumental in giving me clues leading to the solution of a case last year, The Ghost Murders, my last case. Now the visions had returned, the meaning as usual unclear, but the implications ominous to my mind nonetheless.
I drag myself off the blanket that is my bed, grabbing my small bag and a canteen; I head toward the latrine to get that out of the way before it gets busy. When I finish my business I take a small swig of water and brush my teeth, finishing with another swig to rinse. It will be the only time I can brush today due to the constant shortage of clean water, and I take a moment to enjoy the feeling of clean teeth.
It is growing light out so I head back to my tent and grab my journal. Breakfast is an hour away, and I wanted to sketch one of my finds of the previous day before the actual work of the day gets started. Traveling down a dusty rock-strewn path, I came to one of the Nazca mud brick tombs that we had been working on yesterday.
Most of our finds to this point had been mummified remains, but yesterday I had stumbled onto a partial burial. These were typically bundles of bones wrapped in colorful woven and embroidered textiles, the dry climate of the desert helping to almost perfectly preserve the cloth for hundreds of years.
This particular tomb had also included a head jar, which is what I was here to sketch. These were vessels sometimes used in place of the head, the real head having probably been removed for some ceremonial reason.
Head jars typically have a human head or skull painted on the exterior, along with trees and plants sprouting out of the orifices of the depiction. This was my first, and I wanted to record the intriguing image in my grandfather’s journal.
The book was getting full, what with his original drawings and notes, as well as my drawings and letters to my wife. I had promised to write her every day and I had been true to my word up to this point.
The sun had just crept over a rise in front of me and reflected off of the ring on my finger, blinding me for a second as the glint caught my eye. I stopped drawing and held my hand out in front of my face as I had done at least once a day since I had arrived.
My heart grew heavy momentarily as I looked upon the remnants of my marriage, my past life. My darling Betty had been shot in cold blood over a year ago now, the memory still painful to my mind every time I let myself think of it. The only satisfaction I received was the final bullet I put between the eyes of her murderer, an honor I would gladly exchange for one more conversation with my love.
I had months ago signed on for another year at the dig, finding the investigation of long dead peoples preferable to that of the recently murdered. I’m not sure I can ever go back, everything at home would remind me of my loss, the pain that pierces my heart daily even here.
A shadow falls over me, the outline of a man with a brimmed hat filling the hole I was standing in.
“Good morning Julien,” I say as I get back to my drawing.
“Good morning my friend,” Professor Julien Taylor exclaims with a smile.
He had only recently returned from the states, having taken a couple of months off to write and relax from the dig. I had remained during that time, watching over the dig with two local men while the others were away.
Diego and Amaro were both hard working natives, and we communicated well enough using a combination of some Spanish and Quechua I had picked up along the way. I had also taught them some English to help fill in the blanks in our communication, counting them now as friends, along with the man now standing before me.
Julien Taylor is the leader of our archeological dig. At 5’5” and 190 lbs. he was almost as wide as he was tall, how he keeps his girlish figure with the amount of work he does and in this heat is beyond me. At 78 years of age, he has more energy then most people I have known half his age.
“You always look so sad and withdrawn,” he remarks with a less enthusiastic smile now on his face. “You’re affecting the rest of the crew in a negative way I’m afraid.”
My turn to smile now “so I guess you want me to quit?”
Sitting down on a large rock, he answers “no my dear boy, I gather that wouldn’t help, but I do wish there was a way I could aid you with your pain”.
My mouth draws tight, regretting that my hurt would involve others. “I’m sorry Julien, for any problems that land on your shoulders due to my situation. If it ever gets too much, just let me know, I don’t want to be a problem.”
“Heavens no lad, you have a place here for as long as you need to be here, or until we run out of work. I believe I’ve mentioned before that you were born to this work my friend, it’s a damn shame you started so late in your life. I’m still not convinced however that this is where you need to be right now, I believe this is merely a convenient place for you to hide from the world.”
“Thanks for your concern professor,” I say as I get back to my drawing, “but I think this is exactly where I need to be right now.”
A thoughtful look crossed Julien’s face then, a worried one.
“Would you mind a little advice from an old man Gabriel?”
I stopped my drawing, thinking I probably didn’t want any of his parental guidance at the moment, but nodding my head anyway.
“Look around you; you are surrounded by a population that has been buried in this ground for hundreds of years. We carefully unearth their graves, study them, make sketches and take pictures, all in the name of science. We catalogue their belongings, assign numbers to them as identification, and sometimes give them nicknames.
When we are through with that process they get reburied or moved or displayed, and then we put the information in a book and put it on the shelf.”
“We pry into every facet of their lives that we can think of to look at. And yet, we really know nothing of them. Most of these people had loves and heartaches, friends and enemies, hopes and fears. There are a myriad of emotions and relationships that existed with these inhabitants that we will never be able to imagine, and certainly not know with any amount of certainty. And yet my dear boy, we can be certain beyond a doubt that they experienced these very emotions.”
Standing now, he takes his hat off, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and drying the brim before reinstalling the chupalla straw hat back on his head.
Not even 7:00 and already the heat was intolerable. The professor clasps his hands behind his back, pacing a few steps back and forth amongst the rocks, looking for the words to finish his paternal advice.
Stopping his pacing now, he looks down on me with wisdom and concern.
“What I am trying to communicate to you lad, is that we only inhabit this earth for a short while. We all make our mark on this world, some with great fanfare and some only by filling a hole in the ground.”
“You found a great love in a woman who longer exists on this world, and no one else on this planet can really know what that means to you. But you found real love my lad, and real love never ends, it continues on when this world is but a distant memory in one’s mind.”
“What you need to come to terms with Gabriel, is that until you are again reunited with your lovely angel, what kind of mark are you going to leave on this world from here on out?”
“Are you going to do something with the time you have left, or are you just going to fill a hole in the end. A thousand years from now, people who dig us up may not know or care what we did with our lives, but how we live our lives needs to matter while we are here…to us.”
“Do something important to you my son, make a difference while you can, don’t waste your life standing still.”
“You can stick around as long as you like, but it won’t bring her back to you by marking your time here Gabriel. Hiding from your world just gives you an excuse to avoid living.”
I feel a tear run down my cheek as Julien’s speech hits a nerve, and my heart. But what do I have to go back to in my world? An empty house? A job I’m not sure I have the stomach for anymore?
I hear Julien walking off, mumbling something under his breath. Following his progress, I notice a boy riding a burro up the path. Stopping in front of Julien, he hands the older man an envelope before turning his burro around and heading back towards town. The professor looks down at the letter, then turns back towards me and returns to the tomb.
“Telegram for you Gabriel,” he says with concern as he hands me the envelope.
I have a confused look as I take the yellow envelope, puzzled as to who would send me a telegram. I had been in sporadic touch with a few people during my time here, but that had all been accomplished using the mail system.
Opening the envelope, I unfold the paper and begin reading the short message. My blood runs cold as I finish reading the note, rereading it quickly once more to be absolutely sure that I read it correctly.
I let the paper fall out of my hand as the words sink in with finality, a cold finality that I had hoped to never again experience.
Julien looks upon my face with much concern, then reaching down he picks up the note and reads it himself. A look of anguish crosses his face as he steps closer, putting his hand on my shoulder and muttering “Gabriel my son, I am so sorry.”
I look over at my mentor, he again hands me the yellowed paper and I read the words numbly one more time.
GABRIEL CELTIC STOP (Name Withheld) MURDERED STOP NEED HELP STOP ALLEN