Office of Walden Emerson, Ph.D.
Cambridge University, Archaeology Department
Cambridge, United Kingdom
December 14th, 2012
Abraham Hudson could not accept Dr. Emerson's death.
The old man had seemed to thrive on life. His eyes had always seemed to shine with an inextinguishable light as if the mere joy of being alive kept his old heart giddy and pumping. But, being alive only lasted so long.
Now, Abraham stood in the back of the professor's office. Before him a dozen guests gathered for the occasion. He pressed his fingers up against the cool glass of a display case as if stroking the artifact inside. His gaze traced the delicate glyphs on the surface of the Canopic jar from inches away as the warmth of his hand fogged the glass.
"If everyone is ready, we'll begin."
He pulled back his hand and shoved it into his pocket, feeling slightly guilty for the smudge he left on the glass, but only slightly. A stranger sat at the Professor's prized walnut desk, shuffled his papers and cleared the phlegm from his throat. Abraham could have hit him.
"I am Stephen Lynch, Walden Emerson's attorney." Abraham already knew that. It was printed on the man's business card that had been thrust into his hand. He fingered it within his pockets, crumpling and re-crumpling.
"I am here to read the last will and testament of Dr. Emerson." The attorney paused before he continued with his legal agenda.
It was of no fault of the lawyer's that Abe was angry. The University had been everything to the graduate student and Dr. Emerson had been much more than just one of his professors. He had been his mentor. Abe had placed all of his faith in Emerson and knew it had been returned. He had been to one to pull the eagle-topped Canopic jar from the tomb outside Cairo. It had gone from his own dusty, sand-calloused hands to those of the Professor who had smiled down from his smeary spectacles.
"We've got it!" Emerson had said.
Abraham wondered to whose hands the jar would be given, and to those of whom it would be sold. He stifled a sob, but he would not cry. Not here. He looked over the heads of the gathered relatives and friends of the Professor, waiting for their inheritance. None of them knew his name. No one knew the love he'd felt for Walden Emerson.
"Rosa, my lovely daughter," read Lynch, "you shall have all of the fine artifacts and collected works gathered in my study and personal library." Abe couldn't listen. He stared into nothing, afraid to blink. Stephen Lynch continued to read.
When all of the Professor's effects had finally been divvied out, Abe's name had not been called. Numbly, he stood and walked, hands still in his pockets, to the door.
Stephen lynch stood by the door and offered generic condolences. Abe was the last to leave. Mr. Lynch laid a heavy hand on his shoulder as he walked through the threshold. He itched to shake the arm away.
"You're Abraham Hudson, right?" asked the lawyer.
Abe nodded. "Was there anything," he choked back the frustration, "did he…was there anything for me?" He knew he didn't put on this damned suit to walk out with nothing. Walden Emerson was just as much family to Abe as the man had been to his own daughter.
The attorney closed the door.
"Sit," he waved to the chair opposite the desk and regained his seat on the other side. From his breast pocket, Lynch drew an envelope.
"Mr. Hudson, this is for you." Lynch handed over the miniature sealed package. On the front, in the Professor's scrawling handwriting, was Abe's name.
"What is it?" A weight shifted in Abe's hand.
"My only instruction was to deliver it to you." Lynch clipped his briefcase shut and stood. "What you do with it…well, Emerson was a man of purpose-granted, often mysterious purpose-but, I'm sure he had good intention in giving it to you." He walked out of the office and into the halls of Cambridge.
Abe didn't say goodbye. Instead, he tore open the envelope and spilled its contents into his palm.
Out fell a key.
Other than the circumstances into which it had fallen, there was nothing unusual about this particular key. It was thin, new, and looked as if it belonged to a locker or a drawer. Abe had even seen it several times before when spending late nights with the Professor pouring over research and leaving paper cups of coffee to grow cold. He had seen his mentor use this particular key to open the display case that housed the Horus jar.
Though it was early evening and most classes had ended for the day, Abe still flipped the lock on the office door as he crossed the room to the case. When he located the small chrome circle, he was breathing heavily, supplying his racing heart the oxygen it needed to keep from giving out. Despite his shaking hands, the key slipped into the lock. With a turn of his wrist, the panel slid back. Searching for a clue as to what to do next, Abe's eyes, attuned to finding seams in the large stones of ancient tombs, scanned the paneling of the shelves. There! Between the second and third shelves was a gap. He gently removed the hieroglyph chunks and ancient pottery with the sleeves of his coat, careful not to let them come into contact with the oil in his hands. He felt around the edge of the gap with his fingers until he found enough of a ledge to slide the section back. Behind the stained wood was a safe.
He had to get into that safe. Anything could be in that case. Or, Abe thought despondently, nothing at all.
He took a step back to think of a combination. First he tried the Professor's birthday. That did not work. He tried Rosa the professor's daughter's birthday. That did not work either. For ten minutes, Abe tried every significant sequence of number he could think of. None of them gained him access to the safe. On a whim, Abraham entered the date he had graduated from Cambridge. The lock clicked and the door swung open.
Astonished, he gaped at the box in the wall. Inside was a manila folder. Stephen Lynch had said that Professor Emerson was a man of mysterious purpose. Abe knew that by opening this safe he was now part of that purpose. Flattered, confused, and excited, he removed the folder and cradled it against his chest like a boy would his father's coat because, ridiculous as it was, Abe needed to inhale the faint harsh smoke of Emerson's cigars and musky cologne. Abraham once more checked the office door and went to sit in the Professor's chair, sinking into the supple leather.
Sitting back, he inspected the folder. Full and threatening to explode, the manila package was bound with thick elastics and monstrous paper clips. Within it were much smaller divisions of paper. NASA, SETI, and Cambridge logos flashed him as he flipped through page after page. Photographs fell from the packet. Dr. Emerson was in many of them. One photo was enlarged and printed on a full sheet of paper. Abe scrutinized it, turning it landscape so the image was right-side-up. Despite the grainy pixels, Abraham could make out a clearing of a rocky rainforest that stood over a dozen men and women. Emerson was on the left. Behind him was Dr. Harrison who also worked in the archaeology department at Cambridge. He had a beard now.
Abraham continued to flip through the folder. There were charts, articles cut from journals, hand-written notes: a true miscellany of research. Everything was dated 2008. He remembered he was a senior when Dr. Emerson was gone on his Colombian expedition. That was over four years ago.
At the back of the folder, Abe discovered something of much greater, more intimate interest. The worn leather journal was engraved with the name Adam J. Livehurst. When he pulled back the cover, he revealed pages filled with agitated griffonage. The first half was drawings and brief notes. The second, however, began a long series of narrative entries. He began to read…
Apartment of Adam J. Livehurst Ph.D.
New York, New York
November 2nd, 2008
Adam opened his eyes. The familiarity of his New York apartment returned to him. He could not seem to leave the jungle behind. The chlorophyll of the rainforest stained the back of his eyelids. He only dreamed of Colombia anymore. Rolling onto his side, he reached to pull Elizabeth to his side so he could fall back to sleep. But the sheets were cold beside him. He made a fist in the blankets, frustrated that he could still smell her perfume in the pillowcase, but he could never touch her again.
He sat up and covered his face with his hands. Three years had passed, but he could not move on. Her clothes were still in the closet. The gold of her engagement ring was still cold against his chest on its chain. He had made a promise to her a long time ago. He still promised, as if she was going to come back.
With the last bits of green fading from his mind, Adam went to make tea, hoping it would help him get back to sleep. Pouring water into the kettle, he sat back against the counter and let himself picture her. In his mind, Elizabeth was always smiling. Sitting across from him at the breakfast table or kneeling in the dusty anteroom of a Mayan temple, in his mind, she pushed a lock of dark brown hair behind her ear and smiled up at him.
The whine of the pot startled him out of his memories.
He stirred milk and honey into the steaming mug and looked at the clock. It was two in the morning, but the city was still lit. He loved the energy of New York, but he could rarely make out the stars past the lights and smog. Adam yearned for the solace of the stars. They seemed to hold the answers.
Then, the phone rang. He neither expected nor took calls this time of night. Looking at the caller ID, however, he decided to make an exception. Cambridge was calling.
"Hello," Adam asked the receiver.
"Dr. Livehurst? Dr. Adam Livehurst?" answered the voice of an Englishman.
"Dr. Livehurst, I am Dr. Gabriel Harrison of Cambridge University. I tried reaching you at the NYU office, but, it being so early in America, I had to find your home number elsewhere."
"I don't work there anymore." He confessed, holding back his new profession at the Natural History Museum. Once a top researcher, Adam Livehurst now herded children with backpacks and elderly couples on vacation. "Excuse me, but, it's two a.m. Why are you calling me?"
"I'm calling about your research? What you started in Colombia, but," Adam could make out the shuffling of papers on the other side, "didn't finish."
Pitting his unease against his exhilaration, Adam thought of the empty bed, of the womanless perfume. Out of habit, he fingered the tiny gold chain that held the engagement ring around his neck.
"No," he told the other man. "I don't know what this is about, but I don't want any part in it."
"Dr. Livehurst! This is your research! Your hypotheses! Cambridge is willing to fund an expedition to Colombia, to continue where you left off."
Adam considered the proposition for a moment. His research had never been taken very seriously by mainstream science. But with what Dr. Harrison was offering…
"No," he said again, but realized he had already crossed the room to the French doors of the study.
Despite Gabriel's protests, Adam let the hand holding the phone drop to his side. He stood motionless. He hadn't been inside the room in months. Cautiously, he opened one of the doors. Flipping the switch of a lamp as he walked in, he let his fingers graze the dusty surface of Elizabeth's desk. The last book she had been reading was still open. He flipped the page, watching the tiny flurries skitter in the air. He made a mental note to dust her things.
"DOCTOR LIVEHURST?" the mousy voice of the scientist ripped his attention from the desk. "Dr. Livehurst, can you hear me? Am I coming through?"
"Hmm?" Adam muttered into the phone and took a seat behind his own desk. Gabriel sighed.
"Is the email address given to me by NYU still yours?"
"I know it's early but I would like to send the expedition information today."
"Sorry?" Adam wished he had paid closer attention. "I was…distracted."
"Oh, no, that's fine. This is quite a lot to take in, and so suddenly. There is so much to do."
To do? What had this Harrison man done? Adam hadn't agreed to anything.
"You'll be glad to know that I've already gotten a team together." Gabriel laughed as Adam collapsed in his chair, deflated. "They're brilliant, no big names or anything, but just bloody brilliant! I don't know if you've heard of Henry James, a bright grad student out of California…" Adam stopped listening. A team! The expedition was already going to happen. And, it seemed, with or without him. They would, however, need him. His ideas had sparked this wild operation.
"Hold on a minute," he told Harrison.
Rummaging through the drawers of his desk, he searched for something with which to take notes. Adam pushed past crumpled Post-It pads and bent paperclips. He knew he had used to keep loose leaf at the bottom of the middle drawer. To get to it, he pulled out a stack of museum pamphlets he had crammed into the too-small space. With a yank, they came free and he barely evaded the flock of paper that was launched at his face. Amidst the fluttering of sheets, he heard a thud.
He kneeled on the carpet of the study and reached under a bookshelf. An old notebook had slid into the space between the shelf's antique feet and the floor. Grabbing the leather-bound corner of the book, his heart wavered. He revealed what he had feared: his old journal. Still open to the diagrams he had drawn on his last expedition to South America, the book stared at him, open and beckoning. He carried it gingerly to the desk surface, careful not to close it. The journal had been the crucible of his work and theories. It withstood the sands of Giza and the rain of Wiltshire.
"Here," he told Dr. Harrison. Adam thought of Elizabeth. She would not be accompanying him this time. He pushed the stinging I his eyes aside and flipped to a fresh page in the journal.
December 14th, 2009
Abraham stuck his thumb in the book to hold his place and closed the cover of the journal. The front was scratched as if run down with sand paper and his fingers could feel the wrinkly water furrows on the back. He let his fingers graze the gold embossed lettering of the owner's name. Adam J. Livehurst. He should be in the dossier. Flipping through pages and scattered papers, Abe finally found Dr. Livehurst's file. The man was an archaeological researcher at New York University. Well, he had used to be. A few years prior to the Colombian expedition, he resigned. Solemn blue eyes hooded by dark brows stared back from the profile. He found the blown-up photograph and traced along the faces until he found Livehurst's. He stood between a young woman with blonde hair and Dr. Harrison. At that moment, he remembered Dr. Harrison.
Abraham checked his watch. With luck, Harrison was still in his office. Abe chucked all but the diary back in the safe and slid the paneling back into place. He locked the case and slipped the key inside the journal. Stuffing the whole book under his arm, he set out for Dr. Harrison's office.
An unexplainable fear settled into his stomach as his footfalls clapped against the floor. Those files had been locked up for a reason.
As he approached the agape door labeled by a brass plate "Dr. Gabriel Harrison Ph.D.", Abe could make out shuffling and muffled curses. He rapped his knuckles against the door frame.
"Dr. Harrison," he called out, "a word?"
"Oh, Abraham!" The man scratched his scruffy blonde beard and examined the cluttered surface of his desk. He had his hands splayed a foot above the mess. "You don't happen to see a rock, do you?" he looked up at Abe with his wild blue eyes. He made a pincer with his forefinger and thumb. "It's a kind of dark gray-ish and about this big," Harrison slowly made his way to Abe. "If you see it, shout. If not, then you are to tell anyone who asks that it is safely in the hands of the museum." He gave Abe a candid smile.
"Dr. Harrison, I actually have some questions about some uh…research."
"Research?" Harrison was on his hands and knees searching under the armchair. He stopped and looked up at Abraham. "What research? Are you planning something?"
"No, it's actually Professor Emerson's research."
"Oh, really? Well, come in, I'll be happy to help." Abe stepped forward, but was stopped by a shout. "No wait!"
"What?" Abe began to rethink his choice in assistance.
"Found it!" exclaimed Harrison who stood, trotted to his desk, and placed a small stone into a felt bag. "Now, what do you have for me?"
Abe removed the journal and slid it across the desk to Dr. Harrison. The professor's still young face instantly gravened and his tight smile collapsed into wrinkles.
"This isn't supposed to be here." He murmured, but not to Abe. "No one was supposed to keep anything."
"Emerson left me this," Abe demanded. "What does it mean?"
"Abraham," Harrison whispered, "close the door."
December 14th, 2008
Abe had brought Dr. Harrison to the hole in Emerson's wall. Standing back, he gave the professor a moment to ponder and scratch his beard.
"I never would have known, and, yet, I pass this every day."
"I want to know what it means. What is it? Why is it hidden away? Why was it given to me?" His fists tightened. "I know you can tell me!"
"Yes, I can." Harrison's eyes turned to glass as he spun to face the graduate student, "You must be something special." Abe didn't have anything to say to such a statement. He watched Harrison.
Harrison didn't respond at first. At first, he strode over to the bookshelf and pulled out an old archaeology textbook.
"From a time when there was a lot more mystery in the world," he said, "The seventies." He chuckled at his own joke as he flipped through the pages. "Abraham," he finally asked, "have you ever been to Wiltshire? To Stonehenge?"
"Of course," Abe had gone for a school trip when he was a boy. He had been totally mystified by the paradoxical nature of the world. How could a society so ancient be so skilled as to build such a monolith as Stonehenge? That day he had decided he wanted to study archaeology and dig up and delve into the mysteries of humanity. Now, he studied petrified pharos and buried temples, but Stonehenge had laid the cornerstone of his passion.
"What about Carahunge?"
"In Armenia?" It's location was the extent of Abe's knowledge.
"Precisely. You see, your late professor spent his life with these monoliths. Stonehenges became a hobby of his," said Harrison as he passed the textbook over. "To him, they held some secret. They were a puzzle to be solved. For years he had hypothesized that there could be as many as a dozen of these structures that lay unexplored in the American continents." Harrison flipped through other books pointing pictures out to Abraham. Abe turned the information over in his head.
"Cross-continent similarities would have significant implications. Walden Emerson had his heart and mind set on figuring it all out." He was handed a hardback book, Mystery in the Massifs. It was written by one Adam Livehurst, Ph.D., the author of the journal. "Then, he found out about Adam's research and the whole game changed." Abe began to skim through the book. Livehurst had hypothesized that there was something in the Colombian Massif Mountains. Ancient ruins? Another Stonehenge? A whole civilization?
So that was where Emerson had gone over his senior year: to look for whatever was hidden in the Colombian mountains.
"What did he find?" he asked Dr. Harrison.
"At first, not much." The professor sat on the edge of the desk recalling the past as he ran a hand through his sandy hair. "The first week he poked around a tiny town where the mountains split off from the Andes. It was a place called San Agustín. There were stone statues, arranged in a…well, a sort of stonehenge." He searched through the folder until he pulled out the photos of the Colombian sculptures. He handed them to Abe. "But the real prize wasn't in San Agustín. It was further south, on the other side of the mountains, in a pocket of rainforest; and Walden was anxious to go for a hike. I got the call to recruit a team for the expedition. Obviously, Adam Livehurst was first on my list. This," Harrison shook the journal at Abe, "This is Adam's." Once again, his gaze shifted into the past and his voice seemed to speak only to itself. "He was always writing in it. He was writing when I first saw him when I got off the plane in New York."