The Artifact

The workers were very kind and gentle to the skeleton they had unearthed by accident, one which had been walled up in the catacombs below a wine cellar for over a hundred years. They draped a coat around his shoulders and offered him a cigarette, which he looked at hesitantly, and then began to smoke. It made him cough at first, but it seemed to calm him down. They asked him what he had thought about all these years. It was hard to say, the skeleton reflected. At first, it was a desire for revenge. Then, there was contrition and doubt, followed by seasons of madness and forgetfulness. In the end, he only thought of three things. The desire for the moist mouth of a girl he had once kissed on a bridge, his desire to converse and confess to a priest, and the desire to walk in the countryside—there was a place where lavender, chamomile and verbena grew that he really missed. The workers wondered if he would like a drink. They wanted to cheer him up. Such a remarkable event required something expensive and good. They could bring him cognac, brandy, a good wine, or some sherry. The skeleton coughed up some smoke, and shook its head sadly and slowly. Only table wine or water for him.

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The Lock

It was snowing. Smoking and thinking hard, the cryptographer watched the large wet snowflakes sparkle in the blue twilight through the window of his study. He returned to the desk, where the mysterious artifact sat, an ancient wooden box covered with a large lock consisting of several concentric circles or dials of various metals, some with the finger holes one would find on a rotary telephone, others with numbers, symbols, and scripts that nobody at the museum could decipher. One cigarette after another, he smoked and scribbled and thought about the mysterious box and its impenetrable lock. It was after midnight, some hundred nights since the beginning of this mess, that he solved the riddle in a glorious epiphany immediately celebrated with a glass of sherry. The numbers were for seasons and years; the runic symbols referred to metaphysical questions. It was only by sheer luck that he thought of the right question for this great and terrible year. The other years, their questions and laws, remained to be found. The lock clicked, and the box opened. Inside, to the left, sat various coils, batteries, hookswitches and a capacitor, all disconnected. To the right sat an apparatus that could have been a transmitter or speaker. The cryptogropher picked it up and spoke. Breaking all the laws he had hypothesized or imagined and almost breathless with a bittersweet fear, he asked several questions at once—where was his favourite book of woodcuts, who was the pretty girl on the train, what world was this and who would like to play with him in the snow? Then he held it to his ear. The night beyond flowed from the transmitter. It sounded like crushed stars, static and falling, wet snow. I really want someone to play with me.