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The Archive, a flash fiction short story

“I hope it is treasure” said Darith. He was a squat man, good with an axe and good at tracking.

Sun smiled.

The Archive was close. After 10 years of searching, countless injuries and many deaths they were finally getting close. In the morning light there was almost a path through the woods; newer trees punching through black rock, darker ground, and more stones leaving a vague outline. This used to be a road.

Not a road like they had now, but an old one. People said before the war there were large roads made of black stone. No one had ever seen one, of course, but there was evidence they existed. It was said there were black stones all in a line stretching for hundreds of miles.

Sun felt the earth in his hands and signaled to the others to follow.

Family stories passed down for several generations said The Archive was in these mountains. Supposedly Sun’s great-great grand father had helped build it. A huge archive of precious knowledge. No one really knew what was in there. Some said it contained a great treasure, terrible weapons from before the war, or maybe a lost people with advanced knowledge. Sun didn’t believe any of those. His mother told him The Archive contained great knowledge, knowledge of how to build as they did before the great fires. The Great War had destroyed everything.

People considered Sun and his travelers strange and advanced. His bow was strong and could kill a deer at 40 yards. Most people relied on stones thrown with animal skins.

It had taken a long time to find this road remnant. The group of 15 moved carefully through the woods searching through the trees for unfriendly eyes or the great doors that marked the Archive. Sun’s people had gone into the lowlands after the war to escape the terrible winters. They’d retraced their steps and the stories of their ancestor’s journey to find this isolated mountain range of tall trees and sheer rock faces. In parts, the road remnant obscured into a cliff face and they would spend hours finding a path around and back onto the trail.

Sun was not the first to see it. He was walking with his head down, watching his feet plod on ahead of him. Some of his toenails were missing where stones shattered them in a fight.

Twig, a girl of about 15 seasons called to him.

“It is the great gate, we have found it!” She called.

Sun’s eye darted up quickly and over the landscape. He could see some kind of stone work coming out of the ground with a small opening showing a strange grate. He had heard of one gate but there were several of them. Dirt and stones crowded the openings.

The band broke into a run, they yelled with frenzied cries of a joy. A man held his infant high above his head and cheered, shaking the child as he ran.

It took three weeks to find a way in. It was not one of the gates that granted entrance but a small vertical shaft. Twig found it one morning and called everyone to her. Sun crawled inside, he removed his animal skins so he could press his back against the wall and use his feet to walk down.

The darkness enveloped him and one of the tribe, Darith, called after him. Sun assured them he was fine even though he could not see below him. At the bottom of the shaft he lit a small torch using flint and stone. He crawled until he found an opening into a large tunnel.

He walked slowly, looking in every direction. Nervously, he checked his bag for torches and flints. He came to a room that was large with rows and rows of silver boxes. This was the Archive. The treasure seekers had been right after all, Sun thought. Sun picked up the nearest silver box and examined it.

It wasn’t silver after all but a cheaper metal. He opened it hoping to find letters and words. Sun had learned to read on a dirt floor as a child. It came with the search for the Archive. What Sun found was unlike anything he’d ever seen. There was a large metal wheel and inside a foreign material. It was as if a black stone had been pounded flat until it became opaque but it couldn’t be stone. The edges were too perfect and the surface perfectly smooth. He carefully unwound some of the opaque stone from the metal wheel. It couldn’t be stone, it bent and felt fragile.

Sun didn’t know what to make of it until he noticed small impressions in the surface. Like fish frozen in ice there were markers in the black. He held it to the torch light and read aloud.

“James Harrison. Birth 1873, Suffolk England.”

Sun opened more boxes and looked at more records until his light burned low. He retreated back to the surface.

“What of the treasure?” Darith asked when Sun returned.

Sun was silent. He shook his head slowly and finally spoke. “I was taught it was a treasure of knowledge. I believed it would teach us to live as before but its…” He trailed off.

Everyone was silent, gathered closely around Sun. Watching his face for an explanation.

“The Archive, its just names. Rows and rows, piles and piles of names. The weight of our dead is too great to bear.” Sun’s eyes were red.

“I thought we would find great knowledge and instead all we found were ghosts.”

The tribe stayed and camped for a few weeks while Sun explored further. Finally the winds changed and they headed south. Winter was coming.

Posted Monday, April 28, 2014
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