Arthur Adams leaned his elbow against the sturdy maple windowsill set low in the wall of his tiny graduate assistant office. The dark wood had been worn smooth by the elbows of countless graduate students before him and he knew somewhere deep down that each one of them had been just as miserable as he.
Outside a solid bank of storm clouds so dark they were very nearly black obstructed the fading light of the late October sun. If the snow being unleashed by the clouds onto Blackduck Minnesota was any indication then there was a very good chance a new ice age was in the works.
Arthur’s plain face rested on his slightly pudgy fist and his ordinary brown eyes stared despondently out from under a mess of curly brown hair. The focus of his gaze was the vacant lot abutting Prince Hall, the arts and humanities building of Northern Minnesota University. At least he would have been staring at the lot if he could have seen further than four feet through the wall of snow on the other side of the ancient glass. Despite it only being the end of October the lot and the assortment of broken down cars and cast-away tires were all being buried by the intense blizzard.
Flickering light from the halogen fixture dangling on the ceiling above him cast dull shadows on the pale yellow walls of his office. Exposed steam pipes above him hissed and ticked as steam coursed through them to heat the squat concrete building.
Part of Arthur’s malaise was the fact that in order to return to his dorm room he would no doubt be forced to use the steam tunnels beneath the university. They had originally been intended simply to carry steam from one building to another but when the school’s founders realised how cold and miserable the winters in Northern Minnesota could be they were adapted for foot traffic.
Every year as soon as snow started falling the tunnels overflowed with sniffling, dripping, hacking students. The concrete walkways became a breeding ground for every flu, cold, and plague imaginable. Arthur knew the next global pandemic would not be engineered in a secret government lab, but in the cramped tunnels of NMU.
With the kind of sigh usually reserved for death row inmates Arthur turned his chair away from the tiny window to square himself with the second reason for his sour mood. The lone desk in his office, piled high with a small mountain of essays from the introduction to Archaeology class he taught.
Arthur jumped when he found his faculty advisor, and the bane of his existence, Dr. Richard Stoneman sitting at the other side of the desk thumbing through a National Geographic magazine. The tall man was seated awkwardly in the folding plastic lawn chair normally left propped against one wall for students.
Dr. Stoneman had managed to enter the room and unfold the musty chair all without making a noise. He was wearing a faded Duran Duran t-shirt under a rumpled blue sports coat. His feet were propped up on the edge of Arthur’s desk and water from melting snow was dripping from his boots onto the weathered fiberboard surface. Some of the essays were already soaked by the pooling water.
Faced with his advisor Arthur couldn’t help but realize once again how different they were. While Arthur was short and some might say chubby, Stoneman was tall with a lean swimmer’s physique. Arthur suspected the man spent more time in the campus gym than he did in the archaeology lab.
His advisor had striking blue eyes and a short crop of jet black hair with just a touch of grey at the temples. Arthur’s hair was perpetually messy and made him look like he had just spent the night sleeping on a couch. Stoneman’s hair looked like he spent considerable time in front of a mirror with expensive gels.
Richard Stoneman was the kind of man that seemed to always have an easy grin on his face. In the two years he had been Stoneman’s graduate assistant Arthur had yet to see him take anything seriously. He was the man everyone loved.
Arthur despised him.
“Arty this chair is gross. Why don’t you get a real chair in here?” Dr. Stoneman shifted around on the squeaky plastic and grimaced.
Arthur sighed again and gripped the padded armrests of his own seat tightly. “Hello Dr. Stoneman.” He tried to give his advisor’s name the extra inflection he thought its ridiculousness warranted. “I don’t have a real chair in here because the room is too small. If I keep another chair in front of the desk there’s no way for students to get in. And I’ve told you a hundred times, my name is Arthur. Not Arty.”
Dr. Stoneman nodded without looking at Arthur. “Huh, well it smells weird. Hey some storm out there right? Don’t worry though. I brought some of the good stuff to fortify the ol’ spirit!” He tossed the magazine aside and reached down to floor next to him to pluck up a bottle with two red plastic party cups upended over the neck. With his feet still on the desk he bent double to set the bottle down next to his still dripping boots then leaned back in the chair with his hands behind his head.
Arthur looked at the bottle and did a double take. It was Johnnie Walker Blue Label scotch, a pricey bottle of booze. He shook his head and grabbed one of the essays that had managed to stay dry.
“Well as much as I would love to chat with you and drink fancy scotch out of plastic party cups I’m afraid I have an entire Intro to Anthropology class’s final essays to grade.” He looked at the name and title on the essay he had grabbed and suppressed a shudder.
“Why Historical Archaeology is Really Super Important”
By: Colton Fesser
The assignment had been for an essay, at least two thousand words long and it looked like Mr. Fesser had stretched it out to the bare minimum.
“Just do what I did when I was a grad student,” Stoneman said waving one hand in the air over his head dismissively. “Give them all a B+ and if anyone shows up the next day for office hours to complain ‘realize’ your mistake and bump it up to an A-.” He used finger quotes, which made Arthur hate him more.
“I would do that but I have a little something called academic integrity.” Arthur said as he flipped the title page away from Colton’s essay.
Historical Archaeology is really super important because archaeologists go out and find really important old stuff buried in the dirt in the ground. The stuff they find is super valuable but they don’t make any money from all the stuff they find because it goes into museums all over the place.
Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to forestall his impending headache.
“Full of adjectives or copied and pasted from Wikipedia?” Stoneman asked. He took his feet off of Arthur’s desk and flipped the two cups down in their place. With a twist of his wrist he pulled the cork from the Johnnie Walker bottle.
“Full of adjectives.” Arthur replied in monotone.
“Ugh, I’d almost rather have the Wikipedia article. At least then you might learn something.” Stoneman poured a small amount of scotch into each cup and placed the cork back into the bottle. He held out one of the glasses and Arthur let his arm hang there for several seconds before taking it.
“Where’s Derrick anyway? Wasn’t he supposed to be helping you grade those?” Stoneman asked after a noisy sip from his cup.
“He took off when it started snowing. Said he didn’t want to be out on the roads if it got real bad.” Arthur sampled his scotch and couldn’t help but sigh in contentment.
“Off to his girlfriend’s then?” Stoneman grinned.
“Probably.” Arthur opened Colton’s essay again.
“Oh well, more scotch for us. His girlfriend lives in the dorms doesn’t she?”
“Yes.” Arthur answered and flipped a page back to where he left off.
Archaeologists learn really important stuff from all the stuff they find and they right really important books and papers and stuff about all the stuff. Archaeology can be really dangerous to because Indiana Jones was an archaeologist and he fought Nazis. The Kensington Runestone is...
“Can’t you get to the dorms through the tunnels?”
Arthur slammed the paper back onto his desk and the cheap fiberboard wobbled dangerously under the impact. “Yes, you can. Dr. Stoneman why are you here?”
“Oh yeah I almost forgot,” Stoneman removed his feet from Arthur’s desk and leaned forward in his chair, the plastic squeaking underneath him. “Fieldwork!” He answered his eyes wide with excitement.
Arthur felt his blood run cold and the cup in his hand slipped and nearly fell from his lifeless fingers. The storm outside eased its assault on Prince Hall momentarily and for nearly a minute the only thing Arthur could hear was the steam coursing through the ancient pipes above him.
“No.” He finally managed to croak out.
The excitement in Dr. Stoneman’s eyes was instantly replaced with disappointment and hurt. “Why not?”
Arthur drained his cup and tossed it into the trash basket on the floor. “Because the last time I went on an excavation with you I got arrested by the Dominican Navy.”
Stoneman winced but Arthur knew it had more to do with his treatment of the scotch than the mention of his arrest.
“Well yeah but the rest of the trip was pretty good wasn’t it?” Stoneman gave him the crooked smile that seemed to charm everyone else.
“No. No it wasn’t pretty good,” Arthur said. “Immediately after landing we got rushed through customs and tossed into the back of a windowless van with a sweaty interpreter in a suit that looked like he lived in it. They drove us out to that abandoned shrimp farm turned archaeology complex with the two archaeologists that hardly spoke to me. Then someone gave me a glass of water that wasn’t bottled. Do you have any idea how much time I spent in the bathroom?”
“Well yeah but other than that.”
“I didn’t even get to participate in the excavation because it was thirty feet underwater. You never told me it was going to be underwater! I don’t know how to SCUBA dive.”
“Oh come on Arty, you spent a day on the boat drinking coconut water and eating candied mango. That doesn’t sound like a bad time to me.” Stoneman said with a chuckle.
“That’s not the point!”
“And the Dominican jail wasn’t even that bad. Didn’t you spend the whole time playing checkers with the sheriff and eating the delicious food his wife cooked?”
Arthur maintained his scowl in the face of Stoneman’s justification.
“I. Got. Arrested.” Arthur said slowly and deliberately. “I spent two days in that jail and by the time you got me out the van and the archaeologists were gone. You drove us back to the airport on a moped older than I am. It took us six hours. My tailbone was bruised for weeks.”
Stoneman waved his hand dismissively again. “Don’t even worry about that Arty I’ve taken care of everything this time.”
“That’s what you said last time!” Arthur yelled.
Stoneman coughed and stared into his cup. “I just think you might want to reconsider Arty, I mean this site is a pretty big deal. It’s a Mesopotamian temple, probably four thousand years old. You could get some great data for your thesis.”
Arthur opened his mouth to yell at his advisor again but stopped himself before he could form any words. He had been hard at work on his master’s thesis for over a year, a paper on the development of written language. While it was true that the opportunity to excavate a Mesopotamian temple had the potential to yield a great deal of pertinent data, it wasn’t the type of opportunity usually afforded to small universities in Northern Minnesota with a four person archaeology department.
“How exactly did you line up the excavation of a site like that?” He asked, his eyes narrowed.
Stoneman kept his eyes averted as he took another sip of his whisky. “Not a big deal, the minister of antiquities in Iraq owes me a few favors so when they found the ruins he told me I can have first crack at it. We’ll have to be out of there within a couple months though. Team from Oxford is heading in or something.”
Arthur’s eyes widened and his voice raised an octave. “Did you say Iraq?”
“Yeah, it’s right next to this big oil field on the border of Iran. I guess they’re planning some big expansion and they found this old site on top of a hill in the Zagros Mountains.”
“Iran.” Arthur repeated.
“Yep, that’s a good thing though, it’s nowhere near any of the fighting, and the insurgency isn’t supposed to be very active up there. Plus I guess it’s a real bitch to get to.”
“Insurgency?” Arthur squeaked.
Dr. Stoneman came out of his chair and placed his hands wide apart on Arthur’s desk. It swayed dangerously under the strain but he didn’t back away. “Think about it Arty, it’s the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of civilization. This is a place no one has seen for four thousand years. It’s the dig of a lifetime man! Are you really going to pass on it because it might be a little dangerous?”
His intense gaze burned into Arthur’s soul and unearthed the awkward adolescent boy filled with wonder. All at once the sense of discovery and adventure he had felt years ago flooded back into him. He felt like he had a secret and only he understood how truly important the secret was.
Arthur had been bitten by the Archaeology bug early on. His parents were fabulously wealthy and stereotypically distant. They hThe Archaeology bug had bitten Arthurreat his freshman year of high school and he had discovered a Clovis spearpoint left behind by one of the first cultures to inhabit North America. When he told his father he wanted to pursue Archaeology has a career he had just laughed.
“Mine as well study burger flipping.” His father said. “No you should follow me into corporate finance. Look at the life I’ve been able to provide you and your mother. Couldn’t do that with a liberal arts degree could I? I don’t recall meeting any rich archaeologists” He had no idea how weak an argument it was.
At Princeton his parent’s distance worked in his favor. He majored in Archaeology with a minor in World History and they were none the wiser. That is until they surprised him at his graduation ceremony. His father wasn’t impressed with Arthur’s new degree, nor the fact he had graduated with honors at the top of his class.
“Do you plan on continuing this ridiculousness?” He had asked gruffly.
“I do.” Arthur had responded.
“Then you’ll do so without my money. Come along dear.”
His mother passed him a pocket watch with a wane smile before turning to join his father. With the exception of a terse Christmas card he hadn’t heard from them since.
He had received offers from the graduate programs at Harvard, Oxford, and Yale but could afford none of them. In the end he was forced to accept the only full ride scholarship offer he received, North Minnesota University, a school to which he had not even applied.
His parents didn’t expect him to succeed. They didn’t expect him to accomplish anything with his ridiculous degree. They expected him to go crawling back with his tail between his legs in defeat, ready to follow his father’s footsteps into a corporate accounting degree and an entry-level position in the company at which he had made his fortune.
Arthur would rather flip burgers.
Arthur stared back at his faculty advisor. “Okay.” He said quietly. “I’ll do it.”
Stoneman grinned and clapped his hands, as he did a peal of thunder shook Prince Hall. Arthur’s advisor looked around with the same happy grin on his face. “Dang that was weird huh? It almost never thunders when it’s snowing. Anyway sleep tight! I’ve already arranged for our travel and we leave tomorrow morning.”
“What? No,” Arthur said with desperation already replacing the wonder he felt only a moment ago. “That’s too soon. I can’t finish all these papers and get my stuff ready.”
“I already got your excavation equipment packed so you just need some clothes. Slap some B+’s on those bad boys and hit the hay!” Stoneman folded the chair and leaned it against the wall where it normally rested while Arthur endeavored to offer some sort of objection. When he reached the door he turned around to face Arthur again. “And remember, don’t worry, I’ve taken care of everything.”
Then he was gone.
Once again Arthur was alone in the room with only the sounds of the steam and the steady impact of snowflakes the size of gumdrops pounding against the window. He turned to look outside again but turned back when he was faced with a solid wall of white.
He noticed that Stoneman had left the bottle of scotch on his desk and fished his cup out of the trash for a refill. Scotch in hand, Arthur gave a great sigh and picked up his pen. He marked the essay in front of him with a B+ and reached for another.