The Artifact (Book 2, Time Trilogy)

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Chapter Two: Morgan's Surprise

July 2023
University of Richmond
Richmond City, Virginia

}}}-----> MORGAN <-----{{{

“Ugh, I need coffee!” Morgan Walters thinks aloud to herself. “Mondays are bad enough, but muggy, rainy Mondays are just pure evil!”

Traffic near Richmond City University at this time of day is ridiculous and Morgan just wants to get to work already. Glancing at the clock on her dash, she’s glad she makes her own hours during Summer Semester, as she has the lab virtually to herself with no students and minimal professors. If she’s late, no one cares - except for her.

She finally pulls into the staff parking lot, grabbing her umbrella and sticking it out the car door to open it before exiting her graphite colored Jeep Renegade. Not having to impress anyone today, she wore jeans and a gray tee, though now regrets not wearing boots instead of the cute flats she chose, as the rain puddles are now small lakes after having rained for the last three days straight.

Dodging the big puddles, she makes it to the Anthropology Department wing and ducks under the overhanging just as the deluge of rain starts up heavier again. Opening the tall, glass door, she closes her umbrella, and makes her way down the hall and up the stairs to the almost hidden Archaeology Lab. The first floor is reserved for the department’s classrooms and anthropology staff offices, whereas the upper floor houses the offices for both archaeology professors, Morgan’s lab, where the students receive hands-on artifact experience, and the extensive storage rooms where various artifacts that the university had collected or been given over the last one hundred years are protected and displayed for study.

Pulling her keys from her purse, the university’s Archaeology Collections Manager unlocks the door at the top of the stairs, basking in the fact that this is the first week she’d virtually have the lab to herself for the term, save for the two times a week her intern, Emory, would be popping in for a few hours. Transitioning straight into the job after graduating from RCU herself with her Master’s Degree in Archaeology two years ago, Morgan can’t help but enjoy working with the school’s two archaeology professors, Daniel Clark and Samantha Warner. But, as somewhat of an introvert, summer semester not only allows her time to catch up on the lab while the professors and students were away at field school, but gives her the extra quiet she often craves at the end of a busy semester. She mentally counts how many days she has until fall semester begins in September, and the mess load of work she’ll be inundated with begins when the students come back.

After putting her purse and umbrella away, Morgan opens the artifact log book on her desk, skimming through the last few entries to jog her memory as to which of the university’s artifacts are expected to be returned to her care after having been checked out to other professors for their classes. Keeping track of the borrowed artifacts outside of the lab is always a difficult and ongoing task, and she takes mental note to reach out to the three history professors who still have a few of her objects from the last semester.

She sighs, realizing that the stingy Mrs. Berger still hadn’t returned the lab’s one intact Gravel-Tempered North Devon Coarseware bowl, having used it as an example of 17th century wares in conjunction with whatever boring piece of literature she had forced her students to read. She was cratchitty and then some, and Morgan hated having to confront her about returning objects.

“Maybe Samantha will be able to talk to her when she gets back from maternity leave?!” Morgan smiles at the thought of the sweet, but confident Neolithic expert confronting the older professor on her behalf. Having had her baby only three weeks ago, Morgan purses her lips, as she won’t be able to ask the youthful and well-liked professor to do the favor for a few more weeks.

Running her hands through her dampish short blonde locks, Morgan turns on the radio and starts the coffee maker, tugging on her gray knit pullover as it’s always chilly in the lab. She pulls her black rimmed glasses out of the case on her desk so she can read the labels on the trays left to dry overnight.

Having been farsighted since she was in the first grade, Morgan got used to the other kids teasing her about her glasses, but as a college student in a more scientific field of study, she soon learned how to use fashion sense to make her glasses work for her, not against her. Though hanging on the outskirts of being a nerd, she now easily maintains a decent balance of societal norms, getting along with the true ‘geeks’ and the ‘cool kids’ alike - and pretty much everyone else in between.

Just as she’s about to decide which group of artifacts she wants to start cataloging this morning, the phone rings. “RCU Archaeology Lab, how can I help you?” She answers in an upbeat tone.

“Morgan, this is Dr. Clark.” She recognizes the familiar, gravelly voice of her direct supervisor and the Archaeology Department’s senior faculty member in both age and tenure.

“Oh, hi Professor! How are you?”

“Good, good. Did you have a good weekend?” He asks good-naturedly. Even though he’s usually frazzled or on the go, Dr. Clark’s personable persona with staff and students alike, make him popular among both groups.

Morgan nonchalantly replies, “Oh, it wasn’t bad - I just chillaxed. More importantly though, how’s it going at the site?!” She refers to the Mesoamerican site on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where the professor and his field school students will be excavating for the next couple months. Morgan half wishes she could be there as well.

He replies with humorous sarcasm. “Oh, just peachy! I’m getting too old for these summer hiatuses - these kids are hard to keep up with!”

Laughs in return, Morgan teases. “Aw, you’re not that old! How’s the weather?”

“It’s Mexico in the summer! So, it’s hot.” Then he changes the subject. “Hey, I forgot to tell you I left you a little surprise in my office before I left on Wednesday. It was found by a farmer recently, and he dropped it by to see if we could identify it.”

“Oh?” Morgan asks with interest. “Anything cool?”

“Yeah, I’d say so. I didn’t have time to look at it real good, but I want you to see what you think. It’s more your specialty.”

When he doesn’t say anything more, Morgan prods with a smile, “Okay...? You’re not going to tell me what it is?”

“No, I’ll let you figure it out. You’ve got to be bored out of your mind with no one else around,” he finishes, obviously giving her a hard time for the fun of it. She hadn’t had time to be bored yet.

She laughs good-naturedly. “Well, I do love a good surprise! Especially an archaeological one! I’ll let you know what I figure out.”

“Good!” The professor returns with good humor. “Well, adios for now! I’ll call again later in the week to see how you’re doing, but you can always email me if you need anything. I’ve got one of these kids setting up the internet on my laptop today.”

Morgan shakes her head fondly at the technologically-disadvantaged professor. “Good luck Professor! Find lots of good stuff, okay!?”

Morgan hangs up the phone and heads directly for Dr. Clark’s office at the back of the Archaeology suite, wondering what sort of artifact the farmer would have found. Oftentimes these types of queries are nothing but a naturally odd-shaped stone, or something modern that has no archaeological significance. And then there were exceptions.

Opening the door to the office, she quickly spies the small, flat white box sitting by itself on the center of the professor’s desk. The accompanying yellow sticky note written in thin permanent marker reads:

Ned Billings
609 Harpers Rd
Redwater, Virginia
(804) 555-7221

Below the address is the Professor’s familiar messy handwriting: For Morgan.

“This must be it! What type of goody are you?” She muses aloud to the box.

Taking the lid off the acid-free cardboard artifact box, a similarly flat, gray rock, sparkles slightly with tiny flecks of metallic inclusions. At approximately four-inches in length and two in width, and corners that are worn and even broken, the curious object lays perfectly on a neatly folded paper towel. From the near-center of the stone, two perfectly round holes, obviously drilled through the rock, stare back at her.

“Oh, wow!” She exclaims with excitement. This was definitely one of the exceptions.

}}}-----> * <-----{{{

A picture of the gorget can be seen on the cover of this book, and is a legitimate artifact that I’ve had the pleasure of caring for (and photographing) at my job as an archaeologist! The real-life artifact, pictured on the cover, was the inspiration from which this story comes. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have the same effect that it will in the chapters to come! One can only hope!

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