White Bones

They say it was me. They accuse me. Me!

They say I was too obsessed with those bones.

This is an outrage. This is insanity. I told the director weeks ago that there was somebody else; again and again I told im that somebody was fumbling with my bones – but he wouldn’t listen.

I knew he was special the moment he arrived. Eurasian male, definitely an adult, that’s all we knew for sure when the delivery came.

A blue plastic box with foam padding, and when I took the first layer off and saw his skull I was barely able to hold my excitement back. That’s something you read a paper about, not something you ever see yourself, not something that you get to have in your own museum!

The others, of course, didn’t realize the treasure. They knew he was unusual, but it’s not their specialism and so they don’t remember a thing they were taught at university – if they were ever taught a thing – and so they don’t understand. Completely white. Bright white, like your grandmother’s best Sunday china. Every single one of those bones looked like a piece of porcelain, just not as smooth and shiny. But even the skull and even the teeth, fully white without a single spot of gray!

That’s not something you ever see. If I’d try it today with the best conditions – if I’d take you right now, or that ignoramus that calls himself director, and let your blood slowly out and get your body in a dark room and put the right larvae to work for two weeks and slowly scrub the rest off and give you a nice acidic bath right after – even then I won’t get your bones that white!

I was already worried that he was some modern murder victim; silently killed and treated with some chemical meant to get rid of the body that instead got the bones white. I hadn’t even dared to unpack him. My fingers were sweaty when I opened that letter and they must have heard me scream out on the corridors.

800 years! He lived while the Mongols were just starting to conquer the world and suddenly he was there, neatly stacked in foam in a blue box next to my table with his bones white than ivory!

That same day I arranged him out on the table. The white looked stunning against the cold metal of that table. And all bones there. Everything, really, perfectly preserved and without a scratch.

I still don’t understand how he could be that white. The note said they found him in the desert but it didn’t even say a country. That’s the problem with private collectors, they don’t even bother to keep notes or remember where the objects were found.

Still, from the frame and head shape – definitely Eurasian, probably a trader somewhere living on the Arab coasts or maybe a devout one making his way to Jerusalem. The bones were all well grown together, so certainly an adult, and all bones still intact, so likely not an old one.

But you should have seen him – not a single blemish. Teeth perfectly preserved, like the plastic ones you see on a dentist’s front desk. Never something you see in the real world!

One of the others suggested he might be a victim of sacrifice. Born and raised only to be killed. But even then, how did they preserve the bones so well? He must have fallen or must have ground the food with his teeth – but there was no trace of that.

My god, when he was there on the metal table, how I regretted pulling that tooth from his skull. It’s a standard procedure, sure, to date the bones, but had I known how stunningly perfect he was – I wouldn’t have done a thing to him.

I sat nearly until midnight; until the white light started burning my eyes and my back was crawling with pain from the hunched position. I was so euphoric that I didn’t even feel how heavy my legs were until I had to take the steps up to my apartment.

I dreamt of him even, the white bones and the perfect skull without a single crack, and felt as if he was speaking to me, chastising me for taking that tooth.

I knew something was wrong the moment I arrived back at my desk. I was later than usual. It’s not that I have to follow a schedule, but I like to have things well planned and well timed. I was too exhausted from the day before and the lack of dinner and I’m not sure whether I turned the alarm off and fell asleep right after, or whether I didn’t wake up in the first place.

It must have been that morning, those 30 minutes of delay. Someone must have gone and picked up the skull.

Not that I blame them, he was magnificent, so white that you wonder whether you should lick him, just to make sure that he is real. But I have my system and after eight years they should all know that I don’t like when they take parts and put them back incorrectly. You can’t just change the order, there might be a pattern to it or a meaning or those secret codes that only their author will understand and that tell whether one bone was examined or not.

I mentioned it during lunch and Aimee said that it was probably the cleaner. She knew that was a futile idea; Aimee knows that I know the cleaner and that there was no use on blaming it on her, she’s a good one and she’s far too scared of our bones than that she would touch them. It could have been Aimee. Maybe it was her, out of curiosity or to inspect the value. She always seems to spend her money without care; I can imagine her having money trouble. But I can’t forgive her for pulling me into this.

From that day on I always made sure to lock my office. Not that it’s impossible to get in, there are far too many people with keys and the lock is not exactly strong. Still, better than nothing and better for the peace of mind.

Nearly every night there was something moved. Often the same bones I had measured and checked; it was nearly as if somebody, at night, was checking my measurements to make sure they were correct. The director himself, that would explain it. Checking on me, or maybe he too understood the treasure we had and from the beginning he planned to sell it and frame me for his acts.

It was a while until I started locking my notes too. I started after I had finished the routine; after I made all those photos and had the measurements sorted and was scratching the surface at a few spots to see whether it really was bone and not some sort of special cover. It was really the bone, hard and white but a bit dry and brittle like the bones of today’s old that seem to break with every fall.

It was absurd, all those moved bones. A whole arm one day and a whole leg another. And then, after three or four weeks, that man or woman began to move the whole body. Not far, at first, but definitely slid to the side and nearly off the table.

I remember that shouting match with the director, where I demanded a better lock or a guard and he told me that I was insane and that nobody had reason to enter my room. He said all others were surely more concerned with their own issues. That was the first day that he said I was too obsessed with those bones. He wasn’t the first who said that, but god what must you be a bad director for a small town museum if you scold the only employee with a proper education and that does his job for worrying about the treasure of the whites bones you’ve ever seen.

Maybe it really was the director. That’s why it didn’t stop but rather got worse instead. He must have been the one that enjoyed moving the bones at night – just to spite me. He always had this sheepish grin on his face when I told him that the bones had been moved again; further down the table. He didn’t even acknowledge it when I held the handful of white bones from the right foot in front of his face and screamed into his soul that it was unacceptable that someone broke in to throw them on the floor.

I tried sleeping in the room, twice. But the security guard came six times that night and he woke me up each time and told me that I should go home.

The security guard? I suppose an archeology student that failed often enough to have to work as a guard is in need of money. He also had the key ready, and of course the time to go in and play with those bones like a toy. And he must have had the chance, while I was asleep, to move the bones before he woke me up.

Once I got nervous, even, and thought that maybe the moved bones had been replaced with just copies. That was when I found the whole lower leg on the floor while the knee was still on the table. I even had a carpet on the table to keep them from slipping. Just like expected the perpetrator kept moving the bones, every day one more and every day one further.

The more time passed the bolder that criminal got. Moved the whole lower body off the table and half a step away from it. That’s also when the rumors started, that somebody was moving through the hallways at night. The guard had seen him, a figure hushing around corners near the far end where my office is, but the guy was fast and our failed-student-turned-guard too fat for his job.

I heard quite a few times that Aimee would be a good suspect. She is pale too and she has at least some knowledge of bones. I’m not sure if I can really trust that idea, that, of all those, Aimee could be the one to betray me. It’s just so hard to imagine that she would come to my office and admire the bones with me close at her side in that tense distance that made me want to steal a kiss off her pink-painted lips and that she then could come back at night and touch those same bones but with greed in her eyes rather than that childish fascination.

I told her too much. Just like the director. Probably one of them spilled the message that I thought the bones were worth a lot – likely even worth more than our museum as a whole – and somebody thought it worse to pull off a long ruse to get me out of the way and the bones in their bag and to the highest bidder.

Not that any of them are truly worth their brain mass. Have a whole brain but only use a quarter, that’s what I always think about them. Still, it is absurd, that they’d move the bones so far out of the room rather than steal them right away. Why would they place them neatly on the floor first in my office and then even outside, on the corridor?

I remember that call from the guard, when he asked me whether that was a new project of mine, to show the bones off to the public. He should have known that I’d never have done such a thing. To spoil the treasure by shoving it in a badly built glass case for their greedy eyes and camera flashes. No way, not a chance. That same thought made sure I never got my raise, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have given it up just to do a favor for some group of school children that are more likely to steal a bone than to look at it.

It got so bad, with the bones, that I didn’t even keep them out anymore. Better to spend a few hours to rebuild the skeleton from scratch every morning than to find that a cleaner dumped it in the bin or some kid stole it off the floor before the first staff found it somewhere on the museum corridors.

It’s hard to admit. I wanted to be strong and to fight for my career and success, but in the end the dread won over me too. The guard said he felt that, knowing that there would be a figure near my office every night at least once, It’s hard to walk or sit in the dark, but harder if you know that somebody that shouldn’t be there is there too.

That thread was unacceptable. I told the director that and even he with his infinite wisdom agreed that an axe in my office door was not something that could be tolerated – particularly not if the axe was stolen from a glass cabinet and older than the oldest mummy known to man.

The bones in their box and locked up with a metal padlock. He said nobody had the key but me – a lie, of course, I found that out the next day when the bones were found by a visitor group in the morning. They dared to step on the bones! They thought it was some sort of art or fun activity and oblivious to anything rare or valuable they stepped on the bones. If there was a god I’d thank him for not allowing that damage to succeed.

They were surprised though, when I told them that it was rare and valuable and should not be there. They were even more surprised when I noticed the missing foot and caught them just before they left the building.

The woman had the bones of a whole foot in her handbag, as if that was some sort of souvenir puzzle to put on your shelf. Criminal. With tears and lies she talked the director out of pressing charges. Wouldn’t have worked on me, but I guess lonely egg heads are easy to impress with young tears.

I still don’t know how they managed to frame me. They must have done it while I was on my way to work – they took another route back to my apartment. There just can’t be another way or time.

I locked it up at night. Aimee was even there, she saw it before we went for a quick drink – quick, sadly not just for the lack of attention afterwards but also for the lack of alibi.

The clock showed not even 11pm when I got home. Had another beer and there was something about chimpanzees on TV. Sometimes I wonder what people find about chimps, with all that talk about them being our closest relatives. Sure, we lock them up in zoos, but we care more about them than we care about other people. Kill a black park ranger and you’re good to go, but kill the chimp the ranger was protecting and the outrage train runs through our newspapers as if that thing had a soul.

Anyway, I must have gone to bed around 1 in the morning. That’s when I got fresh pajamas from the wardrobe and by any and all gods, I’m sure I would have seen it and I doubt that someone got in my house and bedroom during the night.

In the morning I was quick on my way to work, I was even a tad late and had to pack my breakfast to eat in the office.

Arrived, threw my coat and the bag on the chair and without even opening that blue box I knew something was wrong again.

The padlock was a bit too tight and I struggled with it for a moment. I might have given up if Amy hadn’t come running to the door with her face all red. She said the axe was gone again, and that I should check whether he was where he should be.

I wonder how she noticed the missing axe so early in the morning. She said she saw it while walking past, but I don’t see why she’d be walking through the prehistoric corridor in the morning.

Aimee pressed on the lid and I got the lock to open – and sure enough, nothing but empty foam in that box.

We searched first the front rooms and then the back rooms and then even the street but he was nowhere to be found. All white bones just gone. I had to suppress a laugh when I realized how surreal it was that we get him within two days of a phone call about some sort of inherited bones and just as quickly he’s gone again.

The police came, took all the information and my pictures and made big eyes when I told them he could be worth so much that even the national museum would struggle to buy him back.

Aimee was through with everything that day, unable to walk or think. She cried even, for me, as she said, because she knew how much I loved those bones. That’s the only reason I got her to come home with me that night and the only reason we got drunk enough to get into bed. It was like his last gift to me, that I could have a girl just before he disappeared.

And when we were done and all sweaty she asked whether I want to shower too and I said sure and she asked for a shirt to wear for the night. I told her to grab one from the wardrobe and watched her behind as she jumped off the bed and the next thing I knew she screamed and shouted at me and threw shoes after my head.

I wonder whether she planned it that way; whether she did all that on purpose so she could pin his disappearance all on me.

It wasn’t easy to explain to the police that I’d been framed. I told them that those bones were worth millions and all they thought of was to cuff me up and throw me in their car.

They say the only fingerprints they found on the bones were mine and Aimee’s. Aimee, it must have been her. Maybe she worked together with the egg head to frame me and they both reap the profit – maybe him a bigger museum and her a set of corridors on her own.

It’s funny that he’s now gone again. It should be so obvious that the morning they brought him back to the museum he was gone again. Supposedly they even had a second guard to patrol together with our fat failure, but probably they were just gambling or drinking together instead.

He’s not been found again yet. They even asked me, as if I knew that Aimee and the director would sell the white bones and still get myself framed for it.

It’s strange though, that’s the one thing I really don’t understand. All makes sense, if I think how they arranged it. Maybe they did it just for a show effect, but really, in the morning, between my shower and the time I arrived at the museum, they shouldn’t have had enough time for that.

What’s strange is the way they placed him there. That night, when Aimee had run off to the phone I got up and opened that wardrobe to check what she was screaming about.

The white bones sat there, carefully arranged like a sitting man, and the axe was to his left and a long spear that no one had missed yet was to his right. His head was turned towards the door. It looked nearly scenic, realistic, like a hunter waiting to stalk his prey.

I hope they find the white bones soon.

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