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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2213303
An unusual archaeological discovery.
A Really Spectacular Find

A time capsule, thought Lewis. Probably a rather special one considering the place it had been buried, but a time capsule just the same. And what archaeologist wasn't tired of digging these up with their banal messages from the past and endless collections of everyday items that already filled the museums? Like all the rest, this one had to be opened carefully, its contents enumerated and catalogued, then consigned to a drawer in an archive somewhere. Lewis sighed and set about opening the capsule.

As it turned out, the contents were a little unusual in that they consisted of several large vials. Lewis had never seen capsule contents divided into separate containers in this way and his interest was piqued immediately. A mystery within a mystery, perhaps.

With the first two vials removed, however, the mystery dissipated. They were labelled with the names of states from the old United States of America; a quick count revealed that there were fifty of them. That would confirm the date of the capsule to the late 20th or early 21st centuries, which would be consistent with the known age of the building that had once existed on the site. Probably contributions from the states to some federal project, each separately placed within the capsule and each with a tale to tell of its origin.

Over the next few days, Lewis found his expectations confirmed as the vials were removed, opened and their contents checked. Each one contained items that must have once been emblematic of the state they represented, carefully selected and lovingly stored for transmission to the future. It was a shame that Lewis had seen them all before and so missed the import of the objects, the meaning that was once thought so clear.

In fact, Lewis became bored with the task, the constant opening of yet another vial and the sorting through ancient contents that told him nothing new. And that was why the 48th vial came as such a surprise.

It was empty.

Lewis stared at the vial, almost indignant that it should present him with such a conundrum. He looked inside again and confirmed that there was nothing inside. Clean as a whistle, nothing stuck to the sides, no sign of anything having decomposed. There was a faint but pleasant smell and that was all. The emptiness mocked his assumption that time capsules contained only things that had been known for centuries. No one expected this emptiness, did they?

He looked at the label on the vial, wondering which state had elected to contribute nothingness to the project. It was from Montana.

Searching his memory, Lewis recalled that Montana had been one of the least populated of the states, very mountainous and forested, wild and scenic in parts. Perhaps it had been decided that the emptiness of the vial most aptly described the state itself. But no, that might be a joke heard in other states but not in Montana itself, surely. Most likely something had gone wrong somewhere, the vial left unfilled by its intended contents and then packed in the capsule before the error was discovered.

That must be it, concluded Lewis. He set the vial aside while he dealt with the last two remaining in the capsule. They were ordinary enough and he was soon able to return to his musing on the empty vial.

He picked it up and turned it slowly in his hand, looking for some clue that might explain the void it contained. But it was identical to the others, formed of smooth brushed aluminium, only the lettering of the labels allowing individual identification. Peering inside and shaking the thing produced no answers either and Lewis had to give up in the end. He put the thing down again.

It lay on the desk, innocent but annoying in the enigma it represented. For a long time Lewis just stared at it, trying not to think of the questions it posed. But the possible answers presented themselves even so. It was late in the evening, long after he should have packed up and gone back to his tent, that realisation dawned on him.

It was a joke. The damn vial was a joke, a message from ancient times, intended to make the finder smile. How simple its solution, yet how unexpected. Lewis grinned and allowed a chuckle to escape his lips. Clever, he thought, but I got it in the end.

Like the other vials, it was labeled by state but not by the full name. The abbreviations had been used and Montana's vial was accordingly named MT. The empty vial was, in fact, the MT vial, and the MT vial was empty.

Word Count: 781
Entry for The Writer's Cramp, February 18 2020

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