Rings of Saturn: Part 4 – Aug. 11-12, 79

Rings of SaturnTraveling with Marcus made Evie feel like her feet might fall off at the end of the day. He roused everyone before dawn and got them into a marching file, and they walked until the sun reached its zenith. They’d stop for a bit of wine, bread, and cheese, and then march some more. Marcus might not be an actual soldier, but Evie sure felt like she was in the army. Whenever they passed villages or other cities, Marcus would send a man or two ahead to scout the area and buy more provisions when necessary.

“I have to admit,” Evie said as they approached Naples, “he’s efficient.”

Tatius had not enjoyed the last four days. Despite his lanky build, he was slow on the road. He liked to say it was the mule slowing him down, that the beast was stubborn, but that excuse was dashed to bits when one of Marcus’s men took the rope and the mule matched the man’s pace. Since then, Marcus had taken to prodding Tatius verbally and physically. He walked by now, jabbing the farmhand in the back with the butt of his spear. “I’m going as fast as I can,” Tatius said.

“Not fast enough. Something tells me those symbols won’t last forever.”

“What does that mean?” Evie asked. Marcus didn’t answer, but set his jaw and stared forward. She stopped. “What do you mean by that? That I won’t be able to get back home?”

Marcus stopped and looked back at them. “Keep moving.”

“Not until you answer me. I didn’t know these things,” Evie held up my arm, “have an expiration date.”

“I don’t know how long they’ll last. But quests aren’t meant to be delayed. I don’t know why you even let this boy stay with us; he’s slowing us down. Slowing you down. Campania is still another day away–two if he doesn’t pick up his feet.”

“I’ve been traveling ten days already,” Tatius said.

Evie shifted her weight. “I keep him around because it’s his master’s mule. Besides, neither of us are used to walking so much in a day. Where I come from, we have–” She stopped, because she didn’t know how to describe subways and taxicabs to a Roman bandit dressed as a soldier. “This isn’t your quest, Marcus. It’s mine. I’ve hired you and the coin I gave you should be enough to pay for an extra day. Quit giving Tatius a hard time.”

Marcus shook his head. “The priestesses. Far as I’m taking you.”

“Right. Just like we agreed.”

The rest of the day, and half of the next, passed with more marching, though Marcus was gentler to Tatius. He only told him to walk faster instead of happing at him with the blunt end of his weapon. As they approached the city, Evie quieted.

“Are you frightened?” Tatius asked.

“I don’t know. I’m sure if there is some quest to fulfill, it’ll require more than walking from north of Rome to Campania. What if–what if I can’t do it, and I never get to go home again?”

“That may happen, but the gods will perhaps take into account that you tried. Well, Saturn probably wouldn’t.”

“Tatius.”

“I’m only mean that he’s rather stern, isn’t he?”

“Tatius! That’s not helping.”

“Sorry. Will you–” He adjusted his grip on the mule’s rope. “Will you send word to Publius Sepunius Columella either way?”

Evie stopped and turned toward him, mouth hanging open. “Tatius, are you worried about me?”

Tatius stopped too and looked up at the sky. Not a single cloud drifted by to distract him. “I–only because my master was concerned. And setting off as we did without the time to make a sacrifice or consult the augurs…”

Evie placed her hand on Tatius’s forearm. “I will send word if I can but I probably won’t be able to. I don’t know what’s coming and if given the opportunity to go home, I have to take it. Tatius, I don’t belong here. You didn’t see–didn’t see what I looked like when I arrived.”

“I know my master had to bring you clothes. You only know about some of our gods. Your accent is all wrong and you don’t know where some of the small villages are between the larger cities. I know you’re an outsider, but I don’t know from where.”

Or when, Evie thought. “Right. So I have to go back the moment the priestesses give me the chance–or I might lose it.”

Tatius hung his head. “I understand. Publius Sepunius Calumella will be disappointed.”

“And you?”

Tatius lifted one corner of his mouth to smile. “I haven’t got much of a choice. Just bring the mule here, bring the mule back. Probably won’t even make it back alive.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard you tell a joke. You shouldn’t. It’s weird, Tatius.” Evie smiled to him though.

“Are you two finished? The priestesses won’t wait forever,” Marcus said.

After Tatius left with the mule, Evie followed Marcus into Campania proper. It was more beautiful than anything she’d ever imagined, but somehow she knew it fulfilled every part of a Mediterranean dream, even though it was on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Turquoise water, sailboats, and villas carved into cliffs were accompanied by the calls of gulls overhead, and a chorus of voices. Some advertised the catch of the day, others wares from all over the region. Wheat from Egypt. Pottery from Greece. Spanish leather.

“This way,” Marcus closed his hand around Evie’s elbow and led her through a maze of streets. Each time she was certain they’d hit a dead end, he turned into an alleyway that was so narrow it seemed to appear out of nowhere. It would widen and then lead to other alleyways that worked like capillaries, arteries, and veins carrying people, animals, and goods to and from the port. Evie imagined a great heart there, beneath the docks, pulsing. Marcus turned with her so many times that she lost track of which direction they’d come from, until they finally stopped before an archway over a door twice her height. “The priestesses are inside. I’ve fulfilled my part of the bargain.”

“So you’re just going to abandon me here?”

He shook his head, lips pressed into a thin line. “It is no abandonment. You paid me to take you to the priestesses.”

“You said you knew them. You have to at least make an introduction.”

Marcus sighed and approached the door, raising his fist and pounding on the wood with his whole forearm. For a moment, nothing happened, and Evie wasn’t sure if she would be happy about that or not. Would it be easier to just go back to Publius Sepunius Columella and try to find a job she could do for him? The door swung open and her wrist burned. Evie hissed and covered the marks with her other hand. Marcus turned toward her. “What is it?”

She uncovered her wrist, which looked red and angry, like the symbols had just been branded mere moments ago. “It hurts.”

“It would, wouldn’t it?”

Evie narrowed her eyes at him. “Why? Why should it hurt?”

“Means you’re on the right path, I bet. Come on.”

Evie didn’t consider herself a wimp but she wouldn’t have minded getting some sympathy from Marcus. Tatius would have shown empathy, she thought–but then, Marcus was a cruel mercenary, probably. Or brigand. She shouldn’t expect such kindness from him. She followed him through the archway, her cheeks heating up as she looked up at the barrel-vaulted expanse before her. The walls were frescoed with scenes of the gods. Evie couldn’t help but think how much Pete would love to get a team in here. If she ever made it home, she’d have to make sure that the museum got someone to come check this place out. Maybe she’d get to come back in two thousand years or so and see it with an archeologist’s eye.

“Marcus,” a woman in a dark blue dress walked up to them and regarded him. “You weren’t going to ever return here. On pain of death.”

Evie turned her head toward him so fast that her neck spasmed. “You–you said they owed you.”

The woman laughed. “We do! We owe him death. But,” she turned toward Evie, trailing cool fingertips down Evie’s arm to clasp her wrist. She pried Evie’s fingers away from the symbols and held them up close to her face. Evie examined the paint around the woman’s eyes. Tiny Roman numerals–just numerals here, I suppose–lined her brow. “But maybe we can find a way for him to settle this debt between us. Marcus, you will both stay the night.” She smiled to Evie, releasing her wrist. “I am Aelia, and you and I have much to discuss. You come with the gods’ blessing, on a quest that…” Aelia closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath that shuddered her torso, “that will either save or doom you.”

Evie couldn’t look away from Aelia. Her low, soft voice, her painted amber eyes, her soft black curls that framed her face and rested weightless on her shoulders, entranced Evie. “Can you help me? Tell me what I’m supposed to do? And how to get back home?”

Aelia smiled. “There is only one way to go home. You must do as the gods ask, and you must have faith in them. I must consult with them–you will both dine and sleep in this temple tonight.”

“But–” Marcus said, but silenced himself when Aelia held up her hand, palm facing him. He nodded and Aelia waved that hand, beckoning three more young women. They kept their gazes down, but two of them led Marcus one way, and one of them led Evie down another corridor.

“You must bathe, then sup, then sleep,” the woman told Evie.

Despite how much she wanted to get home, Evie agreed. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a real bath. Food sounded great, and sleep in what she hoped would be a bed would be divine. Then in the morning, she could find out from Aelia exactly what she had to do to get back home where she belonged.

Rings of Saturn: Part 3 – Aug. 7, 79

Rings of SaturnFor the last two days, Evie and Tatius were not on speaking terms. That is, they spoke whenever they needed to, in order to make the journey to Campania, but after several days of arguing about which road they should take, whether they should detour to Rome–Tatius wanted to, or who was actually in charge of this journey, they’d fallen into silence.

“I think I should lead the mule,” Tatius spoke up, his hand outstretched for the rope. He was a lean man with stringy muscles that looked more like tendons than anything else. His features could be called classically Roman, ideal even, if not for his long, ski-slope nose that looked like it might jump off his face.

Evie sidestepped to keep him from taking the rope. The mule whimpered. “I have him.”

“You don’t know how to walk him. You’re scaring him.”

“No, I’m not. He’s fine. I wouldn’t have lurched away if you weren’t grabby.”

“How do I know you won’t steal him? And our supplies?”

Evie narrowed her eyes at Tatius. “Because Publius Sepunius Columella entrusted me with this mule. He was going to give it to me even if you didn’t come along. So far, you’re just one more person to feed.”

“You don’t feel safer with me than alone?”

“Not really, no.”

Tatius harrumphed. “Maybe I should go home.”

“Then who would take the mule back?”

He opened his mouth and then clamped it shut again. No wisecrack answer this time. Evie smirked. They shuffled to the side of the road to make way for a wagon. It was pulled by four black horses and driven by two soldiers. About a dozen soldiers marched behind the wagon, spears on their shoulders, sandals kicking up dust.

“I think you should ask them.”

“I won’t.”

“They will settle it. Excuse me!” Evie started after the soldiers, but the mule wouldn’t have anything of it. Reluctantly, she tossed the rope to Tatius and ran after the marching men. “Excuse me.” Evie fell into step with them. “Can you tell us the fastest way to Campania?”

The soldiers didn’t slow or turn. “If you’ve got money,” one behind her said, “we’ll help.” A burst of laughter sounded around Evie.

She reached into the pouch at her hip. “Very well, I have–” Before she could count out what rested in her palm, a spear was at her throat. The men stopped marching. The wagon stopped rolling. The metal sliced the air fast enough to sing.

“We’ll take it all,” the man from before said. He had gray stubble, more than his fair share of scars, and too-tight armor. It dug into his shoulders.

“Who are you?” Evie asked, tipping the coins back into the purse. She didn’t see Tatius come over, but she heard one of the soldiers yell at him to stay back.

“We’re the men who are happy to relieve you of your coin. And take your mule.”

“Mule’s not for sale. You said you’d give us directions for money.” All Evie could think about right now was the self-defense class she took when she first moved to the city. If you’re ever robbed and they just want money, stay calm and give it to them. Money could be replaced, even if with some difficulty. Life and limb could not.

The stubbled-and-scarred man snatched the coin purse from Evie’s hands. “Follow this road. It’ll take you straight to Campania.” He tossed the purse in the air and caught it; the coins inside jingled like miniature bells.

“How do I know you’re not lying?” Evie asked.

“You’ll just have to trust us.”

“But you’re all dressed as soldiers. Clearly you’re not soldiers. That makes you untrustworthy.”

The man grinned. He was missing several teeth, their gaps creating dark caverns in his mouth. “Too bad for you, eh?”

“I tell you what. One of you comes with us to Campania and you can have everything in the saddlebags on our mule. You can’t have the mule.”

One of the men from the back yelled, “Can we have him?” Another man cuffed him upside the head for shouting out.

“He’s not a slave. I can’t give him away–believe me, if I could, I would have awhile ago. He’s annoying.”

The man who’d stolen her purse scratched at his chin. He seemed to be their leader, which struck her as odd because he was walking on the ground instead of driving the wagon. “What’s in the saddle bags?”

“Food, supplies. But that’s not all–we’re going to Campania for a special reason.” Evie dropped her voice into a grave tone, and pulled her sleeve up to reveal the markings on her wrist. “See that? I’m on a mission. A quest. For the gods.” Maybe. Maybe it’s all a load of hooey. Maybe I hit my head and I’m laying on the floor, or maybe Pete had me loaded into an ambulance.

The men gathered around to view her wrist. The leader looked at them, then at Evie again. “Half of you, continue forward.” He pointed out a half dozen men. “You men with me. We’ll escort them the rest of the way to Campania.”

Four of them walked ahead, and three behind, with Evie, Tatius, and the mule in the middle. “What were you thinking? Are you mad?” Tatius asked.

“Not at all. After I saw how poorly you protected me from them, I decided I needed to hire someone more capable to see to my safe transport. Besides…it seems like they know something about these symbols. Maybe they’re from Campania. Maybe they know the temple Publius Sepunius Columella talked about.”

“I don’t trust them, Evie.”

“Yes, well, you don’t have a choice. My quest. I give you leave to go back to the farm, but the mule,” she snatched the rope back, “stays with me.”

Tatius decided he wasn’t going to leave the mule. He grumbled about how certain he was that he’d never see it again if he returned to the farm now. He also told Evie that if these men killed her, and Publius found out, the fault would rest on his shoulders. Evie didn’t think much of that problem, since not only did Publius Sepunius seem like a decent human being, but it didn’t seem to her that Tatius’ shoulders could hold much of anything, let alone fault. This whole journey, nothing was his fault, including why it was so warm out.

That night, the nine of them and the mule made camp just off the road. Evie sought out the leader of the fake soldiers and sat next to him before a small fire. “You’ve seen these symbols before.”

“She that wears the bracelet bearing them is either blessed or cursed. If you’re blessed, then I want some of that blessing too. If you’re cursed…not helping you could anger the gods and then I might be cursed too. Besides…the priestesses of Campania owe me.”

“What do they owe you? And how do I know if I’m blessed or cursed?”

“That’s between them and me. And you’ll know from the priestesses. They’ll tell you when we get there.”

“What’s your name?”

“My men call me Marcus.”

Evie suppressed a laugh. It seemed so cliche to her, a Roman named Marcus. But then, she supposed the name did suit him, especially in a soldier’s uniform. “Warlike,” she said, “after Mars, the god of war.”

“Obvious.”

“Who do the priestesses in Campania worship?

“Saturnus and Lua.”

Evie had never heard of Lua, but she knew who Saturnus, or Saturn, was. The god of seed, of time. She decided that his priestesses would be able to get her back to her own time, when she could just imagine this sort of thing instead of living it. “Why’re you all dressed like soldiers?”

“Too many questions. Go and sleep.”

“But I–”

He turned, a burning stick pointed at her. “Go and sleep. I am not your friend. We are not your friends. We’re guiding you because it’s convenient and I don’t want to anger the gods.”

Evie’s eyes locked on the fire right in front of her face. Perspiration gathered on her upper lip. She licked it away, tasting salt. “Very well,” she held her hands up in surrender. “But remember that if you kill me, you might anger the gods.” She stood and left him by the fire, to seek out Tatius and the mule.

Tatius had already set up a sleep space for them and tied the mule to a tree nearby. He tied another rope from the mule’s to his wrist. “So I know if they try to steal,” he told Evie when she cocked her head to the side. “We should sleep in turns,” he added.

Evie agreed, even though she didn’t think Marcus and his men would attack them–not with the gods on her side. Potentially on my side. But she knew that Tatius would just wake her anyway if she said she didn’t want to take turns guarding. “I’ll take the first shift. I’m not sleepy.” Tatius nodded and he was asleep within minutes.

Rings of Saturn: Part 2 – Aug. 1, 79

Rings of SaturnA gray plume of smoke climbed into the sky, mixing with the clouds to muddy them. It came from just over a slight rise in a landscape that showed no other signs of human life, so Evie decided to walk toward the smoke. After what felt like about a half hour, she saw an olive orchard growing next to a grain field. Willows lined the far edge of that field, like shepherds protecting their flock. The contrast between the crops and dark soil drew her eye, and Evie realized she was hungry.

It was too soon to pluck an olive from the vineyard, and that would be stealing anyway. But where there was a farm, there were sure to be people, and perhaps the owners of this farm would help her. She had to get home. As much as her eyes enjoyed soaking in the sight of this idyllic landscape, Evie knew she’d somehow traveled a great distance. There was nowhere like this farm near her apartment in the city, which cultivated concrete and brick instead of vineyards and trees.

She stopped just before the growing crops and examined the house. Evie blinked and pinched her arm. “Ow.” The house was real, and it looked like an Italian villa. How could putting on the bracelet transport her to Italy? The whole idea was preposterous. She started walking again, intent on finding someone–anyone–who could answer some questions for her, but she stopped short when she saw an older man emerge from the villa. He wore a toga, like an Ancient Roman. Evie ducked into the vineyard, breathing hard.

She looked down at her own clothes. Jeans, a white tee shirt, and a pair of Adidas. Not exactly acceptable garb for a woman in Ancient Rome–or for anyone in Ancient Rome! “This is insane,” she muttered. Evie duckwalked along the row of olive vines, trying to keep her eye on the man between the bunches of young olives and the leaves clustered around them. From one branch to another, he disappeared. Evie stopped and rose inch-by-inch from crouching. Her thighs burned but she didn’t want to stand up too fast.

“You there! Who are you?” The man spotted her, and gathered his toga in his hands so he could run her way.

If I run, I’ll only look guilty, she thought. “I’m Evie, and I’m lost.”

“You steal my olive branches?”

She shook her head. “No, not a one. I was hiding.”

He narrowed his eyes. He was about her height. Deep wrinkles carved a path between his eyes, one of which was milky-white with a scar on the lid. It looked painful just to open it. His toga stretched over an ample belly, but his breathing wasn’t labored from the vineyard sprint. His hand darted out to grab her arm so fast that Evie couldn’t pull away. He twisted her forearm up to his face and examined the scorched symbols on her wrist. Then, he looked her up and down and, keeping a vice grip on her arm, turned back toward the villa.

Evie had no choice but to let him drag her. She tried to pull her arm free but he was holding on too tight. “Hey, let me go! I’m no thief–”

“I know you’re not. Hush, girl.” He didn’t walk to the front of the villa, but rather to the side, where he shouldered open a wooden door to reveal a storeroom. He swung her inside. “Stay here. I will return with food and clothes.”

“Wait, don’t–the symbols on my wrist–you know what they mean.”

“Shh! I will return.” He closed the door.

Evie felt for a handle but there was none. Not on this side. She tried to fit her fingers into the cracks between the planks, but they were too narrow, leaving her fingertips sore. If dreams couldn’t hurt, this definitely was not a dream. A few minutes passed before her eyes adjusted to the dim light pouring through the cracks in the door. The room was filled with jars and crates. Most of them were empty, but a few of the jars held milled grain.

She turned over one of the crates and sat down, watching the sunlight move outside. If that bracelet really took me back to Ancient Rome, I’m in so much more trouble than I thought I was. How was she going to get back to America? How was she going to get back to the twenty-first century? With the bracelet gone, she couldn’t think of any hope for her escape. But she couldn’t just live here, in the past. Sure, she’d studied Ancient Rome and Ancient Romans for years so she could probably survive but she didn’t belong here. Evie closed her eyes and tried to calm her racing heart.

It wasn’t until dusk that the door was shoved open again. The older man from before stooped to pick up a plate and a cup. “Foot and water first, I think,” he said, and passed them both to Evie. He turned from her and scooped up a dress. “My daughter’s–she’s outgrown it. She won’t miss it, I don’t think. You must wear this.” He draped it over one of the empty jars. “Eat. Drink.”

Evie eyed him warily but then thought, if he was going to poison her, why bring her clothes? She tore off a piece of bread and dipped it in a pool of olive oil on the plate. It tasted better than any bread she’d ever eaten before in her life–or maybe she was just hungry. The man had also brought her vegetables and a bowl with two dormice dipped in honey. She looked at the mice, then at the older man. He nodded. “Go on, woman, eat.”

“Evie. My name is Evie.”

“No family name?”

“Russell.”

His eyebrows pinched together. “Russell…strange name. Never heard of your family. Never seen someone in clothes like yours, but I’ve seen those symbols.” He pointed at her wrist.

“The bracelet–it disappeared when I arrived. How do I get it back? What do they mean?”

The man shook his head. “I was young when I left Campania. You need to go there, Evie Russell, and consult with the priestesses. They will help you. Food and clothing is all I can do for you.”

“Who are you?”

“Publius Sepunius Columella.”

The name didn’t ring a bell, save for the writer Columella who wrote about agriculture in Ancient Rome. But this man wasn’t him. “Publius Sepunius Columella,” Evie repeated his name. “I am so grateful for your help but I must beg for more. I have no money. No means to get to Campania. These symbols,” she thrust her wrist out at him, “obviously mean something to you.”

He cast a furtive glance behind him. “I can give you a mule and tell you that you must ride south for,” he scratched at his chin, “ten days, if the weather’s fair. Campania is past Naples, near Herculaneum and Pompeii.”

Evie knew where towns were in Italy. She was hoping for a guide though. “Thank you, for the offer of the mule.”

“I can give you some money, too, to feed yourself on your journey.”

“Thank you. I am most grateful. Is there no one who can guide me?”

He huffed. “Gods above and below, will you take everything?”

Evie set aside the food and water and stood. “These symbols are important, yes?”

“I remember seeing them carved into the stones of the temple when I was a boy.”

“And you wouldn’t want to upset the gods?”

He pressed his lips into a thin line. “Very well. I will find someone to guide you. But one mule, and one only.” He turned from her. “Wear the gown I brought you. I will return soon.”

“Publius Sepunius Columella?”

He stopped but didn’t look at her.

“What temple was it?”

“I don’t recall.”

He left, and Evie changed out of her clothes and into the dress. It was a little too long, but otherwise a decent fit. She’d only have to wear it for the next ten days–as soon as she found these priestesses in Campania, she was going to find a way to make them send her home. While she waited, she wondered how it was Publius Sepunius Columella could speak English, a language that shouldn’t exist yet. Maybe she was losing her mind, but if so, she wasn’t going to spend her time sitting in an imaginary storeroom.

True to his word, Publius Sepunius Columella returned when the moon was high with a mule, a pouch of coins, and a young man. “This is Tatius,” he introduced the other man. “He will guide you to Campania–and then he will have to leave you to return here. I cannot spare him longer than that.”

Evie thanked him again, and tucked the money, her jeans, tee shirt, and Adidas into the baskets draped over the mule’s hind quarters. Tatius took up the rope and the two of them left the farm and Publius Sepunius Columella behind.

Rings of Saturn: Part 1 – Aug. 1, 2015

Rings of Saturn

Evie remembered she used to love Saturdays. Now it didn’t matter what day of the week it was, because every day was a study day. Or a teaching day. She didn’t have any summer courses to teach, so she invested her time in research. Evie’s dissertation was a wreck. No title, no focus, no organization. Right now, it existed only in the mess of index cards spread across the chrome-and-formica table in the middle of her apartment. She used to have a roommate, but Evie couldn’t say when he moved out, because all the days and weeks melted together. She could only say that he left because she was too messy.

Not dirty, but messy–stacks of books in front of the television, her nest of index cards that forced them to eat on the couch, and unruly piles of paper claimed every corner, hid every baseboard, and probably presented a fire hazard. His name was Erik, and he’d had enough. Their friends called them Erik and Evie, E-squared, and the Two E’s. Evie hadn’t seen her friends since Erik moved out, but she could if she wanted.

Evie’s eyelids didn’t want to stay open. With each blink, she felt like her eyelashes might weave together, locking in a tapestry of tiny hairs to blind her. Coffee. She needed coffee–that would wake her up. Making a pot without scattering grounds across the peeling countertop was a smile-worthy victory, and, as the coffee began to percolate, she inhaled through her nose and her eyes stayed open. She looked up at the analog clock hanging crooked on the wall. Ten fifteen. Evie yawned and then looked again.

“Shit!” She ran into the bathroom around the corner and twisted the shower knob. She had precisely six minutes before the hot water turned cold, and only fifteen minutes before she had to be at the museum eleven blocks south of her apartment. Hopping on one leg until her shorts flew somewhere–probably behind the toilet–she squeezed toothpaste out and brushed her teeth, dropping the brush into the sink to climb into the shower. She had just enough time to wash her hair and skin before the water cooled. She turned it off and felt for her towel.

Evie poked her head out from behind the shower curtain. Her towel was missing. “Ugh, great.” At least, she thought, Erik wasn’t here and she could walk to her room in the nude. Scooping up her pajamas, she shivered from bathroom to bedroom, where she dressed as fast as she could, barely paying attention to what she pulled on. Back to the kitchen where she filled her travel mug, and Evie was out the door with four minutes to spare.

Her PhD program paid her tuition, and gave her a small stipend, but it wasn’t enough to live on so she worked at the local history museum. It was small and underfunded, which meant her paycheck was too, but if she decided not to teach after finishing her program or if she couldn’t find a placement, it’d be great on her resume. She didn’t get to go on any archeological digs, but her job was to clean and catalogue all the finds when the “real” archeologists brought them back to the museum. A new shipment had just come in the week before, and now she was running late.

“Sorry Pete!” she exclaimed after she got through security. Evie was still holding up her badge and her coffee while trying to shrug out of her jacket.

“No big deal, Evie. Just waltz in whenever. The artifacts can wait–they’ve waited centuries already.” Pete was in his fifties, balding, sarcastic and a little mean until he was four cups of coffee into the day. At 10:45 am, Evie figured he’d only had three.

“I’m sorry. Couldn’t get hot water.” Alright, not completely honest, she thought. But it’d gotten her off the hook before.

“When are you going to move out of that dump? I told you my wife and I have a spare room we could rent out to you.”

Evie smirked. “Living and working with you? That’s more than I can handle.”

“Ouch,” Pete smiled. He always liked when she was sarcastic back–that’s how Evie knew he didn’t actually hate her. That and the fact that he always overlooked her tardiness. “Get yourself settled and then I’ll show you what needs to be cleaned today. Then I have a meeting with the board.”

“That explains your attitude. I thought you haven’t had enough coffee, maybe–”

“I could use some more, but we’re out.” Pete eyed Evie’s travel mug.

“This is my one and only cup. You know I’m trying to cut back.”

He sighed like she’d told him she thought the world was flat. “Fine.” He drew the word out. “I’ll just have to drink whatever sludge they have in the boardroom.”

“How long will you be up there?”

“All day. It’s a budget meeting.”

“Ew.” Evie and Pete had one thing in common: They lived for archeology. Board meetings or anything remotely resembling anything corporate were the worst, the antithesis of their passions for the ancient world. “When people lived on a barter system, they didn’t need to have budget meetings.”

“It’s not going to happen, Evie. I’ve told you. We’re way past the point of no return on that.”

“Yeah, I know. But a girl can dream.” Evie left him and the artifacts to put her bag and jacket in her locker. When she went back out into the main room, Pete stood waiting for her with a small box in his hands. Evie peered into it to see a bracelet. “Is that–”

“Gold.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah,” Pete put the box down on a table and pulled on a glove, lifting the bracelet from the box and examining it. “Engraved with what look like zodiac symbols.”

“And you want me to clean that so we can see the symbols perfectly.”

“Bingo. Should take you the better part of the day. I’ll check back after the meeting?”

Evie nodded. Pete put the bracelet back into the box and snapped his glove off, dropping it into a bin by the door. He waved over his shoulder and grabbed a pile of folders and notebooks before disappearing into the corridor. Evie pulled her phone out of her pocket, selected Beethoven from her music library, and placed it on the table. She pulled on a pair of gloves and set to work.

On days like this, when she got into the zone, Evie didn’t eat or drink anything. Her coffee cooled next to her phone as she carefully cleaned off what had to be almost two-thousand years of dirt. The bracelet was from a site just outside of Rome. It’d probably belonged to someone of the patrician class. Plebs didn’t always have the money to wear gold. The symbols definitely looked like the signs of the zodiac, though she only knew a handful of them: Sagittarius with the bow, the two fish of Pisces, the scales of Libra, and the bull of Taurus.

Evie finished cleaning the bracelet around three-thirty, and set it back in its box. She peeled her gloves off, and took a swig of her now-cold coffee, gagging. Iced coffee was delicious, but once-hot, cold coffee was gross. The former was probably filled with sugar. She dumped the rest down the drain. Evie wandered back over the bracelet, just to look at it. She even clasped her hands behind her back to keep from touching it with her bare hands. The oils on her skin could damage it, and then she’d have to clean it again.

Beethoven played quieter and quieter, and she heard people screaming. She heard their feet pounding against the ground, and that sound morphed into a louder rumbling, like the whole earth was breaking apart around her. She reached forward and clasped the bracelet. Evie watched her hand lift it from the box like it was someone else’s hand picking it up, sliding it onto her wrist, and closing the clasp.

The world really did crumble then. The floor opened up, cracking apart to reveal bright white streams of light. Evie closed her eyes so it wouldn’t blind her. All she could hear was the whoosh of her blood in her ears. Her head pounding, she cried out when something burned her wrist. The bracelet. Evie clawed at it, but couldn’t unlatch it. She scratched until there was no bracelet left and she only felt her nails scraping over raw skin.

She opened her eyes. Evie was laying in a field, under a cloudless sky. Her wrist bore the symbols she’d seen on the bracelet, but the jewelry was nowhere to be found. Two thoughts filled her head: She had no idea where she was or how she got here, and Pete was going to kill her when he found out she lost the bracelet.