by Seán Dwyer, with some words by Marian Exall
1202 words

“Mom!” Catherine gasped. “How did you get here?”

“Easy. After Josiah told me to come, I got an Uber ride.”

Catherine examined her mother’s face warily. “He told you to come?”

“Why, yes, and he told me not to let you tell anyone else I’ve lost my marbles. I’m multi-dimensional, not demented.”

Catherine held up her hands. “Sorry, Mom. Maybe I worry too much because I love you.”

“I’m sure that’s why,” Marilyn retorted. “Josiah gave me a message to pass along. That will persuade you. He asked if you know why the she-wolf howled.”

“Sounds legit,” Ted said. “Let me guess. To get to the other side?” Carmen slapped Ted’s shoulder while the committee laughed.

“No, Theodore, because she is pregnant. Feel her belly.”

Archie was sitting closest to the wolf, and he humored Marilyn by rubbing the wolf’s belly. He sat back suddenly. “It’s hard as a rock.” Everyone but Jasmine scurried over to touch the she-wolf’s stomach.

Jasmine raised her hands in the air, and Lydia’s bones rattled. “Help her give birth, and you will be rewarded.”

“How do we do that?” Lindsay asked.

“Caesarean,” Catherine said. She pulled nail scissors from her purse and began to snip at the seam of the wolf’s belly. When she had two inches open, she slid her fingers in. “Metal!” Stunned silence followed, and everyone could hear the snips as each severed stitch brought them closer to understanding the mystery.

When she felt she had enough room, she began to tug on the mass in the belly. Lindsay turned on her phone flashlight, and everyone screamed when Catherine helped the animal deliver a mass of gold coins.

“And you thought I was full of baloney,” Marilyn said, arching her brows.

Catherine and Carmen scooped loose coins back into the bag that had held them and wriggled it out of the wolf. They handed it to Jeff for safekeeping.

“Another gift from Lydia. Can this get any better?” Lindsay was in tears, her cheeks glistening in the candlelight.

“Yes, it can,” Jasmine said softly, her eyes closed. In response the parakeets flew back to the door they had uncovered. The committee moved toward the door, but, as if they had planned it, everyone stopped short and let Catherine step through the open door.

On a dusty table that was worth a fortune on its own sat a wood carving, also dusty but in impeccable shape. About two feet tall, it was a statue of a tree, with a crow sitting on a branch, a fish in its mouth.

Archie stepped forward. “This seems atypical to me. I wonder how this came to be.” He picked it up and looked at the base.

“Yéil l’ook aas Josiah Walker” was etched into the smooth bottom of the statue.

“Aas. That’s Tlingit,” Sunburst said. One of the few words I know.”

“You don’t know ‘yéil’ or ‘l’ook,’ by any chance?” Ted asked.

“I’ll have to look them up,” she replied.

Archie rubbed his chin. “I’m guessing crow and a fish, probably salmon. A gift to Josiah, or commissioned by him. Such a rarity will be worth tens of thousands of dollars. But it stays here.”

Jeff flashed a light around the room. “Anything else here?”

The room was otherwise empty.

“Ted, could you carry the statue?” Catherine asked. “I can handle the table. I suspect the birds have more to show us.”

“Undoubtedly,” Andrew said. “But I think we should read the secret messages before we leave the candles behind.”

Sunburst held the third Pearl up to the candlelight again, and everyone leaned forward to read the words as they appeared in faint script below “It is always darkest before dawn,” Josiah’s clear message.

“It looks like ‘the sun also rises.’” Lindsay sounded puzzled. “I thought that was the title of an Ernest Hemingway novel, but Josiah was long dead by the time the book was published.”

“Ahem,” Archibald interrupted. “Sometimes a classical education comes in handy. Hemingway’s title comes from Ecclesiastes: ‘the sun also riseth and the sun goeth down.’ It means one generation gives way to another generation, but the sun keeps on rising.’”

“And we are the new generation!” exclaimed Lindsay, looking around at Ted, Pete, Andrew, Catherine, Carmen, and Sunburst, Gen-X and millennials all. “It’s up to us to carry on the legacy from previous generations.”

Eighty-three year-old Archie looked a little put out, but the rest of the crew nodded their agreement with Lindsay’s interpretation.

“Follow your dreams,” declared the next of Josiah’s Pearls. In the candlelight, another spidery message emerged: “Every generation has its own dreams.”

“More of the same?” ventured Catherine. “Encouraging us to pursue the restoration of the museum, but in a modern way, with technology and a more inclusive interpretation of history.”

Jasmine had been quiet for a while but now, she began to tremble slightly, and her eyes rolled up into her head. In the dim light, she looked ghostly. Channeling Lydia, she began to speak in a high sing-song voice. “I was young once, and in love. But it was a forbidden love. I married Josiah and tried to be happy. I should have followed my dreams.” Jasmine’s head fell forward onto her chest, and the candle flames shuddered.

In the silence that followed, Catherine and Lindsay gazed into each other’s eyes; this message was for them. Andrew looked shyly at Sunburst. He had only known her for a short time, but Lydia’s voice convinced him that Sunny was The One. Jeff searched out Carmen in the circle; her head was turned resolutely away from him. His heart sank. But Marilyn rested her head on his shoulder.

“One more Pearl,” said Pete, picking up the last yellowed page and holding it in front of the candle flame. “It says ‘You never know what goes on behind closed doors.’” He bent forward to watch new words materialize, lost his balance, and fell. The ancient document flared up and turned to black ash in a second.

After an aghast silence, Pete spoke. “I’m so sorry. So now I guess we’ll never know.”

“Nonsense,” Josiah’s voice rumbled. Everyone froze, waiting to hear more. “Follow parakeets through time.”

Now they could push on. With several flashlights lit, Catherine and Lindsay extinguished the candles. Avery and Billy Bob flew in circles overhead until the committee was in a line, then they flew into the elevator and perched atop its brass railing.

“We’ll have to go up in threes,” Lindsay said. “Catherine, you have my number, so stay till the end, and if we go somewhere weird, I’ll call you.”

“I wonder what we’ll find,” Ted said. “I’m starting to like this woo-woo stuff.”

“All I know is, with all these new treasures, we can store or sell the dusty old stuff and burnish our reputation,” Jeff said.

The building shook, dust raining from the rafters. The she-wolf howled again, and the parakeets hovered above Jeff and dumped a load on his head.

“Or not,” Jeff added.

Marilyn pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped his head. “Poor boy,” she murmured.

Lindsay, Jasmine, and Pete stepped into the elevator. The door shut on its own, and the car surged upward.

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