A Jewel Once Lost
by
William M. O'Brien, Jr.

On the bank of a river running through a university town lay a carefully mapped out section of ground spanning almost a hundred yards. These areas were carefully labeled as sections in an archaeological dig.

At night, no one came near these sections. Then no one could notice the large, hairy black spider edge out of one of the dug sections and make its way toward the nearby river.

At the close of the academic year at St. Albins parochial preparatory school three recently graduated seniors chose to stay at school in order to take a six-week course in field archaeology offered by a nearby university. The course would give them four hours of university credit plus a chance to become acquainted with a field of learning that the three girls, Cecilia (Cissy) Hiller, Betsy Solms, and Rebecca Wingfield, were fascinated with.

The three girls had preregistered before the end of the regular term so all they had to do after graduation would be to report to a site not too far from their school. The team leader for this dig was one Professor Thomas Hildredge, whose work had graced the pages of National Geographic as well as other scientific periodicals, journals, etc. Also, the girls had learned out of hand that Professor Hildredge would let his diggers, if they wished, to pocket certain discovered items he felt were not vitally necessary to the dig.

The three were looking forward to this activity while their friends were headed for beaches and other areas of celebration. On the contrary, the three girls looked upon this endeavor as a “chance of a lifetime,” not to mention the four science hours of college credit.

On the day of report, Cissy, Rebecca and Betsy gathered in the parking lot behind their residence house.

Since Betsy had a car, the three would drive to a site along Nations River, less than a mile from their campus. There, they would present themselves to Professor Hildredge as newly registered students. The three girls knew that the dig had just begun the week before.

“They’re going to give us digging implements at the site, aren’t they?” Cissy asked from the back seat on the way to the site.

“No, we’re going to use our hands, Dippy,” Rebecca replied and then shared a laugh with Betsy at the wheel.

Still smirking, Rebecca turned back to Cissy in the back seat. “Please don’t ask dumbass questions, Cis.”

She stifled a laugh with her hand. “Just follow directions like the rest of us.”

At the site, the Professor was readily available. A small group nearby were marking off a section of the site soon to be examined and the Professor was watching them.

“This area right here should give us some stone foundations,” the Professor announced to all around as the three girls joined him. “I’m thinking about a foot to fifteen inches down.” He turned and smiled as the three girls offered him enrollment slips.

He quickly signed the forms and then addressed the girls. “Over there under those trees is a good place for you young ladies.” He pointed to an area about fifty yards away. “Everyone is doing below surface work over there. Help yourself to some tools and join those guys there.”

The girls thanked the Professor in unison and headed for the table where they scooped up garden trowels, hand rakes, old table knives, and large spoons.

“Now this is going to be fun,” Rebecca whispered to her two companions as they settled into an area that seemed unoccupied.

They were soon joined by a young man wearing a dirty shirt. “Hi, girls. I’m Bill Mast, Professor Hildredge’s field assistant.” He smiled as each of the girls introduced herself.

“Have at it right there in front of you,” he pointed to the area just in front of Cissy. “But be real careful when you dig. A lot of this stuff can break really easily.”

The three began to scoop the areas in front of them carefully. However, what they found there were only rocks and bits of rotting twigs.

“Let’s see if we can move,” Cissy whispered to Rebecca, who was sitting just next to her and apparently having the same luck.

“I think we have to get somebody’s permission,” Betsy whispered to the other two.

The three rose to their feet and began brushing the dirt off their clothes when they found themselves confronted by Professor Howard Bernhardt, who had joined the dig as an advisor.

“You three ladies who just joined us, I have a job for you.” He smiled and put his hands on his hips.

“We’re ready for anything, Sir.” Betsy remarked and laughed.

“Over here by the creek.” He turned and motioned toward an area out of the designated area. “Follow me.”

In just a few minutes the three found themselves off by themselves and located on a small precipice on a creek that emptied into the river.

“We dug a little bit in this area yesterday,” Professor Bernhardt said over his shoulder. He turned back to the three girls. “We found a few things, a couple of which were rather unusual. But I’m thinking we need to work this area over a bit more today.”

“Right here by the creek, Sir.” Rebecca pointed at the area in front of here.

“Right here. Have at it.” He turned and headed back to the others.

“We ought to find some good shit here,” Cissy whispered and dropped to her knees.

Very soon the three were pulling up weeds and grass and digging.

“Hey, look at this.” Rebecca sat up and pointed at the ground. “I just found this.” She pointed at a shiny, circular stone embedded in the dirt in front of her.

“You’re not supposed to just dig that up,” Betsy whispered. “You’re supposed to carefully remove the dirt from around it.”

“And then put it in your pocket.” Cissy laughed.

“Bullshit,” Betsy replied. “That’s liable to be something important.”

“I see you have found one of our round stones.” Professor Hildredge appeared above Betsy. “If you have your personal cameras, feel free to photograph your finds in their original positions and then again after you excavate them;”

“Oh, yes sir,” Rebecca exclaimed. “Those would be some neat reminiscences of our dig.”

“You bet.” The Professor turned and headed back to the diggers near the road.

“I want to find something to keep,” Cissy whispered.

“We’re going to have to dig all this stuff up.” Rebecca began shoveling dirt this way and that in front of her.

“I got something here.” Betsy began digging in earnest in the area just in front of her.

“What do you have there?”

“It’s another one of those circular stones.” Cissy picked the item out of the dirt and examined it closely.

“This one has a weird marking on the back.”

“Let me see that.” Betsy reached out for her newfound item.

Cissy showed her the markings on the back of the piece.

“I think we need to show that to one of the professors,” Rebecca remarked.

“Well, if one of them comes around again, we can show it.” Cissy placed the item next to her right leg.

The three girls returned to their work diligently, finding several of the queer stones, photographing many of them where they were found, and placing them in a line nearby.

Later that afternoon, Professor Bernhardt walked up on the three girls who were still digging.

“Let’s shut down your digging, ladies. It’s time to go home.” He smiled with both hands on his hips.

Rebecca stood up and turned to the professor. “All we found were these circular stones here.” She pointed at a rather lengthy line on the ground nearby.

“Ah, I see that.” The professor turned to where Rebecca pointed. “We have found quite a number of these. We haven’t found a purpose for these crude stones yet, but our educated guess is that they had something to do with magic, or magic done in the name of a religion.”

“That’s kind of what we thought, too. Sir.” Betsy laughed and turned to Cissy.

“Well, take these over to our collection point.” He turned and pointed to an area near the river where tables had been set up and some people were sitting around in lawn chairs.

When the Professor had left, Betsy turned to her two colleagues and whispered.

“Hey, let’s take a couple of these home,” she giggled quietly. “They are kind of neat.”

“Yeah, they’re perfect circles,” Cissy added. “And so many of them.”

“Where’s the one with the weird marks on it?” Rebecca turned to the line on the ground and then squatted before it. She began slowly to pick the items up one at a time.

Soon, she came across the item in question. “We ought to take a look at the rest of these for weird marks.”

“That’s a good idea,” Cissy replied and squatted by a pile Rebecca was making in front of her.

They went back through the pile of stones, examining both sides of each one.

“Here’s another one with weird marks,” Cissy said, turning the item over in her hand. “This one looks like a bug or something.”

“I’ll keep that one.” Rebecca reached over at Cissy

“To Hell you will.” Cissy clutched the item to her chest. “This one’s going home with me.”

Each girl picked a stone and put it in her pocket. Then, they turned and gathered up the others for the collection site.

“The ones we got are supposed to be connected with magic,” Betsy giggled. “That’s so neat. Maybe they have some kind of special power or something.”

“Mine’s going on my dresser,” Cissy stated. “Or on my nightstand, right by my bedside.”

“Hey, check out mine.” Rebecca thrust her item out in front of her. “This looks like some kind of crystal or something. And there’s a weird diagram on the back.”

“That looks like quartz,” Betsy grabbed Rebecca’s hand and moved it up close to her face. “That is quartz.”

“That isn’t quartz,” Cissy offered. “And look. There’s some kind of scratches and shit on the back.”

Rebecca grabbed the item out of Cissy’s hand. “Hey, this baby goes on my nightstand.’

The girls with the picked items in their pockets arrived at the collection point where Professor Hildredge complimented the girls on their work.

“You found all of these in that general area?” Bill Mast asked, when the girls had finished the paperwork for their work. “There was no pattern there?”

“No. No pattern. Just random.” Rebecca answered. “And we checked them over, too. Some of them had weird markings on the bottom.”

“Oh, yeah.” Bill smiled at her. “We’ve seen a lot of those designs in other things.”

“They didn’t even ask us about the ones we kept,” Cissy piped up on the way home.

“They’re not going to ask us about that, dummy,” Betsy admonished. “They’re not even supposed to know about it.”

Back in their residence, the girls each went to their separate rooms to change clothes and stash their treasures from the day. Rebecca placed hers under two small notebooks in her nightstand.

Betsy appeared at her door. “The guys down behind the Beehive have some beer,” she announced, happily playing with the tassels on her blouse.

“That sounds great.” Rebecca turned around, looking for her shoes which she had taken off after she entered her room. “I need to get my damn shoes on. I see one of them is under the bed.”

She reached down for the discarded shoe.

“Shit!” she exclaimed and dropped the shoe she had just picked up. “Where did that damned thing come from.”

Scrambling across the floor toward a desk, a large, hairy black spider seemed to have come out of nowhere.

Acting quickly, Betsy stepped on the creature before it could reach the safety of the desk.

“You’re lucky,” she announced. “I have a bunch of shitty flies in my room.” She drew a kleenex and picked up the remains of the creature and tossed it into the garbage can. “I can’t get rid of the damned flies. Even when the exterminator came, he couldn’t get rid of them.”

Rebecca hurriedly put her other shoe on and the two girls headed for the stairwell to the second floor and Cissy’s rooms.

The girls picked up Cissy and the three of them made their way the three blocks to a popular bar called The Beehive. In the small park behind the bar, a party had been going since five o’clock in the evening and the girls joined in the festivities.

At eleven o’clock, the girls, a bit worse for wear, left the party and made their way back to their rooming house. Half drunk, the three of them stopped in Cissy’s room to use the restroom.

As soon as they were able, the other two climbed the stairs to their respective apartments.

“Cissy didn’t even take her clothes off and she’s out of it,” Betsy slurred to Rebecca.

“I know. I don’t think she’s that drunk, though.” Rebecca stopped to dig out her door key.

“Can you believe it? They ran out of beer.” Betsy laughed.

“That might be to our benefit. We could all be so shitfaced we couldn’t get back here.”

At that the two girls laughed and went to their separate rooms.

Rebecca lost no time getting her night clothes on and getting into bed. After looking over a new book she had bought, she turned off her lamp, turned over and quickly went to sleep.

She was too far gone to feel the large black spider make its way over her body and burrow under the pillow she rested on.

At eight the next morning, Cissy pounded on Rebecca’s door until the sleepy girl answered.

“What the hell…”

“We’re going to Mickey’s for breakfast,” the girl answered. “Do you want to come along.”

“Yeah…Yeah… Give me a few minutes.” She turned and returned to her bedroom for her clothes. “I’ll be just a few minutes,” she hollered.

Rebecca was dressed and putting on her shoes when she noticed a large black spider crawl along the wall opposite to her bed.

“What the hell is this,” she cried. Quickly she took the shoe she had not yet put on, walked to the wall, and crushed the creature against the wall. “Where the hell did you come from,” she moaned.

Cissy appeared at her bedroom door.

“Here’s another of those damned things,” she exclaimed at the girl in the door.

“I wonder where they’re coming from.” Cissy stated, looking up and down the walls of the room.

“Didn’t this place just have the exterminators in last April?”

“Two of them. One last night and one now.” Rebecca stood up and began swatting her clothes. “I wonder if any of those damned things are in my closet.”

“I don’t think anything is in there.” Cissy laughed. “If they were in there, they would have already crawled up your ass, the time you spend picking out clothes.”

The girls went to breakfast and then attended a lecture given by Professor Bernhardt concerning the archaeological aspects of the general area. Both ancient and recent aspects were covered.

After the lecture, during a call for questions, Rebecca thought about asking the professor about the items they had discovered the previous day, but she decided not to, believing that he might discern their little “theft” from the day before.

The session closed with the students receiving a brief research assignment due in three days, along with the rest of the day to start work on it.

“I’m going to knock this shit out in about a couple of hours,” Cissy announced on the way back to the rooming house.

“You know what the prof said about both on-line sources as well as those books in the library.

The three hurried up to their rooming house to the third floor and Rebecca’s rooms where they would find one of the books on the Professor’s list.

“It’s in the little case in the hall,” Rebecca said over her shoulder and headed to the bathroom.

“Here it is,” Betsy announced, on her knees before the case. Life Before Time in Compton County.

“God, this is a big book, but it looks like it has quite a few illustrations.”

“I’m really not familiar with that book,” Rebecca replied, sitting on the toilet. She put her hands down by her sides and immediately felt a moving, furry presence.

“Shit!” She hollered and stood up. “One of those damned things is in…” Looking down she noticed two others scurrying across the floor to the area under the counter.

“What’s going on, Little Sister.” Cissy stood in the door, a dinner roll in her hand.

“These damned spiders. They’re in here!” Rebecca pulled up her panties and stamped on one creature that had not quite made it under the counter.

“Where…Where are they coming from?” Cissy asked, chewing.

“Hell if I know.” Rebecca gritted her teeth and turned around and around . “This is about five or six of these damned things we’ve seen.”

“What’s going on here?” Betsy peeked in the door.

“Becky’s pet spiders got loose.” Cissy laughed and turned toward her friend in the door.

“Bullshit!” Rebecca stomped her feet, both fists clenched. She turned around and around again, looking for more spiders.

“Well, are you ready to go?” Cissy, now serious, asked.

“Yes, all I have to do is get my purse and other stuff.”

The three girls left and took off across lawns and streets to a large municipal library fronting a block wide park. There they hoped to find all the material they needed for the assignment at hand.

Parking themselves at a table in the far east room, away from everyone else, they quickly settled down and spread their materials out on the table by a large window.

After working quietly for over an hour, Rebecca leaned forward and hissed across the table. “I want to go by Sal’s and get a can of bug killer when we go back.”

“That stuff stinks like shit,” Cissy whispered.

“We can get some,” Betsy stated over her open book. “But you’re going to have to live with it.”

“Getting rid of those damned spiders will be worth it.” Rebecca settled back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest.

“I can tell you I don’t understand where all of the critters are coming from.” Betsy closed her book in front of her. “Old man Grissom’s bug man was just there in April.”

“Well, he didn’t do worth a shit, did he,” Rebecca replied in a stage whisper.

Cissy giggled. “We better do it, Bett. We’re all in the same friggin building.”

“Good advice, Cis.” Rebecca turned to Cissy. “Bett’s liable to have one of those things crawling up her ass.”

The girls left the library and headed two blocks to Sal’s Grocery, a Mom and Pop store taking up a half city block two blocks away from the girl’s rooming house. There they purchased one spray can of Insect and Spider killer and then headed home.

“We ought to get Big Charley to buy us some beer tonight,” Cissy offered on the way home.

Rebecca ignored the offer. “When we get back, I want to spray my rooms thoroughly.”

“I better spray, too.” Betsy replied. “There was one of those things in my rooms.”

“Now, you tell us,” Cissy retorted and laughed.

Back at their rooms, Rebecca busied herself with spraying carefully the three rooms of her apartment. She heavily coated the floor of the kitchen area and the bathroom.

“I’m going to have to make myself scarce for a little while,” she announced from the door. “This place is going to smell like shit.”

Betsy retrieved the can and sprayed her little apartment.

“Save a little of that stuff for me in case anything shows up in my little abode,” Cissy hollered up the stairs.

Later, “Fatboy” Rick and his girlfriend were having a TV night at their place nearby, so the three girls headed down there. With beer and other refreshments, they stayed there until past midnight.

“We need…we need to do that more often,” Cissy slurred, walking home on wobbly feet

“The day after tomorrow’s Monday.” Betsy announced, loud enough for all to hear. “We have to go back to the site.”

“That’s right,” Rebecca replied, now holding Cissy up. “They’re starting on Monday this week because rain’s predicted toward the end of the week.”

“One thing we’re not going to have tonight is eight-legged freaks.” Now Betsy was helping Rebecca.

“They all should be dead by now.”

Laughing and staggering, they made their way back to their rooming house and their separate apartments.

At her door, Rebecca unlocked her door and opened it to a large, dark Livingroom.

“I thought I left a light on, “she said to herself softly. She closed her door and then reached for the light switch, but instead of the usual plastic switch, there was a soft, hairy, moving object.

“What the hell is this,” she exclaimed, this time much louder.

Then she felt them, crawling up her bare leg, more and more, heading, quickly up her body.

“Oh, shit!” she exclaimed loud enough for anyone nearby to hear.

She turned and tried to open the door, but her hand slipped off the knob.

Now the creatures were falling from the ceiling, onto her head and upper body.

She tried to open the door again, this time with both hands, but when the door came open, she fell backwards onto the floor.

Then she felt them all over her body; five, then ten, then more tiny needles entering her body.

She screamed again. This time Betsy appeared at her open door, herself covered over with the crawling, biting horror.

Betsy had time only to scream until she, herself, fell to the floor.

Now the creatures were everywhere, more and more of them feeding on the fallen girls.

At this point, neither girl was in any shape to go to the aid of Cissy, who had made it to her living room couch before she was covered over by the furry, biting horror.

The horror was over quickly. And soundlessly. The front door to the rooming house was locked and every other occupant was gone. Nothing left but silence.

All of the other deadly items acquired that day from the River Area dig were locked into a plexiglass case at the university. (Professors Hildredge and Bernhardt were afraid of theft.) As for the three unfortunate girls who purloined the three items from the site, no trace was ever found. Only a thin covering of fine black hairs covered the floors of each of the girl’s apartments.

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