Letter From America

Entry by: Alobear

27th October 2016
The thin soil slipped through Raldi’s fingers as she dug her assigned patch of earth with her chrome trowel. It was hot work, being out in the unfamiliar and roasting sunshine, and she took a brief break to stretch out her hunched back and look around.

Seven other students were working in the immediate area, while their professor walked between them, checking on their progress and addressing any questions they might have. The abandoned school buildings at the edge of the scrubland lent a desolate air to the site. Raldi tried to imagine boisterous young children playing where she knelt, but bringing life back to the area was too difficult, even in her imagination.

The Global Environmental Assessment Committee had declared the school and its grounds safe for excavation only the week before, and it was quite a coup for the university that they had obtained first access rights. All the students wore state-of-the-art radiation sensors at their wrists, and they would evacuate at the first sign of danger. For the time being, though, they were revelling in the opportunity to break ground that had not been disturbed in nearly two hundred years.

A few feet away, Raldi’s friend, Meral, gave an excited shout, and everyone looked up from their work. Professor Catratti hurried over and knelt next to Meral for a moment, then abruptly stood again, and gestured at the other students.

“Gather round, everyone,” he called, a strange tension in his voice. “Meral has found something!”

Raldi climbed to her feet, a little more slowly than the others. Of course it had to be Meral who made the first discovery. He was the teacher’s pet of the class, and smug about it. If his find was significant, he would be insufferable for the rest of the year. As the other students clustered around the still kneeling Meral, Raldi joined them, edging into the crowd so as to be able to see.

Meral was brushing dirt from what looked like some kind of container. It was made of a dull metal, with a hinged lid and neat writing inscribed on the top. Meral brought it fully out of the hole he had dug around it, and placed it reverently on the ground beside him. Everyone leaned in for a closer look.

Professor Catratti was practically bouncing on the balls of his feet, his expression stretched into a manic grin, but he managed to restrain himself and remember his role as teacher.

“Can anyone translate for the group?” he asked, suppressing his reaction to the words he had presumably already deciphered himself.

This was where Raldi came into her own. Meral might be the class expert on history and geography, but Raldi was the best when it came to languages. Several of the other students were already looking at her, and the one directly in front of her stepped graciously aside so she could get a better view of the box.

Raldi inspected the inscription carefully, wanting to make sure she got it right, before she spoke. Then, she read slowly.

“Letters from America, to The Future. Princeton Elementary School. Class of 2016.”

A collective gasp from the group went up at this last part, and Professor Cattrati nodded at them all approvingly.

“You’ve grasped the significance, then?” he said.

Meral spoke up, eager to reassert his superiority and his claim over the find.

“2016 was the beginning of the Great Collapse, in what used to be known as America,” he said. “If there are documents inside this box, they may provide valuable information about the state of the country just before everything started to go wrong.”

“Yes, very good!” the professor exclaimed. “So little is known about or has survived from that turbulent period. Any artifacts we can recover will be eagerly received by our historians. This could be a major find!”

Raldi dredged up her knowledge of the relevant vocabulary. She wasn’t sure that letters written by young children would really be of that much use. She supposed, though, they might contain some colourful insights into the lives of ordinary children before the Great Collapse. It was a shame they wouldn’t be able to open the box then and there.

Sure enough, Professor Cattrati was already instructing one of the others to run to the transport for a re-inforced container. The box would be sealed tightly away, to be opened by experts in a vacuum, so as to better preserve whatever material might be inside. Raldi and her classmates would be lucky if they got to see the contents at all, let alone be able to examine them.

She turned away from the group, and looked to the horizon. The blasted landscape had an ethereal beauty about it, and it was quite an experience just to be standing there. Regardless of what turned out to be inside the box, this would still be a story to tell her grandchildren. Perhaps by then, humanity might have repopulated this area and she would be able to bring them to this very spot to describe what it was like in her youth. She hoped, one day, that children would play here again, and that the school’s existence might come full circle to achieve the vibrancy and activity of its ancient origins.

There was always hope.