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Publié : 22 mars 2011

The Aboriginal Treasure

The Aboriginal Treasure a short story by Valentine, 1ère S (2010-2011)

- No one knew what had happened. That Wednesday night, a terrible rumble woke up half of the village. The archaeological excavation that had begun to be drilled in may have caved in, and the whole village had gathered to the spot.
- The authorities were quick to make a statement : the six archaeologists who were working underground had died crushed by the fallen rocks. This news had shocked the whole village, some because they were relatives, others because they were avidly expecting results from this archaeological site. It was believed that in Alice Springs, or rather under Alice Springs was buried an Aboriginal treasure, and all of Australia was turned towards this dig. Only few people, including most of the Aboriginal community, were against this project, mostly because it was considered an offense to the Aborigines.
- ’It is considered a violation to the history of my people’ said the head of the aboriginal community Alan Walter ’Unearthing artefacts of dead people is an act of sacrilege. We say that a curse falls on whoever transcends these beliefs. We tried to prevent what happened Wednesday night, but these archaeologists stubbornly went down.’
- ’Thank you Alan Walter for this precious information. The inquiry will continue. Now, the Prime Minister...’
- The girl switched the television off. She didn’t want to hear more. Kate buried her head in her hands, and cried.
- Her father Tom Meyer was among the archaeologists who had died.

***

- ’The authorities searched and cleared the archaeological dig which collapsed yesterday and only five bodies were found. The one of Tom Meyer, who knowledgeably was in the dig when the collapse happened, stays mysteriously unfound. The fact that the force believes it was intentional, makes this disappearance all the more mysterious. The dig was declared closed after the incident.
- ’The funerals of the archaeologists who died will be held tonight...’
- The tinge of hope Kate had felt slowly decreased, and became anger. Never would her father do such a thing, and the fact that anyone could think otherwise just made it worse. Once again, she angrily powered down the television.

***

- On Friday, in the middle of the day, some men went to get Kate at school. She almost felt like bursting with joy when she learnt it was because her father had been found alive 10 km from Alice Springs.
- ’He went through a lot in the last two days, and he’s tired. We suppose he found some way through and emerged in the desert. If you want to see him, you’ll have to be very calm and quiet.’ Then, the nurse led her to her father’s room. He lay in bed, his face bruised and cut, and tubes were conveying blood to his arms, but he smiled at her when she came in. Her mother was already there, and held his hand. Kate hugged him, then began asking the questions that have been burning her tongue since she had learnt he was alive.
- ’Where have you been during those two days ?’
- ’Well...’ He remained silent as he watched the nurse check the intertwined tubes, but went on talking as soon as she closed the door behind her.
- ’I’ve found the Aboriginal treasure.’
- ‘What ?!’ The cry came from both Kate and her mother.
- ’Yes, I was in a tunnel that was branching off when the dig caved in. But it got blocked and I was forced to go on. I wandered across the underground galleries, and I found the treasure room after what seemed an eternity. It was really by chance, and you don’t know what marvels there are under our feet ? But I couldn’t stay there forever, so I went on, and found a way out which led in the desert among some rocks.’
- We all stayed silent for a while, then my mother said :
- ‘Did you say that to anyone else ?’
- ‘No. Why ask ?’ He sounded suspicious.
- ‘Well, why did you keep that for yourself ? Most of Australia was expecting results from this dig.’
- He sighed.
- ‘I have good reasons to believe that what has happened in the dig wasn’t an accident.’
- ‘You’re not the only one to think so. Some people believe you provoked it.’
- ‘Yes, I’ve seen that in the papers.’ He rubbed his forehead wearily ‘No, I’m thinking about someone else.’
- ‘And who might that be ?’ Kate asked sceptically.
- ‘Well, originally, we were seven archaeologists working on the project. The five who died and I wanted to give the treasure to the Aborigines once we found it. But the last one, Jake Redman, wanted to sell it to Australia. He said he couldn’t come the day before yesterday because he had business elsewhere. I think this is as true as fool’s gold. I think he’s the one who killed the others and tried to kill me.’
- ‘For money, that’s it ?’ Kate’s mother said with disgust.
- ‘Exactly. Plus, the Aborigines weren’t too happy about the excavation, so the fault could easily be put on their shoulders. And now the others are dead and I’m unable to move from that hospital until next week, he will have all the time he needs to get the treasure.’
- Kate left the hospital quite downhearted. She looked out of the car window wistfully. She couldn’t stop thinking about what her father had told her. She tried imagining the treasure her father had found, but she couldn’t very well picture it. Was it just a bunch of digeridoos rotting in some cave ? Or heaps of gold and opals forgotten there ?
- For the rest of the evening, it was all she could think about. She barely ate, still mulling it over. Eventually, she went to sleep.
- The first hours of the night passed slowly. She was lying in bed, eyes wide open, unable to sleep, or even to get the treasure out of her mind.
What if the aboriginal curse was true ? What if the rock had fallen on its own ? And if Jake Redman was really trying to get to the treasure, what would happen if he found it ?
- At some point, her thoughts seemed too loud in her head. She got up, put on jeans on her nightclothes (her father’s old orange T-shirt) and went outside. The cold air blew her annoying thoughts away, and she could think right again. Without thinking, her head turned to the dig, barely a hundred metres from there. An irresistible feeling, like a pulse was pushing her towards the dig. Maybe she could just glance at it. She headed towards the dig with this goal. She didn’t know what it would accomplish, or what she would learn by seeing it, but she had a goal now, and strong-minded as she was, she wouldn’t go home before she had seen the excavation.
- The moon shone bright, and she could see well enough not to walk on prickly surfaces (she had gone out barefooted). More than one sound echoing in the night made her jump, but she never turned back.
- When she glanced down the tunnel, she felt shivers down her spine. It was utterly dark, and she could only see the wooden edge and the rusty ladder. - There seemed to be a lamp some metres down, but the rest was swallowed in darkness.
- Hesitantly, she grasped the ladder, and began to climb down. When she arrived at the level of the lamp, she grabbed it and tightly rolled it around her wrist. That way, she could see what was waiting under her feet. When she lit the lamp, Kate almost gave up : the tunnel seemed to be hundreds of metres deep. But she went on anyway.
- Kate listened hard as she climbed down. Every noise, every scratch was suspicious, and she often turned to take a better look at what was under her feet. Some rungs were broken, probably because of the rock (that thought made her shiver), but the ladder wasn’t so rusty as it seemed at first.
- She felt really relieved when she arrived at the bottom. The lamp cable was so long that it lay in heap in the corner of the cave like black spaghetti. There was one tunnel, or rather a burrow, hardly large enough for her to creep into that probably led to the treasure. She followed it, hoping for the lamp cable to be long enough.
- She crept on and on until her back hurt and her knees got bruised. The lamp was still working : the cable was exceedingly long.
- Finally, she saw that the tunnel opened on a larger cave. Impatient, rather to stretch her aching limbs than to see the treasure, she sped up. Finally, she got out of the tunnel. The first thing she did was stretch.
- Then she picked up the lamp and swept the cave. And she stood mesmerised at what she was seeing.
- The cave was huge, maybe 50 metres high and 100 metres wide. The rock in which it was carved had shades from yellow to bright red, stretched in waves from one end of the cave to the other. Its rotund roof had been painted : hundreds of little dots of colours, geometrically arranged, were spread over the dome like an inside reproduction of the starry sky. On the lower walls were symbols, probably telling a story in the aboriginal language, and a drawing depicting a tribal dance. On the floor were wooden objects, boomerang, digeridoos, some utensils…
- Kate knew how important this discovery was. There was very little information concerning the Aborigines’ tribal life before the white settlement. Least of all written information. Kate felt so overwhelmed with this discovery that she almost missed the ray of light coming from the other end of the cave. She quickly switched her lamp off.
- ‘Hey, Jake, there’s someone in there !’ cried a hoarse voice.
- ‘That’s impossible. You drank too much beer again Keith.’
- That must be Jake Redman’s voice, thought Kate. They’re coming from where my father came out.
- Apparently, he had come back with other men to get most of the treasure out. Kate knew how much it would mean to aboriginal community, so she decided to get to the police before they stole the treasure.
- She went back to the tunnel on tiptoe, but she tripped on the lamp cable. She fell quite loudly, and a torch lit her face. The men had seen her.
- ‘Where does she come from ?’
- ‘Well, you should get her and ask her before she gets away.’
- Kate felt her heart thudding, and when one of the men began to run towards her, she almost jumped back in the tunnel, and crept as fast as she could back to the ladder. The idea of taking the lamp had crossed her mind, but the cable was so long that it would surely make her trip again.
- She had an advantage over her pursuer : she was thinner, and she could move more easily in the tunnel, but he had a lamp and he could better see where she had gone.
- Finally, she arrived at the ladder. She climbed as fast as she could, turning back every five seconds to be sure he hadn’t arrived yet. She was halfway up the ladder when her pursuer appeared. She climbed even faster, ignoring the cold iron on her feet and her short breath.
- After an agonisingly long climb, she emerged out of the tunnel. She didn’t stop a second to catch her breath, and she immediately went towards the police station, two streets away. The man behind her, the so-called Keith ran after her. He was very fast. He chased her all the way to the main street, until he saw where she was going. When Kate entered the police station, Keith was running back to the tunnel, probably to warn the other thieves.
- When he saw who had come in, the policeman seemed quite surprised. As quick as she could, Kate told him her story.
- The policeman and some other men headed out to the dig while another accompanied Kate back to her home. She tried not to think about what her paranoid mum would say, but it seemed obvious.
- She would be grounded for the rest of her life.