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Artifact Of Deception
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Artifact Of Deception
Archaeologist Edwin (Eddie) Moncrief leads a group of students into the remote canyonlands of Utah to test his theory about the disappearance of a lost civilization. But shortly after their arrival, the possibility of a wonderful experience turns into the field school from hell as the group is beset with internal strife, looters, missing artifacts and a medicine man with his own agenda.
[1,010 words]
Jeffrey Hansson
Jeffrey Hansson is an archaeologist, author and freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1983. Since then, he has spent fifteen years as an anthropology professor in the University of Texas system and has worked with the Mescalero Apache Tribe of New Mexico. He has published dozens of professional papers, articles, book reviews, on-line magazine articles, and essays. He has been an occasional contributor to "letters to the editor" sections of the Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, El Paso Times, the Alamogordo Daily News and Albuquerque Journal.

[June 2006]
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Artifact Of Deception
Jeffrey Hansson

Journal entry for Saturday, August 4th, 10:45PM
Weather mild, another cool evening, clear but windy. Full moon.

 The wind howls, as if angry. I hear the cottonwoods moan, as gusts rattle leaves and bend branches. Each wave billows my tent with rage, then, calm. This canyon wind brings a foreboding feeling, of a situation spun out of control, like a dust devil dancing through the desert.
   Two students have been missing for seven days. Something weird is happening here. In all my years of conducting archaeological digs things have never unraveled so completely, until now. It’s worse than a nightmare. Is it my own paranoia from stress and lack of sleep or is Joseph Two Horse trying to sabotage my project? He’s gained great influence over several students by preying on their search to rekindle spirituality lost, and their dissatisfaction with me. He has turned them against archaeology.
But why?
Is he in need of followers? Or is all of this just an artifact of my imagination? Maybe I’m inventing a fiction to rationalize my loss of control. Have I discovered a repressed weakness in myself? No, it’s not me! It has become eerie, almost cult-like the way they have gone over to Joseph. At times, they listen to my directives, but only in the most superficial way. Hilda and Lorraine have become openly rebellious.
Are these events connected to my missing students?
 I fear losing the moral authority of the camp, and we’re stuck in the middle of a thousand square miles of near wilderness. One vehicle is missing, and the three remaining in camp are inoperative. Does Joseph’s vehicle work? They’ve not used it for several days, but still? If anybody knows anything, they’re not talking. Who destroyed the hearth? Was it the looters? Or was it Joseph? Buster’s been drinking heavily, and he’s has become increasingly hostile. Worse, I think he might be armed, and the nearest help might as well be in Texas.
White Elk warned me!
There are only three people in camp I can trust. I’ve sent Marilyn for help. Under cover of darkness maybe she can get to her horse unobserved and ride up Drovers Canyon and get to the highway. From there she can get to Gadston. But, that’s twenty-five miles, at night. Hopefully she got out of camp before the full moon came up. Even so, law enforcement couldn’t get here before mid-morning tomorrow.
Only Bryce and Julia are left. I told them to sleep in the popup and lock the door.
The others are down with Joseph now, around his campfire. It’s too windy to hear
what they’re saying, but it causes me worry. I hear only the monotonous drone of the drum beat that every now and then cuts the wind. There’s no way I’ll sleep tonight! Just have to write and stay alert.
Added note: Yukon has not come back; it’s been ten days.

Edwin, known as Eddie, Moncrief pushed his journal aside, put down his pencil, and rubbed his eyes. Bone weary, he flinched when a wind gust rattled the rain guard of his tent. He reached for the bottle of Tequila next to some field reports on his portable desk. Unscrewing the top, he slowly poured a small amount of the clear liquid into a plastic cup, took a slow sip, and leaned back in his fold-up chair.
Roughing it, he thought. Tequila this good should never be drunk from a plastic cup. He held the drink in his mouth for a moment, savoring the smooth sting of the Agave derivative, and then swallowed. Looking up through the ceiling screen of his two-room tent, he gazed into the starlit night. As he stared into the Big Dipper, he started talking to it.
“How did all this happen? How could a field school go so badly?”
What had begun as an exciting new archaeological project in the beautiful reaches of northeastern Utah’s Yellow Knife Canyon had turned into a disaster.
“I can’t sleep,” he said in a low whisper.
At this moment he wished he were back in Des Moines playing baseball with his friends. Now those were summers. On Saturday mornings in the spring, he could smell baseball in the air. Eddie and his brother would get out their gloves, apply a little oil and knead out the winter stiffness. They’d take their paper route money and buy a bat or a couple of balls. Then they’d meet their friends down at Clay Street Park and play all day, stopping only to race their bikes to the A&W for a burger and root beer. Their biggest problems were getting enough guys together for a sandlot game or having enough tape and wood screws to fix their broken bats.
Eddie looked over to where Yukon’s jumbled blanket was lying in the corner of the tent. How he loved that dog. He never thought anything could bring him joy again after Linda’s death. But Yukon, with those high beam eyes, curled over tail and cubby bear disposition had been a transfusion for Eddie’s soul loss. They were constant companions, and Yukon had a protective streak that was uncanny. Whenever anyone approached him, Yukon always worked his way between Eddie and whoever was approaching. Yukon was never overtly aggressive, only watchful. Now he was gone, and next to his blanket lay the remains of a cow knuckle Eddie gave him a week ago.
The emptiness snapped Eddie into anger. He reached for his journal and began thumbing through it.
“Maybe if I re-trace all that has happened I can find a way to get us out of this quagmire.” Then, in that kind of humor that only severe anxiety can understand, he added, “Well, it’ll be one hell of a story to tell incoming freshmen in the fall.”
With that, Dr. Edwin Moncrief, Associate Professor of anthropology and inheritor of the field school from hell, got up and unzipped the window behind his desk and peered into the direction of the campfire. What are you up to Joseph? And where the hell are my missing students?


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© 2004 Jeffrey Hansson
July 2006

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