The story begins as I steeled myself to enter a cold, concrete archive. The building itself was a grotesque accident of twisting and turning stuff, but that did not matter. I was there to retrieve the past, to recover sources thought lost and to write you a story. Before I opened the door to the past and entered the building, though, I put a bookmark in my diary and closed it. Then I took a deep breath and walked through the door.
An archivist sneaked up beside me, and her smile seemed to melt the icy concrete exterior and interior of the building. I smiled back, but the warm exchange didn’t last long. After I exhaled and rolled up my sleeves, a huge “claw” hovered into view, dangled above my head and then prepared to swoop in for the kill.
I thought I was about to be gored by the “claw” and suddenly recalled my pet fish, Mr. Fishy, from two years ago. I covered my eyes to avoid seeing the gory spectacle unfold. Then, just as quickly as I had spotted it, the “claw” swooped away in a different direction, slicing off the tiny tips of the hairs on my head along the way. I wiped the sweat from my brow and stopped shaking.
“Whew! That was close! What is that thing anyway?”, I asked.
“It’s the Armed Book Retriever 2000,” said a different archivist who was working behind the information desk. She rolled her eyes as she replied to my question.
I watched as the “claw” backed up and beeped, like a forklift moving in reverse, then moved forward, lurched to the right, then beeped and move backwards again. It — at last — grabbed a book from the shelf only to drop it. The process of picking up the book began again.
“Couldn’t I just walk up to that stack and collect the book myself, and isn’t that machine’s claw grossly oversized to pick up tiny objects?”
“Sir,” the same archivist said, ” the Retriever 2000 is $6.50 an hour. Please stop asking so many questions and let the machine do its job in peace. It wants a safe and respectful workplace too, you know.”
At that moment, the “claw” turned around to face me for a moment and, as if it were raising an eyebrow, it lifted one of its two metal blades.
“N-n-never mind,” I said.
I backed away from the machine, and it carried on in its merry way. I decided I should do the same and carry on with my research.
I opened my diary to the bookmarked page, and landed on a quote I had highlighted, which read: “History is done in the footnotes.” The footnote to this insightful quote, yes there was one, included a list of sources I had come to collect. I showed my diary to the archivist at the information desk and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, do you know where I can find these items.”
She glanced at my diary before saying, “Video games, huh? No one has seen or played those in a long time. They’re somewhere deep inside this place. Head down the stairs there all the way to the bottom. Keep going ’til you reach the rare technology section.”
“Ok, thanks,” I said. I muttered “I guess” under my breath.
I found myself walking down a rickety wooden staircase that wobbled every time I took a step. The steps also creaked like a squeaky, old door that someone was pushing open with all their might.
My third step nearly killed me. My ankle almost twisted because my foot broke through part of the wood and got stuck for a minute. All of me could have fallen through the stairs, but I managed to break free and decided to skip a couple planks of wood.
Crickets chirped. I turned around half expecting someone to come to my aid, but I guess they had stuck their noses in books. I did what little I could: I left a yellow sticky note near the hole in case someone else stumbled upon it.
When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I waddled past doors covered with cobwebs in search of the sources. The flickering torches on the brick walls did not offer enough light to illuminate my surroundings, and I bumped my head. I could already feel the resulting mountain range with my fingertips when a voice interrupted my self concern. It seemed to come from on high and provide hope in the darkness.
“How can I help you?”, asked a different archivist. I showed her my diary and she added, “Ah, yes, this way please, sir.”
I walked past several rooms as the archivist led me toward the sources. One room was full of crates, stacked to the top of ceiling, marked “Top Secret”.
“Hmmm that’s odd”, I thought to myself, as I raised an eyebrow.
Carrying on, I caught a glimpse of a crypt complete with a badly bandaged mummy sticking out of a sarcophagus. I turned away at first and kept walking. Then I shook my head and said, “Hey, wait a minute, what the hell was that? What exactly is going on here?”
I pointed at the crypt, and the archivist laughed before saying, “Oh, that’s just our Halloween decoration room. Please follow me.”
“Okay, if you say so,” I said.
We moved forward, smiling, without a care in the wide world. Suddenly a school of bats swarmed and flew over our heads.
“Alright,” I said, “now this is getting weird. I mean…”
“Never mind, sir,” said the archivist, “we’re here.”
We entered a cavernous room with a large brown treasure chest in the center of it. I opened it and the glittering objects inside forced me to cover my eyes. I was so shocked at the discovery that I fell backwards and only caught myself by landing on my palms. When I stumbled back to my feet, I rubbed the dust off my palms and noticed a bunch of video games had tumbled out of the chest. I saw Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Metroid.
The archivist said, “No one has played these games for years. I’m not sure the technology even exists to run them. Sir, I don’t envy the difficult work you have ahead of you, playing all these games. There’s so many.”
“I don’t care; I’ll find a way to make it work. It may not be a pretty job, but it’s my task to make the past alive. By golly, if I have to, I’ll stay up all week to play these games. Nothing can stop me.”
“What about the writing?”, she asked.
“Oh yeah,” I said, “that too.”