The Enigmatic Skeleton by Newton Webb
Horror flash fiction: The contents of an Anglo-Saxon museum incur an investigation with deadly consequences.
Museum curator Jarvis Collins stood at the front of the room, beaming with pride as he surveyed his assembled guests.
“Welcome to my collection of Anglo-Saxon antiquities and skeletons,” he said, gesturing broadly at the array of items on display. “We dedicate this room to the era when England was under the control of Germanic invaders. They ruled the country for several centuries. These relics are a beautiful testament to that bygone age.”
The guests, gathered in the room, gazed at the artefacts in rapt silence, marvelling at the intricate details of the weaponry, jewellery, and other objects.
“Look closely at this sword, or seax, as they were called,” Jarvis continued, pointing to a particularly elaborate-looking blade. “It was probably forged by a skilled artisan, and it would have been passed down from generation to generation in the hands of an elite warrior, or huscarl. It would have been a symbol of power and status, as well as a tool for combat.”
The guests continued to listen attentively as Jarvis moved to a group of ornate necklaces.
“And here we see some beautiful examples of Anglo-Saxon jewellery,” he said. “High-status women undoubtedly wore these pieces, using them to highlight their wealth and status. The Anglo-Saxons were famed for their metalwork, their intricate designs and fine craftsmanship. These prized artefacts are truly a sight to behold.”
As Jarvis spoke, the guests continued to gaze in awe at the relics before them. The richness and diversity of the collection was truly astounding, and it was clear that Jarvis had spent countless hours curating it.
“Thank you all for coming,” Jarvis said finally, as he brought the tour to a close. “I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the world of Anglo-Saxon England, and I hope you’ll return soon to see more of my collection.”
Jarvis turned to go, but he quickly stopped as a man approached him.
“Excuse me, I wonder if you could help me?” the man asked. “My name is Quentin Blythe.”
Jarvis smiled. “I will see what I can do, Quentin. How may I help?”
“I’m a professor from King’s College and I am rather interested in your collection of skeletons.” Quentin walked among them. “I would really like the opportunity to perform a DNA test on them.”
Jarvis nodded. “That’s certainly possible,” he said. “I’ll need to take your contact information and get back to you. Can you give me your telephone number?”
Quentin nodded and gave Jarvis his contact information.
“I’ll call my boss now,” Jarvis said. “In the meantime, please explore the rest of the museum.”
The man thanked Jarvis and wandered off to examine the other artefacts in the room.
Jarvis returned to find Quentin examining one of the skeletons in its glass display case. “Ah yes, that is the skeleton of what we assume to be an ancient warrior. You can see from his skull that he died from blunt force trauma.”
“What a startling observation.” Quentin walked around the display case, peering at it from all angles. “You are clearly an expert in your field. Are you an osteobiographer?”
“An amateur at best,” Jarvis said, bowing his head obsequiously.
“And are you familiar with the external occipital protuberance?” Quentin turned to face Jarvis, who was smiling even wider, his eyes glittering.
“I believe the modern vernacular would refer to it as ‘text neck’,” Jarvis reached into his pocket. “Tell me, how did you learn about osteobiography?”
Quentin adjusted his glasses. “Oh, I studied—”
“Not at King’s College.” Jarvis pulled an ancient iron blade from his pocket. “I just phoned them and they don’t have the foggiest notion who Quentin Blythe is.”
Quentin lunged forwards, knocking the ceremonial dagger to one side and cracking his fist into Jarvis’s chin. Jarvis fell to the floor, kicking out, his leather shoe smashing into Quentin’s knee. As Quentin fell, Jarvis rolled on top of him, stabbing repeatedly with his knife. Jarvis punctured Quentin’s lungs, blood frothed from his lips. He mouthed something, the only sound a last desperate gurgle.
“Sorry, I can’t make that out,” Jarvis said, gasping for breath as he continued to stab Quentin’s body. He stopped as Quentin’s struggling ceased. “I’m afraid you won’t be getting your DNA test. Death, they say, acquits us of all obligations.” He smirked at the corpse of the interloper. “And I certainly don’t want anyone examining my collection that closely.”
Jarvis paused as the guests looked around at the exhibits. This group was particularly interested in the variety of skeletons, including several complete human remains laid out in neat rows behind glass displays. “I’m pleased to say that all of these paleoanthropological specimens are in excellent condition, having been preserved by peat bogs. They are exceedingly rare and are great examples of what life was like hundreds of years ago.”
One guest, a tall, rather rotund, bearded man, approached Jarvis and quietly asked. “Is there somewhere more private we can talk?”
“Of course,” Jarvis said. “Follow me to my office.”
Jarvis led the guest to a small side room, where he gestured for them to take a seat in front of his desk. “Please, how may I assist?” Jarvis said, smiling.
The man pulled out his badge. “DCI Farthing. That’s a nasty bruise you have there. Not caused by anything too tragic, I hope?”
“Not even anything as exciting as an SRI,” Jarvis said. When DCI Farthing gave him a quizzical look, he elaborated, “A sherry related incident. No, sadly, I was going to the ‘gentleman’s’ last night, in my home. The lights were off and I tripped on the top step.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that,” DCI Farthing said, pulling out his notebook. “I’m investigating the disappearance of a private investigator. His diary said he had an appointment here three days ago.”
Jarvis beamed at him. “Well, I hope he enjoyed his tour. We have some magnificent exhibits, including a rather fine new one. We believe him to have died in battle. Marks on its ribs indicate someone stabbed him repeatedly with a small-bladed object, possibly a dagger.” He motioned to the door. “Perhaps you would enjoy a closer look at it?”