Breakthrough – Nicholas Stillman

Reporters crammed into the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford to see the exhumation of William Shakespeare. Those journalists with any contrition about it waited outside. The bitter nighttime breeze nudged them around, while the press inside chattered over the controversial, though legal, desecration of the playwright’s tomb.

Yet they stayed. Their eyes and cameras bore down on Langille and Faulise like a new kind of weight the church exuded. Although both scientists wore forensic white coveralls and gloves, Langille felt the bulk of the gaze. He, after all, would have to scoop out the poet’s dead dust for EM analysis. The materials would go into a hockey bag with a medical white veneer.

Langille faced the wall to escape the grasp of eyes. Now, however, he confronted the funerary monument where the demi-figure of Shakespeare peered at him coyly. The poet gripped his quill and paper, eyeing him playfully with a smug smirk. Worse, the site’s caretakers had left the grave marker at the head of the ledgerstone beneath the monument. Langille had to let the scornful epitaph blur in his vision with everything else. Even the masonry here chilled him worse than his exhumation of Beethoven last summer.

Faulise could at least look busy. He safety-checked the roped-off tomb once more before lifting the jackhammer.

“Did you make any archaeology bets?” Langille asked before Faulise could don his acoustic earmuffs. “Potatoes and poultry can triple your ante now, despite their commonness.”

“No,” Faulise said. His eye-roll looked vigorous even under his safety goggles. “Show some respect, would you?”

Faulise dragged the jackhammer until its chisel rested over the ledgerstone, hopefully above Shakespeare’s groin. The tissues there, no matter how encrusted and crumbled, usually had enough form left for good samples. The pelvic girdle, with its strength and size, fought off the monster of time.

Langille could only wait–wait and try to look needed. Whatever small talk crept to mind would have to suffice.

“What if one of those Shakespeare fan groups moved the body to preserve it?” Langille asked.

“Move the body to prevent the body from getting moved?” Faulise mumbled as he rechecked the power cord. “Nice logic there.”

“But Shakespeare fans don’t think logically. They think poetically, or oxymoronically.”

Faulise donned his earmuffs. “The world wants to know what the Bard ate for breakfast. You don’t discover a forensic breakthrough and just leave it to rot like these useless bodies.”

“But people have superglued themselves to tombs to prevent these events,” Langille said.

Faulise heard nothing. He started the jackhammer and tore up the ledgerstone. The last line of the chiseled inscription smashed to pebbles under the force of a newer, godlike chisel. Gray dust spat up in a faint rumble, for Langille had put on his earmuffs too. After mere minutes, Faulise had pulverized a half-meter square of the ancient slab.

Faulise turned off the jackhammer and laid it on the neighboring ledgerstone of Shakespeare’s wife. He and Langille knelt and flung away the bigger chunks of stone. The media ebbed closer. Their torsos leaned over the rope barriers.

“Behold, the damn vampire Shakespeare,” Faulise grumbled.

They had broken through the ledgerstone to find a layer of dark, claylike mud. It shone in the camera light with perfect smoothness, except where the the jackhammer had chiseled parts into mush.

“The texts never mentioned any earth poured over him,” Langille said under the mutters of the media. “It looks like fake, plastic soil.”

“No,” Faulise said. “If fans emptied the tomb, they wouldn’t pour modern muck inside to defile it further. We brought extra gloves, so start digging. The body lies only three feet down.”

They dug away clumps of the strange clay and set it in a pile over the remaining burial inscription. Although the mud felt too fresh for material so old, they kept digging, for nothing stops science and tabloids.

As he crouched and sweated, Langille glanced at the carved skull atop the heraldic shield of Shakespeare’s monument. Somehow, he saw it through the crowd of media dollfaces and their less sightly camera crews. The flanking, sandstone cherubs told him. He knew and stared at his stained hands.

“Plastic explosives!” Langille whispered.

Langille left his whole career on that bet and ran from the slab. He had left his dignity home that day anyway. He bet correctly on black, but got red instead–red fire. The pressure plates installed under the floor stones detected his weight difference and detonated the high explosives.

The fireball shattered the chancel of the church and climbed into the sky. A smoking chunk of Shakespeare’s tombstone broke through the roof and landed on the yard. The only surviving media crews, the ones who had stayed outdoors, huddled to read its now-oxymoronic engraving:

BLESE BE Ye MAN Yt SPARES THES STONES,

AND CVRST BE HE Yt MOVES MY BONES.


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Emerging Worlds is a Zealot Script Publication.

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