The archaeologists were done for the day. It was getting dark and Happy Hour at the Drunken Pick Axe lasted just until 7:00 p.m., after which time the drinks were served only in plastic cups, a prospect most of the dig team found unrefined. The young graduate student, formally named Byron Russelbeard III, but who had somehow earned the nickname Spacecake, was putting away the tools when he noticed a little yellow object protruding from the inner wall of the large hole in the ground.
He stuck his head up out of the hole and waved for the others to come over, but they responded with pantomimed drinking motions, and kept walking away.
Spacecake turned back to the object. Proper procedure would have been to note its size, color, and position in the log book and then cover it up with a paper towel. But his laptop had already started downloading the latest version of iTunes, and paper had been extinct for many years.
And Spacecake was curious. The yellow object was wrapped in a clear plastic shell that was malleable to the touch, and Spacecake was induced with a sudden desire to eat it.
“That’s crazy,” he said to himself, but still the object called to him. Inside of a minute Spacecake had dug out the object and placed it in his pocket and was walking away with a nonchalant whistle he had seen someone do in a movie.
Spacecake returned to his room and took the object out of his pocket and examined it with his penlight. He turned on his pocket recorder.
“Oblong object,” he spoke into the recorder, “about six inches long, a continuous height of two inches, and a continuous width of slightly less than two inches. Appears to be made of a yellow cake-like substance and wrapped in thin transparent plastic…late 20th or early 21st Century.” He examined the object’s underside. “Ventral surface shows three white dots, regularly spaced lengthwise.” He looked closer. “The white substance is creamy. I want to eat it.”
He snapped off the recorder. What was the last thing he had said? That he wanted to eat it? He replayed the recording. Yes, he had said he wanted to eat the object.
“But that’s crazy,” he said. “I mean, it’s an artifact, buried under earth for many—”
There was a noise outside. Kind of like a scratching, like someone—or something—was trying to find a way inside. Spacecake dropped the recorder on his bed and covered up the object. He opened the door and looked outside.
“Hello?” he said into the darkness. “Who’s there?” He could hear his heart pounding and he was sweating. He shut the door slowly.
“Probably just the wind,” Spacecake said aloud, and laughed nervously. He ran his hand through his hair and exhaled.
He uncovered the object. The yellow cake—he was convinced now that it was cake—glowed under the small light and Spacecake was again filled with a desire to eat it. That would be a serious breach of archaeological ethics. For years he had studied and worked to get this chance to be on the most elite team of Apatosaurus diggers in the world. Taking the object out of the hole was bad enough. To unwrap it would throw all that hard work away.
Spacecake unwrapped the object, peeled back the plastic, and took a bite. Oh ecstasy! He had never tasted anything like it. It was pure sweetness with no nutritional value. It was the most wonderful thing he had ever tasted. His mind was so overwhelmed by the explosion of taste that he did not hear the door open and the footsteps coming up behind him and the blunt object hitting him over the head. As all went black, Spacecake was still moving the yellow cake and white cream around his mouth and savoring the taste.
* * *
“Whatever it was, it was quick and painless,” the detective said, staring at Spacecake’s lifeless body lying on the floor. “Look at that smile on his face.”
“But the configuration of his hand…it looks like he had been holding something when…when it happened,” the program director said.
“Maybe that was what his killer was after.”
“But what could it be?”
“I guess we’ll never know,” the detective said.
The program director nodded, took one last look at what had once been his most promising graduate student, and walked towards the door. The detective held the door open, and then shut it gently behind them, leaving the body completely alone…save for the small, unnoticed, pocket-sized recorder laying on the bed.