Zelia sat on the ground, her crossed legs obscured entirely by the billowing folds of her long skirt. She could hear the low, muttering voices of the men behind her as they shifted and grumbled impatiently to one another, waiting for the go-ahead to begin work. She knew what they thought about her; that she was a bored, rich woman at best, and completely insane at worst.
She would have known even if the ground hadn’t told her; even if she hadn’t picked it up through the restless tapping of pickaxe handles against the hard-packed dirt and through the worn tread of the men’s workboots as they stomped carelessly across the site. The ground told Zelia many things. Sometimes it told her things she already knew. Things like the fact that the men didn’t like her.Zelia was at peace with that.
With a few exceptions, Zelia didn’t care for people. Not living ones, in any case. Why would she, when the earth was so full of history and life and mysteries that were just waiting to be unraveled? Waiting for her to unravel them. Zelia was an archeologist. It was what she did.
Well, that, and a little bit extra.
Zelia touched her hand to the dry ground. The dirt was rough and gritty, baked by the sun which shone so brightly overhead. She closed her eyes. Distantly, she heard the complaints of the men grow more and more agitated behind her. Zelia paid them no mind.
Instead, she focused on what the earth was telling her. It was shy at first; uncertain. Zelia allowed herself to feel her sincerity, to feel her desire to learn and to remember things she had never experienced herself. She allowed the earth to feel it too. Zelia listened, and in return the ground whispered its secrets into her soul. Zelia had always been a good listener.
The ground told her stories. It told her of a sun-warmed town. It told her of happy people gathering around for meals in small homes, the clay exteriors keeping the inside cool and comfortable as families sat on the floor and tore fresh bread into pieces to pass around. It told her of children playing ball games in the fields and carving pictures into the dirt with sticks, just for something to do. It told her of a town filled with love. It told her of people who had lived, and it told her of people who had died long, long ago.
Where? Zelia asked the earth. Where did they live? How did they love?
And the ground told her. There was nobody left to remember the town– nobody but the warm earth and the artifacts left behind by the people who lived there. The earth cradled them carefully. The earth remembered, and so Zelia would remember, too, and she would make sure that nobody would ever forget.
Zelia opened her eyes.
“There,” she said, pointing off into the dusty hills. Pointing where the ground told her. “We’ll start digging there.”
Beneath the soil, the remains of the village waited to be rediscovered. To be remembered. For Zelia to bring what was left of them into the warm light of day.
Zelia spoke to the ground, and the ground spoke back. Zelia was an archeologist– plus a little bit extra.
Carter Lappin is an author from California. She has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. Her work has been featured in literary publications such as Dreadstone Press, and she is scheduled to appear in several more anthologies with WorldWeaver Press and Air and Nothingness Press. You can find her on Twitter at @CarterLappin.
Knowing How to Listen is the winner of the Apparition Literary Magazine December Flash Fiction Challenge, which was based on the historical badass for December 2021: Zelia Nuttall