For the Record, Episode 5: IVORY
[TAPE RECORDER CLICKS ON, STATIC]
Statement of Doris Lotts, regarding an enigmatic fossil on the island of… redacted. Original date of Statement… unknown. Recovered from the wreckage of the East Wing Explosion. Recording by Noelle Davis, Archivist of the Northern Vigil of Toronto.
I imagine that it is much to your faculties’ dismay that I choose to omit crucial details from my account of these events. I understand that as researchers, you desire evidence for the claims I will make. Perhaps not just as researchers, but as creatures of curiosity. But I assure you, I only speak the truth about what happened on my last expedition. I wish I had only dreamt up my trauma, but I must live with what I have seen, until at last I draw my final breath.
I suppose I should start off by explaining exactly what got me onto that island in the first place. Even at the time I did not understand how or why I was invited onto this historic and groundbreaking dig. I had been, for the most part, a semi-successful archaeologist, though not in a fulfilling sense. For the past fifteen years since I’d gotten my PhD, I’d mainly done work with documentaries and the like, and at the end of the day, my job was less “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and more along the lines of museum curator. I never got the chance to go into undiscovered territory, just following the camera crew and telling the dimwits not to touch anything old. So while I was successful financially, I just felt empty inside. I understand there isn’t much to do about that, but I couldn’t help but feel like I needed to make something of myself. I look back to my days as a student and now see naivety: a foolish girl with hopes to uncover the past and make her mark on history.
I had been depressed for years. It had become almost ritualistic for me to retreat into an alcoholic slump each time filming wrapped for whichever BBC feature I had last worked on. Right before I started falling into that downward spiral after finishing up on “Jerusalem: City of Faith”, I was interrupted by a phone call from an unfamiliar number. I expected some telemarketer, but I could not have prepared myself to hear the voice of Neil Benmidji coming from the other end. He still had that stupid little accent, bringing me all the way back to World Cultures 101. I suppose I should explain exactly who Neil was to me, as opposed to who he is to most people. Where others see the most successful paleontologist of this generation, I can only see Neil as an embarrassing hookup I had in college. He was just as pretentious back then as he was to this day, but I suppose he had his reasons to be that way now.
I must have been lost in a state of shock, as I remember snapping out of it after hearing Neil repeat my name a few times. We got to talking, the usual spiel of “catching up with old classmates”. I was ready to hang up after five minutes of small talk when he mentioned something about how he was planning on assembling a crew to collect data on a recently discovered island. This got my attention only for a second, until I realized this was most likely Neil just bragging to me, but then he invited me to come along. He must’ve been joking, but then he reassured me that he needed an archaeologist for this expedition, and he thought, why not catch up together?
Putting my opinions of Mr. Benmidji aside, I accepted immediately. This was what I wanted- what I needed. I had to find success with Neil, as this was my only chance to do something worthwhile in my career and my entire life.
I remember the build up to the day of our departure. The night before I left was full of anticipation and, of course, last minute packing. I lost my excitement the next morning, however, as I looked around at my peers on this expedition. I stood out like a sore thumb, an amateur among experts. And though I didn’t realize until that moment, it made perfect sense- the initial sweep of the island showed no signs of human life, so really, there was no use for an archaeologist. Of course, I wasn’t totally useless, as I was familiar with paleontology. But I just felt further alienated from my so-called peers, who seemed to just ignore my presence during our voyage.
We spent one week at sea until we had arrived at that dreary island. If nature had a “do not enter” sign, then this rock would have one right at shore. It was so unsettling. I had sailed to islands before, and you can always tell when your vessel is approaching the shore because of the noise. The waves crashing upon the sand, the wind howling through trees, the seagulls circling and squawking overhead. But I was caught off guard when the anchor dropped, as I heard… nothing. No waves, no wind, no birds… just air. Even as I stared out from the deck, the vibrant foliage of the trees looked petrified, stationary in time, like a dressed up corpse. The rest of the crew didn’t seem to take any notice, and we started to unload the cargo immediately once we had landed. Up close, even the sand looked pale and sickly, and I decided it would be best not to find out how it felt.
As unnerving as the environment proved itself to be, the company I found myself in didn’t provide me any comfort either. The only one who recognized my presence was Neil, who also didn’t seem to sense the same discomfort I had.
“I understand if you’re nervous, Doris, but this is what it’s like to be a trailblazer. You can’t just follow documentarians your whole life.”
I was about ready to knock him down, but he already started another conversation with other crew members, leaving me stranded in obscurity.
I decided the best thing I could do was just to keep doing what I needed to do. I continued to help unload our supplies off the boat- tents, rations, excavation tools. Once the job was finished, we made our way to camp, but I decided to take one last look at the horizon before stepping into the dead jungle. I watched as our vessel departed from the shore, gliding through the motionless waters that surrounded the island, and my stomach dropped like a stone. Now I felt stranded in a more traditional sense; for the next month, I would be in literal and figurative uncharted territory. I put the thought behind me, and followed my comrades through the dense forest.
When we eventually got everything set up, the sun had already gone down. Everybody sat around the campfire that illuminated the center of our camp. It served as a source of much-needed warmth, I found the night air to be surprisingly frigid. The fire was the only thing that kept me warm, which I found to be quite fortunate, as I couldn’t have possibly heard Neil’s plans for tomorrow over chattering teeth. In the end it didn’t matter, as I found myself lost in thought, ignoring the entirety of the plans. I couldn’t help it- I was simply captivated by the unmoving sky overhead. Just like the vibrant greenery, the unpolluted sky was deceptively beautiful, but a closer look revealed disturbing details; Clouds stuck in a static atmosphere, bright yet starless. I was only brought back to reality when I felt a hand on my shoulder. Neil. I was the only one who remained by the fire, and he wanted me to rest up for tomorrow’s dig.
We retreated to our tents and the still night would pass. The tent provided me some comfort from the unease I felt about my surroundings, the trees especially. However, that does not mean I didn’t experience the strangeness to an extent within my dreams.
I remember it so vividly; I had woken up in the middle of the night, standing on what felt like hundreds of sharp rocks, poking at my bare feet, that shifted under my weight. My vision was hazy, but I saw whatever I was standing on went on for miles and miles in all directions. The moonlight reflected off the intricately twisting landscape like unrefined marble… Bones. As my vision became clearer and clearer, the sharp pain in my soles worsened. I was able to feel fossils cutting into my skin, digging through each layer as I remained still. I found it so unbearable to the point where I woke up screaming and trembling.
The morning air hit me like a wave as I exited my tent, still recovering from my shrieking awakening. Neil made some comment about my tardiness, and we continued our morning rituals. Not long after, we started to head out to our projected dig site. I found it fitting that I fell behind the rest of the caravan. They didn’t completely abandon me, they were professionals after all, but they avoided me all day, while still keeping me just at an arm’s length during the dig. Even when we retreated back to our encampment, not a single word was spoken to me, and I went to sleep, praying that the visions from the previous night would not find me again. This did nothing to stop me waking up screaming again, with my feet sorer than before…
Each morning, the pain I felt in my dreams would continue to affect me in the waking world. This was woefully apparent to the entire crew, as I fell further and further behind the caravan with each passing day. And every night, the intricate ridges on the carpet of skeletons grew sharper and harsher. The pain had grown so unbearable that by the end of the week, I was considering staying behind at the camp to allow my imaginary wounds to heal. However, I knew that I had to persevere if I wanted to be seen as an equal by my peers. I refused to simply give up because of a little pain.
When we started to make the journey down our trail, I realized I was better off just staying in my tent. My pace was excruciatingly slow as always, however, the caravan did not seem to wait for me at all today. I was falling drastically behind, so I screamed to gain their attention, but it only served to quicken their pace as they continued marching forward without me.
As I started to run forward, I was brought down quickly by the stabbing of a thousand needles when my heels hit the ground. All I could do was lie there in blistering misery, staring up at the static foliage that haunted me each night.
The visceral discomfort in my feet evaporated in an instant, only to be replaced by the inexplicable agony that I suffered from the moment I arrived on that island. My insecurities and fears were amplified by the grey sands on its shore, never relenting, even as I slept.
I let my eyelids shut on the image of the ancient woods, hoping my mind would wander to more pleasant thoughts. Instead, I was drawn to the images of the alabaster horizon within my dreams. As I pictured it now in my head, I felt no pain below me. Still closing my eyes, I stood up, only experiencing slight soreness when my boots touched the bare earth.
I don’t know when I opened my eyes, or if I really closed them in the first place, as it took some time to realize I was standing in the boneyard. I didn’t know what dreaming felt like any more, so I assumed I had fallen asleep on the floor of the forest, but something seemed off now.
In my dreams, I felt restricted. I was unable to walk forward before, but this time I was simply in a state of awe upon seeing the sunlight wash over the bones. I could truly appreciate and recognize what I was surrounded by, rather than be frightened and tortured by the rigid fossils against my skin.
The ribs of massive creatures jutted out from the ground while the mandibles of long-dead rodents laid by my feet. Creatures that lived eons apart all collected themselves together in the grave I now stood in, the lone survivor, the savior that would give them new life in the memories and fossil records. I was tempted to begin sorting through the bones immediately, but knew that I could not touch anything without proper equipment, which I could obtain once I showed my discovery to the rest of the crew. I was determined to return with Neil and company, not only to begin sorting through the inconceivable field of discovery, but to become something better than what I used to be. I would be valuable now. I deserved to be there as much as all of them. I would not rest until they knew that.
What started as blind wandering slowly turned into a determined sprint, until I soon found myself at the edge of the boneyard. Crossing the threshold between the cartilage plains and the forest, I felt like the only thing moving within the stagnant air. Nightfall crept up behind me, the air now losing the heat of the sun. I didn’t worry, however, as I could sense that I was near the warmth of the campfire already. I ran and ran until finally I was with the crew again, disheveled and unnoticed. When I tried to explain what I had seen that day, Neil was the only one to respond to me. He informed me that the expedition was wrapping up early, and we were leaving in three days. He didn’t even take any notice of my story and none of them were concerned for my absence. My rage boiled over at the pompous and inconsiderate crew, screaming and crying like I had earlier that day, fueled by frustration rather than pain. They didn’t react, they didn’t even acknowledge my presence, and slowly, one by one, they got up as my tantrum continued.
By the time Neil left, I was sobbing and heaving, unwilling to leave the fire. When I finally stopped my screaming fit, I was so terribly exhausted, both physically and emotionally from the events of the week, that I had passed out in the bleak night air.
The next thing I remember was opening my eyes. The full moon hung directly over my cold body, and I no longer felt the warmth of the fire. I didn’t feel the firm earth beneath me either. I did not react. In fact, I didn’t move. I could not care anymore, all that mattered was that I was going to leave this god forsaken island. But as I stared up at the sky overhead, I noticed something that truly paralyzed me with fear. I could not feel the dirt. I could not sense the fire. And I could not see the looming trees hanging in my sight. I wasn’t lying in the center of camp any longer…
The moment I realized where I was, I was met with the terrible sensation of bones beneath me, writhing and scratching away at my skin. I wanted to get up and run away, escape from the bones that jutted from the ground and into my body… but I couldn’t. I continued to lay there, cold and helpless. My body was suspended in the moment my eyes shot open, while my mind experienced every passing second, inert and aware. The force of gravity was so palpable, its invisible hand pressing down harder and harder until I could feel the blood struggling to crawl through my veins.
The sharp, jagged fossils lay underneath me like a bed of nails, each and every one of them slowly piercing the exposed skin of my unmoving body. The agony could not compare to the overwhelming weight pushing me further down. I was terrified that this would be my end. I knew there was nothing I could do to prolong the inevitable, I knew I was going to die. But I didn’t want to die here, unknown, undiscovered. No one would find me here, I’ll just be another set of bones joining the field of death. My successors will fall to the same fate, and their successors, and so on and so forth. We’ll be forgotten. Together.
I felt the tusks and claws of ancient beasts tearing into my flesh as I sunk deeper and deeper into the grave. There was no more air to breathe, I would not need it anymore. I just shut my eyes, allowing the bones to swallow their victim.
I don’t recall the chain of events which followed, but the next thing I do remember was staggering through the forest, and vividly feeling the howling wind shake the once-dormant trees around me. Everything else was all so terribly hazy, but I woke up back at camp, screaming in my tent.
I knew from the fresh wounds all over my body that I had definitely not been dreaming, but what I found to be more disturbing was the total silence I woke up to. I saw that the crew had already left without me, which did not shock me, especially with my meltdown the previous night. But as I was wrapping up the wounds on my legs I realized something was terribly wrong. Neil had said the expedition was over. They shouldn’t still be out there, so where could they all be? In my panic, I noticed the trail of blood staining the earth that led from my tent and into the forest.. And a cluster of footprints following the crimson trail, marching forward into the foliage.
I threw down the bandages and rushed into the forest, terrified of what I knew I would find. My heart was pounding as I raced through the branches, praying that my colleagues could be saved in time. The adrenaline in my body powered through the pain of my fresh wounds. I could not waste any time…
When I finally reached the stark valley of the dead, I was petrified by what I saw. Right on the border where the bones met the earth, the empty sockets of a human skull peered into my eyes…
I didn’t look for the rest. I wanted so desperately to know what happened to them but I already knew they were dead. I knew it was painful and I knew it was too late to save them. That’s all that mattered and all I needed to know.
I walked off, passing by the campfire, continuing through the brush, until I sat myself down at the shore, feeling the grains of dead muted sand as I stared out at the ocean. The calm, pacific waters did not move, and neither did I. I collapsed and waited for either death or that damned ship to come and take me away. Deep down, I knew it’d be the boat, no matter how much I wanted to believe death wanted any part with me.
No. Not yet. It’ll take its time with my tired bones.
Despite her best efforts to confuse our researchers, “Doris Lotts” was quite easy to identify and track down. Of course, every name in the statement turned out to be a pseudonym, as with most of the statements held in the East Wing storage. However, looking into her background with documentaries, I was able to identify her as Samantha Carlyle, a consultant on multiple BBC features from the years 2000 to 2006, ending on the aforementioned “Jerusalem” documentary. This new information became useless to me once I realized Carlyle had died in 2016, making follow-up impossible for this case.
However, something to note about Carlyle’s death is the curious nature of it all. Though simply marked as suicide by authorities, the full report details the discovery of her body, submerged in a mixture of salt and sand in her bathtub. Her corpse was dehydrated, and embalmed using natural preservatives. The only fluids that remained in the body were within the eyeballs, which coroners reported to be unnervingly full of life and color. In the end, the body of Samantha Carlyle was donated to science, per her final request.
I suppose that’s one way to live on forever…
[TAPE RECORDER CLICKS OFF]
This episode of For The Record was written and directed by Reagan Parisi, edited by Haley Markulin, produced by Floris “Swiftly” Bordewijk, and starred Lily A. Dewald as “Noelle Davis”. It used sounds from freesound.org, under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial License. For full accreditation, see the show notes. To be kept up to date on new episodes, submit your statement, or to get involved in production, you can follow us on Twitter @ftrecordpod, on Tumblr at fortherecordpod or view our website at fortherecordpodcast.co.uk. Stay safe, take care, and sleep peacefully.