We all lined up, white and fluffy like marshmallows waiting to be skewered for s’mores. The Director marched past, eyes forward as he handed out our clipboards. I looked down at mine. Tidy sheets of stark white paper; a small, brown pencil under the metal clamp at the top. As usual, my assignment began with Archive. The full title read Archive: History Of Macomb, Illinois As Recorded By John Sterling In 1832.
The next day, we all lined up and received our clipboards. Mine read Archive: History Of Macomb, Illinois As Recorded By Andrew Schell In 1835.
I traverse the centuries with Macomb under my arm all the way up to Archive: History Of Macomb, Illinois As Recorded By Paula Rivers In 2087.
It took almost two months to archive the history of Macomb. This little town in Illinois, though it had been around since 1829, only had a population of 21,516 in 2014 when it began it’s slow decline into devastation, along with the rest of what used to be the United States of America. Macomb was unremarkable. But some people had written about it. My fellow marshmallows and myself are archivers, so we collect and keep every history ever written by anyone about anything. Paula Rivers was a local Macomb girl who wrote about her town a few times in her diary when she was eight years old. This is history and it must be kept, they tell us.
Though I didn’t choose it, I like my job. Looking back in time gives me a strange comfort, like the feeling you get when you come to graduation: standing on that stage watching the Director get closer and closer as he comes down the line. We weren’t marshmallows then, we wore sober black. His hands are full of documents. There’s no “I hope I can make enough money to support my family someday” or “I hope I can get a job I love with this degree” like the stories I read about in the archival material. As you stand there, you find comfort knowing that the scroll the Director is handing to you will assure you a job, money, a home, and a purpose until you die.
Archive: The History Of Pillows As Recorded By Agnär In 2 AD.
Then, one day, the Director with his dead-fish forward-facing stare hands me a clipboard. The heading is Discover: Something New. I look around. My fellow ‘mallows are starting to disperse. No one looks concerned or confused. They must have all received their normal “Archive:_____” clipboards.
Did this clipboard get lost and end up in my hands? This is surely someone else’s who works in some other department. This clipboard was certainly meant for someone who is trained to explore: an adventurer. Someone who wonders about what’s outside those doors; or under our skin; or deep in the darkest corners of our minds, the places that we’ve been conditioned to put mental vaults around with chains and bars and codes that no safe-cracker could ever figure. Someone who tries putting things together to see what they will do. Someone who likes to taste strange colored or textured foods from far away places. Someone who gets to listen to music.
I shouldn’t keep it.