It was my eleventh birthday. I’d gotten a new bike from my father: white and pink, with tassels on the handles. I really wanted to ride it, but my parents didn’t want me to leave while my friends were there. They weren’t really my friends though. I was never really good at making friends. I liked reading; I liked walking in the woods; I liked being alone. And I always felt a little out of place with other kids my age. So when birthdays came by, my parents usually invited the neighbors’ kids over. There were a lot of them, some whose names I barely knew. They were all very nice, and they all brought gifts. So I stayed. I blew out the candles. I opened the presents. I smiled a lot. I can’t remember most of the gifts because all I could think about was getting out and trying that bicycle. It was about dinnertime by the time everyone left and I couldn’t wait another minute. It would soon be dark; once it was, my father wouldn’t let me leave the house until morning.
I snuck out the back door and pedaled as fast as I could into the woods at the end of the street. It must have been ten minutes before I started slowing down. Perhaps it was getting a little too dark for comfort and I was thinking about going back. Maybe I was just tired. I stopped for a minute, listening to the wind throwing the branches around. Fall had arrived. The forest had turned into a motley landscape and given new depth to the hillsides. The air suddenly got cold and wet, as if it were about to rain. The sun was going down and the sky behind the trees was as pink as those tassels.
I heard a crack behind me. It could have been a hare. Something drew my eye to the bottom of the hill. I left my bicycle on the trail and started slowly making my way down, moving branches out of my way. It was hard to see, as the leaves hadn’t fallen yet, but there was this eerie turquoise glow seeping through the branches. I couldn’t pinpoint where it came from. It wasn’t the river; I could hear that in the distance, and the light was much closer. It seemed to be coming from everything.
I got to the bottom of the hill. Then the ground disappeared from under my feet.
I don’t remember much after that. I was out for several hours and the sun was coming up when I came to. My father was standing about fifty feet above me. His lips were moving, but I couldn’t hear a sound.
The hole I was in was perfectly square, about the size of our house. The walls were dark and straight with bright, beautiful turquoise light shining out of intricate carvings. There was light coming out of just about everything around me. I moved my hands around a bit. I was lying on a bed of dirt, rocks, and broken branches. Underneath the debris, the surface was slightly curved, smooth to the touch, and cold, like some type of metal.
I hadn’t noticed them before, but there were firemen above, yellow jackets buzzing around the hole. A rope fell a few feet from my head. Soon, I was strapped onto a stretcher and hoisted into daylight.
My father didn’t want to talk about it afterward. When I asked what I had fallen into, he just found new clever ways of explaining what a hole was. It was about a week later that someone rang the doorbell. I called for my father to go, but I got no answer. I ran down the stairs and opened the door. It was one of the firemen that had gotten me out of the hole. He’d taken some pictures and thought I’d like to see them. He was right. There I was, this tiny little thing at the bottom of the hole, lying on my back in the palm of a giant metal hand.
FILE NO. 003
INTERVIEW WITH DR. ROSE FRANKLIN, PH.D., SENIOR SCIENTIST, ENRICO FERMI INSTITUTE
Location: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
—How big was the hand?
—6.9 meters, about twenty-three feet; though it seemed much larger for an eleven-year-old.
—What did you do after the incident?
—Nothing. We didn’t talk about it much after that. I went to school every day like any kid my age. No one in my family had ever been to college, so they insisted I keep going to school. I majored in physics.
I know what you’re going to say. I wish I could tell you I went into science because of the hand, but I was always good at it. My parents figured out I had a knack for it early on. I must have been four years old when I got my first science kit for Christmas. One of those electronics kits. You could make a telegraph, or things like that, by squeezing wires into little metal springs. I don’t think I would have done anything different had I listened to my father and stayed home that day.
Anyway, I graduated from college and I kept doing the only thing I knew how to do. I went to school. You should have seen my dad when we learned I was accepted at the University of Chicago. I’ve never seen anyone so proud in my life. He wouldn’t have been any happier had he won a million dollars. They hired me at the U of C after I finished my Ph.D.
—When did you find the hand again?
—I didn’t. I wasn’t looking for it. It took seventeen years, but I guess you could say it found me.
—To the hand? The military took over the site when it was discovered.
—When was that?
—When I fell in. It took about eight hours before the military stepped in. Colonel Hudson—I think that was his name—was put in charge of the project. He was from the area so he knew pretty much everyone. I don’t remember ever meeting him, but those who did had only good things to say about the man.
I read what little was left of his notes—most of it was redacted by the military. In the three years he spent in charge, his main focus had always been figuring out what those carvings meant. The hand itself, which is mostly referred to as “the artifact,” is mentioned in passing only a few times, evidence that whoever built that room must have had a complex enough religious system. I think he had a fairly precise notion of what he wanted this to be.
—What do you think that was?
—I have no idea. Hudson was career military. He wasn’t a physicist. He wasn’t an archaeologist. He had never studied anything resembling anthropology, linguistics, anything that would be remotely useful in this situation. Whatever preconceived notion he had, it must have come from popular culture, watching Indiana Jones or something. Fortunately for him, he had competent people surrounding him. Still, it must have been awkward, being in charge and having no idea what’s going on most of the time.
What’s fascinating is how much effort they put into disproving their own findings. Their first analysis indicated the room was built about three thousand years ago. That made little sense to them, so they tried carbon-dating organic material found on the hand. The tests showed it to be much older, somewhere between five thousand and six thousand years old.
—That was unexpected?
—You could say that. You have to understand that this flies in the face of everything we know about American civilizations. The oldest civilization we’re aware of was located in the Norte Chico region of Peru, and the hand appeared to be about a thousand years older. Even if it weren’t, it’s fairly obvious that no one carried a giant hand from South America all the way to South Dakota, and there were no civilizations as advanced in North America until much, much later.
In the end, Hudson’s team blamed the carbon dating on contamination from surrounding material. After a few years of sporadic research, the site was determined to be twelve hundred years old and classified as a worship temple for some offshoot of Mississippian civilization.