You are nervous. This is the culmination of several months work, both here and in Athens and you know that what happens in the next few minutes could either advance your career to levels you've only previously been able to dream of or......well the alternative is too unpalatable to contemplate, suffice it to say however that your career may never recover in more ways than one. The butterflies are really beginning to flutter in your stomach now as you examine the tape playback, verifying once again that the auto focus has worked, that the lighting is Ok and that your words can be heard clearly and crisply despite the poor acoustics in the lab. As the monitor shows your face move closer to the camera you notice the tiny lines and dark shadows around your eyes and promise yourself a proper holiday once this piece of work is safely completed.
With great care you move the delicate shroud, inside its protective dark black specimen bag onto the table next to you. For as long as anyone can remember the shroud has been held in the vaults of the Greek National Museum in Athens along with the thousands of other Ancient greek artifacts that did not form part of the regular displays in the public galleries. Undocumented rumour suggests that no living human being has ever seen the shroud and that it has remained carefully folded in a temperature controlled, non-humid atmosphere, preserving the delicate fabric which may represent the only tangible link between what is known of the ancient Greek world and the myths and mythologies that inspired so many of the stories handed down to us by ancient Greek and Roman writers. Radio carbon dating has shown the shroud to be well over a thousand years old but beyond that time scale the technique is not accurate. The Turin shroud by comparison was thought to be less than five hundred years old and could not, therefore have been the burial shroud of Christ as so many Christians desperately wanted to believe. With great reverence and care you slowly remove the folded cloth from the plastic specimen bag and place it on the smooth surface of the table. Now you have disposable plastic gloves on so that the salt content from the sweat of your fingers cannot damage the cloth in any way. Your greatest fear is that the shroud will simply disintegrate as you attempt to unfold it, the fibres in the folded parts of the cloth being weaker than those in the non folded areas. It is a fear that you will soon need to confront in front of the camera which will record the moment.
It is a hot afternoon and the bright lights which you have brought into the laboratory for the filming make it even warmer. You remove the white lab coat which you have worn throughout the preparations for the filming and try to make yourself presentable for the camera. You consider yourself attractive in a bookish way. Normally your slightly longer than shoulder length blonde hair is tied into a neat pony tail but today you let it fall loose. You also remove the small round spectacles, placing them carefully in their case inside the pocket of the lab coat which hangs on a hook on the back of the locked laboratory door. Standing in front of them mirror you smile nervously back at your reflection. You have achieved the look that you were trying for; young, confident and pretty. A breath of fresh air blowing through the dusty worlds of archaeology and the study of Ancient greek culture and mythology. You wonder briefly whether your skirt is too short or whether you should do up just one more button on your blouse....but it's hot and you remember the image you're looking for. You imagine the faces of the old professors back at Oxford when they realize that they have been upstaged by one of their less promising young protégés in such a spectacular fashion.
It's time to start the recording. You step in front of the camera running through the opening of your script in your mind, the introduction to the major coup, the unfurling of the shroud. You are determined not to refer to your notes....it has to seem natural, confident, consummately professional. Your right thumb seeks out the button on the remote. There is no turning back now. You hit the button, the red light appears on the camera, your image appears on the monitor and you hear the VCR click and whir into action. You swallow slightly, wait for the butterflies to settle before starting your introduction.
"My name is Jennifer Carter, I am an archaeologist and post graduate research student in Classics at Oxford University. What you are about to see is, I believe, a demonstration of the underlying truth behind what we persist in referring to as myths from ancient Greece. I have long believed that the ancient Greek myths represented such an important part of the culture of that civilization that there must have been more to them than mere stories as most modern observers would have us believe. The Greeks lived their lives as though these stories were real. Gods were consulted on the eves of great battles and some of the artifacts excavated from sites on Mount Olympus suggest the presence of a civilization more advanced than that prevalent in the countryside around. I suggest to you that these ancient Greek people were intelligent in every other aspect of their lives and that belief in a non-existent set of gods and heroes is totally inconsistent with this intelligence. I suggest that there is an underlying truth to many of the most common Greek myths and legends."
The first part of the speech has gone well. You no longer feel the butterflies and you are enjoying the experience of expounding your theory. You imagine the stir that your work will cause in the academic world, from Oxford to Greece itself....
"I have here an artifact that many of you would deny the existence of, an artifact that has remained hidden within the vaults of an Athens museum for as long as can be remembered. If this item is what it purports to be then an important Greek myth, the myth of Perseus and particularly of his slaying of the gorgon Medusa will be proven. This cloth is the shroud in which the head of Medusa was buried in a sarcophagus near Mount Olympus. Legend has it that the head was thrown into the sea by Perseus and, if this shroud turns out to be a fake then that version of the story may well turn out to be correct. My version states that Perseus placed the head in a stone tomb and sealed the tomb so that no unsuspecting individual might discover it. The consequences of such a discovery are, of course, well documented. Precedent would suggest that, if this really is the shroud of Medusa than an impression of the Gorgon's features will be etched onto the cloth in the same way that the features of Christ were allegedly etched onto the fabric of the Turin Shroud. I cannot emphasize enough that no living person has ever seen this shroud. I'm sure I do not need to spell out to you the importance of such a discovery for our understanding of ancient Greek culture, especially the links between the everyday lives of the citizens of Athens and the myths of legends of that great city state."
You move to the table and gently pick up the shroud. Moving towards the camera you gently begin to unfold the soft brown cloth holding the fabric towards the camera for the benefit of your viewers. On the side of the cloth you can see there is no image so you gently begin to turn it towards you. You catch the shape of what appears to be a curled snake on the edge of the cloth.....
"It seems there is some image here...this looks a little like a snake which would certainly be consistent with the Medusa myth...."
You continue to gently turn it, more and more of the image becomes apparent....
"...the image is particularly well developed towards the centre of the cloth and......"
You gasp. It is as though the temperature in the lab has suddenly plunged by several degrees. You seem incapable of continuing your commentary, you are unable to catch your breath. You also note that the light within the laboratory seems to be less bright. It is as though a cloud has passed in front of the sun on a summer day. You continue to stare at the cloth finding yourself looking directly at a truly horrifying image. The face of Medusa, more vivid and lifelike than you could ever have conceived. Your body feels like it has been plunged into freezing water while the breath seems to have been pumped from your lungs causing you to breathe in a series of short gasps. It is immediately obvious what is happening to you yet your scientific background hardly allows you to really believe it. Your limbs feel heavy and colder than you have ever felt before and inadvertently you drop the shroud and stagger slightly backwards. You notice yourself framed on the monitor and remember your obligations to the academic community for which the film was intended. Ironically, the events that they are about to witness prove your theory beyond any doubt. You try desperately to speak...
"I, I'm turning to stone......."
..is all you manage, your last words as a creature of flesh and blood stating the obvious truth that you cannot possibly believe to be really true. You watch yourself grow pale on the dispassionate monitor. The camera continues to record as the colour drains from your blonde hair and each individual strand stiffens into white alabaster. With a final agonizing effort you raise the hand in which you hold the remote controller. You want to stop the recording now. It is too late to save yourself but you do not want the moment when you finally become engulfed in stone to be recorded for others to watch as a scientific curiosity. You can see the button but cannot move your thumb towards it, and as you watch, your thumb, fingers and your whole hand turn white and a complex pattern of tiny cracks and imperfections spread across the surface of the stone. You realize that there is nothing you can do to stop the recording and you are now no longer able to turn your head away, to avert your gaze from the monitor recording your petrification. You see the remains of your Greek sun tan fade into white on your arms and the lower parts of your legs. You feel your breasts hardening, the nipples responding to the waves of coldness pervading your entire torso. Seconds later you realize with horror that you are no longer breathing: that your heart and lungs have petrified within your marble body. You wait to lose consciousness but do not. You wait for the veil of whiteness to fall across your eyes but it does not. You can see from the image on the monitor that the transformation is complete yet you are still dimly conscious of your surroundings.
There is silence apart from the faint hum of the VCR, quietly recording your fate for others to pontificate and theorize over. You are stone. Your entire transformation has taken about three minutes and you have witnessed it all on the monitor which continues to show your horrified expression staring back. Worst of all you are still conscious...you must watch yourself until someone breaks down the door to the lab and discovers the terrible truth about what has happened to you.
You make a few abortive attempts to move but you realize the futility of such attempts even before you commence. You note that time seems to have passed quickly since your transformation....you know that when the tape runs out in the VCR the monitor will go blank and you will no longer have to see the marble statue that you have become and that is all that occupies your thoughts. Just a few more seconds and.........clunk. The screen goes blank as the tape runs out. You thank god that at least that small ordeal is over and then you notice on the LCD on the front of the VCR the word RWD appears. You hear the tape spinning inside the unit. Soon it will be over. Clunk, it has finished rewinding. You watch in horror as the word PLAY appears on the LCD. No. Please, God, no!
A pretty blonde woman of about 26 stands facing her. She wears a short skirt, perhaps a little too short for a serious academic and a blouse which is perhaps unbuttoned a little too far. The woman looks confident, pleased with herself and she begins to speak...
"My name is Jennifer Carter, I am an archaeologist and post graduate research student in Classics at Oxford University. What you are about to see............"