Priscilla had been the bookkeeper at the Boston Museum of Antiquities for at least 15 years. In all that time, she had never been late. She was always seated in her windowless office at 9 each morning. She took a lunch break from 12 to 12:30, and carried on with her addition and subtraction until 5:30 each day. Then she would tidy her desktop — which was already neat — button her cardigan, and say goodnight to the guard as she walked out the door.
Everyone loved Priscilla. She was quiet, but she also had dimples and a sweet, shy smile, and she made sure the bowl of M&Ms on her desk was always full. Bob, the director of planned giving, didn’t like M&Ms, so she kept a few rolls of Necco wafers on hand just for him.
Day after day, the museum employees would stop whenever they walked past Priscilla’s windowless office, just to say hello and help themselves to something sweet.
But Priscilla had been helping herself to a little something, too. No, not money. The museum’s bank accounts had always been balanced to the penny, ever since it had been founded, and Priscilla would have died before she would sully the institution’s perfect record.
She wasn’t pilfering artifacts, either. Not Roman coins from salvaged shipwrecks, or priceless amulets from ancient Tibet, or papyrus scrolls from caves in the Israeli dessert.
Priscilla’s take was more valuable than anything she could carry in her pocketbook.
That was by design.
Priscilla’s windowless office just happened to be in the southeast corner of the museum, behind the cornerstone that had been laid in 1889.
Priscilla was the only museum employee to know that the cornerstone had been blessed by bishops, sprinkled with holy water, and sanctified with blood and oil. She was the only one who knew that the cornerstone concealed a time capsule, filled with greetings from the past to the progeny of the future. And she was the only one who could read the Masonic sigils that were inscribed on a small brass plaque that marked the stone.
She had actually read them aloud, more than once, in a ritual designed to summon angels and demons in times of need.
Priscilla knew the power of the stone and the symbols, because she had been the only occupant of her windowless office since the museum had opened.
She had been there for 127 years, soaking up the power of the mystical inscriptions on the cornerstone, feeding sweet nothings to her supplicants, and changing her name and face every generation or two.
For every candy one of them took from her desk, one of her fellow staffers would forfeit an hour of his life.
Over time, that added up. As an accountant, Priscilla knew how small investments could grow.
None of them ever suspected her of theft — even when she confessed that she didn’t eat candy herself.
“It’s not good for you,” she’d laugh, and smile sweetly, pushing the M&Ms toward her colleagues, and sliding a roll of Neccos toward Bob.
They all laughed along. Bob would even look down at his stomach and say, “You’re killing me, Priscilla!”
Naturally, they were all shocked when Priscilla was hit by a bus, as she walked home from the museum on the darkest night of the year. They went as a group to see her buried on a Friday afternoon. After a few weeks had passed, they welcomed her replacement.
This time, her name was Maris. She was rested, refreshed, and ready for another 20 years … and she had Dove chocolates on her desk.
Based on a prompt from Flash Fiction: Mix-and-Match Writing Prompts: A charming bookkeeper confesses a secret in a museum.
Illustration by Cristina Bernazzani