Edith Carlsson was climbing up into the roof space of her house because her visiting sister had been complaining of hearing things shifting around in the night. Edith would have put down rat poison and left events to take their course, but Joanne insisted that it wasn't a rat-like noise. A brief discussion had established that 'rat-like' to Joanne meant squeaking and scrabbling, or even chewing sounds, and she was definite that what she was hearing was objects being dragged along. This meant that Edith climbed the step ladder, opened the access panel, and climbed through it into the space above her ceiling. She really, really hoped that there weren’t rats.
The first thing she noticed was that it wasn't as dark as she had expected. Given that this was the roof that was supposed to keep rain out of her house, she made a mental note to have a roofer come and look at it to see if it needed repairs. The second thing she noticed was that there were boxes stacked on boards that were sitting across the rafters. The third thing she noticed was that the badly installed roofing insulation. a job that had been botched by a fly-by-night subcontractor, was sitting flat in the spaces between rafters where it was supposed to be, and not heaped up higgledy-piggledy. Edith didn't know of anyone who could have been up in her ceiling without her knowing that they were there. She also had no idea of where the boxes had come from.
It was her house, her ceiling, and no-one else seemed to be there with her, so she started poking around. The boxes were labelled in a script that she didn't recognise - it could have been Thai or it could have been Hindi, but she didn't know enough about either to tell which, and it could have been neither. In the tallest section of the space, under the roof ridge, there were two sets of stones, almost the length of the building apart. Each set had four stones set at the corners of a two by one metre rectangle, and each stone had something carved into it that could have been a letter, a word or a symbol. Edith used her phone to take pictures of the stones and the writing on the boxes.
More poking around showed her a little office kitchen set up with a few cups, an unlabelled box of jumbled together tea and coffee bags, a power point that looked like nothing else in the house, an electric kettle, a cup of pens, and a ledger. When she opened the ledger the writing inside was more of the script on the boxes and what she assumed were numbers were just as unfathomable to her. She took more pictures.
Then she put everything back the way she'd found it and climbed back down the ladder, pulling the access cover closed behind her.
She was barely back in the ground when her sister demanded, "Well, what is it?"
"I have no idea," replied Edith frankly. "It looks like someone's using that space for an office and storage. I have no idea how they get in there or how they got their boxes in there. By the way, do you recognise what sort of writing this is?" She held out her phone with one of the ledger pages showing on the screen. "This is on everything up there and I have no idea what the script is, let alone what it's saying."
Joanne leaned over and peered at the screen being held out to here. "I don't recognise the script, but those look like Aegean numbers to me. Maybe some of my failed university classes might even be coming in useful."
Edith replied, "Well, what isn't the script? Perhaps we could start there?"
"Do you have any idea, at all, how many writing scripts there are on the planet?" Joanne asked. "And I'm not including the dead ones for now. What's in the boxes?"
"I didn't look," confessed Edith. "They look like you'd need a crowbar to get them open, so I thought I'd give it a miss."
"Fair enough," conceded Joann. "Perhaps we could do a reverse search on the internet for the script using these pictures. If you don't know how, I can do it."
"Could you?" Edith was pleased and grateful. "I'll turn on my computer, shall I?"
Some time later, Joanne called out, "I think I've found it! Perhaps."
Edith went back to the computer, carrying two cups of coffee. As she handed one to her sister, she asked, "What did you find?"
"It's seems to be an abugida descended from Brahmi script, so your two guesses were close, but it doesn't seem to be in widespread use or related to a recognised language. I mean, the only examples I’ve got are a couple of house names and a shopfront in what is now north-eastern Pakistan back in the 1800s. Frankly, I'm handicapped by not being able to read or speak any of these languages because this could just be the equivalent of fancy copperplate or something and I would have no idea."
"What about the carvings on the stones?" asked Edith.
"I haven't looked for those yet." As she spoke, Joanne dragged a picture into the search engine and pushed the enter key. The matches came up and after looking through them she remarked, "Apparently no-one knows where and when they were made but a whole bunch of people who live where they’ve been found would like first world museums to give them back."
"I'm glad I didn't try to move them then," commented Edith. "But who put them in my house and why? And when did they do it? I mean, we know it was since that dodgy insulation job was done, but?"
"You could always leave them a note thanking them for fixing that," suggested Joanna, "but maybe wait until I've tried transliterating those labels and translating them into English? Just in case the labels tell us more than we want to know about whatever it is that's going on up there."
"Or more than whoever's doing it wants us to know," agreed Edith. "I mean, they obviously want to keep it secret."
"Or cheaper than it would be if they actual hired somewhere," commented Joanne.
"That's a thing," agreed her sister.
"And what are you going to do if you do find out what's going on up there? Ask for rent? Go to the police? Try to kick them out?" On the screen in front of her Joanne was setting up a table of sounds that letters of the script probably matched up to.
"Oh, Lord. You're right," said her sister. "What am I going to do?"
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