I could barely keep from collapsing as I ran through what seemed to be the never-ending darkness of the godforsaken catacombs. When I’d first signed on to serve as Professor Nickel’s field assistant, I’d assumed that the shrunken old man and I would spend days standing over a blanket of dirt, sifting through broken vases and old bones in search of some lost relic that the old fart would be hunting for.
He was always ranting about the “lost civilizations” and “how they need to be better explored by those with vision!”
All I’d cared about was walking away with a passing grade.
Now all I cared about was living to tell the tale!
We’d gotten separated some time ago, the old loon hopping down from a leaning column to the top of what he claimed to be a Sumerian tomb, telling me to keep up. How the old man moved like he did, I had no idea, but the jump was easily a twenty-foot drop.
Yeah, not doing that. I’d thought with disdain, having thought of the horrors my knees would face from such a height had I made a similar jump.
Now I was running for my life from some ancient Sumerian creatures that had crawled from the cracked awning of some ionic pillars, great shark-like maws wide in anticipation for what I could only assume to be dinner.
It didn’t matter as the creatures chasing me through the utter darkness were outright terrifying. From what I’d seen, the creatures were essentially unwrapped mummies that had replaced their funerary wrappings in place of moving along the walls like spiders. Hissing in their ancient language innumerable insults at me as they chased me around the catacombs, howling with laughter like sadistic chimps as they swung from high above, their aged claws scraping away bits of ancient plaster as they hurried after me.
Running with the two satchels of archaeologist’s tools, I quickly roll under a fallen column and soldier-crawl my way beneath a toppled statue, doing my best not to hack and cough at the dust I was kicking up.
I almost hack when I feel one of them land on top of the toppled statue, the other landing on all fours some distance away, prowling just within the light of my dropped flashlight, giving me a decent look at them.
They were obviously once human, but centuries of decay had changed that, turning them into something far worse. What funerary bindings they still possessed seemed only to exist to hold the carrion beetles that crawled all about their yellowed bones held together by the lightest of pink tendrils, thin strands of decayed sinew perhaps. Their mouths were no longer even comparable to what I possessed, being cracked down the middle and held aloft by the same pink tendrils, giving them a wide, toothy maw that nevertheless looked as if it could break stone.
Their arms were covered in faded tattoos, highly intricate looking dark ink work that had probably meant something at one time. Now all I could do was stare at the bare-boned hands, the sharpened finger bones…
The one on top gave a great leap, causing more dust to rain down on me, landing next to its compatriot. This one held an old sword awkwardly with its left hand, handling the cracked leather-hilt as if it were poison.
Whatever this Ghoul had been in life, it was obviously not a soldier. It held the sword awkwardly, offering it to the other with a shrug, the two speaking in their gibberish language.
Oh, good lord, they’re thinking…
I fish into my satchel, as quietly as possible, for something that I could actually use as a weapon for when I eventually bump into one of them and can’t run. One satchel is nothing but books and brushes, so I look into the other, finding my great savior!
A steel trowel.
Six inches of sharpened steel connected to a wooden handle. That was all I had to separate me from death.
I shuffle about beneath the collapsed statue, like a sleepy turtle trying to find a comfortable spot, crawling the way I came in, squatting behind several tons of rubble in hopes of keeping the creatures far enough away from me actually to make a break for it. I slink around the corner as best I can, trying to figure out where the hell I actually am in the damned ruins. Pulling a compass and a smaller flashlight, I frown as I notice North is in the exact opposite direction I wanted it to be.
The map of the supposed “Tomb of the Ubaid Princes” that Professor Nickel had traded his watch for was worth its weight in lead in my eyes, but Nickel had been hopping with joy over the idea of a set of Ubaid tombs as of yet untapped.
I’d merely rolled my eyes.
Now I could just wring his damn neck for getting me into this deathtrap.
A crumbling of mortar tumbles over my shoulder, a hissing cadaver perched atop a column just above me, wielding the ancient looking sword within its cracked leather casing, its eyeless sockets filled with an unholy green light as it opened its mouth to an unholy size. It howls at me in anger or hunger.
I have no idea, so I respond by ramming the trowel up into the creature’s chest, the steel cracking through the creature’s sternum with the sound of dry timber snapping. It doesn’t seem to mind as it swings its sword at me with clumsy fumbling, falling off of the pillar as I yank the creature down with me into a wrestling match, stabbing at the creature madly as it howls in agony, its weak claws scratching at my shirt feebly as I vent my frustrations out on the unholy being.
Two more come bounding around the corner, caterwauling like a pair of mated tigers after the people who stole their cubs. The creature beneath me is barely grasping at my boots as I stand, feeling a little more empowered seeing as the damn things obviously can’t fight worth a damn. I scoop up the leather ensconced sword from the creatures twitching talons. The two creatures run at me, moving more like wolves than men, hissing their greeting as they leap over the rubble. I raise the sword more like a mallet, bringing it down to the crown of one of the mad beasts, hammering its skull more than cleaving it.
The leather cracks away more than any damage I did to the screeching corpse beneath me. This one is far stronger than the other, giving me a rather painful sense of anger at myself for being made to believe I could effectively fight these things. My leather-clad sword serves some healthy justice snapping the wrist of the second howling creature as it pounces onto my back, the thin pink veins doing little to keep the fractured bone connected to the body. The creature on my back encapsulates my head within its engorged mouth, the separated lower jaws forming a tight noose around my neck as the creature beneath me grabs hold of my wrists, their unholy shrieking becoming profane laughter as, rather than the intense pressure of a bite or the serrated edges of teeth, I feel a sudden pressure against the back of my head like I’d blocked off a water pipe. The one on my back pulls up slightly, allowing room for whatever its vomiting to move over me, and thousands of scarabs and carrion beetles begin scuttling over and under my clothes, their feathered legs leaving long shallow cuts wherever they fall.
I throw my weight back, slamming my insect-filled foe into a column behind me, a disgusting squelching noise similar to the sound of rotting pumpkins being thrown from an overpass rising from its chest, along with a series of audible snaps as I cave in its torso. It falls to the ground in a heap, wheezing out a steady stream of insects that seem to have decided to turn on him rather than me.
Thank God, because I can feel a few dozen finding spots all over my body and beginning to claw through my epidermis, seeking the warmth of the womb that my body would provide. The leering undead still grasping my wrists expands his mouth out, his hollow throat beginning to bulge as it seems he feels like sharing his personal wealth of flesh-eating insects.