I wake to the sounds of scraping stone, giving my sleep-addled mind a sharp spike of adrenaline, considering all that has happened to me so far. I push my way up, wincing at the numerous bruises and scratches that are littered over my thin frame. The fire we’d assembled atop the tomb still burns bright, allowing me to look around the cavern at the haunting shapes created by the dancing shadows.
I find Professor Nickels crouched over the tomb’s seal, hammer and chisel in hand, lightly tapping away at the edges of the four-foot circular disk of stone. Hunched over in the darkness, the old man makes me think of the stories of gremlins, incomprehensible creatures that would come into your home at night and hide your shoes. The old man is goofy looking not because of his wild mane of hair sprouting from the side and back of his head instead of the top, nor because he wore glasses that had adjustable nobs on them to move lenses in and out of the frame, allowing him to examine things “in better detail”, while essentially looking like the King of the Insane Beetles.
He was goofy because he didn’t care what everyone else thought of him, and despite his low social standing amidst the Historical community, he churned out peer-reviewed research like clockwork every six months that furthered our knowledge of ancient cultures. So the eccentric midget was tolerated, and asked only to teach two classes a year, when the icy chill of winter would spread over Southern Texas.
“Professor, what are you going?” I ask, leaning heavily on my shining sword, which had taken quite a bit of work to get to this poor level of shine let me tell you. The Professor, after looking it over, had declared it to be from the same time period of the Ubaid people, but not of their make (metallurgy was beyond them), theorizing it came from a group that “displaced” the Ubaid through warfare, eventually creating the Sumerian culture some five to seven hundred years later.
“Joshua, my boy, come down and help me move the seal!” He calls to me, still squatting impossibly low for a man of his advanced age. “The mind is willing, but the flesh is withered and old; I need a young strong back to move the seal so that we can continue our explorations!”
I sigh and walk over next to him, dropping to my knees and taking as firm a grip as I can at this awkward angle and begin to shove with all my might, slowly moving the three to four-hundred-pound slab inch by inch. After moving it halfway open, he calls for me to halt, giddy at the smell of the musty old air rising from the crypt below us.
“Why didn’t you just break the damn seal so we could just go down? Now my back feels like it’s been run through a sausage grinder.”
“Call it vanity on my part, but once we’ve cataloged what’s in the primitive tomb, I’ll want to bring that seal with me, as a souvenir.” He said with a grin. “Don’t worry; you won’t have to be my porter for that one. Plus, if we discover something down there that could be called ‘The Mother of All Evil,’ I’ll be wanting that seal intact to cover it back up.”
“The Mother of All Evil?” I repeat, looking at the spry little dwarf of a man as he flipped between lenses on his glasses, peering into the darkness beneath the seal.
“Oh my, it looks like we’ll need some rope… perhaps a hundred or so feet of it.”
“What’s down there that’s so important that we need to go deeper into this crypt Professor?” I ask, curious to what he can see with headgear. He looks up at me, all of his additional lenses flipping back at once, rolling back into their separate compartments.
“What I’ve been looking for my boy, what I’ve been looking for.” He says with a grin, hopping from foot to foot gleefully at the discovery. Rolling my eyes, I climb back up to our campsite to retrieve the rope and the climbers gear. Hammering in three pitons (safety first!) I loop the knotted silk rope around them and tie a harness about myself, as well as a smaller backpack rigging that I planned on carrying the good Professor in. He happily tucks himself into the makeshift backpack, jabbering on about how important this find was, and other such nonsense.
I just wanted to live through this now, like I said.
“Professor, mind if I take your Pistol, for the time being? I feel a little… unsafe walking around with just a sword.” I ask, trying not to sound too desperate in my plea.
“You’re a young strapping buck, Joshua,” He said from his safety harness on my back, patting my padding over my kidneys. “A sword should be fine enough for you. I never lend anything, my boy, anything at all! That’s how you lose your favorite books and good pens, you know.”
I ignore the urge to just throw the little man down the hole and make my final adjustments with the rope and the pitons, ensuring their driven deep into a solid section of stone and not just some piece of loose tile. Strange, there are several other holes in the stone similar to the ones I’m hammering in, almost a ring of them surrounding this pit. I pay them no mind as Professor Nickels urges me to move forward.
“The ropes seem fine Joshua, just fine! Now let’s get a move on!” Professor Nickels whined from my back.
“Hey, I’m just making sure this will work alright? Whatever’s been down there had been down there since before the pyramids, according to you, it can wait another five minutes.” I snap at him, still trying to figure out how to carry my sword (which is essentially the same size and weight as the good Professor) while shimmying down a rope into a darkened tomb. I reach in my side satchel and pull out a flare, cracking it against the stone floor to ignite the magnesium and sawdust held within it, the foot-long rod now glowing as brightly as the sun.