Yet another post inspired by Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenges. I took the “three-sentence challenge” and decided to push it a little bit; I have used five sentences from those provided, and included a modified version of a sixth. I’ll include a list of the sentences I used at the end of the post. Until then, enjoy!
Kerry and Jonas stood frozen, staring at the massive block which had slammed into the floor only two feet in front of them, the moment they turned the corner. They clutched each other’s arms in shock and panted through their respirators.
“Was that—“ Kerry tried to speak, voice distorted by her filters.
“Did you see—“ Jonas stopped up short, sounding tinny in Kerry’s ears.
They looked at each other. Their hearts slammed in their chests, barely slowing at all. Each opened their mouth to talk, then nodded to the other, then paused in confusion.
“You first.” Jonas squeezed Kerry’s arm.
She shivered. “Did you see a flicker? Something there before the block fell?”
Jonas looked at the space in front of them. The ancient corridor still stretched ahead, deeper into the tombs. Massive stone slabs predominated, the air musty with age. Neither of them had seen the trap before it had been tripped. They had both known that there were such things in here, but seeing one trigger just ahead of them gave a different sort of awareness, a knowledge less academic and more spine-tinglingly immediate.
“I don’t know,” he replied eventually. He tried to smile underneath his mask. “Maybe it was a ghost?”
The joke fell flat.
“Whatever.” Kerry shook herself. “Let’s be more careful.”
Cautiously, begrudgingly, they inched their way deeper into the tombs.
They took hours. They worked their way gradually towards the section of the site that they had uncovered a month earlier with their seismic sensors. These tombs had mostly withstood millennia of adventurous thieves and profiteers, a fact less surprising now that they had seen the protections which still existed. They passed desiccated corpses, lying like signal flags around the edges of traps long since sprung. They only paused to rest once they had reached the richly appointed ante-chamber to the central suites of the massive mausoleum.
Kerry and Jonas sat down cross-legged, leaning on each other back to back in the puddle of light cast by the reflections of their flashlights against the high stone ceiling. Each dug into their packs, resting in their laps, while watching the room around them carefully.
Jonas was the first to take off his mask, coughing before he replaced it.
“Nope, the air is still bad.” He looked around the room. It was beautiful, despite the ravages of time and greedy hands. Even disturbed, it was still filled with ornately worked gold. Statues and figurines standing on the floor or on decaying chests, beautiful murals and bas-relief running around the upper sections of the walls. Magnificent, and yet nearly as difficult to reach as any section of the deep sea floor. He sighed. “I guess we’re eating in tiny bites between breaths.”
Kerry nodded behind him. “Yup.”
Food bars, water bottles, consumed in tiny spurts and everything folded back up and replaced in their packs. They stood up together, easing themselves back to their feet, turning to face the far wall as one. They were careful not to shift from the place they’d already marked as being safe.
“Are we going to do it?” Kerry tilted her head towards the wall. It was the one that their survey had suggested was false. There was something, some massive series of chambers, beyond it. Probably undisturbed, untouched. Maybe even more fabulously wealthy than the place where they already stood. Certainly something that no one else had ever seen since it was sealed away countless years before. And, if their research was correct, the burial site of a queen who had been largely erased from history. They’d be the first to look upon her tomb, the first to find what had so long been thought lost or merely rumor. Kerry’s spine tingled in anticipation.
Jonas stepped closer to the wall, testing the floor before each step. Kerry followed exactly in his footsteps. They spread out alongside the wall, running their hands over it. “Why do we waste our lives on the quarrels of old men?” he asked. The beginning of the familiar ritual.
“When we could know for ourselves?” Kerry replied with their coda. She rolled her shoulders, rubbing her gloved fingers against one patch of wall. “It feels a little smoother here I think.” Kerry tapped a spot, swiping her finger down a long stretch. “Less like stone, more like plaster.” Jonas nodded, pulling a tiny chisel and hammer set from his belt and passing them to her.
“Go ahead, test it.” Jonas grinned beneath his mask, genuine this time.
Kerry set the chisel up against the unornamented section of wall. A light blow sent a puff of powder cascading towards the floor, little chips dropping, shattering on the floor’s tile. Kerry beamed at Jonas. “Plaster.” It carried all the weight of years of hard work paid off, a deep and abiding satisfaction.
“Let’s get to work.” Jonas nearly giggled in response. He and Kerry pulled out heavier mallets and larger chisels, and began tearing apart the wall in front of them.
It came down in a river of chips and powder, shrouding them in gently floating puffs of white dust. Beyond it lay a blank darkness, still shielded from the beams of their headlamps by the dust of their workings. Finally, when they had a gap large enough for them to squeeze through, they stood and waited for the billows of dust to settle.
Their lights caught on huge figures wrought from stone, on two small rows of sarcophagi resting side by side, feet separated by a narrow aisle. The darkness of the chamber beyond, its lack of glittering ornamentation, fed their hunger and their curiosity.
They shook fists in silence, Jonas throwing rock to Kerry’s scissors, and Jonas grinned uncontrollably as he stepped through the hole in the wall. Kerry joined him in the darkness, each smiling like a gleeful idiot.
“My God,” Kerry whispered, flashlight and headlamp piercing the dark around them, lingering on the rough, archaic style of the stonework, “we were wrong.”
Jonas’ headlamp bobbed in agreement. “It’s got to be even older than we thought.” He swung his lights from side to side. “Spread out and see what we can find?”
Kerry nodded. They stepped gently through the dark, gloved fingers trailing across the massive stone statues which dotted the room. Figures grotesque and beautiful, animals, humans, strange hybrids that must have had some significance to those who had first made them. Here the shape of something which she knew was later considered a guardian of the afterlife, here the shape of an infant curled in on itself, here some terrible concoction of things that evoked what others might have later called the Eater of Souls.
Then Jonas’ voice split the gloom. “Kerry.”
He was staring at the wall at the end of the rows of sarcophagi, the end of their aisle. A beautiful black surface loomed from the wall before him. He’d found the door, but just stood there frozen. “Kerry.” He repeated.
She came to his side, and together they pushed apart the polished black stone doors.
The chamber within was spare, yet glorious. There was something about the polished black stone walls that gave a sense of depth, even as their lights danced across it as they would across mirrors. The floor glittered hard and gray, flecks of mica casting back their lights like stars, and the ceiling glittered with the same depth as the walls. But it was the huge unmarked coffin in the center of the chamber which caught their attention, and the statue of a woman which loomed over it on the far side. Not even the many corridors leading out, deeper into the complex could tear their eyes from the coffin.
Jonas and Kerry stepped forward as one. They slid their hands along the coffin’s surfaces, finding not one hint of a seam or any other opening. Kerry tested the weight of her hammer in her hand. “Maybe it needs a bit of … tinkering?” She tapped the hammer against the coffin’s surface.
Jonas looked at her, then back at the coffin. He rested his hand on the polished, glimmering surface. It looked deep and black and endless in a way that pulled at his eyes. It felt wrong to open it so disrespectfully… but how else could he satisfy his curiosity? He glanced at the statue and shivered, looking back to the coffin once more. The statue was of a piece with the ones in the previous chamber, but somehow this one felt far more lifelike. Like it was not just watching the coffin, but watching him. Judging him, perhaps.
Kerry fidgeted. “Well?”
“Yeah, fuck it.” Jonas set his hand down on the coffin’s broad top with a slap. “Here, right through the top?”
Kerry shrugged, raising her hammer. Jonas set the chisel.
The blow rang through the chamber, echoing oddly, as though the space were far larger than it seemed. Reality lurched like a rickety wagon on uneven pavement. The stone around them melted away, leaving only the coffin and the statue hanging before them in star-speckled blackness.
“Unwelcome.” A voice boomed, that same strange echo. Though they couldn’t tell where it had come from, it was unmistakably the statue’s.
Jonas and Kerry gabbled for words, struggling and failing to make sense.
“You are unwelcome here.” The voice echoed again, and the two of them shut their mouths. “This tomb shall remain unfound. You shall be removed from this world.” The echoes died away, and Jonas and Kerry could feel something twisting in their chests.
“Wait!” It was Kerry who shouted. “We simply wished to know. We meant,” she swallowed, voice raspy beneath her respirator mask, “no disrespect. We sought only knowledge, not treasure.” Jonas nodded like a bobble head.
The twisting sensation faded. Jonas felt as though the statue was staring into the heart of him.
“Your knowledge would also be unacceptable.” The twisting began again.
“But we could stop others!” Kerry panted. There was something wild behind her eyes. Fear writ large. “If you can do something like this,” she waved at the insanity around them, “then surely you could put us back. Or put us back at the entrance, to cover our tracks!”
Jonas simply felt empty, terrified into stillness. The silence stretched around them, and they felt as though their chests would break.
Then the statue said, “What will you do now?” There was a hint of wind, perhaps.
Kerry twisted to face Jonas. “Come with me to the beginning,” she begged, overwhelmed with desperation, “we’re different now.” Her eyes pleaded with him for some response. “We’re different after this. Right?”
“Yes,” Jonas croaked. “We’re different.” He looked between Kerry and the statue, eyes settling on stone. “We can change, no, we have changed. Please.”
There was definitely wind this time. “Yes.” Silence filled only by the rushing sensation of wind without the sound. “The beginning. Appropriate.”
Jonas and Kerry clutched at each other, terrified and elated. Their lights failed, and there was only darkness around them. No statue, no coffin, no stars.
“Oh my God.” Jonas whispered. “Never again. No more.”
Kerry nodded fervently.
Suddenly, they were in the hallway again. Two horribly familiar figures turned a corner before them, their lights blinding and painful in Jonas and Kerry’s dark-readied eyes.
“Oh no,” Kerry whispered.
Sentences used (and their sources) were as follows:
- Then the statue said, “What will you do now?” – Karen M
- “Come with me to the beginning,” she begged, overwhelmed with desperation, “we’re different now.” – Tsara Shelton
- “Maybe it needs a bit of … tinkering?” She tapped the hammer against the coffin’s surface. – Eva Nemirovsky
- He’d found the door, but just stood there frozen. – davidoff85
- “Why do we waste our lives on the quarrels of old men?” He asked. – shaks
And I modified “Reality lurched much like a rickety wagon on uneven pavement or a teenager caught masturbating,” (from Mekkin) into “Reality lurched like a rickety wagon on uneven pavement.”