The Egyptian desert blazed under the sun’s relentless rays. A frenzy of wind and blowing sand roared over the dunes. Diggers with their heads and mouths wrapped with cloth struggled against the elements to excavate history from its sand tomb. A tan-hatted figure walked through the scene, his linen jacket blowing in the wind, and then he stopped.
Professor Trevor Pendleton stood on a sand dune and surveyed the dig site just fifty meters ahead. The blowing sand stung his exposed skin as it blew his neck-length blonde hair back. His tan shirt and pants flapped in the wind. The sand dimmed the sunlight to an eerie amber color reminiscent of a solar eclipse. He adjusted his goggles. They dug into his skin, but at least they kept the sand out. The face mask wasn’t comfortable, either, and grit still managed to get in his mouth. He struggled against the wind and blowing sand to reach the site. The howling sound of the wind racing over the opening was ominous and haunting. Don’t need to see to find the cave, he thought.He entered the dark opening of the archeological dig one more time before retiring for the afternoon and proceeded into the cave until the light faded. His flashlight flickered and dimmed as he tried to gaze again at the statue. He banged the flashlight with his hand, trying to get decent illumination. Lousy torch. He retrieved his phone and launched the flashlight app. That’s better. He made his way to the back of the cave and raised his head above the ledge to find himself staring an Egyptian cobra in the eye. This is not good. He felt around with his hand, careful not to move a muscle in his face. The snake’s head flared, and its tongue flicked up and down as it assessed the image before it. Trevor saw its round pupils adjust to the bright light. A small teardrop mark below its eye confirmed it was local to the area. The flare of its head revealed its bluish-gray scales. I should be more careful. There’s a spring just outside the cavern that attracts these things. They locked stares as he found a rock and held it between his index finger and thumb. He flicked the rock with his thumb, and it went up and landed a few feet from the cobra. When it turned to investigate, Pendleton jerked his head away, narrowly avoiding a fatal bite from the reptile as it turned back toward him. He grabbed a stick and flung the snake toward the entrance. The diggers entered the cave and started talking about the cobra as it defensively turned from one to the other. They laughed and teased the snake while keeping just out of its strike range. “Please find him a suitable home far from this location,” Pendleton directed. The diggers captured the reptile and put it into a sack. They ran away, chatting nonstop about the event. The snake was a rare specimen and would fetch quite a sum from a handler.
Trevor shook his head. That’s enough excitement for a few years, he told himself and once again lifted his head above the ledge.
Looking at the image, he shook his head. They’ll have a field day with this one. He returned to the entrance of the cave and killed the flashlight app. He walked out, turned for one last look, and left the dig site.
Pendleton fought the strong winds as he made his way back to camp. He retreated into a large tent and removed the mask from his mouth and the uncomfortable goggles from his head. “Not going to venture out today, Nigel? It’s quite refreshing.”
Professor Nigel Bartholomew smiled from his easy chair. He removed the pipe from his mouth and set it in the ashtray. “Pendleton, at my age, it’s just good to wake up in the morning.”
Pendleton smiled back. “Oh, you have plenty of life left in you, sir.”
“Look at you—slim, chiseled good looks with your whole life ahead of you. Mortality is not on your mind. I’m an old, fat, worn-out horse staring at the glue factory sign.”
“Nonsense, old boy.”
“So you don’t think I’ve had it yet?”
With a sly smile, Pendleton retorted, “No, was referring to the use of horses to manufacture glue.”
Nigel let out a bellowing laugh. “You always have a quick one ready.” He fought for breath, straining his rotund frame.
“Well, not quickly enough for the physics department. However, you’ve shown me a few tricks along the way.”
Nigel groaned as he sat forward. His suspenders and pants belt stretched to capacity over his belly. “Well, I knew what you went through as a lad. I’ve had my skeptics in the past. They ridiculed my research, trying to get my grant money for their projects. I always proved them wrong. We always rise to the top, Pendleton. Yet we remember the difficult times the most.”
Pendleton’s expression dropped to a frown. “Yes, times I would just rather forget.” He guzzled a bottle of water.
“Remember what I always told you.”
“Adversity makes us who we are. We can use it to become better or worse. Of course, the goal is hopefully better and stronger for the experience.”
“Close enough. By the way, why did you leave the physics department to putter around with us dusty types as we rummage for shards of pottery and the bones of those who have gone before us?”
“All these years, and you never asked. Well, to tell the truth, it was more a matter of the dean moving me rather than the other way around.”
“Really, why was that?”
“Believing in intelligent design is not very popular in the arena of physical science. Of course, my mouth could always get me into a spot of trouble. It was not a battle I wanted to engage in, so I became an archeologist. It was another passion of mine.”’
Trevor noticed a bust of Winston Churchill on Nigel’s dresser. Nigel had placed his familiar pith helmet on it. He smiled. “When did your twin brother get into town?”
Nigel looked surprised then laughed. “Yes, we are starting to look alike. But back to our original conversation. Their loss is our gain. You give those ancient astronaut theorists a run for their money.”
“Up until now, I thought we had explained away their misinterpretations of ancient symbols and such.”
“I’m sure you’ll solve this puzzle, old chap.”
“It’s not just the images—it’s where we find them.”
“Like some god of war, Mars or such?”
Pendleton’s assistant, Britney, ran into the tent. “They found another one.”
Pendleton spun around. “Exactly like the others?”
“No, different,” she replied.
Trevor looked at Nigel. “You coming along?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.” Britney, with her curly red hair and youthful energy, helped Nigel out of his chair. Nigel smiled as he looked at her. “My dear, you get more beautiful every time I see you.”
She blushed. “Thank you, sir. You’re always so kind.”
Pendleton smiled. “He’s right, you know. Don’t settle for just any chap. You deserve the best.”
“Doesn’t every girl?”
He looked up and responded, “You’re right, every young lady deserves a decent chap.” He looked down at the floor. No time to think about skeletons in the cupboard now.
Nigel laughed. “She’s a quick one, ole’ boy. Maybe give you a run for your money someday.”
Trevor looked back up and forced a chuckle. “That she can do, my old friend. That she can do.” He looked at her. “Have we thoroughly embarrassed you yet, or should we continue?”
“I think that’s quite enough for now.” She laughed.
The late afternoon had brought a cessation to the howling winds of the day, and they made their way with ease to the dig site. The pink glow of a dying day cast long shadows in the barren desert. The hired armed guards took their stations. They were there to protect the staff and the site from marauders looking for an easy payday. The diggers grunted and groaned as they helped Nigel over the rocks into the interior chamber. Trevor and Britney stood at the bottom and helped him the last few meters down to the floor of the cavern. The bright lights highlighted the statue standing in the middle of the room. They turned to face it.
Nigel looked at Trevor. “This one is very different from the others, Pendleton.”
Trevor moved closer to the statue with a serious expression. “I know, I know.”
They stood transfixed before a statue. Its menacing face stared at them blankly through eyes of amber. Hornlike protrusions rose from its head, and its arms were open wide in some sort of gesture. Its bat-like wings, extending from its waist to its wrists, added to its creepy appearance. Its torso appeared to rest on a serpentine tail that began at its waist and trailed behind it.
Trevor turned to Nigel. “It’s different from the spindly figure wearing headgear that resembled a helmet with a breathing apparatus attached. It has some of the same markings as the others, but unlike the others it lacks the tubing. Straight on, that looks like a pointed tail that falls between the legs of the figure, so you think it starts at the base of the spine. But as you walk to the side of the statue, you can see that it’s attached to the helmet.” He moved around to the side, examining the tail. “No helmet and no tubing. It’s not the same. I don’t know how to explain this.”
Nigel asked, “Is it as smooth as the others?”
“Yes, the stone is as slick as glass. Remarkable as this type of stone does not polish well. This had to take a long time, and we don’t know what abrasive material they could have used on this type of stone. It usually pits before shining up.”
Britney recorded the scene and the markings. “There are some characters that are different from the others,” she added.
Nigel smiled and turned to Pendleton. “Nothing more exhilarating than a mystery, my friend.”
“This one is quite difficult. Even the color is different. The others are a monochromatic gray, but this one has blue and gray striations just like a…cobra. ”
Britney touched him on the shoulder. “You’ll get it, Professor.”
Trevor scrunched his face. “Don’t make me feel old.”
“You’ve just hit your thirties—that’s not old,” she encouraged.
Pendleton smiled at his young charge. “Wait until you get here.”
Nigel laughed. “Don’t make him feel old before his time, dear. Soon, some young chap will be digging you up, Pendleton.”
He smiled. “Probably with my hands around your throat, throttling you.”
Still laughing, Nigel replied, “At least we’ll be together.”
Trevor turned back to the statue with a serious look on his face. “We have to figure out what this is all about.”
Britney rested her head on her arms, laying one over the other on a rock ledge, and took in the significance of the find. Her focus went from the statue to her hand on top of the other. A camel spider had crawled onto it and stared at her in a defensive posture. Her eyes opened wide. She jerked her hand up and sent it flying toward the other two. It landed on Pendleton’s hat and hung from the brim. His eyes crossed as he tried to see what was there. “Ah!” He cried, swatting at the bug and sending it down the shirt of one of the diggers where it promptly sent him into wild gyrations as he tried to separate himself from his unknown assailant.
Britney called out. “Don’t fight, or it’ll bite you. It’s not poisonous, though.”
Trevor replied, “You got rid of it rather quickly.”
“And you didn’t?”
“I was surprised.”
“You thought it was a poisonous spider, didn’t you?”
“One has to be careful.”
Nigel laughed. “I can’t remember how many times those things have taken a bite out of me. But it’s the poisonous things that scurry around here that you have to try to avoid the most.”
Trevor picked up his hat and started to put it on. He stopped and looked inside it before doing so. “Let’s scurry on out of here. Night is coming on, and that’s when they come out.”
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