THE TOMB (2 pgs.)
Since a boy, I had always been plagued by the desire to dig tunnels. Not always just a tunnel. Sometimes I have built below-ground rooms of some size. Nothing about it seemed odd to me. It was just something I enjoyed doing.
As I matured, I came to realize they could just as easily have caved in on me, so my urge to dig subsided somewhat. That is, until Mark came along with this, to quote him, great idea. Would I like to go to Egypt with him and dig out an old tomb?
Mark is always getting into strange things. As nearly as I knew, he didn’t know a thing about archeology or tomb excavation. But, it seemed that he had been given some sort of grant to do just that. All he needed were some willing hands for the labor of digging. A free ride to someplace I’d never been. I bit. Sure, count me in.
A couple of weeks later, a call from Mark asked if I was packed and ready. He had the visas set up and a small work crew and equipment on the other end. We’d go digging. I’m not sure if he expected to return rich or was merely in it for the adventure. But, I’d been offered more than a chance to use a shovel and that was alright with me. I’m good with shovels.
Off we went to Egypt. Someone must have seen this sucker coming. The crew he had hired and the equipment he had sent a deposit for were nowhere to be found. Mark was in a tizzy until I pointed out that, if he knew where we were going, surely a few flashlights and shovels would be enough. Maybe a tent and sleeping bags and some water. Then, once we hired a couple of laborers, we should be able to get by okay.
It didn’t turn out to be quite that easy, but we eventually managed to gather what was needed. Once at the dig site, Mark pulled out his map again and found where the entrance was expected to be. This seemed pretty straight forward to me, except that I did wonder a bit at where the map had come from. As I stood there taking it all in and wiping sweat from my brow, Mark was asking me, “Chuck, since you’re the experienced hand at digging, would you like to begin while we set up the tent and unpack supplies?”
Sure, I could do that. “Any old curses I should know about?” I ventured as a joke.
That brought some reaction from our help and not what I expected. I hadn’t dreamed they’d take that sort of thing seriously. It was just a remark born from all the movies where they show curses being set upon those who expose a tomb. Big deal.
The four men who had accompanied us rapidly backed off a ways and began chattering among themselves. Mark rushed over to calm them and assure them there were no curses on our dig site. In time, they calmed a little and went back to unpacking. After finding a shovel, I began poking around to find a soft spot or some better indication of where to start digging.
The next morning, after a somewhat skimpy breakfast, the rest joined me at the spot I had decided must become an entrance. Piles of dirt and rock were moved out to form a ring well beyond our hole and we began to make good headway. When my shovel clinked against something that felt a lot more like solid rock, we all got down there with our hands and carefully exposed a huge rock slab.
The rock was smooth and flat on the side facing us and, as we dusted it off, some hieroglyphics were exposed. Even the laborers couldn’t make out the language, so we decided it didn’t mean much to us. Some cables snaked in behind the slab and, stretched up to the winch on the truck, allowed us to soon pull the slab from its’ resting place. Exposed behind it was an extension of our tunnel. Wider and nicely squared off along sides and top and bottom. It appeared to be carved right out of the native sandstone on location. Two could walk abreast upright when traversing this tunnel. Pretty nice and far superior to what we had dug.
Mark and I asked the men to grab some battery powered work lamps on stands as well as some pry bars and some flashlights. After a quick look at one another, the lead man among them finally went back to gather what we asked for. The others straggled along behind him and, eventually, we had taken everything down that long tunnel and found ourselves in a cavernous room.
As we stood there taking in our surroundings, we both said, “Someone has already been here.” You guessed it. The place may have contained a sarcophagus and a few broken trinkets of various sorts, but the lavishness we had been led to expect was sorely missing.
I turned to ask the men to set up the work lamps only to find them missing. Flipping my flashlight this way and that, nowhere in that cavernous room could I make out anyone but Mark and me. “Well, Mark,” I exclaimed, “it looks like we’ve been deserted. We’ll have to set up the lamps and do whatever we’re going to do by ourselves.”
Mark agreed, although somewhat grumpily. Hiring help didn’t mean the help was expected to just wander off right when needed the most. Oh, well, this was Egypt and things were probably not done the same here as we were used to. Maybe it was a prayer moment for them or something.
We set up the work lamps on their stands and began to investigate. Mark asked me for a pry bar and proceeded to try prying open the sarcophagus. As he struggled with it, I placed another bar in the crack he had managed to get along one side so it would at least stay that much opened. On the opposite side, Mark got a little more of an opening and, together, we hoisted away and lifted the huge stone lid off and slid it to one side. A sound like that of a vacuum being broken greeted us and, inside we saw a wrapped mummy. Well, at least that part was still there.
We stepped back and found ourselves looking around at the surrounding walls. Pictures and some sort of text from the old days covered the walls. It suddenly seemed those walls were farther from me than I had earlier felt. I walked over to have a closer look and, when I decided I needed more light, I reached for one of the flashlights. But, it was way over there. A lot further away than what I’d expected.
It was at that time that I looked back at the sarcophagus and found myself looking far up to even see the top edge. This is not right, I told myself. About then, Mark also became aware that things had changed. Neither of us was nearly as large as when we had entered. The work lamp battery began to fail, but when I reached for a flashlight now, it was far heavier than I could lift.
Mark said he heard something outside and rushed over to the entry just in time to witness the huge stone slab being returned to its’ original resting place, blocking our way out. Not good!
Although the seal appeared tight, I realized I felt air movement. We began searching the walls for some sort of air shaft or any other means of escape and soon came across a large square opening at floor level. I say large, because it felt large to us at our reduced size. No light issued forth, but it obviously did reach the outside world somewhere because we felt a good air flow. No other way for it. We’d have to check this out and hope it allowed us to escape from the tomb.
What seemed like forever inside that square, dark tunnel finally brought us to a point where we saw light. Sunshine had never before been so welcome. I reached the outside first and, as my body slipped past the outer edge of the hole, it suddenly expanded. In fact, it expanded so quickly that managing to get out felt a bit like getting a cork from a bottle. Since, in order to keep from tripping over my pants, I had cinched my belt up tight, I now had to rush to release it or be cut in half. Eventually, as my body was submerged in the outside air, all of me returned to my normal size. Mark soon popped out as well and we both stood there stretching as though we had been clamped tight. We looked down at a hole about four inches square, from which we had climbed.
The men were gone. The equipment was gone. The truck sat where we had left it, but only because Mark had the keys in his pocket. We returned empty handed, but not without some great stories to tell our friends. Not that they believed us, of course.
Strange, but, since that experience, I don’t seem to feel the old urge to dig, anymore. Curses! Who needs ‘em?
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