Now, for something completely different.
I’ve wanted to write something set in the “real world” with supernatural stuff for a while — I’ve written fantasy and a ton of hardboiled detective stories. I’ve also wanted to write something with a golden age of adventure feel to it — so this story represents the start of that. I’ve gotten a ridiculous number of notes and characters for this “world” already, so I figure this is a fine start to the next serialized story that isn’t quite a novel:
Some of us are born with a good set of sense and are forged through our youths into every day, upright citizens. I was born with a burning passion for adventure that secretly brings out the little boy in even the wisest of men. It does come with it’s dangers. By the time I found myself, at the age of twenty-six, staring into the world’s only inverted pyramid, I had already been shot at, stabbed and stabbed at, burned, lightly tortured, and faced more than my share of heart-break with women — and those were just the good days.
But damn if it didn’t feel good to discover something time forgot.
The pyramid was something of a mystery to us. It hadn’t been long ago that a few English chaps dug up a dusty old king named Tut. Then we received a request from one of my frequent clients, a Doctor Baker at a small but well-funded museum in Virginia (the Bakers owned half the county and Kristoff Baker was the last of his name). He’d spent his life chasing rare, ugly dead bodies and their treasures. Through some of his research he found rumors of a pyramid built upside-down, with the point deep under the sandy earth.
With just the base sticking up and almost four thousand years of shifting sands all around it proved to be a hell of a thing to find. It was further from the Nile than any yet discovered Egyptian artifacts. When we started trying to hire locals to help us find it we found ourselves on the short end of many a stick. The people who had heard of this place were reluctant to spend any time in our presence.
But preserverence is a virtue that has run in my family for more than a few generations. My parents named me after their favorite president — Andrew Jackson — because they figured I would be at least as stubborn and relentless as he had been.
My colleague and mentor, Horace Maximillian, had been friends with my father and went on many an adventure with him. Our families went back to the American Revolution. Horace was the last person to see my father, Walter Nash, alive. They were on a mission deep in German territory during the Great War and Horace still wouldn’t, or couldn’t, talk about it. I’d missed seeing any real action in the war by fate of birth year. By the time I was old enough to convincingly lie that I was eighteen the battles were all but over.
Our other colleagues, Roger and Dalton Dorn, were wiry but inhumanely strong twins that Horace had picked up some years back. They had a skill for ferreting out the truth of any riddle or puzzle and they were why the four of us now stood at the mouth of our pyramid.
“Think we should go in?” Horace asked. Only, he didn’t ask and wait. The walking barrel of a man started into the darkness, striking flint to light the torch one of our scrawny helpers held out to him.
We followed his lead and soon four torches illuminated the hall before us. The walls, ceiling, and floor all appeared to be a solid piece. There were no tool marks, no drawings painted or chiseled into the stone; it didn’t appear to be bricks. It wasn’t possible but spoke to the craftsmanship involved in creating the tomb we fully planned on raiding.
As expected the hall began to turn and descend. We found ourselves involuntarily jogging down hill due to the extreme angle. “This is going to be fun to drag treasure back up,” Dalton said.
It sounds strange to say it but despite going perhaps a hundred feet down in total we all felt like we had walked for miles by the time the hall leveled off and opened up before us. Huge doors that appeared to be solid gold split the solid stone. I reached out to touch them, to push them out of the way, and Horace grabbed my wrist strongly. “Listen.”
It sounded as though there were a thousand bees living inside the doors. “What is that?”
“Somehow these doors are electrified,” Horace said. He held his torch high. The doors were perhaps fifteen feet tall and together about that wide. If the ancient Egyptians had somehow put current through them the gold would be a damned efficient and long-lasting conductor.
“Heard rumors of ancient batteries once,” Roger said. “Rumor was the Ark of the Covenant contained some to ward off anyone poking around it.”
“Above the doors,” Horace said.
All eyes drew upward. A recessed plate above the doors appeared to be the key. “Think you could reach it?” I asked.
Roger nodded. He climbed up Horace’s back and stood on the man’s shoulders. It was still a few feet too high, so Roger crouched and leapt. He pushed the plate with both hands at the apex of his jump. The only apparent result was a muffled click. Horace and I caught him on his way back down.
“Still sounds on,” Dalton said. “Wonder if it was triggered by us coming in, somehow? How else would it hold a charge for millenia?”
“That’s a puzzle to solve after we solve this one,” Horace said.
The sound of stone rubbing against stone came from behind the doors. It sounded like a brick weighing many tons was sliding down another equally large brick. The four of us took a few steps back from the doors for fear of something rolling through.
Good thing, too. They burst outward moments later. Light came from beyond the doors, blood red and behaving strangely as though it were reflecting from water. A matching mist rolled out and the stench of a thousand rotting corpses filled our noses with its sickly sweetness. In the doors we could see a statue of a naked guardian of some sort, perhaps ten feet tall and wide enough my arms wouldn’t wrap the sides of his chest. He was carved muscular, from the same wheat colored stone as the room beyond by a person with a serious over-estimation of the muscular capacity of a human being, among other physical irregularities.
Dalton cleared his throat and spoke first. “Ten feet tall and his dong is right at eye level?”
The twitch inducing sound of stone on stone sliding began to roll forward from the statue and his head turned just a bit toward Dalton.
“Did you see that?” I asked.
More scraping stone and his focus came to me. The right leg of the statue shifted forward and one arm began to lift up into the air.
“This is one hell of a booby trap,” Roger said.
But the swinging arm forced me to jump back — that giant stone fist would have crushed me otherwise. Once up it came down fast as a flash, breaking the stone floor, sending cracks spreading out in a starburst pattern. The other fist opened and reached for me. Without much thought I took out my side-arm — my father’s 1911 — and shot the statue in the forehead. The bullet had little effect on the statue. A bit of stone chipped off and the bullet followed the curve of his forehead and tumbled impotently to the floor behind him.
“Why did you do that?” Horace asked.
“Curiosity. He’s really stone.”
Then I dodged the two hands again. The statue was getting faster. Dalton danced behind it and hit the back of one knee with his torch. If the bullet had little effect on the statue that move had zero. But the statue changed its attention briefly by elbowing Dalton in the chest. He went sprawling backwards.
“There must be some sort of mechanism,” Roger said. “But how can it see us?”
“Maybe it operates on sound, not sight,” Horace offered. “Everyone move, but be quiet. See what the statue does.”
We all backed away from the statue, except Dalton. He stayed crouched, holding his ribs. The statue seemed to hold position, then his head began to spin. It went all the way around twice before the empty stone eye sockets focused on Dalton. The statue spun around and raised one oversized leg. Our wiry friend had to roll out of the way to avoid being crushed under the bare stone foot.
“It can see, it can see!” Dalton said.
“It isn’t connected,” I said. “The statue is free standing. Whatever is giving it motion is inside the stone. Distract him.”
Horace and Roger began to shout and wave their arms and torches, running around in front of the statue. The light played tricks on us all and it appeared as though the mouth of the statue curled up into a sneer but stone didn’t move that way… did it? With it distracted I dug into my canvas pack and retrieved a stick of dynamite. The amount of fuse was only my best guess under the circumstances. In one quick motion I lit and threw the stick.
“Six seconds!” I said.
Horace and Roger dodged the stone monster and helped Dalton up the steep climb out. I watched as he took two steps toward me and stood directly over the stick of dynamite before retreating with my fingers plugging my ears. The impact was unreal when the dynamite exploded. The cavernous room was filled with smoke. But then a pair of stone arms swung out of the smoke toward me. The stone guardian fell forward, struggling to pull himself up the ramp-like hall with his arms.
Once closer to me he raised himself up and launched his body closer, swinging his arms down at me. My escape was hampered by the floor that felt as though it were tilting back toward him like a heavily listing ship and my only option was to roll to one side as his fists came down. As I did so I caught a glimpse of something sticking out of the monster’s head: a dimly glowing, ruby colored stone about the size of a fist. The light coming from it pulsed as though it were powered by a heart beat.
The floor continued to list and the stone man and myself both began to slide straight down. He landed on the now-closed golden doors and watched me coming toward him. My feet connected first, just inside of his left arm and on his shoulder, but my momentum carried me further. As my arms slid past the animated statue I grabbed at that gem with everything I had. For just a moment I was suspended in the air by that gem but with a loud pop it came loose and I continued to fall.
Behind the giant now, with the stone, I had landed just beside the plate that unleashed this monster only a few minutes before. He turned and looked at me again but did not raise his arms to strike. Instead his mouth opened in a look that could only be described as stone based horror. The room corrected itself, the gem stopped glowing, and both of us began to fall back toward the floor all in a quick motion. The impact with the stone took my breath right out of me and I knew the fight was over. He would be on me before I recovered.
Before the stone man could get to his feet again his body turned to sand. The golden doors swung open again, but the red light and mist were nowhere to be seen. I tucked the red stone away in my bag and called for the others.
Horace was there first. He helped me to my feet and patted my shoulder. “I’m glad you made it, boy,” he said. It was about as affectionate as he’d ever been toward me or any other person.
“Me too,” I said. The twins came in behind him, Dalton limping and leaning on his brother Roger.
“Where’d he go?” Dalton asked.
“Turned to sand,” I said. But the sand pile was gone.
Dalton made a face. “Guess we can’t find out how he was mobile then.”
The twins hated an unsolved puzzle. I wasn’t sure something more hadn’t transpired than a simple trick.
In all the ruckus I’d lost my torch, but Horace still had his. The twins produced one, probably Roger’s, and Horace helped them light it from his own. We stepped into tomb of the monster the ancient Egyptians buried and I began to wonder: Was that guardian originally intended to keep people like us out, or to keep something else in?
Much like the rest of the buried temple, the inside of the tomb was bare of any design. There were no stores of riches or food for this man like a pharoah would have. No symbols for luck, no blessings from the Egyptian pantheon. A simple stone sarcophagus sat in the center of the room.
“We’ll have to lift him ourselves,” Horace said. “Our Egyptian friends won’t even consider coming in this place.”
No one objected. We were used to going it alone. “We don’t need the outer stone,” Roger said. “Baker isn’t paying us for unadorned rock.”
Horace nodded once. The four of us worked together to lift the stone lid of the sarcophagus and gently set it aside — needed or not, it was still a man’s grave. When Horace brought his torch over the opening Roger and I both gasped.
We were all expecting an Egyptian death mask like Tut’s, ornate gold of a man’s face. But looking up at us was not a human face. It was the face of the devil, twisted into rage.