A strange, sensual dream, or a terrible truth?
Mary Murray can’t decide whether she dreamed that handsome stranger who visited her or whether her life just became more complicated. Life throws her more punches as the students are warned by the locals that more than treasures lay in the forgotten tomb, and what is hidden there maybe have fangs for Mary.
"Mary? Mary!" a voice beside my head yelled.
My eyes shot open and I sat up in a daze. "What? Where?" I mumbled. Then I noticed Stacy kneeling beside my bed.
"In your tent in the middle of nowhere, but the professor says he's going to take you and three other people to somewhere," she explained.
"Somewhere?" I repeated. My mind was a muddled mess of dreams and reality, and I couldn't tell which was which.
"To the village. He says we need some better supplies like flashlights, shovels, and some mirrors to reflect light into the place," she told me. "But you're not going to go if you don't get up and get something to eat soon. The group's leaving in twenty minutes."
"I'm getting up. I'm hurrying," I murmured. I swung my legs over my cot and the action caused my head to spin. I clutched my head in one hand and grasped the edge of the cot with the other.
Stacy scrutinized my face and frowned. "You look pale, are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine, just had a strange dream," I replied.
"All right. I'll get your bowl of gruel ready for you, and don't forget your hiking bag," she reminded me. She took my other empty bowl beside the cot and left me to dress.
I hurried out of my tent five minutes later and found my bowl of gruel, otherwise known by civilized people as oatmeal, and shoveled it into my mouth. The group to go to the village stood at the far end of our campsite opposite my tent and the path to the dig site. The dirt road that wound around the mountains passed by there. It was a cart-wide trail with more rocks than a farmer's field and was more crooked than a politician. The others on the trip were readying their hiking bags for the five-mile walk to the village. I raced through breakfast, breaking a land-speed record, and rushed over to them hopping up and down trying to get my hiking backpack on my back.
Van Sloan stood before the group and looked over their faces. "This is a short, easy hike, but be careful. If you'll recall the road has some steep drops and many rocks, and each footstep could mean a disaster," the professor was warning the group as I hurried up to them. "We'll take the walk two at a time and I'll lead." He noticed me and frowned. "You don't look too well, Mary, are you sure you're up for this?" he asked me.
"I'm fine, just a bad dream," I assured him.
"Very well, then off we go."
The professor led us up the road. We passed through thick woods, over rickety old bridges with rushing springs beneath our feet, and along cliffs that had fifty yard drops to rocks below. I was fortunate to be in the back with a fellow student because the hike drained me of what little energy I had. My legs shuffled along step-by-step and by the time the five miles was over I was ready to collapse on a bench for a day of rest.
We crested a short hill and reached the small village, a rustic place of stone houses with thatched roofs. The roads were pits of mud and the main mode of transportation was pedestrian. Outhouses dotted the backyards, if you could call the chicken pecking areas backyards, and the housewives and children suspiciously peeked out from behind the curtains in the windows. Suddenly civilization wasn't the fantastic progress we wanted to see, and the three other students and I unconsciously huddled close to the professor. So close that we stepped on his heals and nearly caused him to fall into the mud.
"No crowding now, the road isn't that small," he teased us.
The professor led us to the one bright spot in the village, a small grocery store hewn from wood. Inside the grocery the wares hung on the walls or sat on the shelves. The professor grabbed what we needed, shovels, large mirrors and the like, plopped the items in our hands, and stepped over to the counter. Behind the counter stood a short man who wore a perpetual frown on his face.
The professor conversed in the native language. From the man's flickering eyes on our purchases and the way he gestured to them I got the gist he was curious why we needed the supplies. The professor replied, and the man's eyes widened. The shopkeeper spoke in a clipped, angry tone. The professor frowned and took out the money he intended to use to purchase the tools. The man shook his head and angrily pointed a finger at the door. The professor threw down the money and turned to us.
Van Sloan's voice was tense. "It's time to leave," he told us.
We marched out of the building, but one of my peers asked the professor what was on all our minds. "What was that about, professor?"
"It seems the shopkeeper is a little superstitious about our find," he grumbled.
Speaking of the devil, I heard a door slam behind the grocery and noticed the shopkeeper scurry to a house not far from his business. He disappeared inside. We stuffed our new supplies on our bags, and just as we were leaving the village the grocer came up to us with an ancient-looking fellow. The man wore the traditional, colorful garb of the village folk, and he held an intricately-carved staff in one hand. His wrinkled face and hands showed his age on the better side of Methuselah. The professor turned to him with a bright smile and a respectful bow of his head. He spoke a few words in the native language, but the man interrupted him when he raised his free hand.
"There is no need for that," the old man replied in English. "I have learned your language over these past ten years should this time come, and I am sorry to see it is here."
"What has come? You mean the discovery?" the professor guessed.
The old man nodded. "Yes. The tomb was never meant to be found. It is a cursed place full of evil, blasphemous deeds." The shopkeeper at his side crossed himself and mumbled something that sounded like a prayer.
"But wasn't it your own ancestor who had the tomb carved for the prince?" Van Sloan wondered.
The old man scowled. "My ancestor was a very foolish man. He sought to control life and death, and because of his blasphemy the people of my village sealed him in with the prince. We couldn't undo the spell he had cast, but we hid the tomb and forgot its location so none would know the shame of my ancestor," he explained to us.
The professor chuckled. "Well, we're in a more enlightened age and we'll be very careful with all the artifacts," he promised.
"We would rather they be left where they lie and your small group leave here, never to return," the old man insisted.
Our teacher frowned. "But all those treasures! All that history that awaits us! We can't, and won't, rebury it and leave because of a few superstitions. Surely you must see that," he argued.
The old man closed his eyes and forlornly shook his head. "I only see grief in your future, and a long, terrible future in store for one of those whom you are entrusted to protect." He turned his old eyes on me and the blood in my veins stopped running, though my heart beat faster. "Can you not see that this woman is ill? The horror of that tomb has already begun its terrible curse and will leave you with nothing but regret," he warned us.
The professor stepped in front of me so the old man couldn't see me. "I think that's enough, sir. I thank you for your concern, but I don't believe in curses or horrors that rise from a tomb. A tomb is a place of the dead and nothing more."
"Or for the undead," the old man argued.
The professor bristled at the old man's superstition and stubbornness. "If you will excuse us," he snapped. He turned and ushered us from the village.
I glanced over my shoulder at the old man and shopkeeper. They stood in the middle of the road, and the old man hung his head while the shopkeeper patted him on the back. Then the road dipped below the village and I lost sight of them, but I didn't lose the foreboding feeling inside me. The others in the group were equally quiet and downcast. Only our professor was upbeat with talking excitedly about the dig, though there was a dark cloud over his brow and he kept glancing at me.
"You're sure you're feeling all right, Mary?" he asked me.
"I'm fine," I wheezed. I hadn't had enough rest at the village and was still tired. That strange dream real drained me.
"Perhaps when we return to camp you should lie down for the day," he suggested.
I wasn't going to argue. Going back down into the tomb to have a reunion with my lover skeleton wasn't what I wanted on my agenda.