The darkness, all engulfing. The silence – thought to be everlasting – penetrated by a continuous thumping. The muffled noise drew nearer as the walls of limestone slowly cracked until it crumbled into bits. Wind gushed inside, drawing fresh air into a surrounding that had laid dormant and stale for untold millennia. From the opening, a man appeared. Wrapped with a piece of cloth around his mouth and his hair turned yellow by the dust, his flashlight scanned the interior, revealing only more darkness in its depths. Making an effort to remove the rubble from his path, two more people appeared; one a man, the other a woman. The woman, named Olga, clutched her husband’s arm, who was named Ivan, both grinning excitedly as they entered.
“Amazing, professor!” Ivan said. “You were right all along.”
The professor, having gone deeper into the darkness, ignored Ivan’s remark. Unconcerned with their approval, the professor just stared into the nothingness.
I was right… I was right… he repeated in his head.
Fully enthralled in his discovery, the professor flinched as he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder.
“Well then,” Ivan said, “show us this ‘Chamber of Knowledge’ of yours. I can’t wait to tell my friends where we’ve been.”
Turning his attention to the couple, the professor withheld a frown. His entire life had been building up to this moment, when all his hard work would be validated; yet, he had to share it with people he didn’t know; people with no appreciation for the arts of science; the kind of people he despised the most.
The professor nodded. “Of course. I’m sure you’ll be the envy in your circle.”
Trying his best to ignore his companions, the professor went on ahead, moving his flashlight in all directions to find what secrets lay hidden inside the room. Finding nothing but bare walls, the professor suddenly felt the floor slope downwards, almost making him fall from the tiny pebbles that were scattered across the ground.
“This can’t be.” The professor whispered to himself. There has never been an instance in recorded history where a pyramid went deeper than its base. Images of a reversed pyramid flooded his mind.
Is it possible that the ancient had built beneath the bedrock?
Shivers went down his spine as he played with the idea. The ancients had been sorely underestimated, he thought.
Awed by this discovery, his excitement was dwarfed as a sigh echoed purposely loud around him. With his back still turned, the professor glared at the couple, still hiding his discontent with his companions. Clearing his throat, the professor moved again, wishing now that he’d spent more time to find other patrons that knew how to appreciate this discovery. But he’d spent years trying to persuade his peers, petitioning the local government to allow his expedition, but to no avail. Until he met “them” randomly at a bar. It was then he realised money was the language of the world, and here they were, years of genuine effort had done nothing a few thousand dollars couldn’t. Legally or not, he was going to find the treasure he sought.
Continuing in a straight line, the hall suddenly turned, adding fuel to the theory that there were more rooms hidden beneath the pyramid. After an hour with nothing but darkness and empty hallways, the exciting murmurs and questions of the couple soon turned to irritation:
“Are we there yet?… How much longer?… Do you even know where you’re going?… The air is too dry…”
Of course it’s dry! The professor snapped in himself. It was ancient air, stale and uncirculated. Of course it’s dry!
Venting his anger in his mind, The professor expelled all the rudeness in his vocabulary and slowly turned to address their concerns, smiling fakely at them. But his words died on his lips as a gust of wind blew against his back, chilling him to the bone. Frozen, he jerked his head around, somehow afraid to fully face the depths which the wind came from.
Now, complaining even louder, the couple demanded a straight answer from the processor. How much further do they need to go? But the professor didn’t pay attention to the couple and even as the lukewarm breeze from the surface began to reclaim the air around them, he was still afraid to face the depths once more.
It shouldn’t be possible. It must be a mistake. There is nothing in these depths that could create such a strong wind, unless there was some kind of ventilation deep into the pyramid. Yes, that must be it! Once again we have underestimated the ancients.
With his confidence returned, the professor faced the couple but was taken aback by the piercing hatred that shone through their eyes.
“How much further?” Ivan asked, his tone stale and monotone.
“I… uh… I can’t say,” the professor stammered.
“You promised us…” Olga interjected.
“Well, you can’t expect me to—“
“Lair!” Olga roared, with Ivan joining in. “Liar!… Liar!”
Confused, the professor took a step back, choosing the darkness over the madness. What’s going on?
Suddenly, the couple lurched towards him and the professor, already on edge, dashed into the darkness. No time to fully illuminate his path with the flashlight, the professor ran aimlessly, hearing the pursuer’s footsteps echo closer and closer, until suddenly, there was only one set of footsteps heard. But the professor was too frightened slowdown, so he continued to run until he was out of breath. Hunched over and leaning his hand against the wall, he could hear nothing but his own heavy breathing. Trying to make sense of it all, his mind raced. Their hatred towards him had come unnaturally, uncalled for in its suddenness. The professor didn’t know what had triggered them, maybe they were addicts of some kind? What was certain, however, was they weren’t with him anymore, either unconscious somewhere back where they came or they had given up the pursuit and were heading back to the surface.
A part of him wished for the former.
With his breath caught, the professor once again stared into the nothingness, for a moment, unsure if he should continue. He knew that what he’d done was illegal and the clumsy couple would most certainly get caught as soon as they reached the surface. No, there was only one way, one chance, to redeem himself. With confident, but light, steps, he continued his journey, listing intently for any sounds, afraid that the couple might still be lurking.
But as nothing was heard and his heartbeat slowed, he walked more casually, looked more curiously around him, the way it should have been from the start. The discovery was significant and at every turn the path went deeper, getting him closer to his lifelong goal.
A full day passed and no end was in sight. The professor sat and leaned against the wall, exhausted, wishing he’d brought food with him, while taking a sip of water from his canteen. It can’t be far now. Tomorrow will be the day…
Another day passed and the professor began to worry. Perhaps he should head back? But what if the chamber is around the corner?
One more day. I can manage one more day without food, he told himself, while trying to determine how much water was left. It felt light…
On the third day, with more of the same, the professor began to question whether he was making progress at all. It all looked the same, felt the same. Breathing through his parched throat, he felt the last drop of water on his tongue. He would die down here, he realised, but not before he’d found what he desired. Tomorrow will be the last day, in one way or another…
The fourth day came and the professor, now too tired to move his legs, let gravity do the work for him, having the slope move him forward as he crawled on the stone floor. His clothes were in tatters and he’d just about given up when his body finally stopped. Not willing to believe it, he felt the elevation change and the floor were once again horizontal. Happy to tears, the professor reached for his flashlight, that he was barely able to lift, and pointed into the darkness of the room.
But his grip was feeble, and only for a moment did he see the different contours that could be urns and shelves before he dropped the flashlight to the ground. Rolling away from him, the professor made a last effort to reach it again before he too collapsed on the floor. The last sight, that turned his frown into a smile, was a faint glimmer reflected by the flashlight, confirming that he was right.
Indeed I was right.
© Christopher Stamfors