It was the summer of my twenty-second year. I was asked by my old mentor, Professor Pennwissle, to accompany him on an archeological expedition to Egypt, more specifically the region known as the Valley of the Kings. I accepted, of course, and we booked passage on a steamer bound for northern Africa.
After several weeks of failed excavations, we (quite by accident) discovered quite an astonishing artifact. A particularly ferocious sandstorm had passed through the valley during the night and partially uncovered a large limestone slab set deeply into a casing of granite. As I brushed away the remaining sand, Professor Pennwissle pounced upon the discovery and set about deciphering the hieroglyphics carved into the stone.
“Accursed are those who gain entry through this final threshold of the dead,” he read aloud. He removed his spectacles, wiped the lenses on his shirtsleeve, then slid them back on his nose. “That doesn't sound like an archetypical curse at all," he mused. "It almost reads like an apology.”
My lack of interest in such nonsense precluded any attempt on my part to seek clarification for the professor’s remark. Rather, I set about hiring some local laborers to assist with the monumental task of lifting the monolith from its foundations. A crude lift of timbers and pulleys was hastily constructed and stout ropes were made secure. As the slab was hoisted free of its casings, the release of stagnant air hissed like a nest of venomous serpents.
It was then Professor Pennwissle lost all restraint. With a triumphant yelp, he unexpectedly snatched a torch from a startled worker and plunged headlong into the newly-revealed passageway. I had little choice but to locate a torch for myself and follow him into the dark abyss.
Instead of the expected burial or antechamber, I found myself standing within a narrow corridor which sloped steadily downward into the bowels of the earth. The professor squatted just inside, holding his torch to examine some inscriptions which - to my untrained eye - appeared to be written in Egyptian, Babylonian, and Hebrew. I knew this was not possible, so therefore held my tongue choosing ignorance above being regarded as a foolish schoolboy.
We pressed on with our exploration. The main tunnel eventually divided into two lesser passages, and those soon divided into four. I made an effort to mark our path with the smoke of my torch, yet could not shake the sensation of being a laboratory rat trapped in somebody’s diabolical labyrinth.
I was close to panic when our path mercifully emptied into a tremendous chamber far too immense for our torches to illuminate. What I perceived to be a huge horned statue wrapped in heavy chains crouched on the cavern floor before us. It appeared to shift its weight, but I promptly attributed this to our flickering torches. But imagine my horror as it raised its terrible head and regarded us with the intensity of a hungry jackal.
"Hath the Son of God sent ye to release me at the appointed time?” The entire cavern trembled at the powerful voice.
Both the professor and I were so awestruck we simultaneously lost hold of our respective torches. The rocks at our feet instantly burst into flame as if doused in kerosene. We barely escaped back into the tunnel before the inferno spread across the cavern floor and engulfed the entire chamber.
But our relief soon gave way to despair. There was little hope of us ever finding our way back to the surface, especially without the aid of a torch. Standing there in the dark, I wept.
Then something wondrous happened. A shimmering hand reached forth out of the darkness. It was pure and unblemished, save a circular scar near the palm.
“Accept My guidance or remain here forever,” spoke a gentle voice. “The choice is yours.”
I needed no further persuasion. But as I stepped forward, I suddenly realized the professor was no longer at my side. He had remained several paces behind, staring in disbelief.
“This is impossible,” he moaned. “I simply cannot accept it!” He retreated a few steps, then turned and fled into the inky blackness.
I whispered a sad farewell, then took the offered hand.
I must have blacked out, although I retain some recollection of whisking through tunnels at breakneck speeds. My next clear memory was of standing alone in the desert near the original site of the limestone slab. However, it was nowhere to be found.
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