A Skull of Great Antiquity

#picturefiction #flashfiction
“Peter, why are you dragging me to this God forsaken place again?”
Mary Clark knew that archeology was her husband’s one passion, even greater than his passion for her. The one thing she never understood was his obsession with trying to interest her in his quest to prove that the history of mankind was somehow wrong. She had been to the plains of Nazca, the Sahara desert, Machu Pichu, Anasazi ruins in the southwest and even Stonehenge; all these places were pitched to her as exotic vacations but in the end Peter spent most of the time poking through ruins and dusting off ancient bones and artifacts hoping to prove that ancient humans were somehow more advanced than previously believed and that they communed with advanced beings who shaped humanity for their own unknowable ends. Each time she nodded, made non-committal sounds at his suppositions and filled her quota of spousal duty before wandering off to either sightsee or otherwise entertain herself until he ran out of vacation or admitted defeat. She loved him without question but was unable to love his obsession.
Peter looked up at her, unfocused and clearly struggling to remember that she had been there all along.
“Hmmm, I’m sorry dear,” Peter said. “What did you say?”
“Here,” she said with barely controlled scorn. “This dusty town in the middle of nowhere Mexico.”
“We’re not nowhere, its name is Queholac. We’re right down the road from Puebla. Remember I told you about that? It’s famous for molé and Cinco de Mayo.”
Mary rolled her eyes.
“I’m not seeing a lot of molé around here, just dust and ancient Mexican peasants.”
“Well,” he actually managed to look chagrinned. “There’s this cave I wanted to visit. It made the rounds in the archeological journals for its strange artifacts.”
“Ah-hah, now the truth is out. This is another alien expedition isn’t it?”
“Some say aliens, I think it’s an offshoot branch of humanity. There were tablets with large headed figures found in a chamber as well as fragments of skulls indicative of elongated craniums. It could be a simple example of cranial shaping but some of the early DNA results show mitochondrial aberrations unlike anything in any human or primate—”
Peter stammered to silence as he realized he was lecturing a hostile audience. He felt heat rise in his cheeks.
“Yes, it’s another of my wild expeditions dear.”
Mary smiled and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead.
“It’s fine dear; I just love making you squirm. You know, you’re cute when you get flustered. I want you to indulge your passion but you have to promise me that we’ll get to Puebla or how about Veracruz? I always wanted to go there.”
It was Peter’s turn to smile. “I promise Mary. I want to show you the cave. Will you come?”
A rented jeep bounced them into the mountains east of the tiny village. They both wore bandanas to keep the ever present dust from their lungs. The terrain was rugged and desolate, it made Mary think of the spine of some gargantuan creature pushing up through desiccated soil. She couldn’t imagine why any rational human being would want to live in such a place.
The jeep climbed up a thousand feet of elevation and the barely padded seat pounded a reminder of each rock and crack in the trail into Mary’s body. The jeep shuddered to a halt in front of a black gash in the stone face of the mountain. Mary groaned with relief as she levered herself from the torture chamber of the jeep’s seat.
“The first chamber was where they discovered a golden tablet with pictograms and a figure with an enlarged cranium.” Peter’s eyes were wide with excitement as he lectured his wife. “Of course the UFO people all saw that as evidence of aliens and the establishment claimed pre-Columbian cranial shaping but it was the skull fragments that cinched it for me. Wilson from Stanford found deformations in the DNA that are unlike anything known. Of course he didn’t know about my unpublished work. I’ve seen the same deformations he described. Don’t you see Mary? It’s more evidence of my theory. Advanced humans of a separate lineage who our primitive ancestors saw as gods.”
“OK, so why are we here?”
“I want to go further into the cave, find something more, maybe even an intact skeleton. This could be the expedition that proves my theory, honey.”
“I take it we have gear?”
In answer Peter lifted two backpacks from the rear of the jeep. He passed the lighter one to his wife and then produced a pair of large flashlights from the jeep. Leading the way he entered the cave.
The heat of the Mexican afternoon disappeared almost instantly. The cave was cool and dry, a perfect place to preserve ancient artifacts. The roof of the cave was almost twenty feet overhead. Mary had been in other caves with her husband and was secretly glad for the height of this one; she did not want to re-experience the torture of the cave in Java where she had crawled for hundreds of yards through mud and sharp rocks only to find animal bones and not the world changing evidence her husband expected.
Darkness wrapped itself around them like a blanket. The only thing they could see was what was within the cones of light from their flashlights. Even the sounds of the outside world disappeared. The walls sucked up all sound so that the only thing they heard was their own breathing and footsteps.
“This is where they found the first artifacts,” Peter said.
He directed his light toward a roped off area of the cave. There were signs of digging and several small broken tools remained at the sight; archaeologists leaving artifacts for future archaeologists.
“They mapped out three other chambers but only examined two of them. The penultimate chamber is where they found the bone fragments. There was some political fight over possession of the items and the government yanked their permission and sent the entire expedition packing before they could explore the last chamber.”
“So you managed to get permission?”
Peter stopped and turned to his wife. She could see that his face was turning red and a sheepish grin worked its way onto his face.
“Um, well, not exactly; we’re sort of under the radar here.”
Mary turned away in exasperation and then turned again to face her husband. The flashlight shook as anger and frustration took hold of her.
“Are you nuts? What if the government catches us in here? Do you want to spend the next year or more in a Mexican jail?”
“Honey please,” Peter reached toward Mary and then dropped his hand. “I promise it will be all right. We’ll just be here for the afternoon. I’m not going to do an extended dig. Nobody knows we’ve come out here and the site has been untouched for the better part of a year. We’ll be in and out before anyone knows.”
Mary stomped back the way they had come for a dozen feet and then spun back toward the barely visible figure of her husband. She marched up to him, her face was tight and every muscle was clenched. She shoved the flashlight so close to his face that she almost punched him in the chin with it.
“You are definitely taking me to Veracruz now mister; and you are buying me something nice to make up for this. “
She marched past him, deeper into the cave. Peter could hear her muttering.
“He’s insane. We’re going to jail. I should have married a computer nerd.”
Peter hurried to catch up and once more took the lead, heading into the bowels of the cave.
The final chamber was reached through a narrow crack. Peter and Mary removed their packs and squeezed between the rock walls dragging their packs behind them. For the first time in her life Mary was glad that her breasts were small; if she were a larger girl she would have quickly become wedged between the walls. The passage was long, almost fifty feet; they grunted with exertion every inch of the way as they wriggled between the rough rock faces until they finally exited into a large open space.
The chamber was almost perfectly round and the walls were surprisingly smooth for a cave. Mary pointed her light up but the ceiling was nowhere in sight. She wondered how far up it went.
“Oh my God. Honey look here.” Peter’s voice shook as he spoke.
Mary abandoned her contemplation of the distant ceiling and turned to see her husband crouched on the far side of the chamber. He was pulling brushes and trowels from his pack. A lumpy shape in the soil was visible in the light of his flashlight.
Walking over she could see the shapes of long bones and then she saw a jaw partially visible through the soil. Peter was alternately taking photos with his cell phone and brushing away more soil.
“I think there might be fragments of an entire skeleton here.” He gasped as his brushing revealed a shape above the jaw. “My God, I think it’s a full skull.”
The jaw was the most visible part but Peter’s clearing of soil was revealing a rounded shape above it. Mary could see that it might just be a skull. More soil was removed, faster and faster he worked. Peter became so focused and frantic in his excavation that his photo documentation was quickly forgotten.
In a matter of minutes an entire skull was revealed; it was unlike any that Mary had ever seen. The jaw and upper teeth were very pronounced from the face. The nasal bone jutted out like a beak and the cheekbones were pointed and enormous. The owner of such a skull must have had an extremely fearsome appearance. The most shocking thing was the top of the head. Mary had seen the skulls of tribes who shaped their children’s heads before but those skulls, while misshapen and peaked, still looked human. This skull was topped by a vast cone of bone, twice the size of any human skull she had ever seen. For the first time in their relationship Mary began to think that maybe her husband’s wild goose chase wasn’t so wild.
“It’s a skull Mary,” he whispered. “And of great antiquity by the look. Look at the shape. That’s not from wrapping or boarding an infant’s skull, that’s clearly the natural shape. Look here. There’s no sagittal suture.”
Mary leaned closer and looked where her husband pointed on the top of the skull. Normal skulls had a zigzag line running between the parietal bones. This skull was smooth. She felt a chill rush through her body.
“Mary, we’re going to be famous.”
The cave was filled with blinding light. Mary staggered with the shift from the dim illumination of their flashlights to a brilliance on par with the sun. She shaded her eyes and looked upward. Light was streaming down from above like a spotlight or as if the sun had moved over a previously unseen opening in the roof of the cave. Something moved within the light. She made out several dark shapes which moved closer as she squinted through the brilliance. As she watched three figures floated to the floor of the cave. Each was seven feet tall with muscular bodies covered in a close fitting black material that glistened as if it were wet. Their faces were terrifying. Each man—they were clearly male but by no means were they human men—possessed a jutting jaw with thin, almost nonexistent lips. Their noses were long and curved down partially obscuring their mouths. Broad cheeks made their faces appear triangular and accented their large almond shaped eyes. Two of the men’s eyes were completely black while the third possessed eyes the color of old gold. Long pointed ears lay alongside their arching domed heads which were each topped by a single tuft of long black hair.
Mary’s mouth worked but fear stole whatever sounds she intended to make. The golden eyed man barked what sounded like a command in a language she had never heard before and one of the black eyed men pulled a tube from a holster on his hip. A weapon, they were going to kill them, Mary finally found her voice and let out a piercing scream.
The golden eyed man glared at her as his companion pointed the tube toward Peter. A beam of green light shot from the tube but did not strike Mary’s husband. Instead it enveloped the bones on the ground. The skeleton wavered and disappeared. The soil collapsed to the ground beneath and puffed into the air. The second black eyed man drew his own tube weapon and the pair proceeded to bathe the floor of the cave with green energy. Puffs of soil erupted in a dozen locations. Mary assumed that other skeletons were now missing from those spots.
The golden eyed leader barked another order and then launched into a long tirade aimed at Mary and Peter. The pair, uncomprehending, remained frozen in place with terror. The leader shook his head and then without another word the trio floated upward into the light from which they had come. In seconds they were gone and the light winked out, returning the cave to darkness.
Mary screamed again and collapsed to the ground beside her husband. The pair clutched at each other, weeping in terror and relief at having been spared.
“What were they,” Mary said between sobs.
“They were the gods.”
The couple clutched each other and wept in the darkness.
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