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THE TEST OF TIME Chap. 22THE TEST OF TIME Chap. 24THE TEST OF TIME Chap. 25THE TEST OF TIME Chap. 19THE TEST OF TIME Chap. 20Today's featured page: Rainforest Strata



Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 23:
Vermin

Charlie had tripped on a worm-infested, decaying corpse. He couldn't take his eyes off the grisly remains. Leather-like skin studded with vermin hugged the arm and leg bones that were sticking out of the ragged clothes.

Charlie had tripped on the skull, and had unintentionally kicked it across the floor. The jawbone remained at Charlie's feet, and he watched in horror as the rest of the skull bumped noisily along the uneven stones of the corridor and landed upside down. It looked like a broken cup filled with writhing worms. It was only a few feet away from him. The hollow eye sockets seemed to stare at Charlie.

"What was that noise? And why did you stop, Charlie?" asked Alice as she bumped into him from behind.

George, who was behind Alice in the dark corridor, said, "Move, will you, I can barely stand where I am, and I can't see a thing. Why did you stop, Charlie? What's going on?"

Charlie, in a wavering voice, said, "There's a body on the floor - someone died right here -- in this spot."

Alice peeked around Charlie and saw the bones. "That's completely gross," she said.

George still couldn't see what was going on. He pushed Alice, who then pushed Charlie. Charlie and Alice stepped gingerly over the body, holding their breath. George said, "I've never seen a dead person before. I was expecting a mummy in a nice mummy case, like King Tut."

Charlie added, "This isn't a mummy, it's probably a grave robber who got trapped in here."

"Oh, that's comforting to hear," replied Alice nervously. She added, "If he was trapped in here, then WE are also trapped. We're going to be just like him soon."

"Let's just go on," Charlie said solemnly. The others followed him without saying a word.

A few feet down the corridor, Charlie saw a spherical granite ball at the side of the passageway as it leveled out. Charlie picked it up and examined it closely. It was heavy and was about the size of a basketball. There were no markings on it. Charlie put the sphere down and continued down the corridor.

After another 20 feet, the corridor ended abruptly. There was no door, and no way out -- there was just a slab of stone blocking them.

"This should be a door," stated George with more hope than certainty. They tried pushing against the stone slab, but it didn't move at all.

Alice noticed a small series of grooves on the bottom left of the slab. The grooves formed a square about 10 inches wide and 10 inches high. Alice and George knelt down and looked at it, then they pushed and jiggled the small square. It moved a bit, and after a few seconds, they were able to remove the 10-inch by 10-inch slab. Behind it was a long, dark shaft that was completely horizontal. Charlie shone the light down the shaft, but they couldn't see anything; they couldn't even tell where it ended.

"I bet that the way to get the door open has something to do with this hole," said Alice.

George took out the hammer he had found, and said, "I have an idea," as he tied the hammer onto the rope he still carried on his shoulders. George tried to throw the hammer into the shaft, but it didn't get very far before hitting the floor of the miniature corridor. Charlie and Alice also tried many times, with no success.

"This isn't going to work," said George. They sat down in the small corridor, and continued to think of a way to get the door open.

Alice suddenly had an idea, "Let's use that stone sphere that was near the skeleton. We can roll it down the corridor like a bowling ball and maybe it will trigger a mechanism and make the door open."

"That's a great idea," said Charlie. They got up, retrieved the sphere, and went back to the tiny shaft.

"We probably only have one chance," said Alice "and I'm a really good bowler." Alice concentrated, then carefully rolled the sphere down the shaft. There was complete silence for a few seconds and the kids were beginning to be nervous. Then they heard a muted klunk. A grating noise then came from behind the door. The room began to shake and the door slowly opened.

As Charlie shone the light through the door, they noticed the glitter of gold reflecting their light. "We did it! This must be the King's chamber," Alice said as they entered the room.

The room was a perfect cube - its length, height, and depth were exactly the same. There were two doorways, the large one they had entered and a smaller one directly across the room; that small door was also open. The colorful walls and ceiling were covered with paintings and hieroglyphics. Throughout the room were large gold, copper and stone statues of weird creatures -- half-people half-animal. Table, chairs, baskets, pottery, jewelry, a small boat, and a lot of strange-looking objects were scattered around the room.

Charlie, Alice, and George walked in stunned silence around the room. It was beautiful but scary. Alice finally said, "These must be the items that the King was supposed to use after he died."

George replied, "It doesn't look like he got much use out of them."

"The mummy must be in there," said Charlie, pointing to a large stone box in the center of the room. It was a sarcophagus -- a large stone coffin. The box was made out of thick slabs of a light-colored rock, and it was covered with carvings and inlaid decorations made of gold and turquoise. A golden statue of a cat was perched atop the sarcophagus. The cat held a yellowing piece of paper in its mouth.

sphinx mapCharlie looked at the paper - it was a map. He picked it up and examined it. Alice and George looked at it too.

Near the center of the map was a pyramid. Above the pyramid was a picture of a small village by a river. Charlie pointed to the pyramid and said, "That must be where we are, and that village must be the one we saw in the distance when we had just arrived in the desert."

Far from the pyramid on the map there were drawings of palm trees, a pile of bones, and a picture of a beast that had the body of a lion and the head of a person. "That's a sphinx," said Alice. "They were mythical creatures. The ancient Egyptians made sculptures and picture of them - one statue was almost as big as a pyramid."

"What do think this map means?" asked Charlie. "Grandours said to find the map to our future. This might be it. Do you think it's a clue that we should go find a sphinx?"

"I think it's a clue to find a sphinx graveyard, otherwise why would they draw bones by the sphinx?" suggested Alice.

"Fine," George answered, "but let's at least look at the mummy before we leave." Charlie folded the map and put it in his pocket.

The three looked at each other, and nodded in agreement. They went around the sarcophagus and began to try to lift the lid. It was very heavy, but they managed to move it sideways a few inches. As soon as the lid began to move, a low-pitched ticking sound came from under the floor. The large door they had entered slammed shut, and the small door opposite it began to swing closed.

Charlie yelled, "Run," and they did. They just made it through the smaller doorway before the stone door slammed behind them.

"I guess they didn't want us poking around in that coffin," said George.

"You think so, George?" Alice replied sarcastically.

They had stopped just outside the closed door to see where they were. They were standing on a small stone slab surrounded by a huge pit. Charlie's flashlight revealed the extent of their problem -- there was nothing in front of them except air, and it was cold, stale air. The chasm below them was so deep that they couldn't see its bottom. It was also so wide that they couldn't see where it ended across from them - or if it ended at all. It looked as thought they were perched on a rock at the end of the world. And they were trapped.


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