Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
Between 1991 and 1993, American author John Anthony West and his team of archaeologists conducted a series of geological and seismic surveys around the Great Sphinx of Giza. The resulting seismographs indicated the existence of several unexplored tunnels and cavities in the bedrock beneath the monument, the most notable of which was a chamber located at an approximate depth of 25 feet beneath its front paws. Following the remarkable discovery, the team was abruptly and rather suspiciously expelled from the site by Egyptian authorities, which inspired a slew of increasingly outlandish conspiracy theories.
Around that time was when we got involved.
I will refrain from disclosing who “we” exactly are—or were, rather. Think of us as a group of independent contractors that specialized in the procurement, study and safekeeping of—let’s call it—anomalous paraphernalia; the type of unconventional curiosities that require a “special touch” to handle.
We arrived in Giza during the summer of 1994. The local government had tasked us with the excavation and transportation of whatever valuables lay buried beneath the 73 metres long statue—a rather tame job compared to our usual ventures. The officials we spoke to claimed ignorance; emphasizing that they weren’t actually certain whether there was anything down there in first place, anomalous or otherwise. However, on the off chance that there were indeed relics of immense cultural significance stashed there, they didn’t want to risk having them dug up by some nosy tourist instead.
‘’I don’t like this, Sir. We’re being sent in blind.” my assistant, whom I have renamed to Brian for the purposes of this story, muttered under his breath as we both stood overlooking the monolith. In the distance past it, partially obscured by a shifting fog of dust, stood the iconic trio of pyramids; their perfectly symmetrical peaks reaching towards the orange-tinted sky above.
Brian turned to face me, the glare of the descending sun reflecting off of his circular glasses. With his boyish perm and inquisitive blue eyes, he reminded me of a college freshman more than he did a professional that had nearly a decade of experience under his belt.
I flashed him a dismissive smile and produced another cigarette from my breast pocket.
“Pissing your britches already?” I teased over the incessant whirring of the excavation drill.
“I just have a bad feeling about this one, is all. If the job is as straightforward as they say, why hire us? We are clearly overqualified for this.”
I shrugged while expectantly clasping the unlit cigarette between my lips. Brian registered the hint and started rummaging through his own pockets, eventually fishing out a lighter and handing it over.
“We’re through!” exclaimed a voice in the background.
We were met with the sight our senior seismologist half-jogging towards us. His face was red and glistening with perspiration, but there was a proud grin concealed beneath that unkempt mustache of his.
“We’re through.” He breathlessly repeated once he was closer to us. “You’re good to go.”
“Did you get a look at what’s down there?” Brian inquired. There was a mixture of impatience and unease clearly audible in his tone.
Our colleague wiped his forehead with his sleeve. He looked over his shoulder at the limestone colossus in whose shadow he was standing. The statue’s inanimate eyes stared back in turn, partially eroded expression ever stoic and unflinching.
“Aye, I managed to snatch a peek. Chamber seems empty to me. Kind of anticlimactic if I’m honest.”
“Wait, what? What do you mean “empty”?”
“Precisely what I just said, lad: ain’t anything down there as far I can tell. No urns, no parchments, no gold—just a ceiling and four walls with nothing but dust between em. ”
“Think somebody beat us to it?” I chimed in, expelling a stream of smoke through my nostrils.
“Improbable but not impossible I suppose. That’ll be for you two to confirm.”
I nodded, drew one final whiff from my cancer stick and then snuffed it against scalding sand with my heel.
”Right. Let’s get this done. There’s a cold pint with my name on it back at HQ…”
Moments later, Brian and I were waddling towards the base of the Sphinx, donned in hazmat suits and armed with a pair of industrial flashlights. You’d be surprised by how often the purportedly “cursed” items we were sent to retrieve were just radioactive or comprised of hazardous materials.
Quite regularly, in fact.
I approached the gaping drill hole near the statue’s right paw, lowered myself to a sitting position and started climbing down it via rope ladder, followed closely by my incredulous protégé. Darkness enveloped us both. As soon as my feet hit what felt like solid ground, I retreated back a few steps and flicked on my torch.
”Guess he was right.” I remarked, voice amplified by the transmitter affixed to my respirator.
I was standing in the middle of a cavernous, subterranean space that, indeed, held nothing at first glance; both of value and in general. Particles floated past the beams of artificial light we wielded, kicked up by our movements throughout the hollow chamber. Sand trickled from cracks in the ceiling, its integrity undoubtedly compromised by the massive borehole from which we had descended. Though this place resembled no tomb, it could’ve been ours if we chose to linger for too long.
Timeworn iconography decorated the walls, featuring your usual cast of deities. There was the ram-headed form of Ra standing atop his Solar barque; flanked by Sia and Heka as they sailed across the underworld. Nearby was a portrayal of Osiris sitting on his throne, his wife Isis dutifully at his side and wise Thoth acting as their scribe. Of course, there was the enigmatic Anubis; depicted tending to the deceased or passing judgement upon them. And then there was another figure that I couldn’t quite recognize and yet featured quite prominently. The deity was near identical to his jackal-headed counterpart, distinguished solely by his more militant garbs and the weapons he held—usually a bow or a curved blade. Further imagery consistently depicted the cynocephalus fighting some sort of… beast, as though engaged in eternal rivalry with the creature. Some murals illustrated the four-legged monster consuming its adversary and ushering an age of strife; others portrayed the warrior-god as the victor, standing above his slain foe while soldiers, priests and peasants alike rejoiced.
I looked back at Brian, who in turn had his flashlight raised towards the farthermost wall of the chamber, illuminating it. Below a gilded etching of the anonymous god with his khopesh raised above his canine head was the lid of a sarcophagus; standing upright and partially embedded within the sandstone itself, its painted likeness observing us from across the room.
Guess the place was a tomb after all, albeit an unusually spacious and empty one.
Sand crunched beneath our boots as we advanced towards our find. I was the one leading the charge, of course, with Brian in tow. As I got closer, I began noticing more details about the anthropoid coffin, namely the contrast between its distinctly human face and the cat-like paws folded to its body. Egyptian coffins were rarely made to represent what their occupant actually looked like, so the occasional creative liberty wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. And yet, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between its design and the half-human half-feline monument beneath which it was located.
An unlikely coincidence, to be certain.
I placed my gloved hand over the vertical lid and leaned closer. There were no gaps to speak of. It was as if the wall had been molded around the sarcophagus, fitting it like a cast. It was an admittedly bothersome but hardly unconquerable obstacle, given the heavy-duty equipment the lads on the surface had at their disposal.
”Sir, what are you doing?”
”What does it look like?” I murmured back.
”Aren’t you being a bit too handsy? We don’t know what’s inside.”
”Some dead bloke? Look mate, if you’re so worried, why don’t you just—”
I almost bit through my own tongue as a sudden surge of pain assaulted my head. It felt as if someone had stabbed my brain with a bloody dagger, twisting and driving it deeper as the pain kept amplifying. It was horrible. Maddening. I stumbled back, uselessly clawing at my visor. There was no escaping it. I would’ve gladly accepted death if it meant reprieve from this hell. My balance was quick to falter. I was reduced to squirming on the ground like a snail doused with salt, desperate for relief. The last thing I saw was the outline of my assistant looming over me and reaching for his handheld radio in a panic-stricken fit, before everything faded to black…
I’m not sure how long I remained in that place. Days? Years? Centuries perhaps? The concept of linear time had lost all of its meaning; all there was was the infinite void. It was a barren, dark and quiet place, where absence reigned supreme. At first I feared the emptiness; let it drive me to the brink of insanity, but I eventually became part of it. As you drift through the abyss without direction, without purpose, all you feel is apathy. You aren’t ”content” to be there per se, but leaving seems like such an impossibility that it isn’t even worth considering. You are no one in a universe of nothing. You don’t even exist—you are nothing, and nothing’s only purpose is to be nothing until made into something.
And then, there was a light—multiple, to be precise. I’d compare them to the stars in the night sky if they didn’t seem so close. They were more like a constellation of moons, their silver brilliance gleaming against the expanse of knee-deep water I was apparently now standing in. I looked down for the first time in what felt like millennia, confirming that I was indeed whole. Nude, but whole. Warm waves of unknown origin splashed against my thighs and caressed the tips of my fingers. It was soothing; like ointment for the inflamed wound that was my abused psyche. Unfortunately, my moment of tranquility was meant to be just that: a fleeting moment.
”It would appear that with age does not always come wisdom, hmm?”
The disembodied voice brought with it echoes of that hellish pain. I winced and grabbed both sides of my throbbing head, trying to keep my skull from splitting apart. Thankfully it subsided rather quickly compared to last time. When I next opened my eyes, I saw there was an elderly man standing in front of me and looking back.
”Believe me, I know.” He added with a toothless smile.
Though the stranger’s face was a crisscross of wrinkles and faded scars, age had certainly spared his posture. He was roughly as tall I was, maybe even taller, and had the body of an athlete that was nowhere near past his prime. The man’s broad physique was draped in a simple silken tunic, which transitioned into a kilt that brushed against the surface of the shallow sea. The most unique element of his ensemble, however, was undoubtedly the wolf pelt he wore as a scarf, with the dead animal’s skull mounted onto one of his shoulders like some sort of morbid ornament.
”Wh-who are you?” I finally asked. Every word spoken took a life of its own, reverberating throughout the aether.
The old man tucked a wispy strand of pale hair behind his ear and then sighed in disappointment:
”You invade my temple, attempt to ransack it, and yet you do not even know who I am?”
His tone made me feel like a child getting scolded by their parent. I had the urge to apologize for my ignorance, but he never gave me the chance.
”It cannot be helped, I suppose—my brother was always the favorite. I am referred to as Wepwawet by your kind. You may now grovel, should you like.”
I could’ve sworn that I saw something flicker behind the wolf head’s missing eyes the exact moment he pronounced his name. If his intonation hadn’t been so blatantly sarcastic, I would’ve dropped to my knees and pleaded for my soul without an inkling of dignity. Instead, I looked back to the glowing orbs pinned against the black canvas above us.
”Where am I?” Was the next obvious question, which Wepwawet answered with a question of his own:
”Where do you think you are?”
”No, no. Eternal rest is reserved for the deserving. You, friend, have set in motion something that you must now correct.”
He unclasped his hands from behind his back and made a swirling motion with his finger. I’m not sure whether I turned around of my own volition or whether I was compelled to do so, but, regardless, I wish I hadn’t. There, towering in the distance, was something truly titanic.
Its existence was impossible—a creature the size of a city, maybe even a small country. The more I tried wrapping my mind around it, the larger it appeared; refusing to relinquish the impact of its sheer magnitude. It wasn’t content with simply occupying my field of view. No, it sought to ensure that my feeble mind could never fully grasp its ubiety. There were bronze chains cutting into the behemoth’s hide, and metal rods—each dwarfing the tallest structure ever build by man—nailing its paws to the platform atop which it was raised. Forests of fur covered its enormous mass like the slopes of a mountain, but it was the head at the pinnacle of its bestial body that petrified me.
I can’t bring myself to describe it. I have tried, believe me, but whenever I dwell on that accursed visage for too long my mind spirals. It’s like a black hole; warping and consuming any independent thought that dares exist alongside it. If to be human is to be the centre of one’s own universe, than that thing was more human than any of us ever will be.
”Beautiful, is she not? I wither and yet she remains unchanged since our very first battle.”
I lowered my eyes to my trembling hands, which I noticed were dripping with murky, sanguine fluid. The water we trod wasn’t water at all.
”How!? How can something bleed so much and never die!?”
”You ask many questions, friend.”
The being that presented himself as an old man now swayed beside me, calm as a morning breeze despite standing in a literal ocean of blood.
”I have always hated that about your kind—so many questions with nothing to offer in return.”
I pried my lips, but before I could utter the first syllable of what would’ve likely been another witless inquiry, one of the massive chains restraining the equally massive beast suddenly snapped. Both pieces of it fell to the ground with a distant rumble, followed by a tremor that nearly knocked me off my feet. Then, another shackle came off, and then another. As I watched that impossible creature with the face of a wrathful goddess begin to rise from its podium, eclipsing the lights littering the sky with its own cruel radiance, there was only one truth left to declare:
”It’s going to devour us all…”
”Indeed.” Confirmed Wepwawet while he leisurely circled around me.
”Y-you…you have to kill that thing before it’s too late!”
”Oh, I have—more times than you can count. Yet, she always comes back, stronger and hungrier than ever before, while I grow weaker with each passing century. My followers knew that, so they converted my temple to a tomb and trapped her essence within it. That is, until you and your people came along.”
Images of the ornate sarcophagus Brian and I found flashed before my eyes. It was getting loaded onto one of our trucks. Perhaps there was still hope, for it had not yet been opened. I took a deep breath, inhaled the stench of copper that polluted the stagnant air, and mustered the courage to face the stranger’s true form for the first time. The burning eyes of the wolf god, Wepwawet, pierced my wretched soul with flames of enlightenment.
”Tell me what I must do.”
The next thing I knew I was lying in my tent, sprawled across a sleeping bag. Brian was pacing nervously nearby. He was overwhelmed with relief to see me conscious again; a side of his prudent personality I was rarely privy to. I had lured the poor boy into a heartfelt embrace when I drove my Master’s blade between his ribs. The blesseth knife slid easily past the protective suit he had yet to remove as if it was no obstacle at all.
”It’s okay. I got you. It’ll be over soon.” I whispered in the ear of the closest thing to a son that I’ve ever had.
His expression still haunts my nightmares. Seeing the fear and betrayal in those blue eyes was the worst thing I had experienced thus far. I held back tears as I grabbed a fistful of his hair and craned his head back, then I ended his struggles with a subsequent slit across the throat, allowing his lifeless shell to slump into my lap.
Having taken my first life, the rest came almost naturally…
Dawn lined the dessert horizon in faint reds and yellows. I couldn’t help but marvel at it for a bit, before resuming to drag the body of my final colleague towards that bloody borehole.
”Sorry mate.” Was all that I could think to say, as I took the truck keys from his pocket and pushed him down into the chamber with the rest. He landed on the pile with a muffled thud. Given the circumstances, It was the closest thing to a burial that I could offer them, before the local authorities came snooping. I’m not sure whether they are still down there or if the government had them pulled out before filling the pit.
I wiped a bead of sweat from my brow and glanced up at the stony visage of the Sphinx one final time. I, of course, knew that what I was doing was ultimately futile. Sooner or later, She is going to break loose the chains that bind her and exact her revenge upon all of existence. There will be no gods left to stop her; no tomb or coffin large enough to contain her.
But, then again, is it not just so painfully human to try and delay the inevitable?
Credit : Morning Owl
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