In the jungle, it’s never truly quiet, and yet somehow the air seems hushed. You pull back the vines that have grown around the structure and your breath catches in your lungs. There should be no reason why ancient Babylonian text would be found on the ruins of an equally ancient temple in the Andes. Whatever the explanation, you’re sure of one thing: You’ve just found the door.
“That is what I think it is, right?” Sasha’s thick accent doesn’t hide the fact that he obviously hasn’t breathed in the last minute.
You nod and take a step back, viewing the temple.”Not Incan style architecture, at least not at this level. Looks like they may have added some additions at a later point. See where the stone is different on the north face by that outcropping?”
Reluctantly, Sasha’s eyes break off from the doorway in front of you. “You’re pretending to be calm, old friend. I’ve known you too long.”
You shake your head. “We’ve got to notice as much as possible, Sasha. We’ve only got about a day before Professor Mogul and his crew get here.” The professor and his crew from the university have been dogging you for weeks.
“You think he’ll try to take credit for the find?”
“Let him have the credit.” You grin wolfishly at Sasha. “I want to know what’s inside.”
Sasha matches your grin. “Where do we start?”
Chosen: I want to translate the writing on the door before I proceed.
“How’s your cuneiform?” you ask Sasha.
“Better than average. Pull the foliage off the rest of the space while I work on translating this section.” Your friend nods and pulls out a knife. If any of the vines grew into the building, pulling them out could damage the structure, and possibly any writing to be found there.
The surface is overgrown with vegetation, so it’s about twenty minutes before Sasha returns. “Done yet?”
“I think so. Don’t like it, though.”
“What’s it say?”
“Not every door opens both ways.
Better be swallowed whole.
Than trod down the wrong pathways.
If a long lifetime is your goal.”
Sasha blinks at you. “Does it bother you that something written in Babylonian translates into a rhyme in English?”
You shrug. “It’s not a very good rhyme.”
His sigh is not unexpected. “Is it saying not to go through the door?”
“It’s saying not to go through the wrong door. It doesn’t say which door is right. I don’t know if there’s a better alternative.”
“Of course there is. We should be swallowed whole. Come here.” He leads you back away from the temple and points to a spot about fifteen feet up. “There. The mouth where we should be swallowed.”
“That’s a window.”
“It’s a mouth.”
“It’s a hole.”
“It’s a MOUTH!”
You tilt your head. Possibly those two projections above it are meant to be eyes. The nose could have been worn away.
Sasha claps you on the back. “Your call, my friend.”
Chosen: I want to climb up to Sahsa’s “mouth” and go in that way.
“Well, I guess it doesn’t make sense to make a warning about the wrong door if you’re going to put it over the right door.” You look over your shoulder. “Ramirez!”
The wiry mechanic, Daniel Ramirez, pokes his head out from the jeep you parked and waves to you.
“Bring over the climbing gear.”
He nods and hustles over to you with a few packs over his back. He drops a length of rope at his own feet and begins tying an end around his own waist.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m coming with you.”
Sasha gives him the Bulgarian equivalent of the stink eye. Ramirez is unfazed. “You two go in there without me and don’t come out, then guess who becomes the number one suspect? Besides, I never lost a group I was guiding in these jungles. You’re not going to ruin my business.”
You nod, but wish you had another choice. Ramirez has no experience with this sort of thing. “All right, just don’t be an idiot.”
The climb up the structure to Sasha’s “Mouth” is uneventful. You probably didn’t actually need the ropes. You peek your head in first and find yourself disappointed. It isn’t an entrance into the building. It’s a deep indentation like a man-made cave. Once you’ve all made it inside, you shine your lanterns around looking for anything of interest.
Unfortunately, Ramirez is the first one to see the polished idol in a sconce on the far wall.
“Look at this!” He pulls it from the sconce and holds it up triumphantly toward you. The rumbling starts three seconds later.
“I gave you ONE instruction!’ you bellow.
So now what?
Chosen: If this is a mouth, I want to throw myself down its gullet.
For better or for worse, you’re in this now. You sprint forward, grab Ramirez, and dash as far back into the alcove as you can.
Sasha’s footsteps are right behind you. “We’re going into this?”
You don’t bother to reply, but a glance over your shoulder shows you made a good choice. The entrance is closing faster than you could have possibly escaped. In fact this whole “mouth” is getting smaller. The walls and celing are coming toward you. Half guiding, half dragging Ramirez, you push on to the other end. With your hands full, it’s only Sasha’s flashlight which shines on the back of the alcove. A small portal is beginning to open.
A lot of things could be coming out of that portal, but you don’t have a whole lot of choices at the moment. You all but fling Ramirez through the whole and Sasha follows behind him. You’re the last one through and you feel the opening slamming shut, clipping the back of your boot.
Then you are falling.
Ten feet later, you hit something softish. Sasha growls, which is understandable. Not only did the fall crack his flashlight, but since you landed on top of him, he’s in a bit of discomfort. Thankfully your light landed on Ramirez. He has a bump on his head, but at least you’re not in the dark.
You find yourself in a room with four walls and no door, or perhaps the better description is a “pit.” The way you came in is closed off, and the open top is another fifteen feet above where you fell in.
“What is this place?” asks Ramirez, rubbing his head.
“I’m hoping it’s not an oubliette.”
What do you do now?
Chosen: Are those bones over in the corner? I want to get a closer look.
“Ramirez, shine that light over in the corner.” Your first impression is correct. These are bones, and most assuredly human. “
Sasha stands with a grunt and lumbers over to you. “It doesn’t look like this is a place we want to stay in too long. “
You nod distractedly. “That’s usually true for the bottom of a pit.”
“What happened to him?” You can hear the quaver in Ramirez’s voice.
“Looks like a broken hip. He probably broke it in the fall and couldn’t climb out.”
“Ah, yes, the fall,” says Sasha. “That reminds me.” He takes off his hat and proceeds to thwap Ramirez repeatedly while repeating as a mantra, “Don’t. Touch. Anything.”
You raise your voice. “All right, knock it off. What’s done is done. I guess we should . . . Wait. Ramirez, what’s on that wall over there?”
The scuffle stops, and your mechanic dutifully shines his light where you’re pointing. You stare wide-eyed at the rough carvings in the wall.
“My cuneiform must be worse than I thought.” Sasha frowns. “Can’t make out any of it.”
Your voice is flat with shock. “That’s not cuneiform.”
“That would make sense. It’s ancient Greek. He’s saying he was here with two other men who left him behind because he couldn’t walk.” You shake your head. “Something is wrong here.”
“Figure it out later,” Sasha says. “We need a way out of here.”
“Well, reading this, we have one more option available.” You push the stone with the writing, and a section of the wall swings open like a door. “Now, do we actually use this?”
Chosen: I want to go down the passageway that just opened up.
Sasha and Ramirez obviously want out of this pit, and it probably is a good idea to save battery power on the flashlight. “All right. I’m going first.”
Ramirez steps in right behind you. Sasha, evidently happy to keep an eye on Ramirez, goes in last. The passageway is a little small for the big Bulgarian, but you and Ramirez have no trouble. The passageway is less damp than you’d expect and the flagstones on the floor are fairly even.
That is, of course, why you don’t notice that one of them is a pressure plate until you’ve stepped on it.
With more reverberation than you’d have thought possible, the entrance way slams closed behind you. Sasha whirls on it and tries to re-open the portal. After a minute, he turns back to you. “No good.”
“It’s okay though, right?” Ramirez’s voice is too high. “I mean, we didn’t want to go back there anyway.”
You take a slow breath before responding. “It might be okay, but I don’t like it. I’m thinking about that skeleton behind us. His two friends went out through this tunnel.”
“Right. They got out. That’s good.”
“Maybe.” You shake your head doubtfully. “But if you had a friend behind that wall, wouldn’t you have come back for him?”
Ramirez swallows loudly. “Maybe they couldn’t get back through the wall.”
Sasha grunts skeptically. “Or maybe they didn’t get out themselves.”
If Ramirez is about to ask why not, he never gets the chance. It’s then when you hear the blood chilling growling.
“That . . . sounded like an African lion.” Sasha sounds nervous. “But we’re in South America.”
You whirl around to flash your light down the corridor and onto the reflective eyes of an African lioness. “Maybe you should tell her that.”
“What do we do now?” whimpers Ramirez.
Chosen: Sasha has experience as a lion tamer. I want to let him handle this.
“Sasha! I’m bowing to your expertise here!”
“That’s not how it works! You have to train them first.” Sasha has put himself between Ramirez and the beast. “Besides, I don’t have my tools!”
Ramirez reaches into his own backpack and pulls out a whip. “Here! Take mine!”
There is no time to process that as the lioness takes a long step forward with a continued growl. Sasha pushes past you and cracks the whip. The beast recoils and begins to back away from you.
“This is good!” you say.
“Unless this is a dead end,” Sasha counters. “If that’s the case, then we’re about to corner her with her back to the wall, and if that’s the case, we’re all going to die.”
Luckily, the passage widens into a large circular room with several doors leading from it. Sasha drives the lioness toward one side of the room and you safely exit out one of the other doorways. Only when the heavy stone door is closed behind you do you all catch your breath.
“Why did you have a whip?”
Ramirez looks astonished. “I brought it when you said we were exploring. You mean you don’t have one?”
“I’m an archaeologist! Why would I have a whip?”
The big man ignores you. “That should not have worked.” Sasha shakes his head. “It’s like the beast was trained.”
“Well it was, of course, and if you’ve harmed my pet, you will regret it.”
The voice comes from a tall figure on the other side of the room. He — or maybe a tall she — is in too much shadow to make out any facial features.
But you can make out hand on the gun at the figure’s hip.
Chosen: I want to talk this out like rational people.
“We didn’t come here to start a brawl. Your pet is unharmed, just maybe a little startled by the loud noises. Maybe we should all breathe a moment.”
He hesitates for a long moment, then his hand shifts away from the pistol at his hip. “You are right, of course, Doctor Peters.”
“You know my name?”
“Either that or I am very good at guessing.” He bites off his sarcasm and speaks more quickly. “You are Doctor Dakota Peters, graduate of Princeton, and teaching professor at both Stanford and Brown.”
“I’ve never taught at Brown.”
There is absolutely no hesitation in his voice. “Not yet.”
You feel a chill running in your blood. Brown University made an offer earlier in the term. You told them you couldn’t make a decision before this expedition, but you were leaning toward taking the offer when you returned.
“You see, Doctor, time is a little hard to keep track of here.”
“What is this place?” Sasha does not hide his hostility well.
“Haven’t you figured that out, Mister Petrov? This temple moves about not only throughout the world, but throughout time itself. The only true way to study history is to live it, wouldn’t you say?”
You try to keep your voice calm. You don’t know if this man is lying, insane, or telling a truth so fantastic as to be unbelievable. “So you’re a scholar?”
“My vocation is not important, Doctor. Only yours is.” He takes a step into the light, and smiles at you with his thin, long face. “The temple is scheduled to transport in one hour. My employers are prepared to offer you a job.”
Chosen: What this man is saying is impossible. I want to call him on that and demand proof.
You stare in silence at the thin faced man. His eyes have a peculiar innocence to them, and all in all you can’t help but think what an honest face he has.
“Pull the other one,” you say as you cross your arms.
It’s impossible to be a successful con-man with a dishonest face.
“You do not believe me, Doctor Peters.”
“Do I believe that this building can travel through time in anything but the normal way? Certainly not just because you say so.”
“Did not the cuneiform on the building make you curious?”
“Immensely. But ‘curious’ and ‘gullible’ are two different words. Those could have been etched into the rock at almost any time and artificially weathered.”
“And the skeleton and his ancient Greek writing? I assure you the artifacts he wore were quite authentic. How do you explain that?”
“I thought I’d let you explain that,” you respond, now even more sure that he’s trying to snow you. “If you’re travelling through time, then the artifacts would be new, not ancient. Not to mention that if I were travelling through time, I wouldn’t particularly want to bring along a rotting corpse with me.”
Sasha nods in agreement and takes a menacing step toward the fellow. His hand goes to pull out his gun, but you’re quicker on the draw than he is. “Drop it. Drop it now.”
“I did try to tell you, Malcolm.” The voice which comes from around the corridor is completely familiar to you. Professor Mogul almost goes so far as to smile before gesturing to the gun in your hand. “Please put that away, Dakota. No need to escalate this.”
He shakes his head and steps up to the stranger. “I told you it was not simply me, dear boy. You wouldn’t be able to fool any archaeologist with this foolishness. Now kindly stop being an idiot.”
Sasha growls. “A hoax. Why?”
“Why make the Piltdown Man?” Professor Mogul shrugs and looks disapprovingly at Malcolm. “Malcolm spent a great deal of time and money trying to prove that he’s more clever than the people who know what they’re doing. Then he wagered even more of that money that he could fool one of my colleagues. Hired a guide to get you lost and then bring you in the back way. You know we’re only a couple of miles from the hotel I’m staying at.”
You’re tempted to pull your gun again and shoot Ramirez. He shrugs, displaying the guiltlessness of a man who has been well paid.
“And since I’m about to lose one of my most promising fellow professors, I felt the University could use the money from the wager.”
“You knew I was leaving?”
“They called me for a recommendation.” He looks back at Malcolm who is looking astonishingly dejected. “Come on, then. I have a delightful bottle of rotgut back at the hotel. I think this calls for a drink, wouldn’t you say?”