The room was dark and musty. Not only from being closed up since the death of his grandfather, but from the matted carpet and old furniture that had been there since the early 50’s. The faded curtains were drawn and a soft yellow glow diffused throughout the room. Everything was in its place. Paul could walk through here with his eyes closed. As a young boy he was the only one that would hide in his grandfathers office when they played hide-and-seek. The dank smell brought back many memories.
Paul walked in and turned on the lamp sitting on the desk. The old shade caused the room to only look more dingy. He could now see the black & white photos that lined the walls. The photos, for the most part, were of his grandfather, Robert Paul Thornston standing with someone or other in front of various dig sites. Paul’s favorite was of he and his grandfather standing in front the pyramid of Cheops. He had taken Paul along on one of his digs during summer break that year. Paul was only ten years old but he understood the significance of bringing him along. Grandpa never talked about his work with anyone in the family, let alone one of the children. Bringing Paul on the trip was a last minute decision that no one in the family quite understood.
At the time it filled him with a sense of pride, the feeling of importance. But that soon changed. After some brief site seeing they moved to the dig site about 150 kms south of Giza. Paul fell ill as soon as they arrived and never left the tent he was placed in to recuperate. Paul passed the time by reading the research books his grandfather brought with him. They were a bit difficult to follow but they were the only books in English at the site. Although ignored for the most part during the trip, the books sparked an interest in Paul. He began researching ancient civilizations on his own and this eventually led to his going to college and becoming an archeologist.
His grandfather died before Paul finished school and never spoke to him about it. This was one of the great disappointments in Paul’s life.
Along the rows of photos he noticed a blank spot where a photo was missing. The area was free from dust and left a clean square. Paul could not remember which photo had been there.
He pulled the chair out from under the desk and sat down. The desk was bare except for a solitary plaque from the local police department thanking him for his work on the ‘Smellings case’. He did some work for them after he retired. Just another thing he didn’t speak about. The usual papers that crowded his desk were nowhere to be seen. A quick tug on the top drawer proved it was locked. A brief search of the desk turned up no key. He even rubbed his hands on the underside of the desk and found nothing.
“He cleared away all of his paperwork before…” The sudden voice startled Paul as he looked up to see his grandmother leaning on the doorway. “What was that?”
“I was saying, that before Robert passed away he cleared out his desk. It was like he knew it was coming. His grandmother stood there with her arms folded and a dishtowel hung over one shoulder. Paul couldn’t remember ever seeing her with out it. She was a few years older than her husband and Paul noticed that she looked well. When he saw her at the funeral she looked old, tired. ‘Maybe it was the stress of it all’ he thought.
“Do you know what he did with them?” Embarrassed that she had caught him poking around, he quickly stood up and walked over to look at some pictures. “I just was wondering if there was anything I could … ah…you know, do. ’
She pushed off the doorway and walked down the hall, her voice trailing off with her. “He spent a lot of time down in the basement near the end.”
Paul pushed the chair back into place and followed his grandmother, shutting the door behind him. Down stairs the air was full of the smell of home cooked food. “You said something about the basement?” He was trying to sound like he wasn’t too interested as he lifted a pot cover and snatched a piece chicken.
His grandmother slapped his hand and motioned for Paul to sit down. “What is it you’re looking for Paul?” Apparently it didn’t work.
“The university is interested in possibly publishing a book about grandpa Robert and his work.” This wasn’t entirely true. Paul had always wanted information about his trip to Giza. He never felt quite right afterwards but was unable to gather information from his grandfather.
“And I suppose they want information about the Smellings case also?” She sounded angry. She reached for Paul’s hand and held it between hers. “They tried to get all of his notes after he died. They tried to ask nice and when that didn’t work they sued me. It didn’t work but I knew they would keep trying.
Paul’s face flushed. He was being used and he didn’t like it. “Grandma…”
“It’s okay, I’m tired of fighting with them. Tomorrow we will go down stairs and see what we can find. I wish to let this matter rest in peace.” She patted his hand and stood up. “Your grandfather was a proud man Paul. We will find what they want and I’ll let you take it to them. As for the rest, if he wanted them to have it he would have given it to them. Everyone has their secrets. Goodnight Paul.” She turned off the stove and went up stairs.
The door to the basement was locked. “Damnit. Don’t these people trust anyone.” Paul opened a few drawers and found only miscellaneous tools and such. There was a letter opener shaped like an Egyptian sarcophagus which caught his eye. He grabbed it and headed over to the door.
He jammed the letter opener in between the door and the rail. No Luck. Then he stabbed at the door lock. The tip fit in about half an inch and when he tried to turn it there was a loud snapping sound. The handle to the opener fell to the ground and blood was streaming down Pauls wrist, forming a pool in front of the door. “Sonovabitch!” He quickly placed his lacerated hand into his mouth, to either shut himself up or to stop the blood, he wasn’t sure which.
Grabbing a dishtowel he wrapped his hand and gave the doorknob another wiggle. This time it opened. The solid wooden door gave way to a pitch-black stairwell leading downwards. As he groped around for a light switch he found at three separate deadbolt locks. Paul did not remember those locks being there when he was younger. The smell coming from the darkness was disgusting and yet familiar. Paul had to put the bloodied dishtowel to his mouth to keep from throwing up.
A shaky railing was the only thing to steady him as he descended into the darkness.
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could make out details of the large room below. Waving his arm around a bit he found a pull string and an old uncovered light bulb burst to life.
There was an old desk sitting next to a cast iron stove. The stove had bits of burned paper and ash piled before it. The room smelled grotesque, but it reminded him of something he could not put his finger on. Suddenly the basement door slammed shut.
Not wanting to brave the stairs again Paul sat in the chair next to the stove and pulled at the corner of a slip of paper that was sticking through the front grill. The edges were charred but the most of the handwriting was still clear. It was a list of names and dates. After each name was an age and an M or an F. Paul could not tell if it was his grandfathers handwriting or not.
Setting this on the desk and with his hand still over his mouth to repel the stench, he grabbed for another piece of paper. His head was beginning to soon. This slip was a bill of lading showing that a single large crate was delivered to the university. The origin of the crate had been burned away. ‘This is just a bunch of old crap.’ He didn’t even want the trash men looking into his business.
Paul let this piece of paper fall to the floor. ‘Maybe the old man was just crazy.’ The top left drawer was open a bit so Paul opened it up. Broken glass covered the inside of the drawer. After shifting it around he found the remains of a picture frame. ‘The open spot on the wall.’ Shaking his head in an attempt to clear his mind he pulled out the drawer and dumped it on the desk. On top of the pile of broken glass and wood there was an old newspaper article. Something went ‘Bump’ behind Paul. Startled and beginning to get a bit creeped out Paul turn around to find that the area beneath the stairs was pitch-black. The light from the bare bulb seemed to shy away. ‘Jesus Christ’.
He turned back to the newspaper. The headline read: ‘Smellings Executed! – The article went on to recount the Smellings trial for the murder of four children in his care. The names of the missing and presumed dead children were immediately familiar. Paul held up the list of names he found earlier. They were an exact match. ‘Thump!!!’ Paul felt something move this time. He was beginning to shake.
Paul stood up and walked over to the stairs holding his left hand out before him. The smell was coming through the towel now and was clearly becoming stronger as he walked in this direction. A soft glow in the outline of a square could now been seen under the stairs. The outline of his hand against the glow showed it to be trembling. Then his hand hit what felt like plywood. Feeling around he realized that the object was quite large and he could feel movement inside. ‘What the fu….” The crate was gently rocking back and forth.
Paul found a corner and gave it a tug. The front panel opened out towards Paul and was partially exposed to the light. There was printing on the front that he recognized as Egyptian. Looking in to the crate Paul was faced with what looked like a small mummified creature. Suddenly he understood what the smell was. It was an older form of formaldehyde used by the university to preserve ancient discoveries. The formula had been changed years ago and didn’t quite smell the same and this was clearly an older version.
The small creature was strapped, face first, to a large clear case. The glow was coming from what appeared to be smoke swirling within. All about the case pictures of Isis were painted. The swirl of the smoke was mesmerizing and Paul found himself unable to pull away his gaze.
Suddenly the smoke began bunch together and take form. Paul realized with horror that he recognized the form; it was his grandfather Robert.
The voice was not audible but he heard it clear as day. “Paul…I knew you would come. You were always the smart one.” The voice was soft and labored. The form of his grandfather moved about while he ‘spoke’. “I need you.”
As the mummified creature fell away from the case it revealed a plate on the front pane with a small bamboo shaft protruding straight out of it. Paul found he could not move away. “Need? What do you need from me?” The smell of the chemicals had been forgotten and the towel dropped from his wounded hand.
“Paul, do you recognize the chamber? You helped us use it during our trip. In fact, you were the first.” Paul raised his hand towards the bamboo shaft. The blood had stopped flowing through the wound. He did not know why, but the experience was becoming familiar. As Paul grabbed the bamboo shaft the glow from the chamber became bright enough to light the entire room. He could feel blood being drawn through the tube into the chamber. His grandfather’s form had dissipated in to a vortex that was drawing the blood forth. Paul tried to remove his hand but he could not.
With the light bright enough, Paul could see several more mummy like creatures within the crate and under the stairs, they were dried, empty husks. The horror was building within him as the pain from his hand began to run up his arm. In waves he was becoming numb from his hand upwards.
“I knew you would come back. I’m glad you became the person I needed you to become. It will be so easy.” His grandfather’s voice was soothing and becoming stronger as he spoke. The whirling vortex had taken form once again with small wisps that reached into the main swirl. The form was becoming solid.
“You see Paul, as you were the first, you must be the last. You were the blueprint that we have been building. The souls of the living give strength to the dead. This is what the Egyptians discovered. This is how they were reborn. Gods they truly were and a God I shall be!” The pain grew so intense that Paul shouted out. His arm was holding up the rest of his body, his right shoulder and half his chest tingled before becoming numb.
“Don’t be afraid. You are going to live forever.” The form was become a whole body. It looked like a mix of his grandfather and of Paul. Paul then fell to the ground. Turning his head up towards the case he realized that he was looking at his hand still holding on to the bamboo shaft. Air was being sucked through the severed wrist.
The shattering of the case was deafening. But instead of the glass exploding outwards the case imploded. The glass mixed with the mist and created a vortex of glowing shrapnel that rose to the ceiling and exploded outwards. The cloud dissipated as tiny bits of glass fell to the ground. The tingling feeling of blood returning to a sleeping limb covered most of Pauls body and wracked it with pain. As he rolled on he ground and was about to lapse in to unconsciousness he saw the form of his grandmother standing above him holding an axe.
Paul awoke in the back seat of an old station wagon. He was strapped in and could not move. His grandmother was illuminated with a bright orange glow that was coming from the rear of the vehicle. Looking into the rearview mirror he could see a great fire burning. Then his eye caught his grandmother’s face. She smiled a sad smile and said, “I’m sorry Paul. I needed you also. Everything will be ok now.” Paul fell back asleep without being able to ask any of the questions he had.