Danica turned, swallowing her mouthful of steaming beverage and glared at him. “You know you swear a lot.”
Hayden shrugged. “My father says swearing is a form of expression.” He dumped out his drink no longer able to stomach it.
Danica still in her seat turned a page. “So is farting.”
“Sorry about that. I thought I was downwind.”
Danica rolled her eyes, closing her book and getting up. “My father told me, people swear when they can’t think of something more intelligent to say.”
“Really? In my world, swearing is simply words we as a society put taboos upon.” Hayden dropped his bag in front of the chamber door. “It’s how you use them that define their impression.” He looked for the zipper. “Plus, if it wasn’t meant to be said, it wouldn’t be a part of our vocabulary.”
“Having something and flouting it are two different things.” Danica continued to drink from her cup. “We have guns, but we don’t shoot everything we see simply because we can put holes in it.”
Hayden sighed. “Do you know how many cultures over the years communicate with slang and swearing?”
“I would say for certain one. And that I think is still one too many.”
Hayden unzipped his bag from top to bottom exposing an array of archeological tools within. “I suppose you never swear?”
Danica knelt down to join him. “Oh I swear. But trust me, when I do, there’ll be a very good reason for doing it.”
Hayden drew from his bag several shiny spikes attached to a long rope ladder. He reached inside again and handed to Danica a pair of safety glasses with two bright lights affixed to each side. “These are preferential to flashlights. They are brighter, but use softer light bulbs, which will be less harsh on the interior.” He pointed to a switch on each side. “That and it keeps your hands free, letting you see in the direction you’re looking. This way, we’re not jamming or hooking things into the chamber structure more than necessary. At least, until we can better see its construction.” He pulled a pair of soft bottomed slipcovers over his hiking boots to cover the treads. He handed a pair to Danica. “Our feet will do enough damage as it is, so let’s try to be gentle by wearing these.”
Danica nodded her understanding and put them on.
Hayden was the professional here.
Hayden and Danica focused on the door.
Over the evening, Hayden had squeezed the lubricant into all the creases and holes around the door, letting it settle into the edges naturally by gravity. Hoping by morning it would have oozed where they could not have pressed by hand.
But regardless of the oils used, the chamber door was several square feet of solid stone and three inches thick, so it was still pretty heavy.
Danica took the side and Hayden grabbed the top. Using their combined weight, Hayden using his knees in the dirt mound for leverage to push, Danica pulling with her back and shoulders, the two of them applied all their strength on the door. Twice Hayden let out a breath, but resumed his pushing, dirt piles forming behind his feet.
After several minutes, with the rock chipping a bit, small particles of soil rolling down to the base of the mound, Hayden wincing the entire time, the tablet started to move. After a half hour of careful pushing and sliding, the portal opened into a dark expanse.
Hayden wiped sweat from his brow. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a white rubber ball. He squeezed it for several seconds until it started to glow. Inside was a pressure sensitive light emitting diode, switching from red to blue to green every few seconds.
Danica gave him a quizzical look.
Hayden smiled. “My ex-girlfriend had a chocolate Labrador named Zack. I used to come home late from the university, but I still had to give the poor guy a run, so I bought him a set of three to take him to the park for night ball chases. This way, when I threw it, I could still see him. Well, maybe only a bobbing glow sphere in the darkness, but it was always racing back towards me. Zack loved it. So I kept one for luck.”
Danica smiled thinking it was amusing to imagine.
Hayden dropped it down the portal. Seconds later, it bounced and rolled to a halt in the corner, lighting a small corner of the room with a dim multi-coloured glow. He peered inside activating the two flashlights on his glasses. After about a minute, he stated, “It’s a single chamber. Smells a bit like mildew, but if that’s the extent of the damage, then we can consider ourselves damn lucky.” He poked his head further and went silent.
Danica waited a minute and then another. She was getting antsy, scientist or not. Curiosity killed the cat. “And?”
Hayden pulled his head out. “It’s an almost perfect cube. Ten feet by ten feet. The floor has nothing written on it, so we should be safe to walk on it.” He winked. “And no traps.” He wiped some grime from his gloves. “And before you ask, there are no more doors. It’s a single tribal story chamber of a travelling tribe as the door tablet described.”
Danica pushed past Hayden to look inside. After a few seconds, she scrunched up her eyes. “What’s that in the centre on the floor? Some sort of alter?”
“I’ve no idea.” Hayden switching his work gloves to cotton ones. “But I can’t see them erecting a story chamber and then using it to sacrifice things for their Gods. It would detract from its purpose.” Hayden offered a tilt of his head. “Whatever it is, it’s a part of their story.”
Danica reached behind her and slammed the first ladder spike into the Earth. “Then what are we waiting for?”
Once inside, Danica and Hayden had carefully placed two low level lanterns in opposite corners, suspended from the door above to prevent damaging the interior and to illuminate the entire chamber. They still wore their flashlight glasses for more focused work, but the background light was helpful.
To Hayden, he was in heaven. Most archeologists do their work from schools, occasionally going into the field, but in today’s modern times, rarely finding anything unexpected. So finding this was a dream come true.
He wanted to thank Danica profusely, but she made quite clear, any gesture would be quickly followed by a punch to the abdomen. And as a doctor, she would know where to hit to make it count.
Danica on the other hand was on her knees, examining mosses, small filaments of plant life and molds.
‘To each their own.’ Hayden thought.
Danica stopped and turned to him. “So where do we begin?”
Hayden pivoted his eye line from left to right, examining the walls. “We need to establish a timeline first. Pick the wrong spot and it’s like reading a book by starting in the middle. But be assured, the creators would not want to make it difficult either. They created it with the purpose to be read; and because making a place like this defined a proud race, they would avoid confusing future generations by not making the starting point clear.” He turned in the direction of the centrepiece in the middle of the room which first caught their eyes when they opened the door above. “Might as well start here.”
It was a stone frame base, surrounded by vines and small foliage as the darkness prevented any major growth from invading. It was composed of the same rock as the walls, three feet tall, wider at the bottom than at the top, but not evenly formed on the sides. Inset into the top, dead centre, was a giant circular disc carved with hundreds of individual jagged lines, connected with one another, created by hand, not accidental, engraved like a giant maze of erratic cracks.
Hayden was perplexed as he walked around the tableau. “There’s no writing on it at all.”
“And what does that mean?”
“Of that, I’m unsure.” He pointed to the blank walls of the base holding the tabletop. “I’ve never seen a component in a story chamber not used to record information. Tribes prided themselves on using everything, especially when they went to this much trouble to erect the chamber in the first place.” He waved around to the walls. “Everything else is completely covered with sketches, etchings and drawings, no space left unfilled, yet this centrepiece is completely devoid of anything at all.” He refocused on the centre. “With exception to the strange pattern of cracks and openings on the top disc-like thing.”
Danica leaned over. “Maybe they used this as a desk to prepare the work?”
Hayden pointed to the circular inset. “Tribes rarely did rough sketches. Plus this is more a design than a writing surface.” He put his finger into one of the cracks and pushed. It slid, but not by much. “What have we here?”
Danica leaned forward. “What is it?”
Hayden was looking down through the cracks. “There is another disc underneath.” He tried to move it, but it did not spin further. “It’s too heavy to turn.” He pushed down the side and it sunk a touch. He put more strength into it, pushing down with his full body weight. It sunk a bit more, but rose again. He did it at several points along the circumference, each time it sinking in the same manner until the rim met the wall. He shook his head.
Danica asked. “Is there a problem?”
“No. I thought it might be a lid for a container, but they’re too heavy to turn and too well balanced for hiding something inside.” Hayden gestured. “That and based on the edges moving down and back up, there is some sort of central point or pin which the discs are balanced upon at the bottom. Taking into consideration of how tight fitting it is, I can’t push it very far. It’s designed to prevent all the discs from falling free.”
“All the discs?”
Hayden pushed his finger deeper into one of the cracks. “From what I can feel, three minimum, possibly more?”
Danica was intrigued. She suggested. “Maybe it’s a work of art or a mosaic.”
Hayden shook his head. “Tribes made things with intent. Esthetics was never a factor. They didn’t decorate for decorum’s sake. So this little table had a purpose. I simply have no idea as to what.”
“Maybe it was once filled with water.” She pointed to the spacing around the sides. “Over the years, it probably evaporated or leaked out. I mean, if it were filled, would it not turn easier?”
“Not likely.” Hayden offered. “Three reasons why not. One, the discs weigh about twenty pounds each by their shape and weight. And as a man who has dug up a lot of rocks, I can be pretty sure of my assessment. So even with salt water from the ocean to increase buoyancy, it still wouldn’t allow it to turn by a single hand.” He walked around the centre. “Two, we’re too far from the ocean to keep this thing full as needed to use it. Tribes rarely wasted water on art forms, so keeping it filled would be a large waste of resources.” Hayden ticked them off using the fingers on this left hand. “Third, there are no divots or pointed tips on either side of the discs to allow resting one atop the other to allow for turning using a water based medium. It’s designed to be removed and stacked only. As to the how or whatever it’s meant to reveal, someone didn’t want this easily deciphered.”
“So there goes your theory they wanted to make it easy.”
“That or some parts of their story they didn’t want to tell, but felt obliged to.” Hayden grimaced. “But to inspect it, we’ll have to pull all the discs out.”
Danica grinned. “In for a penny, in for a pound.”
Over the course of the next hour, they carefully lifted each disc out of the foundation frame, making sure to note the order they were removed, until there were a total of seven, lined up and around the centerpiece.
Each one was carved differently, but completely filled from side to side with a new series of cracks and engravings.
Danica used her portable 3-D scanner to photograph and create images of the discs which she communicated back to her laptop at camp. For good measure, she repeated the action using her Smartphone with imaging software.
‘No harm in having a back-up’ she thought.
Danica pointed to the discs after photographing them. “What kind of rock is it? It doesn’t match the one in which it was housed.”
Hayden shrugged. “I’ve no idea. I’m not a geologist.” He leaned over the centerpiece and examined the interior. “Even the bottom is different. It’s painted.”
Danica peered inside the opening.
At the bottom of the now empty cylinder, a foot deep, in the centre, was a pointed triangular like stone, painted black, much wider than expected as it filled one third of the hole, also shaped oddly and uneven like some type of mountain, and not unlike the base itself in which it was housed. It was surrounded by a giant yellow painted circle with weird engravings in the red paint. The yellow paint did not reach all the way to the outer edges, as it left a good few inches of unpainted stone around the entire circumference of the yellow circle which did lead to the edges and some carved divots.
As Hayden suggested, the mountain pin appeared to be the pivoting point for the bottom disc which confirmed its sole job was balancing the others above. The rims kept them from tipping regardless of the weight on any one side.
Hayden continued to examine the centre.
Danica ran her fingers over each of the differently carved discs. “It almost looks like a human brain and the circulatory system within it.”
Hayden whistled. “If it is, then this tribe had an insight into medical science far beyond their years. Presuming that’s what we’re looking at. But I doubt it. I’ll have to bring a team down here to study it.”
Danica paused, but Hayden already suspecting her reaction spoke first.
“But not before you can send the details to Maximum Pharmaceuticals. I’m just an interpreter.” He turned to her. “You found this place, so I will delegate all decisions to you. I’m simply very happy you allowed me to share in this.”
Danica blushed as he spoke with such genuineness, she was almost at a loss for words.
Until he ruined it. “Plus, I’ll let you sleep with me and we’ll be square for the translations.”
Danica knew he could not help himself. She responded with. “Unless you can find me the secret of the universe on these walls, you can keep dreaming.”
Hayden smiled thinking inwardly. ’So, it’s not a definitive ‘no’. And as long as I know there’s a goal line, I have something to strive for.’
Men are like that.
“Absolutely nothing?” Hayden said in frustration. He stopped after another half hour of his examination of the centerpiece. “This is so very strange. Not on the base, not on the discs and nothing inside the cylinder.”
Danica made no comment, leaving him to his work. She could tell he was more talking to himself than her.
Hayden had each of his fists on the sides of his waist, almost posing. He turned around to the walls of the chamber. “Since the centrepiece is blank, there’s no point in wasting any more time on it. There might be more information on the walls that explains the reason for the stack of discs and mountain tableau.”
For the next hour, Hayden moved back and forth around the room until he found what he believed to be the beginning.
Over the next few hours, as Danica worked to remove plant life and catalogue possible new fungi, she occasionally peered up to watch as he worked.
Hayden was talking quietly to himself, carefully moving his hands over the chiseled and painted designs, but never touching them. A few times he would raise his left eyebrow, pause, shake his head and move on.
Finally, as evening was setting in, Hayden spoke up. “I think I have the gist of what the core language is.”
Danica asked. “Can you read it?”
Hayden continued to look over the designs and colourful engravings in the wall for several seconds. “Yes and no. It’s old, but definitely a form of the Maya writing system.”
“Looks like hieroglyphs?”
Hayden responded with amusement. “Egyptians used hieroglyphs. Mayans and most of the ancient South American tribes used a logographic writing system. It’s basically a combination of phonetic symbols and logograms to form alogosyllabic language.”
Danica remained silent.
Hayden added. “Are you about to say ’Duh?’”
Danica took that on the chin. She had it coming from what she said back at the government office.
Hayden did not press the issue. “It’s not completely identical. But so you know, the known scripts have more than a thousand different glyphs, which vary from tribe to tribe, and some are confined to particular localities. It is not unlike Canadian French and Parisian French, the same language but yet very different.” Hayden took position at one of the corners. “Whoever, and I mean the tribe as a whole, wrote this was pretty segregated from the other more popularly known bands, as some symbols I’ve never seen before.”
“So what are we looking at then?”
“We’re looking at their story for sure. From the design, a true story, but told in the form of folklore. Very strange.”
“Tribes normally write an account of events chronologically, like history. This one does the same, but only more as a tale. This aims to tell readers to consider it with care. Meaning, read it only, but do not get involved.”
“That is strange. What’s the story telling?”
“The story of their tribe, at least the one they broke off from, their original mission, life and death, and from what I can discern, long life and the prevention of death.”
Danica was extremely interested with that last part. “How is that possible? Preventing death?”
“It’s not.” He smiled. “But some tribes had belief systems beyond our cultural knowledge. Some believe in life after death, or some, even immortality.”
“Which is it?”
“I can’t say. It does not offer specifics. Only that life can be sustained by some means, but not explaining the how. And I’ve read all four walls, it very carefully avoids the how, only offering the what. And funny enough, it definitely avoids telling us the where.”
Danica turned to look at Hayden.
He had to turn his head as her lights went right into his eyes. “Hey.”
Danica turned away. “Sorry.”
Hayden rubbed his sore eyes and gestured to the right wall, behind their rope ladder. He walked towards it and took a confident stance which told Danica he was quite impressed with this part of the story structure.
Hayden pointed. “This wall seems to be the most important. The others talk of how the tribe was formed, how they lived and their religion. They believed in one benign God and one evil one. I’m sure Catholics would love them.”
Danica looked at the wall and all she saw was gibberish. “And this helps us how?”
“Well. This wall expands on the core of their story. It details more of the tribe’s mission, which by the thick paints and vibrant colours, it was designed to last for years, to ensure it was never forgotten. And most of all, what was important to them.”
“And what was that?”
“Well, get this. The most important thing was also their greatest fear.”
She paused, wanting to let Hayden explain it; he was telling the story as he read it, but she could tell he was also stringing it out for dramatic effect. “You still haven’t answered the question.”
Hayden turned to her and smiled. “From everything I read, it always leads back to one place.”
Danica glared. “What place?”
At this Hayden shrugged. “That’s just it. It offers a lot about an island as a whole, but it is almost intentional not to explain where it can be found.”
“So does it exist?”
“The tribe believes it does.”
Danica looked to the picture Hayden was examining and pointed to the engraving of a mountain under a dark circle, surrounded by water symbols. ‘Island.’ She at least understood that much. “What does this mean?” Pointing to the dark circle.
“Normally, a circle in the sky means the sun, but as it is black, it seems to denote an island without sunlight, or since it is depicted in the sky, an island of constant night.”
“How is that possible?”
“I did mention I was an archeologist, not an astrologist right?”
Danica shook her head. “It’s cosmologists that handle the skies. Astrologists handle your horoscope.” She glared at him in annoyance. “And you’re right, I’ve noticed, you’re not a lot of things.”
Hayden grumbled quietly under his breath. “For example, infinitely patient for certain.”
Danica leaned in. “What was that?”
He smiled. “Interesting paintings for certain.”
She was sure that was not what he said, but as she didn’t hear him, so she couldn’t refute him either.
She turned back to the centerpiece. “Maybe the discs depict lightening?” Danica waved her hand over the crackling patterns. “Maybe this island is so inundated by electrical storms, it feels like an unending night?”
Hayden had to agree, as it had some logic to it.
Tribes did not have hundreds of thousands of symbols to depict their tale, so sometimes, they had to paraphrase and group things into one, which could summarize a long event as seeming to be longer than it actually is.
Hayden clucked his tongue. “Either way, based on this, the island is both their greatest discovery and their most terrible fear. And the original tribe was tasked to the monumental responsibility of protecting this island from the world...” He waited a good second before finishing his train of thought. “Or vice versa.”
“What do you mean vice versa?”
Hayden stared quizzically. “There are several dichotomies in the symbols.”
“I mean lots of the symbols about the island seem to conflict.” Hayden pointed to several pictures. “These ones describe protecting the island from the world, yet this symbol…” A picture of several stick men with shields facing the island spears held high. “The tribe here is looking at the island in an aggressive capacity as though what is on it must be fought.”
Danica looked at it and did agree, it seemed to imply the tribe in the design actually considered the island their opponent. “So the island was the enemy?”
“That or whatever was on it was.”
“How come there are no pictures of anything on the island then?”
Hayden rubbed his chin. “A lot of cultures believed drawing or recreating an evil on paper, stone or in any form, gave it strength, and by not noting it, they are actually weakening it.”
“Sounds like a lot of crap.”
“I never said it would all be logical.” Hayden took a step back. “And there’s more.”
Danica moved in behind him.
“Some symbols, though I have to give weight I could be reading it wrong, seem to directly conflict with one another.” He gestured to two patterns of circles and a person within them. “These two are side by side. One means ‘gives life’ while the other notes ‘takes life’. Or ‘at the cost of life.’ And in direct relation to this symbol.” He pointed. “The island.”
Danica stared at it. “So the island takes life.”
“Yet gives it.”
“That is odd.”
“That and some portions appear to be reversed?”
“Some languages are read right to left. Rare, but it exists. Most of the designs appear to read left to right, but then there are instances where things seem written in the wrong order.”
Danica was trying to figure out which ones.
Hayden gestured to some. “This one describes a broken bone in two halves, and the second one, a complete bone. The next series is an open palmed hand with a long black line in it, with red fluid painted around it, obviously an injury, but the following icon was the same hand, no line.”
“It appears to imply the reverse order to harm. Break an arm, it repairs, harm yourself, it heals.”
“That’s basic biology One-Oh-One.” Danica pointed out.
Hayden remained puzzled. “That’s just it. It’s not something worth noting on a story wall unless this healing had some significance.” He gestured. “But again, every picture leads directly back to the island as the central part of the story.”
Danica turned to look at the centrepiece. “Could that mountain thing in the lake of yellow be the island?”
Hayden leaned in. “It could. But the water is yellow.” He pointed to the walls. “The pictures on the wall define water was blue, so they knew the colour of water. So I have no idea why this water is yellow.”
Danica aimed her index finger at the red marks in the yellow. “That’s fire right?”
“You would be correct. But water does not catch fire.”
“Maybe it was blue at one time.” She pointed to the door above. “It’s not exactly waterproof. What if rain over the centuries pooled in here and wrecked the colours.”
Hayden looked skeptical. “But only this one item and one surface being wrecked? Leaving all the others safe?”
Danica held out her hands. “This is like a cup shape. It could have held the water.”
Hayden pointed to the corners and tiny divots in the rock at the base of the cylinder. “See those small holes. They lead to the soil below, like an ancient irrigation system for leeching off the rainwater away from the centrepiece. And if you look around the full floor, it’s the same thing, but from the chamber.” He continued to look at it for a few seconds. “It is designed to draw all water away, from the centre and the story chamber.” He nodded. “Pretty ingenuous if you ask me.”
Danica had no answers having seen this herself.
Hayden seemed to have one more thing to offer. Pointing back to the main story wall, he described. “And this is the weirdest symbol of all.”
Danica looked at it.
It was a cloud-like drawing inside the core of the island. In the centre, one stick man surrounded in a white trim that almost seemed to encompass him. It seemed liked he glowed.
“What does it mean?” Danica asked.
“I think it refers to the light of eternal life.”
“How is this strangest of all? We saw pictures describing immortality did we not?”
“We did.” Hayden pointed to the dark cloud above the glowing man in white. Dark black with dark rain drops pouring down. “Because above the immortal man is an evil so pure, it will live for all eternity.”
Hayden ran his fingers along to the next picture.
The stick man now in a cloud of grey, him still glowing white, but his belly is expanded and filled with black paint.
Hayden explained. “It reads. ‘The island will infuse you with its evil.’ One so strong, it forever becomes a part of you. Yet it says it feeds on you in return.” He stared. “Very weird.”
Danica took a moment to think about it. “Maybe like possession?”
Hayden seemed to think it was as good an explanation as any. “A good possibility. A lot of cultures believe in such things. Including modern day Catholics.”
Danica stood straight. “So we discovered a tale of an island of no sun or constant night. And with it, prospects for immortality and something to do with healing properties being the central core?”
“That’s what I read.” Hayden stood up beside her. “I’ve a lot more reading to do, but that’s the basics.” He waited a second. “But you can’t forget the most important part.”
“Then when you report back to your bosses, you have to include everything on the walls. Including the fact the tribe who wrote this thinks the island is pure evil.”
“There’s more about the good. Maybe the evil is exaggerated.”
“If you believe in one part of the story, you have to consider the other. Why would the tribe write all the truth about the miracles and make up all the evils. Doesn’t make any sense.”
“To scare people away from their treasured island?” Danica chuffed. “Maybe their miracle was so good, they feared if they told everyone about it, it would be used up.”
“Then why write about it all?”
“You can’t scare people away then. I mean, it’s not a good story if you don’t have monsters.” Danica grinned. “Plus, I’m a scientist. I don’t believe in such things.”
Hayden started to climb the rope ladder and offered with some sarcasm. “For your information, scientists taste just as good as us archeologists and forgotten tribe members.” He turned back and smirked at her. “The question is, will the scientist in you know when to run when a monster is coming your way.”
She followed up the ladder in pursuit. “Trust me. I’ll know.”
After two hours, Danica completed her report on the chamber and its discoveries, including a summary. She attached all the pictures she took to the email.
She sighed as she included the ‘evil’ parts.
She entered the subject line. “Island of Constant Night.”
She clicked send on her laptop, forwarding it to her research team back in Ontario.
She closed the lid and got into bed, her muscles sore, but her body still slightly energized by the day’s events, excited about tomorrow.
Sleep took her quickly.
At one of a hundred South American network ISP protocol networks, run through several proxy servers and maintenance sites, ones not as well protected as some of the US and Canadian Government traffic hubs and central processing stations throughout their land masses, Danica’s email travelled.
What she was unaware of, at one such site, a copy of her email, her report and all her photos were duplicated on a secondary network point, and a second email was sent.
Not to Maximum Pharmaceuticals who still got the original.
But to someone who spent a great deal of money monitoring the electronic communication world within the internet highways and data streams, specifically searching for such keywords as: Island, Constant and Night.
Plus many others found in her detailed report and synonyms defining the same thing.
But this second email would not wait until morning to be read.
As the new recipient kept his computer operating twenty four hours a day with a loud alarm mechanism to alert him, awaken him or page him, no matter where he was, what he was doing and when, with the specific instructions to inform him such information had been found and on its way into the world.
Tonight, Danica’s email arrived.
All his bells went off.