The Dig by Sean Rodgers Asylum inmates may not be as crazy as they seem.

After the workers uncovered the door, I knew for sure that I, Professor Thomas Wilkins, was destined to be the most famous archaeologist on the planet for the next twenty years at least. Alright, that may be just conceit on my part, but I think I deserve a chance at stardom.

I suppose I should explain why I felt this way. My parents were quite poor when I was a child, and consequently, I had to work hard to get ahead in life. It wasn't helped by the fact that up until my college years, I had incredibly vivid nightmares once or twice a week. They usually took the form of my standing at the top of a staircase, trying to open a locked door, while something climbed the stairs behind me. I'd always wake up just as the thing put its clawed hand on my shoulder, and I could feel its breath on my neck ... then, I'd wake up screaming. My parents tried everything -- sleeping pills, visits to doctors, and so on. Being poor, their options were limited, and we were all relieved when my nightmares ceased once I entered Miskatonic University. In those days (back in the 1950's) Miskatonic U. was in its last brief burst of glory -- it was known as the university for studies of the strange and occult. Some of the older professors remembered the strange events of the 1930's. One such man, Professor Peabodie, had hinted to me that there are some things locked in vaults beneath the library that would shock the human race to discover. Needless to say, I wasn't allowed to see them.

After graduating with a degree in archaeology, I returned to Miskatonic as a professor of archaeology and ancient history, and ever since then have occupied that post. My parents died in a car wreck while I was in college, so I had nowhere to go. But all the while, I read of other archaeologists making incredible findings, and I envied them, with lots of money and fame, while I was stuck in a half-decent university teaching kids who cared more about their rock bands then the secrets of the ancients.

So when a friend of mine, Michael Addison, mentioned that he was organizing an archaeological dig near Mecca, in search of ancient ruins, and that he wanted me to head it, I jumped for the opportunity.

So, after frantic preparations for four months, we finally got on the plane and left. We spent too much time on that plane, I think, first going to New York, then London, then Rome, then Istanbul, then Cairo, and then finally Mecca. It took me a whole week to get over the time lag.

But anyway, enough about how we got here. After hiring some workers, we decided to head for a spot around 200 miles to the east of Mecca, deep within the Rub' Al Khali desert. Locals called it "Iram," or "Irem," and it was regarded as a holy spot by locals. I tell you, it's been hell trying to keep the workers from refusing to dig, or even just getting permission from the Saudi Arabian government to dig here.

It is indeed an odd spot. It is just below a ridge that runs across the desert (so we have the unbelievable luxury of shade during most of the day), and where two smaller ridges of rock jut out into the desert, forming a sort of enclosed space. There seemed to be odd designs on the rock wall which seemed almost man-made to my eyes. However, I knew it to be just erosion of the rock face. Still, something kept drawing my eyes to it all the time ... it seemed positively unearthly.

It was an uneventful dig for the first week. A few small pieces of pottery were brought up, but they were dated to roughly 800 C.E., so they must have been deposited by Arab merchants stopping here for the night. As the workers sweated in the holes we had dug, Addison and I sweated below a canvas tarp. It was infernally hot out there -- going up to 110 degrees at some points. I tell you -- lemonade has never tasted so good!

By the end of the first week, rather strange things began to happen. First, two of the workers disappeared. They seemed to have run off into the desert. Salim, the foreman, said the two missing workers behaved quite normally the day before, and he had no idea why they would run off. After searching for them (and wasting half a day's dig), we called it off.

Then, at night, in my tent, while I was communicating with Miskatonic U. over the Internet on my laptop, I heard soft moans coming from over at the rockface. I ignored them at first, believing it to be the wind. But the moans grew louder and louder until the wind seemed to be shrieking horribly. The howls seemed terrifying, full of pain and violence and utter fear. I rushed outside, afraid at what I would find, only to see ...

Nothing. There was no sound at all. The camp slept, and the dig seemed untouched. Relieved, I went back into my tent. Yet, for the rest of the night, it seemed as if the moans were still going on ...

The next day, I asked Addison if he had heard anything. He shook his head and said no. I guess he's a heavier sleeper than I am.

It was then when the two missing workers showed up. Dead. The gruesome discovery was made during the lunch hour, when one of the workers went behind a sand dune to relieve himself and found the two bodies laying there. He ran back to camp, shouting in Arabic, and everyone came to see what he had found. The two bodies had all the usual marks of death in a desert -- dehydrated, gaunt, eyes sunken back into the sockets and heavily marked by the wind. But those signs contradicted totally the expression on the men's faces -- one of pure, unrelenting terror.

The mouths were drawn back in a silent scream, the eyes wide open and the hands clenched into fists at their sides. It was strange. A man, dying of dehydration in a desert, does not look like he saw Hades itself the moment he died. Yet, something these men had seen while dying scared them horribly.

A growing sense of unease began to filter through the camp after we sent the bodies back to Mecca to be buried. The workers began to grow slack in their work, sometimes just sitting there. Salim and I cajoled, pleaded, and threatened them, but they worked less and less.

But they still found something amazing. Down deep, at the 5000 B.C.E. level, they found what appeared to be some sort of door to a tomb, perhaps. Much like the tombs in the Valley Of The Kings, in Egypt. However, the Egyptian ones were much more recent. Nothing like this had ever been found this far back, 1500 years before Sumeria.

The slab of rock blocking off the gateway was decorated with hieroglyphics, of an unknown origin. They were not Sumerian, Egyptian, or anything else. I had no idea what civilization this door belonged to. Maybe the locals' tales of Irem, The City Of Pillars, swallowed up by the desert ages before the first cities, wasn't just fanciful legend. After all, every myth has a grain of truth in it ...

Addison was as puzzled as I was. "I can't tell what it is," he said to me. "I believe we may be looking at something entirely new here." He smiled. "This could be the most important archaeological find since Troy," he mused.

I was also euphoric -- this dig would no doubt put Arkham and Miskatonic University back on the map, and establish my reputation forever. I'd have it all ... money, fast cars, a villa on the French Riveria. I was oblivious to the heat as I daydreamed of my future wealth.

Addison rubbed his hands together. "Right, then," he shouted into the pit, "open the door."

Strangely, the workers refused to comply. They threw down their shovels and picks and got out of the hole. One of them said something to Salim. Salim then came over to us and said, "I'm sorry, Professors, but the workers won't do any more work here. They say it's cursed, this whole place," he indicated the ridge with a wave of his hand.

"Damn!" swore Addison. "Tell them we'll double their pay." The workers did not care. Addison, upon hearing this, threw down his hat and stalked into his tent. I rubbed my chin, thinking of a solution. I looked at the time -- nearly sundown. "Alright, Salim," I said in defeat, "we'll stop for tonight. Maybe they'll be more open to the idea of continuation tomorrow."

"Yes, Professor," replied Salim, and then told the workers in Arabic that they were free for the evening. The workers scattered to their section of the camp. I took one last look at the door, still standing there closed. I wonder what secrets lie beyond that doorway, I thought. Then I went back into my tent, leaving the dig shrouded with the dying rays of the sun.

* * *

Later that night, I sat completing some minor writing of mine while I listened to Bach on my CD player, the exquisite Art of The Fugue. I was humming along with the organ melody when I heard a tapping sort of noise over the music. I turned the CD off, and it still continued. Grabbing a flashlight, I went outside.

While the desert had been blazing hot during the day, now it was fairly brisk. I shivered slightly as I made it over to where the tapping noise was coming from -- the pit, where someone was busy trying to open the doorway with a pick.

"I say," I shouted down into the pit, "what are you doing, and who are you?" I shone the flashlight down to discover Addison there, holding a pick. A flashlight perched on a rock next to him revealed that he was busily trying to pry the slab open.

"Oh, good evening, Wilkins," he shouted back up. "Since the workers won't open this door, I've decided to do it myself. You can help me, if you wish."

Frowning slightly, I walked down into the pit and stood beside Addison. He nearly was through the stone.

"Listen," he said, "let's just push on this and see if we can open it. If we can't, then we'll go back, okay?"

I sighed. "Alright, let's try."

We both put our hands on the slab of rock and pushed. It moved slightly. Heartened by this, we pushed more, until the slab was off to one side, exposing the first steps of a staircase that led downwards into blackness.

Coughing from the stale air that had rushed out when we opened the door, I shone my flashlight down the staircase, revealing that it ended about fifty feet underground.

Addison looked at me. "Well," he said casually, "shall we explore it?"

Caught off guard by this rather unexpected turn of events, I said, "Very well, then."

We both walked down the staircase. The steps were unusually large and ill-suited for people our size. More than once we both tripped on the steep stairs. Finally, we reached a landing. I shone my light around. The passageway continued in one direction. We walked down it. Murals adorned the walls, still legible after all this time.

I pointed to one. "Hey, Addison," I said, "take a look at this." The mural depicted a magnificent city in the middle of a lush countryside. The towers of the city were built high up against a ridge that ran behind the city. The huge wall that surrounded the city was made of a white substance, probably marble, and even in this mural the whole place looked beautiful.

We walked on a bit. The next mural depicted the same city, but obviously many years later. Now, most of the country around it was desert, and the city appeared to be falling to pieces. Choking sands were built up high against the marble walls, and drifted through the streets.

In the foreground, there appeared a doorway, much like the one we had excavated. A number of small figures were entering it. Apparently, they seemed to be retreating from the desert and abandoning the city. I squinted at the figures, who were tiny. Something didn't look right about them.

I began to grow uneasy. This tomb was very disquieting, and I wished to God that Addison had tried this in daylight. I shifted from foot to foot, looking for Addison, who had walked on without me. I looked ahead and I couldn't see his light anymore.

"Addison?" I shouted. "You still here?"

Addison's reply came back, "Yes, I'm here. My God, Wilkins, you won't believe what I've found! It's like a burial chamber or something! There are coffins all over the place!"

"Just a sec," I shouted back. I was about to take a step forward when I heard another sound -- a hollow, metallic "plong." I reassured myself, thinking that Addison had dropped his flashlight.

"I'm coming, Addison," I shouted, waiting for his reply.

Suddenly, I heard him say, frantically, "Wilkins, Wilkins, get out, please, get out! Something's coming! It came out of the coffin! Get out! Oh my God, it's not hum-" And then he started screaming. It was terrible to hear, a high-pitched wail of terror. It sent a wave of fear throughout me, the same fear that I thought banished forever, the childhood fear of things that go "bump" in the dark. The nightmares I had suffered from were now remembered with startling clarity. I gave sort of a choked gasp as Addison's screams were cut off suddenly.

I heard a thump. Another one. My hands shook uncontrollably. My feet were plastered to the floor. The thing that had killed Addison was coming after me!

Run, damn you, run!! screamed my brain silently. I ran.

I stumbled up the staircase, nearly dropping my flashlight, and made it to the top of the stairs. I gave a sigh of relief as I looked up ...

... and noticed that the slab had been pushed back into place! I felt horribly angry, and then horribly frightened. I clawed at the slab until my fingernails were bloody, desperately trying to move it. And all the while the thumping grew nearer and nearer.

I grew frantic, hitting and punching the rock, shouting at the top of my lungs for someone to open the damn thing. It was no use. Nobody came. The thing came closer. The thumping noise grew louder and louder until I was sure whatever was causing it was right behind me. Then, the noise stopped. I froze.

I felt some awful appendage just barely brush the back of my neck. The touch of it burned like pure acid. It was going to kill me, just like it killed Addison, and I was horribly frightened.

Suddenly, the rock slab started to move! My head jerked up. The thing behind me disappeared with a hissing noise. I wept tears of relief. As two workers moved forward, both armed, I collapsed in a heap in front of them. The dragged me out. As I fell into a deep faint, the last thing I saw was the workers put the stone slab back into place.

* * *

"That's about it," concluded the patient. "I guess you know the rest of the story, Doctor."

The doctor smiled. "Of course I do. Now, it's time for your medicine."

"Okay, Doctor," said the patient as the doctor slid the patient's medicine, in a small bowl, through the small slit in the door.

The doctor checked off something on his clipboard, and then said, "Now, eat up your medicine properly, and you'll get some ice cream with dinner tonight."

The patient clapped his hands together, with a childish grin on his face. "Oh boy, I love ice cream!" he said.

The doctor waved good-bye and moved down the halls of Arkham Asylum. Another doctor joined him.

"So, John," said the second doctor, "what do you make of the new patient's story of the thing in the cave?"

The doctor chuckled. "I think it's pure fiction. The patient probably went crazy a long while ago. Remember the stuff about the childhood nightmares? He probably just dreamed the whole thing. The authorities there turned him over to us."

The other doctor frowned. "What about Addison -- the other Arkham man?"

The first doctor shrugged. "Don't know. Probably wandered off into the desert. The Saudi officials were extremely closemouthed about this whole affair."

"Oh well. Say Bill," the other doctor asked, "do you have the evening shift today?"

"Yeah," replied the second doctor. "Go home, have dinner. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bye," said the doctor, left the building, and drove home.

After thinking about it, the doctor decided to sleep with his bedroom light on that night.

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© 1997 Edward P. Berglund
"The Dig": © 1997 Sean Rodgers. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1997 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: August 11, 1997; Updated: August 9, 2004