By Dave Dormer
It wasn’t until my early twenties had I realized just what I’d done.
We walked for what seemed like miles through overgrown and choked hiking trails. The odor of campfire smoke clung to everything we owned and my throat felt like it would collapse at any moment. There were little trails of blood on my shins from whipping branches that my brother, who walked ahead of me, would let loose when I wasn’t looking, ‘Sorry’ he’d reply with a grin. I can’t recall how many times I rolled my ankles on the rocky trail, but I had to keep up to my dad who’d always stride ten feet ahead of us hollering, ‘C’mon guys. Keep up!’
We finally reached the fen, my favorite part of the trail and a little easier to navigate. It was still early spring and not much moved other than whiskey jacks flitting about the trees. I kept my eyes trained on the tree line of the marsh’s border in hopes of seeing a moose on its way to drink or swim, but nothing moved.
As a chubby kid and not much for stamina, I eventually trailed behind the rest of my family and our dog. The rustle from the plastic bag in my short’s pocket was a reminder that I was on duty to clean up after him. When my gaze returned to the trail, that’s when I spotted it. A brown wooden box nestled among broken, decaying branches and roots of a dead-fall. I stopped. I looked at the box, and then to my family who were quickly disappearing around a crook in the trail.
‘What is it? Why is it here? I couldn’t take my eyes off it. My stomach twisted in knots at the sight of it. It was like looking at a Christmas present that I couldn’t have. I imagined my dad’s voice booming in my ear as if caught standing again, admiring his shotgun that hung on our wall, ‘Don’t you ever touch it!’
The box didn’t seem battered or just cast aside rubbish, and the wood didn’t look weathered like I’d expect it to, especially subjected to conditions in the marsh. Torn, I took note of details of my surroundings and hurried on to catch up.
Dad fussed with the fire while my mother darted in and out of our camper getting supper ready. That was my favorite part of camping – eating. I sat beside the fire while my brothers and sister played catch, lawn darts, and badminton. I couldn’t think of anything other than that wonderful wooden box. What was in it? Echoed in my mind. How could I get my hands on it without the rest of my family knowing?
I pushed my dinner around the plate quietly at the picnic table that my mother carefully clipped her checkered tablecloth to. I couldn’t bring myself to eat. I remember feeling almost sad for the box sitting alone in the dark wilderness. Something about this felt wrong. I felt guilty as a thief. I knew the box belonged to someone and they probably looked for it right now. My dad always said he would tan our ass for stealing. Even if I refused to open the box, I still needed to have it. It could wait safely in my possession until I was ready, allowed, and brave enough to peek inside.
I lay in my bunk of the camper looking out my window. The campfire’s light danced across the surrounding trees when it came to me – I’ll offer to take the dog for a walk in the morning. That’s when I’ll get it.
I’d never been patient about anything. If I wanted or needed something, I worked tirelessly to get it. I surprised myself that I hadn’t opened it sooner. I know it sounds unreasonable, but guilt and fear of my father’s wrath kept me from opening the box that I’m certain had a spirit of its own. It remained in my care for fifteen years since discovering it that day camping with my family. It was difficult sometimes not to open it, especially on those trying days when the box’s call to me strengthened. I knew a day would come that it would seem proper for me to open. With my dad’s recent passing, and his booming voice no longer gnawing my conscious, I decided today would be that day.
My one-bedroom cabin darkened immediately as I cracked open the lid of the wonderful cedar box. Sweat beaded on my forehead in anticipation and my pulse raced. Wisps of black escaped and swirled about my cabin lazily, they lingered and then vanished. I could see my breath.
At first, I was disappointed with my find, the box was empty except for strange runes carved along its bottom. I assumed they were a type of hieroglyphic and the inscription of strange text surrounded an odd, egg symbol that suddenly cracked beneath my fingers as I traced along the intricate carving. Despite shattered curiosity, relief and hope filled me – I hadn’t stole anything.
Strange things happened in the days that followed, the moon changed. It was much too close and it had a sickly hue. It didn’t vanish in daytime. Then, people changed. They grew aggressive, or more so than usual. I couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing a news flash about something horrible happening around the world. Every station featured an expert on one topic or another trying to explain away the sudden changes afflicting the planet. Water levels began to rise at an alarming rate threatening to swallow everything, and its affect on people, clear.
It wasn’t from a lack of trying, but I failed to find the box’s owner or his reason for abandoning it within the foliage. At least now I knew, I had to expand my search from mere local nature enthusiasts who’d previously enjoyed the hiking trail. Hours spent scouring the Internet and a brief visit to the local library, now barren except for the elderly librarian who refused to abandon her books, I searched for anything related to Egypt and its mythology. It wasn’t long before I discovered illustrations of canopic jars and chests that I knew what I’d held. My box, sitting on the desk in front of me and alongside the large encyclopedia, resembled a chest used to hold jars that confined internal organs of someone important. My rudimentary comparison of the box’s text and symbols brought me to the conclusion that this belonged to Thoth; an Egyptian Lord of Sacred Words and the Lunar Deity. Frantically flipping through the book’s pages, a book I’m sure I was one of few to open, I learned about the Ibis-headed god and discovered was the scribe who’d record the judgment of the dead. I read that his priests ritually sacrificed baboons because they were believed to be wise, and I also learned the spirit that I’d let escape the box, was the author of ‘The Book of Spells’. A book sought by many throughout history that held power over all gods.
I found myself glued to the TV and now viewed a live newsreel taken in Egypt by a pair of terrified journalists. I no longer left my cabin anymore. It was difficult to see everything going on with the camera’s jostle, but it looked as though two colossal granite statues that stood guard at a temple came to life. From what I could make out of the chaos, both statues were identical with furred mantles of stone adorning their head and shoulders, only one was missing its head. The video was erratic and screams drowned out anything the journalists tried to report. The massive twin guardians, stone baboons, emitted horrible grating sounds as they stirred to life. Then, bodies flew across the camera’s screen like rag dolls as the golems clubbed and stomped all in their path. Reports of ‘Hermopolis, Thoth, and Necropolis’, were all I could make out amid the torrent of screaming tourists. Blotches of crimson stained the ground in the path of gargantuan feet. Tourist’s limbs protruded unnaturally from the soil. Then the camera angle changed its focus turning to a subterranean tunnel’s entrance.
It was difficult to see what they were at first, little wrapped forms bounding and leaping, overtaking any citizen unfortunate enough to choose today to visit, what Egyptian’s believe to be creation’s primeval mound, Tuna-el-Gebel. The sickly forms spilled from the underground tunnel wrapped in dirty cloth. They worked in unison herding people toward the hulking stone golems. Tourist’s screams smothered by hammering stone fists. It wasn’t until the bounding figures spied the journalists that I discovered their identity. The footage ended when the camera fell to the ground and a decrepit, mummified baboon bit down on the camera lens.
Water eventually began filling my cabin and I had to assume, the rest of the planet. All my possessions were floating, even the box. The last news reports I caught on TV, before the power failed, were Egyptologists and theologians raving about ‘the nun’. They insisted the chaos was nature restoring the planet and creation would begin again from a featureless expanse of ocean of unknown depth and extent. I looked at the box and wondered about the hope I last felt.
It wasn’t until my early twenties had I realized just what I’d done.
Dave Dormer lives and writes in North-Western Ontario alongside his wonderful (and patient) wife and four children.
On the web, he can be found at dormerdave.wix.com.
Photo Credit: Campfire and sparks in Anttoora by Kallerna