“Ritual? Professor, do you think that is wise? No offense, but wasn’t it a ritual that got us into this mess in the first place?” I asked. The pain in my side had dulled but I still remembered the feeling of those things digging into me. I could somehow not remember what they looked like but I could feel the damage.
“It is the only way to put the genie back in the bottle at this point, Mr. Newsom.” Professor Miles said. He was earnest but his tone was dismissive. I could not keep the frown off of my face. On top of everything, the Professor had no injuries. There was no justice in the world.
“Chin up, Caleb,” Melissa said. She smiled and put a hand on my shoulder. My pain faded a little more and I smiled back.
“That’s right. Trust in the power of Academia. Further, if we do not resolve things before school is back in session we will be endangering more than just ourselves.” The Professor said. There was a mountain of parchment between us and we had been trying to figure out the solution for nearly a day.
“What are those things anyway? They were certainly nasty.” I said.
“We don’t know,” The Professor responded with a shrug.
“What does that mean? We have to know by now!” I yelled. “These things have to be ancient!”
“Even with all this text, we still do not know what exactly they are. All we know is that they are old. Other than that there seems to be some reluctance in talking about them in all of the scripts, all of the studies.” The Professor explained.
“Why do you think they would not warn us about the monsters?” Melissa asked.
“Any number of reasons. But it is strange that they would not warn us about the monsters. Maybe they were too afraid to even mention them.” Professor Miles said.
“Not like us. Right Caleb?” Melissa asked.
“No, I’m not afraid at all,” I said and I wanted desperately to believe it.
* * *
I was in the hills beyond town before the morning sun rose above the far horizon. I imagined that any moment now, the townspeople might find the librarian that I had shot and killed. Any lawyer might advise to not make that confession in writing as I have just now. I promise it was in self-defense but I have a sinking feeling that the matter will not be tried in court. Something is very rotten in Charming.
Some ideas have come to me as to what caused the hideous change. If I deciphered the clues correctly, then the vault that Melissa was looking for is somewhere in these hills. I had a feeling that maybe something had flowed downhill from the vault and polluted the water in town. It was either that or some portion of the citizens of Charming were stationed there. Perhaps they were kept there to watch over the vault. If this was the case, they would already know which way I ran. They could be preparing to follow even now. The thing in the library was certainly not human. I had to pray that my pursuers were but be prepared if they were not.
It was hard travelling in the rough terrain of the hills. The rocky soil presented a dozen different tripping hazards every few steps. On top of that, I had kept getting my foot or ankle caught in tight, little crevices. My mind conjured up all sorts of creatures that could devour my foot unseen. Dread had a hold of me and I found it harder and harder to breathe. That made it harder and harder to walk.
It was not until my watch clicked to ten that I found the markings I was looking for. There were six-inch-high rounded stones with symbols on them that I remembered from the papers in college. Once again, my own memory failed to decipher the language. Perhaps it was trying to protect me. I delved into Molly’s journal again and things were made clearer. I picked up the path which suddenly swung steeply into the hills and underground. Something had carved this hole into the hills.
At last, I reached an immense circular stone door. I briefly wondered how they had gotten it there in one piece. I realized that I really did not want to know. I wanted to flee. I wanted to find the nearest train station and slip away from this part of the country. I would hope my pursuers would let me alone, knowing I had chosen ignorance. I could be back in my office in under three days.
Then, like a knife to my heart, there it was. Lily flowers growing out of a crack in the stone wall. They had no reason to be there but they were. They had been Molly’s favorite back in college. They had always been in a vase on her desk at school and also in her small dormitory room. For a moment, I wondered if the plant was there as a sign for marking her territory.
Dangling from a lily’s stem was a silken scarf. I recognised the scarf in an instant. It was decorated with the eye of Horus. It came from Egypt and I knew that Molly had one just like it that she had bought on a trip with her family. She had worn it every chance she got after that trip. It was a constant reminder in university to stop and observe because otherwise, I would never beat Molly to the answer.
It was clear that I had to proceed into the vault. Whatever had happened to Molly, I had to know. Beyond that, I felt the familiar flame of curiosity inside of me. I had not felt that flame since those college days with Molly. I had to carry on or the rest of my days would be restless with wondering. It was a curse.
I could not get from the journal how to open the door. I studied the door and looked to match the symbols in the book. Nothing matched although the symbols were close. It was maddening to actually want to continue, to be so close but so far at the same time. I rested and ate a bit of bread and cheese I had been able to bring. I prayed for coffee that never came.
I rose again and examined the scarf. There were symbols written on the edge of the scarf. I realized with a start that some of the symbols matched the door and some matched the journal. She had left the key to the vault outside and she had left it only for me. I shifted a few stones on the door and the thing started to move. The answer came quickly and I watched the door open slowly. The smell inside was ancient and beyond putrid and I fought hard not to gag as my eyes watered. I would have to go in if I am to find her.