Jonah Hales' invited by his uncle legendary archaeologist Charles Hales III to visit him in Iraq. His uncle wants to share his recent discoveries in the ancient ruins of Summeria. Is this purely academic or is something else amiss?
By Edward Tennyson
I heard the knock on my door early Monday morning. I set down my cup of tea and made my way to the front, pushing past the unpacked boxes from the move. You see, I recently moved to this new flat after selling the family home due to some recent events, well, recent to me I suppose. At the door stood a young man in his early thirties, wearing a gray business suit and a gentleman’s hat.
“Morning Sir, are you Mr Hales?” he inquired, tipping his hat in a smart way.
“I am, are you Kenneth?” I asked stepping into the doorway.
“Yes, sir, from Strange Times magazine.”
In one smooth movement he reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small business card and extended it to me.
I took it,glancing at it, “Kenneth MacNeil, Reporter, Strange Times Magazine, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1XY.”
I motioned him to follow me, “Kindly close the door behind you Kenneth.”
“Yes, Sir,” he said, closing the door behind him.
“You’ll pardon the appearance, as I said over the phone I’ve just moved.”
“No worries at all, Sir.”
Kenneth followed me into the kitchen being careful not to knock over any of the boxes and sat in the chair I offered.
“I just poured some tea, would you care for some?”
“Ah, yes please,” he said placing a notepad on the table, his hat in his lap.
I set his tea down before him and took the chair opposite his and motioned to the milk and sugar on the table. He made his tea then opened the notebook and brought out two pencils and a small sharpener. I watched him for a moment as he readied himself for the interview.
I thought back to how we arrived here, how the recent events with my uncle’s demise and my being scorned by the academic community after they suspected me of his disappearance and then made laughing stock when I tried to tell them the truth. Fools.
If I didn’t need the money Mr. Kenneth MacNeil wouldn’t be here this morning, but the money would help pay the rent.
“Where shall I start? I asked.
“Well, how about what made you go to Iraq”
And so, I told him this tale as I tell you now. “Well, it all began a year ago….”
I was on vacation to meet my great uncle Charles Hales III, the eminent archeologist. My uncle was well known for his knowledge as reclusiveness. For years he journeyed far and wide across the world, traveling in the deserts of Egypt and Iraq.
There he came upon the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon, near what is now called Al Hillah. Some say he was drawn there for he became fascinated with the ancient city when while working in Egypt. His fascination soon turned into obsession and he began spending more and more time there. “The desert,” he would say. “is my home.” He spent the next four years there, each day and night exploring the ruins. Searching, searching for something.
During this time, the local villagers reported many strange things happening. The simple folk said they heard him late at night chanting in some unknown language and told long stories of seeing strange shadows and movement in the ruins. I dismissed all of this, and thought it was nothing more than the local superstition of an unsophisticated people. Tall tales told by adults to frighten their children.
It was during this time that I joined him. He knew that I was a budding archeologist myself, enchanted with his tales of the discoveries in Egypt that eventually led him to Babylon. I wrote him many letters about his work and my studies, on occasion he’d answer. I remember reading a passage from one of his letters that really lit my imagination and made me want to visit and work with him.
“Jonah my boy, what great things I’ve discovered here in the desert, things that I can barely put into words. Knowledge, long forgotten and lay slumbering just below the sands of time, waiting to awaken a whole new era in mankind…”
I hurriedly replied to his letter but it was many months before I got a response. His reply was cryptic and he seemed distracted in his writing but his words were clear that I should join him, that the greatest discoveries were yet to be made and he wanted me to experience them with him. He’d been in the desert nearly six years. I made travel by boat from our family home in Maidstone, that’s in Kent, and traveled many months by train and horse till at last I arrived in Istanbul, Turkey.
From here I traveled by camel with merchant caravans across the great mountains and deserts until I reached Iraq where I traveled with still more caravans. Though I spoke only a few words of Arabic I managed to convey my destination. Often whenever I said Al Hillah the superstitious natives whispered amongst themselves in harsh tones.
I traveled with a merchant and his family and each day they taught me their language and I tried to teach them mine. Over the course of our travels I learned enough to convey some basic thoughts, “I want to sleep”, “I am hungry”, and “where can I find water?” I remember them as a friendly and helpful people but any mention of the ruins of Al Hillah and they would look away from me and not speak about it even after my repeated request.
Eventually, I arrived at the final leg of my journey, the ruins of Al Hillah were only a short three days ride from here. I tried in vain to hire local guides but after several attempts I couldn’t find one to bring me there. At last, when I was out of ideas, I stumbled upon a fellow Englishmen named Gerald Massey, an explorer and writer.
He was maybe my age but the harsh sun and sand had turned his skin a dark leather. He explained that the locals were afraid of the ruins, believing that they are haunted by ancient devils. After a while of talking with and telling him my story he agreed to take me to the ruins as he was headed to a city a few days south of there.
We purchased horses and provisions and left the very next morning. Along the way he told me much about his travels and the people that he’d met, they were much like my own experiences with the kind people of this land. But he also spoke of dangers in the desert of bandits that would rob and often kill anyone they came across.
We kept a weary eye on the sun drenched horizon as we traveled. On the last day, we were several hours away from the ruins when looking behind us I spotted two riders that appeared as black dots on the horizon at first I’d though it nothing but as we rode and watched soon two became three and three became six. I looked at Gerald and the blood ran out of his deeply tanned face. He said a single word that sent a chill down my spine, “Bandits!”