Pakorn and Andrew were competing in the 2009 World Scrabble Championship and this is their last board, round 21.
A Tall Tale Flies
Steven Quentin was an archeologist working for the Museum of Natural Adaption in the center of Chicago. He’d found a promising hint in an ancient treatise in the arcane books and manuscripts section in the museum’s library. A seasoned veteran in his trade, Steve thought he’d uncovered a powerful clue and he just couldn’t let it go. At the moment, he was on sabbatical and he decided to ask the Museum’s director for funding to continue his quest overseas. He needed to dig deeper into the actual site to uncover the truth.
He arranged the decisive conversation with the director in ‘The Graved Bone’ a restaurant and cocktail bar across the street from the Museum of Natural Adaption. The owners had mimicked some of the evolutionary exhibits in the museum, hanging brown netting on the walls holding realistic looking fake bones. The ones right over the bar seemed to be from a suborder of primates, a tarsioid. While Mr. Quentin sipped on his glass of Zin, a dry red wine, his elbows rested on the thick clear epoxy of the table top between them. Frozen in the epoxy were countless pieces of shells and bivia (parts of a starfish).
“I’m so sorry Steve, but we didn’t get enough promissary donations to pay for your trip to India. You already know how the evolutionists feel and most of your colleagues don’t support you’re premise at all,” Mr. Newcastle said.
“I understand the reluctance. If I find another source of income for the trip, you wouldn’t rif me if I don’t return to work in September, would you? I need a little leeway to get there on my own, and if my theories do pan out, I could put this institution on the map!” Steven said.
“Good luck in your own funding and I’ll certainly hold your place on the research team for another six months. If you do make it to your destination and get held up, no worries,” Mr. Newcastle said.
No support at all from the museum, he wracked his brains. How could he drum up the money. Sitting in the back of a taxi on his way back to his apartment, he thought about the exotic yarn his grandmother had given him. Her cousin found it in a trunk in a corner of her attic and it was in reasonable shape after almost two hundred years. His grandmother preserved the eight or nine balls of the yarn in a modern air tight container to stop anymore degradation, since her cousin was a descendent of Betsy Ross. In shades of red and blue, Quentin would sell all the fiques on e-bay in an auction. The second he opened the front door of his apartment, he dragged the container holding the yarn out of the closet. Using his digital camera, he made a clear picture of the yarn and later on that night he arranged the auction. Three days later, the bidding ended at eighty thousand dollars and that was more than enough to send him overseas and pay for unforseen expenses. Talking to Ned Wilson, the buyer, on the phone, was difficult. Mr. Wilson was hard of hearing. Steve had to listen to a lot of ehs on the other side of the line. After repeating the correct number of his savings account 884524DSM numerous times, the last wrinkle ironed out after he helped Wilson distinguish the difference between T and D. Spelling out the letter ‘DEE’ and screaming to him on the phone it had to do with the beginning of the word ‘dog’, he then wired the money.
Looking out the living room window, he was surprised by a wee bird, a Tit, perched on the sill outside. Normally a very shy animal, it was brazenly pecking at the window only inches away from his face. That unnatural occurrence was a providential sign to him. In a moment, the bird flew off.
Even with an influx of capital, he remained a careful and thrifty man and Quentin avoided the prime traveling days for his flight to India. The cheapest fare he could find was a red eye to Chennai on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Landing, he rented a car and began the long drive to Jaipur, east of the endless river Indus. What was left of an ancient town called Taxila was unearthed a few years ago lay a few miles from Jaipur. The text he’d found in the museum’s library hinted about a mysterious ‘tablet’ left in the bottom of a well near Taxila, but he has to find the hole first. He wasn’t sure what the text meant by ‘tablet’, but when he finds it in the darkness at the bottom of the well, he knew it would illuminate his way like a ne sign, guiding him straight to the secret tomb.
Driving into Jaipur after two days on the highway, he was exhausted and hungry and he needed to spend the night in town, refreshed and energized to start the search the next day. He needed to eat and a man in a colorful turban was standing across the street selling jowari flat bread from a small stand. Steven parked and walked over to the man and gave him 150 rupees, (about three dollars). The sandwich was rolled up with curried lamb and rice inside and he ate it with delight. Then he checked in to a hotel, sleeping soundly until the morning.
Waking up, he moved the hotel’s mag out of the way on the coffee table, so he could fill his backpack with everything he needed in the upcoming search; a compass, two bottles of water, a clipboard, a pen, a blanket and a head lamp. He drove out of town, passing the old archeological dig of Taxila. He mulled over the historically faulty hints, skewing the real truth about the ‘roc’; a mythological white bird of prey, similar to an albino eagle but nightmarishly oversized, reaching thirty to forty-five feet with the span of it’s wings. Mr. Quentin violently disagreed with the general consensus locking the bird completely into the human imaginative. What he’d read in the museum in Chicago had been written by the Harappan people, who had lived in the Indus valley in the 1300’s. They described a tomb they’d built for a meat eating monster with gigantic wings, ending with a way to find it with the tablet, he thought the short section of ancient text was there to support his claim.
He parked next to the Taxila dig, scanning the desert to the horizon like an islander gazing across the surface of the sea to make out a school of jumping fish for supper. Only a small group of five of six squat trees, four miles to the north-east beckoned to him, so he set a wide brimmed straw hat on his head and arranged the pack on his back. Beginning a slow jog towards the distant greenery, he could see it was a family farm. A barn, a small house and two corrals. A man sat on a bench against the barn, and Steven politely introduced himself.
“Hello. I’m Steven Quentin, an archeologist and I’m hoping you might have seen or heard of a well or a cavern in the area?” Steve inquired, hoping the farm owner spoke English.
“My name is Mohan and I’ll try to guide you . . . Steven. Years ago I was shepherding a herd of musk ox to market in town and one of the stupid things stumbled away and tripped. I had to go out and drag it back to the herd and I saw a tunnel chipped out of the rocky ground. I do not know how deep it went, or if it is something you are trying to find, but it did trip the ox . . . you are out of breath, sir. I invite you to sit down next to me and rest for a moment,” Mohan said.
Sitting on the wooden bench with the farmer, Quentin was even more breathless. He was excited. When Mohan tells him where the tunnel is, he’ll probably find the next clue. Looking through the wooden fence into one of the two corrals, he watched a large male sheep about to tup one of the ewes. All the other animals in the pen; a piebald hen, four lamas, and two sows, were glowing with health. Obviously, Mohan had treated his farm animals humanely . . . but time was wasting and Steve needed directions.
“Maybe you could give me the general direction in which you found the hole?” Steve asked, but before the farmer could answer him, an eight year old girl ran out of the small house. ran up to him and pulled on his tunic. By the imploring expression on her face, he knew she wanted help, but he couldn’t figure what she wanted. He spoke to her in Hindi.
“You must vocalize your wants Anila, I do not know what you need, little one.”
“Bring in the fresh honey for the bread we’re making, right away!” Anila said.
“When I am done talking to this nice traveler, I’ll fetch it for you. Off with you now, flower petal,” Mohan said.
“We’ll wait for you, my Pere,” and the girl skipped away, disappearing back to the house. The farm owner turned back to Steve, answering the question in English.
“It’s about two miles from here. If you keep traveling straight North, you shouldn’t have any problem finding it.” Mohan stood up, and gestured towards a point across the fields.
Three and half hours of tramping around, Steven found the tunnel with a loud sigh of relief. He took off the backpack, opened it up, put the headlamp on and stepped into the depression. The path chiseled out of the rock didn’t go very deep and it abruptly stopped at a wall crowded with hieroglyphics. This part of India was known for very old rock painting, yet he’d never seen anything like it before. It wasn’t completely interchangeable, but it was close enough to Egyptian hieroglyphics. He was able to decipher the complex story. Ignoring the long account of an oda, (a room in a harem) and the illogical appearance of a ba, an allegory of the human soul, he realized he was actually in the outer chamber of the tomb he was trying to find and it appeared the body of the mythological roc might be on the other side of the wall. Reading the very last of the markings of the wall, Quentin understood he had to pull out three blocks of quartz hidden over his head and that would open the door. Carefully running his hands along the surface, he found three knobs, like nipples and he pulled on them in succession. Three foot long blocks of stone moved out of the hard beds they’d been nestled in for almost a thousand years. He ducked. Milky white bricks of quartz thudded to the floor next to his boots. It was a challenging lock on an innovative door, somehow done without the help of modern technology. The shockingly loud sound of stone moved above his head, and Steven Quentin watched the ceiling recede into a slot under the surface of the natural ground outside. Climbing over the ‘dead end’ wall, he was standing in an open gallery with blue sky over his head. He was in the tomb! The Harappan had ceremonially placed the huge skeleton of the roc in a position as if it was in flight. Overwhelmed with shock, exultation, and pride, he started to cry. His perseverance had won the day! One or two tear drops splattered on one of the sandstone tiles under his feet. The accidental moisture washed off the thick layer of dust, and he saw an odd blue color in the tile. Dropping to his knees, he used a rag he had in one of his pockets and cleaned off the entire tile. More hieroglyphics . . .
‘He who speaks out this challenge with a patterned breath of time will be exalting as she sleeps here to rise again and reign over this land as she did before. Circling the earth in valor again, all the waves of life will break the chains of death that hold her here.’
Steven Quentin quickly spoke the Egyptian chant without a pause, already juiced up with adrenalin and the odd pentameter in the heroic verse had him momentarily dazed. Sitting cross-legged in front of the tile, he was trying to understand the reasoning behind placing a blue one in a sand colored floor. Thinking about the urgent message chipped into it, he didn’t hear the soft rustling behind him and he also didn’t hear the faint clicks and scrapes going on twenty feet away. A powerful whoosh of air pressure coming from the movement of a huge wing did get his attention. Leaping to his feet, he turned around and saw what had just been nothing but bones, rise into the air like a phoenix. The roc was reborn and intensely alive! White feathers shimmering, she twisted her head for a second to stare straight into his eyes. The gigantic raptor continued beating her colossal wings while piercing him with a telepathic message, ‘thank-you, for setting me free!’,. She pulled herself higher and higher in the clear air. Quentin scrabbled up the westside wall of the vacated tomb to keep her in his sight. A thousand feet to the west he could see a cow grazing, and he watched the roc dive bomb the zo, impaling the innocent mammal with her sharp claws. Beating her wings in huge sweeps, she easily lifted up the two hundred pounds of Tibetan cattle. She must have been famished coming back to life after centuries of nothingness and she flew out of sight to devour the super sized burger.