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“Hey Edward, guess what? I got another bone for ya!”

Edward Coronado looked up from his work at where Victor Perez stood grinning, holding up a human leg bone. Victor used to need education about respect for ancestors. Now, he just needed to shut up. “Put that thing back, stupid!”

Victor laughed and tossed it aside to his pile of bones, further back where they had already dug the tunnel for the new light rail underground extension. Why did Edward get so mad whenever he found a bone in his dirt and had a little fun with it? Stoo-pid … It was just a bone, right? Not to Edward, though. He always had something to go on about, how it was his ancestor or some story like that.

“Hey, Edward, was that your grandma I just threw back there?” Victor's hyena laugh completed the aggravation.

“Up yours, stupid! You know those are our ancestors! We're indigena , and this is a native burial ground we're boring through! At least show some respect when we come across a grave - these are our brothers and sisters!”

Victor came back, swinging. “There you go again with the Indian crap. Makes me laugh, Edward, makes me laugh. I'm Mexican , Edward, not an Indian! ¿Puro Mexicano, sabes?

¡Puro Mexicano! I told you there's no such thing! We're children of the Mexica and the Spaniards, and more on the Mexica side than the peninsulares .”

“The wha?”

Peninsulares. Spaniards.”

“Oh yeah. Your fancy words again. You know you talk a lot of Español for a guy who doesn't speak Spanish.” Another barb. Neither one of them spoke much Spanish, a sore spot for both in their families and communities. It was a bruise on their consciences, one they would push on from time to time because even though it hurt, it felt good when the endorphins kicked in. It was their common pain, and they would curse themselves and each other with it to remind themselves of who they were not.

Edward took it particularly hard because his family was more recently from South Texas, and he was only two generations away from pure Spanish-speakers in his family. When he was younger, he didn't want to be Mexican, or Spanish, or anything else. He wanted to be just Edward, to be accepted by everyone else. He wanted to blend in and be generically American.

Later, at the Science Magnet, he picked up a love for physics and studied German to prepare himself for a career in that field. But always was the pressure from his mother, his grandfather, his uncles, his little sister, even his last girlfriend to be more Mexican and less trying to be someone else. His family was all Mexican. They all had straight, dark hair, inside and out. They didn't understand why Eduardo had to be a bolillo on the inside when he looked just as Mexican as everyone else on the outside.

After his former girlfriend broke up with him and called him a coconut, he decided it was time he became not just Mexican, but more Mexican than anyone he knew, and he started dropping references to la raza and Aztlan . As he dug deeper into the past, he realized becoming more Mexican like his family wasn't what he really wanted. He didn't want to speak Spanish, the language of the conquering armies and oppressing missionaries. He wanted to speak the Aztec tongue, Nahuatl, if he could. Even better would be to speak like the people that crossed the Bering Straits thousands of years ago. Ultimately, they were his oldest ancestors, the ones he longed to emulate most.

His family just thought he was crazy. Who would want to be an Indian? They lived on reservations and had no money. First he's a white boy, now he's an Aztec or a Comanche or whatever tribe he just read about. Why can't he be Eduardo Coronado, Mexican? No matter where he searched, Edward always looked in places far distant from his family.

Victor didn't care as much as Edward, but he still felt a pang when he made his jab about not speaking much Spanish. His family had come to Dallas right as the Mexican Revolution got underway, and hadn't really emphasized learning Spanish. The patriarch of the Perez family dictated that English was the most important thing to know in order to do proper business and get ahead: to be white, in other words. That emphasis on English got his kids into Adamson High School when most Mexicans either dropped out or got pushed out. The Mexicans didn't really have separate schools in Dallas like the segregated blacks. They either learned how to be white and stayed in school, or dropped out. Not that Victor really knew or cared about all that history. He had dropped out of Sunset High School in the 11th grade and felt like a second-class Hispanic for not knowing as much Spanish as he was expected to.

He didn't search for his past like Edward did. He had enough on his hands trying to figure out who he was now and who he was going to be. Construction work was fine, for now. He just didn't want to be stuck doing it for the rest of his life. He'd seen his friends' fathers come home, tired and sore from sweating a hard day in the Texas heat. The worst off were the roofers. All day long in the direct sun, slowly losing your knees in the positions you had to sit in to put up the new roof. Roofing had to be the worst thing he could do. He had recently made the decision digging up bones had to be the second worst thing he could do, but it was a job, and a job paid money.

If only he could get a job doing something else… That would require a high school diploma, though, and that was something he didn't have at the time. He thought about going back to get his GED, but wouldn't do anything more about that but think.

“Man, Edward, these guys are your ancestors. Don't take it hard if I don't love them as much as you do.”

“Say what you want, Victor, they're still your family as much as mine.”

Now Dewino spoke up. Dewino Curtis didn't speak any Spanish and didn't care. He knew who he was and felt like Spanish had nothing to do with his history. He had his own version of the history of the graves. “How do you two know this wasn't a Freedman's cemetery?”

Victor rolled his eyes and made a leering grin, a little happier, now that he could turn away from the pain he had created. “Ah hell no! Now we got Martin Luther King going!”

“Man, you guys need to learn to mind a man's heritage.” Dewino remained calm. He learned patience from constantly having to explain how to pronounce his name (“… deh-WHY-no, as in 'da wino in da street'…”) and endure the questions of why in the name of all that was good a mother would name her kid Dewino. He didn't know and didn't want to know. He loved his mother even though she had given him a weird name and died of AIDS before he graduated from South Oak Cliff High School. He just lived with her legacy and asked that all his friends call him “D”.

“Why do you think we're using these hand tools instead of the boring equipment? It's because a crew hit bones along this route and the City Council figured we should do right by them and get all the bones buried in a new cemetery. It's just like the other Freedmen's Cemetery they found a while back.”

“Aw, D, I don't care who we're digging up, it's just more hard work for us.” Victor hated the hand tools. He preferred the power equipment used in normal tunneling operations.

“Yeah, but it's steady and the money's good, so I don't care.” Mike Foster spoke up in the hope everyone else would just shut up and get back to working after his comment. There was no chance these bones meant anything to him. He was from Ohio, and had no idea where his family came from before that. It could have been New York, maybe London, maybe Samarkand. He didn't care. He just wanted to work in the quiet.

Victor Perez, therefore, existed as a constant irritant to Mike. D and Edward could carry on quietly about the skeletons so he wouldn't be able to hear them. Victor was just a loud, goofy half-wit, half-not-wit punter. Mike's favorite moments were when the foreman, Booker T. Garvin, stepped into the job site and told Victor to shut up and get back to work.

Mr. Garvin wasn't around, though, so Victor continued resting on his shovel and expounded further on the nature of the bones. “Hey, don't you guys think it's weird we haven't found any heads? What's up with that, huh?”

D shrugged his shoulders and muttered, “Maybe the ground shifted funny or something. I'm no expert on that.”

Edward put forward his expertise. “Maybe that's the way the tribe handled their dead. Decapitation. Do something totally different with the body than what they do with the head. We haven't found any other stuff buried with the bodies, you know. I think they were just tossed to the side, or buried in ground not as sacred as where they put the heads.” This was the kernel of his pet theory about the site.

“You talkin' about that crazy dream again, Edward? Give it up and just admit you were smokin' crack .” The way Victor put it made D and Mike chuckle quietly, even though they didn't want to encourage Victor's jabbering any further.

“This wasn't a trip; I saw it all. Everything. It was at night, on a mound, and -“

Mr. Garvin approached the men and cut the jabbering off. “Edward, keep digging, and Victor, before you say anything else,” he turned, pointed a finger in an accusatory pose, and caught Victor with an open mouth. He paused just long enough so everyone could turn and see the clown caught in the act, and Victor obliged because a clown always enjoys an audience for his act. Garvin smiled and finished the sentence with the obligatory, “Victor, shut up and get back to work.”

“Hey, we're just havin' a little break, Mr. Garvin, we're working hard, you know.”

“I'll bet.” Garvin's rich bass voice boomed nicely in the man-made cave. He liked the kids he had working on the project. Not a one of them was over 23 and he was just into his fifties, so they were like children to him. They didn't feel like his own children, but instead like the children of close neighbors or cousins that you take an interest in raising, anyway, because the community expected it of you.

He was a babysitter, and he knew it. If this were up north, the city would have to use union laborers in greater numbers to do the same work. Down here, the skilled labor was detailed for the real work and the kids could get some experience and not cost as much in the process. He had volunteered to be the overseer of the project. It was dull at times, but was some of the easiest work he ever had to do. Just yell at the kids if they get out of line and make sure the skeletons didn't get jumbled together…

As he sorted through the piles of bones, making sure they were kept neat and orderly for the college professors to identify and tag, he remembered when he was young like these boys and dealt with bones of a different kind.

Back in the early 70's, at the start of his 20-year career in the US Army, Booker T. Garvin served in Vietnam, seeing carnage and man's inhumanity to man just a few feet away from him. Sometimes it was only a few inches away from his face, especially when he ran into a VC in one of those damned underground burrows of theirs.

He shivered. That wasn't a good memory, but it came, anyway. The shouting, followed by the blaze of fire from the guns, the bullet that hit the dirt behind his ear, the bullet that hit the VC in the chest, exploding it in a mire of dark crimson horror.

The thought only lasted a moment. Garvin knew how to get the thoughts, the waking dreams, out of his mind. Either you learned how to put the demons of war behind you or they ate you from within. Once he had the nightmare behind him, he paused to reflect on how lucky these kids had been to not see combat. He hoped they never had to face it.

Like D, he hoped the bones were from a previously unmarked Freedman's Cemetery, such as the one discovered not too long ago when a construction crew turned it up in the course of the Central Expressway expansion. He was proud to be an African-American and loved history: finding a Freedman's Cemetery or something like that would be a great honor to him. He saw himself giving a speech to the local NAACP chapter, showboating his role in restoring the memory of his honored ancestors.

Unlike D, he knew enough of the situation and history of Dallas to know this probably wasn't a Freedman's Cemetery. It was in absolutely the wrong section of town, a part of Oak Cliff somewhere near Westmoreland and Illinois, where no historical concentration of African-Americans ever existed. Were they lynched slaves? Garvin doubted that, too.

Cruel as the white men could be in Dallas, they weren't so ruthless as to behead everyone wrongly put to death. These skeletons, to a one, lacked their heads. Garvin knew such a lack indicated this wasn't likely to be the resting ground of beloved ancestors. He kept the vain little hope alive, though, because it pleased him.

Edward's theories about the place actually sounded the most plausible, but Garvin kept them out of his head and told everyone else to keep them out. He had learned in the jungles the lessons soldiers everywhere learn or die. One lesson taught the value of not imagining things, ever. You only become a nutcase when things get really red, gooey, and nasty and they start fueling your active imagination to drive your brain places you don't want it to go. Keep your mind clear and in a state of disuse, soldier, so your imagination never gets to fire it up and make you crazy.

“Keep digging, guys. Lunch break in about an hour.” His own words and Victor's goldbricking groans put his mind back at ease. He looked around the cavern, making sure everyone was working hard. Edward and D were doing a great job, Victor needed a kick in the rear, and Mike looked like his body was working, but his mind was a million miles away.

Mike hadn't ever done underground construction work before, and he didn't want to do it again, if he could avoid it. The gruesome nature of unearthing bones haunted him constantly in the warm dampness of the cave. He didn't let his mind wander like Edward or D did at times. But when they started talking out loud about their thoughts, it would chill his veins and give him something unpleasant to think about until he caught himself and managed to put it out of his mind.

        He had almost gotten the last bit of Edward-inspired grue out of his head when his pickaxe hit something in the dirt that wasn't a bone. It sounded like rock. Mike chipped away carefully at that section and revealed a sheer face of cut stone. The little bit of grue hung around the back of his brain, just in case it would be needed again after figuring out what the stone was doing there.

“Mr. Garvin, sir? I think I hit something over here.”

Had Mike lost his focus and broken a bone? When he saw how Mike didn't look worried, he figured it must be something interesting.

Garvin ambled over to Mike's spot and looked long and hard at the stone. He didn't know what to make of it, so he told Mike, “Keep uncovering that thing. See how big it is. We're not supposed to have rock down here, but I don't know.” Garvin shook his head as he stepped back so Mike could knock more dirt away from the stone.

As he worked at clearing the face of the monolithic stone, Mike's stomach knotted with anxiety. Seeing the cold, silent face of the stone sent him back to when he was a seven year old child watching his grandfather's coffin go into a mausoleum. When he had seen his grandfather's body at the viewing, Mike thought he was still alive and sleeping - that's what everyone had pretty much said, anyway. When his sleeping grandfather was put into the stone tomb, Mike worried about what would happen when his grandfather woke up.

Mike had nightmares for months after seeing his grandfather interred, all centering around being buried alive because he couldn't wake up. Seeing this much stone up close in the presence of all those skeletons behind him brought those nightmare visions to the front of his mind. He swallowed his fears and worked on as the bitterness churned his body's chemistry in unpleasant ways. He prayed quietly he wouldn't fall asleep, please God don't let me fall asleep. Lunch was a terrific relief from the mental blackout he had gone into as he fought off the hauntings of his sleeping grandfather.

When everyone started on their lunches, they all looked at the area Mike had cleared. It had to be part of some primordial structure. D and Garvin realized this definitely wasn't a Freedmen's Cemetery, and it would be foolish to go on pretending it was. Victor thought it was trippin' and not much else. Edward had some concerns.

“You scratched it up some. You really should be careful with that stone. It looks like part of a building or something and should be kept as well-preserved as possible.”

Mike saw a potential relief to his torture. “Hey, Edward, if you wanna switch jobs, that's fine by me.”

“Sure, man.”

“Great.” Mike turned to Garvin, who nodded approvingly.

“If there's anything of historical significance here,” Garvin said, “it behooves us to do as fine a job of preservation as we can, and I'm sure Edward can do an excellent job in that respect.”

“Aw man, what a load!” Victor made the others laugh with his keen observation.

“Just practicing for the professors,” Garvin said. “They're supposed to be here later today.” He thought some and then said, “You boys know to be on your best behavior, right? No jokes or goofing around or anything else like that. Got it?” He looked directly at Victor as he finished his statement.

“Yes sir,” said Victor. He knew how to act in front of the brass hats and muckety-mucks. Garvin was a good boss and Victor didn't want to screw anything up with him, like he almost did at the start when all the reporters were here. After that experience, Garvin made up some special Victor-only rules.

Victor knew the routine by heart: visitor shows up. Victor shuts up. If anyone asks him to talk, he fakes a sore throat. He doesn't even breathe, if it's a short visit; he can exhale when the guests leave. The plan was simple, flawless, and had stood the test of time.

Everyone else knew the drill, as well, and chuckled quietly as Victor popped a cough drop to add that menthol-scented detail to his brilliant disguise of mild sickness.

Garvin, meanwhile, knew how to do all the talking. Be polite, agree, offer to go the extra mile every now and then. You don't put 20 years into the army without learning how to treat an officer. Make him feel important and he won't have to prove how much of a big shot he is to you or your men. There was a reason the troops of the NCOs who were less personable always seemed to get the worst work details.

About ten minutes after lunch, three figures in suits appeared at the far end of the tunnel. Garvin waved and waited for them to get within polite speaking distance before introducing himself.

“Hello. My name is Booker Garvin. I'm the foreman on this project.”

The tallest professor, a thin man in a bad suit, pushed up his glasses with his left hand and extended his right. “Hello. I'm Dr. Maitland, and this is Dr. Hill-“ a short African-American woman in a smart pantsuit put forward her hand, “-and this is Dr. De Leon.” Garvin shook hands with the professor with the deep tan and straight, jet-black hair.

“You all probably want to be looking at the bones instead of some bonehead, so let me show you to them.”

“How long have you been digging here?” said Dr. Hill.

“Just a few weeks. We've made good progress, considering.”

“These are all the bones you've got so far?” Dr. De Leon pointed to one of the piles.

“No, there's more…” Garvin showed the professors other, smaller piles of bones in other parts of the cavern.

The professors nodded and picked up a few of the bones. Garvin stood by as they mulled over femurs and phalanges. Any time he didn't have to stand at attention was a good time to stand. At the rate he was paid, he could stand all day and enjoy himself thoroughly.

At long last, the question came: “Where are the skull bones?” Dr. Maitland kept shuffling through the pile of bones. The others looked up at Garvin to receive his answer.

“There aren't any.”

“Really?” Dr. Hill said.

“No, ma'am.”

Dr. Hill turned to De Leon. “Mississippian?”

“Possibly. What do you think, Maitland?”

“They could be Mississippian, but we don't have any other artifacts to place them. They certainly are way outside the commonly accepted boundaries of that culture.”

“We also need to place them at a point in time.” Dr. Hill looked around the rest of the cave for a while. She turned back to De Leon and Maitland. “Still, the lack of heads is compelling. Very much like those skeletons in Cahokia.”

“True, but I was thinking,” said De Leon, “there are many, many more headless skeletons here than at Cahokia. And those were inside a major burial mound, near nobles' skeletons. We don't see any nobles here.”

De Leon turned to Garvin. “Were the skeletons arranged in any particular way, or were they all jumbled up?”

“Jumbled, sir. Like they were dumped to the side or in a hole.”

“How could you tell?”

“I served in Vietnam, sir. I saw more than enough bodies like that.”

De Leon nodded. He scratched his nose and looked down at the silent bones.

“I think we can all agree there was some sort of religious significance,” Maitland said, “There's bound to be a structure or some such thing like that nearby. Keep your eyes peeled for anything that looks like wood or pottery.”

“What about stone?” Garvin motioned towards Edward's area.

“Stone? Really?”

“Right there, sir.”

Maitland strode over to Edward's spot. Edward moved aside, making room for the other two professors.

“Thank you.” Maitland didn't let the excitement of the moment get in the way of politeness. He ran his fingers over the ancient stone, his mouth agape.

“It's a building, all right. Mr. Garvin, you have an excellent find, here.”

“Thank you, sir. Should we be doing anything special? Different?”

“No… you're doing fine, fine.” Maitland kept looking at the stone wall.

“Are you going to send down a team from your university?” Edward said.

“No, not right now,” De Leon said, “Budget. And scheduling. It's the end of the term and we're out of money. Everyone's already slated to go to Yucatan or Italy. Can't staff a team on this dig right now, but we can send over a specialist when you have more of this stone structure exposed. You guys are doing fine, for now, and we should have something put together by the fall term.”

“Oh.” Edward had hoped for a team of archaeologists to be down there with him through the whole dig. They wouldn't keep insisting these were all Freedmen or slaves and he could get down to a real discussion of early Americans. He had college himself in the fall, and wouldn't be here if a dig was still going on.

Still, he had a few professors right now, and he could make the most of it. “I heard you say these things might be Cahokian. How could that be?”

“They're missing the heads, like a few skeletons found in a mound in Cahokia. They could very well be a separate culture that had representatives or influence at Cahokia.” De Leon enjoyed talking shop with the younger generation, especially a fine young Latino like this guy with the shovel. “We just don't want to be sensational and come right out and say we found some kind of lost civilization. If it's plausible it could be an outpost of another culture, we try to fit it in that way. If it doesn't fit, then we consider the alternatives.”

“But this is so far away from their center.”

“And there are Roman settlements deep in the Sahara where they irrigated the desert: we can always be wrong about our assessment of a culture's reach.”

“I see. You said the heads missing had something to do with their religion?”

“Probably. Why else would you remove a head so near a stone structure? They could have been bloodthirsty thugs with a sadistic streak, but I'd like to give them the benefit of a doubt.”

Victor leaned on his shovel. This was getting interesting. If these were prehistoric gangstas they were digging up, that would be so cool.

Garvin noticed Victor taking another unauthorized break and stepped quietly over to his area. He hadn't taken but five steps before Victor made his begging puppy-dog face. He mouthed what looked to be “please” and “mister” and “aw, come on”, but it was hard to tell, what with all the other contortions he put his face through to convey his deep desire to not work right now.

         Garvin said nothing. He pursed his lips and opened his eyes wide to reveal the anger rising within. He wasn't really angry, and Victor knew it. He just had to look angry to get the process set in motion to get Victor back to work. One more gesture would do it. In time, he would make that gesture.

Victor got ready. He knew what was coming, and wanted to meet it head-on. He gripped his shovel and took a breath.

Garvin pointed back at the dirt in Victor's area and tipped his head slightly to the right. That put an end to Victor's prehistoric gangsta vacation. As he had done a thousand times before, Victor lifted his shovel and started moving dirt again.

Edward chuckled quietly at the end of the drama.

“I'm sorry?” De Leon was sure he hadn't said anything funny about Mississippian culture religious practices.

“Oh, nothing, sorry… just a stray thought, that's all.” Victor was a stray thought incarnate, so Edward wasn't really lying. “Why would these people have been Cahokian if we don't have any of their mounds?”

“That's a good question. I don't know. This might have been an underground construct, like a Hopi kiva.”

“But all this stone? I don't think it could be underground.”

“People did strange things with stone back in the day… don't be surprised if they dragged it countless miles to stuff into the ground.”

Edward nodded. This could have been underground, but he was pretty sure it wasn't at the time it was used. These professors didn't know exactly what they were dealing with yet, so they really couldn't explain who these people were and why all these headless skeletons were in this area.

Maitland and company wrapped up their inspection and took a few bone samples for some tests and made their exit. When they had disappeared down the tunnel, everyone could talk again.

Victor was the first to exercise his freedom of speech. “Mr. Garvin! Why did Edward get to talk to them and I had to keep working?”

“Edward was getting background information so he could appreciate his work all the better.”

“But I wasn't gonna say nothing!”

“You wasn't gonna work nothing, either, which is why I got after you.”

“That ain't right, mister.”

“It doesn't have to be right. Now shut up, Victor-“ Garvin raised his hand to motion a stop. Victor froze, mouth loaded with words, ready to fire. “-and get back to work.” Victor put the safety back on and saved shooting his mouth off for later.

A few seconds later, Victor tried another angle. “Did you see that one guy's rug?” He kept digging slowly. He had to remember the appearance of work was paramount, often more important than the work itself.

“Yeah, that guy wasn't fooling anybody.” Garvin approved. It's all right to talk and work at the same time, so long as you at least look like you're working. He was supervising, so he just had to look like he was thinking hard.

“Did you get a load of his suit? I thought stuff like that went out 20 years ago.” Mike was glad to join in. Stuff like this kept his mind from going to its dark, bitter corners.

“I believe it was out of style even then,” said Garvin.

“Was it ever in style?” said D. “You ought to know, Mr. G… you used to live with the dinosaurs, right?”

“Don't you forget it, either! I had to walk my Brontosaurus every morning. Five miles in the snow, uphill… both ways!” Garvin got a nice chorus from Mike, D, and Victor on the last two words. “Couldn't ever ride it on account it had a bad back.”

“Got a bad back because your fat old momma rode it,” said D. Good one.

“She shoulda been picking on someone her own size.” Et tu, Mike?

“Like your momma?” said Victor.

“Aw, forget you! You were so ugly as a baby, your mom had to hang meat around your neck so the dogs would play with you.”

“Yeah, well at least my mom didn't have to shave my butt and make me walk backwards into church so I'd look presentable.”

And so the conversation degenerated into slams so old, they were older than the crusts on their grandmothers' underwear. It didn't matter who said what to who, it just helped the time pass by. The only one who remained serious was Edward.

Edward's mind wandered into visions of tombs, as Mike's had done, but Edward felt much more at home in them. He saw tall, proud men climbing a hill at night, much as he had seen in his dreams. The men went to the top of the earthen mound and entered a great stone building. The building glowed strangely from within, the light suffusing through the walls of the structure. When the men entered the place, there would be a period of silence followed by a soul-shattering scream, then more silence. All but one of the men would then emerge, silently and solemnly, but with expressions of inner wisdom and peace on their faces.

Edward longed to see the insides of that place in his dreams, to see why there was a scream and why all but one returned, peaceful and calm. In one dream, the faces turned to him and acknowledged him before they turned and continued their silent way. It was the happiest dream Edward ever had.

As he cleaned and thought of his dreams, Edward felt a sense of familial ancestry about the stone he was uncovering. These are my people. This is what my ancestors made, long ago, before the Spaniards, before even they left Aztlan. He knew without any logical reason and beyond any doubt his ancestors were responsible for the place. He studied one spot of the bare stone and noticed a bit of dirt still clinging to it. Gently, he reached up and flaked it off with his thumbnail.

        Towards the end of the day, Edward unearthed a rounded, chiseled corner a foot to the left of where Mike originally struck the stone. Edward called Garvin over to take a look.

“That's a corner, all right. Huh.” Garvin didn't know what to make of it. He scratched his head, then rubbed the corner with his thumb. It had obviously been cut out of a quarry, and then worn down with use. “Must have been a door or something.”

Edward was a little puzzled. “You think? How did it open?”

“It's worn on the edge, like people were holding on it. Could have been on hinges or maybe opened from the top or bottom with a counter-weight system. We'll know more when we see the whole outline.” If it was a building and not just a bunch of stones stacked in the dirt, it would be really big, bigger than the boneyard recovery the other guys were doing. He looked over the others to see who would be a good candidate for helping Edward finish the task off. He didn't look long: Mike wouldn't step any nearer the stone than he had to and Victor was a first-class goof-off. “D, you help Edward on this door thing tomorrow, hear?”

“Yessir, Mr. Garvin.” D didn't mind helping Edward. In fact, now he was curious about what lay behind the door. When it was just a rock, it wasn't much of anything to him. Now that it potentially had another side, it had a mystery he found irresistible.

Edward was positively enraptured. He wasn't just unearthing a door to some long-buried structure. He was opening a door to his heritage.

It took two days to get all the dirt cleared from in front of the door. It was 6 feet wide and 9 feet tall - a huge slab of rock, by any measure. Edward and D had to finish off the top edges while perched precariously on the top of step ladders in flagrant violations of workplace safety regulations. Garvin didn't care. Those two young men had good heads on their shoulders and wouldn't do anything goofy like what Victor could do if you turned your back on him for more than half an hour. Garvin glanced over at Victor as his thoughts wandered his way. Victor was just finishing a “break” and got back to work as soon as Garvin shot him a mean, one-eyed glare. Garvin smiled when Victor got back to work and then looked at what Edward and D had uncovered.

“Nice rock you boys uncovered. As perfect a rectangle as anything that size has a right to be. Unbelievable.”

D said, “The top edge goes under the wall, here, and -“

“And there's the right kind of bevel down here, so this thing must swing up with counterweights.” Garvin was proud of his powers of deductive reasoning. “The wear on the sides is probably from folks forcing it back down into place.”

D had more news. “But that ain't the get-all. The wall up here: it's glass, Mr. Garvin.”

Garvin furrowed his brow and cocked his head back in a sudden, snapping motion. He puckered his mouth and squinted.

“It's true, Mr.” Edward pointed to the thin strip of the upper wall they had revealed.

“Let me get up there and see.” Garvin motioned for Edward to step down. Edward got off his step ladder and Garvin mounted it carefully.

“Don't fall and split your head open, big guy!” Just hearing Victor made Garvin wobble a bit at the top.

Garvin didn't bother turning around to yell at Victor. “You just keep breathing, pal. Keep breathing. You'll be where I am some day. Old and fat.”

Victor tried again. “Yeah, but I won't be as fat as you.”

Garvin steadied himself and half-turned his head. “I've seen you drink beer, Victor. You'll be twice as fat as me because you don't work out.”

“What do you think this is I'm doing here?”

“You're working now, but when you get a sitting job, you don't have enough get up and go to get up and go work yourself out.”

“So why are you so out of shape?” Victor had absolutely no innocence whatsoever in his hyena voice.

“I'm big boned and I can kick your butt so shut up and get back to work before I show you what I learned in the army, Victor!” Garvin's bearish command did the trick and Victor was yes-sirring himself back onto Garvin's good side.

Garvin shook his head and grinned. That boy was sure a handful, but he was all right. He looked at the top wall and made that funny look on his face again in disbelief. “That stuff is glass . You fellas weren't lying.”

D nodded and looked at the glass. It wasn't polished or very clear, but more like a translucent candleholder that gave off a smoky light through its sides when its candle was lit. Nobody had any idea how it got to be there.

Garvin decided to experiment. “Gimme a pick.” Everyone looked at him funny. Had everyone gone deaf? “Give me a pick!” Edward handed him one. Garvin took a hard swing at the glass and nearly fell off his step ladder when the pick struck the glass. Victor brayed out loud and Mike chuckled nervously. D held on to the stone for balance and Edward jumped back so as to be out of the pick's swing distance.

Once Garvin had recovered from his near-embarrassing fall, he looked at the glass where he had chipped it. Only a few small flecks came off of it. The rest of the glass looked fine, with no shatter marks other than the few around where Garvin had struck it. Garvin couldn't stop shaking his head and making his funny face. “How in the…” he just shook his head as his sentence trailed off. “We're getting a geologist in here tomorrow. This is weird. We ain't digging through this stuff, I promise you that .”

Garvin stepped off the ladder and motioned D down. “In fact, we're quitting today right now. Everybody go on home and I'll see you here tomorrow.”

“We still get a full day's pay?”

“For today? Yes you do, Victor. Or maybe everyone but you…”

The others laughed at Garvin's joke and Victor's initial serious reaction. When Victor saw Garvin crack a smile, he realized the joke was on and appreciated it, even if it was on him. “Aw, you're just playin', Mr. Garvin! I hear ya, though. I'll be here tomorrow so I can torture you some more!”

They all walked out laughing as Garvin got on the phone to Dr. Maitland to see about getting a university geologist to come by tomorrow.

“Vitrified rock.” The geologist's assessment of the glass was as rapid as it was decisive.

“What the hell is that?” Garvin and the geologist were on top of step ladders, looking at the glass-like substance above the doorway.

“Rock that got so hot, it turned to glass. Common in industry, not very common at all in ancient cultures.” The geologist began to climb down.

Garvin got down as well. “So what are you saying?”

“You've got something here no other culture in America ever produced, at least from what we know about them today. Hardly anybody could get a bunch of vitrified rock like this.”

“So who did?”

“Celtic peoples, mostly. There's a really good example of an entire fort that got vitrified up in Scotland.”

“So how did those Scottish people get down here, Mr., uh…”

“Krenytsky. Would you believe there's two of us in the phone book? Call me Rob if it's easier for you.”

“OK, Rob , how did whoever did this get here? What are we dealing with?”

“Only one way to tell. Find out for ourselves.”

Garvin furrowed his brow and cocked his head.

“We just go in there,” Rob pointed at the stone door, “and step into our 15 minutes of fame.”

Victor spoke, giving the lie to his ersatz sore throat. “You mean we'd be on TV if we go in there?”

Mike's face looked pale. “I am not going in there.”

D and Edward looked back and forth between Garvin and Mr. Krenytsky for some kind of response.

Rob spoke up. “TV? Sure, pal. We just open it up and in we go. We just have to get there today, before anyone else finds out and tries to take credit for himself. Maitland would jump in here in a second and kick all you guys out without a second thought. My way, you get your faces on your front page. Who knows? Maybe it could open some doors for you?”

Edward had a puzzled look on his face. “We just walk on in there, like that, and claim credit for discovering this site?”

Rob nodded.

“We find out if it was native or Scottish or whatever?”

“Sure thing, big guy.” Rob smiled eagerly. He never had anything like this before and felt like a kid in a candy store. It wasn't every day a graduate student like him got to shine brighter than a tenured professor.

“Wow. Is it safe to go in, though?” Edward turned to Garvin for an answer.

“Well, uh…” Garvin thought for a while. “We should open it first and let it ventilate, in case the air in there's no good… assuming the door still works and can swing up and clear… sure, let's get it on!” With that, the six men began tugging at the base of the stone portal to swing it up.

After several strong heaves, the door began to give a little. Two more strong pulls and it swung up beautifully, striking the ceiling of the cavern with great force, knocking prodigious amounts of black Dallas dirt on the triumphant celebrants below. The door settled back down, leaving an opening several feet high.

The men were bowled over by the thick smoky vapors issuing forth from the mouth of the cave. The fumes were unbreathable and forced the men to a recess of the cave where they could catch their breaths.

They watched in awe as the smokes curled upward to perch in the high areas of the cavern, brushing and caressing the walls with their ethereal fingers that curled around invisible eddies and currents in the subterranean atmosphere. Perhaps an hour or so later, the smokes had clambered upward to stay and sallied no more from the breach. A thick, brooding blackness invited the men inward to explore the secrets it had kept for untold thousands of years.

The men instinctively hung low as they gathered their shovels, flashlights, and oxygen canisters for their trip beyond the stone door. Garvin had each person fit on a face mask under his hard hat except for Mike, who refused to go in. Garvin didn't force the guy into the newly opened cave, although Victor teased Mike about it mercilessly until the others shut him up.

Just before they entered the cave, Edward called their attention to a detail he just noticed. “Hey, wait… the smoke is all wrong.”

Now what? Garvin was ready to get the show on the road. “The smoke? ” He looked upward, then back at Edward. “The smoke is fine. What are you talking about?”

“Well, sir, smoke only rises when it's hotter than the air around it.”

“So? You -“ Garvin's light bulb turned on. “You're saying that smoke up there shouldn't be hot, huh?”

“Yessir. That's it. All that stuff should have settled when it cooled.” Edward was scientifically earnest. “And look at it -- it's still moving.”

The men looked up at the smoke at the top of the cavern. It moved about in a groping, tentative way. The cloud was more a tenebrous thing than a collection of gaseous wisps. Now that Edward had mentioned it, it looked like no smoke any of them had ever seen. After a while, it began to dissipate along the roof of the cavern.

As it broke up, Garvin spoke his mind to calm his nerves. “There's a perfectly rational explanation for this. Something caused it to act like that, and I'm sure it's nothing we can't figure out. As long as we got these things on,” he tugged at his oxygen mask, “we got nothing to worry about.”

Victor was awestruck. “Suppose it's magical, huh, mister? Suppose there's zombies and mummies and stuff down there controlling it?” He fumbled randomly with his equipment.

Garvin shook his head. “No way, Victor. If there's folk buried in there, they were worm food ten times over before we came along. There ain't no mummies or stuff down there.”

Victor wouldn't let go of his fears so easily. “Well, I still think it could be like that mummy movie with Billy Zane in it and all, where it like started getting wicked on all those people.”

Garvin furrowed his brow. “What mummy movie are you talking about?”

“The one where Billy Zane played the mummy and it had that guy that was in 'George of the Jungle' in it, too.”

“Huh? You mean that Brendan what's his name? That mummy movie?”


Garvin and the others (except Mike) laughed. “Man, there wasn't any Billy Zane in that movie!”

“Uh-huh! He played the mummy! He was bad, man!”

“No way was that Billy Zane. I know it wasn't him.”

“Betcha a hundred dollars it was, mister.” Victor was extremely sure of himself. “I got it on video and we can watch the credits.”

Garvin was never so sure of himself as he was when he accepted the bet with Victor. “You're on, Victor.”

D spoke up. “I'd like a piece of that, too.”

Victor grinned deliriously. “You see, mister! You're wrong! You're gonna pay double!”

“No way! I'm with Mr. Garvin, here. He's sure enough right more often than you are. I got another hundred that says it ain't Billy Zane in that mummy get-up.”

Victor cackled. “You punks are gonna buy me a new pair of boots!” He shook D's hand and sealed the bet. He turned to Edward. “You wanna buy me a hat?”

Edward was dividing his attention between the dissipating smoke and the black breach and had completely zoned out. He did not respond.

Everyone else, though, was relieved at this lighter turn of conversation. They laughed to mask the creeping fears welling up in their hearts, the fears that came from places they knew little or nothing about.

To get things moving again, Garvin changed the subject slightly. “Victor, the only things lethal in that mummy movie were the special effects. And if that,” he pointed at the almost-gone smoke, “is an example of the special effects we're about to be treated to, then we're gonna be pretty safe.”

“You think so, mister?”

“Damn skippy.” Garvin bulged his eyes at Victor and smiled like a first sergeant on the eve of battle.

Victor smiled and knocked fists with Garvin.

Rob tapped his watch. “Come on, now. We only got to the end of the day to make our discovery. You guys coming?”

Everyone except Mike agreed and followed Rob into the cavern, creeping under the low opening the stone door afforded them. Mike hung back, refusing to go into the cavern, wishing he was back at home, above the ground, surrounded by wallpapered drywall and hollow plywood doors. This place was putting him into a stress worse than when he saw his grandfather buried because he not only had to endure the sight of the ground swallowing up more people, but he also had to re-live the childhood traumas he dreaded so much.

Mike gasped for air and looked nervously about as Dewino, the last in line, vanished in the darkness of the cavern. Although not a religious man by nature, he began to pray the way a child prays when a wasp hovers over his head.

Inside the dark cave, Garvin asked Rob, “Just a quick hit, right? In and out after we take pictures?”

“Come on, Garvin,” Rob said, “where's your sense of adventure?”

“It's still in the Vietnam jungle where I left it.” Garvin dug in his heels. “We're not going too far. I'm not risking lives in a hazardous situation.”

“This place has stood fine for the last several thousand years. I hardly think it's going to collapse on us because we're the first humans to set foot in it since Columbus or earlier.”

“Never mind that. It's the air holding out that concerns me.”

“We got eight hours on these babies. You guys will be home and in bed before your eight hours are up.”

“I'll make sure of that, Rob. I intend to keep breathing so I can see another sunrise, and I think these guys here have similar plans.”

Victor's “yeah” strengthened Garvin's position just enough to get Rob to relent. “OK, Garvin, in and out. We look this place over from right where we are and we won't go down any side passages.”

“Cool.” D sounded relieved.

“And I'll take personal responsibility for anything that goes wrong. If someone's in trouble, I'll see to it he gets back alive.”

“Strong words,” Garvin said, “Hope you can back them up with actions.”

“What do you mean?”

“Only I've seen butter-bars like you talk a good game and fall apart when the enemy started a live-fire exercise.”

“Hey, I've pulled people out of cave-ins, pal, I've been up to the task before. I know the responsibilities of leadership.” Rob fought the urge to start pointing at Garvin's face.

Garvin looked aside and nodded.

Rob leaned to get into Garvin's field of vision. “Hey, what is it with you? You don't know me, but I will back up every word I say.”

This wasn't worth a fight in Garvin's opinion. “No big deal. I've got nothing against you. I just hope nobody has an opportunity to prove those strong words of yours.”

“OK, no big deal. Let's take a look around, now.” Neither man had really resolved the conflict, but none wanted to pursue it any further.

The flashlights reflected strangely off the primitive glass-stone walls. Scorch marks were evident in a number of places and the floor was covered in ashes. The place had housed an infernally hot flame at one time.

The cave itself was roughly eight feet high and covered a circular area twenty feet in diameter. Along the far edge of the cave, three rectangular openings indicated secrets darker still lay within the recesses of the man-made cavern. Rob and Edward cast tentative flashlight beams down their rough corridors.

“Hey, you two. Don't be going in there.” Garvin wasn't about to go down another VC tunnel, even if ancient Americans dug it. He grunted approvingly when they turned their attentions to some strange glyphs on the wall near the main door.

“What was that?” The hairs on the back of Garvin's neck stood to attention. It happened again. The ground lurched.

Garvin heard the patter of a few clods of rock falling to the floor of the tunnel outside. His reflexes took over as he dashed down and under the stone door to check the state of the tunnel and the man he left behind in it.

Mike was standing up against the far side of the cave. The cavern roof was giving way. Garvin shouted out to Mike, “Get under here, now! That's an order!”

Mike shook his head. Garvin couldn't see him that well and the increasing fallout from the cavern roof made it all the harder with every passing fraction of a second.

“Get in, NOW! That's an order, soldier!”

Mike tried to back away into the wall and looked up at the liquid ceiling. The general cave-in that had been threatening started to become a reality.

Garvin dove back in under the door. The place they were in had stood a long time and would stand a longer time to come. Once he was inside, he cursed Mike for being so scared and hoped to whatever God there could possibly be that he was somehow all right.

And then the collapse was over. A solid mass of dirt blocked the entranceway. The stone door remained open, mocking everyone inside with its false promise of egress. All the flashlights shone on the blocked exit. The light failed to penetrate, let alone move, the earth.

“Where's Mike?” D had to ask, even though it was obvious he wasn't anywhere they could see. “Did… did he get away OK?”

“I hope the boy's all right.” Garvin's voice tripped over the lump of fear in his throat.


“Why don't we all say a prayer for him?” D said.

“What good is that going to do?” Garvin felt like hitting D. Why couldn't he just stay quiet at a time like this?

Rob asked Garvin, “What good is it going to do? What do you mean?”

“I mean, it's not going to do any good and probably give us a false sense of hope. Let's just try to focus and deal with reality.”

“You don't believe in God?”

“No. I don't. No heaven, no hell, when you die, you're worm food and that's that. I hope Mike ain't dead, but there's nothing we can do about it if he is. We got a cave-in just outside our door and no way of contacting the surface.”

“Use your cell phone, mister,” Edward said.

“I wish I could, but it's on a workbench back out there.”

Rob pulled one off his belt clip. “Well I have mine. I'll use it after those of us that choose to offer a prayer on behalf of that poor guy out there finish it.”

“Whatever gets you through the night, man. Just pray short and get on that phone pronto.” Why this Rob guy had to be so high and mighty, Garvin didn't know.

Rob and D each offered a brief, quiet prayer. Rob had started to dial 911 when Garvin's pager went off. The number on the pager was his own cell phone. He tapped the number in the display as he showed it to Rob. “Hey, man, call this number! It's my cell phone!”

Rob dialed it. Mike answered. “Hey… are you guys all right in there?”

“Yeah, we're all fine. We were worried most about you, buddy. Thank God you're all right.” Rob managed a weak smile.

“Oh, jeez, I wish I wasn't down here. I can't see anything. It's totally dark here and I don't have a flashlight.”

“Don't move around, Mike. If you can't see, stay where you are so you don't accidentally trigger another collapse.”

“This can happen again? Oh, man…”

“Stay calm, Mike. Stay calm. You'll be all right.” Rob had to try and cheer him up. “Hey, look on the bright side… you're the one who the rescue team will reach first. It's all ri-“

A silence came across everyone when they realized it wasn't Mike that was the one who was buried alive.

“Aw, jeez, man…” Mike started crying on the phone.

“Stay calm, Mike, none of us are hurt. We can last until the rescue gets here. Don't worry. Let's both call 911 so they can work at getting us out of here. We both need to contact the outside so they know we're OK. OK?”

“OK… I'll call 911…” Rob didn't believe Mike had fully recovered from the sound of his voice, but he sounded better than before.

“We'll get through this, buddy. We'll be all right. I'm calling 911, too. OK? I'll see ya, man.”

“OK, see ya.”

Rob hung up. Everyone stared about in a daze.

D tried to be positive. “At least the prayer for Mike worked.”

Garvin spoke. “You should have been praying for us, if anything was going to work from it. All we got now is just more proof there ain't no God.”

“Hey! Lay off the guy, Garvin! He's got a belief and he's free to express it.” Rob shone his light straight in Garvin's face.

“Get that outta my eyes now.”

“Sorry, sorry.” Rob pointed the light downward. “I didn't mean to, honestly.”

“I'll bet. You're a fine, upstanding citizen, Rob, I'm sure you didn't mean anything.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“And I'm sure you really are sorry. Now if you can quit this foolishness, please get quiet so I can think.”

“I'll get quiet, but this is not any sort of foolishness. I believe-“

“You believe nothing, as far as I'm concerned, now-“

Edward cried out. Everyone's flashlight beams fell on him. He stood, pointing down the leftmost of the three openings that led deeper into the blackness of the structure.

By the time everyone turned their lights down the passage, there was nothing to see but smoky blackness.

“What was it?” asked Victor.

“A light. I swear I saw a light.”

Garvin studied the swirling dust in the passage. The corridor had been clear before the cave-in, so where did it all come from? Maybe it was more of the weird gas that came out when the place was opened: maybe it had been trapped somewhere and the tremor shook it free. It moved in that almost-random way everyone found so disconcerting and Garvin was positive no one here was going to mess with it. “I don't like the looks of this. Light or not, there is definite danger in that stuff. I do not want to breathe it. Everyone got their masks on good and tight?”

Instead of saying, “no”, Victor adjusted his mask and got his oxygen running. Garvin shook his head and was glad he had a presence of mind to ask before someone got asphyxiated.

“OK, all we can do now is wait. ” Garvin's manner-of-fact demeanor went a long way towards soothing the nerves of his fellow prisoners. He wished secretly that someone would soothe his nerves, somehow. He was afraid the drilling equipment wouldn't get to them before the oxygen ran out. He looked over to Rob. “Hey, Rob, call 911 and let them know our status.”

Rob didn't like taking orders like that, but dialed the number, anyway. Nothing happened when he dialed, though. “Can't get through… something's wrong with my phone.” He tried dialing another number, and another, all with the same result. “Nothing!” He was starting to panic a little.

Garvin reached over and took the phone from Rob. Rob looked on, scowling a little, as Garvin got the same results.

“The phone's broken.” Garvin's voice carried the smallest hint of fear.

“No? Do you think so?” Rob grabbed his phone back. “Any more brilliant observations, chief?”

Garvin saw this coming, though, and was prepared. Scared men get combative. Fight or flight, and we sure ain't got any wings on… “Save it, Rob. We can kill each other later, once we get out of here.” For the second time, they both just let it go.

Garvin looked all around for any opening that wasn't choked with swirling vapors, dirt, or pitch darkness. Nothing of the sort presented itself. The roof, walls, and floor were intact after the tremor. No use hiding the truth, he figured. “Looks like we're going to have to wait it out.”

“At least Mike's calling 911.”


“Think we'll have enough time on this equipment?”

Garvin wasn't optimistic. “We've got to preserve oxygen. No sudden moves, getting excited, or anything like that permitted. We should just sit down, get as comfortable as possible, and maybe sleep until they get through to us. Shouldn't be long, anyway, but we got to stay on the safe side.” He wasn't sure of the part about it not being long, but knew it needed to be said.

“Sleep? Here? ” Victor expressed his reservations with that plan in no uncertain terms. “You gotta be kidding, Mister!”

“I'm not kidding, Victor. I'm d-“, Garvin caught himself before the -ead came out, “-amn serious about it. We preserve oxygen that way and we'll know when the equipment gets through to us. Besides, it's dark, anyway. You wanna play dominoes instead?”

“Yeah, man. Much better than sleeping.”

“Well, I don't have a set handy, let alone one that glows in the dark, so it looks like it's nap time.” Victor was enjoying the argument too much and Garvin decided to try a different angle to get him calmed down for the long hours ahead. “That is, unless you're frightened and need someone big and strong to hold your hand…”

Everyone got a good laugh out of that one, even Victor. “Fuh-GET you, man!” Victor pretended to stretch and yawn. “I'm not afraid of the dark, but if you need someone by your side, bug someone else. I'm going to sleep and I don't cuddle up with anyone else but my girlfriend.”

“Your girlfriend get all her shots?”

“Ahhh, shaddup D! Like you got a girl!”

“I'd rather have no girl than one desperate enough to be with you!”

“All right, all right. Get quiet, you guys.”Garvin got them quieted down and settled for a rest. Rob sat where he could study the writings on the walls and take notes on them. When Garvin made the last call for lights out, though, he followed orders willingly. He knew just how dangerous their situation was and the need to conserve the breathable air. He also knew if they were asleep, there would be no panicked, choking end when the air ran out: death would steal them away silently and mercifully.

Garvin did all he could to fight back the demons from Vietnam that kept trying to haunt him. He diverted his fears to thoughts of how much Rob reminded him of his very first observation of a butter-bar First Lieutenant in a combat situation. He chuckled as he remembered how the guy tried to crawl into his helmet and die there. The guy didn't last long, though. He got flown home on a stretcher after losing a leg to an AP mine.

Victor tried to think about his girlfriend, but his mind kept going back to the skeletons and how they didn't have any heads at all. He kept wondering when they were ever going to find the skulls and what would happen when they finally turned up. He wasn't really afraid, just morbidly curious.

Dewino just counted down from 10,000. He always did that when he knew he would have trouble sleeping, and the total darkness had his mind going a thousand miles an hour. After getting to 9800, he couldn't take it anymore and turned on a small flashlight and pointed it at the rock just beyond the stone door. Nobody complained about it, and was glad someone had turned on a night-light. Dewino glanced at the strangely-curling smoke before closing his eyes again and wished that he hadn't seen that smoke as he started counting down over again at 10,000.

Edward was the most peaceful of them all as he wondered what it must have been like to live in this land long ago. He imagined what the tribe that built this place must have been like, and fancied it was peopled with characters from his dreams.

Outside in the dusty aftermath of the cave-in, Mike had finally given up on making the cell phone work again and hoped someone would get worried and come looking for them when they didn't emerge from the cave at five o' clock. It wasn't dark where he was. It was void, formless, groping, trying to possess him. He tried to light up a cigarette. He got out his lighter and flicked out a flame. Fingers or whatever pinched the fire out. He dropped the lighter and preferred the terrors he could imagine to the ones he could see. He didn't count on his other senses, though, and screamed as he felt something move into his shirt.

One by one, the men in the stone enclosure settled down and dropped off to sleep in the deep darkness of the vitrified chamber. Everyone was asleep before D's light flickered as smoky arms scudded through its dimming beam. Some dreamed strange and disturbing things, some did not dream at all. Edward was one that did not dream. He had a vision.

He saw, suspended and glowing in the blackness, the stern visages of the eyes that watched from the billowing smoke. These were faces of the people from his dreams, but not all were ones he had seen before. He looked deep into their eyes and learned what they had to teach him. The eyes spoke a language he never before so much as dreamt of, but spoke that language with clarity and authority so Edward understood every nuance, every detail.

They spoke of great mounds, terrible sacrifices accompanied by wild dancing and ululations into the night. They spoke of sacred secrets their grandchildren had abandoned. They spoke of rituals, chants, and motions for the preservation of certain things in this world for time far beyond their mundane allotment. They spoke of ancient power, sacred and terrible, holy and nightmarish. They spoke of a desire to see their children again, to bring them back to the ancestral secrets and glories. Their words were vivid and bold, kindling the fires of enlightenment in Edward's mind.

He saw himself, standing before a great mound with a tunnel carved in its side, descending into a great underground stone chamber with three further paths to follow, paths for the initiates. He saw himself walking in the darkness to the first chamber, taking every step with joy, for every step brought him closer to freedom and joy. He saw himself, naked on an altar, surrounded by scorching flames, a priest's knife hovering tantalizingly over his neck, threatening the freedom it was about to unleash on its welcoming victim.

The visages commanded him to rise and open his eyes, but remain silent. Edward obeyed.

When he opened his eyes, he saw the material avatars of those visages: ten jawless skulls in the air in front of him. In unison, the skulls turned toward the passage on the left and began to move into it. Edward followed and began to remove his mask, clothing, and boots. He knew what would happen next and no longer felt a need for things of the world above. He was returning home to his people. The smoke parted to let him enter, then closed behind him. Edward now understood his dreams and smiled with the inner peace that belonged to the men who exited the glowing stone building on top of the great earthen mound.

Victor sprang awake in a cold sweat. Rising suddenly, he staggered with dizziness for a moment, recovered his balance, and looked madly about for the source of the scream that shook him out of his dreamless sleep. Dewino's light had gone out and the place was full of cold, damp blackness. He was completely disoriented in the darkness and fumbled desperately for a source of light.

When he finally got his flashlight on, his blood pressure had reached the point where his vision was colored red and the pounding, slamming beats reverberated in his eardrums. Spinning furiously, his beam shot all around the cavern like a maddened, angry bolt of lightning, disturbing the silence of centuries with its rude photons.

And then he settled his attentions on the leftmost passage and saw the footprints, the barefoot tracks, at its opening. The terror mounted in his mind as he followed them back to the pile of clothes Edward had worn. He tried to let the others know what he had found, but the scream stalled in the back of his throat. All he could let out was a choking gurgle.

The others started to move and stir, but Victor did not wait for them to get up. He charged at the left passage to save his friend Edward. Just before he entered, though, he froze. A voice spoke to his mind just then.

In the smallest fraction of a moment, Victor heard all he needed to hear, and even began to see a little. He stood flabbergasted and slack-jawed at the entrance as the others got up and wondered what all the commotion was about.

“Victor, what in the hell has got you all upset?” Garvin's voice sounded strange and muffled through the mask.

Victor didn't answer.


Still no reply.

D went up next to Victor and snapped his fingers in front of the dazed man.

Victor remained calm, but now he turned to regard the others. “Edward's gone, man.”

“What?” Garvin didn't believe Victor until he looked around and saw Edward's clothing on the cavern floor.

“He's gone, man. He's with his people, the people of this place. He told me everything.”

“Why didn't you wake us up when he started talking crazy like that?”

“He was already gone when he talked to me. I know it sounds crazy, but I'm telling you the truth.” Victor shook his head as he said those words, knowing he wouldn't be believed.

“That's crazy.” Garvin proved Victor's suspicions correct. “You're talking crazy, Victor.”

“No, mister, it's for reals!” Victor lost some of his calm and stood his ground in front of the opening. “He's gone in there and he ain't coming back. He's joined them, his people. He told me somehow in my head and we ain't supposed to go back there. We can wait it out here, but we don't go no further.”

Garvin looked at him with great concern. He appreciated Victor's earnestness, but didn't believe a word of it.

Garvin didn't say anything, but Rob did. “Hey, buddy, we're all having a hard time, but don't worry. We can get Ed back.”

“No. We can't.”

“Vic, there's no way he was talking to you. He's in there, and we can get him.”

Victor remained firm. “Hey, say what you want, but I know what I went through and I'm telling you the truth. We shouldn't be messing around here at all, but most of all that place back there where Edward went. Edward told me it's not a place for anyone except those who belong here. They don't want to be bothered!

D was about to argue further with Victor but some influence cut him off in the middle of his first word and D didn't finish what he had started to say. Instead, his face softened in appearance and he turned, calmly, to face Garvin and Rob. “Victor's right, yall.”

Garvin didn't like this latest development. It caught him off-guard and almost got him started thinking about weird stuff again. It was already clear to him these young men had already started to get the spooks, and he'd have to change the subject quickly to keep them from losing it.

Rob didn't share Garvin's avuncular manner. He made to go down the left passage and get Edward back, dead or alive, with or without the blessing of the others. Victor tried to stop him, but Rob pushed on past him and into the thick black vapors of the passage.

He's a man of his word after all. Garvin hoped Rob could find Edward before it was too late.

Victor and D did not follow Rob into the tenebrous blackness, but Garvin went over to them to pull them further back into the main cavern. It only took a few seconds for him to plan his speech: Rob was a big guy, a guy who could certainly handle himself, and he was going to get Edward back. Garvin was going to say whatever was necessary to convince these two young bucks Edward had lost his mind and they were going to be all right as long as they didn't dwell on what was happening. Everyone needed to clear their minds, settle down, and wait for the crews outside to break open the passage and let them out.

Garvin never got a word of it out.

The vapors in the passage suddenly dissipated, letting the beams from Victor and D's flashlights find their way to the surfaces immediately in front of them. The light fell on Rob's back, some 30 feet down the passage, and a seething wall of skulls immediately in front of him.

Rob could not slow down in time and struck the wall, reeling backward and falling to the ground after hitting it. The skulls in the wall retained their composure. They were all upright, purposeful, and jawless.

They moved. They moved steadily forward, in rough formation, filling the entire passage. They did not glow or cackle or shine, for theirs was a world of perfect darkness and silence. They bore down hard, catching up to Rob, who backed up in quiet, terrified panic.

Victor and D fell back a few steps, not daring to get any closer to the scene in the passage. Garvin kept his ground, but said and did nothing as a voice impressed upon him the urgency of not violating the holiness of that ground.

It was Edward's voice.

He had gone to his people. Edward said it was where he needed to be. This was a holy place, though, and those who did not heed his warnings would be severely punished. There was sorrow in Edward's voice, but it was nonetheless calm and authoritative.

Garvin then saw the punishment meted out on the hapless Rob Krenytsky. He only had to see the beginning of it to realize there would be only one Krenytsky in the Dallas phone book next year. All he, D, and Victor could do was watch on as Rob fell victim to the punishment reserved for those who broke the taboo; those who dared disturb the silent, deathless rest of the ancient people.

The silence was ripped apart by the pealing screams from Rob's throat. As the skulls touched him, his clothes first began to dissolve and fall away, then his flesh became altered .

It boiled and bubbled, then left his bones and clothed the skulls nearest him in unnaturally-gained skin, this skin spreading outward on the surface and slurping inward to the rest of the mass of skulls, covering all the skulls in an indescribable reddish-pink, pulpy mass.

He shrieked louder as the rest of his body left him and began to clothe the skulls. Streaks of white appeared in the mass as bones, too, now joined the gelatinous procession across the skulls of Edward's ancestors. They moved on, covering where Rob's body should have been.

Rob ceased his screams as his lungs were annihilated, leaving him only able to choke out a few desperate gurgles as he and the others watched on in helpless horror.

The skulls finally covered his head and continued their advance to the entrance of the passage, stopping just before they entered the cavern itself. When they stopped, one skull was pushed out and let to roll about on the dead floor under its own power. No one said anything, but all knew whom it once belonged to. No one dared touch it. No one dared move any closer to the guardians of the passage and the mysteries beyond.

Silence reigned as the three men gaped haplessly upon the eyeless, jawless skulls. The fleshy coating on the skulls remained for a while, then began to sublimate in a strange, brackish steam. The three men did not speak a single word as they tried to come to inner terms with this stark embassy from the realm of the ancient dead.

        Edward is somewhere in there , they all realized without speaking to anyone. It was no speculation, merely a logical conclusion from the macabre evidences surrounding them, not the least of which being Edward's testimony from wherever his spirit now resided.

After an eternity of silence, a skull emerged from the wall and floated through the air to within a few feet of the three men. Three others emerged and took up station alongside the first. Without any communication, they all knew Edward's was the second from the right in the line.

The thoughts entered the minds of D, Garvin, and Victor. The thoughts were angry, but willing to forgive. They had only defiled the initial chamber and did not need pay the utmost price for that transgression. They merely had to pledge their lives to preserving the sanctity of the entire location. The thoughts declared they did not wish to receive any more uninvited visitors.

The thoughts let it be known they had nothing further to communicate to Garvin and D. Garvin and D then passed out. Victor remained standing, to receive a few more thoughts. The thoughts told Victor he did not need to repent, as he had not defiled the place, but could not tell the others. He was told of a different role he was to serve in and then joined his associates in unconscious oblivion before he had a chance to wonder in stark confusion why he wasn't in trouble and why that meant he had the more terrible task to tend to.

When the rescue workers opened up the passage, they were relieved to find three survivors, although disappointed there were not five. Mike was already on his way to Parkland. The rescuers knew something was wrong about him when they found him moaning on the ground, beating his head against the dirt floor.

Victor, Garvin, and D woke up when the rescuers entered the cavern. The wall of skulls was gone and the seething, curling black smokes had returned to the entrances. The rescuers started to enter the passages. Garvin stopped them. “Hey! Don't go there!”

They hesitated, surprised to see Garvin come to his senses so quickly.

“Look at that stuff. It's danger. Got the others. Just get us out.” Something about the way the smoke moved in an almost -random manner helped convince the rescuers of the rightness of Garvin's position, and they agreed to it.

On the surface, the three survivors got checked over and gave their statements to the police and the DART people.

As he spoke, Garvin felt a movement in the air and in his mind and knew more than just his words would make his point. The authorities agreed to keep the affair quiet, and made preparations to seal off the tunnel. The area was marked on all maps as an area of extremely unstable soils around impenetrable bedrock. Care was taken to collect all the bones that had been removed and return them to the site. The underground light rail project was diverted along another path. There was some initial controversy over the project change, but the arguments in favor of the change were bolstered by Booker Garvin's persuasions and carried the day.

No one could explain fully why the pagers and phones did not work after the initial conversation between Mike and Rob. Some rescue workers had their pseudoscientific theories, but none of the survivors of the cave-in speculated on that matter. They all had suspicions they wanted the benefit and blessing of not confirming.

Garvin, Victor, and D left the scene together and went to a bar in Arlington where they could drink in peace and mourn the fallen.

Wordless glances and gestures between Garvin and D let each of them know they had seen something similar and they had the same responsibilities. None of them knew the exact penalty for failure, but assumed it would not be a beautiful end. Victor was substantially more shaken than the other two and did not make contact with the others as he looked around at the air in the bar, jumping every time he thought he saw it move in a manner suggestive of the tenebrous smokes of the cavern.

“Hey, can we go out to the patio?”

Garvin and D nodded. Both wanted to be anywhere that didn't have a roof above them. It was still hot and sticky in the night air, so they were the only ones on the patio.

They talked about the weather a bit, but were silent most of the time.        

Then Victor dropped a bombshell. “I'm gonna help seal up that tunnel.”

“Why in the world would you want to come back down here after all that?” D asked.

“I want to help bury Edward. He was a friend, and I owe it to him. That Rob guy, too. He wanted to help. He didn't know. He deserves a friend to help him get buried. He gave his life, trying to help, even though he didn't know not to go there.”

D said, “I know you want to do right by him, but there ain't nothing left of Rob to bury, and I don't think Edward needs burying…” He quit talking when he felt the fear rising inside him.

Victor was stubborn about his decision. “They both need it, man. I'm going to help out.”

Garvin sensed Victor was lying about that being his only reason for wanting to help. This had to have something to do with what the voices said to Victor after he and D were let go. Garvin didn't want to press to find out what secret Victor kept. Victor didn't want to help; he needed to help. “Leave him alone, D. Victor's got his reasons. He won't do anything crazy, will you Victor?”

“No sir.” Gone was Victor's hyena laugh and wry smile. He had the face of a combat veteran. Garvin knew that serious visage, for he had seen it in the mirror many times before.

Too many times before.

None of the four surviving men ever worked in underground construction again.

Mike spent thirty days in the psychiatric ward at Parkland before being turned over to his parents for long term care. He was diagnosed as catatonic, although his stupors were punctuated by periodic bouts of screaming if ever the lights around him went out. He never spoke a coherent phrase again.

Dewino went on to college and studied civil engineering and took Spanish as his foreign language. He got a job in downtown Dallas with and architectural firm. He excelled in skyscraper and bridge design projects. He remained a bachelor and lived in a fashionable loft in Deep Ellum.

Garvin continued to be a foreman on construction projects, and stayed in fairly good contact with Dewino, as they worked a number of jobs together. They would get together on occasion and have a drink or two. Garvin eventually became active in his neighborhood Pentecostal church.

Garvin and D kept an eye on the ground above the cavern of the skulls every now and then, making sure no one profaned its silence. They only had to do this until they died and were released from the burden of atonement. No one ever built anything on that lot, and it became tangled and overgrown with weeds and tall grass. Hardly any creature ever disturbed it.

Victor's story went along a different line. He went back to night school and got his GED so he could enlist in the Marines. Garvin heard about Victor's enlistment and took D over to visit him. This was no fond farewell. Garvin and D went to remind Victor of certain obligations he had to honor. Victor told them he had a different row to hoe and he'd be back to do his duty after his time was up in the service. He had to leave for a while, but he would be back.

Garvin had heard Victor speak like that before, and knew when Victor told the truth. Victor's responsibility was different, even if he never explained exactly how. Victor got more instructions than they did, and he had even more to do than whatever he had to tend to when he assisted in the burial of the place.

Victor never did tell any of the others exactly how his responsibility to the skulls in the cavern was different, or why he had volunteered to help fill in the cavern, or why he had to leave town for an extended time. 20 years later, he returned, honorably discharged from the USMC. Shortly after that, he moved in to a house uncomfortably close to the site of the terrors in his past.

Victor hated living there, but he had no choice: his responsibility demanded it. Now that a sufficiently long time had passed and most everyone had forgotten anything ever happened there, Victor was called upon to fill his duty in darkness and anonymity.

D and Garvin noticed Victor in the overgrown field every now and then, always in the hours of the deep night. Sometimes, he was moving toward the center with one or two dark companions. Other times, he was moving away, alone. Always, he was with a shovel and pick in hand or across his shoulder. They never stopped him when they saw him because they knew he wouldn't do anything stupid, not after that time in the vitrified cavern. He had his reasons for going there like he did and that was good enough for D and Garvin. They never knew if Victor was aware of them watching or not, as he never turned his disturbingly peaceful and emotionless face in their direction.

Edward's people only told the others to keep uninvited guests out. They had had their first visitor in ages: that made them desirous to have more of their children return home. Victor hated every time he was called upon to let an invited guest in , but what could he do about it? At least the thick vapors kept him from seeing anything and he was usually able to seal up the entrance before he heard anything from below. He somehow managed to make it through the times he didn't seal the entrance in time, but the stress wore terribly on him. Every time he went digging there, he came back a grayer, older man. At least he could join them when his time came. It comforted him to know his people accepted him and were waiting patiently for his return at the end of his days.