Professor Declan Finnegan, world renowned explorer and hero for hire, settled down in the dust and slowly stroked the smooth skin of his chin. Narrowing his eyes despite the cloying darkness, he stared at the box that lay in front of him. It had clearly been put there a long time ago. The wind that somehow managed to crawl through the ancient gaps in the walls of the building had wrapped layers of dust around the container and a colony of the native, and extremely poisonous, jumping spiders had anchored numerous webs to the lid, covering the box in a shroud of danger.
Declan reached for a stick and flinched as a spider scuttled away from his hand. Cursing his carelessness he scanned the area for more of the lethal creatures. Once he was sure the area was safe, he picked up the stick. Gingerly he scraped away the sticky fibres covering the box, all the time keeping a look out for more spiders. Once the webs had been cleared and he was confident the area was safe he examined the container.
Time had clearly taken its toll on the box. The sides were pitted and scratched and the corners chipped and battered but it was still possible to make out ancient figures etched into the surface. Declan’s finely honed archaeological instincts kicked in. The box was clearly Mayan. Or perhaps Incan. Or possibly Ancient Egyptian. Certainly it was old.
There seemed to be a lid, although there were no visible hinges and a red paste of some kind sealed the join between the box and its lid. Declan used the stick to scrape some of the crust into a tissue he pulled from his jacket. The flakes came away easily, more evidence of the age of the box, and he gently folded the tissue and slipped it into his pocket for analysis later.
Declan looked up. He could hear a soft rumbling sound in the distance. As he listened the noise became louder, growing in stature until the ground was shaking and the ancient walls creaked and groaned. Declan braced himself, scanning the ceiling in case the walls showed signs of collapse. Then the noise was gone again, fading as rapidly as it had arrived. Spirals of dust drifted down from the high ceiling of the room but the structure seemed sound.
The whole island was a mass of volcanic activity and scientists had predicted a massive eruption within the next few hours. Indeed, that was what had brought the explorer to the island, dangerously unprepared but unable to resist the lure of the unknown; desperate to find the tomb before it was lost to nature forever.
But a treasure this valuable would surely be protected. True he had dodged a pit of spikes and a swinging axe on his way in but that couldn’t be the end of it. The box was almost certainly booby trapped. Declan paused for a moment, weighing up the risks, then reached for the box. As he touched it, there was a noise from behind him.
Declan froze as his heart rate ratcheted upwards. The sound had come from the ante-chamber that led into the main tomb where he was now. Someone had followed him.
Declan flinched. It was Natasha Troikavitch, fellow archaeologist and his arch-enemy. Rumoured to have connections with the Russian mafia, she had stolen dozens of national treasures from around the world but so far no one had been able to gather enough evidence to prosecute. Sworn enemies, they had crossed paths several times and Declan had barely escaped with his life. This time he was trapped.
“Declan? I know you’re in there, you little shit! Stop playing with ya’self and come out. Ma says dinner will be ready in a ten minutes and she’ll kill ya if ya ain’t there.”
Declan didn’t move.
“Suit ya’self then.”
Declan listened as his sister forced her way between the wall and the metal sheet covering the entrance to the railway arch and headed home. A few minutes later he grabbed the old biscuit tin, squeezed out of the chamber he’d been exploring and ran home.
His sister and three older brothers were already sitting at the dinner table when he arrived but he managed to avoid them seeing the box, and his ma’s wrath, by running straight upstairs and returning a few minutes later, his hands and face washed and the box stashed under his bed.
Declan barely touched the food put in front of him. His stomach was churning. He shared his bedroom with two of his brothers, Patrick and Liam, and he was terrified they’d find the box and claim its contents for themselves.
After dinner, as Declan helped wash the dishes, the two boys thundered upstairs. Declan could barely breathe. Seconds later they thundered back down and Declan knew they’d found the box.
They pounded into the kitchen.
“Ma! We’re going to play football with the Fallons.”
Ma rolled her eyes, “Again? Okay, but I want you back by nine. Ya dad’ll be home by then and he’ll want to see ya.”
The boys yelled their agreement and ran out the front door.
Declan finished drying the last of the dishes as fast as he could and headed upstairs, trying to act nonchalant. As soon as he was in his bedroom he wedged the door shut with a chair and crouched down by the bed. Pushing aside his comics he slowly slid the box out into the open and stared at it, savouring the excitement.
When he could stand the suspense no longer, Declan slid his shaking fingers around the edges of the lid, the coating of rust flaking away at his touch. Gently, he prised open the box.
As Declan lifted the lid, the micro-switch clicked into place completing the circuit. Despite the age of the battery and the thick layer of oxidisation coating the contacts there was enough power to activate the detonator.
Philip Harris was born in England but now lives with his wife in Vancouver, Canada where he works for a large video game developer. Not content with creating imaginary worlds for a living, he spends his spare time indulging his love of writing. His non-fiction articles have appeared in such enigmatic magazines as EXE, WTJ and CGI. His fiction credits include So Long, and Thanks for All the Brains, Peeping Tom, New Horizons, Flurb and Blood Samples. He has also worked as security for Darth Vader.