The Crystal Skull
I was sliding through a small tunnel when I found the crystal skull. When I say a small tunnel, I mean a very small tunnel. No grown-up could have fitted between the walls.
The tunnel was near our camp in the Golpago Basin. My mother shifted a rock, and suddenly, there it was. This deep, dark, narrow little hole.
"Oh, Sheba!" she exclaimed. "Oh Sheba! I feel quite faint!"
Now my mother is an archaeologist. She digs up things from the past. My mother is a very tough person and never feels faint.
"So what? You found a rabbit burrow," I said.
That was rude of me, but I didnít care for digging up the past. If I had had my way I would have spent these holidays at Virtual Reality World. I didnít get my way, so here I was in the Golpago Basin, with my mother all excited over a hole.
"Sheba," said my mother, "thatís no rabbit burrow. Itís a treasure delve. It was chipped out of the bedrock thousands of years ago by foreign children brought to serve the Golpago King. When the hole was finished, the King would take his greatest treasure and hide it far away from human eyes."
"Whatever for?" I asked.
"That was the tradition," said my mother. "Each king searched his whole life through for the loveliest treasure in the land. He gave it to the earth for safekeeping."
"I hope he didnít give the children to the earth as well," I said.
"Oh no," said my mother. "The children went back to their homes when their task was done."
"Well, thatís very nice," I said. "How about sending this child off to Virtual Reality World?"
My mother puffed up like a pigeon. "Nice! Itís a miracle. Only two other treasure delves have ever been found!"
"Send me to VR World and you can look for some more in peace," I said.
"Youíve forgotten the Golpago Dam," said my mother. "We have just one more day, before this whole Golpago Basin is flooded."
"What are we hanging around for then?" I cried. I looked up at the ring of rocky hills that surrounded us. "I donít want to be drowned!"
"We have today," said my mother. "Then the explosive charges will be laid to blast away part of the hill."
"The treasure will be hidden forever, then," I said. "Just as the King wanted."
"He didnít want it hidden forever," said my mother. "He wanted it to be safe. How safe will it be if explosives ruin the delve?"
I sighed. I knew my mother wasnít about to give up.
"Wouldnít you like to see the treasure?" she hinted.
"We canít," I said. "Youíll never get down the hole."
My mother looked at me, and then at the hole. Then she reached for her tape measure.
"Sheba...." she wheedled. "Dear, kind, clever little Sheba?"
"No!" I said. "No way am I going down that hole!"
I said it three times, I think, but my mother looked so hopeful. I sighed and changed my mind.
"Oh, all right," I said. "Iíll crawl into your horrid old treasure delve."
So there I was. Right inside that narrow, stony passage. The stone ceiling brushed lightly over my shirt. The slick cool walls, as smooth as polished marble, gently touched my shoulders. I was the human filling in a tunnel sandwich.
It wasnít as bad as it sounds. I had a little minersí light and my mother gave me a glider-board to use. Glider-boards are her own invention, and theyíre meant for going down very narrow passages. A glider-board is a bit like a surf-ski, but underneath it has tiny little caterpillar tracks. On the back is a hole for a rope to pass through.
I lay on my front on the glider-board, and used my hands and toes to push along. My mother crouched at the entrance, feeding out a stretchy nylon rope.
The tunnel sloped downhill, so I hardly had to use my hands at all.
"Whatís it like?" called my mother.
"Dark," I answered. I wasnít very pleased with her.
The tunnel went on and on.
Those children must have been brave, I thought. They had to go the hard way, wriggling on their tummies, chipping out the stone with chisels as they went.
As I glided along, I wondered what the children would have looked like. What did they wear? What did they eat? What made them laugh and cry?
The walls were smooth, but sometimes I would see a little picture scratched into the rock, where the children stopped to rest.
The pictures showed smiling faces and funny animals.
"Hello," I whispered. "I like your drawings."
I knew the children wouldnít hear. They were far away in the past. I was pleased to see their drawings though. They made the treasure delve seem almost friendly. I imagined I heard a little happy sigh.
Once I felt something with my fingertips, a piece of carved sharp rock. I knew straight away it was the tool the children had used for drawing. I left it there by a funny face in the rock.
It took about half an hour to reach the tunnelís end. I had expected there to be a room, or a treasure chest. Instead, there was just a smooth, round place. There was a little silver finger ring lying there. It was set with round blue stones. I slipped it onto my finger. A perfect fit.
Could this be the treasure? Surely not. This was a ring for a child, not something a king would want. I pulled myself farther into the rounded space, and there it was.
The crystal skull.
I lay there staring at that beautiful, frightening thing that glittered and dazzled in the light.
This was a treasure any king would want. This was a treasure the children would be proud to hide.
Very, very carefully, I put on the gloves my mother had given me. Very, very carefully, I picked up the crystal skull and slipped it into a little cloth bag for safety. Then I hooked my toe in the rope and tugged three times.
For a moment, nothing happened.
"Come on, Mum," I muttered. I didnít want to be stuck in this tunnel sandwich.
I twitched the rope again.
Nothing, and then suddenly, I felt the glider-board move. Only this time, it didnít move slowly. It shot backwards like a train.
I wasnít really scared, I suppose. It was rather like riding one of those very fast rides at a funfair. It was rather like Virtual Reality World.
"Hold it, Mum!" I yelled. At least, I tried to yell, but I could only manage a sort of squeak.
At least it didnít last very long. The wild ride stopped, just as I began to see daylight. I was about to call out when I heard my motherís voice. She was speaking loudly and clearly, as if she were making a speech.
"Let me get this straight, Professor," said my mother. "You want to buy any treasure that we find." My mother laughed a tinkly sort of laugh.
"That is correct, Madam." This was a voice I had heard before. A man my mother didnít like at all. And what was he doing here?
"Why should we find any treasure?" my mother asked.
"That is a treasure delve, Madam," said the Professor. "There is bound to be treasure inside."
My mother tinkled again. "I very much doubt it, Professor. And even if there were, how could anyone get inside to see?"
The Professor laughed in a rumble. "That rope leads into the tunnel, Madam, and it occurs to me that a very small person could probably slide inside. A child, perhaps?"
"A child?" tinkled my mother.
"You, Madam, have a daughter. Is she not ten years old?"
My mother sighed. "Yes, Sheba went down the tunnel, but she wouldnít have reached the end."
I didnít hear what the Professor said to that. I was wondering what my mother wanted me to do. I didnít like the Professor and I didnít want him to have the crystal skull. Those children had worked so hard to keep it safe. How could I let them down?
Should I try to hide the skull in my pocket? Impossible. It was much too big for that. I imagined I saw the children shaking their heads.
Should I leave the skull in the tunnel? Yes! That was the thing to do!
Carefully, I took the skull from the little cloth bag. I set it down near the drawing tool and touched it gently with my finger. Then I took off the little ring and placed it by the skull.
I was only just in time, because I heard the Professorís voice again, and now he sounded impatient.
"The child has had time to explore a thousand treasure delves, Madam. Letís see what she has found."
The glider-board began to move again. I had just time to grab hold of the drawing tool and push it into the bag.
My feet shot out into the open air and I felt the hot sun shining on my heels. Then I was right out under the sky.
I was stiff from lying down for so long, so I got up carefully onto my knees. I moaned and groaned and complained to give myself time to think. Then I took off my minersí light and stood up.
There was my mother, and there, beside her, was a big thin man. The Professor. He was holding a sort of leather camera case. He was an ordinary looking man with sharp grey eyes that he was screwing up in a smile. A very crocodile smile with lots of teeth.
"Hello," I said, as if I were surprised to find him there.
"Do you remember the Professor, Sheba?" my mother asked. "He is a dealer in rare treasures and he seems to think we might have found something of interest."
I laughed as if I found that really funny. "Treasure?" I gasped. "Oh, I wish we had! I would love to find a great big chest of gold."
"Letís not be foolish, Sheba," said the Professor. "We all know that treasure is not always made of gold. Now. You have just spent at least an hour inside a Golpagoan treasure delve. Show us what you found."
"Yes,í said my mother brightly. "Did you find anything, Sheba?"
My mother was trying to catch my eye, but I turned to the Professor instead. "Oh yes, I did find something," I gushed. "It isnít golden treasure, but maybe youíd like a look!"
I saw my mother close her eyes for a moment, but I made myself smile at the Professor. "See!" I said proudly, and I opened the little cloth bag.
I could see the Professorís greedy eyes. He looked like a dog when it thinks it can steal a biscuit.
"Look," I said, and I took out the drawing tool. I was sorry I had to show it to the Professor. It was only a little rough brown tool, but it had belonged to the children.
Iím sorry, I thought to the long ago children. Iím really very sorry.
The Professor put down the leather case and held out his greedy hand. I laid the tool in it and watched him anxiously. "Curious," he said, and turned it over. "A Golpagoan construction tool."
My mother was looking at me sadly. I could tell she thought I had let her down. I didnít dare to catch her eye. That Professor wasnít stupid.
"What do you think?" I asked brightly.
"I think it very odd that the tool should be left in the delve." The Professor narrowed his eyes, and I knew I had to be clever.
I shrugged. "The tunnel wasnít finished."
"Did you go right down to the end, Sheba?" put in my mother.
"Oh yes," I said. "But there wasnít a proper end. There was just a place where the tunnel stopped."
The Professor stared at me a while longer, then suddenly, he shot out his hand and grabbed my chin. "I hope youíre not lying to me," he said, and he wasnít smiling any more.
I pulled away. "Go and see if you donít believe me," I muttered.
"No, Miss Sheba, you will go and see," said the Professor. "And just to make sure youíre an honest child, you will carry this camera with you." He picked up the case, and flicked the catches open. He took out a little camera and pushed it into my hand. "This camera will show what there is to see, and it will transmit the pictures back to the computer inside this case."
"Iím not going back in there," I said.
"Yes you are," said the Professor. "We have no time to waste. The explosives are being laid. What if I tell the Golpagoans that you were planning to rob them?"
"Stop it!" said Mum. "Stop it at once! You know we have a permit!" She gave the Professor a push.
I donít know what would have happened then, but suddenly, we heard a very strange noise. It was a funny, muffled booming sound and for a moment the air seemed to shiver.
The Professor screamed. "Theyíve started the blasting early! The fools! I told them they had to wait for me to get clear!"
He turned and ran, falling over the rocks in his hurry to get away. He jumped into the van that was parked behind our camp and drove off in a swirl of sand.
My mother gasped. "Weíd better go as well!"
"No," I said. "I donít think theyíre blasting yet." I looked around. There was nothing to see and nothing to hear. "Quick!" I added. I flung myself down on the glider-board. "Get me back into the delve!"
Before my mother could answer, I pushed off into the tunnel.
I didnít have my light, but I felt my way forward. My fingers brushed rock, and once I heard a little giggle near my ear.
That was you, I said to the long ago children. That was you who frightened the Professor away.
Served him right, they answered. We didnít like him at all. Youíre the one we like, Sheba. Youíre our friend.
My fingers touched the crystal skull. I couldnít find the little ring, but the skull was the special treasure. I called to my mother to pull me back through the delve.
My mother nearly fainted when she saw the crystal skull.
"Oh Sheba," she kept on saying. "Oh, Sheba! Canít you see how it brings the past alive?"
"Yes, Mum, I can see it now," I said, and I could. I bent to pick up the drawing tool, which was just where the Professor had dropped it. "Weíd better go," I added, so we went.
The Golpago Basin is flooded now, and the treasure delve is far down under the water. The drawings of the children will never be seen again. The crystal skull and the drawing tool are in the Golpagoan Museum, which is the best place they could be. The Golpagoan people can see them and be proud.
I thought the little silver ring was lost, but it turned up in my pocket. Iím sure I didnít put it there, but I think I know who did. We took it to the museum, but the Golpagoan expert said it was foreign silver.
I wear it. Itís a present from my friends.
Sally Odgers is the author of over a hundred titles, including children's books, YA and adult. Sally writes in several genres, but her favourites are fantasy, science fiction and historical - all of them laced with romance. Favourite titles include Translations in Celadon and Shadowdancers, both fantasy romances, Trinity Street and Aurora, both sci fi, and Anna's Own, historical romance. More information on these (including availability) can be found at Sally's home page; under Books for Sale.
Other titles include the historical romance Powderflash available May 1999 from New Concepts Publishing, the humorous romance Kissing Cousins a 1999 release from Fiction Works and the SF caper story Shakedown available from DiskUs. All three are e-books, an exciting new venture for Sally.
Sally lives in Tasmania with her husband Darrel and their daughter Tegan. Son James has recently joined the Royal Australian Air Force. She is a regular columnist in two e-zines and an occasional contributor to others.
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Editor's note: Ms. Odgers signed a contract with Dark Star Publications for her exciting paranormal suspenseNight Must Always Come, a Nov. '99 release.