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A Hand for a Secret

Allison Kaye Schue

It happened to me in 1934, I lost my hand. No one would ever believe me if I told them the truth, so I always just say that I was cut badly by a knife and developed gangrene; They had to amputate my hand. It's not that I like lying, but who would believe that it was crushed the way it was?
     You see I used to be a photographer for National Geographic in the 1930's. I was barely just twenty-two when I was assigned to photograph a burial chamber that was just discovered in the sands of Egypt. The site had been discovered ten days before I was assigned. Many archeologists were in hope that it was the tomb of King Chiliptonia, who apparently ruled just before the Jews were enslaved in Egypt.

     I arrived one hot and dry day. It was absolutely amazing; it was nothing like anywhere in the United States. There was sand everywhere, as far as I could see. Pyramids and statues jutted out of the ground. The sky was blue, but the earth was a pale yellow, for every piece of earth and every structure was covered in sand.
     I rode on a bus with some workers that were dressed in long dirty cotton robes and turbans. We took the bus only part way to the site, and then rode camel back to the actual burial site. The dig site was quite large with about seventy-five tents up. Many people were walking around including foreigners and natives. The site was close to a large rock formation to the east.
     Upon arrival I was greeted by one of the men heading up the dig. "Hello there! I'm Jack Sutherland," he said in an English accent. He was dressed in a dingy khaki colored button down shirt with brown pants on. His tanned skin glistened from the sun reflecting off his sweat. A once white handkerchief was placed around his neck. His sweaty brown hair stuck to his wrinkled face. He looked at me with squinting eyes and extended his hand. "I'm the photographer from National Geographic. My name is Chuck Huber," I said shaking his hand. I felt a bit out of place. I had to be the cleanest person there. With my pressed chinos, clean white shirt, and dark brown hair slicked back, I had hardly broken a sweat compared to this guy. Jack replied, "I'm heading up this dig and I'm looking forward to having some great pictures of King Chiliptonia when we discover his tomb. You will be sharing duties with another photographer, Audrey Klineman. She too is from America. Come I shall introduce you two."
     Jack led me over to a tent on the other side of the camp. I could see her from behind. She was slender, in the standard khaki attire, with boots on that went up to her knees. Jack tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. "Audrey," he said as she turned around, "this is Chuck Huber." Her eyes were the first things that grabbed my attention. They looked straight into mine. Hazel with a bit of gold in the center, I thought that they were phenomenal. What a beautiful woman she was. She stood about five feet six inches, about to my shoulder. Her auburn hair was tied up under an expedition hat. Her skin was fair and she had pink patches on her cheeks from where the sun had touched them. "Pleasure to meet you," I said as I composed my thoughts. "Likewise," she said, "I am looking forward to some great findings." 
     "Well, now that you know each other. Come Chuck, you must be tired from your journey. I shall show you to your quarters," said Jack.
      "Wait," I said. Something interested me about Audrey. Beside the fact that I thought that she was very beautiful, I just wanted to get to know her more. She seemed to be very nice. She could possibly be the only friend that I would make on this trip. "Would you want to have a drink tonight with me?" I asked. A bit surprised she looked at me about to say no, but left me with a polite "why not." I winked at her as Jack and I headed off to the quarters.
     Soon we came upon a small tent that barely stood six feet, but I am six-four. I didn't care though, I just needed a place where the scorpions would be minimal.  "Good luck chap. Feel free to look and photograph anything. I will most likely need you tomorrow; we have just about closed in on the location of the tomb. Rest for now, I shall see you later," he said. With a quick and firm pat on my back Jack was off and out of my sight.
     Stooping, I looked inside the tent. There was a small table to my right and one small cot to the left; surely my legs will dangle off the end of the cot. I placed my photo equipment upon the table, kicked off my brown boots, and lay on the cot. I tried sleeping but my soul felt restless. There was no way that I was just going to sit here. I needed to explore; too many thoughts filled my mind of what was out there for me to capture on film not to mention that Audrey haunted my mind. There was just something about her. I needed to go for a very long walk. I do that when my thoughts torment me. 
     It was getting late by the time I ventured out. I think it was around six o'clock. The sun was getting low in the sky and a haze of orange was forming at the horizon. I decided to explore away from the dig site just so I could get a feel for the environment that I had been thrown into. The terrain was rocky, but still very sandy. Giving occasional spots of yellow, lavender, and pink among the boring shade of sand, desert plants poked out between the rocks. No one had seemed to touch this land for hundreds of years.
     I snapped some photographs of flowers that I thought that were particularly beautiful. I had been rounding one a corner in the rock when I saw a boot laying the sand. It startled me. I thought it was funny to see a boot out here. I approached it to see if there was a body attached to it. It seemed quite unusual that another person would be out here so far from the camp. I slowly crept up to it and then I heard a scream. "Ahh! Who are you? Oh it's YOU! You scared the daylights out of me!" Audrey said as she came to her feet. She was wiping the sand off her pants. "What are you doing here?" she said. 
     I stuttered, for I was a bit startled myself, "I was just taking a look at what was around here." I hesitated, "I'm exploring the land. What have you found here?" I tried looking at what was behind her back but she kept blocking whatever intrigued her. 
     "It is nothing at all, I was just admiring the interesting rock formation," she said only to shut me up. 
     "No really," I said, "show me what was interesting you."
     "It's nothing, really," she said in a most unconvincing voice. 
     I put my hand upon her shoulder and pried her out of the way. It was very interesting. A cavern that's entrance was made with human hands thousands of years ago. There were inscriptions of hieroglyphics on the outside. She and I didn't have the slightest clue what they meant. "Have you gone in yet?" I asked.
      "No, it's much too dark for me to go in there. I haven't got a lantern," Audrey replied. 
     "I have one. Let's go in and have a look," I said eagerly.
     I lit the lantern and first shone it into the opening to see what to expect. A long tunnel led to a turn to the right. We stepped into the tunnel. There were many writings and pictures carved into the walls. Audrey was taking pictures of everything as I led the way. It was a tunnel of stories. We kept walking straight until the tunnel met with a corner that turned right. Around the corner was an even longer corridor, further than the light from the lantern could show us.
     "Should we go on?" I asked as I turned my head to the side and looked down at Audrey. She looked up and with determination and said, "Let's go further." We kept going and going. Each step was taken carefully, as if we were walking on eggshells. I had lost track of the time, but I knew by the time we got ourselves, out the sun would have set. The light of the lantern reflected off something different on the floor. Not sandy at all, it was almost like a mirror. Odd to see a mirror down here, I thought. Audrey and I approached with great caution. As we came closer to it, I saw a wall that abruptly ended the tunnel. On the ground, directly in front to the wall, was the mirror. Audrey took a step closer and the vibrations in the ground caused the mirror to ripple. The mirror was a pool of water, undisturbed for many years. There were many strange writings on the wall, though we didn't know what they meant. There were pictures of ancient Egyptians bathing in a river, or maybe just walking in the river. Some were in the middle other were on the shore. There were writings on the walls in zigzags and animals; we had no idea what it meant, but we had a hunch that the path continued through the water. 
     "Maybe this pool is what the river represents. This could be a piece of the Nile," Audrey excitedly said while pointing at the wall.
     "But, are those funny looking people bathing or washing their clothes? I don't need to wash my clothes, especially in this stale water," I stupidly said. Sometimes I should keep my thoughts to myself.
     "What if they are crossing the Nile?"
     "That could very well be. Maybe we need to cross this part of the Nile. Do you think it is so?"
     "Could be. We should investigate. Let's get a long stick to feel around in the water. If the path does continue then," she stopped for a moment, "then we should go on. I desperately want to know what is on the other side of this wall." 
     There was no way that we could continue on that night. This was too exciting to tell anyone, so Audrey and I made a pact to not tell anyone about the corridor until we figured out what was at the end of it. It was our little adventure, something that we could share. We agreed to sleep that night and get up before the sun rose so no one would see us sneaking off.
     Walking back, when we were close to the camp, I asked her "How about that drink Audrey? Do you want to get one?"
     "Sure," she replied, " I could use something to calm me down, I don't think that I could go to bed being this excited." We walked into the site and went to the designated dining area, which was a group of three rectangular tents placed along side to one another. They had a small little bar set-up with tables and chairs inside and out to sit on. I grabbed a bottle of brandy and sat down at the table. Audrey sat opposite of me. She held her glass and I filled it half way, then filled mine and put the bottle down.
     "Beautiful night," I said looking up at the stars
     "Yes it sure is, I miss nights like these," she said with a sigh.
     "Tell me something"
     "I don't mean to be rude, but why are you here?" I suddenly felt my mouth going off without my brains consent. "Why do they need a second photographer? My photos will be fine enough, not like you take bad photos. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to insult you. It's just odd that a woman is on this expedition."
     She smiled at me and just shook her head for a bit. A giggle came out of her pink thick lips. She poured the rest of the brandy from her glass into her mouth. Her wet lips glistened in the lantern light.
     "I know it is a bit odd, but you see according to my father, I was a boy. I was brought up with out my mother, she died when I was three." She stopped and placed her hand sideways over her mouth. "Oh dear, I think that the brandy has already taken a handle on me. I'm saying too much."
     "Don't worry, Audrey. I'm just here to listen, that is it. No worries. Please continue."
     "Well my father worked with Jack, my mother's brother, and my uncle. I spent many days out on sites with them and to preoccupy me they gave me a camera. Before I knew it, I loved photography. Uncle Jack takes me on sites with him whenever I can manage."
     "I see. Well, you certainly brighten up this drab place. I'm glad you're here, I didn't think I'd make a friend."
     She smiled modestly. "Well friend, Chuck, let's call it a night. We have a big day tomorrow."

     The next morning, I heard a voice from outside my tent. "Chuck, are you up?" the voice spoke. I whisked the covers off of me. It was Audrey at my door. "Come on in," I replied. I had slept in my clothes. I hopped out of bed, pulled my boots on, and grabbed my photo bag. She giggled at my simplistic morning ritual. We headed out the door. It was still dark out; it is never this dark in the city. The light of the lantern showed the way back to the tunnel entrance. Maybe a forty-five minute walk, by the time we had reached the opening, the sun had begun to peek above the horizon. 
     The sun shown in the corridor. It was beckoning us to explore it and discover its secrets. "Are you ready?" I asked. We stepped in. I was really nervous; my hand was shaking the lantern. I was holding a long walking stick with my left hand. I illuminated ancient pictographs with the light of the lantern. They were untold stories of people gathering food, making and holding pots, and worshiping others. Finally approaching that wall for the second time, we stopped to get ready to see if it was possible to swim. I took the stick and placed it in the water, poking down toward the bottom. It hit bottom; the water was up to my elbow. "Must be six or seven feet deep," I said. Then I turned the sick on to the side so it would go under the wall. There seemed to be a passage underneath, but I couldn't tell for sure if it came out on the other side. "Let me try this first," I told her. I jumped into the water; it was surprisingly warm, but awfully murky, almost thick. I went under and swam beneath the wall. I pressed my hands around looking for something. I broke surface. It was amazing that I made it, but I could see nothing. I swam back over. "It's there. It's really there. Let's get the stuff ready," I said excitedly.  Audrey shouted in amazement. We placed my camera and some matches in a small metal airtight box with a round seal and a latch. Audrey took off her hat and let her soft hair loose. "Are you ready?" she asked me. "Yes, let's do this," I replied. We jumped into the water, holding the box, and swam to the other side of the wall. I pulled myself out of the water and onto the ground and then assisted Audrey. "Chuck, are you ok?" she said coughing some water out of her throat. "I am fine. Hand me the box so I can get the matches." I said. After digging around in the pitch black, she gave me the box. "Let's see what this side looks like," I said as I lit the match. It was no different than the corridor that we had just come from. It was just a long tunnel. As we moved forward, different pictures were on the wall. Pictures of a storage room holding I don't know what; there was also another one that particularity interested me. It was a picture of men holding up their arm as something presses upon them maybe the hand of a god. Whatever it was it looked large. Although I wanted to look more we needed to conserve matches. We walked slowly through the absolute dark, feeling our way through. 
     As I was walking, I suddenly felt another wall directly in front of me. I lit a match. The tunnel turned off to the left. Another picture of the storage room of pots or something was again on the wall. There were lots of writings. "This way I guess," said Audrey. We kept walking and walking, occasionally lighting a match along the way. A leak of light was coming through the tunnel wall. We had been in the dark for so long that the light, a small beam as it be, was blinding. I could tell then that we were going into the rock formation that was east of the camp. 
     Suddenly the tunnel didn't seem so small. The sound of our steps filled more space than the small tunnel. "Audrey, are we in the corridor still?" I asked. 
     "I don't think so Chuck," her voice echoed through the large room, "light a match." I lit the match and with a poof of light, gleams of gold reflected upon our faces. Then poof, the match went out. "Was that-," Audrey hesitated, "gold?" 
     "I think that it was," I said in amazement. 
     "There has to be some sort of torch or lamp that we can use for light. Anything is better than these tiny matches," she stated. I lit another match in hope of finding an alternative light source. It took a few matches before we found one. 
     "There is one," she shouted in excitement. I lit another match and then the torch. The room gleamed absolute gold. Chests, jewelry, and dishes all made of gold lined the floor. The pictures and writings on the wall were even gold. I went over and picked up a bracelet. Gorgeous, it was a band with hieroglyphics on it. This was so surreal to me; I thought that I was dreaming. We hadn't expected to find a treasure. I walked along the parameter of the room. It wasn't too large maybe twenty-five feet long and twenty-five wide.
      "Come look," Audrey called to me. I held the torch up to what she was pointing at. It was another room. It was a  more simple room that had writings on the walls with no treasures but a single chest. In the middle lay an ancient Egyptian coffin, a sarcophagus. I said quickly "This must be the tomb of King Chiliptonia." I took a photograph, Flash.  The chest grabbed my attention. It was very different than the chests in the other room. It was red and covered in inscriptions. On the top was the picture I knew I had seen earlier, the one of the men with something like the hand of god pressing on them. "This must be where Chiliptonia's organs are kept in," said Audrey. "Really?" I exclaimed. "Yes," She replied, "The ancient Egyptians would remove the innards of the body and put them into special jars to offer to the gods." Very interesting, I thought. I wanted to see.
      I tried opening the chest, but it was too close to the coffin that it was awkward to pry. I pulled the chest away. Putting my hand beneath the lid, I pried the top off. Suddenly and without hesitation the room began to shake. Back and forth the cave that we were in was coming down on itself. I grabbed Audrey's hand, "Come on," I shouted. We ran into the large room, the ceiling was moving down on us. Small rocks were showering Audrey and me. Suddenly, I felt something was missing, I remembered I left my camera. "Damn it! I forgot my camera," I shouted, "Audrey you go back to the tunnel, I'll be there soon. Wait for me." She looked at me with fear that I wouldn't make it. "GO!" I commanded. I ran as fast as I could to the other chamber. I grabbed my camera; it was sitting next to the chest. I ran out as fast as I could; the ceiling was getting low, about four feet tall. By the time I reached near the tunnel I was crawling. I knew I could make it. My hands felt so sweaty; they were slipping on the floor. I swung my legs out into the tunnel and my body followed, but in the process I dropped my camera. Just over an arms length, I knew it was reachable. I couldn't leave without it. It contained the only proof of the tomb. Touching the strap, I was so close to getting it. I propped myself up with my chest on the platform to the chamber. I was leaning in as far as I could. The room was coming down and started pressing on my head. "I got it!" I shouted. As I pulled my hand out, the ceiling began to quickly crush the camera and my hand. My hand was completely crushed from my knuckles up, my sweaty hand finally slipped out. Never in my life had I endured so much pain. 
     With no proof and a hurt hand, Audrey and I could never tell anyone the truth. First, they wouldn't believe us. Second, we ruined priceless artifacts. But, we did get out with our lives. Unfortunately, the price for the adventure of uncovering a secret was my hand.

     Thank you first to Garret Smith for having patience to listen to multiple drafts. We may have argued but you always let me win. I would like to extend my appreciation to Sarah Brunker, Melisse Lajoie, Lin Prisbrey, and Christina Vogel for their exceptional suggestions and revisions. Thank you to Terry Heller for help with ideas and making this so much fun. 

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