Welcome to The Book of Bones a (mostly) weekly adventure serial.
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If you haven’t been reading along, start here with Chapter 1.
Jessie led them on hands and knees through a veritable forest of stalagmites, their condensation-slicked surfaces dancing under the beams of their headlamps. A carpet of cave pearls set up a luminescent glow beneath them. It was like an alien world. Bones hoped that was a good omen.
Finally, the passageway came to an end.
“This can’t be it,” Amanda said. “I’m battered, soaked, and filthy. If it’s all been for nothing…”
“It hasn’t been.” Jessie turned and looked back at them. “Everyone scoot back a little. I need some room.” The young woman nimbly shifted to a seated position and, bracing herself against a rock formation, raised her feet and drove them into the wall in front of her.
The surface of the wall cracked. A few more kicks and she’d opened a hole just large enough for them to crawl through. She lay flat on her stomach and wriggled through. An instant later they heard her call out to them.
“You can stand up in here. Come on through!”
When they were all on the other side, they paused for a moment to enjoy the feeling of standing on their feet again.
“I don’t mind telling you that just about did me in,” Padilla said.
“It was like the world’s longest planking session,” Amanda agreed, wincing and rubbing her abdomen.
“So,” Bones said, turning to Jessie, “how did you know the passageway was here?”
“I knew it had to be somewhere. I mean, all the clues up to this point had been reliable. I noticed that the other side of the wall was covered with guano. When I took a closer look, I realized that the base of the wall wasn’t stone, but dried guano that had built up over the years.”
“That’s a bunch of crap.” Bones winked at her.
“That would explain why no one has found this passageway,” Krueger offered. “Explorers assumed they’d reached the end of the line.”
“And, unlike me, they wouldn’t go smashing through walls,” Jessie said.
“Don’t worry about it. You did good.” Bones gave her shoulder a squeeze and led the way down the passage.
They wound down a long, sloping tunnel. Here, the floor was smooth, and no rock formations hindered them. It was almost as if someone had carved the by hand. Bones knew that wasn’t the case. He saw no chisel marks or other signs of the stones being worked, but the change was noticeable, nonetheless.
The passageway finally leveled off. They rounded a turn and stopped short. Before them stood a simple, arched entryway. And beyond it…
Jessie gasped. “Aliens!”
The room put Bones to mind of a hogan—the traditional Navajo home. It was a circular, domed room. A sipapu, the symbolic indentation found at the center of a kiva, was carved in the bedrock at the room’s center. Petroglyphs—familiar images of the so-called “Ant People” covered the walls. But it was none of those features that captivated Bones.
Four alcoves, evenly spaced around the room, were carved into the stone walls. Inside each, upon a stone bier, lay the remains of a bizarre-looking being. Moldering scraps of fabric clung to skeletal remains. Beads once stitched to burial garments lay scattered atop the biers. Each clutched a weapon—a bow, knife, or spear.
Bones moved to inspect the nearest figure. It, like the others, was no more than five feet tall, with fine bone structure. His gaze climbed to the face and locked there in disbelief.
“Holy crap.” The structure was very much that of the stereotypical alien. An oversized cranium gave way to a narrow face. Large, round eye sockets and a tiny mouth completed the bizarre scene. What set this skull apart from other supposed aliens were the four bony appendages extending from the top of the head.
“Ant People,” Krueger breathed. “They were real. They even had antennae.” He reached a trembling hand toward the remains.
“Don’t.” Bone’s seized his wrist an instant before he could touch one of the appendages.
“Sorry. Got carried away.” Krueger took a step back and gazed at the remains with wonder and longing.
The others gathered around, talking excitedly. Amanda took out her camera and began snapping pictures. Jessie did the same with her smartphone, while Padilla, grinning, bemoaned the limits of his primitive flip phone.
While they chatted, Bones circled the room, taking a closer look at each skeleton. Three were so-called “Ant People”, but the fourth was different. She, for the bone structure clearly marked her as female, had a human face. Unlike the others, she was garbed in an odd mesh, like the strands of a spider’s web. And instead of four snakelike appendages, eight spidery legs framed her skull.
A spider woman.
A sinking feeling suddenly lay heavy in Bones’ gut. He made another circuit of the room, giving each skeleton a closer inspection. He drew his knife, placed the tip under the chin of one of the Ant Men, and cautiously lifted it a few centimeters. Just enough to confirm his suspicion.
“Dammit all to hell.” He sheathed his knife and let out a long, slow breath of disappointment.
No one heard his muttered curse. Jessie, beaming, seized his arm and pressed her body against his.
“What do you think this means? Were the Ant People really aliens or were they the source of the alien stories?”
Bones looked down at her smiling face, reluctant to deliver the news. He was spared the task when a loud voice boomed over the din of conversation.
“Everybody freeze or this girl dies!”