Welcome to The Book of Bones a weekly adventure serial.
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The tiny passageway beneath Spider Grandmother’s head was sharply angled—not quite a vertical drop, but hardly an easy descent. Bones led the way, taking full advantage of the hand and footholds carved into the stone. The surface was cool and slick; several times he lost his grip and skidded a few feet before arresting his fall.
Padilla came next, the logic being that, if he fell, he wouldn’t take out the rest of the crew like so many bowling pins. Jessie, aside from Bones the most athletic, followed, then Amanda and Krueger. The bookish man at least had a bit of experience with this sort of thing, having once joined Bones and Maddock on a brief foray into Egypt.
After a laborious climb down, they finally reached level ground. The passageway, straight and narrow, led to a familiar sight; familiar, at least to Bones.
“It’s another door, like the one at Halcón Rock.”
A gleaming, silver door barred their way. Like the one he’d seen previously, it bore no markings and had no visible, hinges, locks, or knobs. This door, however, had something the other did not—a square pad set in the wall to the left.
“It’s beautiful,” Krueger breathed. “Flawless.” He took a step back and grinned. “Who wants to be the one to touch the pad?”
“You can do the honors if you like,” Bones said. Privately, he wondered if the door would open for them.
Krueger stepped forward and pressed his palm to the pad. Nothing happened.
“Damn,” Padilla cursed.
Krueger pressed harder, the veins in his forearms bulging with the effort. The pad began to glow. A wide, thin beam of green light shone forth and ran up and down Krueger’s body. Then the light spread to take them all in.
“I don’t like this,” Amanda said as the light enveloped her.
After several seconds, it stopped. And then, with barely a whisper, the door slid to the side.
“Holy crap,” Bones said. “It actually opened.”
“You first, big guy. This is your rodeo.”
He felt Amanda’s hands on the small of his back, nudging him forward, but he was already moving. Wondering what lay on the other side, he stepped through the doorway.
He’d expected to find something remarkable on the other side, but there was nothing to see save a continuation of the passageway. He continued on, the others falling into step behind him.
“I wonder why it opened for us,” Padilla said. “If it was meant to keep people out…”
“We don’t know what it was meant for,” Bones said. “Gilmour said the trouble between humans and these aliens, or Ant People, or whatever they are, is fairly recent, but this entrance hasn’t been used since the Puebloans created that shrine.
“Centuries upon centuries ago,” Krueger said. “Maybe millennia.”
“That’s what I’m thinking. Hopefully, whoever is down here had a good relationship with the natives.”
“Good thing we’ve got the native leading the way,” Amanda said.
Bones rounded a corner, and his sarcastic reply died on his lips. He froze.
“What is it?” Jessie whispered.
“Everybody stand right where you are,” he said, “and slowly put your hands above your heads.”
Matthew came to with a pounding headache. The Indian had kicked him in the head, he remembered that much, but that wasn’t all, was it? No, he’d first been knocked out by flying debris from the explosion. But… no, the timing was all wrong. His dad had been talking to him, then the next thing he knew, he was looking up at the Indian and the old rancher.
Bile rising in his throat, he understood. The Indian hadn’t lied—Sheriff Jameson, his own father, had left him here to die. The man had chosen ICE over his own son.
“Son of a…” Just then he became aware of another pain, burning and stabbing, at the tip of his finger. In the beam of his headlamp, which miraculously still burned, he saw sticky blood covering his hand, and the memory of the Indian sliding his knife beneath Matthew’s fingernail swam to the surface. His stomach lurched and a wave of dizziness passed over him. How could so small a hurt cause him so much pain?
“I’m going to find that redskin, and I’m going to kill him.”
“…put your hands above your heads.” Bones followed his own instructions, spreading his fingers wide to show he wasn’t holding anything, and raising his hands above his head. Hopefully, this was sufficient to convey he meant no harm because the last thing he wanted to do was threaten the being that stood before him.
The creature stood about five feet tall. Its large head, bulbous eyes, and thin, sinewy arms and legs very much resembling the so-called “Alien Greys” or “Roswell Greys” of UFO folklore. Its chest and hips were thickly muscled, and its waist narrow, giving its torso a segmented appearance, like that of an ant. Adding to its antlike appearance were a second set of arms, stunted with claws where the hands should be, extending from its abdomen, and a pair of silvery antennae, so fine as to be almost invisible in the near-darkness. These were in constant motion. Given that the creature had no visible nose or ears, Bones assumed the antennae did the work.
The Ant Person, as Bones found himself thinking of the being, was clearly old. A hint of yellow tinged its gray skin, which hung in folds at its joints. Cradle moons of purple hung beneath its eyes, and specks of white hair dotted its chest.
I hope old Ant Men aren’t as crotchety as their human counterparts.
The being clutched a silver rod tipped with a gleaming purple crystal. Bones had seen a few artifacts very much like it in his time, and they were not to be trifled with.
“Is that an Atlantean weapon?”
At the sound of Krueger’s voice, the Ant Man let out a hiss, baring thin, spiky teeth, and leveled his weapon.
“It’s similar,” Bones said. “Let’s not find out, though.”
“Did you say Atlantean?” Amanda piped up.
“Not now,” Bones said.
Its large eyes were glossy black, but somehow Bones knew it was staring at him. He stared back, uncertain how to proceed. As he searched for the words, it held out one hand, palm up, and tilted its head forward a fraction.
Bones almost laughed at how human the gesture was. Apparently, “What the hell do you want?” was universal. Literally.
“We want to get out.” He pointed up at the ceiling. “Out,” he repeated.
The Ant Man seemed to understand. It moved to the side and pointed down the tunnel.
“We communicated with it!” Krueger said.
Once again, the being hissed.
“I don’t think he likes white people,” Bones said. “And you’re the only one in the group who fits that description, so maybe you should hang back a little.”
“Agreed.” Krueger sounded disappointed.
Bones once again took the lead, and the Ant Person fell in step behind them. After ten minutes, a greenish glow appeared in the distance, soon growing bright enough that they could turn off their headlamps.
They emerged on a narrow ledge. Down below, a magnificent sight greeted them.
They were looking into a broad cavern, illuminated by the glow of green crystals set in the ceiling. The walls were honeycombed with stairs and cliff dwellings, all sliced out of the rock with laser precision. At the cavern’s center was carved a sunken, perfectly round, room. A stone bench encircled the space. To one side, walled off by three vertical stones, a small carcass, perhaps a rat, roasted on a spit over glowing embers. A well lay at the center, the surface of the water shining in the emerald glow.
A group of Ant People, fewer than a dozen, went about their daily activities. Some tended children, while another sliced up chunks of a mushroom-like fungus. None paid any mind to the intruders into their realm.
“It’s like a Sci-Fi Mesa Verde,” Krueger whispered. “The Anasazi dwellings must have been modeled after this.”
“And that spot in the middle is the inspiration for their kivas,” Bones added.
“Do you think that’s all of them?” Jessie asked. “I mean, all these cliff dwellings should be able to hold a thousand or more, wouldn’t you think?”
Bones shrugged. “They’ve been here for a long time. Maybe this is all that’s left.”
The Ant Person chittered and jabbed Krueger with his crystal-tipped rod. The message was clear: keep moving.
“You’re right. He really doesn’t like me.” Krueger cast one last, longing glance at the Ant People’s home before heading along the ledge to a spot where another gleaming door stood.
The Ant Person placed its hand on the pad and the door slid up. Behind it, a steep passage wound its way upward. The being pointed through the doorway.
“Thank you.” Bones didn’t know if it understood him, but no harm in being polite.
Amanda pressed her palms together and made a small bow. Surprisingly, the creature inclined its head in response.
“I think he likes girls,” Amanda said.
“I don’t care what he likes,” Padilla said. “I just want to get out of here.”