The Intuitives – Erin Michelle Sky

From the moment the chisel first broke through the stone into the empty air beyond, he knew they had found it. He felt it in his bones—an ache that began in the center of his chest and radiated outward, splintering apart to hurtle around his ribs and pierce his spine, screaming up his neck and along his arms and down his legs, until every last, trembling inch of him was filled with it. The fools. They had no idea what they’d done. Amr waited helplessly as Paolo, the foreman, called up to Professor Langston. “Professor! Come quick! I think we’ve found it!” Langston was the lead archaeologist—an American, as luck would have it, still unaccustomed to the heat of the Egyptian sun. Even here in Alexandria, the white jewel of a city that floated impossibly upon the Mediterranean, Langston had been hiding in his tent, mopping his face with his trusty blue bandana four or five times a minute, slowly melting away. “Yes, yes. I’m coming,” he called back, sounding far more weary than hopeful. This was the fifth time today that Paolo had uttered these exact same words, each new “discovery” amounting to nothing more than worthless limestone and bitter disappointment. But Amr knew. And as Langston approached the end of the long excavation tunnel, he felt it too, finally quickening his pace. The hole in the back wall held a cavernous promise of space behind it, and the old man all but sprinted the last few steps, excitement burning in his wizened blue eyes. “Dig!” he shouted. “So we can see it, Paolo! Dig!” Under Paolo’s careful direction, the hole began to widen, until they were finally standing on the brink of a man-sized breach in the ancient rock.

“Bring the torches!” Langston ordered, slapping Paolo on the back in his enthusiasm. “Hurry!” Paolo disappeared down the tunnel and returned in moments, carrying several battery-powered LED lamps designed for precisely this purpose: the distant illumination of large, dark caverns. “Yes! Yes, good! Here!” The professor beckoned to him, one weather-beaten hand grasping impatiently in the air. Paolo deposited a lamp into his eager palm and took up two more himself, ready to employ them as needed. Taking a deep breath, Langston turned on the light. “Paolo! Paolo!” He turned around and grabbed the man’s shoulder, tears springing to his eyes. “Professor! Are you all right?” Paolo looked into the older man’s face, clearly worried about his health, but Langston nodded and waved his concerns away, the lamp still in his hand. He was too overcome to speak, but he gestured to the hole, moving aside to make room for the others. Paolo stepped up to it and shined both lamps through as Amr peeked over his shoulder. “Yes,” the professor breathed in his ear. “Look! We are the first! The first in over two thousand years!” Amr shuddered. He knew far better than they how long it had been. He watched in anguish as eager hands held up one spotlight after another, a wonderment of statues emerging from the darkness, their shadows slithering over each other only to slip back into the earth below. Imps, gargoyles, minotaurs, gryphons, harpies, unicorns, and even stranger shapes tore at each other’s throats—hundreds of creatures locked together in an ancient, raging war, frozen in time. In the center, two dragons rose above them all, one white and one black, stone wings spread wide, jeweled teeth glistening in the harsh, modern light.

But it was what towered between them that made Paolo begin to shout, his yells echoing throughout the underground chamber as the professor pounded him over and over on his back, the promise of untold wealth burning in their eyes. In the midst of the carnage stood an ancient pyramid, its tremendous door emblazoned with a giant image, carved in deep relief: the side view of a life-sized lion, rearing up on its hind legs, its body struck through by a single bolt of lightning. • • • They stood before the door soon enough, the pyramid looming over their heads. Amr stared at it in wonder—and fear—only half listening to Langston. “You see, Paolo?” he was saying, his voice trembling with excitement. “It was said in his day that Alexander’s mother, Olympias, dreamed on the eve of her marriage that her womb was struck by a lightning bolt, igniting a flame that spread far and wide across the land.” As he said this, he pointed toward the door, his hand tracing the line of the lightning bolt in the air. “It was also said that his father, Philip, saw himself in a dream, sealing his wife’s womb with the image of a lion.” “But surely that was just a myth, created to support the legend that he became within his own lifetime,” Paolo objected, his voice laced with doubt. “Yes, yes. Don’t you see?” the professor replied, shaking his head urgently. “It is what they said of him, whether it was true or not. This is the emblem of both dream-myths together, marking Alexander’s final resting place, the tomb to which his generals moved him during the civil wars that followed his death.” Paolo nodded along with the explanation. “So what are these markings?” he asked, indicating the carvings that circled the stone frame.

“Ancient Persian. Further proof! The usual warnings—as you would expect to find on the crypt of an emperor in this part of the world.” “You can read them?” “Yes, of course. It says, ‘Here lies the king of two realms, who walked in grace in both this world and the next. With this tomb, the window to the next life is sealed. Disturb it not, lest the great works of his kingdom be destroyed.’” Close enough, Amr thought. He could read them as easily as he could read modern Arabic, but he kept that knowledge to himself. Langston stood back and admired the ancient door, his eyes threatening to tear up again, but he wiped them furiously with his bandana and took a deep breath to compose himself. “We must see it for ourselves.” “But the authorities—” Amr protested. “No!” the professor almost shouted. “I mean, yes. We will report the find, of course. But not just yet.

Please. I am an old man, and I have dreamed of this moment since I was a child. I must see it for myself, while I still ‘walk in this world,’ as it says.” “OK, Professor,” Paolo agreed. “But just the fiber cameras. We must not open it fully without the authorities present. I would lose my license.” “Of course,” Langston agreed. “That’s all I ask.” They chose a spot deep within the carving, in the ball of the lion’s foot, drilling slowly, carefully, until Paolo’s patient efforts were finally met by a sudden lack of resistance. For the first time in over two thousand years, the seal on the tomb of Alexander the Great had been broken. If the very movement of the world seemed to stutter for just an instant, if the tomb itself seemed to take a long, shuddering breath, Amr was the only one who noticed. This is the beginning of the end. And I am the only one who knows it. They have doomed us all.

He closed his eyes and shook the thought away. He could not afford to lose hope. Not now. There was a plan for this. There had always been a plan for this. And there was still time. They were out there, somewhere—they were out there, and he would find them, wherever they were. Before it was too late. 2 ROMAN PRESENT DAY Roman paused outside the small duplex, his hand resting lightly on the doorknob, refusing to grip it with any real conviction. Refusing to turn it. The bees might be angry. Not that standing in the hot Alabama sun was all that appealing. Even in late April, the heat rising off the cigarette-smeared asphalt fell somewhere just shy of egg frying. And the building itself wasn’t much to look at either: a narrow, two-story affair with faded green paint that peeled listlessly from the cracked front window. But it wasn’t the worst place Roman had ever lived.

It wasn’t so dismal as to reach into his soul and tear tiny pieces of him away every time he opened the door. He had lived in places like that, places that threatened to drown you in your own hopelessness, the constant weight on your chest making it hard to breathe, the constant fear in your belly making it hard to close your eyes at night, listening in the dark to the perpetual scurrying of the wall rats and feeling like maybe they had more of a right to be there than you did yourself. But this place, with its three tiny upstairs bedrooms and one and a half baths, the extra toilet being a luxury he had once only dreamed of in a family of seven, was no reason in itself not to open the door—no reason not to walk boldly into the small front space that served as a living room and flop down on one of the two squeaky couches, home safe after surviving another day at Grover Cleveland Middle School. It was just that the house might not be empty. His mother and Tony wouldn’t be home from work yet. His older sister, Kontessa, had gone to a friend’s house after school, and the two youngest would be at day care. That left his older brother, Marquon, who was fifteen and went to the high school now, so he got out half an hour earlier than Roman. If Marquon was already home, then Roman would be alone with the bees. Roman took his hand off the doorknob and moved it gingerly toward the black front door itself, testing its heat after the hours of abuse it had taken in the afternoon sun. He jerked his hand away as soon as his fingertips made contact, nervous about being burned, but the surface was only uncomfortable, not scorching. He reached out again and placed both small, brown hands firmly against the plane this time, palms flat, letting his skin get used to the temperature, and then he leaned in slowly until his left ear was resting against the door itself. At first, he didn’t hear anything at all. He had just begun to hope that Marquon was out with his friends or maybe had followed some girl home from school, when the TV roared into life, the mad explosion of sound startling him back from the door with a fast shove of his arms. Even several steps away, standing in the small parking space in front of the building, he could still hear the blare of his family’s only television, the buzzing notes of its half-busted speakers rattling the window. Roman’s shoulders slumped, but there was nothing for it.

He would have to go in. His mother had made it perfectly clear that eleven years old was too young, in her opinion, for a boy to be walking twelve blocks to the corner store or hanging around the park by himself. Especially in that neighborhood. Especially a boy as small for his age as Roman. If he didn’t go in, Marquon would tell her that he hadn’t come straight home after school, and after everything that had happened three years ago, Roman had to keep his head down. If his mother thought for even a moment that he might be causing trouble again, well, she would start screaming and crying and carrying on like a banshee, and then Tony would leave (Roman’s luck being what it was) and next thing you know they’d be out on the street, this time with baby Xavious in diapers, and with Child Protective Services still sniffing around after the last time… Roman knew he didn’t have a choice. Sighing deeply against the inevitable, he reached out his hand and opened the door. He tried to do it casually, like he wasn’t scared. Acting nervous around Marquon was like squeezing lighter fluid onto a barbecue. So instead of easing the door open like he wanted to and peeking his way around the edge, he just pushed it wide and walked through it, kicking off his shoes and sparing only the briefest of glances in his brother’s direction. Marquon was glued to a video game and acted as though he couldn’t care less that his little brother had come home, but Roman knew it was just a ploy. He knew it because the first red bee spiraled slowly up out of his brother’s right ear. It angled toward him, flying only an inch or so in his direction until it stopped, hovering in midair, staring straight at Roman, a silent vanguard of impending doom. Roman had started seeing strange things around people when he was only four or five years old. He wasn’t clear exactly when it had started because he had had no idea at the time that he was seeing anything unusual.

He would tell his mother that a woman in the grocery store had eight arms, or that the preacher on television had a tail like a mermaid, and his mother would either laugh and say, “Boy, you sure do have some imagination!” or would frown and tell him it was about time he started living in the real world, depending on her mood.


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Updated: 19 July 2021 — 03:41

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