Beneath the hardened and callused tips of his fingers, Cooper Roth felt the dirt crumbling as the earthen ledge threatened to collapse from the weight of his country-raised, fit, and masculine frame. Undeniably frightened from the predicament, his eyes never betrayed the confidence of resolve, that he would find a way out, that he would survive, and that the gold coin nestled safely in the fifth pocket of his favorite blue denim jeans would keep its place and remain secure in his possession. It was the type of artifact that would easily fetch dollars in the range above seven figures—maybe more.
He shunned himself for neglecting his safety. Having been focused on the coin and delighted to have made the discovery, Cooper couldn’t help elevating the right corner of his mouth in a smile that revealed a feeling of bitter-sweet happiness. The quick smile betrayed his feelings of complete despair, before his attention swiftly returned to the dire situation.
“Oh, for eff's sake, f…” he stopped himself before quietly finishing the sentence. There was no use in cursing, yet he couldn’t help but thinking up a volley of expletives that would have been appropriate at that exact moment. A shift of his weight caused even more of the dirt ledge to crumble and fall deep into the darkness which made up the chasm below him.
Illuminating the confines within a several foot radius, the ultra-bright LED headlamp securely tightened around the crown of his head cast a brilliant though slightly bluish light that revealed his immediate surroundings. Cooper turned his head upwards to inspect the dirt ledge beneath his hands, as more dirt continued to give way. The shadows cast by the light danced around the cavern in a strange way, almost as though the rock and dirt walls of the confined spaces were alive and moving.
Turning his head and attention once again, he looked down only to see the light of his lamp fading into the blackness of the hole beneath his dangling legs. As his grip tightened, the dirt ledge continued to threaten breaking, along with promising the assured plunge to a guaranteed demise. Cooper couldn’t help but wonder how he was going to pull himself up over the ledge to safety, before either his hands, or the earth, inevitable gave out.
Another millionth of a second passed when for a brief moment, for some reason, his mind looped around the thoughts of what had brought him to the cavern. Thoughts of the excavation and even the warnings he’d dismissed from the local farmers entered his mind. For at least two generations of his life, which was now approaching the wrong side of thirty, Cooper had studied the area. Although he hadn’t been the only one to know of the geography and history—including both recent and ancient. He was one of the few with the means to finance an expedition which others would have considered little more than a twisted version of a pipe dream that had no real merit or value. A flight of fancy. It was something that others could imagine, but practically it was a very unworkable way to go through life.
For Cooper, it started as a pipe dream that he now supposed would have been better to remain in the pipe. For a moment, with certain death looming, he wondered what it would have been like to have a wife, a son or daughter, or maybe both. He thought about whether or not he’d have the patience to own some kind of animal as a pet. A dog. Perhaps one of the larger breeds. As soon as the thoughts came, they went. Closing his eyes, his face shifted in a wince, as though he’d bitten into a raw lemon. Shaking the thoughts of the past and future from his mind, he took a deep breath and held the air for a moment before moving every ounce of energy in his body to his forearms in an attempt to pull himself up.
After an audible grunt and loud exhalation of air, his body rose a mere inches before a relatively large mound of dirt disintegrated in the palm of his left hand, which swiftly lost its grip, swinging around his back and leaving him dangling in an even more precarious position than he’d been only seconds ago.
Now, with only one hand holding him and with a fundamental knowledge of physics, he realized it was the end. What was supposed to be a very routine morning had suddenly become his last. There was no time to think of the harness and rope he’d left behind, in favor of a swift peek into the caves. There was no reason to think of the figure eight descenders or rappel racks that his camp regularly employed for deep explorations.
It was, after all, a cave they’d explored before. In every sense of the word explore. A dizzying array of instruments and all manner of technology had been used to survey the caverns which were well known around the area. Having spent more than three years living just a few miles to the south in the small town of Kanab, Cooper had gained an intimate knowledge of the rocks and geography of the place, although he was far more interested in the history.
With his team of expert archaeologists and the like, Cooper had quite literally mapped out no less than every grain of sand and speck of dirt in the area of the caves which, in total, covered less than half of a square mile.
These caves were man-made, there was no doubt. The indications of such ancient efforts and the labor of man from times past echoed their way through time and provided an exhaustive yet confidential peek into the past. From the evidence, the team had come to the conclusion that the caves were made in the range of 1,200 to 1,300 years before their present intrusion.
Despite the long history and age of the caves, Cooper was decidedly more fascinated in the more recent developments which he believed, had brought travelers from Central America to the same caves around three to four hundred years ago.
Those travelers, he speculated, were the stragglers and remnants of the once great and defeated Aztec Empire. On a mission to keep their prized collections from the hands of a greedy Cortez and abominable Spanish invaders, a small group of high priests had delegated themselves the task of moving the great Aztec Treasure of Montezuma to a land far north of their old empire’s boundaries.
In no less than what could be considered a lightning bolt stroke of luck, Cooper remembered the rush of adrenaline he felt when his eyes first fell over the golden coin embedded into the rock which only revealed itself on the summer solstice using an ingenious method of strategically placed stones. Of course, he knew luck had little to do with it, considering the time he spent studying the history and lore of the caves.
Having only found the single coin and nothing else, Cooper knew finding it had put him on track for potentially making the greatest finding since the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb. Even though luck had nothing to do with the discovery of that tomb or the gold coin bearing Aztec marks in his pocket, he wished he’d had just a little luck, in time, before finally losing his grip and plummeting to a rocky doom.
With those thoughts fresh in his mind, he timidly stole another glance of the dark void beneath him, before the remainder of the dirt ledge gave way...
The Emblem Rock
by Aston Var
Coming May 2018
College freshman Philip Wright had nothing but academics, friends, and girls on his mind during that comfortable autumn as he prepared for a truly bright future. It was a typical time for a young man, until an unusual package was discovered, containing an ancient artifact that would alter the course of history and catapult Philip into an unforgettable adventure.
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