Mercury Poisoning – 2,494 words

Safa Kouri was the first one into the site, as always. The rest of the team held the rope that was secured firmly into her harness and slowly lowered her through the dusty, narrow pit in the rock.  The brilliance of the sun on the desert became a distant memory in the darkness of the chamber.  She flipped on her headlamp, its beam slicing through the dark and illuminating hieroglyphs on the sandstone.  A little, happy gasp slipped from her lips at the sight of them.

This was why she became an archeologist.  The thrill of the find, the hunt for answers.  Just the thought of poring over the details of this place made her giddy with excitement.  It was just a shame how she had to get here.  She reached the ground, unfastening herself and tugging twice to signal the next person.

In Egypt, it was difficult to be the first to a site.  The government claimed most sites for their teams, for their archaeologists.  It was Safa’s country of birth.  She had been fascinated by its history since she was a child.  But she never could get on one of those teams.

Luckily, there were other, less legal options.  Modern tomb robbers.  People who got leaks on sites and got there before the government teams.  It was dangerous work, but her degree got her an easy in on most teams, and the paychecks were no joke.  It was the best way for her to chase her thrill.  And her curiosity.

The next one down the rope was Elena Butler, an older American woman who made herself out to be a less altruistic Indiana Jones.  She wore her usual rimmed leather hat and a revolver at her hip.  It was her who found the tips, sold the artifacts, and handed out the paychecks.  She was the leader of the operation, and a scary woman to boot.

“Kouri,” she barked, “get to work.”

Safa didn’t need any more prodding.  She started her search around the room, eagerly mapping out the chamber and looking for artifacts.  They would take pictures and chip the images from the walls last.  First, they started with loose artifacts.  Gold and other items.

The rest of the team came down as she searched.  Hatem and Matthew weren’t degree bearing archaeologists with an interest in the history.  They were here for the paycheck, which meant they listened to whatever Safa said and didn’t ask any questions.  Elena had been doing this much longer than Safa, but she still trusted her to find what was most valuable.

The chamber was unpromising, at first glance.  There was no sarcophagus here, no treasure.  It was some kind of antechamber, disconnected from the chambers that held the real treasure.  A huge, ten foot tall statue that spanned the height of the room was the only significant artifact, but they had no hope of getting it free.  It seemed to depict a warrior, rather than a pharaoh or god.  It held two sickle swords crossed across its chest.

Around the edges of the room, tools and weapons had been discarded on the floor.  Some were obviously ceremonial, adorned with gold and rare stones. Others were just standard tools— probably used to build the tomb.  The two men got to work collecting what was just laying around.  Even the ancient tools were worth something.  There was a tidy profit already.

The statue of the warrior kept drawing her back.  Pharaohs were sometimes buried with statues that they believed would come back to life to serve them in the afterlife, but Safa had never seen one this big.  Usually the statues that would serve them were attendants or servants.  This was a warrior.

Safa circled the statue, spotting something tucked between it and the wall.  She motioned to Elena, who came over and helped her drag it out to where they could see it.  It was an urn, painted with images of gods and goddesses.

“Jackpot,” Elena said, eyes dancing over the images with an excitement that practically showed dollar signs popping in her eyes.  

The lid was slightly ajar.  Safa opened it to see it filled nearly to the brim with a silver liquid.  It took her a moment to realize what she was looking at.  “Mercury,” she called out, retreating quickly from the urn to fumble for the mask she kept in her bag.

“The hell?” Elena said, peering down into it as she pulled her own air filtered mask over her mouth.  “Why would that be there?”

Safa’s reply was muffled by her mask as she said, “It’s not uncommon in these tombs, though I’ve never seen this much before.  They used to think it was a kind of healing elixir.”

Elena huffed a grim laugh.  “Great.  Leave it.  I don’t want to handle that shit.”

There were no complaints about that.  God knows how much mercury vapors they had already inhaled.  It was essentially breathing in a neurotoxin— collecting in the lungs and kidneys and wreaking havoc on the nervous system.  It wasn’t typically the greatest worry in tombs, where other chemicals used in the embalming process could harm the lungs.  She was glad to get away from the stuff.

Safa got to work searching the walls for signs of other rooms.  It was standard for there to be hidden chambers to kept from people like them.  That was their best bet to score a sarcophagus or real treasure room.  She had gotten good at finding air channels and cracks in between bricks.

While she worked, the rest of the team gathered the finds so far on a pallet that their man on the outside lowered via the truck.  They shouted up to him, and the platform, loaded with rusted and old metal, slowly climbed up toward the sunlight.  It had nearly reached the ceiling when the rumbling began.  

Dust and sand rained down from the ceiling as it shuddered, sending the platform swinging wildly over the room as they were all forced to the ground to avoid falling over.  The rope snapped with a sharp, audible crack that filled the air just as the tiny ray of sunlight from above disappeared.  The pallet fell with a crash of splintering wood and clattering artifacts.  There were a few seconds of stunned silence as they were left with only the light from their head lamps.

Elena looked up slowly toward the ceiling.  The crack in the stone that they had widened to get into the tomb was gone without a trace.  “Shit,” the woman muttered, at a loss.

“What the fuck do we do now?” Hatem said with more than a little panic creeping into his voice.

Matthew was a little better at hiding it.  “Jorge will get us out.”

“Jorge is a spineless little bastard,” Elena spat, casting her light around the room to look for any ideas of what to do.  “He’s not sticking around for us.”

Safa sunk to the ground, back to the wall.  She was going to die here, starving with all these morons.  

“What even happened?” Elena said, looking at each of them with a sharp look, like it was their fault.  Safa just shook her head.

They fell quiet, and it was only then when they heard the vibrating.  It came from beside the statue, from the urn.  All of them put their lights on it as it began to shake and then wobble on its base.  The vibrating got more and more violent, and a metallic hum reached their ears, like a wind chime except much colder and steadier.

None of them spoke, assaulted with the sounds until they had to cover their ears.  The air in the chamber started moving.  Safa smelled a coppery tinge to the air.

The urn shattered, spilling liquid mercury out onto the sandstone floor.  It moved strangely, gathering itself together into a droplet on the ground that looked like a raindrop on a window.  Then, it froze like that— as pure and unbroken as the surface of a mirror.  The ones of them still standing backed away from it like they could feel that wrongness beyond the strangeness.

The droplet broke apart like water when you disturbed the surface tension.  Instead of spilling everywhere, though, it shifted and transformed into a standing humanoid shape.  The shock and awe only compounded as it flexed its fingers, turning its featureless head around toward each of them in turn.  

The tension reached its breaking point when the being took a step toward them all.  There wasn’t a single word spoken.  Elena ripped the revolver from her waist and fired three rounds.  Each shot was like a thundercrack in the closed space of the tomb.  The bullets ripped right though it, creating explosions of dust and splatters of mercury on the dust behind the creature.  Its skin rippled outward from where the bullets had entered it like it was a lake and they had just dropped three pebbles into it.

It took another step.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Elena snarled around the work men.  “Fucking shoot it!”

They rushed to their bags in a scramble, pulling automatic Kalashnikov rifles free and turning them on the thing.  It took another step, wobbling like it was unsure of itself.  And then they flicked the safeties off of their rifles and opened fire.  The tomb became a blaze of muzzle flashes and roaring gunfire.

At first, the rounds kept tearing through it, painting the wall behind it with holes and mercury splattered like blood. But then the thing raised a hand and the bullets halted in the air before it.  They stopped firing abruptly, watching the bullets hover in the air as the being reconstituted itself back into its uninjured shape.  It dropped its hand and the bullets fell like tinkling metal raindrops.  

Hatem rose his rifle again in a flash, and the being crossed the room in an explosive burst of motion, grabbing his gun and pointing it up and away from it as he pulled the trigger.  He didn’t let up, emptying the gun into the ceiling and sending more dust into the air.  The mercury creature brought its other hand down and drove it into his chest.  It erupted through his back with the shattered remnants of his spine and crimson blood all over it.  Hatem screamed, dropping the gun and swinging his fist into the thing’s head with the last of his strength.  His knuckles shattered against it like he had just punched solid steel.

When the thing placed a hand against his through and yanked its hand free, dropping Hatem to the floor, he was dead and still.  His eyes stared lifelessly toward Safa, who had nothing in her but to watch the events unfold with a cold terror.

Matthew screamed a battle cry and unloaded his Kalashnikov at the monster.  It stopped them with the same ease as before, not even looking as the entire fusillade of bullets became an inert cloud of metal a foot from its hand.  Matthew stared, dropping his gun and backing away.  The mercury being closed its fist.  The floating bullets reversed directions all at once, obliterating Matthew in an spray of blood and bone.

It faced Elena now, watching her expectantly.  Safa got the impression it was waiting for her.  The grayed woman backed up against the wall that put it the farthest away from her and aimed the revolver at it once again.  Her hands were shaking violently when she pulled the trigger.  The being flowed out of the way in a fluid dodge, letting the bullet strike the statue behind it.  She fired again, and it flung its hand out and stopped it, letting it fall to the ground.

Elena wasn’t crying or screaming.  In fact, she even looked a little at peace when she put the barrel of the gun against the side of her head.  There was one round left in it, and Safa could see in the woman’s eyes that she wasn’t going to let this thing be her end.  Her grip tensed, she exhaled, and started to pull the trigger.

The mercury creature was there in an instant, pinning the gun against the wall and stopping her from killing herself.  Its hand became liquid as it forced the weapon from her grip and tossed it over its shoulder, letting it slide and come to a stop halfway across the room.  Only then did Elena begin to tremble, and she opened her mouth to scream—

It placed a reflective finger over her lips, shushing her.  And then its entire hand became liquid again and gushed down the woman’s throat.  She gasped and struggled, trying to force the thing away from her so that she could breathe.  Metal spikes began to erupt from her skin, tearing her apart from the inside.  She went still quickly.  Elena’s body hit the ground in a wet thump.

The monster turned to Safa.  She saw her shaking, tiny form in its mirror-like face.  It lifted up an arm and the metallic humming returned.  One of the ceremonial blades that littered the floor from when the pallet fell sudden lifted into the air, spinning languidly.  Safa closed her eyes.

The knife hit something which clattered toward her, nudging one of her legs.  She reopened her eyes to see the revolver within arms reach.  The being watched her with an expectant silence.

Safa looked at the gun, then the warrior statue that dominated the room, and then back at the monster.  She kicked the gun away, sending it all the way into the opposite wall.  “N—no,” she said, voice gaining strength.  “I won’t fight you.”

It actually seemed disappointed.  The humming faced into nothing.  The being collapsed into a puddle of mercury which flowed up the wall, disappearing between cracks in the ceiling.  

Safa didn’t move or make a sound, shivering in the darkness as she stared at where the monster had seeped away through.  She waited for it to come back, refusing to believe that she had survived.  She worked very hard not to look at the dead bodies, or to smell the blood, or to notice the blood that was soaking into her pants leg.

The ceiling split with an abrupt, shuddering sound of breaking stone.  Sand and dust flooded the chamber.  Safa covered her eyes, coughing and shrinking into as small of a figure as she could manage, her heart hammering in her chest.  When the cloud faded, sunlight had rejoined the room, illuminating the black blood into a gruesome crimson.

A rope dropped from above with a thump, trailing up into the ceiling.  It was quiet now.  The desert seemed to be holding its breath.  Safa ignored it— and the bodies— and got to her feet.  There were some questions better left unanswered, she decided as she stepped through the puddles of blood and started climbing out of the tomb.

({A/N}: A bit of a rough ending, but I’m proud of the good bits. Wanted to practice introducing characters a bit.}

One response to “Mercury Poisoning – 2,494 words”

  1. I like it alot. Towards the end it gets a bit I meant to write throat but have written through..thats you getting excited as you write. I do same thing lol. The last violent scenes could be snappier as they are good. The whole thing is great. Feel free to delete my comment and do the edits. I really enjoyed reading this – point of interest is mercury was also used for electic power before batteries were invented.

    Liked by 1 person

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