Lost In An Endless Night
PART ONE

By: Patric Quinn

Part I

I walked about half–way down the center hall squinting at elaborate wall carvings, but decided to stop. It must be getting late. I'd better not get too interested right now. I could always come back. I turned back and thought I might take a glance down the other two rooms on my way out.

But I couldn't get out of this ballroom…or whatever it was. I walked back to a solid wall of the dark stone, great solid blocks of it. There was no exit there. I must have taken a wrong turn, more like, missed the way out. I retraced my steps squinting in the mistiness, but could find no other entry or exit. That way was now solid rock, not man–made stone, but natural rugged gray rock

And the ballroom wasn't as long as it had appeared. It was shorter and narrowed down toward the end. In this dimness that would account for the illusion of length. As I got closer I noticed rock on the end wall. Not rock, a giant door. I turned and could see nothing the way I had come. But that was the direction I had come from, I was sure. I walked that way and found a solid wall. No exit. I examined the wall up close, as best I could. It was completely natural rock and seemed closer than when I had come in. Why closer?

I was disturbed at thinking that I could be so wrong and had a bad vibe about the total expanse of giant rock that was now a wall where I thought the entrance was. Where I knew the entry was. More than disturbed, this was strange enough to send a small thrill down my spine. You're a scientist, you fool. No thrills down your spine. There's the door. On the wrong end of the room, but that's obviously your way out.

My best move was to get a grip on myself, calm down. I didn't feel good about this. The day had started out well enough for one that marked a big change in my life. My reflection in the dressing table mirror seemed to say it's time to look back and ahead and to asses. The comb and hair brush were still in my hands as I stared into the glass. Not a bad looking guy, dark hair freshly brushed, a bit of gray at the temples, the somewhat long face with its tennis tan, the serious expression more curious than challenging. Free and forty–five years old. Pretty young. With all my hair, fit condition and that tennis tan. Wealthy now, too, with a challenging tennis match for tomorrow and a 10k run for Sunday. Funny, how my business was so technologically advanced and precise, yet thoughts of my coming free time took me back to antiquity and prehistoric ages.

But standing in the near dark and reminiscing about long ago wasn't going to solve my immediate problem. Archaeology had always been an interest, but reading about how fossils went back hundreds of thousands of years and were found at various depths below today's surface captured my imagination. The layers of the world's succeeding ages lay one atop the other. And the leftovers of those ages, the fossils, were buried in the layers. What were the layers called again? Strata or striations? Something like that. How old could fossils be? Like the ones Leakey discovered in Africa. Older than civilizations like Egypt and China and Sumer. What was there to find from millions of years ago? Fossils were a good place to start.

On the drive home I had been thinking of how I had started and how big, how different this change would be. Had it been twenty years? A little more. I was still in college then and delving into all things high tech, the fever of the time. The app that I dreamed up was logical, useful and simple to use. One of the big companies thought so, too, and bought it for two and a half million dollars. Bought 'up' the competition.

Rather than loaf around I used the money to start my own business. It was small and very successful. Probing into the tech future fascinated me. What would I find or discover? During those years I had a wife I adored and a son I loved. A son I still love. My wife died young and my son grew up and into my business so naturally the work became his as much as mine. He'll take it on into whatever is waiting to be found. The dressing table and the mirrors were hers. I used it infrequently to check my clothing and such, but in time started to use it. Her combs, cosmetics and perfumes were gone and my brushes, my things, and the lukewarm cup of coffee, were there. But the three large mirrors seemed to hold the story of all those years.

Today I was no longer probing into the future, my new direction was digging into the past.

***

I stood outside the sleek, glassed front of our building, Robert Cristal Inc., in the neat industrial park. My son, also Robert, stood with me in the fading sunlight. "Now that my moment is here, Rob, it feels strange." The building was the cutting edge of design about twenty years ago. It was still neat and still served business needs well. The imaginative software and applications I had created had produced a fortune. I smiled thinking about such success. Applications were now a new word, apps. Everybody used apps without knowing what apps meant.

Robert smiled at me. "Big changes always feel strange. Think of the changes we've made over the years. The business will be fine. I'll keep it on the leading edge of what's new ahead, while you go back in time and hunt fossils. You're a young enough guy, Dad. You have time for a whole new career."

"The idea of things that go back so many years, eons, is fascinating. Opposite to getting so far out ahead, the way we've done here."

"Not entirely that different, Dad. The Egyptians used technology back then."

"Rudimentary. Almost arithmetic."

"How they managed the pyramids with their passages and vaults and incredible mass is still being argued a few thousand years later." Rob smiled and shrugged. "Like now, still."

"The fossils I've been reading up on go back hundreds of thousands of years. A longer way."

"Well, maybe, and maybe it's time to make your break now, Dad. It's heading toward the late end of the day."

"Yeah. I guess." I held out my hand to complete the transfer of authority to my son. "I'll be talking to you, Rob. And if you need me…"

Rob smiled and nodded.

***

On my way home I was as anxious about my future as I was in that…cave or…whatever it was, and wondering how to get out. The road branched off the highway and curved up through the deep cut in the hill to the high ground that the well–to–do called home.

Left and right of the black two–lane road, across wide weedy strips on either side, I could see the walls of the cut and the layers of ages past exposed like horizontal stripes in the rock. Different colors and textures, one stripe on top of another. Like a wedge of a many layered cake.

I'd driven through this cut for years and hardly noticed the striations. On impulse I slowed and pulled off onto the shoulder. The shoulder was wide and ended at a narrow field which lay between the road and the vertical edge of the cut and its wall of striations. Or strata. Or whatever the layers were called. From the open door the air felt cool on my face and the sun was just sliding behind the high ground. Traffic was still busy and a diner up the road flicked on its lights as I looked that way. The edge was off of full light, but there was clearly enough light to walk over and examine the layers. To see what there was to see close up.

Running shoes and casual Friday khakis were okay for playing around at the wall. My penknife, a fairly sturdy one, should be okay for this minor amateur expedition scratching around the layers there. With the sun falling the wall was in shade, but light enough for a little digging.

I became engrossed with the digging and finding things, and not knowing if the bits were fossils or not. Or how old the stuff in a layer was. A thousand years, a hundred thousand? All the stuff I didn't know. The higher layers were the most recent times, so, I climbed up as high as my sneakers would track and dug at those striations. Time had passed during the digging and light faded toward twilight. It was getting hard to see.

But what's over the top of the hill? Who doesn't entertain that thought? I practically had to chin myself to get a look over the top edge of the wall. And was amazed.

There in the twilight rose a giant building almost the same color as the twilight, almost looking like it wasn't real. Castles and institutions were suggested by the architecture, old ones. Constructed of almost black stone, it rose three or four stories with domes at some points. A large tiled patio spread to three huge doors that looked like an entrance. Heavy wood with steel bracing criss–crossing their expanse. The edges of the building seemed to disappear into the increasing darkness and it's height vanished above. There were no lights in evidence anywhere.

What else was there for a scientist to do? I walked across the tile patio and up to those giant doors…

To be continued

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