Dr. Kaftar, the Hyena, and the Dreadfully Cursed Turquoise Statuette
The moon hung low, its dull red incandescence illuminating the endless sands beneath. Frightful laughter echoed through the vast expanse, the howling wind not enough to eclipse the sounds of the witching hour. If one were to stand deathly still, one might have heard the quiet cries of a man who had not quite come to terms with fate, but met his iniquitous end at the maw of a beast. The blood moon grinned over the barren frontier, and the night was almost noiseless.
Dr. Robert Kaftar sat on a train hurtling towards the Persian desert with the absurd intention of unearthing an artifact that may not have even existed in the first place. He wasn’t the type to go treasure hunting, but something told him this was the sort of opportunity that would never resurface for a sixty-seven-year-old history teacher whose grey hairs now far outnumbered the rest. No quantity of puffs on his cigar would make him understand how a letter from an old acquaintance convinced him that perhaps this turquoise effigy did lie within the sands of an ancient desert. Regardless, he puffed.
Somewhere to the south, Lawrence Norton sat in a different train skimming over his pulp novel. He had written to his old history teacher with the idea of uncovering a certain lost figurine, and was shocked months later when he received a message suggesting a rendezvous in a small town amidst the Persian desert. The realization that he had been thrown into such a fantastic journey hadn't fully sunk in until he found himself zipping through an alien landscape with no way of turning back.
Shouts rang out in the chamber under the desert sands. All intention of splitting the loot evaporated as soon as the first bandit laid eyes upon his quarry. What started as a squabble quickly escalated into an unbridled bloodbath as brother slaughtered brother, all hoping to bask in the glory alone. Everyone who set foot in the chamber was dead within seconds, but the sound of gunfire ricocheted off the walls of the underground tomb, ringing for what seemed like an eternity.
The flickering amber light the lantern cast on the tunnel walls of the ziggurat only accentuated the darkness ahead. Shadows pressed in from all sides, and a claustrophobic silence had fallen upon the two. Dr. Kaftar followed three steps behind his former student, weary of the tales of trapped tombs and ancient curses. He had no way of knowing how right he was until the lantern, and Lawrence with it, plummeted sharply into a concealed pit in the tunnel floor. The yelling only started after the shattering of the lantern on the dusty bricks. In an instant, he was plunged into obscurity.
Lawrence Norton found himself alone in the dark passages under the ziggurat. He felt he should be terrified, but was somehow strangely serene. There was one thought in his mind: the longer he stood still, the closer Dr. Kaftar was to discovering the idol. The very artifact which he had convinced the old man to look for. Yet he was the one thrown downwards into the shadows, while Kaftar likely bumbled ahead to claim the turquoise curio for his own. Furious, he stumbled forward, hoping the walls would guide him towards his statuette and the high repute its discovery would bring.
Before he had set out on this foolish adventure, Dr. Kaftar would not have thought of himself as the least bit squeamish. He changed his mind as soon as the stench of rancid flesh overwhelmed him. He was inside the burial chamber, and the mess of carcasses that littered the floor rattled him terribly. On a pedestal past the bones of tomb bandits and treasure hunters lay the object of his expedition. The surprisingly small turquoise effigy which had been hibernating within the ziggurat since the birth of recorded history was staring right at him. It had been waiting. The doctor grabbed the statuette and raced towards what he hoped was the end of the hellish labyrinth, unaware of the dreadful calamity he had incited.
When the ragged teacher finally escaped, he was enveloped by the night. He had no idea how long he had been scrambling around inside the labyrinth, and the abrupt explosion of space astounded him. But he ran out of time to take in the desert sky, for a figure was silhouetted against the lights in the dark: an absence of stars with his gun drawn.
Dr. Robert Kaftar had scarcely opened his mouth. Not a sound escaped his throat - it all happened too fast. A sharp crack echoed off sand dunes, and the doctor’s mind hurtled into an adrenaline filled fever. He could not move. He could not scream. He could not tear his gaze away from Lawrence’s. Reflected in his former pupil’s eyes was the blood moon, hanging low over the tempestuous sands, aligned with the apex of the ziggurat. Its sinister smile was repeated on Lawrence’s face. Looming over the unfortunate pair, it seemed titanic. If one were to climb to the top of the colossal structure, perhaps one could be swallowed whole.
As the hot blood trickled down his back and Lawrence slipped away into the cimmerian horizon, the old man collapsed into the dust. Supine in the twilight, Doctor Kaftar was embraced by silence for eons as his heartbeat slowed to a crawl. He was delirious by the time the ghastly laughing began. They found him staring blankly at the void above. Tears rolled down his weathered cheeks as the hyenas crept over the barren frontier, seeping into his vision like nightmarish phantasms. The wind howled through the grim wasteland, and the light of the blood moon weighed heavy upon the primeval necropolis.