James Rada, Jr.
2: The skeleton
“An ill wind blows no good.”
That old saying rang in Bruce Nelson’s head when he and the men of his work crew opened the large metal box they had unearthed digging into Raven Rock Mountain on a government project. The wind that had burst outward when the seal on the box lid broke had chilled him to his core.
Bruce hesitated to look inside the box. It suddenly seemed ominous or at least worrisome to him. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see what could generate such a wind.
Bruce switched on his flashlight and shone it inside the metal box. Bones gleamed under the light.
It was a skeleton. So the box was a coffin. That had been his first thought when he found it, but it hadn’t been the right size for a coffin or made from the right material. For that matter, being located hundreds of feet underground wasn’t the right place for a coffin.
Yet, he was staring at bones. At least he thought they were bones. As Bruce moved the flashlight beam up and down along the bones, he realized this was no typical skeleton.
“Is it a time capsule?” Harv Worthington asked from behind him.
“I hope it’s a treasure,” Joe Jeffries countered.
Without taking his eyes off the skeleton, Bruce said, “It’s bones.”
“Bones? No, that means we’ll be delayed while the eggheads come in here to study them,” Harv said.
Bruce turned off the flashlight. “Help me pull the lid all the way off. There’s something wrong with these bones.”
The half dozen men on the crew struggled to lift the lid. It felt like it weighed more than lead. The effort left them all sweating and breathing hard.
“Careful,” Bruce cautioned. “If we damage this, the higher-ups will have our heads.”
He thought it was more likely the lid would damage one of his work crew by smashing a finger or dropping on someone’s foot.
With the lid off, more light from the klieg lights could shine in the box. The skeleton was at least seven-feet tall. The arms were long, reaching down to the knees, which were reversed like many birds. The chest was broad, nearly as wide as the four-foot-wide coffin. The skull had a pronounced jaw filled with jagged teeth that seemed longer than they should be. It wasn’t smooth along the top either. It had a series of small, horn-like growths all over the skull.
“What the hell is that?” Patrick O’Hearn said.
Bruce shook his head. “It’s not human.”
“You think?” Joe said. “Nothing human or animal has ever looked like that.”
“Something did. There’s its skeleton,” Harv said, stabbing his finger toward the skeleton.
Bruce rubbed his face. He would definitely have to call this in.
He kept trying to imagine what a creature with this skeleton would look like. It would be something out of a horror movie like Boris Karloff in Frankenstein. He could almost understand why someone would want to bury it deep in the ground, even if he couldn’t figure out how it was done.
“It has to be a fake like something for Halloween,” Patrick said. “It doesn’t even have skin.”
Bruce stared at the skeleton again. Patrick was right. When Bruce was younger, he had worked at a cemetery helping dig the graves. One summer, the maintenance crew had needed to exhume a body for a police investigation. When the casket had been opened, teenage Bruce had seen the body. It had been desiccated with some spots where he could see bone, but there had been flesh and clothing. This skeleton had none of that. It was just bones that were clean and white as if they had never held flesh.
He shined the flashlight in the box. He saw nothing indicating anything but bones had ever been inside.
Fake or not, this was above his pay grade.
Bruce told his men to take lunch, even though it was only 10 a.m. Then he went to the construction office at the entrance to the mountain to make a call.
The small caravan of cars arrived around noon. One held a general and colonel. Bruce’s supervisor, Paul McNeill, was in the second car, and Dr. Howard Buchanan was in the third.
As the men climbed out of their cars, Paul hurried over to Bruce.
“Are you sure about this?” Paul asked.
Bruce nodded. “I wasn’t the only one who saw the box or the bones. Who would have buried something so deep?”
“I don’t really care. My butt is not on the line over the who. We just need to make sure whatever you found is not damaged.”
Bruce looked over at Dr. Buchanan. The man was middle-aged with a receding hairline. He had the look of a former military man, and Bruce would have bet he was also a vet of the war. He was also the person in trouble over all this because he had verified the site as not being claimed as a religious site or graveyard by any Native American or pioneer group.
“I don’t think what we found is something anyone can blame the doc for,” Bruce said.
Paul rolled his eyes. “It’s the government. They’ll want to blame someone, especially if the news gets out we unearthed some Indian’s great-great-great-grandpa.”
“That’s what I mean,” Bruce said. “It’s not Indian. I don’t even think it’s human.”
The military men and Dr. Buchanan stopped talking and walked over to Bruce. He loaded them into a truck and drove to the rubble pile in the cavern. He walked them over to the box and shined his flashlight on the skeleton.
The colonel laughed. When everyone looked at him, he said, “Well, it’s obviously a hoax.”
“I thought that at first, too,” Bruce said. “But then I thought about the box. I’m not sure what that metal is, but it wasn’t scratched even with tons of rubble falling on it. It’s also so heavy it would have taken a heavy-duty truck to bring it here, and that would have been noticed.”
Dr. Buchanan reached into the box and ran his hand along a bone. “They feel real enough, although they look bleached rather than aged.”
He walked around the box, stopping only when he saw the scratching on the box.
“Not that I know every language, but I don’t recognize these characters, although my gut says it is a language of some sort.”
“We had an Indian on our crew. When he saw those scratches, he just turned around and left,” Bruce said.
Dr. Buchanan stood up. “I want to get some photos of those marks. Then I’ll get the members of the language department at the university to look at them. Maybe one of them will recognize the language.”
“What about the bones?” The general asked.
“Leave them alone for now until we know if a group will claim them. We have already disturbed them enough.”
Bruce was happy enough to leave the bones alone for now, but he doubted any group would want to claim them.
Bruce drove onto the job site the next day, hoping that he could get back to work. The best outcome would be that the higher-ups determined the skeleton was a fake. Then it could be thrown in the trash and work could resume.
He drove down the long tunnel and parked his truck. He made sure the windows were rolled up. This was to make sure no dust and dirt got inside the truck, although it always seemed to find a way in.
No one else was at the site yet. He walked over to the box carrying his morning coffee in a Thermos. He took a swig of coffee to help clear his head, and he looked in the box.
He spit out his coffee and dropped the Thermos.
The skeleton was still in the box, but now it had flesh on it, at least on some of it.
“This is not good,” Bruce muttered to himself. “This is not good.”
Bruce grabbed his flashlight and shined the beam on the skeleton. The left foot now was covered across the top with gray fur. A red muscle had attached itself to the knee and upper right thigh. Leathery skin covered a hip and some new tissue beneath it. Black fur with white stripes covered part of the chest. More leathery skin covered the skull, which made the bone protuberances look even more like horns. A strip of scales ran along one arm.
Bruce started to turn away, but he stopped and stared at the new additions to the skeleton. He recognized the fur. It came from a skunk and a gray squirrel, and the white-striped fur was skunk. The scales appeared to have come from a snake. He couldn’t place the leathery skin, although it might have been from a bat. Where the skin and tissue touched, it seemed fused together.
Bruce took his pocketknife from his pocket and used it to move the skins. Not only were they connected to each other, but they were also connected to the skeleton.
He spun away and ran back to his truck. To be continued next month