Check out Part 1 first.
At home I spread prints of the photos out on my desk and started to research. I worked until the early hours of the morning, but found nothing. Was it an undiscovered species? I was doubtful, but a little part of me was starting to get excited.
I spent the next ten days searching, but there was a void of information. So I sent the photos to some specialists in the field. While I waited for their responses, a strange thing happened.
I was preparing material for an international biology conference in Paris and received another call from Francis.
“Gary,” he said, sounding panicked, “I need you to come back here, Alina’s sick.”
I was stunned, “From what? What did the doctor say?”
“There’s no clear diagnosis, the doctor’s never seen anything like this,” Francis paused, “but I think it’s the plant.”
“Has it changed in any way?”
“Not really, it looks exactly the same. But a few days ago it started to produce a strong scent. I had someone come test the air and they said it wasn’t toxic.”
“Then how can you be sure this is related to the plant?”
“Because I noticed that the flower turns, and I remembered something important. It’s got to be related to the plant. It would be best if you came over to help me work this out,” Francis said with a sigh.
“Alright, I’ll head over this afternoon,” I hung up. It was almost noon, but at least my presentation was nearly ready. I called my assistant, told him I needed to go out for the afternoon and explained what was left to prepare.
I didn’t want to keep poor Francis waiting. He and Alina were a close couple. Her strange illness must have been upsetting him. Instead of sitting down for lunch I stopped to pick up a burger for the road.
Just as I drove into their town, Francis called. He gave me the name of a restaurant and asked me to meet him there. He was already waiting at a table.
It wasn’t hard to find in that small town. The lunch rush was over and there were only a few customers inside. I saw Francis waving at me from by the window. He had lost a lot of weight in the ten days since I last saw him. His usually meticulously crafted hair was a mess and he hadn’t shaved in days.
“Thanks for coming Gary,” he said, forcing a smile.
“How’s Alina? Is she at home or in the hospital?”
“She’s at home. She’s obsessed with that plant. She won’t leave it for a second. There’s something very peculiar about it,” Francis knitted his eyebrows and laughed bitterly, “I should have uprooted it when I had the chance. If only I had known then…”
“What exactly is wrong with her?”
“I’m not sure. All her organs are functioning normally, but she’s losing a lot of weight.”
“You told me you thought there was a relationship between the plant and her illness. Can you explain further?” Francis’s face darkened and he let out a long sigh.
“Do you remember that expedition I told you I went on a few months ago?”
I thought for a minute and nodded, “You mean the new tomb that was discovered in Egypt.”
“Yes, organized by the Egyptians. Professor Nash has done extensive research on mummies and tombs, so he was invited. I had just finished a project and had some spare time, so I tagged along.
“But when we arrived we were told they had discovered a whole cluster of graves. These were different from tombs found in the Pyramids. These ones were built into a mountain of stone with a circumference of a few hundred meters. Myriad pathways and tunnels had been cut into the rock and crisscrossed like an intricate spider’s web. Signposts were installed to keep people from getting lost.
“The leader of the expedition told us that tombs had been discovered in a few places, but because the area was so large there were sections that needed further investigating. It was possible that more tombs were hiding behind the dark passageways.
“That excited Professor Nash. Discovering a tomb meant gaining access to a lot of primary data that would advance his research.
“The work started quickly. The Egyptians had already marked the previously discovered tombs and put up signs inside the tunnels. I am fascinated by graves built into mountains. But my work consists mainly of analyzing data and desk research. And none of my projects cover the topic either, so I rarely get the opportunity to visit this type of site.
“The organizers put up warning signs to stop people entering certain areas. But I knew Nash would ignore them and wasn’t surprised when he came to find me after he finished surveying the newly-opened tombs.
“Packing headlamps, rope, food, water and other gear we chose an entrance and walked inside. To ensure we could find our way back out we made marks on the tunnel walls with a fluorescent pen. But still, we got lost.
“The pen broke and we didn’t notice in time. Nash was finding clues and we were marking the wall randomly without checking to see if the fluorescent traces appeared. By the time we discovered the pen was broken we had no idea how far we’d gone.
“Our only choice then was to try to retrace our steps, but how could we be sure we weren’t walking deeper into the mountain? After about two hours we still couldn’t find a passage with fluorescent marks. We were both on the verge of collapsing. And that’s when we stumbled on a tomb.
“It was in excellent condition. As we had no way to get out, Nash started analyzing the tomb’s artifacts and I assisted to one side. We must have worked for over ten hours straight. Almost a day passed before we returned to reality. The food and water were running low. Luckily, the air inside was getting renewed.
“Nash managed to stay calm. He looked at his watch and said the team must have noticed we were missing by now. It was only a matter of time before they started searching the entrance we took. Our best option was to make it easy for them to find us.
“He soon had an idea. There was an air current where the passages crossed. If we burned our clothes, the smoke might get the rescue team’s attention.
“Return of the Corphid” is a story from our newest issue, “Family”, coming soon. To read the whole piece, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.