The Mystery Tomb

By: Eva Pohler

Chapter One: The Mësingw

Samantha Beck stood, hunched over a screen, sifting through bones and dirt.

Her associate, Mark Farms, was bent over the screen across from her, photographing a scrap of leather with a digital camera. The two-by-four-foot wire-meshed screen lay atop two wooden sawhorses. Several of these were set up around their excavation site.

Samantha took off her dirty gloves and held up a sherd of pottery in the Pennsylvania summer sun. So far, two weeks on the site had turned up nothing. She doubted she’d be able to convince her professor to trust her again, so this might be her last chance to prove that her grandmother was a Lenape descendant. The landowner wouldn’t let them stay indefinitely, and O’Neil, their department head, was sure to pull the plug any day now.

“Algonquian markings.” She pointed to marks at the base of the sherd where an upward turned bow preceded a series of rectangular engravings, and her chest bloomed with hope. “I’ve seen these on Lenape pipes in Oklahoma. And here’s another turtle. I still don’t know what that signifies.” She brought down the sherd and continued sifting through the screen, vaguely aware that the sun was going down.

“Look at this scrap of leather,” Mark said.

“Is that the one the baby was wrapped in?”

Mark nodded. “But something’s not right about this site. I agree with you. It’s like they were moved.” He took another photo.

Professor Ricardo Gomez’s cell phone rang out across the excavation site.

Mark glanced over at the professor, who fumbled in the pocket of his blue jeans with his one free hand for his cell phone. “Maybe the professor can shed some light on this.”

“The bodies must have been moved after burial, after decomposition,” she said. “Like, in recent years.”

But who would move the bodies, and why?

“Hello?” the professor said into his phone.

Mark shook his head. “You think he’ll be on the phone an hour again?”

“The last call wasn’t that long.”

“We might have time for a quickie.”

Comments like that made her wish she weren’t sleeping with him. “If these bodies were moved from their original resting place,” she said, ignoring his comment, “I want to know why.”

“Give us another four or five days,” the professor said into the phone. “It’s only been two weeks. No, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest…No. Yes, sir.” He turned off the cell phone and stuffed it back into his pocket. “Bastard.”

“What’s wrong, Professor?” Samantha called to him from across the site.

The short, bony man walked around the excavation units in the ground toward his two graduate students, the brim of his straw hat waving in the wind, making him look like an old scarecrow. “Never mind that now. I think I’ve found what we’re looking for.”

Her mouth dropped open.

The professor held a small bandolier bag with its wide, beaded shoulder strap hanging like fully cooked lasagna noodles, its colors of orange and red and turquoise shining from beneath layers of dirt. She had never seen an artifact so perfectly preserved, so well intact.

The professor handed it over to her, and she took it in trembling hands.

“This bag is just like my grandmother’s,” Samantha whispered, her heart pumping.

“It gets better,” the professor said.

Before he could explain further, a black pickup truck skidded onto their site from the dirt road. The driver’s window lowered, revealing a man with long black hair and fierce black eyes.

“You guys need to clear on out of here!” He pointed to the tents and the screens nesting in the pasture at the edge of the site. “Get all this stuff out of here! Any arrangements you’ve made with my grandfather have been cancelled!”

“Who in God’s name is this clown?” the professor muttered as Samantha gently laid the artifact on the screen.

Samantha followed the professor toward the truck. “Who are you?”

He gave her a once over and narrowed his eyes. “I should ask the same of you. My grandfather had no right.”

“Just fucking great,” the professor said.

Samantha gasped. “Do you even realize what we’ve discovered?”

“This is sacred ground, and those are my people! This isn’t open for discussion.”

Samantha’s face flushed. If he was a descendant, then…

“Your people?” The professor moved nearer to the stranger. “Son, are you saying these bones belonged to your family?”

Samantha held her breath.

“You need to get the hell of my property!” the stranger shouted before driving off.

Descendant or not, Sam wanted to kill him.

“What in the hell was that all about?” Mark said.

“Let’s not worry about him right now.” The professor returned to the screen and lifted the bandolier bag up like a newborn baby.

Samantha watched as he reversed the inside lining.

“Oh God,” the professor said beneath his breath.

“What?” Mark bent over to look at the artifact.

As they leaned over him, he whispered, “The seal.”