The Find

Not unexpectedly, it was one of the students who made the find and came to call him.

“Dr. P! You have to come see this!” The student, dusty and out of breath, waited only for his acknowledgement before darting back to the dig site, followed by a trail of envious classmates.

Adam Parsons sighed, closed his laptop cover and followed in their wake. What had he expected? He had spent more time on this dig negotiating with local bureaucrats than actually digging. It was no wonder the students kept finding the good stuff. At least they were getting a proper field trip this time.

He made his way onto the site, walking the precarious planking spanning the various trenches with the ease of long practice. The Mexican sun beat down mercilessly and he regretted leaving his hat in the tent.

“What have you got?” he asked no-one in particular and was directed onwards past the foundations of the Aztec settlement to a trench at the foot of the small step pyramid that was the only visible sign of the ancient ruins. From the level of excitement he expected to see at least an ancient burial ground or some interesting statuettes. When he finally pushed through his enthusiastic students and got a clear view, he saw that it was indeed a grave of sorts, only not what he had expected.

Embedded down the side of the trench, a long series of huge vertebrae protruded from the fine yellow soil. Adam felt his jaw drop. Easily forty feet of backbone was visible, before it dipped deeper into the ground at either end and disappeared from view.

“It’s a dinosaur, I tell you,’ one of the students hissed under his breath, continuing a debate that Adam had evidently interrupted.

“Impossible,” a chorus answered him.

“Well, what else can it be?”

Adam found himself in agreement with both sides. He jumped into the trench and ran his hands over one of the bony protrusions. It was simply huge, and very well preserved. “It can’t possibly be a dinosaur,” he called up. “It’s not a fossil; these are just bones.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” said the discoverer of the impossible find. “No way is this thing old enough.”

“Then what is it?” This from a number of exasperated spectators.

“It’s a pile of bones, kids,” Adam interrupted. “And we’re here to excavate Aztec ruins, not to speculate about something way out of our field.” A wail of protest went up. “Are any of you paleontologists? Biologists? No? Then back to work you go. This has been here a while; it can wait a little longer.”

Muttering, the group dispersed back to their own trenches, leaving Adam with the pile of bones and the finder, Janelle Evans, Nell to her friends. Dusty, rebellious Nell, ready to consign him to a very unpleasant place if he should attempt to remove her from her discovery. Adam grinned. “Well, shall we get started?” He picked up a brush and a small hammer. “You’ve left a lot to be done, you know.”

After a moment she smiled brilliantly. “Yes sir!”

Then they settled down to the serious business of unearthing the rest of the impossible skeleton.

It took two days and the assistance of the other students to fully remove all the pieces. The largest of the vertebrae measured almost a meter on its longest axis and weighed about 15 kilograms. As Adam had known would happen, all work on the Aztec ruins ceased as his group excavated and reassembled the puzzle on level ground. As luck would have it, they found the head last, and the sight of the enormous skull convinced all of them that it was no dinosaur they had discovered. It was broad and flat, and surrounded by thin bony plates. The rest of the body was equally strange. It had tiny front and back legs, and a long snakelike neck, abdomen and tail.

“You know what this looks like?” It was Mr. Dinosaur again, Pierre Le Toit, exchange student from France.

“No, what?” someone dutifully asked.

“One of those Chinese dragons. All head and body, no legs.”

“Oh, sure, now we’re talking oriental mythology?”

Adam stood up from his crouched contemplation of the skull. “Actually, why don’t we talk about Aztec mythology in stead? There is one creature in particular that fits the description, I think.”

“Quetzalcoatl?” Nell asked hesitantly.

“That’s right,” Adam said. “The Plumed Serpent.”

“But Quetzalcoatl was a man,” someone protested.

“Or something,” Pierre snorted.

Adam nodded. “Or something. The myths associate him with serpents all the time. Not only his name, Plumed Serpent, but also the stories of his arrival and retreat on rafts of serpents. And not only in Mesoamerica, if you recall. Legends abound in South America about the white, bearded civilizers who came in a time of turmoil. Men who could do extraordinary things like raise cities overnight with music and call lightning from the sky. And the leader of these men was always associated with feathered or plumed serpents, whatever his name may have been.” He shook his head. “Up to now I thought it to be mere symbolism, but what is this, if not a feathered serpent?”

Adam could not sleep that night. His mind kept returning to the enigmatic skeleton outside. While his students were excited to find something new and astounding, Adam could not help wondering what the implications of this find would turn out to be. Was this proof positive that the myths of Central and South America were true? Did the existence of a real 50m long feathered serpent mean that Quetzalcoatl and his followers really existed? Or was this simply the skeleton of a hitherto unknown species that became extinct sometime after this settlement was built, and the locals just associated their leaders with animals the same way the Egyptians used the falcon, fox and ibis?

After fruitlessly chasing these thoughts around for a few hours Adam finally gave up and went outside in the hope that the fresh air would supply a new perspective. Wandering around the dig site, alternately watching his feet on the planks and the spectacular star field above, Adam eventually reached the infamous trench, where he discovered Nell and Pierre, digging. They had spotlights rigged and Adam could hear the small generator purring around the side of the pyramid.

He hunkered down on the edge of the trench and cleared his throat. “What are you doing?” he asked.

Nell fell over in her surprise, trying to look up and turn around at the same time. Pierre gave him a sheepish grin and helped Nell to her feet. “There is something else here,” Nell said. “I couldn’t sleep…”

“And I saw her sneaking out,” Pierre continued. “So I came too.”

“I see,” Adam said. “Can I have a look?”

Both students nodded and made way so that he could get into the trench. He noted with approval that they were following proper excavation procedures even in the middle of the night.

“This corresponds with the skull’s position?” he asked, examining the tops of what appeared to be two polished obsidian spheres, still partly buried in the soil. “Eyes, perhaps?”

“That’s my theory,” Nell agreed. “But that means this creature was ceremoniously buried here.”

“I think we can accept that for now,” Adam said. “The position alongside the pyramid looks significant in any case.” He smoothed the dust off one of the spheres. “The sooner you get them out, the sooner we’ll know if they fit.”

The students bent back to brushing away dust with renewed enthusiasm while Adam paced up and down along the skeleton, thinking. Obsidian, a natural glass, forms when molten lava cools rapidly. It is a very hard, fine-grained rock, used extensively throughout Mesoamerica for blades and other sharp instruments. It held particular significance due to its use for sacrificial knives. Obsidian spheres were often used as scrying devices in pre-Columbian times. To find two such stones buried with the skeleton only confirmed the importance of the creature to the people who lived here.

Nell and Pierre, each triumphantly carrying a sphere, emerged from the trench. Adam turned a spotlight on its stand to light the skull as it lay grinning at the end of the long line of vertebrae. The students, as if rehearsed, slipped the two stones into the gaping sockets, where the grapefruit-sized spheres immediately took on a mysterious gleam in the high-contrast light.

“Yep,” Nell said. “They fit.” She dusted her hands on her pants. “Eerie, though, aren’t they?”

“Very eerie,” Adam muttered. The gleam was getting brighter.

Nell gasped. “It moved!”

“No way,” Pierre scoffed, only to fall silent as they all saw it twitch.

Adam felt completely disconnected from reality as the bones jerked, began to glisten, and abruptly sprang together like magnets. Sinews and flesh literally grew in front of their eyes. In a matter of seconds, scaly green skin covered the supple body, and multi-coloured feathers fanned out around the broad face in a rainbow plume.

The obsidian eyes turned and regarded them with a basilisk glare; then, seeing no threat in the three dumbfounded humans, it flexed its great body and sprang into the air. They could see no means of propulsion, but it seemed like it flew, and was lost into the darkness in the blink of an eye. Adam thought he saw a sinuous shadow pass over the stars, but it might have been his imagination.

A long silent minute later, Pierre muttered, “Wow. Now what?”

Adam sighed. “I have no idea.”

“We have to tell someone,” Nell said.

“No-one will ever believe us,” Adam said. “I suppose we should be glad Quetzalcoatl was known as a good guy.”

“Are we certain of that?” Nell asked.

Adam shook his head. “We can hope.” He looked up at the stars, wondering what exactly had been unleashed that night. The darkness seemed deeper than ever, and in the distance, a dog howled.

The end.

© Leoni Venter 2008/02/13
Written in about 4 hours spread over 3 days

The Find

Leoni Mullett

Nelspruit, South Africa

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Artist's Description

Entry for the Bubble Bestiary, letter Q. An archeological dig and what they discovered.

I feel I have to put a little disclaimer here. Although I read up about Mesoamerican cultures and myths, it seems to be huge and fascinating field of study for which I had no time. So please don’t take my fictional ramblings as being anywhere near established fact or concensus. The same goes for geology. I read up about obsidian but am still no expert. And last of all, I have never been on a dig, I do not know proper procedure; this is based on movies, books and my imagination.

Feedback and constructive critisism greatly valued!

Artwork Comments

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