by MITCHELL SAYERS
The Iraq sun set amid the backdrop of a hazy sandpaper sky.
Ajaai bent down and shuffled some loose sand between his knuckles. Dismayed, he wiped off his moistened brow with his forearm. Beads of sweat escaped, dripping down on his worn leather sandals.
It was tough to say exactly how long Ajaai had spent searching, but he knew this location felt right. His dusty wrap showing signs of wear, his face worn and weathered from the unrelenting sun; he had been on the search for seven months. After all the studying and researching, he had painstakingly plotted a 500-yard radius. This would be his last shot – if he couldn’t produce results, his expedition would be disbanded.
Just then, Ajaai looked up and saw a dozen clothed men on horseback charging over the horizon. Rushing like an incoming wave, the gallop of their Arabian horses pounded the sand, creating a smoky cloud as they dashed forward. They swept over the dunes like a whirling hurricane of movement.
There was no mistaking them. Ajaai had heard the stories. The “اللصوص بقايا” –“Relic thieves,” as they were called. Bandits who caught wind when an Archaeologist was on the verge of a great find. Their thievery and brutal killings read like something out of a horror tale. But as they galloped closer, it became all too real for Ajaai.
He turned to make a dash for his horse tied to a stick lodged in the sand. It snarled and snorted, anticipating the adrenaline-surged dash it was about to make. He quickly loosened the straps holding the throbbing muscular shoulder blades and mounted the horse.
A harsh scream from one of the Arabian men interrupted Ajaai’s wandering thoughts. He immediately dug his cracked heel into the horse’s side, intruding the sinewy ribs and propelling the horse into a full-out trot.
He dared not look back, but he just had to. He needed to know just how much ground they were gaining. He swung his left shoulder back and craned his neck. To his astonishment, the men had stopped riding and were in fact being intercepted by a single rider from the east. Ajaai couldn’t make out who that figure was, but the group was huddled around the lone person. But what exactly were they focusing their intention on? The question burned in Ajaai’s head, hotter than the sun on his back.
He decided to stop completely and turned his horse around, facing the posse so he could observe them completely. He noticed a few of the horsemen begin to break apart and head south, in the opposite direction of where he was stationed. He waited another few minutes until the group had completely dispersed. He had observed that one of the riders rode east alone, opposite of the rest of the pack. Was this mysterious figure the group had circled around?
Ajaai rode back to his excavation site slowly; he wanted to make sure the bandits hadn’t set up a diversion and possible ambush. To his surprise, the only movement he could see was the slight shifting of the sand, the wind sweeping and peppering the dunes in the distance. As he rode closer, to his amazement, it appeared his camp was completely untouched. His leather canvas satchels were still dangling from the half-buried shovels. His water flasks were still tucked away neatly inside his cot. As the mystery grew for Ajaai, something at the corner of his eye had caught his attention. A glimmer ever so slight, ever so promising.
He swung to his right and fixed his gaze in the direction of the distraction. Sure enough, not more than ten feet outside his excavation site, something was teasing his sight with its shimmery metallic coat. His blood started to rush. His head began to pulse. He ran over and started to dig with his hands, moving large amounts of sand. Astonishingly, he began to see the shape of the impossible. A Sumerian metallic cylinder. As he lifted the object into the sunlight to observe the finer details, something dropped from the bottom of the cylinder.
A crinkled note written on paper much too modern to be associated with the millennia-old artifact he was holding. Ajaai reached down and picked up the letter. His quivering hand caused the letter to shake its sandy coating, which fell slowly back down to join the rest of the desert. He unfolded the letter and began to read:
Dear Ajaai Hamoed,
It is with great pride that I am sharing this find with you. If there was ever an archaeologist worthy, it would be you. Share the knowledge of your once great civilizations with your people of Iraq, and continue to cherish your rich and prosperous history. God speed.
Who is Mr.Goldcliff?