Wake Not the Dead

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This story was contributed by rentachi

She hears the noise wherever she goes, and it consumes her utterly.

Like the taste of grave mold, it's everywhere; Annie tears into fresh packets of crisps and biscuits, upends bags of rice, plucks barely ripe tomatoes from the vine, and no matter what she eats, the taste overwhelms her—dust in the back of her throat, too thick to swallow, choking. The sound overwhelms in the same way, until it drowns out every thought besides, until it is the only thing Annie knows.

She buries her face in trembling hands, surrounded by torn wrappers, and sobs.

The witching hour draws near: tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Annie weeps and thinks of a hill above a ruin half-buried beneath a mound, a thousand years of rainfall boring through the stones to reveal the structure underneath. She thinks about Tom missing two fingers on his right hand and Miranda with her red hair a riot above her head, David snoring on the plane ride to Romania, Javier's accent thick when he curses in Spanish under his breath.

She dreams of an archaeological expedition doomed to fail.

x X x

The rain doesn't abate when their motley crew arrives in the quiet village hidden in the valley's belly. Driving from Târgoviște takes hours, the wheels hammering through potholes and over creeks that spill from their beds, and the mist follows their small caravan, eating the road leading back to civilization. Annie consults the map and grins.

"Leave it be," the locals say when Annie's team asks about the ruin. "Leave it be, let it rest—the dead should not wake."

"Superstitious nuts," David mutters, hiking his pack higher on his shoulder. "C'mon, you lot. We've got a ruin to excavate and artifacts to find."

Down into the earth they delve, sliding on rain-slicked ropes through the opened crevice, and Annie feels every breath pour from her lungs and stick to her skin as the murky light of day disappears overhead. Closer inspection with electric torches reveals the ruin to be a tomb, and the locals' words rattle in Annie's head—the dead should not wake, the dead should not wake—as they tramp footsteps through the dust and shatter the hollow, unmoving silence. Above them the all-terrain vehicles drone, generators powered on, and the crew hired out of the capital smoke clove cigarettes, waiting for direction.

David finds the coffin first.

Light plays over the stately box, and they surround it, five intrepid adventurers far from home on government contract—two archaeologists, a translator, a historian, and a navigator. As the team's lead, Annie steps forward—choking on the dust—and leans nearer the piece, extracting a magnifying glass from her kit. "The design is late Middle Ages with clear Byzantine influence here on the gilding. The preservation is...uncanny."

"There's writing there," Miranda points out, holding the camcorder for observation. "What's it say?"

Annie isn't sure. She sees the indents carved into the coffin's lid, just above where the occupant's heart would be, but time has weathered the edges and their light does little improve the runes' clarity. She brushes her fingers against the marks, and—

"Ouch!"

The wound slices to the bone, cause unseen, and blood falls on the coffin lid. Pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat.

"Christ, Annie—get the medic!"

An extra sweater is wrapped about her hand and Annie hurries up the cables to a medic standing by, who can make little more sense of the cut than Annie herself can. As stitches thread through her tender skin, blood wells and drips as the rain does upon the tent's canvas folds: pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat.

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