There was a great amount of revelry at the camp that night. Omar had surprised the caravan with a case of wine bottles that he had purchased himself as a reward should the expedition be successful. It had set him back a good deal of money, but it would be more than compensated by the amount of compensation Dirk would be giving them. Many instruments were brought out and traditional tunes were played as a group of the men danced on top of the tables of the mess hall. There would be little sleeping that night.
Meanwhile, away from all of the festivities, Dirk Harrison sat at the desk in his tent, making a very enthusiastic phone call.
“I told you I’d find it, Denny!” he exclaimed. “You trusted me, right? I’m Dirk Harrison, after all!” A satisfied smile graced his face. One hand held his satellite phone to his ear while the other fidgeted with the ring, examining its every detail in the light of his kerosene lamp. “Don’t worry like that. Moira spent several hours looking at it and comparing it to the descriptions in her notes. Not many details are given about it, but she said she can confirm with almost absolute certainty that this is Khaba’s signet ring. It even has his face on it! Mmhmm. Gotcha. Well, there’s a sandstorm coming through Cairo tomorrow, but we’ll hitch the next flight out this week. This beauty will be in the museum collection before you know it.”
Dirk ended the call and set the phone back on the desk, continuing to admire the ring. He was mesmerized by the detail of the engraving. He had never seen a ring of this time period be of such high quality. The golden snakes that comprised the band were eerily realistic. The amethyst gem was less than an inch wide, but it was so elaborate that it seemed like Khaba’s eyes were staring directly at him. His gaze was hypnotic.
“Do you mind if I come in?” Moira asked, appearing outside the tent.
“Oh hi, Moira. Sure, come on in. I was just having another look at the ring.”
“It’s a beautiful work of art, isn’t it?” she said as she neared the desk, which was really nothing more than an end table.
“Yes, it certainly is. The artisan must have spent months working on it. Khaba had to have spent a fortune on it. No wonder he took it to his grave!” Dirk playfully tossed the ring in the air before catching it in his hand and setting it back down.
“Oh!” she quickly gasped. “Dirk, don’t you think that we should be a little more…careful with it?”
“Relax!” he assured. “I know what I’m doing. The ring is safe. I’ll make sure nothing happens to it. My career and my head are riding on this!”
“Very well,” she said with an air of caution. “Actually, there’s a reason I came in. I wanted to talk to you about something. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“It’s about something we read in Lykopolis, back in Khaba’s tomb. Do you remember the words engraved on the pyramid entrance?”
Dirk sighed. “You’re not talking about the curse warning, are you?”
“I am,” Moira said. “Before I say anything else, know that I am not in the least bit superstitious, and I know that you aren’t either. But it’s worthy of note that every time I have read anything about this ring, the writers bring up the curse of Khaba: ‘Whosoever disturbs Khaba shall face his terrible judgment.’”
“And? That doesn’t sound too different than your standard curse mumbo-jumbo. You’re not worried about it are you?”
“No, it’s just, well um–” Moira stumbled over her words as Dirk stared at her with sincerity. “I’m sorry, sir. You’re right. I just thought it was worth bringing up at least once.”
He smiled as he shook his head in amusement. “Noted. Anything else?”
“That’s all. Congratulations, Mr. Harrison,” she said meekly.
“Dirk,” he corrected. “And congratulations to you, too! I’ll make sure that you get all the credit you deserve.”
“Thank you…Dirk,” she said with a courteous smile. “Have a good night.”
“Good night, Moira. Sleep in a little tomorrow.”
After Moira exited the tent, Dirk contemplated the issue of security. The ring in his hands was a priceless artifact worth millions of dollars and was pivotal to his future success and reputation. While he trusted Omar (and to a lesser extent, Omar’s men), he did not feel comfortable leaving the ring out in the open, nor in a bag unattended where it could easily be stolen.
“What am I going to do with you?” he muttered softly.
The thought occurred to him: what better place to keep the ring that on his person? He was determined not to let it out of his sight. He trusted no one more than he trusted himself. The solution appeared obvious.
A smile graced Dirk’s face as he slipped the ring onto his finger…
A deep, guttural laugh echoed into the darkness.
Dirk’s ears were filled with the sound of hissing snakes.
A mysterious voice whispered in an ancient tongue that he could not understand.
He looked down at the face on the ring. Khaba’s eye penetrated him with a glowing fire.
Dirk sat upright in his chair very suddenly, physically snapping out of his hypnosis. He reflexively removed the ring and set it back on desk.
“Sweet Jesus, that was intense,” he said as he regained his bearings. He looked at his flask of whiskey and put it back in his satchel. A little too much moonshine combined with sleep deprivation will do strange things to a man, he reasoned. It was getting late. He needed to head to bed. However, he did not want to leave the ring sitting vulnerably and out in the open. He stared at the ring in cautious contemplation before reaching to pick it up again.
As he was doing so, Dirk became acutely aware that he was not alone in the tent. Something was rubbing up against his legs, but he could not see anything as they were under the desk. It felt like something slithering along his ankles, wrapping itself around his shins. In a moment, his other leg was met with a similar feeling. He carefully leaned back in his chair to get a better view.
“Asps!” he cried out.
Two twin vipers were slithering up Dirk’s legs, flicking their tongues out like tiny flames. Each was four feet long and entirely black, wearing their trademark hoods. The Egyptian cobra, commonly known as the asp, is a very dangerous creature. Their venom is capable of bringing an adult man to his death in less than ten minutes – a fact very much in Dirk’s mind at the moment.
He tried to remain motionless as his heart rate accelerated. Before long, they were sliding their way over his shoulders and down his arms. Very slowly, he made an attempt to grab them by their heads. If he could clutch them between his fingers, he could keep their jaws shut and prevent them from biting him while he removed them from his body. As his fingers neared them, they did not seem to take notice of what he was doing, but continued to slither along.
Just as he was about to grab them, they attacked! In unison, each of the asps snapped at his hands, biting down very tightly. The pain was excruciating and Dirk could feel them pumping their poison through their fangs.
“GODDAMN IT!” he shouted, violently flinging the snakes around the room. He was able to shake them off and threw them out the door of the tent, where they quickly slithered into the sands of the night.
Dirk staggered back into the tent, his eyes focused on the bite marks on his palms. Immediately, his head began to pound with a vicious headache. His whole body was tingling and a fever was enveloping him. In his delirium, it looked like the bites were glowing red, as if they were twin sets of eyes glaring back at him with fire.
“Somebody help!” he cried, but his voice came out feebly. It was unlikely that anyone heard.
Dirk felt nauseous and queasy, the world around him spinning around and around. He dizzily fumbled his way back to the desk where his satchel hung draped over the chair. He attempted to go through it to find some medical supplies, but the effort was in vain. His vision was starting to darken and his legs trembled so hard that his knees knocked together.
“Oh sshhiiiiiiiit,” he slurred as he passed out onto the desk.
Dirk did not remember falling asleep and had no idea how long he had been out. It was dark and his kerosene lamp had run out of fuel. He estimated it was about three in the morning. The cool desert breeze filled his tent, the flap having been left open from earlier. He arose groggily, scratching his head and rubbing his fingers through his hair. His headache was gone and so was the fever. In fact, he was feeling very healthy, despite the fact that he had just been bitten by two of the deadliest snakes in the world. Looking down at his hands, the bite marks had already completely healed over. It was like they weren’t even there!
As soon as he came to his senses, his mind immediately went to one thought: “The ring!”
Frantically, he looked around the room in search of the priceless possession. He found it. It was standing right in front of him. Standing….
Dirk furrowed his brow in confusion as he found himself staring face to face with the image of Khaba engraved on amethyst setting of the ring. Where once it was an inch across, it now stood as tall as he did. He walked around it in shock, completely confounded as to what he was seeing with his eyes. His first thought was to wonder how the ring had come to be so enlarged. It had to have been six feet tall, the band being as wide across as a hula hoop. It would definitely be worth a lot more money now, if only for its amount of gold and the now gigantic amethyst.
However, as he walked around, it occurred to him that he did not know where he was. The floor was wooden and very rough and stretched like a plain. He looked in the distance and instantly recognized his surroundings as his tent, though everyone was tremendously enlarged. Dirk was a smart man and it did not take him long to understand the truth of the situation: he had been shrunk!
“God damn you, Khaba!” he exclaimed in frustration, kicking the side of the ring (and hurting his foot in the process.) “God damn you to hell!”
Dirk took a swig of his whiskey, being beyond thankful that his clothes and belongings had shrunk with him. While the alcohol was helpful, it was the sugars in the beverage that would help his body overcome the shock of his transformation. Leaning up against the cursed ring, he ran a hand through his hair and pondered his predicament. It was going to take more than a moment’s thinking to get himself out of this mess. He needed to plan his actions carefully.
The first thing he needed to do was to assess his equipment. That satchel he carried at all times had saved him more than once in his life and it would be a great boon for him right now. Lifting the bag from his shoulders, he set it down on the wooden floor of the desk and carefully removed its contents. Everything now would have been nearly microscopic at his normal size, but they would still prove quite effective to a one-inch-high Dirk Harrison.
The first item was his trusty Bowie knife, which he removed from is leather sheath. Named after and created by one of his heroes, the great Jim Bowie, its blade measured over twelve inches long which came to a curved sharp point. Its wooden handle fit perfectly in Dirk’s hands where the knife was finely balanced. If need be, the knife could be a weapon. Dirk wasn’t fond of knife fights, but had found himself in more than a couple over the years. He didn’t carry the knife for that purpose, though, but as a tool. It had a myriad amount of purposes and would help him even if it could now be measured by the millimeter. He sheathed the knife and returned it to its place in his satchel.
He placed a few other items back in his pack, including his flask after taking another sip. Apart from that, he had a canteen half full of water, which clipped onto the bag’s belt. Medical supplies would come in handy, though he hoped he wouldn’t need them. A blue bandana was wadded up in a ball, but served to protect his head from the sun during the day. A small LED flashlight provided a surprising amount of illumination for its size. A smaller Swiss army knife had several implements that he could use where his Bowie could not. It was not a large bag, but everything was small enough and organized in a way that was easy to access in a moment’s notice.
The last thing Dirk replaced was one of his most prized tools: his grappling hook. With the press of a button, four prongs would spring out of the closed metal device. It was not heavy, but weighted enough that it could be thrown far enough to latch onto any jagged surface. The hook was attached to a light, nylon rope that didn’t take up much room in the satchel. Still, it was several yards long and had enough tensile strength to hold his body weight and more. He closed the hook, wrapped the rope, put it away, and closed his satchel.
“Semper paratus!” Dirk said, reciting his family’s personal motto. “Always prepared.”
With his equipment accounted for, Dirk felt more prepared to face his current situation. However, a fleeting thought quickly stopped him in his tracks. There was something else that he needed to be assured was intact. Pulling his belt forward, he glanced down his pants. He let out a sigh of relief. His confidence was maintained.
It was still dark outside and the sun would not rise for a couple more hours. Everyone in the camp was dead asleep. Dirk thought he could even hear Omar’s loud snoring in the distance. If he was going to be found, it would not be for a while.
Dirk walked to the edge of the desk. Peering over, he could see that it was a very long drop to the ground. It was not a fall he wanted to experience firsthand. He could use his grappling hook, but there was nowhere near enough rope to get him to a safe falling height. He thought that perhaps he could make it to the seat of the chair. He even attached the hook to the edge of the desk and started to descend, but he climbed back up when he realized it was still too dangerous. He was bold, but not stupid.
He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to get off the desk. Once he was on the ground, what would he do? Where would he go? At this size, going anywhere would be a long, arduous journey. There were risks he didn’t want to undertake. What if he got stepped on? Eaten by a desert predator? He did not allow such thoughts to linger in his mind. All besides, he wanted to be found and perhaps staying up there would be best. Far most important, though, he did not want to lose sight of Khaba’s ring…
Out of options at the present moment, Dirk plopped down on the ledge, letting his legs dangle over the side. Out of his jacket’s breast pocket, he retrieved another possession: his harmonica. It served him no useful purpose other than to help him mentally pass the time…which he needed right then. The bluesy rhythms were hearable only to his own ears.
Around sunrise, Dirk stopped what he was doing. He could hear noises outside his tent. Someone was awake! This came as a great relief to him. His only hope was that someone would come check in with him. He usually made it clear to others that he was not to be disturbed before 7 am and until a pot of coffee was ready, but he was willing to make an exception this morning. He would even forego the coffee today.
Suddenly, the noises grew louder. Something didn’t sound right. Dirk wasn’t sure what was going on. He could hear shuffling and grunting, then men shouting and voices he didn’t recognize. Then came the immediately recognizable sound of rat-a-tat-tat.
“Jesus Christ!” Dirk exclaimed. “Of all possible times…”
It was then that the door to his tent was flung open. The wind from that action brushed quickly his way and threatened to send him flying off the desk. He fell to his knees and braced himself before regaining his balance. He looked towards the door and nearly fell to the ground again in shock as his eyes beheld what he saw in the light of dawn.
It was Moira. A whole mountain of Moira. He knew he was small, but seeing his petite assistant now the size of the Great Pyramid was simply staggering. She rushed into his tent and looked around in a panic, confused at his absence. Her eyes darted around, but she saw that his bed was still made from the previous day. Dirk was nowhere to be found.
“Dirk, where are you?! We need you right now!”