Blue eyes wide with wonder, her nose pressed to the small window, Virginia gazed at the jaw-dropping view displayed below. Nervous excitement bubbled behind her navel. My first archaeological dig. She sighed and leaned back against the headrest.
Rough winds buffeted the 8-seater plane as it dropped to the landing strip. It slewed to a sideways stop with a squeal of brakes, barely missing the rusty tin shed hangar. Virginia unclasped her seatbelt and followed the rest of the crew off the plane.
Mesmerized, she turned in a half circle and gaped at the surreal surroundings where civilization had screeched to a halt and a millennium of yester years remained firmly in the driving seat. The local guides stood in a cluster to the side, waiting to lead them to the cave site.
“Are you coming Virginia?”
“Yes Professor.” Virginia shrugged on her backpack and followed the crew and guides. Single file, they trudged behind the guides along a narrow footpath over the mesa.
“Careful of the plants, most are carnivorous…”
“But they only eat insects Professor,” nerdy Tony quipped.
“They may just think you are one,” arrogant Thomas flung over his shoulder.
Virginia saw Tony’s head drop and his ears reddened. It was a pity that she could not have picked another crew, but then again, the world was full of know-it-alls. Unfortunately, newbies had no choices. She sighed. She had to start somewhere. At least Professor Van Rijk was renowned in the archaeological world, and there would be a good chance their digs would deliver a reasonable find.
At midday, they reached the cave’s entrance, and the guides set up camp in the first chamber. After a quick lunch of stale sandwiches and coffee, everyone gathered around Professor and he laid out the plans for the digs. A frisson of excitement lingered in the air.
The first two days went by in the blink of an eye. Virginia was teamed with Tony. She did not mind. He was a veritable plethora of information and a steady workmate. They shared the same passion for myths. On the third day Thomas and his teammate made a small discovery. Whilst happy for them, Virginia wished she could wipe the constant smirk off his face.
“He’d be beating his chest like an ape man soon,” Tony whispered behind her.
A picture sprung into Virginia’s head and she coughed to hide the giggle that escaped.
That evening Virginia read the short story about Fenrir and Odin in the book of myths Tony had lent her. She always had a vivid imagination and pictured the scenes in full technicolour. After switching off her reading lamp, she laid back in her sleeping bag and stared into the dark. It was going to be one of those nights. Her mind was just too busy. She tossed and turned until just after midnight when she fell into a restless sleep. Wolf cubs, running amok, plagued her dreams. Their eyes were ruby red, blood dripping from their jaws.
Virginia’s alarm ripped her away before one cub jumped on her. She struggled out of her twisted sleeping bag. Her eyeballs scratched against the inside of her irritated eyelids. She splashed cold water over her face and brushed her teeth. The rank taste of fear refused to abate and lingered on her tongue. Her mind kept turning over the images from her nightmare. Frazzled, she got out of her tent and went to join the others for breakfast.
“Ah, sleeping Beauty decided to join us for coffee,” Thomas called out from beside the campfire outside the cavern.
Virginia ignored him, mumbled a general good morning and took her tin mug from the guide who tended to breakfast. She waved the plate of food away. She knew her stomach would revolt. She sat and curled her chilly hands around the hot tin mug. Her resistant feet dragged as she followed Tony to their place in the dig site. She batted away Tony’s attempts at their usual bantering. With no conversation, an oppressive silence hung between them until lunch.
Lunch was served in the open air outside the cave’s entrance. Virginia ate a few bites, forcing it down with long swallows of water. Snapshots of her nightmare kept up its hellish merry-go-round in her head. She looked at Tony sitting alone. A twinge of guilt pinched her. She walked over to him and sat down.
“Sorry about this morning. Just had a horrible nightmare I could not get rid of.”
“That’s okay. Want to talk about it?”
“It is going to sound foolish.”
“Try me. I am used to making a fool of myself.”
Virginia squinted at the sky. She folded her arms across her chest and checked if there was anyone else within hearing distance. She knew that for her own sanity’s sake she had to share her premonition with someone and Tony was safe to talk to.
“Tony, do you think Fenrir may have sired cubs? I mean, just because they wrote nothing about it does not mean it did not happen.”
“Well, nothing written about it does not mean it cannot be. Maybe nothing has been found yet. What makes you think of Fenrir and cubs.”
“Just this weird dream after I read about Fenrir and Odin in the book you lent me. And it is as if there is a warning in it.”
“Yes. That and the piece Thomas and them found. The best Professor can indicate is that it is a piece from the Viking era during the time of Odin.”
“This is a new site and the first excavation of it, so we will find new things, so to speak.”
“I know. But we are also near where Odin and Fenrir were supposed to have been.”
Virginia wished she could express her premonition properly, but even she found the words coming out of her mouth strange. Their conversation withered to an end, and they went to their dig site and finished the afternoon working side by side in silence.
Over the following days, Virginia’s nightmare faded, and the imaged flashbacks became less frequent. She returned to her normal ebullient self and neither she nor Tony mentioned the strange conversation she initiated on their fourth day on the digs. Time marched on. They made regularly small finds. All indicative of the Viking era during Odin’s time.
Day thirteen on the digs arrived. A storm brewed overnight and unleashed its full fury just before breakfast. The wind howled and blew its frigid wet breath through the cave, screeching as it rounded the corners in the passages. The empty back chambers eerily echo called, inviting the wind deeper and deeper into the cave.
A tremor of fear piano tapped up Virginia’s spine as she walked with Tony to their digging site. Unbidden, an image from her nightmare popped into her mind. She shivered. Annoyed with herself, Virginia picked up her chisel and started working. The wind died down and some sort of normality returned.
Just before the lunch break, Virginia and Tony came across their own find. A form took shape in the cave wall they worked on. The hard rock gave way to softer, sand-like stone around the shape. They changed their chisels for light brushes. An outline showed just before their lunch break.
Excited, Tony shared the progress with Professor during lunch. A bubble of unease released behind Virginia’s belly button. She tried to write it down to excitement, but deep inside she knew it was something else. After lunch, she followed Professor and Tony to their dig site.
They walked into the chamber where the digging sites were. A clod of sand and small stones fell out of the wall. Virginia stopped in her tracks and looked at it. Below the shape in the wall, a small heap of sand had collected. She was sure it was not there when they went to lunch. She watched Tony pick up a brush, but before he could touch the wall, another piece fell away and he jumped back. The sand around the shape started crumbling at a faster pace.
Virginia’s mouth opened in a silent scream. The tendons in her neck tightened into sinewy ropes. A clip of the savage red-eyed wolf cub from her nightmare splashed onto her mind’s movie screen. She wanted to run, but her feet remained cemented to the spot. Clods of sand and small stones continued to cascade to the ground. The sound of the falling rubble brought the other crew members closer, and they assembled behind Victoria. All eyes fixated on the cave wall. Time suspended. No one spoke.
The sand and stone stopped falling away from the wall. On a rock platform in the wall sat a statue of a 45-centimeter onyx black wolf cub on a stone of solid rock. Virginia stumbled back and stood on Thomas’ foot.
“Watch where you’re going,” he snarled and grabbed her shoulders.
“Stop that squabbling,” Professor ordered. “Everyone back to their digs.”
Despite Virginia’s fears, the statue remained lifeless. They cleared the rubble away and put it in the bags to be sifted later. Uncomfortable, Virginia left Professor and Tony to do the brushing of the statue. Uncovered from the dust, two ruby red eyes glowed in the statue’s face. A collar of gemstones glimmered around its neck. A chain fastened to the collar disappeared into the platform on which it stood.
They finished for the day and packed up. On their way to their camp in the first chamber, Virginia kept looking back. Her back hollowed. Her skin crawled. She had the weird notion that those red eyes were watching her.
That night around the campfire, Victoria and Tony’s find was the main hot topic. Try as she would, Virginia could not relax. She stood to the side where she could watch the passage leading to the digs. She needed fresh air and walked out into the cold, wet night. She looked at the starless sky. She jumped when Tony came up behind her.
“What is wrong?”
Virginia did not want to communicate her fears and worries. There were no facts on which to base her premonition, and she was loath to re-open the conversation they had on day four. She followed Tony back inside and bid everyone good night. No one reacted and she went to her tent. She knew she could not sleep. She took out her laptop and started a google search. Around her, the camp quieted as everyone settled down.
Frustrated, Virginia got up just after midnight and left her tent. She got to the campfire, fed it more wood and picked up the lukewarm coffee kettle. Behind her, a chain clinked against the stone floor in the passage leading to the digs. She jerked around. Two red eyes glowed. Her heart sputtered as a giant iron fist clamped around it.
With a speed that would put a world champion sprinter to shame, Virginia moved to the other side of the fire. She knew from reading about wolves earlier, they feared fire. She kept the fire between her and the passage. She crouched and grabbed a thick branch from the wood pile and inserted the one end into the fire. She looked back at the passage. The red eyes had disappeared.
Virginia was suddenly unsure and wondered if her mind was playing tricks on her. She settled the kettle on a cooking stone in the fire and waited for it to warm up. She drew a camp chair closer to the fire, piled more wood on the fire and placed a couple of longer branches next to the chair. She settled in the chair with her tin mug of coffee, rested her feet on one of the stones encircling the campfire, and kept an eye on the passage. Her head nodded. The strain of the day caught up with her and her chin dropped to her chest.
Virginia woke up with a start. The fire was burning low. From the corner of her one eye, she caught a midnight black shadow streaking out of the passage. She bent forward and grabbed the stick she had left in the fire. Without getting up, she threw it at the shadow. It hit the wall to the left of the shadow. Sparks flew. With a low ominous growl, the shadow raced to the cave’s exit and disappeared into the night.
Virginia scrambled up. Her feet became entangled in the chair legs, upending them both. She cracked her shoulder against one of the stones around the fire and swallowed a mouth of sand. Tears erupted as she pushed herself onto her knees. She bit back the pain and threw a piece of wood onto the fire. It rekindled. She inserted the end of a long stick into the fire. Too afraid to sit down, she stood, kept the fire going and waited for daybreak when the rest of the crew would wake up.
“What happened to you?” Tony said as he came to the fire.
“I think the statue escaped?”
A stunned silence met her words. Drained, she watched Tony set off for their digs with his headlamp strapped on and a torch in his hand. She felt like hell and she was sure she looked like it too. She walked to her tent and crawled inside. She wiped the grit off her face as best she could. She thanked her lucky stars for her short hair and clumsily set about combing it with her left hand.
Virginia knew she was in for an enquiry as she saw Tony and Professor in deep conversation away from the rest of the crew. She walked up to them.
“You have a lot to explain, young lady,” Professor hissed at her. “The statue and the guide you were so friendly with have both disappeared. Care to explain?”
Haphazardly words tumbled out of Virginia. She relayed her story from her nightmare to the events of the previous night. She cringed as she looked at Professor’s face, disbelieve written all over it. She was sure he thought she had stolen it and kept it for her own gain. Deep inside, she knew nothing she could say would convince him otherwise. Every time she tried to look at Tony for confirmation that she shared her doubts and fears with him, his eyes slid away.
That afternoon Virginia was on a plane back to civilization, her broken arm in a makeshift sling.
Ten years later, she came across a newspaper article. It portrayed a fearsome lone killer wolf roaming the top of the mountain where years ago she went on her one and only archaeological dig. The mountain and its surrounds were closed by the authorities six months ago. Virginia felt vindicated and wanted to copy the article and post it to Professor. Then she noted the list of alleged casualties and deaths. Unless she had a delivery service to the dead, she could not clear her name with Professor.