Sergeant Paul Horne threw his green duffel bag in the back of his pickup truck
before climbing in the cab. His combat uniform was worn in places and his boots
had seen many miles. The young man glanced in the rear-view mirror. His tanned
face and tired brown eyes stared back at him.
At twenty-eight-years old, Paul had just finished his fourth tour. The last nine
months in Afghanistan have been more stressful than all the previous deployments
Half his section had been taken out by IEDs while patroling a highway in the
Helmand province. The thin scar under his left eye was a constant reminder of how
close the shrapnel came to having him join his friends in death.
As he shook his head to clear his thoughts, Sergeant Horne concentrated on the
positive. His tour was over four weeks early and he was going home to surprise his
He smiled when the Chevy truck turned over on the first try. The platoon
quartermaster had made sure their vehicles were running and the batteries
charged up. The windshield was clean, but there was enough dust on the black
truck to make it almost appear gray.
Paul had ten days of leave before he had to report back to Fort Benning, and he
wanted to make the most of it. Once the windows were fully down and the warm
spring Georgia air filled the cab, he left base and headed out on I-185N. The hourlong drive home to Pine Mountain helped calm the knot of tension he’d carried
around in his chest for months.
He relaxed the tight grip on the steering wheel and turned on the radio and sang
along under his breath. He never could carry a tune and his deep baritone voice
was more suited to yelling commands over the battlefield than joining Garth Brooks
in a song.
Paul grew up in Pine Mountain and he smiled at the familiar sights. It had been
nine months since he’d been home, but it felt like a lifetime. Soon, he saw the Wild
Animal Safari sign and headed east on county road forty-seven. When he was a
teenager, he had worked many summers at the attraction, and it helped nurture
great respect for the animals and the outdoors.
After he passed Harris County High School, Paul turned south on Maple Street
instead of continuing to his parents’ home.
His grandmother lived a few minutes from the school and he hadn’t talked with
her in a while. She didn’t own a computer, so he had sent a few letters to her over
the months he was away, to keep her up to date.
He parked on the road and strode up the driveway to the old white bungalow,
then stepped onto the wooden porch. The gardens were full of early spring flowers
and the grass looked like it had recently been cut. Nothing had changed since he
played here as a little boy. Paul automatically straightened out his uniform before
knocking on the screen door.
He heard the old floorboards creak as his grandmother ambled toward the door
and paused. She didn’t appear too surprised to see him standing there, but he saw
her tear up and a big smile washed over her face. Once the door was opened, the
small woman stepped forward and gave him a big hug.
“About time you stopped by,” she said. “I missed you.”
She barely came up to his chest and the familiar smell of her perfume filled his
“I missed you, too, Grandma.” Paul couldn’t help the tears as they fell down his
She stepped back and reached up to wipe his face clean. “Have you been home?”
Paul shook his head. “I stopped here first. I was going to surprise Mom and Dad,
but I wanted to see you first.”
Clearing her throat, she gave a short laugh. “You are my favorite grandson.”
Paul laughed along with her. “I am your only grandson.”
“That’s why you are my favorite. I have something for you, hold on.”
She stepped back into the house and quickly returned with a red and green tin
box. Paul smiled when he saw it. His grandmother had used that same tin box all
his life after she baked.
“Here you go. I made your favorite cookies this morning. Bring them with you and
make sure you share them.”
“You better get home. You have some surprises to do.”
Paul stepped forward and gave his grandmother another big hug. “Love you,
Gram. I missed you. I will be back later.”
“Don’t worry about me, everything is fine. I love you, too, Pauly. Tell your mom
and dad I love them, as well.”
“Will do.” Bending down, he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
“You better go before I start crying. Welcome home.”
As he walked back to the truck, Paul turned and gave her a quick wave goodbye
before he jumped inside. Placing the cookie tin on the front bench seat, he gave a
little honk and wave before he headed home.
After he turned right onto Main Street, he took the back roads home. At this time
of the morning, he knew his mom would be out in the gardens before the day grew
warm while his dad puttered around the garage.
Paul parked a few homes away and turned off the truck. With the cookie tin in
one hand and his duffel bag in the other, he slowly strode along the sidewalk. He
had guessed correctly. His mother knelt on the lawn, weeding the front garden.
“Excuse me, but I seem to be lost.”
At this, his mom looked over her shoulder to see him standing there. Letting out a
scream of delight, she crossed the lawn in two steps and threw herself into his
“Oh, my baby boy is finally home.”
Paul dropped the duffel bag and held on to the container with one hand while he
picked up his mom with the other. “I’m home a little early.”
He saw his dad come around the corner toward them, and soon they all were
hugging and crying at the same time.
“When did you get in?” His mom wiped her eyes on the back of her hand. She
couldn’t stop smiling.
“Late last night. I wanted to surprise you guys.”
His dad gave a little chuckle. “You certainly did.”
Paul’s mom took in a sharp breath of air and moved a step back. She glanced
down at what he held.
“Where did you get that?” she asked.
After he fixed his gaze on the red and green tin, Paul smiled. “Sorry, this wasn’t
my first stop. I went to Grandma’s and she sent some cookies back with me.”
His mom closed her eyes and lowered onto both knees on the grass. “Oh my God
Confused and concerned, Paul turned his attention to his father. “What’s wrong?”
His dad was white as a sheet. He also couldn’t take his eyes off the cookie tin. “We
didn’t want to tell you this far into your tour, but your grandmother passed away a
few weeks ago in a house fire.”
At this, Paul chuckled. “Nice try. I was there six minutes ago. She’s fine.”
His mother shook her head. “We are not joking, Paul. My mom died from smoke
inhalation when her house caught fire fifteen days ago.”
Looking down at the cookie tin, Paul didn’t know what to say. He could still smell
his grandmother’s perfume on his uniform. Once the lid was removed, he saw the
stacks of chocolate chip cookies under the wax paper. “They are still warm.
Grandma just baked them and handed them to me.”
He filled them in on what happened and described the light blue dress his gram
wore. Helping his mom to her feet, Paul realized she seemed to be in shock.
“Come with me, son.”
Paul handed the container to his mom and followed his dad over to his truck
while she knelt back down onto the lawn and sobbed, the tin held close to her
Paul handed the keys over to his dad before they got inside the truck. “Is Mom
okay? What’s up?”
His father held up one hand. “Just hold on…”
A few minutes later, they turned left onto Maple Street and his father stopped the
truck outside the house. The tightness was suddenly back in his chest as Paul
looked out the passenger window.
His mouth dropped open.
What was left of his grandmother’s house had collapsed into the basement from
the blaze. Blue fencing surrounded the home to keep everyone out and the burnt
smell of the fire still lingered in the air.
“This isn’t possible,” Paul whispered. “I was just here.”
His father’s strong hand reached over and squeezed Paul’s shoulder as their tears
started once again.
I love you too, Gram. Thank you for saying goodbye.
(c) David Darling
Once she stood, Professor Catherine Taylor brushed the dirt off her work pants and
stretched, then tucked her dark hair behind her left ear. The forty-year-old woman
remained physically fit from the manual labor required for her job and the constant
work at the dig site. Sixteen months previous, the archeological team from
Cambridge had discovered a pyramid buried in the Valley of the Kings. Permission
from the Egyptian government had finally been granted, with provisions. Unable to
turn down the opportunity, Catherine moved into the canvas tent on location and
enjoyed the challenge as the weeks flew by.
Since she was eight years old, Catherine had always played in the dirt and loved
the thrill of discovery. Thirty-two years later, she still had the same feeling of joy.
After she adjusted the LED light, she removed a wide brush from her back pocket
and once again, knelt to remove a layer of compacted sand. A ring of stones, three
feet across, began to emerge. The larger stone at one end had a pattern chiseled on
The design had five lines that connected and showed the Egyptian symbol for
stars. Other references found within the sunken pyramid had to do with astrology.
When she saw the symbol, she was not surprised.
A fine layer of dust rose, and Catherine closed her eyes and sneezed into her left
elbow. The movement caused her to shift, just enough, that she dropped her weight
on top of the star-stone. The round stone was the same size as her palm and with a
click, it sunk half an inch.
At this, she held her breath and looked around the small chamber. Her colleagues
had long since retired for the night and she alone bore witness. Significant
discoveries were supposed to be documented; however, all the recording equipment
was back at camp, being charged up for the next day.
Catherine grabbed her backpack, pulled out her cell phone, and snapped a few
pictures. Once the phone was replaced, she knelt once more and began to clear
away more of the loose dirt beside the stone.
A crack in the floor emerged between two flat stones. It resembled a broken dinner
plate with sand that trickled down into the dark cavity below. She leaned forward
and tried to see into the void, to no success. Using the handle of the brush, she
gently levered the tip into the crack and gave it a gentle pull. The one stone slid to
the side and she could see a small stone box that resembled a ten-inch
Catherine couldn’t help but grin at her discovery. A glance at her watch showed it
to be almost midnight, she should have been asleep long ago.
Five more minutes, then I will head out.
She had said that same phrase several times already this evening. After she
adjusted the light, Catherine used the brush to remove the dust from the top of the
small stone sarcophagus.
Enough of the dirt fell off the side and it caused her to sit back and groan at the
discovery. Scratched across the top was OPEN ME in English.
Usually, pranks were not this elaborate and only done on the new interns. She let
out a large sigh, reached down and removed the two stones, then placed them off to
the side. The small stone container weighed less than five pounds and the lid was
Inside was a cell phone. It rested on top of some dried-out reeds that were folded
into a small mat. It was the same new model that she had bought before she had
flown to the dig, however, it had no battery life.
Catherine wasn’t too sure who had set her up, but she would get even. She pulled
out her power cord and a power supply and plugged in the phone to charge. It took
a few minutes before the light turned on.
A text warning showed on screen: Memory Card Full.
Curious, she opened up the gallery folder and looked at the images and video clips
that filled the phone’s memory.
The last picture showed a vast area filled with lush vegetation and large patches
of sand. She turned to the first video and pressed play.
A woman’s voice sounded in the small chamber and Catherine was startled at the
sound of her own voice.
I am standing outside the A537 Pyramid and the wildlife is incredible. The air is
clean and pure. Just amazing.
The video panned around and the pyramid came into view. It didn’t resemble
anything where Catherine currently sat. It was eighty-feet above ground with lush
vines that grew along the base. The cap was covered in sheets of gold. It looked like
the tip of a spear as it gleamed in the bright sun.
I don’t think anyone will ever believe this, but here it is.
Catherine let out a gasp and almost dropped the phone. The video had spun
around and it showed herself as she smiled and waved. She wore the same shirt
and the backpack was slung over one shoulder.
“What the hell …”
Her fingers navigated the screen and scrolled to the last video and pressed play.
The alternate Catherine sat at a table, her hair down. She wore a white robe with a
thick metal bracelet on one wrist. She smiled into the camera and folded her hands
The battery charge is finally running out, I don’t have much time. This video is for
my past self. I am currently in Egypt, approximately 3,000 BC, and the pyramid was
just constructed. It wasn’t built to view and track the stars but as a gateway. I have
met someone here and I am happy, and I’ve decided to remain. Not sure how time
works, but if you want this experience and adventure, take the Star Stone and place
it in the north wall. I hope you decide to step through. Delete this video and bring
both phones. Enjoy your adventure Cat.
The video ended. Catherine sat on the dirt floor and closed her eyes. The scientist
and logical side of her brain dismissed the video and pictures as a prank. The
emotional side of her, that longed for her to be happy and loved embraced the
possibility. At forty-years-old, the only joy she had found was when she threw
herself into work and discovered old relics.
To find someone that you would give up civilization for and a career…
Catherine wiped tears off her face and unplugged the second phone. She deleted
the last video and placed the phone in the side pocket. Once everything was
packed, she slipped her arms through the straps. The possibility of what could
happen astounded her … but the one-half of her brain remained skeptical.
The north wall of the chamber was half-cleared. It showed a mosaic of tiles and a
crude rendering of the sun. Her colleagues were to resume work on the area
tomorrow. She tilted the light to shine on the wall and promptly disregarded
everything she knew about archeology. Catherine used her fingers to pull large
sections of compacted dirt off the wall.
Just below the stylized pictograph of the sun was a perfect circle and below that a
smaller circle was carved into the stone.
The moon and planet Earth?
The remainder of the wall was blank.
It took a few seconds to remove the stone from the floor and clean it off. The top
had the symbol and the bottom was perfectly flat.
Catherine was firm in her belief that she had stepped off into the deep end, but …
She placed the stone against the larger circle and waited. Nothing happened. The
stone was too large to cover the small circle. However, the image of the star made
her smile when she figured it out. The sun is a star.
When she moved the stone and rested it on the sun, she heard a click, and then
her world changed.
A clear blue light shone from the star stone, bright enough that Catherine could
see the bones of her fingers through her skin. A warm sensation ran up and down
her spine and instinctually, she rotated the stone to the right.
On the east wall, an outline of a doorway appeared. It was barely five-feet tall and
it sounded like an electrical discharge as light danced around the black frame.
Catherine let out a brief chuckle at the absurdity of what she could see. Up until
now, she had thought it was a practical joke, but this was real. All her life she loved
to explore and the thrill of discovery guided her into archeology.
The video that she watched made the final decision for her. The ability to discover
the unknown and have happiness was too hard to turn down.
As she ducked through the door, Catherine couldn’t help but smile at what
(c) David Darling