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Their backs were turned simultaneously on me. The only presence acknowledged in the room but their own selfish ones were that of the lazy dust particles suspended mid-flight like shapeless birds. The glowing pillars of light stained the musty study dense yellow tones in the fiery aftermath of the sun’s routinely descent into Hell. Apart from the neglected volumes rich in grime decorating the bleached skeleton of the room, my only other companions were the wooden, antique corpses packed together like circus animals in mounds taller than my average five foot, six. The elaborate curves and deep gouges chiseled lovingly into the visage of the furniture began to break free from their mandated structure and merge collectively to fashion symbols and signs my avid eyes alone could perceive. The words were full of wisdom and evil interpretations.
Toxic fumes emitted by their secretive whispers and furious bickering made the golden luminosity fall victim to a dizzying seizure. The fat man impelled the thick air with a spray of spittle from his serpentine tongue. The pale woman threw frightened glances in my general direction. Her eyes twitched whenever their gaze was burdened by my sight.
The armchair I dwelled in was very lonely. The flowery patterns on its arms told me so. It wanted nothing more than for me to be whole with it. The lifeless vines began to pulse and rustle miniature foliage in an imaginary wind. Tattoos of veins in the gopher wood let life journey through them like the blood flow in a human body. They grappled at my skirt, those silly vines, afraid that I would desert them. Maybe if I sunk deeper and held still the blue satin could swallow me. They twisted harmoniously around the circumference of my thighs down to my ankles. I chuckled. The bald man and the scarecrow became a black and white picture frozen in fright at my outburst of delight.
Cooper Kipling’s newest archeology student, a Percy Milton Jr., tried very hard to impress me with epic tales of his and his brother’s escapades of the Congo and the South African coast. He had quite the dynamic character and a lively, voracious attention to detail. I tried my best to tune him out and replace his loud, girly voice with the hacking sounds of the old geezer to my right, Dr. George Coleridge. I averted my eyes from his marsh green to the sizzling landscape before me.
The small vessel was anchored and Percy Milton Jr. seized his chance to decrease the distance between our bodies. Swirling rivulets of smoke burned the air, but where his fingers pressed against the skin of my arm a searing hole appeared and grew bigger. I could not contain myself any longer and rudely shook his hand from my arm. His expression was comical, a mix of hurt and confusion, but it quickly changed to bitter anger and he stalked away from me. Peals of laughter bubbled in my throat yet the childish mood that had overcome me did not last long. Uncle Cooper smothered my arm with his gargantuan grip and there was no sliver of a chance of me shaking him off as easily as I had Percy Milton Jr.
Dr. Coleridge was a walking ball of jelly literally liquefying in the brutish heat of the Egyptian sun. His aggressive and austere demeanor conflicted with his absurd appearance. Every word of wisdom that spilled from his sweating lips I could not take seriously. His wife, tomato-face Bertha Coleridge, was nowhere near his massive size, but if she continued worshipping French Truffles and Russian Pastries like she did her Christian religion it would only be a matter of time until she rivaled him. The plank groaned under their combined weight. I was surprised the Egyptian coast had not sunk beneath the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. However, the day when Dr. Coleridge’s strained heart and lungs would fail to keep pace with his rubbery rolls was coming closer with every step he took.
The color was so light, a bland baby blue, that it melted and slid down the length of the wall right before my eyes. The room held little interest to me. The furniture made no effort to introduce itself; the vanity, chest, and bed all long dead.
But the floorboards!
Chubby faces here and there surfaced for a breath of fresh air. Their eyes were hollow scoops peeping up at me. Everywhere their features met me I proceeded to relentlessly stomp on. And the most curious thing happened whenever I did so: droplets of water jumped up and down like I was sprinting across the ocean.
“Emily?” My right foot slowly dropped its stance. The auburn face dissipated back into the cinnamon floor. My uncle’s face was an immaculate mask of revulsion and confusion. His eyes matched the wall framing the doorway, at which he awkwardly stood with one foot point at me while the other slid farther back ready to increase the distance between us.
“Is everything alright?” he was a curious one, that uncle of mine. He’d chosen the perfect career.
“Oh,” he forced a smile. “I see,” but of course he didn’t, “Emily, why don’t you unpack and freshen up. Our guide said it was of no inconvenience for him to come down today. And I would like for you to accompany me to the dig sites. You would love it.” No word passed my pallid lips, so he attempted to make me cave in by means of short excuses and broken sentence fragments. “The exercise would do you good, bring some color to your pale complexion, improve you health.”
“Am I to be living with you from this day forward?” I surprised myself.
“Uhm. I am...not sure.”
“I believe so. My father and mother are frightened to their very cores of my mere existence and have longed to be rid of me since the night in the woods,” I watched him squirm and avert his eyes from my stone ocean ones to study the painting of an Egyptian pharaoh illuminated by a shaft of golden light, but then he mustered the courage to actually chastise me.
“Emily, you must try to comprehend that the manner with which you conducted yourself was rather inappropriate, unlady-like. Your actions were baffling coming from a girl of only fifteen years!” White phantasms tickled my neck and draped lacey fingers on my shoulders; a tender breeze blew in through the window at my back. I was through with the conversation. Uncle Cooper left me to my strange devices.
“I will end by saying this: We shall see what others have never and will never have the good fortune to gaze upon. Watch where your feet come to rest and resist the urge to wander off for a taste of an Egyptian adventure,” our guide pronounced vowels to long and thick as if his sharp, smooth tongue could not handle the muddy tones of the British language. And so we began the guided tour my uncle had requested, not to impress me, but to get on Dr. Coleridge’s good side; I can’t fathom why. Perhaps his superiors were considering pulling back funds. As we ingressed into the pyramid the air was gracious enough to cool down by several degrees Celsius. The mayhem of hammers and clanking metal, deep shouts, and a merciless sun were not welcomed within the dusty structure. Not even five minutes into our descent the ball of jelly began to complain of fatigue and flaring allergies. I dare say he’d created a new record.
I suppose it was the many voices bouncing off the walls from our minute party that prompted Percy Milton Jr. to attempt a conversation with my solemn self.
“Are the accommodations at my father’s inn to your satisfaction?”
“You look radiant today, Miss Kipling. The weather is suiting you just fine.”
“Indeed,” it lasted all of thirteen seconds. Yet the pure boredom of my situation is what gave my eyes the freedom to truly take in my surroundings and it.
It was beautiful.
This must be the feeling Uncle Cooper had in vain tried to describe to me and my halfwit siblings and insipid parents at family dinners after he had returned from some exotic adventure. It was the most alluring thing in the world. For all his persistence Percy Milton Jr. did not even realize I had left his side until too late. I ran trembling fingers across it; not flinching at the sharp edges I happened upon or the little red drops trailing my hand. The color was incredibly vivid; Egyptians had indubitably known how to honor their deceased.
It was surprisingly easy to squeeze my overheated body into the tomb and even more so to completely encompass myself inside it. Death lay within it, sickly sweet and overbearing. The lid of the tomb slid close over me with one final, grinding sound. My arms, limp from the effort, mustered enough strength to careful wrap the putrid arm of my friend around my waist. The air pressed on me. Sweat squeezed out of my drowning pores. Absolute darkness was slow to come.