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๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐——๐—ถ๐—ด

๐˜ฃ๐˜บ ๐˜ก๐˜ท๐˜ช ๐˜ˆ. ๐˜š๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ

So, there I was on an archeological dig in Beit Sheโ€™an, Israel. Previous excavations had been done by the University of Pennsylvania in the 1930s, but here I was almost ninety years later on an Israeli dig to which I had applied and to which I had been accepted. My degree is in Semitic Studies from Harvard University and I am employed by the Harvard Semitic Museum. While there was no certainty I would be accepted, my superiors heartily recommended me saying it would be a pleasure being rid of me for three months. I could not tell if they were serious.

Anyway, the flight from Boston to Tel Aviv on El Al was uneventful. We landed around 11 a.m. and I was greeted by a woman holding a sign with my name on it. We quickly exchanged greetings, and she led me to a car, which to my surprise was a Chevy SUV.

It was a two-hour ride to Beit Sheโ€™an. My host, Amanda Adar, whose nickname is Manny, pointed to the Tel Aviv skylineโ€”a few kibbutzim (collective farms) and some scattered Arab villages. Then the outskirts of Haifa, the main port city which I could see out the car window on the right and if I looked to the left I could see the ocean. We drove past Acco, the city with a Crusader castle and fortress nearly one thousand years old. A bit further along was the archeological site of Megiddo, the biblical Armageddon.

When missionaries first came to what they called the Holy Land, they came to Har Megiddo or the mountain of Megiddo. Since they couldnโ€™t pronounce โ€˜Har Megiddo,โ€™ they called it Armageddon.

Then more flat farmland, more Arab villages with their minarets piercing the sky, and a prison built amidst the farms. Finally, we arrived at Beit Sheโ€™an and went to what Manny said was the best hotel in the city, a three-star facility that would be one star, if that, back home.

At the hotel, Manny introduced me to Hanoch Newman and the three of us had dinner, which was typically Israeli: fish, salad, and tea. We retired for the night and Manny told me to be up and ready to go at 5AM as it was really hot by 10. I noticed Manny and Hanoch went to the same room and wondered if they were married or lovers. Either way, I thought, lucky guy. The next morning, we had a short drive to the Tel, a mound which rose above a still-being-excavated Roman city.

โ€œYou will know this area goes back to the Neolithic times and was occupied by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders and Byzantines,โ€ Hanoch explained. โ€œYouโ€™ll be in the tunnel between the amphitheater and bath houses and youโ€™ll probably have it to yourself today. Working in there is good. There is lighting and you wonโ€™t feel the heat. Temperatures get well over 40 degrees centigrade, and thatโ€™s more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit,โ€ he added.

My first three days in the tunnel were not exciting as the dig there had gone on for months. The rubble had been cleared out and a few artifacts had been found, I was told. So I was not finding anything archeologically exciting.

The fourth day was the stunner. I had decided to work late and did not realize how long I had been in the tunnel until I emerged. It was so dark outside I could barely see a foot or two in front of me and I could not read the time on my wrist watch. The batteries in my cellphone were drained. I looked up to a moonless sky. The Milky Way was stretched across the heavens like a surreal movie. The little light from the stars allowed me to walk toward what had been a grand boulevard in Roman times. It was lined by marble columns when suddenly I bumped into one of the guards.

โ€œSorry,โ€ I said in Hebrew. Getting no response, I tried Arabic. Then Latin, both of which I had studied during college.

Something seemed to have struck a chord and a deep male voice responded in Latin, โ€œNo, excuse me.โ€

โ€œWho are you?โ€ I asked.

โ€œMarcellus, guardian of Beit Sheโ€™an and its treasure,โ€ he answered.

Ridiculous, I thought, but who was I to argue with this self-proclaimed Roman guard and his sword? I was scared to death he might use that metal on me. Inside I was shaking like a tree branch. Had I eaten bad food, or was the night time heat getting to me? Maybe I was just losing my mind.

I managed to calm myself. Then in my best collegiate Latin I asked, โ€œTreasure, what treasure?โ€

โ€œYou speak with a strange tongue,โ€ the guardian offered, as I saw his hand rest on the sword hilt.

Again, I was scared enough to nearly faint. I quickly offered, โ€œI am from the north of our empire.โ€

โ€œAh, that might be the reason. But what are you doing here?โ€

โ€œI was visiting the brothel and fell asleep,โ€ I lied, hoping heโ€™d overlook my accent.

โ€œHe gave a hearty laugh. Fine women there. I am not allowed to enter though they send the lesser ones to our quarters,โ€

โ€œAnd you guard the treasure?โ€ I asked cautiously.

โ€œYes. Gold, silver, jewels and more in the tunnel. Itโ€™s behind a stone that was removed and the treasure inserted.โ€

Since the tunnel lights were off, I had the guard lead me to the digโ€™s entrance, where I climbed the fence to exit the grounds. It was not too late so I flagged a passing cab, went to the hotel, grabbed a quick bite, and went to my room. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling imagining it was the tunnel. I fell asleep fully clothed.

The sun came up at 3:30 in the morning and I awoke, showered, and dressed. I went downstairs to the lobby waiting for the cafรฉ to open so I could sip a Turkish coffee along with a bagel or croissant. I took a cab back to the dig, not waiting for Manny or Hanoch.

When I got there, I hastily walked down the boulevard but did not see the guard. I reported in and hurriedly made my way to the tunnel where the light, which had been strung up along the walls, was lit and I used my flashlight to try and find where a stone had been removed and replaced. It took several hours but there was the stone the Roman guard had told me about. It was dark with rough edges. It was easy to cut oneself on the tunnel stones, but not this one. I studied it for a few minutes and tried to move it but could not. Then I put the flashlight on the floor in front of it and quickly made my way back to the entrance where I found Gabi Hausner, the lead archeologist, to tell him of my finding. I could not tell him about the Roman guard because heโ€™d think me daft, so I said I happened across it by accident.

Hausner figured there was nothing to lose but time, so he got a half-dozen men with heavy metal wedges and we all walked to where Iโ€™d left the flashlight. Hausner then set the men to remove the stone.

It took the six men all the strength they could muster to dislodge the embedded rock. When they did, it crashed to the ground leaving a gaping hole that revealed a fortune in gold, silver, jewels and ancient coins. Then shivers ran like mice up and down my spine because in front of the treasure was a skeleton, and on its head sat a helmet like the one the Roman guard, who had revealed the hiding place to me, was wearing. โœฆ


Zvi A. Sesling, Brookline, MA Poet Laureate (2017-2020), has published numerous poems and flash/micro fiction and won international prizes. A five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he has published four volumes and three chapbooks of poetry. His flash fiction book is entitled Secret Behind The Gate (Cervena Barva Press). He lives in Brookline, MA , with his wife Susan J. Dechter.

Speculative fiction & POETRY ZINE
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