"Save me, Samantha. I didn’t mean to do it.”
The disembodied spirit called out to her, begging her for help. She blinked hard and peered into what seemed like an endless sea of putrid fog.
The eerie voice cried out again.
This time she had to find him. If this was a prank, it had to stop. If it wasn’t, well, she was less sure what she would do if it turned out to be real.
“Stay where you are,” she cried. “Don’t run away again.” Her voice shook with fear.
“You know I’m innocent, Samantha. I don’t deserve to be in hell. Hurry! You must help me while there’s still time.”
Her heart pounded so hard it seemed to catch in her throat and she couldn’t breathe. Fear welled up within her. But fear of what or whom?
It didn’t matter; she must pursue the desperate cries for help.
The ghostly voice cried out in anguish again as she groped her way through the gloomy maze that she al-ready knew led to nowhere. She’d been this far before. It was always the same: a mournful voice pleading for her help, and each time the voice faded before she could reach its source. This time she wouldn’t stop until she found the one calling out to her.
The foul-smelling fog thickened and concealed the path beneath her feet, and like the times before, she knew she was descending lower and lower with each erratic step forward. How far did she dare to go? She opened her mouth to call out, but her own voice failed her. An invisi-ble hand tightened around her throat, holding her words captive.
This isn’t real. I won’t be stopped by something that isn’t real. I must keep going.
“Where are you?” she screamed, surprised with the force of the words as they broke free.
Stumbling on through a darkness that grew denser with every step, a cold, slithering tentacle tried to wrap itself around her feet. She screamed again, kicked it away, and ran faster.
“Who . . . who are you?” Her breathing was becoming more labored. “How can I help you if I can’t see you?” Her voice was raspy, and her throat hurt. The thickening haze was hot, and a nauseating odor assaulted her nasal pas-sages. She paused and gagged.
“Pray for me, Samantha.” The voice drifted farther away.
Gasping for clean air but finding none, she wiped her mouth on her sleeve and pushed onward toward the black hole that swallowed every glimmer of light. How much deeper could she go? What if she couldn’t find her way back? She swallowed her terror and pressed down-ward into the darkness. He must not get away again.
“Wait!” Her throat was tightening, and her cries faded into hoarse whispers. “I’ll pray for you. I’ll find a way.” Desperation percolated through her body as she lunged forward, her arms grabbing for someone who wasn’t there.
“Stop running,” she pleaded, her words barely audible. “How can I pray for you? I don’t know your name.”
The slithering tentacle returned and tripped her. She gasped and fell to her hands and knees on a rippled sur-face that had once been a river of molten lava. It had cooled and hardened but was still active below the thin crust. The steam continued to rise from beneath, and it burned her hands as she struggled to stand.
It was becoming impossible to see. Disoriented from the fall and fearful of careening into an abyss, she spun in circles, unsure of which way to go. A night bird flew near her head, pulling out strands of hair and mocking her as it sped away.
“Run away, Samantha. Run away while you still can.”
“Stop it! Leave me alone!” She tried to cover her hair with her blistered hands.
“Pray for me, Samantha. Pray before it’s too late.” The voice faded even more.
“Wait! I don’t know your name.” Her desperation gave way to panic as if she were about to fail a critical mission. “Why won’t you tell me your name?”
“Pray for yourself, Samantha.”
“Please, don’t go.”
She dropped to her knees, wailed in defeat, and sobbed.
A terrified scream.
A ringing telephone.
Samantha wasn’t sure whether her own cry or the ring-ing BlackBerry had startled her awake, but she bolted up-right, escaping the nightmare that had plagued her for weeks.
The cell phone rang again.
Still groggy, she blinked hard, sat up straight, and glanced about the room, trying to remember where she was. She rubbed her eyes and blinked again. Of course she was in her office at the University of Jerusalem. Alone.
The phone was still ringing amid the stacks of paper on her desk.
“Don’t hang up.” Her hands trembled as she groped for it, knocking over a cup of forgotten tea from the day be-fore. “Just don’t hang up.”
Still disoriented, she fumbled with the BlackBerry as she pushed a strand of hair away from her ear with one hand.
“Yes, hello,” she managed.
“Dr. Yale?” The unsteady voice on the phone was un-mistakable.
Samantha Yale slumped down behind her antique desk, ignoring the spilled tea dripping onto the floor. Carefully, she cupped the telephone with both hands, afraid she might drop it and lose the connection she had been anxiously awaiting. She breathed in deeply and measured her words lest she startle her nervous caller.
“Yes, this is Samantha Yale.”
“Dr. Yale, it’s . . . ”
“Yes, Wonk, I know who you are. Where are you?”
It had been six months since the mysterious Wonk Eman, the nervous little man with no address, no tele-phone number, and no e-mail, had visited her and deliv-ered the ancient scrolls to her office. His silence told her she was moving too fast. She took a deep breath, slumped back in her chair, and tried again.
“All right. You don’t have to tell me where you are. Are you safe?”
“Why do you ask that?”
Before she could answer, he blurted out, “Am I in dan-ger? I’ll call back.”
“Stop it, Wonk.” She took another deep breath and lowered her voice. “You’re in no danger.”
“Then why did you ask me if I was safe?”
“No reason.” She rose from her desk and walked over to the window where the Dome of the Rock could be seen in the distance against the blue Jerusalem skyline. Maybe a shift in position would make her sound less tense. “It’s just that when we last talked, you were concerned about safety. Remember? You were worried someone else might try to contact me about the scrolls.”
“Has anyone contacted you?”
“No, no one at all.” She heard him slowly exhale.
“Have you told anyone else?”
“No one, just as you directed me.”
She restrained herself from asking questions too soon. Slowly she began a silent count from one to ten. If he didn’t speak again in ten seconds, she would prompt him. She only got to five.
“I have more scrolls.”
“Good. When will you bring them to me?”
Another of his interminable pauses. She ran her fingers through her rumpled hair and tried to control her exas-peration at how long it took him to say anything. Her ring caught the edge of the newly formed scab just above her right ear. A drop of blood smeared on her fingertip. Now what have I done? She turned to the wall mirror to exam-ine the injury but gave up when she couldn’t make her eyes shift far enough to see it. OK, that’s long enough.
“Wonk?” she said, attempting to prod him back into the conversation.
“Yes. How long will it take you to translate them?” Im-patience, anxiety, or both had crept into his voice.
“You know that’s almost impossible to say. It’s a diffi-cult task to translate cuneiform.”
“But you’re an expert.”
“Even for an expert, it requires a thought-for-thought translation, as opposed to a word-for-word technique. Be-sides, you haven’t told me how many more scrolls you have.”
He ignored the bait.
“Tomorrow, then,” he said.
“Will you bring them yourself?”
A thud told her he had dropped the phone. She could hear him scrambling to retrieve it.
“Hello?” His fumbling sent piercing beeps into her ear. “Sorry. No, no, I . . . very risky . . . not wise at all.” His voice had become shriller as he floundered to answer her ques-tion.
“That’s OK.” Take a breath. “Don’t worry.” Pause; let him calm down. “How will they be delivered?”
“By messenger; same as before. Good-bye, Dr. Yale.”
“Wait—” She stopped him before he could hang up. Did she dare go any further? He was so high-strung he might flee at the slightest provocation. Maybe she should wait until she had the scrolls safely in her possession. Too late. She had to say something.
“Can I ask you something else?”
“What is it, Dr. Yale?”
“When we last talked . . . ” She hesitated. Do I really want to go down this road?
“Yes, sorry. When you were in my office and we talked about the Torah and other relics of antiquity, you brought up Noah’s ark. Do you remember the conversation?”
“You were concerned about someone who might have survived Noah’s flood—besides Noah’s family.”
“Og,” he whispered.
“Yes, that’s it. Og, the Nephilim king.” She waited for his reaction.
There was none. She ran her fingers through her hair again. Afraid he might hang up, she preempted her ten-second rule and pressed in.
“What did you mean?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“No reason except it seemed important to you. Sup-pose such a thing had actually happened. Why would the idea distress you so?”
I shouldn’t have said “distress.”
“Then he has contacted you.” His voice was distressed. “You said no one . . . ”
“What? No, of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.”
Seeing her reflection in the mirror on the wall, she be-gan a silent exchange with herself.
You’re having a conversation with a deeply dis-turbed man about someone who’s been dead for five thousand years—if he ever existed at all. No wonder you can’t sleep. Wonk doesn’t seem capable of playing mind games, but what else can he be doing?
“I was only curious to know what you meant,” she con-tinued gently. “It’s hard to understand why you would care about something that might have happened so long ago.”
One second, two seconds, three . . .
“He must not get the scrolls, Dr. Yale. You must prom-ise me that will not happen. You have no idea the conse-quences if . . . ”
“No, it’s OK. I’m sure I can keep them safe.” She glanced at her reflection again to see if she looked sin-cere.
“Tomorrow, Dr. Yale. Wait for them. Remember your promise.” The dial tone signaled the end of the conversa-tion.
Samantha clicked the END button on her phone, sighed with relief that the conversation was over, and sat down on the window seat as she lingered at her personal portal of the world.
“Sign here, Dr. Yale.” The burly man in the brown delivery uniform handed her the electronic notebook to register her signature as the authorized recipient of a carefully packed crate. She scrawled her name in silence, not wanting to engage him in any conversation that might de-lay his leaving. The man was barely out the door before she found a sturdy letter opener in the desk drawer and began prying open the container. At last the lid slid off, and Styrofoam peanuts went flying as her hands carefully reached inside the box. Just as she had done with the first scrolls, she gently removed each of the twelve and laid them out in what she guessed would be a somewhat chronological order on her conference table. Her only hope was that Wonk, or whoever packed them, had some appreciation for sequence.
Selecting the first scroll, she carried it to her desk and gently unrolled it. To an untrained eye it would have looked exactly like any one of the others she had already examined and locked away. Only an expert would recog-nize the difference in the markings of the ancient written language of the Phoenicians, cuneiform, which predated hieroglyphics by who knew how many centuries.
“I wish I knew what this material is,” Samantha said, talking to herself as she fingered the scroll kept her from rushing through the delicate process.
With magnifying glass in hand, she peered intently at the first line.
“Are you in there?” She spoke aloud as if the scroll was listening. “A fallen angel with no name; what do you want to tell me? How can I help you if I don’t know your name?”