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Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 17:

All three friends were now trapped underground in two separate holes. There was no way out and George was alone and petrified.

George stood up and stared at the tiny patch of sunlight so far above him. Even though he knew that they couldn't hear him, Geoge yelled as loud as he could to Charlie and Alice. Although he strained to hear any answers to his call, there was no response.

He was all alone again, but this time there was nothing he could do about it. There was no way for him to climb up out of the hole, and he certainly couldn't jump that high.

George didn't know what to do, but he knew that if he didn't do anything, they would all die - it was up to him to save himself and then his friends.

Every time he tried to think of a way to get out of the hole, fearful thoughts kept popping up in his mind; he kept thinking about how he was going to die and how no one even knew where he was. He had to take control of his thoughts and stop thinking about how hopeless his situation was. He needed to think of a way to get out of there.

He realized that he had to think of this in a purely logical fashion. If this were a problem in math class, how would he solve it? George thought of everything he had with him that he could use to help him get out. A long piece of rope had fallen in the hole with him and there was a broken hammer in his pocket.

It suddenly occurred to George that he could use the hammer to dig out lots of dirt from the sides of the hole and pile it beneath him, and he would eventually reach the top. It might actually work. His broken hammer had one rounded end and one pointed end; George tried digging dirt from the side of the hole with the pointed end of the hammer. The soil was as hard as rock - in fact it was sandstone, and he could barely make a dent in it, even with his hammer. After a few minutes, he gave up on that idea, and sat down, intent on finding another solution. He couldn't just give up.

George knew that there were other things he could try, and one of them might work. One of them had to work. Again, he pushed the fearful thoughts from his mind and concentrated on solving the problem.

He thought about how he could reach the sunlight 10 feet above him. He had a rope, but how could he get it to stay at the top? He needed a hook or a grapple - then he had an idea. George realized that he could use his hammer as a hook. He could tie the hammer to the rope, throw the hammer to the edge of the opening above, and when it was wedged into place, he could climb out.

George carefully tied the frayed end of the rope onto the hammer with three small, tight knots. He stood up, and threw the hammer up to the side of the opening, trying to make it wedge in among the rocks. At first he couldn't even make the hammer hit the side of the opening, but after a few dozen tries, the hammer hit, made a dull, clunking sound, and was jammed in the rocks.

George gently pulled on the rope and tried not to jerk it and dislodge the hammer. It seemed to be strong enough to hold him. He slowly climbed the rope and made it to the opening above him. He carefully swung one leg onto the ground and hoisted himself up. He was free from the hole!

The sun blinded George for a moment before his eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight. He looked around to get his bearings, and saw the pyramid, the slab of rock near the pyramid, and the junk pile in the distance. He leaned over and dislodged the hammer from the rock and picked it up. He pulled up the rope that was dangling in the hole that had trapped him. Afer untying the hammer from the rope, he put the hammer back in his pocket and smiled; he was so glad that he had picked it up in the junk pile - it had saved his life.

George then saw the other part of the rope - the rope that led into the hole trapping Charlie and Alice. When the rope broke, it had snapped back almost all the way back to the hole that trapped Charlie and Alice. George started walking towards the hole, but he stopped short. He realized that there may be more holes - they could be all over the place. They were probably built to keep intruders out of the pyramid.

He retraced his steps and only walked only on his old footprints in the sand. That way, he would avoid new traps. He eventually reached the other end of the rope and tied his rope to it. He dropped the knot to the ground and went back towards the junk pile, again retracing his footprints. On the way, he stopped and told Charlie and Alice why he had taken so long. They were not very interested in the details, they just wanted to get out.

George carefully returned to the junk pile, picked up a long stick, and went back to where the end of the rope was.

As he slowly made his way to the rock slab, George had no footprints to guide him, so at each step he poked the ground in front of him with the stick. He finally reached the large, stone slab and tied the end of the rope around it. The slab was a large piece of carved granite, and it was heavy enough to hold the rope. George just hoped that the rope wouldn't break again.

He walked back along the rope to the hole that held Charlie and Alice. George shouted, "Climb up the rope now, but don't make any jerky motions, the rope might snap. It's really old and frayed."

Alice's head appeared through the hole first, and George helped her out. Charlie soon followed.

Charlie said, "We'd better be more careful walking. There must be traps all around the pyramid."

Alice added, "They were probably made to keep out tomb robbers. The Egyptians put gold treasures and other valuable things in the pyramids with the mummy of the pharaoh."

George said, "Follow my footprints to the slab, we'll be safe that way."

They were very quiet as they walked. Even though the desert heat was stifling, they were grateful that they were on the surface and not still in the cool, underground traps.

In a few minutes they were at the slab. George untied the last segment of the rope that he had used to escape from the hole. He coiled it and slung it over his shoulder; it hung there along with his water bottle. He said, "I'm taking this with me - just in case. I sure don't want to get trapped again."

The slab was a shiny rectangle of black marble almost six feet tall. Even in the hot, desert sun it was cool to the touch. It was covered with carvings of pictures and letters. "It's a stele," said Alice, "I've read about them. They were like official message boards for the ancient Egyptians."

Charlie said, "Maybe it's a clue ... or a warning."

"Well, what does it say?" George said, "Maybe it can tell us where we can get some lunch."

Alice rolled her eyes at him. "That's really helpful, George."

Charlie asked, "What do you eat in the desert?"

"What?" asked George.

"The sand which is there," Charlie joked, and he started laughing at his own joke. Alice just ignored him. George said gruffly, "Your jokes are never funny. Especially when I'm hungry."

slab inscriptionAlice looked closely at the stele. She said, "This side has little pictures and letters. The pictures must be Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the letters say, "NADFEESKAMIN." The other side is blank."

Charlie said, "Nadfeeskamin sounds like the name of a pharaoh, doesn't it?"

Alice interrupted, "I'm pretty sure that the English language hadn't been invented during the time of ancient Egypt. It must have been written much, much later. I bet it's Latin."

"Great, so now, even if we run into someone, we won't even be able to speak to them," said George.

"And who exactly were you planning on talking to -- we're stranded in the middle of a desert in ancient Egypt," added Charlie.

Charlie sat on the sand, thinking. He then realized that there must be a connection between the hieroglyphics and the letters, like a code. He said, "Look, every picture has a letter next to it - it's probably a translation. The zigzag means 'N', and the owl means 'M' - you see?"

"Fine, it's really interesting. But before we die of starvation, let's go and look at the pyramid," said George.

Alice corrected him, "If we die out here, it will be from thirst, and not starvation. People can go without food for a long time, but you'll die in just a few days without water. And we only have enough water for about a day."

"That's just what I needed to hear," George replied. "Let's just go to the pyramid."

Giving up on the mysterious stele, they carefully walked to the base of the pyramid. As they approached, the massive pyramid loomed over them, almost blocking out the entire sky. "So how do you get into it?" asked Charlie. No one had an answer.

The pyramid was made of enormous blocks of rough, sand-colored stone. They walked cautiously around the entire base of the pyramid, searching for an entrance or anything else that looked interesting.

"I didn't see any door at all," replied George, "or even any marking where a door could be."

Alice said, "I saw some markings, but they were barely anything at all."

Charlie asked, "Where are they?" Alice took them to the place on the pyramid that was closest to the stele. She said, "Look about 6 feet up," she said, "at those little scratch marks."

"Those are just scratch marks," George said, "they were probably made when they put the huge blocks in place."

Charlie added, "George is right - you couldn't possibly put big blocks like that in place without making some scratches."

"No, they look too regular, and they're only in one place," Alice objected. "I didn't see them anywhere else on the pyramid - did you?" She reached up to the scratch marks and was surprised to find that as she touched them, sand fell out of carved grooves in the stone.

The boys helped her get the caked sand out of the grooves. After a few minutes, they stood back and looked at the marks; they were Egyptian hieroglyphs. Charlie, Alice and George smiled. Alice said, "This must be the way into the pyramid."

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