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The Climbing Diary of Paul Tassel

On August 12, three amateur mountaineers attempted ascent of K2’s notorious north ridge. What follows is a series of excepts from the diary of Paul Tassel, the only party member to survive long enough to make contact with society again.

 

[Note: the pages leading up to the ascent itself have been omitted for brevity’s sake]

Aug. 12

Cheated base weight by leaving the stove, packing a single-wall tent. Dane says I’m playing a fool’s game, but the extra pounds mean a lot. Dave’s already struggling in the snow, and we didn’t get an alpine start so he’s probably having a harder time than he needs to.

Later

Fuck. Cache is torn open. Something got at it. Dave says it’s a Lynx, but I don’t think they’re around here. We stocked up as best we could. So much for less weight. I took the water. Dave’s low in the powder already.

Aug. 13

Iceman found.

Aug. 14.

I can’t believe it. I can look over the pictures and I still can’t believe I was so close to a piece of history. We found a fucking mummy! This is just fucking magic. This is why I got into climbing.

I didn’t even know they made mummies around here. He’s a little less dignified than the Egyptian mummies, all he has is this furry pouch that makes it look like he has fluffy grey pubes. Dane nearly died laughing.

I wonder who he was, why they left him up here to die. His skull’s split and his face looks like he’s screaming in fear, maybe we’ve got the world’s oldest cold case file (ha) He must’ve been somebody important, I heard they only tattooed the important people. In the places where he isn’t yellow leather, he’s dark blue. I can’t imagine all the needle-pricks that went into making that. I feel almost bad for posing with him like he’s a cardboard cutout, but when the hell are we ever going to get a chance like this again? We planted a flag by him, promised we’d be back for him later. Don’t worry, iceman. One way or another, you’re getting off this mountain.

Aug. 15

We left the iceman and ascended. Dave even waved bye to it, I think he was the one who posed him like he was scratching his balls. Thank god those pictures aren’t on Dane’s Nikon or we’d have every scientist in the world after us.

Good start. The pack’s nice and hard.

Aug. 16

Good weather. We’re late in the season, but we made up for it.

Aug. 17

We haven’t seen the ropes yet. Dave didn’t want to use someone else’s system, wanted to man his way over the mountain I guess. We rightly convinced him it would be suicide.

We should have seen them by now.  

Aug. 18

no

Later

We found him again. It’s impossible. But there he is. The red flag we planted. The cache we left at his feet.

Dane is looking at the route map those Canadians gave us. Dave’s just kicking snow. Goddamn, how did this even happen? Did we double back somehow?

Aug. 19

We tried descending. I got so dizzy I thought I was going to fall down. Couldn’t tell down from up, anyway. Dane puked on himself because he didn’t know which way to heave. We stopped trying.

Aug. 23

We’re back. The wrapper I ripped is still ripped, in the same place.I threw it away, watched the wind take it.

Aug. 24

We tried descending. Vertigo. Went back up.

Aug. 27

We’re back. The wrapper I ripped is still ripped, in the same place. Someone must be fucking with us.

Sept. 1

It’s my sister’s birthday today. We’re back at the fucking cache. I hope she’s eating better than us.

Sept. 3

We’re back. WHERE ARE THE FUCKING ROPES?

Later

I didn’t know he was going to do it. This diary will be proof. I didn’t think Dave was that angry. Me and Dane were in our tents and we heard Dave shout. The iceman didn’t make a noise when Dave rolled him off the mountain, but he made his mark. On Dave. Dane’s treating it now. Looks nasty. Serves him right. We’re all angry, but that dude was a chunk of history.

Sept. 10

We made it we made it, jesus christ we made it. I didn’t want to write anything just incase.

Dave’s not doing too well. Thought it was AMS until I saw his hand. Dane’s globbing on the neosporin but we really need to get him to a hospital.

It’s not like we’re doing any better. We passed the cache by without taking anything. We’ve been climbing for days on dwindling supplies. God, I hope we summit soon.

Sept. 11

The second we hit Eagle’s Nest a storm blew up. Dave’s incoherent. We’re all bunking in the same tent to try to keep him warm, but you can see it in his eyes. He’s almost gone. We needed the time we’ll lose to this storm.

Sept. 12

Dave keeps asking me if I have any marshmallows left. I think he thinks we’re back on Mt. Josephine. My 15th birthday. I never asked for presents, I always wanted to go places. I take back my birthday request. As a special gift to me, can my best friend not fucking die?

Sept. 13

oh jesus god no

Later

i can’t

Later

Dave stood up for the first time in days. His hand was swollen to the size of his foot. He started laughing, saying “I can’t believe it’s over. The sun feels so good on my skin.” God. It was still coming down in droves. Dave ran out before we could grab him, goddamn hands were so cold I could barely open them, shed his coat and a pair of pants as he did. He tore the zipper and ran out. Laughing. God, he was laughing. What am I going to tell his mom?

Later

The storm died down an hour after it took Dave. Of fucking course. Dane went left and I went right. Dave was so crazy he probably went right over the edge, but I wasn’t going to say it. We needed to look.

I wasn’t gone that long when Dane bowled me over, scared to shit. I asked what he was running from. He told me he’d found some rocks he couldn’t stop staring at, didn’t know why he couldn’t. After a minute he realized that someone was lying on the rocks. Someone the exact same color and texture of the rocks, lying perfectly still. He was so scared I couldn’t get anything else out of him. God, don’t take him away too.

Sept. 14

Neither of us will admit it, but we’ve stopped looking for Dave. Dane said it was best to go on, if we tried to go down we’d just get dizzy again. I’m more afraid of finding Dave’s body, but I didn’t say that.

Sept. 16

why didn’t we tie ourselves together why didn’t i tie us together you’d think after we lost dave i would’ve thought that but i’m an idiot.

Later

God, I have to put this down. I don’t know if anyone but me will read this diary, ever, but I have to put down what happened. Maybe people will think I went nuts and killed both my friends. Trust me, if I had done that, the next person on my kill list is holding the pencil.

He was right in front of me. He was putting up our ski poles to make a support system. Safety first. I was just checking the fisherman’s knot on my pack i swear i only looked away for a second and he screamed god i’ve never heard him scream like that and he was gone but the scream just went on and on

Later

Okay, I can finish this. I went to the edge. The vertigo was back, but I went to my hands and knees and went all the way up to it. I didn’t care if i fell too, i had to see if i could see him. If the scream was anything to go by, he fell for half an hour. I don’t know how that’s possible. It isn’t possible. None of this is.

I’m alone.

Sept. 19

I can’t see the point anymore. I can’t bring their bodies back to their families. I can’t bring closure.

Sept. 27

It’s my fault. It was my birthday. “Let’s go climbing,” I said, “somewhere hard.” Asshole. God.

October? 3?

On my 18th, we went to Moose Mountain. Didn’t plan. Didn’t tell the folks. Just threw some things in the car and left in the middle of the night. I remember [personal anecdote omitted by request of the deceased’s family.]

And I was the one who got hurt. They carried me down the mountain, got ice for my ankle at the Hardee’s. Why couldn’t that happen this time? It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.

October 10 15 20?

White. White. [note: the following 2 pages contained nothing but the word “white” repeated ad nauseum.]

Undated entry

I’m going up. It’s all I can do.

Undated entry

My fingers are black.

Undated entry

I think the world is a snowglobe and god’s shake shaking it up.

Undated entry

am i up or down? walking? a level path to the sky. on either side a drop to hell

Undated entry

not hungry. cold. not cold. numb. not numb. dumb. dumb dumb dumb.

Undated entry

Wh ere ism y ic ema nf rie nd???

Undated entry

i saw them. hoods. the mountain finally fucking came out to kill me. i scream as long as dana did.

 

[Paul Tassel died shortly after this final entry. The only information on the climb comes from this journal, as the digital camera was presumably lost along with Dana Holt’s body. Neither Dana nor David’s bodies have been sighted by subsequent climbers. The “iceman” mummy has not been recovered.]

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Sky Burial

“Why do we bury people in the sky, father?”

Babli clung to a framework and hung forward, straining like a kite at the wind. He had his mother’s fine bones.

Nur pressed his finger to a sisal knot so it would not untie while he answered his son’s question.

“Because it makes God happy.”

“Oh.” The boy watched with mute fascination, tonguing the gaps where his incisors would grow.

Nur finished the monkey’s head knot, the one that would last for five years of wind and rain and sun bleach, and turned to ruffle his son’s hair.

“We used to bury them, Babli, like your friends from the south. But God was not happy that we hid his children from his sight.”

Babli sucked his lips through the gap. “Those by the river burn them.”

Nur sucked air over his teeth. “A far worse thing than hiding them. Your friends may count themselves lucky God does not care about them. What else do they say?”

“Nothing.” Nur grunted and nodded as if that were the end of it. He waited as the boy fidgeted.

“Only—”

He grimaced to the planking before him.

“They say God does not exist. They bring colored pictures of their gods. They look like people, papa.”

Nur ran a kindly hand through his son’s hair. His father would not have been so understanding, Nur as a lad would have been cuffed by now, but Mera had borne children late and Knur could not bring himself to raise a hand against the boy.

“They look like people, yes, and they are fragile like people. Look at the basin god. Tanned as a farmer. How long has he been around? One, maybe two generations. God has been here longer than that. Before us, even.”

“What does God look like, then?”

Ah, this was an easy answer. “Like the headman tells you, child. God looks like all of us, for he is made of all of us. He will look like you when he calls me home, and he will look like me when he calls for me. Do you understand?”

Babli nodded, face pinched.

“Good boy. Now, give me that thread.”

With the cotton thread he bound an infant to the cradleboard, making sure its eyestones stayed in place. There were three that day, a woman, a boy, and the infant.

“Will I look like that when I see God, papa?”

Babli’s strange melancholy perturbed him. “One would hope you would be in such good shape. Broken bodies make god sad. But no, Babli, you will look like an old man when God calls to you.”

As it turned out, he was not even a young man when God called to him and the Hill people descended on the village, churning the earth into red mud. Nur watched the fires bank from his high perch and ran to fetch his wife, who had been at market when they attacked. He met a young warrior, philtrum pierced with an owl feather, and took a throwing stick to the head. Nur went down but did not die. The young man set to beating him with a stout club, but his call was not strong enough and Nur woke at dark.

It was oddly peaceful. He limped to his home and saw not a single living thing stir. Glutting themselves on the stored harvest, the raiders had set fire to the livestock, breaking every tool in the village. They mightn’t have bothered. Nur called and called until his head throbbed, but to no avail.

He allowed himself the luxury of weeping in the nest of his murdered kin, but not for long. His was never a sentimental kind. One by one, he dragged the bodies uphill, to the giving-place. As he did it he thanked the lord that the infidels hadn’t set fire to the slaughtered, added insult to injury.

He had only ever set up a platform big enough for thirty, when spring snowmelt had swelled the river and eaten the bridge to the fields. His father had managed eighty, the year of the famine. But now he had to stop and wait every few minutes until his vision stopped doubling itself, build a grave for his entire village without even a boy for help.

It was he alone who tied their sisal navel cords, who lifted and stacked and tied. He stole lumber from the outbuildings to make up for the store. He smeared the paste that was a mixture of butter and clay on their faces, so God would know them. He wept himself dry as he prepared the bower for his wife, placing their son in her arms like a suckling child.

They returned in the late morning and found him by a coop. He had been struggling to lift one more piece of lumber and his head had finally given up on him. They woke him by dashing cold water, then hot tea in his face.

He seemed unafraid to see them, which they were unused to. They slapped him about the head and asked him where his people were.

His smile pulled like a grimace over broken teeth. “With God.”

That earned him another slap. “God,” sneered a warrior, “you people have no god that I see. Where was he when we took your riches?”

Nur spread his hands as if to show how empty they were. They dunked him in the trough just until he lost air, and then let him up.

They bound his hands and feet and left him next to the coop while they argued what to do with him. They were still arguing when the noise came.

It was the sound of straining, of thousands of weight being lifted all at once. There was a look of grim satisfaction on Nur’s face.

Once of the warriors held out a skinning knife. Its edge caught the warm of the sun.

“No tricks, savage,” he hissed, “tell me where your people are.”

Nur looked him straight in the eye, cold and clear. “With God.”

And from the cliffs, a sound of something mighty descending on many, many, many little feet.

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The Last Empress

Remick dropped his “surprise” on the table. It was a dead bird, wrapped in cloth.

Curtis did not give him the satisfaction of retching or pulling away,  two months spent as the youngest member of this expedition had hardened him to the archeologists’ unique sense of humor. Even now, Remick chuckled as if he’d jumped on a chair like a cartoon housewife, stroking his forelock out of place.

The bird was so stiff it rocked with the slam of the yurt door.

Around noon, the call came.  Weeks waiting under the blank sun, constant uphill work. Twelve solid feet of frozen dirt. Water that refroze as soon as you turned the torch off. They’d exhausted their butane four feet in and had to make do with the old pile-of-embers method like they were making a dugout canoe. All for one grave.

True to their steppe surroundings, the Qtak empire had been nomads. Well, perhaps empire was a strong word for a people who had never numbered in the thousands. They had been around though. Tussled with the Tatars, scrapped with with the Scythians, hunted a Hun or two. If half the things said by their enemies were correct(and they probably weren’t) the Qtaki had eaten their common dead, meaning a tomb was a very special find indeed.

Curtis rocked back and forth in his Keds as team members were outfitted with what little gear they needed. The stone cairn, a circular well-cap about twelve feet in diameter, didn’t go down very far. But it was cold. And treacherous. Ramirez now limped, still radiating enthusiasm after a near-miss with a real Indiana Jones-style deathtrap. The mood had sobered up considerably when Brecht informed them that the Qtak favored poison on their flint knife-edges, a nasty concoction that involved rotting several species of venomous fish.

The Qtak had a peculiar attitude towards death. The birds Curtis had been finding for days were a good luck charm, killed with a sling and buried in red cloth. Construction of the outhouse had turned up enough to bless an army. Whoever was buried here was a person of interest indeed. And yet Curtis felt no excitement as he was ushered in to the main burial chamber. The dig had been even more unglamorous than advertised, and he suspected that at least part of this was intentional. He had not taken part in the joy of discovery, or even the excavation of all the finery that nomads could offer. He was, instead, tasked with what fragments they could trust him not to drop with mittened hands. Brecht and Goldman petted the opening with bluing fingers. Ramirez nudged him.

“You first, Lord Carnarvon.”

The Qtak, Curtis found, had been big on horses. Or hated them. He had yet to decide as he bagged the umpteenth hoof-ornament. Before him, Goldman elucidated the smeary scrawl that covered the hide scrolls in the burial chamber. It promised the contractual swift and sudden death to all who broke the grave’s peace, urging the canny tomb raider to seek out somewhere less protected.

“–and you can see by the livering of the hide, the chief pigment was probably a manganese derivative,” Goldman explicated, “as seen on the storage jars of the Erener-Seers expedition of 1812…”

Goldman had nice, crisp diction and an infectious Birmingham drawl, which was probably why Brecht left the speeches to him. The shorter man braced his forearms over his chest, legs apart, scowling with authority.

The nomads had left horn drinking cups and hide utensils. The nomads had eaten with a crude spoon/knife hybrid and their chief diet had been meat and a kind of millet. There was no metal, not even ornaments.

Curtis tagged the tableware and tried not to look at the dais.

Ice had kept time from touching everything, even the bacteria that would rot a body found no footholds in here. A slender wrist, white and smooth as bone, protruded between robe and silk warming pouch. It was swirled with blue spirals that suggested labyrinths. Curtis caught Brecht’s scowl and lowered his head. The tomb had many treasures, the most mundane packed loosely to bribe customs officials, the most precious secreted in equipment boxes. Only when this was done would they consider the body.

That night Curtis had a primitive stew made with caribou fat and blood and vinegar to keep it from congealing. In their tent, Brecht and Goldman and six senior members had Kraft mac ‘n cheese with Miller Lite. After he feigned fullness to leave the table, Curtis shrugged on his gloves and went for a walk.

There was a special kind of emptiness to the plains. It was something they didn’t tell you about, and he didn’t think anyone could put it into words. He wondered what could possibly frighten a people after living in such a place.

His wandering carried him past the tomb. Hermann was watching the entrance with one of their precious beers. He had been least antagonistic towards Curtis, probably out of regret for the snake-in-the-boot incident early on in the expedition that had nearly killed him. Oh well, Curtis would take goodwill where he could.

The pudgy Viennese smiled as he approached and waved him closer.

“Here,” he called, “something to show you.”

The possibility that Hermann’s contrition had run out did grace Curtis’s thoughts, but he scrambled through the low stone arch anyway.

Curtis clenched to himself. It was against all physical logic that a place sheltered from the incessant windchill would be colder. Hermann, made merry against the cold by alcohol, beckoned him further.

“Look surprised when they reveal this tomorrow,” he rasped in Curtis’s ear, “otherwise we’ll both be in deep shit.”

He lit the dais with a small camping lantern, throwing the diaphanous veil into mist. Curtis wondered how a people who lived by blood and dirt could make anything so fine and–

“It’s a girl,” he breathed. Hermann gave him an odd look.

“How’d you guess?” he said, “never mind. This is queen Rangana XXXVIII, last and most horrible ruler of the Qtak people. Even to a bunch of murdering bastards, she was a little too much. All this writing? They wanted to make sure she stayed put. Nasty little bitch she must’ve been.” He pointed with his chin. “See her gown? Bridal garb. They dressed her this way because she was marrying god.” He caught Curtis’s puzzled stare. “They walled her in here.”

Curtis stared at that fine little wrist, which had been jarred or moved intentionally to display more of the tattoo that wound like a stylistic bruise up her arm. Hermann snorted like a water buffalo and scratched his ass.

“They buried beer with her, too,” he said, grinning crookedly, “I’d invite you to partake, but who knows what they put in it?”

Curtis didn’t want anything to drink, even when a remorseful Hermann offered a sip of his longneck. He wasn’t sure he could keep the stew down anyway.

Through the soothing buzz of his yurtmate’s snoring, even with the reassuring rasp of Remick’s foot against his left calf, Curtis dreamed he was alone on the plain. Stranded from all directions, he had no cover against the endless procession of day and night. There was a stone on his chest, and when he tried to move he found his body brittle.

Ramirez slapped him none-too-gently awake for briefing. He was still ten minutes late and arrived tucking his pullover into the waist of his pants. Brecht stared a silent reprove. Goldman took point, speaking with sonorous goodwill.

“My and my colleague’s suspicions have proved to be correct, this is indeed the tomb of Rangana XXXVIII.” He paused for polite oohs and ahhs and a few good-natured fucks. Brecht dissected Curtis with his gaze, so he pantomimed exaggerated shock.

“The last, and most despised, ruler of the Qtak,” Goldman continued, warming to his subject, “when she died, they scratched her name from every official record… those that were left, anyway. The product of a Dynasty’s treachery and inbreeding, the lady was called a sorceress and a demon and a few other terms that don’t translate. Her chief surviving title is “woe to the people.’”

Curtis gazed over her majesty. She had been buried with all finery, a dainty set of horsehide slippers and an antler comb for the hair that still shone lustrous and deep red beneath her veil. She was small. So small.

“When her reign ended prematurely, it was thought that one of her male relatives would ascend to the throne, but the people could no longer take a chance of another tyrant of her stature—”

Curtis’s hand cut through the air. Goldman, piqued at the interruption, nodded his head.

“Mister Fullman seems to be under the impression we are in class. Yes?”

“Fullham,” he corrected automatically, “and how can that possible, sir? She’s just a girl.”

The silence cracked like glacial ice between the party. Curtis knew he had just trashed his chances at ever recovering popularity, but it was important.

It was Brecht who answered him, though. “And I suppose you doubt all the empirical evidence we’ve amassed since the beginning of the dig?” he inquired in clipped Braunschweig tones.

“Couldn’t they have switched her out for a nobody? Surely anyone could see that this is the body of someone who has yet to hit puberty—”

But Goldman was already clucking, Brecht shaking his head slowly with a condescending smile on his face.

“I would like,” he said, “to get the corpse appraised by a proper scientist before we take the word of a grad student.” Low chuckles.

Curtis knew he should stop, here and now, but the tiny form squeezed into his chest like a fist.

“With all due respect, sir,” he said, giving each word a knife-edge, “this has all the hallmarks of a sacrifice, perpetuated by the same small minds who would condemn someone incapable of defending themselves.”

Crimson bloomed across Brecht’s cheeks.

“Fullham, you’re suspended until further notice,” Goldman said softly.

Curtis rested his head against the yurt wall and listened to Hermann listen to a Turkish game show. The others were busy packing and labeling the empress’ last effects, then they would return with their scalpels and—

Curtis squeezed his eyes shut. no.

He wondered what it was like, being betrayed by your own people, used as an expendable asset. Had she been lonely? It was lonely out here.

Curtis tugged on his gloves. He only had so long. So long, so long she’d been out here. Betrayed.

Herman’s skull gave neatly to his flashlight.

The tomb was cold as he wriggled his way through the small(child)-sized door.

Whoever had put her on her dais had arranged her with decorum in a sitting position. She had one hand out as if offering(beckoning) and one hand to her stomach(clutching a wound?) inviting. Her shawl was the deep red of celebrations, of joy, of blood.

The body he carried was as light as death.

He couldn’t imagine the kind of people who would bury a small girl like this, who would take advantage of someone so much weaker and smaller than they were. To shut them up in the dark, declaring that they would never rise. It was all slander, like Tacitus against Messalina, like Daniel against Nebuchadnezzar II. She must have been a convenient scapegoat, a girl of royal blood, or just a girl at the wrong place at the wrong time. No one so young was capable of anything of such a massive and evil scope. Beneath his hand, her illia had not even flared. And this was a despot?

Goldman met him coming back from the outhouse, smile dying on his lips. Curtis hit him twice to make sure he stayed down. So small, so light in his arms. Had she caught the eye of some fat warlord and paid the price for it? Had she no one in the world to speak up for her, defend her against sacrifice? Or(he feared this was the case) had they held the priest’s sleeves as they ritualistically bound her ankles together?

The first of the jeeps caught aflame easily. Ramirez went after him with the jerrycan, so he had to put her down somewhere safe before he could grapple. Ramirez had eighty pounds on him, but made the mistake of showing him an old football injury on the trip up. He fell, hand clapped to his spurting ear. Curtis spit out cartilage and blood and felt warm for the first time since arriving here.

Brecht fell quickly, ice blue eyes widening at the tent stake. Some joker had smuggled a gun in his sock, but Curtis divested him of that smart quick. The yurts burned like torches as he hunted down the survivors.

He found her still curled up in the knoll he’d left her in.  Gathering her tenderly to himself, he murmured reassurances he knew were ineffective. They’d called her a sorrow, a plague, a woe on the people. They had called a child a tyrant. Let them see what true tyranny was.

Beneath empty skies, he rocked the bride of god.

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The Fate of the Heche

Little is known about the indigenous Heche people of Northeastern Mexico. They were sedentary, built earth homes and lived simply in their harsh desert climate. They would be almost unremarkable from a historical standpoint if not for their close association with another “tribe.”

The Pueblo ant is not really a separate species unto itself, though some “splitter” etymologists have given them their own subcategory, it is really a member of Aphaenogaster bidentatus. As a species it operates typically of social insects in desert climes. They build thick-walled earth mounds that protect their nurseries and food storages from the desert heat. They are mostly nocturnal foragers, though some colonies have been observed collecting pre-dawn dew. One intriguing aspect of the Pueblo ant is its habit of building its home in other species’ preexisting den.  Their original common name came from a Solano word meaning “usurper.”

The ants were first noticed on an archeological expedition to the Tamaulipan mezquital, mounted in an attempt to uncover the remains of the Heche people’s village. In a territory where they had little to no natural predators, the ants had flourished to an alarming degree. One member reported mounds upwards of six feet tall, remarkable only if we fail to take into account that termite mounds can reach thirty feet in height and extend even further underground.

During “down time” the junior archeologists would hack into mounds in order to watch the ants race to rebuild their city walls. The ants showed no undue aggression, in fact the archeologists noted that the ants had no sting or bite to defend themselves; the only thing they appeared to have on their side was persistence. Alan Bradshaw, foreman of the dig, noted that late one morning another member had taken a trawl to the side of a mound. By mid-afternoon swarms of hundreds of ants had sewed the wound neatly closed. One mound, upon exhumation, was discovered to contain the skeleton of a tree.

All this was merely a diversion by frustrated and bored grad students; the dig was going nowhere. They dug dirt and sifted sand but only turned up fragments of the native’s day to day lives. It was nearly the middle of June, daytime temperature averaged at 114° and they were running low on funds. While Bradshaw and the senior members of the dig congregated to decide the project’s future, the younger archaeologists decided to visit their hexapodal neighbors one last time.

The Heche were said to have a peak population in the low hundreds, had a rich craft and farm tradition, and engaged in trade with their neighboring tribes right up until their sudden disappearance. The question of their downfall rings unanswered still, though theories have been put forth: sudden plagues, invasion by marauding tribes, even natural catastrophe. Proving them one way or another is frustrated by the native’s lack of written language, though information still survives. The neighboring Solano people tell of a Heche man arriving exhausted after many day’s travel, emaciated and weak, too tired to even say his own name. He died of dehydration the next day. This event has been estimated as taking place around the time the Heche people disappeared from the cultural map, but brings us no closer to the truth of the matter.

Whatever the cause of their eventual demise, their fate became clear when the junior archeologists cut into a Pueblo ant mound and found not only the wattle-and-daub walls of a hut, but the remains of five mummified Heche.

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