Updated: after contacting the University I have been given permission to include the picture prompt that I used to come up with my competition entry. Many thanks to Scott Byrne from the Special Collections Centre for allowing me to use the image.

from Robert Ker Porter's Travelling sketched in Russia and Sweden during 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, published in 1813. Copyright, University of Aberdeen.

from Robert Ker Porter’s Travelling sketched in Russia and Sweden during 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, published in 1813. Copyright, University of Aberdeen.

Earlier this month I spotted a sign advertising a flash fiction competition organised by Aberdeen University. The entries had to be based on one of four pictures taken from the University’s Special Collections Centre’s rare books and archives. Figuring there was nothing to lose I went home,  found the pictures (I chose number 2) and had bashed out a 500 word effort in a couple of days. I was quite pleased with it as I normally hate “writing to order” as so many competitions seem to insist upon these days. I also rather enjoyed the period feel of the story that developed which was a bit of departure from my usual style.

The winners were announced today and sadly I did not feature in the top slot or even get a special commendation. However, the story is published along with many others on the University’s website. There you will find the overall winner and links to all the other stories and, most important of all, the pictures which started it all.

I’ve included the story below for you.

The Pit

‘This way Sir,’ Drummond said as Porteous stepped out of the basket.

Porteous followed the younger man through the tunnel. The stifling heat of the jungle lay over a hundred feet above and the walls sweated and ran with constant moisture. A cool draft teased his exposed skin. There were no mosquitoes this far down either which he supposed was a blessing. He detested the bitter taste of the quinine pills the Professor insisted the men take daily.

‘How is the dig progressing?’

‘We seem to be back on schedule now.’ The locals Drummond had hired had strong backs and toiled night and day for their few pennies.

‘Just as well – London is becoming impatient. Several telegrams have arrived insisting that we make haste.’

‘Yes Sir I realise that but…’ Drummond hesitated.

‘Well? What is it? Out with it man.’

‘With all due respect Sir, I don’t think they appreciate our difficulties. The locals say this place is haunted.  It took a lot of persuading to get them to overcome their reluctance to dig here.’

‘Stuff and nonsense lad,’ Porteous snorted. ‘Let me tell you, I have travelled far and wide and I’ve yet to encounter anything that can’t be seen off with a taste of cold steel.’

‘If you say so Sir.’

The tunnel broadened out into a wider cavern. Porteous could hear the scrape of shovels from up ahead.

‘Are you sure the map is correct?’

‘Positive Sir. It took us a while to translate all the information on it but this is the place all right.’

The map had passed through several sets of hands before coming into the possession of Porteous’ employer. It purported to show an ancient burial site hidden deep in the jungle where untold riches were said to lie.  Porteous had been hired to lead the expedition – a task which he had gladly accepted. Civilian life was far too mundane for his tastes although the heat made his old wounds throb.

There was a sudden clamour of voices raised in agitation. One of the workers, his face streaked with dirt ran up to the two men jabbering excitedly.

‘He says they’ve found something,’ Drummond translated once he got the man to calm down.

The diggers stood at the edge of the shallow pit as if unsure what to do next, a few shifted from foot to foot nervously. A stone casket lay at the bottom of the hole. Porteous could see the intricate carvings decorating its surface even through the dirt.

‘Out of my way,’ Porteous said, shoving them aside. He grabbed a pick from one of the men and jumped into the hole. He grunted as he hefted it over his head and brought it down to strike the stone.

A flash of light burst from the shattered casket, consuming all of the men. It burst through the tunnels and shot up to the surface. When it subsided the excavation had been erased and only the sounds of the living jungle remained.

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