The Hourglass Pendant

As the Airbus A340 around him rattled in a fierce gust of wind, Simon Walker touched the pendant, dangling from a fine chain on his neck, surreptitiously. Through the tiny window on his left, he could see nothing but darkness and the occasional pinprick of light whenever they passed over a city.

Simon had never much liked airplanes (or anything else that took him off the firm, steady surface of the Earth), and couldn't help his mind straying to unpleasant images of his own death by plane crash. However, through the air was the fastest method to get from London to Cairo, where he was currently headed.

The pendant, now concealed in hist fist, was a beautiful thing, and distinctly sci-fi; an ancient Egyptian artefact, or so he had been told, its body an intricate hourglass in the shape of two minuscule glass tanks fused and wired together with variously sized cables and cords. On its top was a pattern shaped like half an eye, or half an A, with a semi-circle and a smaller dot inside its lower right corner; if it was an Egyptian symbol, which Simon didn't think it was, it was one he didn't know. This was particularly frustrating, for he had studied hieroglyphs and ancient symbols for most of his life and couldn't help feeling rather annoyed by the idea that he should have missed something.

The hourglass, which was made of crystal glass and some unknown, darkish material that reflected light in a way that sometimes made it appear to be glowing by itself and filled with a beady blue liquid instead of sand, looked neither ancient nor Egyptian to Simon on the whole. On more than one occasion he had thought he had seen it emanate a faint glow and hastily retrieved it from the inside of his shirt, but when he looked closer, it was as plain and scratched a piece of jewellery as ever.

As if on cue, Simon looked down at his fist, but no trace of light permeated the gaps between his fingers.

The hourglass pendant was one of two items that had once belonged to his late grandfather. Old Avrak Walker, with whom he, Simon, had spent his seventeen years of life, had died several months back, leaving the older of his two grandsons the pendant and a very old, hand-drawn map of the Great Pyramid of Giza to go with it. It was this wrinkled piece of paper that was the reason he was on the plane in the first place; to retrieve whatever treasure was hidden in the as of yet undiscovered, secret chamber he had found upon careful examination of the map's inked-on, spidery lines and patterns.

It wasn't only the hourglass and the map Simon had inherited from his grandfather, though, but a keen sense for archaeology and early languages as well, which had allowed him to join the old man's excavation team (led by the famous archaeologist Dr. Pierce) as junior researcher. Starting tomorrow morning, they would begin to clear a newly found, western entrance to the Great Pyramid of Giza for tourist access. Of course, Simon had no intention of clearing anything, but nobody needed to know that, and it was the best opportunity he had to follow the leads on his grandfather's map.

He felt in his coat pocket for the brittle parchment, which was worth more than any treasure Howard Carter had revealed decades earlier; indeed, if everything went according to plan, Simon would be the first person to enter the hidden room (marked on the map with a symbol like an hourglass, two triangles stacked upon each other at the tips) after the ancient Egyptians had sealed it several millennia earlier. Not only would his success provide him with a life in wealth and treasure, but also the recognition and fame he felt he deserved. The thought alone served to quicken his pulse and flood his mind with lightheaded euphoria, and he barely contained a wide grin. All the people who had laughed at him for years, his disbelieving, so-called friends, it would show them what he was capable of. Once they read the headline and saw him within a pile of golden treasures far beyond their dreams, their arrogant smirks would be wiped off their faces in an instant. And even more than that he looked forward to the great day on which he would prove to everyone that he was just as capable as perfect darling Morgan.

Morgan Lafeye, his little cousin and archenemy, had been a thorn in Simon's eye for a long time, what with his supposed brilliance and perfection, both of which instantly endeared him to everyone in the vicinity. It was Simon, and Simon alone, who could see through the act.

Morgan, who was two years younger than him, had maintained to this day the opinion that he, Simon, and archaeologists in general, were (with great risk to their personal safety) wasting their time digging up graves and breaking open ancient temples and shrines, never finding anything worthwhile; indeed, the boy had always been very inventive when it came to the perils that waited down in the pyramids and tombs too, as though this would scare Simon away from his carefully made plans, especially the one which involved his grandfather's map and the hourglass pendant. Many times he had warned that Simon (who might not be the most fearless person on the planet) would sooner find his end in one of the traps (which he liked to describe in great, imaginative detail) than find something that was worth risking his life.

Simon knew his cousin's favourite arguments by heart: Why would Avrak Walker not have dug up the treasure himself, but merely provide a map of the pyramid's maze and traps? Why had he never once mentioned to either of his grandsons what lay hidden in its depths, if he'd already been there – as proven by the detail of his map –? And most importantly, what (At this point, Perfect Morgan had actually and, as Simon was quite certain, for the first time of his life, used a swear word.) did the hourglass pendant have to do with anything?

While some of them made sense, Simon wasn't fooled: Morgan was nothing but a fraud, trying to prevent him from getting some of the limelight himself for once. Morgan had even gone so far as to plea with him not to do anything stupid (as if that would deter Simon, who could, naturally, see right through his cousin's clever scheme) and urge him to forget all about what may or may not be hidden within the Great Pyramid (as if Simon didn't know his cousin was merely trying to lure him away so he could recover the treasures and obtain all the glory himself).

Simon checked the time on his watch. It was close to one in morning. A sheen of dim light covered the outskirts of Cairo's suburbs. In the distance, he could see the winding slopes of the Nile river, glittering softly in the moonlight, and an assembly of tiny houses that passed in a fuzzy blur of flickering colour. Nestled warmly and comfortably in his seat, his fingertips resting idly on the skin-warmed metal of the hourglass, Simon went over the arguments and reasons that his cousin was merely trying to prevent him from getting his share of the limelight for once (and that it was therefore right to mistrust the boy) for what felt like the thousandth time.

If their archaeological endeavours were this dangerous and fruitless, why had Morgan insisted on accompanying him on the trip to Giza? And why had his cousin signed up for the very same course, which he claimed he so despised, in university?

But this was, of course, the most easily answered question: Morgan had always liked to copy whatever his older cousin did, mainly to prove himself superior and cleverer than everyone else when he received more than a hundred and thirty percent on a test. He was always the most intelligent person in the room and had been smart enough to start university at the age of fourteen, which put him into the same class as Simon.

Simon wasn't stupid himself, of course. He had started university at the age of sixteen, having nearly finished school by the time. He was quick to dismiss this however, because his intelligence was hardly the point in this argument with himself. In fact, this thought made it even worse, because he had been two years older than his younger cousin when he had began studying for a degree. It wasn't anything he was likely to forget very soon either, for there was no escaping the boy now that they were in the same university course.

Over the years, Simon had adopted a technique of avoiding Morgan's questions and puzzled looks and, in fact, his cousin as a whole. Even now, he didn't know how the boy had gotten wind of what he was trying to do in Giza, but then, Morgan had always been rather interfering and bothersome, so it was hardly surprising.

Luckily, Morgan also believed in honesty, and Simon had been able to convince his cousin that he wasn't going to do anything on a mere whim, then refused to talk about the matter further. There was no need to give Morgan ideas. And, after all, it didn't matter what he thought or believed, or why their grandfather had not retrieved the treasure himself.

Simon supposed that maybe the old man just hadn't had the guts to go down into the pyramid on his own, for Morgan had been right with one thing: The journey down into the secret chamber wouldn't exactly be a walk in the park, even with the advantage of the back entrance (which was closer than the main entrance to his final destination) opened for Dr. Pierce's excavation team.

There were seven rather nasty traps on the way into the secret chamber which he would have to pass. One of them, a rectangular hole in the ground lined at the bottom with pointy spikes, intended to impale those who fell, had already been triggered the last time they had been inside the western corridor on an expedition. Fortunately nobody had gotten hurt (for any mishap would have surely sent a larger group of people foraging in order to comply with Health and Safety restrictions), but it had given Simon the opportunity to scout ahead under the pretence of examining the spiked pit. Simon thought he had a good, general idea of the trap's physical layout now, and the rest would hopefully be easily navigable with the aid of his grandfather's map.

Beyond the spike pit, the corridor had ended in a strip of seemingly solid wall. Only seemingly, because Simon knew that it was actually part of a massive maze and that there was a mechanism hidden behind the rock surface to shift it. That, and more, was indicated on his grandfather's old map, which would guide him through the pyramid just fine.

Simon had planned it all, worked it all out. There was nothing to be afraid of. No one was going to steal this moment of glory from him, not even his senior researchers or his grandfather. He had spent hours pouring over the ancient map, mending the brittle parchment where necessary, replicating the black lines where the old ink had faded and marking traps and hazards in red.

Clear as day, he could already see the headline of The Guardian upon his return to England. In his imagination, a full-scale portrait of himself filled the whole of the front page, and the caption was topped with bold, black letters from which no one could avert their eyes, which read, "JUNIOR SCIENTIST SIMON WALKER TO FIND HIDDEN CHAMBER OF GREAT PYRAMID. A REVELATION OF LOST TREASURES."

Simon looked out of the window again, pressing his nose tightly against the transparent plexiglass to avoid the glare of the lamps, which had been switched on along the corridor. More than a hundred miles below, he could see the brightly lit lanes, the snaking rows of flickering spotlights where carriers were towing planes, and the outline of the arrival hall of the airport of Cairo, all of which stood in stark contrast with the velvety black surroundings. The ground was very far away indeed. If Simon hadn't been used to travelling back and forth from London to Cairo in this way from a very early age, it would have unsettled him much more than it did now.

He touched the pendant on his chest again, as though it were a talisman. As they often did, his fingers came to a rest on the engraved half-A symbol. Although he couldn't decipher the pattern, it looked vaguely familiar, as though the meaning of it was stored away somewhere in the depths of his mind, dodging and evading just out of reach. Thinking about it too long normally made his head ache, which was very frustrating indeed, so he gave up fairly quickly. What did it really matter anyway? As long as it guided him on his path to glory, the symbol could have meant something like Spaghetti Bolognese, for all he cared.

What did one tiny little symbol on his key to success really matter when, in a few days, Simon would be a hero, at the age of barely-seventeen years (having just had his birthday a month ago on the twenty-eighth of July)?

As they began their descent, Simon leaned back in his seat again and gazed at his reflection in the window. An orphaned, teenage boy with sandy coloured hair, which curled just slightly at the edges, and thickly framed glasses that obscured his dark brown eyes stared blankly back at him from the mirroring surface. He sometimes wondered whether he more resembled his mother or his father, neither of which he had ever known but both of whom he often liked to imagine had been king and queen of a faraway land (or, when he was in one of his stranger moods, supreme rulers of the Universe). Of course, for all his grandfather had told him about them, his parents could have indeed been thus.

When he stood, Simon was just over six feet tall and very slender, almost to the point of skinny, though with rangy arms and legs, which ended in slim fingers and narrow feet. He wasn't an ugly boy, but his careless sense (or rather nonsense) of dress and generally scruffy appearance (so contrary to Perfect Morgan's neat, spotlessly white shirts with the crisply ironed collars, which the ladies from the shop and the professors at university so loved) often made him a subject of ridicule.

However, as he gazed at the dark rings underneath his eyes and his rather bleary expression, he only saw a great hero in the mirroring glass of the Airbus A340.