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It was on a summer afternoon of at an archaeological dig site in northeast Africa that I met Cooper. The sun was casting an elaborate layer of thick heat over the desert and the air was so hot it smelt like the exhaust of a jet plane. The sweltering air seemed to swirl around and obstruct the view of anything father than ten feet away—which wasn't much since there was basically sand everywhere in all directions. When I first saw Cooper I pegged him as the type of kid who’d get scared by R.L Stine’s “Goosebumps”. He was an average heighted young man with a small appetite and a slender frame. His short brown hair was shiny with sweat and he was clearly worn out from the trek across the Sahara.
I whipped my dusty hash over my shoulder and squinted down and the teenager who stood in front of me smiling like an idiot. “Who are you?” I grumbled, clearly showing that the long day had weighed down on my mood by a pound.
“This is Tom Cooper,” a man with a thick British accent chimed in. The man was Prof. Alan Henry. He had grayed hair gelled back into a nice business due, and his entire outfit looked like something out of the Indiana Jones franchise. Meanwhile, his fellow traveler was wearing khaki brown cargo shorts with a tank top that was colored in Red, Yellow, and Green stripes. I exchanged a firm handshake with Henry and stuck out a hand for the boy.
“How old are you, kid?” I asked Cooper. He smiled, through his tired expression and replied politely,
“Nineteen, sir,” he groaned, rubbing his left eye with his hand.
I looked slightly down at him. “First of all kid,” I swiped his hand from his eye. “Don’t rub your eyes. It’ll only get more sand in em’.” Cooper nodded, his left eye still plagued by a sand rash.
“Professor Edwards,” Henry began. “Could you show this boy to his quarters? He’s quite worn out from the journey.” The short, European asked. I nodded and walked off, the kid tailing behind in an exhausted daze.
“So where yah from?” I asked, making small talk to avoid awkward silence.
“Denver,” he simply replied.
I chuckled at this. “Well that’s a change in climate!” I laughed, looking back at the boy.
“Yah, I guess,” he said, moving his hand to face, but quickly putting it back down at his side, remembering my instructions. He’d been sent out here to study for a couple months. He was a freshman in college with little experience and he definitely was home sick being so far out from Colorado. He was hoping to go into the field of archeology when he was older and he was a dedicated admirer of Prof. Henry.
The second we found his tent, Cooper threw down a couple blankets and collapsed, immediately unconscious. Again, my first impression of this kid was that he wouldn’t last much less than a week in this place. He was dying in the dry heat, and from the looks of his sun burned shoulders, he probably even forgot to back some kind of sun block.
But I was wrong about cooper. He’d lasted a lot longer than I thought he would. I grew to like the kid. He followed strict orders, did exactly as he was told with no question, and he told a hell of a good campfire story. I used to tease that he could make the next popular author if he wrote his stories down.
His favorite genre was of course, horror and he never ceased to burn nightmare fuel in a group of men like us, but there was one story that disturbed me even now.
It was the year after Cooper’s first visit to the dig site and he’d planned to return only a month post to leaving, but he didn’t work up the courage to come back until an entire year later. When he did though, he was different. His hair was a bit longer, and he wore something that fit Egypt’s dry climate a little bit more. He didn’t talk very much and I hadn’t seen him smile since the little smirk he’d gave me before he left the last time. And the worst part was that he was absolutely paranoid.
Finally, one day, I decided to actually ask Cooper what was on his mind. This lead to his thorough, but reluctant retelling of his experiences on his trip back through the Sahara. I actually laughed to myself at this point because that expressed why he’d spent $1500 more in expenses getting a private helicopter out here. To listen to his story, we did the same procedure we’d used to do when he’d tell his old stories. We’d sit around our makeshift camp fire, and he’d tell his famous horror stories. Although, this time, the unmovable, Tom Cooper, who wasn’t afraid of anything, was in shambles telling this story.
He started off with our goodbyes.
“See yah kid, nice havin’ an intern around to get me coffee,” I’d said.
“I’m not your intern!” Cooper had rebounded. We both laughed and shook hands firmly like the first time we’d met and he’d promised he’d return soon. That promise didn’t hold up for long though.
The three other people Cooper was traveling with included Tyler Lucas, a young archeologist from Montreal, Professor Henry, and an old, Costa Rican historian, Pablo Sánchez, who only spoke Spanish. Their journey started off like any other through the Sahara as they walked the entire day under the lazy, teasing sun. Things started to become evidently wrong though after the sun started to dip below the horizon. Lucas had come into sight from behind a huge mound of sand to announce that there was a huge sand storm coming and they should get their tents set up immediately.
This was to be expected since they were traveling through the desert. As soon as Cooper was finished setting up his tent, with the assistance of Henry, he walked over to help Sánchez and Lucas with theirs. Sánchez was trying to put a peg into the ground and Lucas was just standing there watching it slowly get dark. Since Cooper found this more strange than anything, he didn’t even try to encourage Lucas to help.
“He-“ Cooper remembered that Sánchez only spoke Spanish. “Hola,” he shyly said. Sánchez smiled and replied with:
“Buenos tardes amigo.” Cooper could understand what this meant with the little Spanish he’d learned from required high school foreign language classes. He was saying ‘Good evening’. The two worked in silence for a short while until finally, the job was done. Sánchez, after they’d finished, uttered a simple Spanish ‘thank you’ and retreated into his tent. When Cooper looked back at Lucas, he got a feeling of concern. The man had been standing there looking out in the distance for about thirty minutes.
As the night progressed a heavy wind pounced on the sides of the tents. Henry and Cooper were sharing a tent, and Sánchez and Lucas were sharing one. Suddenly, a scream tore Cooper and Henry from their slumber in the middle of the night. The storm was thrashing its body of sand at the tent and the two men had sat waiting for further instruction from outside the tent to come out. Instruction did come. It came from Sánchez.
“¿Que?” they heard him call out. “¿Que haces?” He was demanding someone tell him what they were doing.
By then, Cooper and Henry were at his side, asking what he was doing. He didn’t reply, but he didn’t exactly have to because at this point the two could clearly tell. Through the whipping winds hitting Cooper and Henry, they could make out the vague shape of Lucas in the distance.
“What are you doing Lucas?!” Cooper called out, fending off sprays of sand with his arm. As sudden as the one that awoke him and Henry, another scream followed and suddenly Lucas was flinging himself into the sand next to Sánchez. He had made a mad dash away from his perch on the hill.
His companion knelt at his side and began to interrogate him in fast Spanish vocals. The only reply that Sánchez got was, “There’s something out there.” And the rest of the night, Lucas wouldn’t utter another word.
When the morning finally arrived, Lucas couldn’t recall a single thing from the previous night. He was blistered and bruised but had no memory of why. When the rest of the group reminded him what happened, he took it badly, remembering what he saw immediately and falling silent the rest of the day.
“As it started to get dark again, we watched Lucas, who sat far away from the camp looking out towards where we came from.” Cooper explained, a sorrowful look possessing his features. I felt a growing sadness for Cooper as he told his story. “It was like watching a man after he’s lost a comrade in battle.” He remarked.
Cooper watched as the pitiful Lucas retired into his tent for the night. The rest of the group was silent, still hanging on to Lucas’s words from the previous night.
“Tengo hambre…” Sánchez finally muttered, breaking the silence.
“Yes I am hungry as well,” Henry replied, awkwardly. The men sat eating their food uneasily as a dark cloud of silence enveloped the desert and Lucas retired lazily into his tent.
Almost immediately after they had finished their meal, a soft drumming hummed on the wind. The men sat, alarmed by the weird song rehearsing it chorus on the drift. Suddenly Sánchez was on his knees, hands folded in a prayer, screaming at the skies.
He was yelling, “La Luna nos vira!” Cooper couldn’t understand this, but he felt it was not the time to be asking Henry if he understood. The two fell beside Sánchez, trying to contain him but his thrashing wouldn’t cease. Henry demanded Cooper go find Lucas while he try and calm down Sánchez. Cooper nodded in agreement and stood up bolting towards Lucas’s tent.
“Lucas?” he called out, distant screams from Sánchez reminding him of his urgency. “Lucas?!” He frantically yelled, almost tripping over blankets as he exited the tent. He ran around between the tents looking for Lucas, but there was no sign of the man. Finally, when Cooper almost gave up and planned on returning to Henry to help calm Sánchez, he saw Lucas in the distance.
But the Lucas everyone knew was gone. From head to toe, the man was covered in blood, sand latching on to the liquid almost consuming his body. The worst part was that he was smiling and laughing hysterically. He looked like madman draped in blood and looking up towards the sky, making a hand gesture as to represent that he was trying to grab it. As he did so, he swayed in an almost drunken stupor.
“Lucas?!” Cooper shouted, window starting to pick up bringing more sand on to the man’s figure.
“I pray that he’ll spare me, Tom,” Lucas said with a sick calmness. The words were in a normal speaking voice, so with all the chaos around the two, it should have been impossible for Cooper to hear what he was saying, but the words were as clear as day.
“Who will spare you?” Cooper asked, although he wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear the answer to that question.
“He will,” Lucas replied, contently pointing up at the night’s bright white projection of stars and the big round moon, almost full.
“The moon?” Cooper asked, but when he looked back to where Lucas was, nothing was there. Cooper had no time to be disturbed by this, because by then he had noticed that Sánchez’s screaming had been brought to an abrupt ending.
Cooper settled on finding Lucas later, and ran for Henry and Sánchez. When he made it to their little set up, everything was in dismay. Paper plates tossed everywhere, uncontrollable flames desperately eating at the air, and Sánchez was nowhere to be found. Henry, however, was curled into a ball, rocking back in forth, murmuring gibberish to himself. Blood was splattered on his face and matting down his hair.
When Cooper finally found the guts to ask him where Sánchez had went, the only reply he received was a shaky gesture to the east. Cooper glanced off into that direction, but there was nothing but sand for miles. In fact, there was nothing but sand in every direction.
“I’ll be back,” Cooper whispered to Henry, but wasn’t quite sure it actually went through to him. He ran towards where he’d seen Lucas but found something even more horrifying as what he’d already experienced. Lucas was lying dead in a tangled heap with Sánchez in the sand, and as for what it was that accompanied the two, Cooper refused to reveal. And at this point in the story, cooper was distraught. He keep looking around to make sure nothing was behind him, and he was quivering, rubbing his arms like he was cold, but in this heat it was impossible to be cold.
One of the men in our group of four urged him to tell what it was he saw, but he refused. He wouldn’t say any more about what’d he’d seen that night. All he could say was that it was something that would never leave him. He told the rest of the story besides that ending with him and Henry making it out of the Sahara in complete silence the next day. About a week post, when Cooper had made it come, he heard the news that Henry was found dead in his apartment in London. He’d shot himself in the head. On his suicide note, was a single phrase written in scratchy ink. “I won’t let him get to me first.”
When Cooper was done with his story, he started crying. I tried to comfort the kid, but he was beyond comforting and besides, I was speechless.
About two weeks later we went our separate ways. The entire two weeks neither of us spoke, we just worked in silence. Finally, when we were speaking our goodbyes again, he spoke. But the only thing he said was, “Be careful Edwards, you never know who’s watching.”
I never understood what that meant until I finally got home that winter to California where I finally had a chance to look up what “La Luna nos vira” meant. It was Spanish for, “the moon is watching us”. This gave me a very sick feeling of confusion. I had many questions, but I didn’t even want them answered. I never returned to Egypt again, in fear the same fate might befall me, but a week after I returned from Africa I got a phone call from Cooper’s family. They were asking if I’d heard from him in the past week.
They were asking this because he’d never made it out of that desert.