It blinked slowly under the bright floodlights. There had only been sweet darkness for so long. A voice unused in thousands of years croaked a sound that may have been a question or may have been a painful sigh. Years later, the intern who survived would still call it the most terrifying thing he’d ever heard.
He’d been lucky in three ways: because he was the intern, the team had crowded him out so he was closest to the exit; because he’d seen these things happen in movies and grown up believing them; and because he’d been on his high school track team.
It raised a gnarled, scaly hand that then slipped wetly against the inside of its bed, leaving a viscous trail of sweet-smelling red. The others outside of the sarcophagus could only stare with mouths open, except for the intern turning to run, his chair already spinning from his absence.
The fingers scratched and gained purchase on the edge, and then its other hand slapped on the opposite side. One intrepid biologist, conscious of his place in history, began dictating the experience into a device, voice reedy and trembling as he fought down the thought, “I should have used the lavatory before we opened this.” Half a dozen monitors reflected his bravery from at least three angles.
Then it looked at him.
Golden flecks whirled in impossibly black eyes, and faster than the biologist would have thought possible if he’d had time to think, its hand clawed through air and grasped his head. The device clattered to the ground as a proboscis burrowed through his temple and it fed on all that he knew.
Those remaining alive in the room stood puzzled with fear. Once it dropped their colleague, one turned to another and said, “feed it the intern!” As last words go, they were ignoble.
With one smooth shudder, it jumped out of the sarcophagus and landed softly amidst the remaining scientists. For an instant, all that was audible was a slight skritch as several eons’ growth of dewclaw brushed concrete.
Stage two of the slaughter began. First went the archaeologist who had recommended they not actually open the sarcophagus until he’d had time to study the exterior more thoroughly. He died in smug terror.
Then a second biologist who had just watched the man she was secretly in a relationship with have his head skewered by a rod that she couldn’t decide was ebony or obsidian. She knew in her last seconds that he would have appreciated the specificity.
Though he had been otherwise useless in this impossibly fast struggle, the government-assigned security agent had just enough time to trigger an alarm that would send several world leaders into a panic. But the agent also knew that it would be almost pointless. He would never know what happened to stage three.
When the feeding ended, the ancient god, for that is what it was, crouched gleaming in the floodlights. Having fed, even bloated itself, it paused to do what so many of its most recent victims had done after a big meal. It watched television.
With six monitors in view, it scanned satellite signals, absorbing entertainment, news, and disturbing combinations of both. It paused only once, momentarily enchanted by baby pandas sneezing.
The video record showed it with a hideous grimace, but after a decade of studying the image, experts agreed that was the closest thing it had to a smile. Then it was done. It had seen the world it intended to destroy.
To its own surprise, it shrugged. Turning to one of the cameras, it opened its mouth wide, revealing an impossibly endless gullet ringed by at least 500 sharp teeth.
Then its ebon lips made a sound that could only be described as “pfeh.”
Climbing back into the sarcophagus, it then reached down and lifted the lid back into place. Before it restored the seal, in perfect English with inflections from the accents of each human it had devoured, its muffled voice admonished, “wake me when it’s over.”
Copyright © 2019 by Derek McCaw