Ok, I am now convince my Muse has been working overtime. This is my entry to Jack DeMule's contest. I hope everyone likes it.

As in all the other cases all comments, criticisms and critics gratefully accepted :)

Anyway, Enjoy :) --Cut here for story. Warning sharp things may affect screen contrast. --

Astakos - The Stables of the Gods?

By Wolphin.


It had been a good holiday, backpacking our way around the world.  
We had seen most of the sites and were slowly working our way back 
to Australia.  It started about eight months ago, flying into Rio 
De Janeiro, then working our way around the north eastern side of 
South America towards Mexico.  Then it was up and across the US.  
We bought an old bomb which we almost drove into the ground, but 
it did get us through 38 of the states and up into Canada.  We 
left the US about two months ago, flying to London.

A month or so touring England, then onto mainland Europe.  We were 
currently heading along the edge of the Mediterranean.  Our aim 
was to get around to Turkey, then get a flight into Africa or, 
perhaps India.  It was a leisurely trip.  We had sufficient funds 
for a good time, but we were still rather frugal.  To help 
conserve costs we had doing a lot of volunteer work.  

In fact, that was where we were headed.  Talking to the right 
people had got us permits to an archaeological dig in Greece.  We 
were currently in Astakos and had detailed instructions of who to 
talk to and where to go from there.  

Eventually we found who we assumed was the right person.  He waved 
his hands a lot, smiled enthusiastically and said, "Yes, yes, I 
know this" in broken English.  Heartened by this we took up the 
guy's offer of a list and climbed into his minivan.

It was quite a ride.  He took perverse pleasure in showing off all 
of his native country, wildly gesturing to distant hills, farms 
and whatever else we passed usually with both arms.  Luckily, 
there was not much traffic on the road and we did not seem to hit 
anything, although there was a narrow miss with one truck on a 
hairpin bend.  I have been on similar drives with TukTuk drivers 
in Thailand and I knew a few convenient prayers.

Obviously there seemed to work because, with night falling, we 
arrived at the dig site.  Never having been to a dig site before 
we were a little unprepared for what we found.  Firstly there was 
the gate.  A rather large chain-link gate with signs in Greek 
printed on it.  About the only thing we could read was "Royal 
Archaeological Society" on a small logo in the corner.  At least 
that told us we were in the right place.  The next thing we 
noticed, with the Greek's tail lights rapidly disappearing, was 
the large chain.

Quite a substantial chain.  It was not the sort of thing you want 
wanted to see as the sun dipped over the horizon.  What made it 
worse was the matching padlock, securely holding the lot together.  

We yelled for a while, but herd nothing than our echoes and so, as 
the hills turned purple we jumped the fence.  Following the worn 
vehicle tracks we contemplated what we were getting into.

"The Prof did say that they may be late," Dave said suddenly.

"Wha?" I said jerked from my own musings.

"The Professor." David continued.  "You know, the one who told us 
about this place.  He said that things may be delayed, but if that 
was the case, just wander on in and make ourselves comfortable."

"Thats right," I nodded.  "Forgot about that.  Oh well, I suppose 
that that is the camp over there."

I pointed to the unmistakable square shapes of demountable 
buildings and shipping containers, outlined against the fading 
sky. 

David nodded, "I guess so."

As far as setups go, it was a good one.  Three demountable huts, 
facing each other in a triangle, with an open area in between them 
with the remains of a fire.  Behind them lay four shipping 
containers which we assumed were used for storing gear and 
artefacts dug up.  A small path disappeared over the other side of 
the hill towards what we assumed was the dig site.

I made use of a misspent childhood and quickly had one of the 
demountables open.  We had chosen it by looking in the window.  
From what we could tell, one of the others was a miniature 
laboratory, another one was used as an office, but this one was 
the mess hall.  

Bingo!  Inside was a collection of tables and chairs, a sink and a 
fridge.  We toyed with sleeping on the floor for a while, then 
decided putting up the tent would be a better option.  David got 
on with that, while I started on the fire, quickly followed by a 
fire.  Within fifteen minutes, we were sitting around the gently 
flames, eating tinned beans - another delightful meal.

Also, during my rummaging in the kitchen I had found a calendar 
which said the next excavation was due to begin in two days, so we 
were a little early.  Not a problem.  We would just sleep here and 
recharge out batteries so to speak.

After the meal, we discussed our plans for the next few days, then 
crawled into our sleeping bags and went to sleep.

I awoke relatively late the next morning.  David had already left 
the tent, I could vaguely remember him saying something about 
having a look around.  I crawled out of the tent and brushed the 
sleep from my eyes.

The site did not look that much different under the harsh 
sunlight.  It was on a fairly bare hill, which looked down towards 
the sea in the distance.  There were a few small trees around the 
place, but no signs of houses or even other people.  As I made 
myself a sandwich for breakfast David came running up the small 
track.

"Quick," he said breathlessly.  "Get a torch and your camera."

"Why?" I replied.

"Just do it," he responded, grabbed his own torch and disappeared 
down the path again.

Not one to argue, I rummaged in my pack, pulling out my torch.  
Then I pulled out my camera and strung it around my neck and 
wandered off down the path after David, munching on my sandwich.

The path meandered around the edge of the hill and suddenly it 
came into site.  I am no expert, but I do know a dig when I see 
one.  This obviously had been going on for sometime.  There was 
probably the area of a small house carefully cut out of the hill.  
From the earth, columns, walls and doorways emerged, poking their 
way out of the hill.

I caught a glimpse of David's red shirt disappearing into a dark 
doorway and quickly hurried after him to catch up.

The doorway lead directly into the hillside, like the mouth of a 
cave.  

"David?" I called down the opening, listening to it echo.

"Yeah," came the reply a few seconds later.  "I'm down here.  Go 
down, then take the first left turning, then left again then down 
the stairs to the room and through the small door in the wall."

This sounded like instructions for getting through a maze or 
something.  Tentatively I made my way inside, stabbing at walls 
with my torch.

It was incredible.  I have never been interested in any ancient 
cultures before, but this was so different.  The walls were 
covered in murals depicting scenes of the Gods and Men meeting.  
Other walls were covered in things that looked like hieroglyphics 
and still others had large sculptures chiselled into them.  It was 
definitely not what I expected to find on a dig site.  I had been 
expecting a few broken bits of pottery, but not this.

Following David's instructions I found myself at the bottom of a 
small staircase in a large room.  Before I entered I had looked at 
the layout.  It had seemed vaguely familiar to me and now I 
realised what it must have been.  It looked just like a stable, 
albeit a small stable.  There was opening on one side which had 
been filled with rubble.  That would have been the door outside.  
Along each wall you could make out faint markings where the 
individual horse's stalls had been.  A drain ran down the center 
of the room, then out through the caved in wall.

I walked through the small door slowly.  This probably would have 
been the tack room.  I looked around and let out a yelp of 
surprise.  Before me stood the dusty hind quarters of a horse.

I paused for a moment, then tentatively reach out to touch it.

"Its brass," David suddenly said from the other end of the horse.

I jumped about six foot straight up.

"Don't do that!" I yelled.

He grinned.  "Sorry."

He paused for a moment before continuing.  "I think it is a 
ceremonial piece or something."

I looked at it carefully.  It was an amazing piece of work.  You 
could see muscles rippling under the flesh.  You half expected it 
to suddenly jump a little and canter out of the room.  

"Why?" I said.

"Ummm, its missing something," he countered.

"Wha?" I started to say, then he pointed at its head.

It's head was sitting on a small stone pedestal over on one side 
of the room.  I looked at the head, then back to the neck of the 
horse.  It's neck flowed up, then stopped abruptly.  I walked over 
and looked closely at the head.  There was no way that head would 
have ever fitted onto that neck.  They were the wrong shape.  The 
back of the head would have fallen into the horse's chest.

I looked back at David a little quizzically.

He wandered over and lifted up the head.  I was about to yell at 
him not to touch anything, then realised he must of already 
touched it in the first place to know what he was going to be 
showing me.  Then I noticed what he was pointing to.  The inside 
of the horse's neck was dug out, and inside was the unmistakable 
outline of a human face.

It was not the head of a statue.  It was a mask.  David saw where 
my brain was headed and nodded.

"I guess," he said excitedly.  "The use to sit in the body of the 
horse and wear this over their heads."

"But why?" I replied.

"Who knows?" he shrugged.  "They were Greek, probably one of their 
ceremonies or something."

He then grinned mischievously and handed me his camera.  

"Get a photo will you?" he said and put the head down.

Before I could stop him, he had vaulted himself up and was 
wriggling himself into the body of the horse.  

"Its a tight fit..." he muttered and squirmed himself backwards.  
"There."

It was strange.  In the torchlight he looked almost exactly like a 
centaur.  I ran around a few times taking various pictures, 
Telling him he was being stupid and that he should get out.  He 
laughed it off and complained he was leaning too far forward to 
look like a proper centaur.

Then he began asking for the head.  

I'm not sure why I complied.  Perhaps I was feeling a little 
foolish by now too.  What ever the reason, I picked up the head 
and handed it to him.  It was surprising light and he easily 
hoisted it over his head and into place.

I snapped a few more shots and then told him to get out.

I heard a muffled "ok" and his hands rose up to the head.  For a 
moment, they pushed upwards, then a muffled, "Err, I'm stuck," 
came out from under there.

"This is no time to be joking," I replied and reached up to try 
and pull him out.

"I'm not joking," he said.  This was followed by a loud groan.

I jumped up to near his chest.

"Dave," I shouted.  "Dave, what's wrong?"

"It's this mask, its getting hot," he said back, sounding a little 
anxious.

"No its not," I countered.  "Dave, just calm down.  You're 
beginning to panic."

"I'm not panicking," he shouted back.

I had been tugging at both the mask, then his chest for a while, 
trying to free one of them.  Nothing seemed to work, then a bright 
white line spread across both joins of the horse's body and neck.  

David let out an inhuman scream.  Then, as I jumped back against 
the wall, dropping my torch, I would swear the legs of the horse 
moved.

I hit the wall, then dropped to the ground frantically searching 
for my torch.  The lines of the head and horse's body still 
glowing faintly in the dark, although, as I watched they faded to 
blackness.

I finally found the torch and as I fumbled with the switch I heard 
something else breathing in the room.  It was too loud to be 
David.

Finally I got the thing working and a beam of light sprung out.  

The statue was gone.  In its place stood something I had only seen 
in pictures. 

An Equitaur.  

The head of a horse, chest and arms of a human and body of a 
horse.  

Somehow, deep inside me I knew it was Dave.

"D..Dave..?" I almost whispered.

One horse's ear swivelled to face me and a dark eye regarded me 
warily.  Slowly it nodded once.

I relaxed a little.  

"Dave, is that you?"

Again one slow nod.

"What happened?"

The horse seemed to take a deep breath and performed an 
unmistakable shrug.

Gaining a little more courage I stepped closer and regarded the 
beast carefully under the torch light.  Hesitating a little I 
gently poke at the horse's coat of fur.  It was a little stiff and 
warm to the touch, exactly like a normal horse.  It flowed up the 
flanks to where it his the human chest.  Here it quickly faded out 
to be replaced with normal human hair.  It resumed again, just 
down from where the horse's head joined to the human torso.

As I poked and prodded with growing curiosity, the horse suddenly 
flinched and shook its head, I noticed with interest a very horse 
like main descending the human back.

I also noticed a distant look in the horse's eye.

"Dave?" I asked.  "Dave, do something!"

The horse did not respond at first, then moved back up to its 
pedestal and stayed there.  

I was about to go and get help when something strange happened.  
It was a little like a flashback scene in a movie.  The horse 
seemed to fade out slightly, I could see right through it.  Slowly 
pinpricks of light appeared, growing in colour until they stood 
out as oil lamps on the wall.

The horse seemed to step off the pedestal, leaving behind the 
remains of the statue and I followed the equitaur out the door.  
The stable had become a hive of activity, shadowy people moved 
around and slowly sounds seemed to fade into existence.  The 
equitaur slowly walked up between the stalls, nodding to the other 
horses which whickered a greeting to it.  The humans which saw it 
bowed their heads in reverence.  

The equitaur continued out through the large doors at the end of 
the room and onto the hillside visible beyond them.  I can 
remember seeing the beast raise one hand in a gesture of farewell 
and the scene faded back to the blackness, lit only by my torch.

I moved back into the small room and was not surprised to noticed 
the statue back in its original place, the head back on the 
pedestal.  I hunted around for a moment and picked up David's 
torch from where he had dropped it before making my way outside.

Later that day the Professor arrived.  He said he had come to open 
the place up before everyone else arrived.  I was sitting in the 
shade of one of the buildings staring at nothing in particular.  
He walked up beside me and sat down.  For a while, we were both 
silent.

"You found the statue, didn't you?" he said.

I nodded.

"He put it on didn't he?"

Another nod.

He paused for a while.

"Well, I'm not sure what happened," he began.  "But I can tell you 
he is happy.  We are still trying to figure out exactly what this 
place is, or was, but we think it was where some of the God's kept 
their steeds."

I looked up at him.

"Of course," he continued.  "We are not sure, but it sort of fits 
in to what we know, and explains why someone went to the hassle of 
burying it a few thousand years ago."

He looked down at me.  

"The Greeks were very proud of their steeds.  According to legend 
they had almost human intelligence.  Of course, from what I have 
witnessed here, I think I may know where that intelligence came 
from," he paused again.  "We lost three volunteers last year.  Its 
strange, people don't seem to miss them once they are gone.  There 
were no phone calls from family or friends.  Everyone seems to 
know they have gone, its just no one seems overly concerned about 
it."

He adjusted the hat and looked up at the sun.

"Well," he continued.  "I better get back to getting this place 
operational.  Feel free to poke around some more if you want.  I'm 
sure there are some other surprises still to be found down there."

I watched him get up and unlock the door of one buildings and 
begin rummaging inside.  I idly fiddled with the torch in my 
hands, thinking over the day's events.  

Eventually, something inside my head clicked and I wandered back 
down to the ruins, flicked on my torch and walking into the 
underground maze.  This time I turned right and followed this 
passage along.  After a myriad of twists and turns I stepped out 
into a large open area.  

Shining my torch around I let out a gasp.  The room was filled 
with a menagerie of equine beasts.  There were centaurs, pegasii, 
horses and just about everything in between.  Holding my breath I 
looked over the statues... searching.

So many to choose from...

--

Back at the camp site the professor paused for a moment, then 
began to pack up the tent.  He must remember to stop the 
volunteers from going in there this time.  


--Finito :)




Sorry if I spelt pegasii wrong. I'm not an expert. One pegasus, many pegasii (?) pegasuses just didn't seem right. Anyway, hope you liked it... :)