I’m just going to start with this:
The roar of Tom’s drill filled the big room with a cascade of echoes. He was sweating profusely, leaning on that drill and grinding away near the base of the door.
I’m sorry, I’m going to pause to announce that apparently, I have a dirty mind. That is all. Okay, back to Tom grinding away near the base of the door:
Everyone nearby could smell something burning, and before long the drill bit simply snapped off.
“Nuts!” Tom exclaimed angrily. “Don’t touch that bit. It’s hot.”
“How’s it look?” asked Dr. Cooper.
Tom inspected the spot where he’d been drilling. “Sorry, Doc, but it isn’t going to work. Look, I haven’t made a scratch, and I used my biggest drill.”
Dr. Cooper straitened up and tiled his hat back a little. “Well, that sure isn’t bronze then. What kind of metal could be so tough that you can’t even get a drill through it? Ancient Babylon had no metals like that.”
This might be a good time to pause for more analysis.
Bill asked, “So what now, Doc?”
Dr. Cooper could see the plastic explosives already in Bill’s hands. “All right, give it a try. Set your explosives around the edges of the Door, in the seams. We’ll see if we can’t loosen that door enough to get it open.”
“Just watch!” said Bill. “Hey, I forgot the detonators…”
“I’m on my way,” volunteered Lila.
Why are these people even pretending to be archeologists?
Back on the surface, Jay is still setting up the seismometer sensors in order to finally get some idea of the seismology of the area. This seems like something the team would have done the moment they became aware that the area was prone to earthquakes, but no. Remember, they’ve spent several days building stairways down the cavern—after narrowly surviving an earthquake—and yet they didn’t send Jay to set up the seismometer until after detonating an explosion in the cavern that was strong enough to send blocks of rock ass big as cars bouncing off the walls. And remember, Jay is a 14-year-old kid.
Jay adjusted the controls and made some preliminary test readings.
Gozan watched with fascination. “How does this work?”
Jay explained as he worked.
Is there a reason Jay is doing this, and not Bill, Tom, or Jeff?
“Well, you see all these needles here, drawing the lines on the paper as it rolls by? Each one is tuned to one of the remote sensors, and if a sensor picks up any tremors in the earth, the needle will start to wiggle and make a wavy line. We examine the pattern of the wave, and that tells us what’s going on out there.”
“But … but some of the lines are wiggling now.”
Jay knew it and was trying to fine tune the machine to get a more accurate reading. “Yeah … nothing big, not yet at least. But there is some kind of activity down there, and it does seem to be centered near the Door…”
You know, the door they’re about try to blast open using plastic explosives set in its seam. Everyone on this whole damn team should be dead by now, or nearly dead, because this is absolutely nuts.
We switch to Lila, who is climbing the stairs out of the cavern when another earthquake hits. Then back to Jay, who watches the activity on the seismometer.
“Sensors four … five … eight … ten … and there goes nine. The shock waves are crippling outward … from the Door!”
“The Door! The Door! Someone is tampering with it!”
Once again, Gozan is the only person who sees what is really going on. If only someone would listen to him. (And now I feel like Sarah Marshall in the You’re Wrong About podcast.)
Lila staggers to the shed for the detonators, weaving back and forth ass the earth continues to shake, and then things get weird.
The door flew open, and Lila found herself sprawling on the ground, stunned by the blow. What had hit her? The wind? The earthquake? What made the door—?”
She froze in terror, for towering over her, his white hair blowing wildly in the breeze, his eyes big and piercing, stood that mysterious old man with the crooked staff and the leathery face! He was even more frightening up close like this, and Lila found that a scream had become jammed somewhere in her throat. This was alike a nightmare. She wanted to run, but couldn’t; she wanted to get up, but the ground shook so hard she couldn’t do that either. The old man grabbed her up violently and with powerful strides began to run across the barren circle, his hot breath chugging into her face, his grip strong as steel.
Lila kicked, struggled, tried to loosen the old man’s grip, tired to remember her self-defense tricks. But this was a strange creature carrying her, with crazed eyes and incredible speed.
And the scream still wouldn’t come.
Wait, I just realized something. She was going to go into a building during an earthquake so severe she walked like a drunken sailor? That is a terrible idea.
Oh and by the way, that is a chapter end. I’ve been ignoring where chapters end, because they always leave things hanging—this book is basically the definition of that technique—and I prefer to wrap a given topic up a bit. So, on we go!
Jay and Gozan were so intent on the seismometer that they didn’t see what happened to Lila, until she finally screamed. At that point, they see what’s happening run toward her, but the white-haired man has already carried her a great distance. Not to worry, though! The white-haired man isn’t actually trying to kidnap her. He’s trying to rescue her.
He set her down very gently with the muttered words, “You’ll be safe here,” and then raced away like a frightened animal.
This guy isn’t getting the treatment Gozan does, but it’s still not pretty.
At that moment, the shed explodes.
Yeah. I bet you didn’t see that coming.
The supply shed blossomed into a ball of fire as shreds and splintered of material were propelled in all directions. A huge cloud of smoke billowed skyward. The sound of the blasts slammed into the surrounding mountains and rocky crags, where it was broken into hundreds of separate sounds that rebounded back across the valley, slapping the air and the desert floor with echoes upon echoes of explosions upon explosions. Boards and splinters began to return to earth in a hazardous shower; shreds of paper fluttered down like scorched snowflakes.
Wow. It’s like explosives porn.
Gozan was trembling. “It was the Shaman of the Desert. He blew up the supply shed.”
Gozan definitely gets points for being, once again, the quickest to see what’s going on. Jay and Lila were still trying to figure out if Lila was okay, and Gozan has it all figured out, again.Oh god. Oh damn. This book is awful.
“You know who that was?”
Gozan’s eyes were big; his body was trembling. “The Shaman! A magician! Immortal! He is part of the legend surrounding the Door. It is said he guards it, and that he has great power to destroy anyone who dares to violate the ancient curse.”
Lila skeptically responded, “Oh, brother! We should have known better than to ask you.”
If my kids talked to an adult like that—even an adult they believed was troubled, or perhaps especially an adult they believed was troubled—I would be mortified. Hell, I wouldn’t talk that way to another adult, as an adult.
“It is true, Miss Lila.”
Oh shit, he calls her Miss Lila.
She calls him Gozan and he calls her Miss Lila.
I just checked, and we’re never actually told whether Gozan is a first name or a last name, or what his full name is. All we’re given, way back in the beginning when Gozan speaks with President Al-Dallam, is Gozan. (Heck, it doesn’t list Al-Dallam’s first name either.) Gozan is introduced to readers as President Al-Dallam’s assistant. We’re not told what exactly this position entails, but assistant to the ruler of a country is generally a job that comes with at least some prestige. Al-Dallam sends Gozan to observe Dr. Cooper’s team’s efforts because he wants someone he trusts there, who can report back to him everything that happens.
And yet, Jay and Lila treat this man as though he’s either their assistant—see Jay bossing Gozan around while setting up the seismometer—or some sort of bother. “We should have known better than to ask you,” Lila tells a man of prestige and position, who knows far more about the stories that have circled about the Door than anyone on her father’s team.
And it just so happens that, once again, Gozan is right. The white-haired man who set explosives in the supply shed and then crabbed Lila and carried her out of harms way is the Shaman of the Desert, whose job it is to protect the door.
Lila had no reason to discount Gozan’s intelligence, either—she and Jay ran into the Shaman earlier in the book, when they were walking around the perimeter of the dead circle that surrounds the cavern. In that encounter, the Shaman told them to leave and not try to open the door. And now he has blown up their supply shed. Lila’s own experiences give weight to Gozan’s explanation—the Shaman of the Desert guards the door and attempts to hinder those who would try to open it.
Jay, though? Jay has priorities.
“Some magician!” said Jay. “He’s more like a petty saboteur, it seems to me. It’s a good thing we have more explosives in the other shed.”
Gozan shook his head, pounded the ground in despair, and moaned his lament.
I’m on Team Gozan.
Lila and Jay talk a bit more—leaving Gozan out of the conversation, of course—and then Jay says this:
“He warned us not to open the Door. Then he blew up our supplies, obviously to keep us from succeeding. Just what is he up to anyway?”
Oh I wonder! Maybe—bear with me here!—maybe he’s the Shaman of the Desert and it’s his job to guard the door!
Lila was ready to change the subject. “Dad’s waiting for some detonators,” she said, getting up.
“Yeah,” Jay agreed. “Let’s get on with this project. Whew! Wait till he sees the mess up here!”
We can’t let one explosion get in the way of another! Good thing they kept detonators in both sheds, rather than in one place! Ha! Ha!
OMG this book, I think I’m slowly losing it.
Dr. Cooper listened to the account Jay and Lila told him and put up with Gozan’s colorful embellishments,
OH MY GOD.
and then stood there in a very thoughtful mood while the whole crew waited to hear his next order.
Are you guys ready for Peretti’s description of what being in “a very thoughtful mood” looks like?
He scowled, dug in the sand with his toe, walked back and forth with his hands gesturing to his silent thoughts, and then stared at the Door for the longest time, like a gladiator staring down an opponent, like a general sizing up an enemy’s army. He stared, and he thought, and they all waited.
I can’t tell if that’s the best thing I’ve read or the worst thing I’ve read. I can say for certain, however, that it is a thing I have read.
He drew a long, deep breath.
“The answer to all this lies behind that Door,” he said finally. He then looked at Bill, who was still holding his wonderful explosives, and said, “Open it.”
I know I said I didn’t like cliff hangers, but too bad. I’m going to stop here, because the storyline with the seismometer and the Shaman of the Desert has been wrapped up. Oh and by the way—the seismometer has now been forgotten, and never resurfaces. This section is the beginning and end of anyone’s interest in it.
I’ll leave you pondering Bill’s wonderful explosives.
Also, I’ll just restate that this is a crime. This door is 80 feet tall and has carvings in it—what exactly we’re not told, except that it’s beautiful and awe inspiring. This door is the treasure. It would be the archeological find of the decade, at the very least. Dr. Cooper ought to study it like an archeologist would, identifying the symbols and carvings on it, performing tests and making hypotheses about what it’s made of, monitoring the seismology of the area and making a report on that, and so forth.
But no! He does none of that. Instead, he redoubles their efforts to blow the door open with explosives, with no thought whatsoever to what damage this could do to the door. All he cares about is what’s behind it.
Oh, and that’s another thing!
If your instruments indicate that there is an infinity of space behind a door, and there’s a weird rumbling that emanates from the door and can be read on a seismometer above ground, and the door is warm to the touch—don’t you think you’d be at least somewhat concerned about figuring out what’s behind it before opening the door? Even just one of these factors ought to elicit some concern, but all three? At the very least, all indicators suggest that there is not a normal treasure chamber behind the door.
They should definitely all end up dead. Gozan is the only sensible person here.
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