The Magic Staff by Rolf Luetcke
As we dug in the hard layer of stone, I looked up to see a small ribbon of dust on the horizon.
We were two hundred miles from any human settlement and our permits were good for another three weeks so who could it possibly be.
I alerted the six others from my group and then asked Meng Xu, our assigned guard, if he expected someone. He didn’t.
As the stranger drew nearer, I saw it was a very old truck. It wasn’t military and that had been my only fear that they had come up with some technical reason to chase us off the best dinosaur nest site ever found.
The truck creaked and groaned to a halt and an old Chinaman got out. As he came over to us, he smiled with just a couple of teeth left in his mouth.
“Are you the scientists looking for fossils?” he asked us in perfect English.
We were stunned but I found my voice and said that we were.
“I have something to show you!” he said and walked back to his truck, waving for us to follow.
In the dusty bed of the truck were the tools of an archeologist trade and numerous crates.
“I studied in your country when I was a young man and worked with the Smithsonian for years to supply them with information and specimens of human fossils from China.”
“No sense in going into details but I had the contacts, they needed to get out the specimens.
“I mostly work on our human ancestors but I often come across things I make note of for future use. When I heard your group was here looking for dinosaurs and their nest sites, I figure I needed to make a trip over to see you,” he said as he got in the old truck and pushed one of the crates toward the tailgate.
As he cracked the lid of the crate, gasps came from us all. Inside was a fossil nest in its entirety and it was absolutely perfect.”
“It’s one of the raptors but not one I am familiar with,” the old man said.
We crowded close to get a better look and as we discussed the marvelous clutch of eggs, he cracked another crate and we again marveled over its contents. One large egg was partly broken, to expose an embryo inside.
“These are from some sites about a hundred miles from here and I would gladly show you where they are if I can ask a favor of you in return,” and he paused to hear our answer.
“Well, I—“ I looked over at Meng Xu.
“Oh, Meng and I know each other well, you can speak freely in front of him,” the old man said. Meng smiled and nodded vigorously. The old man tossed Meng a box and Meng left for his tent with the box and a smile on his face.
“Then, sure” I said. “What is your favor?”
“I have six crates I need to get to the Smithsonian and the government just closed off the route I had planned to use.”
“They do inspections of our crates before they let them out of China,” I said.
“That is not a problem. I have already set up the crates with dinosaur fossils covering my material. It is second rate dinosaur material and they will take some of the better specimens. There are plenty more for your group like this at the site I have found.”
We unloaded the crates he had slated for the Smithsonian and he only asked for one other thing, fuel for his truck so he could show someone where the fossils were and get back to his camp.
I was the head of the expedition and decided to leave the group here while I followed the old man. I loaded my Land Rover and the old man started his truck.
It took two days to get to the area on tracks he had left across the desert with his old truck.
We stopped several times and he marked a fork in tracks and said I needed to remove them on the way back.
The land here was harsh, no water for hundreds of miles, yet there was life. Lizards ran from our vehicles and birds were seen in occasional clumps of bushes.
There was a beauty to this land, rocks, hills, sand, dry riverbeds and miles of nothing a human could live in now. At one time this land was wetter and there was more life.
We approached a set of bluffs and the old man stopped.
“Here is where I turn back. The bluffs ahead are where you are going, beyond is a valley to the right and the nest sites are on both sides of the valley.”
“Thank you!” he said and turned back to his truck. He was gone and I watched until the dust was no longer visible.
It was fall in the Gobi and temperatures were bearable, low 90”s. I started noticing the sun and got back in my Land Rover and headed past the bluffs and there was the valley.
There was no road or set of tracks here. The old man must have covered all of this on foot.
I stayed on the right side of the valley and up ahead I saw fossils. I stopped and ran to the fossils. I jumped in the air and could hardly believe what lay exposed before me. It must be more than an acre of nests, a colony of dinosaurs.
I took photos and a few samples. This would be a site to come back to with a group but our present permit didn’t cover this area and the samples we could hide among the others but not in any quantity. So this would be a survey and I got out the GPS equipment and got the exact coordinates of the valley.
I hopped back in the Land Rover and went on scouting for more sites. As I drove, my eyes were looking for fossils and in this country, I should have known better!
The Land Rover suddenly lurched to the left and the steering wheel spun and the crossbar hit so hard it broke my left hand. I tried to grab the wheel with my right hand but it was too late. There was a drop of about six feet and the Land Rover was going over. All I could do was to try and hold on but my left hand was useless and the Land Rover hit hard on the left front corner and tipped over.
As the crashing and rolling stopped, I felt a searing pain in my right leg. I looked over and my leg was badly gashed on the knee from the extra radio mounted below the dash.
After about ten minutes of struggling, I was able to crawl out the passenger side window. It was a hell of a lot harder when you had only one hand and one leg that worked.
I worked my way to the back of the Land Rover and finally got at the first aid kit and did the best I could on my injuries.
My knee was useless and I fashioned a crutch out of the camera tripod.
The radio was broken and I couldn’t call out. There was no way to get the Land Rover righted and I started to smell leaking gas, when I remembered the ignition was never turned off. The vehicle was in danger of blowing up and I had to get away from it. There was a loud noise and I was only saved because I sat on the ground behind the vehicle. Flames billowed out above me and I felt it sear my hair.
As soon as the fireball was gone, I crawled away from the burning vehicle.
As the sun began to set, I realized I was in trouble. The group didn’t expect me for several days and the old Chinaman wasn’t coming back.
I had no food or water and injuries that prevented me from going anywhere.
The Land Rover had burned all night and I even went close to hold off the cold desert night.
Morning I was numb. The cold had helped dull the pain in my hand and leg.
Nothing had survived the fire and I was thirsty. I started to realize I was going to die!
I had only one chance and that was to stay by the burned Land Rover and hope I would be found before I died.
That afternoon I knew I needed to have some way to stay warm and I hobbled as well as I could to find some wood.
I had a lighter and made a small fire. Damn! My left hand hurt like hell and I couldn’t bend my leg at all.
I sat by the small fire and my situation was so desperate it somehow became hilariously funny. I started to laugh and I must have laughed enough to scare off anything within miles.
I was terribly thirsty after the laughing and a deep depression followed.
Suddenly I saw a movement! It startled me and I was not sure whether it was a form of madness but there seemed to be a robed figure standing just at the edge of the fires light.
I squinted in the dim light and I uttered a few words-“Are you real?”
The figure moved and a hand reached up and pulled back the capes hood to expose a young dark-skinned man. He stepped closer and I saw a staff in one hand. It was shiny and so black it was almost invisible against the blackness of the night.
“Are you all right?” the young man said in perfect English.
“Well, actually, I’m not. I had an accident and have some serious injuries and am terribly thirsty. Where did you come from?” And I stopped talking as much out of having no voice left as anything.
The young man reached into his robe and pulled out a small flask. He undid the top and said, “Drink!”
The flask was cool to the touch and the water inside was cool and sweet.
I took three gulps and stopped. I washed the last mouthful around in my mouth, moistening everything before I swallowed. That drink felt so good, I completely forgot my injuries for the moment.
Thinking this may be the young mans only water, I handed it out to him.
He refused and just said, “Drink!”
I took three more big swallows, just as cool and sweet and I knew the flask should be empty. I looked at the young man and he motioned for me to drink.
I drank and I drank some more and I didn’t dare question in fear it was all just a dream. It felt so real!
I finally handed the flask back and he took it, resealed it and put it back in his robe.
He crouched down and took a look at my leg.
It started getting brighter and I had not put anything on the fire since I had seen the young man. I suddenly saw his staff was no longer black but gave off light.
“May I look under the bandage?” he asked.
“Oh, yes. Are you a doctor?”
“No but I can heal your wounds never the less, if you will let me.”
“Oh, please do what you can.” I said with real hope.
He had me lay back and relax.
In my peripheral vision, I saw he took the staff and held it over my leg. I could not see what he did then but I felt things, not painful things, but sensations of things being done to me.
All my normal sensations started coming back and when he had me sit up, my leg was healed and not just healed but without scares or any imperfections. I just stared at my leg as he started looking at my hand. I winced as pain shot through my hand.
“I am sorry!” he said. “Your hand seems to be pretty bad, lay back and let me help with that!” and he helped me down, arm out to the side.
This time I could see what he did. The staff was held above my hand and as it came close to my hand, it mysteriously opened and something enveloped my hand. I could see nothing but felt my hand being repaired without any pain. I just stared at the staff although I could see nothing that was happening.
The staff again became a staff and my hand was whole, completely whole.
The young man now sat down and tossed a few of the sticks on the coals and when the fire was going again, the staff dimmed and was black again.
“You must have a lot of questions and if you would like to eat and drink, I will tell you something you will just have to trust, as much as it may go against your beliefs.”
He took out another flask and a similar container. I looked closer at the flask now and it was not any material I was familiar with. It looked metallic but was not. I fumbled with the top and the young man reached over and showed me how to open it. You twisted slightly then it just opened.
I held it to my lips and paused, milk and it was cold and fresh. Again, it never seemed to empty.
“Push down on the lid slightly then lift the lid,” he said as I picked up the little box. Inside were dried fruits and nuts.
I ate happily. When it was empty, he told me to close it and reopen it. It was full again and I was about to speak when he help up his hand for an instant and he began his story.
“You have already seen there are things at play that make no sense to you. I will explain.”
“I am over four thousand years old!”
My eyebrows went up and my mouth opened at what he said but I just sat and listened.
“I was a slave in early Egypt and worked for one of the Nobles, collecting wood for his fires.”
“One day I had to go far for a special wood my master wanted for the fragrance it gave. It was expected to take me two weeks to retrieve a winter supply.”
“As I climbed into the mountains, I saw an odd structure among the trees. As I neared, I became aware it was something of the gods and not of this Earth.”
It was a chance encounter I later came to understand was not with gods but with a race of beings from another world. They needed some supplies and they approached me. At first, I was frightened but they spoke my language perfectly and assured me I was to be in no danger.
“I knew the region well and when they showed me samples of what they needed I could tell them places where some could be found.”
“One seemed to be very important to them and it was the one which got them the most excited. It was salt and I knew where they could get all they wanted. They asked where they could find me in a day and they left in their silver ship.”
“When they returned, the most regal of them came forth and presented me with a gift. They said the gift carried very great responsibility and that I must never misuse it.”
“They understood slavery and they said the gift would make me free. It did more, ever so much more.”
“I had to learn about this staff and all it could do. They gave me the basics but it can teach as well.”
“As you can tell, I am speaking of this staff,” he said and paused for a bit to toss more sticks on the fire.
I was so busy in thought I didn’t have one thing which came to mind to ask, I had thousands!
He went on.
“As you can imagine, I never did go back to my owner.”
“I wandered the world.”
“I was never hungry, never thirsty never cold never ill and I was truly free.”
“I have lived in every country of the world, done nearly every job this planet offers. I never needed to work, but I was curious.”
“I have married over a thousand times, fathered more children than even I can remember and loved millions.” He paused again, in thought.
“What brought you here, at this time?” I finally asked.
There was a long moment of silence before he looked deep into my eyes and spoke. “I came here to die!” he said.
I really didn’t know what to say and we sat in silence for some time.
“I suppose I need to explain! Their gift does wonders and among them, it can make you immortal.”
“I have been alive for over four thousand years and although I have not regretted a moment, I am ready to do the one thing I have not done, die. I have lost everyone I have ever loved. I have had wives that shared the gift with me for hundreds of years but eventually, accidents happen and I am not there to save them.”
“The idea has come to me a thousand times but I had never been ready until now.”
“Our meeting has actually been quite fortuitous. One reason I am here is to leave the gift somewhere it will hopefully never be found.”
“You have given me a wonderful option. I am allowed to pass my gift on to someone who will not abuse its power and you are the best candidate I have ever tested,” he said.
“Tested? What do you mean tested?” I asked.
“When I let the staff heal your wounds, I also let the staff do a mind scan. A mind scan tests your moral nature and you are as close to a moral man as I have ever seen.”
“I-I-, I try to be a decent person!” I stammered, obviously blushing.
He laughed and said I should take it easy on the food or I’d regret it when tomorrow rolled around. I gave him back his flask and food box and he held them up against the staff and the staff absorbed them into itself.
‘Now the question is, do you want the responsibility that will change your life forever?” he asked.
I felt a wave of excitement flow over me. I had seen what the staff could do and he’d told me I had barely seen anything.
“Yes!” I said, before I had second thoughts.
“Well, then I have some things to teach you!” he said.
He told me that when I imprinted on the staff, it did things that were amazing. Man only used a small portion of his brain and it instantly opened up the unused portion.
The staff was the shape he had chosen for himself but the gift could assume nearly any shape. It could be worn, it could be flown, it could hide you, it protected you, it healed any Earthly ill or injuries and it could read thoughts. If necessary, it could erase memories of selected events to keep people from remembering they had seen something unexplainable.
“This is a big step for you! “Are you sure you want to do this?” I said, knowing his decision meant his death.
“Yes, I am certain and I have to ask you the same one last time. Are you certain you want the responsibility?”
“Yes!” I said. “By the way, what is your name?”
“I have had many names depending on when and where I lived but my given name is Sahidi Manumutt.” He laughed. “I haven’t spoken that name in a very long time.”
He removed more things from his garments and the staff assimilated them.
He gave me the staff and he told me what I had to do and when I followed his instructions, it happened.
It was like a flash of light but it stayed. Everything was brighter, sharper and clear, it was astounding!
I opened my mouth to speak but Sahidi was gone. While I was absorbed in the change, he’d slipped away.
I paused for a second but my mind was so clear, I didn’t even have to ask myself whether it was real, it was and I had no doubt.
When daylight came I was tempted to follow Sahidis footsteps but I knew what he had chosen and I understood. I only hoped I would be so gracious when my turn came as I knew one day it must.
I decided to finish with what I had started. I would collect fossils with my team and I would learn about this alien device.
I learned that my mind could communicate directly with the device and it had many answers for me.
Its creators were a biological species, not unlike humans. In fact they were bipedal and had two arms and a head like we did.
They had harnessed the atom but unlike us, they had not used it for destruction. They had perfected space travel and since they were practically immortal, they traveled, they explored, they learned.
Their visit to Earth so long ago was just that, a visit. They were exploring. And they were filling their supplies where they could.
Salt was what they apparently needed most and Sahidi had helped them obtain what they needed and they had been grateful.
I walked the valley and I saw marvelous fossils. This valley sure was a treasure trove and it would be studied and new species would be found.
I took one last look at the burned Land Rover and shook my head. It had been a death sentence and I had somehow survived. Not only that, but I had a future unlike anyone else on Earth.
I now used the device for a quick trip back and it sure could fly. It had something to do with reversing gravity to levitate.
I made sure I picked up the markers the old Chinaman had left and set down near camp.
The rest of the group was incredulous I had been able to make it back but I told them I had been dropped off by the old Chinaman a ways off, he didn’t want to come back to our camp and they finally bought it.
We finished our work and in the last week, while the rest of the team drove the trucks back to Beijing, Steven Hellis and I drove back to the bluffs.
“Man! How did you survive that?” Steven said when he saw the burned debris from the Land Rover.
“It burned well after I went over the edge. I had plenty of time to get out!” I said.
Luckily, the fossils were so superb, Steven quickly forgot my accident and we went to work. We took more GPS readings and lots of photos and headed back down the single track and caught up to the trucks back on the main roads.
Back home I had something to think about.
I looked at the world in a new light now and to never really have to struggle was a tremendous weight lifted off of me.
There was one thing I wanted to know, could I travel with the device and by that I meant, could I go to the beings that created the device.
The answer was not totally clear. It was possible but it was not a hundred percent certain it would work. I decided against it and set out to learn all that the device could do.
My new life lay ahead and I was ready.
I quit my job and started on a journey. I took out the flask from my pocket and took a drink of the blended fruit juice I liked best and then took out a piece of venison jerky and walked to the edge of town.
I’d always wanted to see Indonesia and I started walking into the rising sun.
Copyright Rolf Luetcke