When eminent Egyptologist Bernard Wilson discovers a hitherto unknown tomb in the Valley of the Kings, tragedy ensues. Is it just a homicidal maniac out to satisfy his cravings or is the truth something way more sinister?
Susan Wilson was not the kind of woman who gets excited upon hearing news about some long-forgotten ancient mystery. In other words, she was a practical, modern human being. And what could one possibly achieve by wasting time running after mere myths and legends? People such as grave-robbers and treasure hunters were only stains on the face of society. Being a respectable lawyer with an honours degree from Harvard, she was the last person on Earth who could possibly be embroiled in an archaeological dig. Yet, as Fate would have it, she was.
Actually, she had chosen to distance herself from the world. Her father, Bernard Emanuel Wilson, had dedicated his whole life to the study of ancient Egypt. But try as he might, he couldn’t get his daughter interested in this field. Needless to say, he was very disappointed. After all, he had sacrificed his wife and family to fulfil his heart’s desires and it hurt him that his own flesh and blood showed complete indifference to his wishes. But did that stop him from doing what he wanted to the most? Nope. He persevered in his work and soon became one of the most celebrated Egyptologists in the world.
But how had Susan got involved in it? It all had started one fine summer day as she opened the door of her New York penthouse to a loud knocking. It was the mail. As usual, it was a simple manila envelope and she could tell with her eyes closed the name of the sender. Sighing softly, she brushed her brown hair off her eyes and ripped it open.
Greetings from the Land of Mysteries was scribbled gaily over a picture of the Pyramid of Giza, with its lesser chambers in the background. Shaking her head, she turned the postcard over. Her father always did that- he tried to lure her and her brother to visit him by showing her pictures of the wonderful treasures that the country was acclaimed for. As if she couldn’t see that over the Internet if she wanted to. Duh. But when she read what Bernard had written to her, a small V formed between her brows. Was he kidding? Her father was one of the bravest men she knew. It wasn’t at all like him to sound so afraid.
Letting the card rest on the table, she quickly ran over to her desk and snatched up the phone. Dialling the number from memory, she waited with bated breath as it rang and rang but no one picked up. Finally banging the receiver down in frustration, she put her head in her hands. What the hell was she supposed to do? Yet she knew she had to do something. She couldn’t just leave her father in a strange country with no familiar faces when she knew he was in deep trouble. Picking up the phone with renewed vigour, she waited until the man on the other line picked up. ‘Yes, hi, this is Susan. Remember me?’ A pause. ‘I need a flight to Cairo tomorrow. Yeah, the earliest one. 6 o’clock? Okay, I’ll be ready. Thanks, Joe. I owe you one.’
She pressed ‘end’ and her heart felt a little lighter. She was going to get her old man out of the mess he was in.
As soon as she stepped out of the glass doors of Cairo’s International Airport, the heat blasted her like a furnace. Jeez, the weather of Texas during the peak of Summer was nothing compared to this. Pulling the brim of her large hat lower, she wandered out, looking for a cab. As far as she knew, her father was still at the ongoing excavation in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor. Finally catching the attention of a bored looking driver, she managed to get a ride to the nearest railway station. Judging by the faces of the local people, this was not the peak tourist visiting time.
After wandering listlessly in the sweltering heat, she managed to get onboard a train headed towards Luxor. As she watched the exquisite scenery fly past her window, she wholeheartedly agreed with her father- Egypt was indeed magical. On one side of her, she could see the faithful Nile flowing serenely, while on the other, she could see lines of Bedouin nomads leading their camels over long stretches of sand. It was the river that fascinated her the most. The Nile had seen everything- the very first Pharaohs and perhaps even the start of this world. She shivered in the scalding heat. It was panoramic as well as terrifying at the same time.
Finally, she got out at Luxor, feeling comforted that at least there was one person here whom she would recognise. As the boat she had just boarded crossed the Nile unflinchingly, she was struck by the fact that her father and she were not close to each other anymore. Her childhood had been filled only with time spent with him, time spent laughing, time spent playing, time spent touring museums. She had lived every second just to impress him and make him feel proud of her. And now she had done almost everything she could do to break his heart. How in the world had it come to this?
When viewed from above, the Valley of the Kings looked breathtakingly beautiful. Especially during sunset. And it was very appropriately named. There were more than fifty of the most famous Egyptian personages buried in tombs there. Most importantly, it contained the extravagant tomb of the boy-King Tutankhamun. Its discovery had been a pleasant although somewhat unexpected occurring.
‘Uhhh… the camp near Barah Dur,’ she replied when a driver with a hefty-looking Jeep asked her for the destination. Half an hour later, she stood in front of the canvas tents flapping gently in the afternoon breeze. She could see her father working in the biggest tent, cleaning a piece of pottery from a recent excavation. He was so concentrated on the task at hand, he never noticed Susan enter the tent until she said, ‘Dad.’
His face frozen in disbelief, he turned around, his piercing black eyes drinking in the welcome sight. Susan felt a sudden surge of affection overwhelm her. Bernard looked as though he had aged a hundred years since she had last seen him, and his head was now almost totally bald.
‘Dad, are you okay?’ she whispered, lightly running her fingertips over his cheeks.
‘They think I stole it.’ His voice quavered.
‘The statue- the statue of Anubis that we found in the tomb last week.’
If she remembered correctly, then Anubis was the jackal-headed God of the Underworld.
‘Keep talking,’ she encouraged him gently. He fell into a chair, clutching her hand.
‘Shaw, my partner this excavation, thinks I stole it. But the labourers think it’s a way of the gods saying that we shouldn’t have disturbed the tomb of the Priest.’
Susan remembered him telling her something about discovering the tomb of an ancient High Priest whose identity they had yet to find out. The tomb had been surprisingly devoid of any hieroglyphics or signs.
‘They think we are all cursed. And that we will all die.’
‘But you don’t believe them, do you? You are a man of Science!’
‘Howard, who was working with us on this, died surprisingly only a day after I had lost the statue. Isn’t that too much of a coincidence?’
Susan knelt by his side. ‘Dad, these kinds of things happen only in movies, not in real life. You, of all people, should know that. Anyway, tell me, when did you know it had disappeared?’
Massaging his scalp, he replied in a shaky voice, ‘We had just found the gilded coffin with the body intact. I was so excited to see it that I kept the statue on one of the pedestals lining the corridor and ran to the inner chamber. And the next thing I knew, when I returned, it was gone.’
‘Couldn’t somebody else have taken it?’
‘No, it was nigh after midnight. No one was about. I was the only one on site.’
‘But why did you have to go into a two thousand year old tomb in the middle of the night?’ But Susan knew the answer. Her father was one of those people who cannot bear to delay important events. It wasn’t that great a surprise that he had gone into an underground tomb dating from around 2300 B.C. alone, and armed with only a torch and his sensible head in the dead of the night.
‘Do you know what the strangest thing is?’
Susan shook her head, her brown locks flying.
‘Along with the statue, I had put down my rucksack too. And when I returned, both had disappeared. Why the hell would anyone want to steal my bag?’
Susan scratched her head, completely at a loss for words. Just then, a man dressed completely in white clothes burst into the tent.
‘Sir! Sir! Mr. Shaw is dead!’
The doctor looked quite competent. Yet, he examined the body almost carelessly and shook his head after he was finished.
‘I can’t tell what killed him.’
‘Maybe we should get a second opinion?’
‘If the news spreads, the government will shut the excavation down. Do you want that to happen?’ Susan detected a slight nervousness in his manner.
Her father shook his head ruefully. ‘I don’t think he would have liked that,’ he said, looking at the prostrate man on the floor. As he and the doctor walked out, Susan looked closely at the dead man’s face. It had a bluish tint to it. How odd. Shaking her head, she walked out too, unable to look at the lifeless figure anymore.
After two more men had died, Susan persuaded her father to leave for America.
‘No, I won’t. I have to find out what the hell is happening first.’
‘But, Dad, what if…’
He shushed her by putting a stern finger over her lips.
‘Then at least let me see the tomb you discovered.’ Hesitantly, he nodded.
That night, when everyone was tucked into their sleeping bags, sleeping soundly, Susan and Bernard emerged from their tent, fully dressed and carrying powerful torches. As they descended the stairs down into the tomb, goosebumps broke out across her skin. The atmosphere inside felt strangely stale and eerie. Swiftly, Bernard guided her down the right path in the maze of tunnels and finally they emerged into a long corridor whose walls were covered with strange paintings which were unlike anything she had ever seen.
Bernard stopped suddenly and pointed towards a raised platform that was painted red. ‘That was where I had kept the statue and then thrown my bag on.’
Susan tapped the stone lightly with her fingers.
‘This is quite solid,’ she said and demonstrated by banging her fist against a corner that looked a little out of place. To her horror and surprise, the stone swung down, and her arm went inside.
‘Crap! It’s a trapdoor!’ As Bernard helped her pull her hand away, the stone swung back out and resumed its earlier position, looking solid and impenetrable.
‘You must have put the statue down on that. And when you put down the rucksack, it must have hit that corner,’ she said, pointing towards the corner that looked slightly disfigured. ‘It’s the trigger for the trapdoor.’
Her father scratched his head. ‘I’d never thought of that.’
‘I bet if you look inside the trapdoor, you’ll find both your bag and the statue in there.’
‘So if there was no curse, then why are those people dying?’
‘I don’t know, dad. But let’s get back to the camp now. We figured out one mystery, didn’t we?’
He smiled fondly at her. ‘Yes indeed, we did. Together.’
As they emerged out into the cool night air, Susan took in a deep breath. Being down there had weighed badly on her nerves.
But just as she was about to step into her tent, her father pulled her roughly back by the elbow. Quickly, he shoved her behind him.
‘Dad, what’s the matter-’
Before she could finish, he pulled out his torch and pointed it at the ground in front of her. A rope-like creature was coiled on the cool sand at the same spot where she had been standing just a minute ago. As she looked closer, she saw its unblinking eyes stare at her. Her father warned her to stay still.
‘That’s a black mamba. They are very poisonous and very aggressive. If one of ’em bites you, you can die in as short a time interval as thirty minutes. The only thing is that I’ve never seen one here before.’
Even as they watched, the doctor of the camp came running, his eyes trained on the ground. Bernard shut off his torch. They stood still and looked on as he saw the deadly snake.
‘There you are, you goddamned thing. Given me a lot of trouble, you have.’ He had a sleek rod with a hook on one end, and a huge net with him. But try as he might, he couldn’t catch the snake. Finally, it slid away from the campsite altogether and disappeared among the trees in the distance.
‘Damn!’ The doctor cursed.
‘So, Doc, you have a little explaining to do.’
His face whitened when he saw them standing there.
‘It was your snake that killed all those people, wasn’t it?’
He slumped down, defeated.
As it turns out, Bernard was right. Dr. Fimbley was an avid collector of exotic species. He had brought the snake with him on the expedition in a crate. But the clever snake had managed to escape one night, wreaking unimaginable havoc. The blue tint that Susan had noticed on Shaw’s face proved the fact that he had died from a snakebite. Why nobody had thought of that before baffled her. Still, the snake, hungry and aggressive due to his long stay inside the crate, had attacked everyone who had come in its way. And being one of the deadliest snakes in the world, the victims had died within hours. And since it always attacked at night, the victims couldn’t even call out for help.
In the end, it all turned out for the best. The snake found its freedom, the doctor was arrested for the illegal possession of exotic animals, and the statue of Anubis was set up in all its glory at the National Museum in Cairo. And the labourers were happy that they weren’t cursed. Only one thing couldn’t be sorted out- the identity of the mummy they had found in the tomb.
Still, as Bernard waved Susan off at Luxor Airport, she knew that she had found what she had come to find- a loving relationship with her father. And one hell of an adventure.