It felt like a long time before Bruce found whoever it was. After several soft blows, a crate fell over someplace, hopefully not damaging whatever was inside, and then the silence returned. For the length of time the struggle took, I decided there had to be more than one. I started to stand up, ducking back down when I heard the thud of something heavy on the wooden floor. Not like Bruce to be careless and I thought it might be better for me to hide a little longer, maybe even until he got back, so I stayed down and kept watching the door.
I heard a footstep, heavy on the floor boards out in the warehouse. After what seemed like a long time, there was another. Was Bruce hurt or just carrying two people back to the treasure room? The next footstep was closer, but the one after had an echo, almost like another footstep. I resisted the urge to call for Bruce, demand some bit of information about what was happening, but the chilling thought ran through my head that maybe what I heard was someone else, and maybe more than one, hauling Bruce back here instead of the other way around. That thought worried me more than anything had in years.
Mimicking Bruce’s earlier gesture, only with a hat in my hand, I crossed my arms over my chest and tried to shrink further into the shadow while still keeping my gaze firmly locked on the door. My heart began to pound and I worried about my own safety for the first time in a long while. The footsteps continued coming closer, each louder than the last, and I broke into a sweat.
A shadow moved just outside the light, big and broad, and I inhaled to call for Bruce to stop messing around and get back in here, but then the shadow took another step forward and the words never made it out of my brain, much less my mouth. It lurched toward me, coming into the full light. Bruce had been right after all.
Rags wrapped the creature, long strips of cloth in places so bonded to the ancient flesh beneath it would take surgery to determine where the boundary lay. In other spots, the ages had worn away whatever had glued the fabric down and it hung loose, exposing the preserved leather beneath. One side of its face lay exposed to the air, showing me a puckered eye socket and lips so receded, brown and black teeth grinned in the light.
I swallowed a scream, but then let it out when I saw the mummy—god, the mummy!—had a hand wrapped around Bruce’s foot, dragging him farther into the room with each slow step. Behind them both, more shadows moved. More mummies? Wasn’t one enough? How many could there possibly be? I remembered the stacks of crates and sarcophagi. Dozens.
Two more steps, and it let go of Bruce. His leg dropped to the floor and I wondered if he were still alive. With his arms crossed, fingertips touching opposite shoulders, I couldn’t see his chest moving, but then he groaned and one arm flopped over, knuckles cracking against the bare plank. Relief poured through me, lessening the fear a little, but far from quenching it. I had to wonder if he might be better off dead. Or if I might be.
The mummy’s head turned in my direction and its jaw worked like a slow ventriloquist’s dummy. Sounds fell from its mouth but I couldn’t tell if they were even meant to be words. My ancient Egyptian was limited to working out hieroglyphics with a dictionary. Egypt was mostly outside my normal stomping grounds, had been for years, but Witkinstein had been a rumour too beautiful not to chase. King Tut big. Now I wished I’d stayed on the other side of the Mediterranean.
A stone on stone grinding noise from the sarcophagus I cowered beside pushed me further into the corner. God, wake up Bruce. Wake up and save me. Never mind that he’d already been taken down by the mummies once. What good would being awake do? Better he should sleep through whatever they were going to do to us. What were they going to do to us? Why was Bruce still alive? Why was I still alive? Panic started to rise in my chest again.
The grinding went on long enough I had to look at the sarcophagus to see it was opening from the inside, fingers wrapped around the closest edge of the gold-coated stone box. They didn’t look like they’d been preserved chemically for several thousand years, or preserved at all. A little wrinkled, a little dry, they could have belonged to anyone over seventy, or even sixty. But since they belonged to someone pulling himself out of a stone coffin they might as well have been wrapped around my neck.
The head appeared first, wearing a headdress more or less like anything you’d see in a movie set in ancient Egypt. But its, his, skin had a much paler tone than seemed likely for a more or less desert nation, not that I could find the voice to question that or anything else at the moment. He lurched out of the sarcophagus wearing the stereotypical ancient Egyptian outfit, meaning not much beyond the headdress. Naked from the waist up, and a short white, well, skirt lacking a better word, trimmed in blue and gold. Some small part of my mind hoped he wore a loincloth underneath. Sandals on his feet. I’d say flip flops, but they probably had a legitimate ancient Egyptian name, especially studded with rubies.
His glance roamed over the room and I could see hints of the man whose face had been carved in gold on the cover, but much older. A man still vital in his seventies where the face on the sarcophagus reflected, well not youth and beauty, but the height of strength and power. His nose pushed me in the direction of belief, but the eyes, when they met mine, gave it away. The sculptor knew those eyes so well, their shape and tilt and expression, that I couldn’t doubt it. Somehow, the ancient pharaoh, thousands of years dead, had not only been resurrected but given a new lease on life, a body that seemed to live and breathe. His gaze held me so well I forgot to be afraid and had to fight the urge to lean over and press my head into the floor.