The Curse

By J. B. Tilton

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Rating: K

Professor Peter Gordon had helped excavate one of the greatest finds in archaeological history. Now, he was being stalked by a mummy bent on killing him for desecrating the tomb.

Peter Gordon sat in his office and looked over the photographs on his desk. He had a good life. A professor of archaeology at a major university. One of the preeminent experts on ancient Egypt and also one of the world's foremost authorities on hieroglyphics. He had helped translate some of the most difficult ancient Egyptian texts that had given them a great deal of information about life in ancient Egypt. So how had he come to the situation he was currently in?

It had all started 5 years ago. The reports of an undiscovered Pharaoh's tomb in the Valley of the Kings. A tomb, it was reported, that could even rival that of the discovery of Tutankhamun in 1922. And as luck would have it, the head of the expedition going to excavate the site had asked for his help. He had been only 33 and he was being asked to help excavate one of the greatest archaeological finds in history.

He had accepted without hesitation. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. It had taken 3 years to excavate the site. But all the hard work had paid off. They had finally breached the inner chamber and found the undisturbed burial chamber of a long forgotten Pharaoh. Even now the cataloging of the items was still in progress. There was so much that it would take a very long time before they knew exactly how much had been found.

Peter had returned to the United States with a plethora of information. Information that needed translating to be understood. For the past 2 years he had slowly but steadily continued translating the information. It was a difficult dialect of the Egyptian language. But he had always loved a challenge. And when he was finished his name would be synonymouswith the greatest men in archaeology.

Many of the artifacts found in the tomb had already been brought to the United States for dating. Including the sarcophagus containing the mortal remains of the Pharaoh himself. In nearly pristine condition it was hailed as one of the greatest finds in archaeology history.

Then the killings had started. One by one the members of the expedition were being killed. Murdered by some deranged lunatic. Always it was the same. Someone had stalked each member of the expedition and strangled them to death. But evidence at the murder scenes didn't make any sense. On the throats of each victim was the dried and desiccated skin of their assailant. Along with bits and pieces of dirty cloth that had been analyzed to be over 4,000 years old. As if the victims had been murdered by a mummy as depicted in uncounted horror films.

But that was clearly impossible. Undead mummies were the product of fiction and imagination. People dead for thousands of years didn't just suddenly get up and walk around killing people. It was too fantastic to believe.

There had been the obligatory curse inscribed on the entry chamber to the Pharaoh's tomb. A curse that said that anyone who disturbed the final resting place of the Pharaoh would die a horrible and terrible death. Those were pretty much standard fare for such tombs. To dissuade tomb robbers from disturbing the Pharaoh's afterlife.

But those curses were for ignorant and superstitious people. Not for an educated professor in the 21st century. Curses weren't real. They held no real power. And yet the evidence would seem to belay all that. During his translations, Peter had discovered that the curse took the form of the Pharaoh's mummy coming to life and punishing all those who had desecrated his tomb. And so far, all of the members of the expedition that had been murdered had been the ones who had first entered the tomb.

In the end, this educated professor of archaeology who held 4 degrees and had no superstitions to speak of could come to only one conclusion. Somehow, the ancient Egyptians had discovered a way to bring life to their curses. Some secret that had been lost over the millennia that, in some way, actually allowed the remains of a long dead Pharaoh to visit retribution on those who had desecrated his tomb.

His grandmother had warned him about the curse. A powerful enough magic, she said, could do just about anything. But she was as ignorant and superstitious as the Egyptians of 4,000 years ago. She had been born and raised in the hills and could barely read and write. And she put a lot of stock in curses and charms and other such nonsense.

When she had learned about the curse she had insisted on coming to stay with him. She said she knew some powerful magic that might help protect Peter against what amounted to a death sentence. He hadn't put much stock in the charms and amulets she had placed around his home. And around his office. Fortunately, as a professor of archaeology, they didn't seem out of place among many of the other artifacts he kept in his office. He didn't have to explain much when people asked about them.

Peter wasn't sure what to do. The police thought it was some deranged lunatic using the desiccated skin and rotting bits of cloth to throw them off the real culprit. They'd never believe that a 4,000 year old mummy had suddenly come to life and was exacting punishment on the people that had desecrated its tomb. Already 5 people were dead. And Peter knew that he was on the list.

He had racked his brain trying to remember how the mummies in the various horror movies he had seen as a kid had been killed. In some instances, they hadn't been. Usually, it took some powerful ancient spell to dispel the power of the mummy. But in actuality, there were no such spells. The curse was designed to punish what amounted to thieves robbing a Pharaoh's tomb. No "protection" spells existed to protect the culprits against that.

He considered burning the mummy. But in all likelihood, any magic powerful enough to reanimate the corpse of a mummy would also protect it against something as mundane as fire. And he couldn't just walk in and set fire to the mummy at any rate. He'd never get close enough to it, in the first place. The security around such a magnificent find would be much too heavy.

In some of those movies the mummy was controlled by a person who had used an ancient spell to bring the mummy to life. Some protector of the mummy's tomb who had been tasked with making sure that it remained undisturbed. But that was of no help either. There had been no "protection" scrolls found in the tomb. No ancient spell that could be used by someone to animate the long dead creature to exact its revenge. And no way to use that magic to stop the mummy. This creature had been reanimated by the act of desecrating the tomb. And you couldn't unring the bell.

He looked at the amulet his grandmother had given him. It was a small bag that contained sticks, leaves, animal bones, fur, and an assortment of other items: most of which he had no idea what they were. She claimed it was a powerful magic that would ward off evil. But he had put no stock on such superstitious claptrap. Still, he had few options in the matter. He knew the creature would be coming for him. He also knew that "modern" science provided little protection against magic that could bring back a dead creature 4,000 years later.

He shoved the amulet into his pocket. He actually held little hope that the small bag of odds and ends would provide any protection against this ancient horror. But he carried it with him nonetheless. Just in case.

His grandmother was in the small staff kitchen preparing him a late dinner. Even though he was being stalked by an undead creature that would strangle the life out of him he still needed to keep up his strength. And he had to admit she was a pretty good cook. Even if some of her dishes were just a bit odd.

As he walked to the kitchen area he contemplated other ways of stopping the mummy. Most creatures died from some type of physical trauma. The trauma usually caused one of the vital organs to stop working causing death. But that wasn't an option in this case. During the process of mummification, the internal organs were removed and placed in separate clay jars. The mummy had no internal organs so there was nothing to cause trauma to.

The university was dark this time of night. He; and his grandmother; were the only ones on campus, save for a custodian or two. And, of course, the campus security. They had all ready been warned to be on the lookout for anyone suspicious on the grounds. But it was a big university. And the police couldn't be everywhere. It would be dumb luck if one was nearby if – and when – the mummy appeared.

He turned the corner of the hallway and started up the hallway. At least he felt somewhat safe. All of the other victims had been murdered when they were alone. Which meant, theoretically, as long as there were other people around, he should be safe. His grandmother was only a few doors down that hallway. Once in the kitchen he felt he would be reasonably safe.

Suddenly he stopped and peered into the darkness ahead. Had he seen movement up ahead? The Pharaoh's mummy was securely locked away in the basement of another building. If it had suddenly come to life and walked across campus to get him surely one of the security patrols would have spotted it. He would have had ample warning of its approach.

That's when he heard the sound. A kind of scrapping sound. As if someone were walking very slowly down the hallway, dragging their feet on the tile floor. The same sound he recalled hearing in countless horror movies when he was a kid. The same sound the monster in those movies made as it descended upon its victims.

He shook his head. It had to be his imagination. The mummy was securely locked in one of the artifact vaults. The building holding that vault was also securely locked. The building it was in was on the other side of campus. And he knew the building he was currently in was also securely locked. And he was on the third floor. Too many obstacles, he decided, for the ancient, putrefied remains of a long dead Pharaoh to be able to get to him.

Then he saw it. It passed a window that had light from a nearby streetlamp streaming through it. It was as clear a day. Standing nearly 7' tall and wrapped in the obligatory dirty linen strips of cloth used to cover the body. It was the mummy. The same mummy they had discovered in the excavated tomb only 2 years previously.

It moved toward him in short, jerky steps. One foot dragged behind it making the scraping sound. And its breathing was raspy and labored. A low, almost guttural growling sound emanated from the creature as its eyes centered on Peter. Eyes that glowed a dull yellow like two warning lights that were meant to warn of danger ahead.

Peter froze for a moment. It wasn't possible. Mummies weren't real. They didn't exist. Not the living dead that hunted down tomb robbers and killed them in retribution. They were fiction. Fabricated stories designed to enthrall and entertain. And yet here he stood. Face to face with an actual mummy bent on only one goal: his complete and utter annihilation.

Suddenly Peter turned and raced back down the hallway away from the creature. How it had escaped the sarcophagus, gotten across campus unnoticed, been able to enter through locked and barred doors, he didn't know. Something about the magic that created the creature probably allowed it to move unhindered as it searched out its victims. He didn't know and at the moment, he didn't care. All he could think of was to get away from the monstrosity as quickly as he could as he ran blindly down the halls of the university.

Although he knew the building intimately he was running in pure terror, his adrenaline pumping at maximum. His only thought to get away as quickly as he could. He turned a corner and continued running, glancing behind him. The mummy was still on his tail, only a couple of dozen feet from him, still moving in the shambling gate ever towards him.

How was that possible? It was moving extremely slowly. He was running at full speed. He should have left the abomination far behind. But each time he looked behind him the creature was there. Slowly and steadily moving towards its victim.

Peter suddenly came to a door at the end of the hallway. Without slowing he flung himself against the door, shattering the doorframe as he burst into the room beyond. As he did, he suddenly came to a screeching halt. He stood in the custodial closet. A single room at the end of the hallway with no other exits. In his blind terror to escape his assailant he had inadvertently led himself into a dead end.

He turned to escape the prison and saw the mummy still moving ever closer to him. There were no windows in the hall between him and creature. No other doors which might afford him an escape from the beast. And as always, the towering mound of death moved steadily closer to him.

In desperation he pulled the amulet his grandmother had given him out of his pocket. With a shaking hand he extended the amulet toward the creature, hoping against hope that it would ward off the creature long enough for him to escape.

By now the creature had reached Peter and was within arms' reach of him. Peter backed away still brandishing the amulet as the creature continued to advance. Suddenly the creature swung out with one of its mighty hands, striking Peters' hand, knocking the amulet away. The amulet flew across the small room and struck one of the walls, falling to the floor.

Peter never even noticed the growing stain on the front of his pants. He pressed himself against the wall at his back as if trying to will himself through that wall. Away from the certain death that even now reached for him. He closed his eyes knowing that in a few short seconds he would lie dead on the floor.

Suddenly the creature stopped; its outstretched hands suspended in midair mere inches from Peters' throat. It stared at him for a few moments, and then suddenly stumbled back a few steps. The creatures' hands began to shake as it started teetering back and forth. The mummy raised its' head and let out a near ear shattering scream that was so loud Peter had to put his hands over his ears from the pain caused by the scream.

Within moments bits of the wrappings of the mummy began to peel off and drop to the floor, turning into small piles of dust as they did. The mummy dropped to its' knees, still teetering back and forth. As Peter watched in total amazement the mummy suddenly fell over and lay motionless on the floor. Within seconds the body of the mummy began to dissolve into dust. Peter just stared at the pile of dust that now lay on the floor where the mummy had been only a moment before.

He wasted no time. He ran from the closet, past the pile of dust, up the hallway. When he judged he was far enough away he turned and looked back at the closet. The pile of dust that had been the mummy sat on the floor unmoving. Peter had no idea what had just happened. He only knew that the creature bent on his destruction was now gone forever. He breathed a sigh of relief as he turned and headed for the kitchen area where his grandmother would be waiting for him.

"You shouldn't be out wandering around like that," his grandmother said, stirring a large stew pot. "If'n that creature comes fer you, you ain't gonna have much pertection all by yer lonesome. That amulet I give you will ward off evil for a bit. But it will take a heap more powerful magic than that to stop an undead thing."

"I know, grandma," said Peter, dropping down into the chair in relief. "Somehow, though, I don't think I'm going to have any more trouble with the mummy. I think we've seen the last of it."

"Not likely, boy," said the old woman. "Them things don't just suddenly stop huntin' ya 'lessen someone uses a powerful magic to stop 'em. You need to be more careful."

"I will, grandma, I promise," said Peter. Suddenly he realized he was famished. Running in stark terror really builds up an appetite. "What's for dinner?"

"Boy, yer in fer a real treat," said his grandmother, smiling as she dished up a bowl of stew for him. "This here's a dish my granny give me when I was a girl. One of the best dishes she ever made. Now, I know you got all them fancy degrees and yer a city feller and all. But don't let the name throw you. It don't sound fancy but trust me. It'll stick to your ribs."

"What is it?" Peter asked.

"Road kill stew," replied his grandmother. "I gotta admit, I never thought I'd have a chance to make it fer ya here in the big city. Ain't much road kill 'round here. But I got lucky. Found some fixins' for it in that big pantry down the hall. You really should see about moving that pantry closer to the kitchen. It's a might long way to walk. You should have them right nearby so it makes it easier for fixin' vittles.

"And you city people shore got some funny ways of canning things. Using clay jars and all. And not even sealed. They ain't gonna last no time at all that way. You let me know who does yer canning fer ya and I'll show 'em the proper way to do it. Glass jars with seals and all. Guarantee they'll last for many a month."

"Grandma," said Peter, "what pantry are you talking about? As far as I know, we don't have a pantry here at the university."

"Shore ya do," said granny. "That big one at the end of the hall there. Got all kinds of stuff in it. I reckon ya'll been using it fer more than just a pantry. Ya got some mighty weird stuff in there. I figure ya gotta use ever bit of space ya got what with all them students coming here ever day."

"Grandma, that's not a pantry," said Peter. "It's a storage room used to . . . ."

His voice trailed off as he noticed the large clay jars sitting on a counter nearby. Clay jars with the lids pried off. Several of them were lying on their sides, empty. He recognized the jars. They were the ones used to hold the internal organs of the Pharaoh when he had been mummified. The ones he had brought back with him from the excavation to help translate the hieroglyphics inscribed on them.

He looked at the now empty clay jars and then at the large near boiling stew pot that sat on the stove next to them. As he did, his grandmother placed a large bowl on the table in front of him.

"Yer gonna enjoy this, I guarantee it," she said as he stared down into the bowl filled with pieces of meat he couldn't identify but still knew exactly what they were.

The End

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