THIS IS MINE
by Rick Pascal
London - 1926
Edith Chatsworth awoke with a start, her heart pounding as if attempting to escape from her delicate rib cage. Her thin silk nightgown was no match for the cold sweat that enveloped her fragile frame as she sat upright in bed, shivering. The words, “This is mine, and you can’t have it,” reverberated in her mind again and again. She clutched her ears endeavoring to block the ominous repetition. Only sitting still for a few more moments enabled her to silence the threat posed by the unknown sinister voice in her head.
Her sudden movements startled her husband. “Are you all right, my darling?” he called.
“It’s that dream again,” she responded. “I’m frightened, Henry.”
Henry felt his wife’s slim frame tremble as he put his arms around her, offering comfort.
“Try to relax, dear. It’s just another bad dream, that’s all.”
“But, Henry darling, that’s the third time this week that I’ve heard that terrible voice. It must be some kind of warning. A bad omen, I’m sure.”
“Don’t be foolish, Edith. There’s no such thing as a bad omen. That’s only superstition. Try to go back to sleep.”
Lord Henry Chatsworth was a proper English gentleman, a graduate of Eton, and a noted archeologist whose explorations were financed by the British Museum. He glanced at the clothes in his leather suitcase and nodded approval. “That ought to do it,” he said, closing the lid and fastening the straps. “Are you finished packing yet, Edith?”
“Almost, darling. Are you absolutely sure you want me to go with you? You know how I detest being near those sweaty, half-dressed men. They’re always staring at me, and they smell awful.”
“Come now, Edith. It’s not that bad. Besides, the dry desert air in Egypt will be good for your asthma. The museum will provide for all our needs during the dig. The tents have fans, the cots will have soft mattresses, and they’re even providing carpets inside the tents so you won’t have to walk on the sand in your bare feet. We’ll have a cook who will prepare our meals and make sure you’ll have enough turmeric tea and ginger decoctions for your asthma. And there’ll be guards to protect us. So you see, darling, there’s nothing to worry about. I’ve got this all worked out. We’ll be back home in two weeks’ time. If all goes as planned, I’ll be the most famous archeologist in all of England; probably the world.
“Nothing to worry about but that horrible voice in my head. I’m convinced that this trip is a bad idea.”
“Stop it, Edith! I’ve told you time and again that there’s no such thing as an omen or superstition.”
“All right, Henry. If you say so. I’m just about ready.”
The two-day trip from London to the burial site of the Pharoahs in Saqqara, an hour’s drive south of Cairo, was uneventful. Edith read her favorite book, Henry Esmond by Thackeray, while Henry could only think of uncovering the tomb of Amenrajah and finding the fabled jeweled gold medallion given to him by his wife, Nefterami. No one knew for certain that the medallion even existed, but Henry believed it did, and that he would be the one to find it. It was rumored that the medallion had unknown magic powers and was entombed with Amenrajah in his sarcophagus. It was also rumored that Nefterami put a curse on anyone who attempted to steal the medallion from her husband’s tomb, which lay undisturbed for nearly 3,000 years.
Henry and Edith settled into their tent as soon as they arrived in Saqqara late in the afternoon, just as the sun began to set. Their cook prepared a sumptuous meal for them, served outside their tent on a table set with a linen tablecloth, fine China dishes and silver utensils. A bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon accompanied the meal. “I don’t imagine you thought the desert would be this luxurious, did you, my dear?” Henry declared. “And the red wine is good for your asthma, too.”
“I suppose you’re right, darling,” Edith sighed. “I just hope I can sleep tonight.”
“Don’t worry, the desert air is good for you. You’ll be fine.”
Tired after a long trip, and drowsy after finishing a bottle of wine, Henry and Edith went to bed soon after the sun set. Not long after they fell asleep, Henry was awakened by his wife’s wailing.
“What is it dear? Are you all right?” he probed, reaching out for her.
“It’s that horrible, terrible voice again,” she panted. “I can’t make it stop! It just keeps on saying, ‘This is mine, and you can’t have it.’ I’m petrified, Henry. Make it go away!”
“There, there, Edith. It’s another bad dream, that’s all. It’s probably just being here in the desert that’s scaring you. But I assure you it will be all right. Take one of your sleeping pills; it’ll help you get back to sleep.”
Henry and his excavation crew were out at the dig site just as the sun was rising. Edith’s pills helped, as she remained asleep long afterwards. When she finally awoke, she became aware of the excitement coming from the dig site. “What’s going on?” she asked the cook, who was getting her breakfast ready.
“They seem to have made some discovery in the tomb,” he responded. “Everyone’s down there.”
Without waiting for breakfast, Edith dressed quickly and ran to the dig site. “Where’s Henry?” she asked one of the diggers, recoiling and grimacing from his malodorous perspiration. “Is my husband in there?”
“Yes, madam,” he replied, oblivious to the handkerchief she held over her nose. “He’s in the tomb.”
Impetuously, without considering her asthma, Edith rushed inside, past other diggers, continuing to press the handkerchief against her nose. The smell of their perspiration, coupled with the mustiness and dust inside the tomb was overwhelming, provoking her asthma and causing her to gasp for air. She dared not venture more than two steps into the tomb fearing that she would no longer be able to breath. Standing on tiptoe, she strained to watch Henry pry open the sarcophagus and peer inside. He stood motionless, amazed at first, but the excitement of his discovery immediately became apparent. Edith could see the wonder in his eyes reflecting the flickering flame of the lantern held by the dig foreman. “Henry,” she shouted, “What have you found?”
Henry continued to stare, enthralled at the mummified remains of Amenrajah. A golden chain around the mummy’s neck, stretching down to his chest, bore a magnificently crafted, golden jeweled medallion. “This is it!” Henry screamed. “I’ve got it at last. It’s real! It does exist!”
He reached into the sarcophagus and wrapped his hand around the medallion. At the same moment, a rumbling was felt throughout the entire tomb. As if manipulated by a puppet master from above, the mummy’s arm emerged from its wrapping and raised its hand seizing Henry’s wrist with a vice-like grip. Its other hand sprung up and grasped Henry’s throat. A dark hole opened where the mummy’s mouth would be, expelling a most foul and putrid stench causing everyone near it to hold their noses and swoon. The walls of the tomb shook violently; the floor quaked and the ceiling began to crack. Sand and debris rained down from the ceiling. A loud, fierce, gravelly voice emanated from the dark hole in the mummy’s head and echoed off the walls:
This is mine, and you can’t have it!
Edith screamed and turned back toward whatever remaining daylight was visible through the dust and sand. Standing near the entrance, she was able to escape just as the sandstone ceiling crumbled and fell, burying everyone else. She collapsed outside the tomb’s doorway, which was now blocked by tons of sand and rock.
She was taken back to the tent, unconscious, and transported to a hospital in Cairo where she remained in a catatonic state for another week before returning to a hospital in London. Doctors and psychiatrists attempted to get her to speak, but her silence remained unbroken. Edith sat in her hospital room, continuing to stare at the wall, as if focusing on some unseen being, her arms wrapped around an invisible object, clutching it tightly to her chest as if her life depended upon it. All she could utter was a single phrase that she repeated over and over:
This is mine, and you can’t have it.