Richard ‘Dickie’ Ramsbottom fumbled with his box of matches in the dark tomb. Frustrated, he repeatedly struck a match against the side of its box, trying to get it to spark. After a few unsuccessful attempts, it finally flared into life.
“AT LAST!” He gleefully exclaimed, as the match took light.
Applying the flame to an improvised torch of kerosene-soaked rags wrapped around a pic-axe handle, illuminating light filled the chamber, revealing its ancient mysteries.
“Behold, Carruthers,” he jubilantly shouted. “The tomb of Ramses III!”
Enfield Carruthers – assistant and closest friend to Richard, stood at the entrance to the chamber in complete awe, as he studied the colourfully painted walls through the flickering shadows cast by the torch.
“Fetch me some lanterns, would you, please? This torch is starting to dim.”
Enfield shouted a few words in Arabic and clapped his hands to stir the group of locally hired help into action. Immediately, half-a-dozen men lit just as many kerosene lanterns. Then, in a processionary line, they entered the chamber, carefully placing the lamps at various points of the chamber.
“It’s spectacular, Dickie. Treasures beyond imagination.”
Amongst the stunning riches of artifacts, was a strange group of kneeling figures, laid out in a triangular shape – all frozen in what appeared to be mid-screams, hands pinned to their ears.
“What do you make of these, Enfield…? I count one, two, three… nine of them.”
“Curious, indeed. Not the usual embalming methods, I would expect to see.”
Inspecting the most forward body up close, Richard was surprised to see a small piece of outer material covering the body, crumble to his touch – the dust settling on the floor.
“Hmm,” Richard ponderously analysed. “Quicklime and animal skin. I’d hazard a guess at goat or sheepskin covering him.”
“Of course! That explains it. To the ancient Egyptians, goats and sheep were deemed impure. This appears to be a deliberate attempt of defilement. To not mummify the body in the traditional way and draping the body like this, the Egyptians believed it would render the deceased unable to enter the afterlife. The practice was widely regarded as an after-death form of punishment for something bad the deceased had done… I say, Dickie… this could very well be…”
“Yes, Enfield, I believe we’ve found our Prince Pentewere.”
“Gadzooks, Dickie! The Patricidal heir of Ramses III. Congratulations, dear boy! But how is he different than these other poor souls? They all look the same.”
“Except, he’s at the head of the triangle. At some point, they were arranged this way in a hierarchical formation… and in an extremely fragile state. The fresh air drifting into the tomb is going to accelerate the decay, so we may have to leave everything undisturbed until we assess each body’s condition. Tell your workers we won’t need them until morning, would you, old chap? Let’s try to avoid any further disturbances to the artifacts.”
Enfield spoke a few words in Arabic to the inquisitive labourers milling around the bodies. Handing out coins to each of the men, they appreciatively single-filed from the chamber, out into the fresh desert air.
“It’s getting late in the afternoon, Dickie. Dusk will be upon us soon.”
“Look, no point in us both being here. Why don’t you bed down for the night back at camp? I’ll sketch out the dimensions of the chamber and document the bodies before joining you for a nightcap.”
“Oh… I was hoping to explore some more, but if you insist, I’ll get some despatches sent off to our investors in London.”
With a smidge of envious disappointment, Enfield reluctantly exited the tomb. Although Richard was leading the expedition, he couldn’t help but resent his friend’s authority. Both had a similar educational background. Richard just had more connections in higher places. Holding a minor degree in Art, Richard could have found his calling as a portrait artist. However, his love of archaeology – specifically Ancient Egyptian archaeology, earned him his Doctorate. In the Victorian era, title was everything. For Professor Richard Ramsbottom, it provided privilege, entitlement, societal memberships, access to funding, and a life filled with exotic travel. Enfield could only dream of such gifted opportunities. This was his second expedition on the coattails of Richard, and without his help, Richard may have passed the location by in his haste to find the lost tomb of Ramses III. Enfield’s topographical skills identified the tomb, so he felt that he deserved more recognition.
The son of Ramses III, Prince Pentewere, was the bonus on the find. Suffering from vivid visions of the future, he had prophesised that his father’s policies would be responsible for repeated invasions, internal economic problems, and the decline of their culture. Convincing his mother, Tiye – a secondary wife of Ramses III - to be a part of the murderous plot, the king’s throat was slit while asleep in the royal harem. Although, there is no record of Queen Tiye’s punishment, Pentewere was allowed to take his own life, and was last seen alive, entering the tomb clutching a large rectangular amulet dangling from his neck.
“What do we have here?” With the tip of his fountain pen, Richard curiously picked at some loose material under Pentewere’s chin. After a few careful pokes at it, something loose slipped down through the mummified corpse’s grasping hands and onto the dusty floor. Immediately retrieving it, Richard excitedly cleaned the rectangular board to reveal a green oval translucent stone embedded in the wood – a gold circular chain hanging loose at one end. Turning the paddle over, Richard noticed a set of shallow hieroglyphic writings engraved into its back.
“What have you been hiding in your hands all these centuries…? I think my erudite skills in cursive hieroglyphs is about to come in handy.”
Using his sketchpad, Richard deciphered the ancient text into English. The meaning of its translation continued to perplex him long after the sun had set and a full moon had risen, and as he sat against one of the majestically painted walls, he repeatedly recited the passage in the expectation that through repetition, an answer would materialise.
“Between the palms, the past is now,” he repeated. “…Around the head, a future grows, But beware, what is a head must remain, lest your body be bound in eternal pain….”
Alone in a tomb of Egyptian dead had no worrying effect on Richard. He had spent many a night in similar surroundings mapping out sarcophagi, artifacts, and decrypting wall drawings without superstitious fear overtaking his senses. To him, a tomb was as welcoming as his own warm study at home; however, the repetition of words sent a small, unexpected cold shiver through him.
“I see no drawings of palm trees in here, and there are none for miles outside,” he introspectively determined. “Between the palms… Between…”
While cradling the paddle and stone in his right hand, Richard closed his eyes to concentrate, inadvertently clasping the stone between both hands. Like a sudden onrush of blood to the head, an immediate vibrating sensation jolted his eyes open. To his shocked surprise, the room was filled with a luminous projection of moving images. Quickly realising he had suddenly and wondrously become a voyeur of recognisable and historical events, Richard watched in amazement at the history of Earth playing out before him; however, it appeared more than two-dimensional in presentation. Holographic in dimensions, the display portrayed dinosaurs roaming freely over open plains. Captivating images presented themselves to Richard in living multi-dimensional colour. Sounds, smells, hot and cold sensations plundered his body – immersing him into a oneness with life and the universe. He studied with interest, the extinction level event of numerous active volcanoes, spewing their ash into Earth’s atmosphere. What followed was a period of elongated night, then a fifty-thousand-year ice age. Standing up to further submerge himself into the realistic scenery, he accidentally loosened his grip on the amulet, causing the projection to cease its performance. Taking a moment to recover from a virtual reality induced feeling of seasickness, Richard focussed on the tomb of Ramses III, speculating what other secrets it held. However, his mind – which had been feverishly and subconsciously working on interpreting the inscription, sprung into life.
“Palms!... Hands! Between the hands the past is now… Zookers, that’s it! This strange and fantastic stone somehow holds the secret to time travel… This is sensational! Those doubters at the Glyph Society will be green with envy when I show them this. Enfield! My good friend must see this… Wait! I’m getting carried away by this alluring magic. I need to keep my scientist head clear and explore further.”
Unable to resist the allure of the intoxicating amulet, Richard tightly grasped the stone, as an irresistible compulsion to explore its mysteries overcame him. To him, the experience had thrilled him like nothing before. He wanted to soar high as a bird in the sky, like an unmolested eyewitness to history, and immerse himself undetected amongst the creatures and events that once marched relentlessly through millennia. Richard’s second voyage through time, moved at a faster rate. The dawn of Man, the birth of civilisations, conflict, and death, all performed their rites of passage before him in microseconds, his journey only slowing to demonstrate the build-up to the murder of Ramses III. There, the vision showed how Prince Pentewere discovered the amulet in a secret tomb, and like Richard’s mesmerised reaction to the fantastic experience, so too had Prince Pentewere marvelled at its spectacle. However, when Pentewere subsequently placed the amulet around his neck, he was incensed at what he saw, and immediately decided o alter the prophecy that showed the decline of his peoples’ civilisation. By murdering his father, he was convinced he could save his heritage, but the amulet continued to present a future without him in it. The foreboding forecast was gravely realised after his murder trial, when Pentewere disappeared into the very tomb Richard now stood in – never to be seen alive again.
Realising it may have a dangerous dark side, Richard once more released his grip on the stone to re-read the inscription.
“Around the head, a future grows, But beware, what is a head must remain, lest your body be bound in eternal pain… What does that mean? What is a head, must remain? None of these bodies are missing their heads – although their screaming demeanour depicts a less than peaceful passing from this life… Lest your body be bound in eternal pain. Whatever these poor chaps did, they certainly look troubled in the afterlife…”
“Dickie, there you are! I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Startled by the interruption, Richard turned to see his evidently inebriated friend Enfield, standing lopsided against the doorway to the tomb.
“Enfield, dear chap. You surprised me. You’ll never believe…”
“Almost finished this bottle of Port while waiting for you,” he interrupted. “Thought you might have dozed off or something, so I’ve come to fetch you back for a celebratory drink to toast our marvellous discovery.”
“What impeccable timing, Enfield. I need to show you something I’ve found. Something amazing.”
Proceeding to explain his discovery, the encrypted text, and the immersive imagery, Richard demonstrated the stone’s ethereal qualities. Starting where it had left off, holographic projections displayed the rise and fall of empires, the creation of new technologies, medicines, and the discovery of the Rosetta stone that helped to decode hieroglyphics - like those on the back of the amulet. Nearing present time, the projections once again began to slow down their speed of display. Both men watched in total amazement at the playback of the discovery that led them both to this moment. This was truly a remarkable find, and as the projection dimmed then stopped, Enfield found himself desiring more.
“What of the remaining inscription?”
“Yes, I’ve had a little time to analyse that, and I’m convinced the text has an interesting form of an ancient typo.”
“Typo? I’m not familiar with that vernacular.”
“Sorry, Enfield. A typographical error in the writing. I’d say that whoever wrote this, lacked certain fundamental language skills. How does one correct something incorrectly engraved without bringing it to the attention of one’s masters? The answer is… one doesn’t. One just ignores it in the hope it’s never discovered.”
“Sort of like a shy chamber maid not wanting to lose her position after breaking some crockery…”
“Similar, except this unfortunate maid would have been more fearful of losing her life. You see, in this case ‘A head’ is a typo for Ahead. What is ‘ahead’ must remain.”
“What the Dickens does all this mean?”
“My dear Enfield, don’t you see? Between the palms showed us the past. Around the head, a future grows. That can only mean when worn around the neck, the amulet presents what is to come… the future! What lies ahead, must remain is a warning to not meddle with the future, but to let it pass unmolested. Knowing what lies ahead, may tempt those with that knowledge to try to change fate’s course. The consequences of corrupting the future could be extremely severe.”
“Do you think old Pentewere here paid that price, or do you think his deadly deed brought on the consequence?”
“Whatever the answer, we must treat the warning with utmost respect.”
“I want to see it… I want to see what is to come… There’s no harm in knowing, is there, Dickie?”
Richard took a moment to think of all or any ramifications possession of futuristic knowledge may bring. However, equally as curious, he shrugged his shoulders, and with a gesture of his outstretched hand, invited Enfield to proceed.
“Thank you, Dickie dear boy. All aboard the future express, wot?”
Carefully, placing the amulet over his head, Enfield rested it dangling around his neck. Immediately, the multi-dimensional projection picked up where it had left off. Both men silently watched as the moving images crawled through the visionary future. They viewed Richard presenting their find to the institute of Archaeology, followed the fanfare that accompanied them across the world as they attended conferences on the amulet, and witnessed the knighthood and accolades bestowed solely upon Richard, while Enfield slowly faded into the background. Universities, libraries, and streets were named after Richard Ramsbottom, while Enfield Carruthers became the forgotten man - rapidly plunging into the depths of self-pity and binge drinking sessions, before finally dying a pauper in a back alley of London’s newest museum, The Ramsbottom Museum of Modern Archaeology.
“I don’t believe it!” Enfield’s protest was followed by him ripping the amulet from his neck and throwing it to the floor, where it disappeared under several layers of thick sand.
“Steady on, dear boy,” said Richard trying to calm his friend. “I wouldn’t let that happen to you.”
“You saw our future. The amulet categorically states it mustn’t be changed.”
Feeling the effects of excess alcohol consumption, Enfield started to swoon. Seeing this, Richard went to his aid, but in a petulant fit of alcohol-fuelled temper, Enfield reacted in a fiery rage. Grabbing Richard’s shirt, he pushed him backwards, propelling him against the jagged edge of a wall. The crunching sound sickened Enfield to his core, but there was nothing he could do. As Richard slowly fell face-first onto the dusty floor, his eyes glazed over in a deathly stare, while Enfield helplessly looked at the dust cloud rising to meet him. Confused as to what he should do, he momentarily thought of calling for help, but hesitated as a domineering impulsive desire flashed through his confused state of mind. As ego and ambition took hold, greed inevitably consumed him,
“What will be my future now?” He mused. “Will I be lauded as the discoverer of the eighth wonder of the world…? Let’s see, shall we?”
Rummaging through the sand, he retrieved the amulet. Fixing the broken clasp, he once more, placed it around his neck. Like a gramophone record being reset to the beginning, the projection began at the current moment, then sped through the immediate future. However, the libraries and museums carried a new name on them – Gaston Maspero.
“Who is that…? Where is my name…? I don’t see me anywhere in all of this?”
Noticeably missing from this version, was any indication of Enfield’s own future. It was as if he had none. It was then that Enfield caught a glimpse of an inscription above the doorway. Indecipherable, it strangely appeared to him as legible. Pulling his spectacles from his breast pocket, he read it out loud.
“What is discovered brings knowledge. What is repeated brings darkness,” he recited. “What’s been repeated…? My God! Pentewere!”
Without warning, Enfield’s legs buckled from under him, forcing him to his knees, as a high-pitched sound started to blast his eardrums out from his skull – all the while, a rumbling vibration began to loosen the sand above the doorway. Reacting to the pain, he tried to cradle his head with his hands, forcing his mouth to widen - agape in agony. Hideously frozen in place, his dimming eyesight remained fixed on the doorway’s inscription, while tons of sand filled the entrance to the tomb, blocking any escape. In the final few moments of consciousness, reflections of how the amulet had lain dormant for millennia waiting for the next opportunist, consumed his every thought. The nine bodies he now mimicked in pose, must have at other points in time, tried to change the future and ultimately paid the agonising price. The tenth victim questioned who the eleventh wearer of the amulet would be, but the answer would never befall him. As Enfield’s screaming expression of pain spread across his tortured face, his body gradually metamorphosed into a crusty, dried-out sandy shell beyond any methods of formal identification. Shielded by his dusty carcass, the amulet hung innocently around his neck, an inviting combination of gift and curse for all scholars of futurology to avoid at all costs. As it's only human to want to change the world, avoidance would undoubtedly be futile…
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Enthralling story. Kept me reading.
Thank you, Ba. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
What wonderful story telling. You fit much into the word limit. I felt like I was watching a new installment of the 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' franchise, well done chap.
Thanks Kevin. Admittedly, when I had it read back to me via MS Edge's read aloud app, I had similar thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
What is it about ancient Egyptian tombs that lends itself to the setting for stories? You have added another one to the canon- great pace to the story!
Marty, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my story. I think the mysteries that surround the Ancient Egyptians and their possible connection to extra-terrestrial civilisations, is a great platform for stories. I had fun writing this one.
Wendy, Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this story. It was inspired by the real "Screaming Mummies" discovery in Egypt. A little research into Ramses III and Pentewere, gave me the idea for the story.
great story and the historical setting is well drawn. I usually avoid anything marked as horror but this was fascinating.