R. L. Stine, Curse Of The Mummy′s Tomb
I saw the Great Pyramid and got thirsty.
Maybe it was all the sand. So dry and yellow, it seemed to stretch on forever. It even made the sky look dry.
I poked my mom in the side. ″Mom, I′m really thirsty.″
″Not now,″ she said. She had one hand up on her forehead, shielding her eyes from the bright sun as she stared up at the enormous pyramid.
What does ″not now″ mean? I was thirsty. Now!
Someone bumped me from behind and apologized in a foreign language. I never dreamed when I saw the Great Pyramid there′d be so many other tourists. I guess half the people in the world decided to spend their Christmas vacation in Egypt this year.
″But, Mom—″ I said. I didn′t mean to whine. It was just that my throat was so dry. ″I′m really thirsty.″
″We won′t get you a drink now,″ she answered, staring at the pyramid. ″Stop acting like you′re four. You′re twelve, remember?″
″Twelve-year-olds get thirsty, too,″ I muttered. ″All this sand in the air, it′s making me gag.″
″Look at the pyramid,″ she said, sounding a little irritated. ″That′s why we came here. We didn′t come here to get a drink.″
″But I′m choking!″ I cried, gasping and holding my throat.
Okay, so I wasn′t choking. I exaggerated a little, just trying to get her attention. But she pulled the brim of her straw hat down and continued to stare up at the pyramid, which shimmered in the heat.
I decided to try my dad. As usual, he was studying the handful of guidebooks he always carried everywhere. I don′t think he′d even looked at the pyramid yet. He always misses everything because he always has his nose buried in a guidebook.
″Dad, I′m really thirsty,″ I said, whispering as if my throat were strained to get my message across.
″Wow. Do you know how wide the pyramid is?″ he asked, staring at a picture of the pyramid in his book.
″I′m thirsty, Dad.″
″It′s thirteen acres wide, Gabe,″ he said, really excited. ″Do you know what it′s made of?″
I wanted to say Silly Putty.
He′s always testing me. Whenever we go on a trip, he always asks me a million questions like that. I don′t think I′ve ever answered one right.
″Some kind of stone?″ I answered.
″That′s right.″ He smiled at me, then turned back to his book. ″It′s made of limestone. Limestone blocks. It says here that some of the blocks weigh up to a thousand tons.″
″Whoa,″ I said. ″That′s more than you and Mom put together!″
He turned his eyes from the book and frowned at me. ″Not funny, Gabe.″
″Just kidding,″ I said. Dad′s a little sensitive about his weight, so I try to tease him about it as often as I can.
″How do you think the ancient Egyptians moved stones that weighed a thousand tons?″ he asked.
Quiz time wasn′t over.
I took a guess. ″In trucks?″
He laughed. ″Trucks? They didn′t have the wheel.″
I shielded my eyes and stared up at the pyramid. It was really huge, much bigger than it looks in pictures. And much dryer.
I couldn′t imagine how they pulled those big stones across the sand without wheels. ″I don′t know,″ I confessed. ″I′m really thirsty.″
″No one knows how they did it,″ Dad said.
So it was a trick question.
″Dad, I really need a drink.″
″Not now,″ he said. He squinted at the pyramid. ″Gives you a funny feeling, doesn′t it?″
″It gives me a thirsty feeling,″ I said, trying to get my point across.
″No. I mean, it gives me a funny feeling to think that our ancestors—yours and mine, Gabe—may have walked around these pyramids, or even helped to build them. It gives me kind of a chill. How about you?″
″I guess,″ I told him. He was right. It was kind of exciting.
We′re Egyptian, you see. I mean, both sets of my grandparents came from Egypt. They moved to the United States around 1930. My mom and dad were both born in Michigan. We were all very excited to see the country our ancestors came from.
″I wonder if your uncle Ben is down inside that pyramid right now,″ Dad said, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand.
Uncle Ben Hassad. I had nearly forgotten about my uncle, the famous archaeologist. Uncle Ben was another one of the reasons we had decided to come to Egypt over the holidays. That and the fact that my mom and dad had some business to do in Cairo and Alexandria and some other places.
Mom and Dad have their own business. They sell refrigeration equipment. It usually isn′t very exciting. But sometimes they travel to neat places, like Egypt, and I get to go with them.
I turned my eyes to the pyramids and thought about my uncle.
Uncle Ben and his workers were digging around in the Great Pyramid, exploring and discovering new mummies, I guess. He had always been fascinated by our ancestors′ homeland. He had lived in Egypt for many years. Uncle Ben was an expert on pyramids and mummies. I even saw his picture once in National Geographic.
″When are we going to see Uncle Ben?″ I asked, tugging Dad′s arm. I accidentally tugged too hard, and the guidebooks fell out of his hands.
I helped him pick them up.
″Not today,″ Dad said, making a face. He didn′t like to bend over to pick up things. His stomach got in the way. ″Ben′s going to meet us in Cairo in a few days.″
″Why don′t we go up to the pyramid and see if he′s there now?″ I asked impatiently.
″We′re not allowed,″ Dad replied.
″Look—camels!″ Mom poked me on the shoulder and pointed.
Sure enough, some people had arrived on camels. One of the camels seemed to be having a coughing fit. I guess he was thirsty, too. The people riding the camels were tourists and they looked very uncomfortable. They didn′t seem to know what to do next.
″Do you know how to get down from a camel?″ I asked my dad.
He was squinting at the pyramid, studying the top of it. ″No. How?″
″You don′t get down from a camel,″ I said. ″You get down from a duck.″
I know. I know. It′s a very old joke. But my dad and I never get tired of it.
″Do you see the camels?″ Mom asked.
″I′m not blind,″ I replied. Being thirsty always puts me in a bad mood. Besides, what was so exciting about camels? They were really gross-looking, and they smelled like my gym socks after a basketball game.
″What′s your problem?″ Mom asked, fiddling with her straw hat.
″I told you,″ I said, not meaning to sound so angry. ″I′m thirsty.″
″Gabe, really.″ She glanced at Dad, then went back to staring at the pyramid.
″Dad, do you think Uncle Ben can take us inside the pyramid?″ I asked enthusiastically. ″That would really be outstanding.″
″No, I don′t think so,″ he said. He tucked his guidebooks into his armpit so he could raise his binoculars to his eyes. ″I really don′t think so, Gabe. I don′t think it′s allowed.″
I couldn′t hide my disappointment. I had all these fantasies about going down into the pyramid with my uncle, discovering mummies and ancient treasures. Fighting off ancient Egyptians who had come back to life to defend their sacred tomb, and escaping after a wild chase, just like Indiana Jones.
″I′m afraid you′ll just have to appreciate the pyramid from the outside,″ Dad said, peering over the yellow sand, trying to focus the binoculars.
″I′ve already appreciated it,″ I told him glumly. ″Can we go get a drink now?″
Little did I know that in a few days, Mom and Dad would be gone, and I would be deep inside the pyramid we were staring at. Not just inside it, but trapped inside it, sealed inside it—probably forever.
We drove from al-Jizah back to Cairo in the funny little rental car Dad had picked up at the airport. It wasn′t a long drive, but it seemed long to me. The car was just a little bit bigger than some of my old remote-control cars, and my head hit the ceiling with every bump.
I′d brought my Game Boy with me, but Mom made me put it away so that I could watch the Nile as the road followed along its bank. It was very wide and very brown.
″No one else in your class is seeing the Nile this Christmas,″ Mom said, the hot wind blowing her brown hair through the open car window.
″Can I play with my Game Boy now?″ I asked.
I mean, when you get right down to it, a river is a river.
An hour or so later, we were back in Cairo with its narrow, crowded streets. Dad made a wrong turn and drove us into some kind of market, and we were trapped in a little alley behind a herd of goats for nearly half an hour.
I didn′t get a drink till we got back to the hotel, and by that time, my tongue was the size of a salami and hanging down to the floor just like Elvis′s. He′s our cocker spaniel back home.
I′ll say one nice thing about Egypt. The Coke tastes just as good as the Coke back home. It′s the Classic Coke, too, not the other kind. And they give you plenty of ice, which I like to crunch with my teeth.
We had a suite at the hotel, two bedrooms and a sort of living room. If you looked out the window, you could see a tall, glass skyscraper across the street, just like you′d see in any city.
There was a TV in the living room, but everyone spoke Arabic on it. The shows didn′t look too interesting, anyway. Mainly a lot of news. The only channel in English was CNN. But that was news, too.
We had just started to talk about where to go for dinner when the phone rang. Dad went into the bedroom to answer it. A few minutes later he called Mom in, and I could hear the two of them discussing something.
They were talking very quietly, so I figured it had something to do with me and they didn′t want me to hear it.
As usual, I was right.
They both came out of the bedroom a few minutes later, looking kind of worried. My first thought was that my grandmother had called to say that something bad had happened to Elvis back home.
″What′s wrong?″ I asked. ″Who called?″
″Your dad and I have to go to Alexandria. Right away,″ Mom said, sitting down beside me on the couch.
″Huh? Alexandria?″ We weren′t supposed to go there until the end of the week.
″Business,″ Dad said. ″An important customer wants to meet with us first thing tomorrow morning.″
″We have to take a plane that leaves in an hour,″ Mom said.
″But I don′t wand to,″ I told them, jumping up from the couch. ″I want to stay in Cairo and see Uncle Ben. I want to go to the pyramids with him. You promised!″
We argued about it for a short while. They tried to convince me there were a lot of cool things to see in Alexandria, but I held my ground.
Finally, Mom had an idea. She went into the bedroom, and I heard her making a phone call to someone. A few minutes later, she came back with a smile on her face. ″I talked to Uncle Ben,″ she announced.
″Wow! Do they have phones in the pyramid?″ I asked.
″No. I talked to him at the small lodge he′s staying at in al-Jizah,″ she replied. ″He said he′d come and take care of you, if you want. While your dad and I are in Alexandria.″
″Yeah?″ This was starting to sound outstanding. Uncle Ben is one of the coolest guys I′ve ever known. Sometimes I couldn′t believe he was Mom′s brother.
″It′s your choice, Gabe,″ she said, glancing at my dad. ″You can come with us, or you can stay with Ben till we get back.″
I didn′t have to think about it for more than one-eighteenth of a second. ″I′ll stay with Uncle Ben!″ I declared.
″One other thing,″ Mom said, grinning for some reason. ″You might want to think about this.″
″I don′t care what it is,″ I insisted. ″I choose Uncle Ben.″
″Sari is also on Christmas vacation,″ Mom said. ″And she′s staying with him, too.″
″Barf!″ I cried, and I flung myself down on the couch and began pounding the cushions with both fists.
Sari is Uncle Ben′s stuck-up daughter. My only cousin. She′s the same age as me—twelve—and she thinks she′s so great. She goes to boarding school in the United States while her dad works in Egypt.
She′s really pretty, and she knows it. And site′s smart. And the last time I saw her, she was an inch taller than me.
That was last Christmas, I guess. She thought she was really hot stuff because she could get to the last level of Super Mario Land. But it wasn′t fair because I don′t have Super Nintendo, only regular Nintendo. So I never get to practice.
I think that′s what she liked about me best, that she could beat me at games and things. Sari is the most competitive person I know. She has to be first and best at everything. If everyone around is catching the flu, she has to be the first one to catch it!
″Stop pounding the couch like that,″ Mom said. She grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet.
″Does that mean you changed your mind? You′re coming with us?″ Dad asked.
I thought about it. ″No. I′ll stay here with Uncle Ben,″ I decided.
″And you won′t fight with Sari?″ Mom asked.
″She fights with me,″ I said.
″Your mom and I have got to hurry,″ Dad said.
They disappeared into the bedroom to pack. I turned on the TV and watched some kind of game show in Arabic. The contestants kept laughing a lot. I couldn′t figure out why. I hardly know a word of Arabic.
After a while, Mom and Dad came out again, dragging suitcases. ″Well never get to the airport in time,″ Dad said.
″I talked to Ben,″ Mom told me, brushing her hair with her hand. ″He′ll be here in an hour, hour and a half. Gabe, you don′t mind staying alone here for just an hour, do you?″
Not much of an answer, I′ll admit. But her question caught me by surprise.
I mean, it never occurred to me that my own parents would leave me all alone in a big hotel in a strange city where I didn′t even know the language. I mean, how could they do that to me?
″No problem,″ I said. ″I′ll be fine. I′ll just watch TV till he comes.″
″Ben′s on his way already,″ Mom said. ″He and Sari will be here in no time. And I phoned down to the hotel manager. He said he′d have someone look in on you from time to time.″
″Where′s the bellhop?″ Dad asked, nervously pacing to the door and back. ″I called down there ten minutes ago.″
″Just stay here and wait for Ben, okay?″ Mom said to me, walking up behind the couch, leaning over, and squeezing my ears. For some reason, she thinks I like that. ″Don′t go out or anything. Just wait right here for him.″ She bent down and kissed me on the forehead.
″I won′t move,″ I promised. ″I′ll stay right here on the couch. I won′t go to the bathroom or anything.″
″Can′t you ever be serious?″ Mom asked, shaking her head.
There was a loud knock on the door. The bellhop, a bent-over old man who didn′t look as if he could pick up a feather pillow, had arrived to take the bags.
Mom and Dad, looking very worried, gave me hugs and more final instructions, and told me once again to stay in the room. The door closed behind them, and it was suddenly very quiet.
I turned up the TV just to make it a little noisier. The game show had gone off, and now a man in a white suit was reading the news in Arabic.
″I′m not scared,″ I said aloud. But I had kind of a tight feeling in my throat.
I walked to the window and looked out. The sun was nearly down. The shadow of the skyscraper slanted over the street and onto the hotel.
I picked up my Coke glass and took a sip. It was watery and flat. My stomach growled. I suddenly realized that I was hungry.
Room service, I thought.
Then I decided I′d better not. What if I called and they only spoke Arabic?
I glanced at the clock. Seven-twenty. I wished Uncle Ben would arrive.
I wasn′t scared. I just wished he′d arrive.
Okay. Maybe I was a little nervous.
I paced back and forth for a bit. I tried playing Tetris on the Game Boy, but I couldn′t concentrate, and the light wasn′t very good.
Sari is probably a champ at Tetris, I thought bitterly. Where were they? What was taking so long?
I began to have horrible, frightening thoughts: What if they can′t find the hotel? What if they get mixed up and go to the wrong hotel?
What if they′re in a terrible car crash and die? And I′m all by myself in Cairo for days and days?
I know. They were dumb thoughts. But they′re the kind of thoughts you have when you′re alone in a strange place, waiting for someone to come.
I glanced down and realized I had taken the mummy hand out of my jeans pocket.
It was small, the size of a child′s hand. A little hand wrapped in papery brown gauze. I had bought it at a garage sale a few years ago, and I always carried it around as a good luck charm.
The kid who sold it to me called it a ″Summoner.″ He said it was used to summon evil spirits, or something. I didn′t care about that. I just thought it was an outstanding bargain for two dollars. I mean, what a great thing to find at a garage sale! And maybe it was even real.
I tossed it from hand to hand as I paced the length of the living room. The TV was starting to make me nervous, so I clicked it off.
But now the quiet was making me nervous.
I slapped the mummy hand against my palm and kept pacing.
Where were they? They should′ve been here by now.
I was beginning to think that I′d made the wrong choice. Maybe I should′ve gone to Alexandria with Mom and Dad.
Then I heard a noise at the door. Footsteps.
Was it them?
I stopped in the middle of the living room and listened, staring past the narrow front hallway to the door.
The light was dim in the hallway, but I saw the doorknob turn.
That′s strange, I thought. Uncle Ben would knock first—wouldn′t he?
The doorknob turned. The door started to creak open.
″Hey—″ I called out, but the word choked in my throat.
Uncle Ben would knock. He wouldn′t just barge in.
Slowly, slowly, the door squeaked open as I stared, frozen in the middle of the room, unable to call out.
Standing in the doorway was a tall, shadowy figure.
I gasped as the figure lurched into the room, and I saw it clearly. Even in the dim light, I could see what it was.
Glaring at me with round, dark eyes through holes in its ancient, thick bandages.
Pushing itself off the wall and staggering stiffly toward me into the living room, its arms outstretched as if to grab me.
I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out.
I took a step back, and then another. Without realizing it, I′d raised my little mummy hand in the air, as if trying to fend off the intruder with it.
As the mummy staggered into the light, I stared into its deep, dark eyes.
And recognized them.
″Uncle Ben!″ I screamed.
Angrily, I heaved the mummy hand at him. It hit his bandaged chest and bounced off.
He collapsed backwards against the wall, laughing that booming laugh of his.
And then I saw Sari poking her head in the doorway. She was laughing, too.
They both thought it was hilarious. But my heart was pounding so hard, I thought it was going to pop out of my chest.
″That wasn′t funny!″ I shouted angrily, balling my hands into fists at my sides. I took a deep breath, then another, trying to get my breathing to return to normal.
″I told you he′d be scared,″ Sari said, walking into the room, a big, superior grin on her face.
Uncle Ben was laughing so hard, he had tears running down his bandaged face. He was a big man, tall and broad, and his laughter shook the room. ″You weren′t that scared—were you, Gabe?″
″I knew it was you,″ I said, my heart still pounding as if it were a windup toy someone had wound up too tight. ″I recognized you right away.″
″You sure looked scared,″ Sari insisted.
″I didn′t want to spoil the joke,″ I replied, wondering if they could see how terrified I really was.
″You should′ve seen the look on your face!″ Uncle Ben cried, and started laughing all over again.
″I told Daddy he shouldn′t do it,″ Sari said, dropping down onto the couch. ″I′m amazed the hotel people let him come up dressed like that.″
Uncle Ben bent down and picked up the mummy hand I had tossed at him. ″You′re used to me and my practical jokes, right, Gabe?″
″Yeah,″ I said, avoiding his eyes.
Secretly, I scolded myself for falling for his stupid costume. I was always falling for his dumb jokes. Always. And, now, there was Sari grinning at me from the couch, knowing I was so scared that I′d practically had a cow.
Uncle Ben pulled some of the bandages away from his face. He stepped over and handed the little mummy hand back to me. ″Where′d you get that?″ he asked.
″Garage sale,″ I told him.
I started to ask him if it was real, but he surrounded me in a big bear hug. The gauze felt rough against my cheek. ″Good to see you, Gabe,″ he said softly. ″You′ve grown taller.″
″Almost as tall as me,″ Sari chimed in.
Uncle Ben motioned to her. ″Get up and help me pull this stuff off.″
″I kind of like the way you look in it,″ Sari said.
″Get over here,″ Uncle Ben insisted.
Sari got up with a sigh, tossing her straight black hair behind her shoulders. She walked over to her dad and started unraveling the bandages.
″I got a little carried away with this mummy thing, Gabe,″ Uncle Ben admitted, resting his arm on my shoulder as Sari continued working. ″But it′s just because I′m so excited about what′s going on at the pyramid.″
″What′s going on?″ I asked eagerly.
″Daddy′s discovered a whole new burial chamber,″ Sari broke in before her dad had a chance to tell me himself. ″He′s exploring parts of the pyramid that have been undiscovered for thousands of years.″
″Really?″ I cried. ″That′s outstanding!″
Uncle Ben chuckled. ″Wait till you see it.″
″See it?″ I wasn′t sure what he meant. ″You mean you′re going to take me into the pyramid?″
My voice was so high that only dogs could hear it. But I didn′t care. I couldn′t believe my good luck. I was actually going inside the Great Pyramid, into a section that hadn′t been discovered until now.
″I have no choice,″ Uncle Ben said dryly. ″What else am I going to do with you two?″
″Are there mummies in there?″ I asked. ″Will we see actual mummies?″
″Do you miss your mummy?″ Sari said, her lame idea of a joke.
I ignored her. ″Is there treasure down there. Uncle Ben? Egyptian relics? Are there wall paintings?″
″Let′s talk about it at dinner,″ he said, tugging off the last of the bandages. He was wearing a plaid sportshirt and baggy chinos under all the gauze. ″Come on. I′m starving.″
″Race you downstairs,″ Sari said, and shoved me out of the way to give herself a good head start out of the room.
We ate downstairs in the hotel restaurant. There were palm trees painted on the walls, and miniature palm trees planted in big pots all around the restaurant. Large wooden ceiling fans whirled slowly overhead.
The three of us sat in a large booth, Sari and I across from Uncle Ben. We studied the long menus. They were printed in Arabic and English.
″Listen to this, Gabe,″ Sari said, a smug smile on her face. She began to read the Arabic words aloud.
What a show-off.
The white-suited waiter brought a basket of flat pita bread and a bowl of green stuff to dip the bread in. I ordered a dub sandwich and French fries. Sari ordered a hamburger.
Later, as we ate our dinner, Uncle Ben explained a little more about what he had discovered at the pyramid. ″As you probably know,″ he started, tearing off a chunk of the flat bread, ″the pyramid was built some time around 2500 B.C., during the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu.″
″Gesundheit,″ Sari said. Another lame joke.
Her father chuckled. I made a face at her.
″It was the biggest structure of its time,″ Uncle Ben said. ″Do you know how wide the base of the pyramid is?″
Sari shook her head. ″No. How wide?″ she asked with a mouthful of hamburger.
″I know,″ I said, grinning. ″It′s thirteen acres wide.″
″Hey—that′s right!″ Uncle Ben exclaimed, obviously impressed.
Sari flashed me a surprised look.
That′s one for me! I thought happily, sticking my tongue out at her.
And one for my dad′s guidebooks.
″The pyramid was built as a royal burial place,″ Uncle Ben costumed, his expression turning serious. The Pharaoh made it really enormous so that the burial chamber could be hidden. The Egyptians worried about tomb robbers. They knew that people would try to break in and take all of the valuable jewels and treasures that were buried alongside their owners. So they built dozens of tunnels and chambers inside, a confusing maze to keep robbers from finding the real burial room.″
″Pass the ketchup, please,″ Sari interrupted. I passed her the ketchup.
″Sari′s heard all this before,″ Uncle Ben said, dipping the pita bread into the dark gravy on his plate. ″Anyway, we archaeologists thought we′d uncovered all of the tunnels and rooms inside this pyramid, But a few days ago, my workers and I discovered a tunnel that isn′t on any of the charts. An unexplored, undiscovered tunnel. And we think this tunnel may lead us to the actual burial chamber of Khufu himself!″
″Outstanding!″ I exclaimed. ″And Sari and I will be there when you discover it?″
Uncle Ben chuckled. ″I don′t know about that, Gabe. It may take us years of careful exploration. But I′ll take you down into the tunnel tomorrow. Then you can tell your friends you were actually inside the ancient pyramid of Khufu.″
″I′ve already been in it,″ Sari bragged. She turned her eyes to me. ″It′s very dark. You might get scared.″
″No, I won′t,″ I insisted. ″No way.″
The three of us spent the night in my parents′ hotel room. It took me hours to get to sleep. I guess I was excited about going into the pyramid. I kept imagining that we found mummies and big chests of ancient jewels and treasure.
Uncle Ben woke us up early the next morning, and we drove out to the pyramid outside al-Jizah. The air was already hot and sticky. The sun seemed to hang low over the desert like an orange balloon.
″There it is!″ Sari declared, pointing out the window. And I saw the Great Pyramid rising up from the yellow sand like some kind of mirage.
Uncle Ben showed a special permit to the blue-uniformed guard, and we followed a narrow, private road that curved through the sand behind the pyramid. We parked beside several other cars and vans in the blue-gray shadow of the pyramid.
As I stepped out of the car, my chest was thudding with excitement. I stared up at the enormous, worn stones of the Great Pyramid.
It′s over four thousand years old, I thought. I′m about to go inside something that was built four thousand years ago!
″Your sneaker′s untied,″ Sari said, pointing.
She sure knew how to bring a guy back down to earth.
I bent in the sand to tie my sneaker. For some reason, the left one was always coming untied, even when I double-knotted it.
″My workers are already inside,″ Uncle Ben told us. ″Now, stick close together, okay? Don′t wander off. The tunnels really are like a maze. It′s very easy to get lost.″
″No problem,″ I said, my trembling voice revealing how nervous and excited I was.
″Don′t worry. I′ll keep an eye on Gabe, Dad,″ Sari said.
She was only two months older than me. Why did she have to act like she was my baby-sitter or something?
Uncle Ben handed us both flashlights. ″Clip them onto your jeans as we go in,″ he instructed. He gazed at me. ″You don′t believe in curses, do you? You know—the ancient Egyptian kind.″
I didn′t know how to reply, so I shook my head.
″Good,″ Uncle Ben replied, grinning. ″Because one of my workers claims we′ve violated an ancient decree by entering this new tunnel, and that we′ve activated some curse.″
″We′re not scared,″ Sari said, giving him a playful shove toward the entrance. ″Get going, Dad.″
And seconds later, we were stepping into the small, square opening cut into the stone. Stooping low, I followed them through a narrow tunnel that seemed to slope gradually down.
Uncle Ben led the way, lighting the ground with a bright halogen flashlight. The pyramid floor was soft and sandy. The air was cool and damp.
″The walls are granite,″ Uncle Ben said, stopping to rub a hand along the low ceiling. ″All of the tunnels were made of limestone.″
The temperature dropped suddenly. The air felt even wetter. I suddenly realized why Uncle Ben had made us wear our sweatshirts.
″If you′re scared, we can go back,″ Sari said.
″I′m fine,″ I replied quickly.
The tunnel ended abruptly. A pale yellow wall rose up in front of us. Ben′s flashlight darted over a small, dark hole in the floor.
″Down we go,″ Ben said, groaning as he dropped to his knees. He turned back to me. ″Afraid there are no stairs down to the new tunnel. My workers installed a rope ladder. Just take your time on it, take it slowly, one rung at a time, and you′ll be fine.″
″No problem,″ I said. But my voice cracked.
″Don′t look down,″ Sari advised. ″It might make you dizzy, and you′ll fall.″
″Thanks for the encouragement,″ I told her. I pushed my way past her. ″I′ll go down first,″ I said. I was already tired of her acting so superior. I decided to show her who was brave and who wasn′t.
″No. Let me go first,″ Uncle Ben said, raising a hand to stop me. ″Then I′ll shine the light up at the ladder and help you down.″
With another groan, he maneuvered himself into the hole. He was so big, he nearly didn′t fit.
Slowly, he began to lower himself down the rope ladder.
Sari and I leaned over the hole and peered down, watching him descend. The rope ladder wasn′t very steady. It swung back and forth under his weight as he slowly, carefully, made his way down.
″It′s a long way down,″ I said softly.
Sari didn′t reply. In the shadowy light, I could see her worried expression. She was chewing on her lower lip as her dad reached the tunnel floor.
She was nervous, too.
That cheered me up a lot.
″Okay, I′m down. You′re next, Gabe,″ Uncle Ben called up to me.
I turned and swung my feet onto the rope ladder. I grinned at Sari. ″See ya.″
I lowered my hands to the sides of the rope ladder—and as I slid them down, I cried out.
The rope wasn′t smooth. It was coarse. It cut my hands.
The sharp stab of pain made me lift my hands.
And before I even realized what was happening, I started to fall.
Two hands reached down for mine. They shot through the air and grabbed my wrists.
″Hold on!″ Sari cried.
She had slowed my fall just enough to allow me to grab back onto the sides of the rope ladder.
″Oh, wow!″ I managed to utter. That was the best I could do. I gripped the rope for dear life, waiting for my heart to stop pounding. I closed my eyes and didn′t move. I squeezed the ropes so hard, my hands ached.
″Saved your life,″ Sari called down to me, leaning into the opening, her face inches from mine.
I opened my eyes and stared up at her. ″Thanks,″ I said gratefully.
″No problem,″ she replied and burst out laughing, laughing from relief, I guess.
Why couldn′t I save her life? I asked myself angrily. Why can′t I ever be the big hero?
″What happened, Gabe?″ Uncle Ben called from the tunnel floor below. His booming voice echoed loudly through the chamber. The wide circle of light from his flashlight danced across the granite wall.
″The rope cut my hands,″ I explained. ″I wasn′t expecting—″
″Just take your time,″ he said patiently. ″One rung at a time, remember?″
″Lower your hands. Don′t slide them,″ Sari advised, her face poking through the hole above me.
″Okay, okay,″ I said, starting to breathe normally.
I took a deep breath and held it. Then, slowly, carefully, I made my way down the long rope ladder.
A short while later, all three of us were standing on the tunnel floor, holding our lighted flashlights, our eyes following the circles of light. ″This way,″ Uncle Ben said quietly, and he headed off to the right, walking slowly, stooping because of the low ceiling.
Our sneakers crunched on the sandy floor. I saw another tunnel leading off to the right, then another tunnel on the left.
″We′re breathing air that is four thousand years old,″ Ben said, keeping his light aimed on the floor ahead of him.
″Smells like it,″ I whispered to Sari. She laughed.
The air really did smell old. Kind of heavy and musty. Like someone′s attic.
The tunnel widened a little as it curved to the right.
″We′re going deeper into the earth,″ Ben said. ″Does it feel like you′re going downhill?″
Sari and I both muttered that it did.
″Dad and I explored one of the side tunnels yesterday,″ Sari told me. ″We found a mummy case inside a tiny room. A beautiful one in perfect condition.″
″Was there a mummy inside it?″ I asked eagerly. I was dying to see a mummy. The museum back home had only one. I′d stared at it and studied it all my life.
″No. It was empty,″ Sari replied.
″Why didn′t the mummy have any hobbies?″ Uncle Ben asked, stopping suddenly.
″I don′t know,″ I answered.
″He was too wrapped up in his work!″ Uncle Ben exclaimed. He laughed at his own joke. Sari and I could only muster weak smiles.
″Don′t encourage him,″ Sari told me, loud enough for her dad to hear. ″He knows a million mummy jokes, and they′re all just as bad.″
″Wait up. Just a sec,″ I said. I bent down to tie my sneaker, which had come undone again.
The tunnel curved, then divided into two tunnels. Uncle Ben led us through the one on the left, which was so narrow we had to squeeze through it, making our way sideways, heads bent, until it widened into a large, high-ceilinged chamber.
I stood up straight and stretched. It felt so good not to be scrunched down. I stared around the large room.
Several people came into view at the far wall, working with digging tools. Bright spotlights had been hung above them on the wall, attached to a portable generator.
Uncle Ben brought us over to them and introduced us. There were four workers, two men and two women.
Another man stood off to the side, a clipboard in his hand. He was an Egyptian, dressed all in white except for a red bandanna around his neck. He had straight black hair, slicked down and tied in a ponytail behind his head. He stared at Sari and me, but didn′t come over. He seemed to be studying us.
″Ahmed, you met my daughter yesterday. This is Gabe, my nephew,″ Uncle Ben called to him.
Ahmed nodded, but didn′t smile or say anything.
″Ahmed is from the university,″ Uncle Ben explained to me in a low voice. ″He requested permission to observe us, and I said okay. He′s very quiet. But don′t get him started on ancient curses. He′s the one who keeps warning me that I′m in deadly danger.″
Ahmed nodded, but didn′t reply. He stared at me for a long while.
Weird guy, I thought.
I wondered if he′d tell me about the ancient curses. I loved stories about ancient curses.
Uncle Ben turned to his workers. ″So? Any progress today?″ he asked.
″We think we′re getting real close,″ a young, red-haired man wearing faded jeans and a blue denim work shirt replied. And then he added, ″Just a hunch.″
Ben frowned. ″Thanks, Quasimodo,″ he said.
The workers all laughed. I guess they liked Uncle Ben′s jokes.
″Quasimodo was the Hunchback of Notre Dame,″ Sari explained to me in her superior tone.
″I know, I know,″ I replied irritably. ″I get it.″
″We could be heading in the wrong direction altogether,″ Uncle Ben told the workers, scratching the bald spot on the back of his head. ″The tunnel might be over there.″ He pointed to the wall on the right.
″No, I think we′re getting warm, Ben,″ a young woman, her face smudged with dust, said. ″Come over here. I want to show you something.″
She led him over to a large pile of stones and debris. He shined his light where she was pointing. Then he leaned closer to examine what she was showing him.
″That′s very interesting, Christy,″ Uncle Ben said, rubbing his chin. They fell into a long discussion.
After a while, three other workers entered the chamber, carrying shovels and picks. One of them was carrying some kind of electronic equipment in a flat metal case. It looked a little like a laptop computer.
I wanted to ask Uncle Ben what it was, but he was still in the corner, involved in his discussion with the worker named Christy.
Sari and I wandered back toward the tunnel entrance. ″I think he′s forgotten about us,″ Sari said sullenly.
I agreed, shining my flashlight up at the high, cracked ceiling.
″Once he gets down here with the workers, he forgets everything but his work,″ she said, sighing.
″I can′t believe we′re actually inside a pyramid!″ I exclaimed.
Sari laughed. She kicked at the floor with one sneaker. ″Look—ancient dirt,″ she said,
″Yeah.″ I kicked up some of the sandy dirt, too. ″I wonder who walked here last. Maybe an Egyptian priestess. Maybe a pharaoh. They might have stood right here on this spot.″
″Let′s go exploring,″ Sari said suddenly.
Her dark eyes gleamed, and she had a really devilish look on her face. ″Let′s go, Gabey—let′s check out some tunnels or something.″
″Don′t call me Gabey,″ I said. ″Come on, Sari, you know I hate that.″
″Sorry,″ she apologized, giggling. ″You coming?″
″We can′t,″ I insisted, watching Uncle Ben. He was having some kind of argument with the worker carrying the thing that looked like a laptop. ″Your dad said we had to stick together. He said—″
″He′ll be busy here for hours,″ she interrupted, glancing back at him. ″He won′t even notice we′re gone. Really.″
″But, Sari—″ I started.
″Besides,″ she continued, putting her hands on my shoulders and pushing me backwards toward the chamber door, ″he doesn′t want us hanging around. We′ll only get in the way.″
″I went exploring yesterday,″ she said, pushing me with both hands. ″We won′t go far. You can′t get lost. All the tunnels lead back to this big room. Really.″
″I just don′t think we should,″ I said, my eyes on Uncle Ben. He was down on his hands and knees now, digging against the wall with some kind of a pick.
″Let go of me,″ I told her. ″Really. I—″
And then she said what I knew she′d say. What she always says when she wants to get her way.
″Are you chicken?″
″No,″ I insisted. ″You know your dad said—″
″Chicken? Chicken? Chicken?″ She began clucking like a chicken. Really obnoxious.
″Stop it, Sari.″ I tried to sound tough and menacing.
″Are you chicken, Gabey?″ she repeated, grinning at me as if she′d just won some big victory. ″Huh, Gabey?″
″Stop calling me that!″ I insisted.
She just stared at me.
I made a disgusted face. ″Okay, okay. Let′s go exploring,″ I told her.
I mean, what else could I say?
″But not far,″ I added.
″Don′t worry,″ she said, grinning. ″We won′t get lost. I′ll just show you some of the tunnels I looked at yesterday. One of them has a strange animal picture carved on the wall. I think it′s some kind of a cat. I′m not sure.″
″Really?″ I cried, instantly excited. ″I′ve seen pictures of relief carvings, but I′ve never—″
″It may be a cat,″ Sari said. ″Or maybe a person with an animal head. It′s really weird.″
″Where is it?″ I asked.
We both gave one last glance back to Uncle Ben, who was down on his hands and knees, picking away at the stone wall.
Then I followed Sari out of the chamber.
We squeezed through the narrow tunnel, then turned and followed a slightly wider tunnel to the right. I hesitated, a few steps behind her. ″Are you sure well be able to get back?″ I asked, keeping my voice low so she couldn′t accuse me of sounding frightened.
″No problem,″ she replied. ″Keep your light on the floor. There′s a small chamber on the other end of this tunnel that′s kind of neat.″
We followed the tunnel as it curved to the right. It branched into two low openings, and Sari took the one to the left.
The air grew a little warmer. It smelled stale, as if people had been smoking cigarettes there.
This tunnel was wider than the others. Sari was walking faster now, getting farther ahead of me. ″Hey—wait up!″ I cried.
I looked down to see that my sneaker had come untied again. Uttering a loud, annoyed groan, I bent to retie it.
″Hey, Sari, wait up!″
She didn′t seem to hear me.
I could see her light in the distance, growing fainter in the tunnel.
Then it suddenly disappeared.
Had her flashlight burned out?
No. The tunnel probably curved, I decided. She′s just out of my view.
″Hey, Sari!″ I called. ″Wait up! Wait up!″
I stared ahead into the dark tunnel.
Why didn′t she answer me?
My voice echoed through the long, curving tunnel.
I called again, and listened to my voice fading as the echo repeated her name again and again.
At first I was angry.
I knew what Sari was doing.
She was deliberately not answering, deliberately trying to frighten me.
She had to prove that she was the brave one, and I was the ′fraidy cat.
I suddenly remembered another time, a few years before. Sari and Uncle Ben had come to my house for a visit. I think Sari and I were seven or eight.
We went outside to play. It was a gray day, threatening rain. Sari had a jump rope and was showing off, as usual, showing me how good she was at it. Then, of course, when she let me try it, I tripped and fell, and she laughed like crazy.
I′d decided to get back at her by taking her to this deserted old house a couple blocks up the street. The kids in the neighborhood all believed the house was haunted. It was a neat place to sneak in and explore, although our parents were always warning us to stay away from it because it was falling apart and dangerous.
So I led Sari to this house and told her it was haunted. And we sneaked in through the broken basement window.
It got even darker out, and started to rain. It was perfect. I could tell Sari was really scared to be alone in the creepy old house. I, of course, wasn′t scared at all because I′d been there before.
Well, we started exploring, with me leading the way. And somehow we got separated. And it started thundering and lightning outside. There was rain pouring in through the broken windows.
I decided maybe we should get home. So I called to Sari. No answer.
I called again. Still no answer.
Then I heard a loud crash.
Calling her name, I started running from room to room. I was scared to death. I was sure something terrible had happened.
I ran through every room in the house, getting more and more scared. I couldn′t find her. I shouted and shouted, but she didn′t answer me.
I was so scared, I started to cry. Then I totally panicked, and I ran out of the house and into the pouring rain.
I ran through the thunder and lightning, crying all the way home. By the time I got home, I was soaked through and through.
I ran into the kitchen, sobbing and crying that I′d lost Sari in the haunted house.
And there she was. Sitting at the kitchen table. Comfortable and dry. Eating a big slice of chocolate cake. A smug smile on her face.
And now, peering into the darkness of the pyramid, I knew Sari was doing the same thing to me.
Trying to scare me.
Trying to make me look bad.
Or was she?
As I made my way through the low, narrow tunnel, keeping the light aimed straight ahead, I couldn′t help it. My anger quickly turned to worry, and troubling questions whirred through my mind.
What if she wasn′t playing a mean trick on me?
What if something bad had happened to her?
What if she had missed a step and fallen into a hole?
Or had gotten herself trapped in a hidden tunnel? Or . . . I didn′t know what.
I wasn′t thinking clearly.
My sneakers thudded loudly over the sandy floor as I started to half-walk, half-jog through the winding tunnel. ″Sari?″ I called, frantically now, not caring whether I sounded frightened or not.
Where was she?
She wasn′t that far ahead of me. I should at least be able to see the light from her flashlight, I thought.
There was no place for her to hide in this narrow space. Was I following the wrong tunnel?
I had been in the same tunnel all along. The same tunnel I had watched her disappear in.
Don′t say disappear, I scolded myself. Don′t even think the word.
Suddenly the narrow tunnel ended. A small opening led into a small, square room. I flashed the light quickly from side to side.
No sign of her.
The walls were bare. The air was warm and stale. I moved the flashlight rapidly across the floor, looking for Sari′s footprints. The floor was harder, less sandy here. There were no footprints.
I uttered a low cry when my light came to rest on the object against the far wall. My heart pounding, I eagerly took a few steps closer until I was just a few feet from it.
It was a mummy case.
A large, stone mummy case, at least eight feet long.
It was rectangular, with curved corners. The lid was carved. I stepped closer and aimed the light.
A human face was carved on the lid. The face of a woman. It looked like a death mask, the kind we′d studied in school. It stared wide-eyed up at the ceiling.
″Wow!″ I cried aloud. A real mummy case.
The carved face on the lid must have been brightly painted at one time. But the color had faded over the centuries. Now the face was gray, as pale as death.
Staring at the top of the case, smooth and perfect, I wondered if Uncle Ben had seen it. Or if I had made a discovery of my own.
Why is it all by itself in this small room? I wondered.
And what does it hold inside?
I was working up my courage to run my hand over the smooth stone of the lid when I heard the creaking sound.
And saw the lid start to raise up.
″Oh!″ a hushed cry escaped my lips.
At first I thought I had imagined it. I didn′t move a muscle. I kept the light trained on the lid.
The lid lifted a tiny bit more.
And I heard a hissing sound come from inside the big coffin, like air escaping a new coffee can when you first open it.
Uttering another low cry, I took a step back.
The lid raised up another inch.
I took another step back.
And dropped the flashlight.
I picked it up with a trembling hand and shined it back onto the mummy case.
The lid was now open nearly a foot.
I sucked in a deep breath of air and held it.
I wanted to run, but my fear was freezing me in place.
I wanted to scream, but I knew I wouldn′t be able to make a sound.
The lid creaked and opened another inch.
I lowered the flashlight to the opening, the light quivering with my hand.
From the dark depths of the ancient coffin, I saw two eyes staring out at me.
I uttered a silent gasp.
I felt a cold chill zigzag down my back.
The lid slowly pushed open another inch.
The eyes stared out at me. Cold eyes. Evil eyes.
My mouth dropped open. And before I even realized it, I started to scream.
Scream at the top of my lungs.
As I screamed, unable to turn away, unable to run, unable to move, the lid slid open all the way.
Slowly, as if in a dream, a dark figure raised itself from the depths of the mummy case and climbed out.
A broad smile widened across her face. Her eyes glowed gleefully.
″Sari—that wasn′t funny!″ I managed to shout in a high-pitched voice that bounced off the stone walls.
But now she was laughing too hard to hear me.
Loud, scornful laughter.
I was so furious, I searched frantically for something to throw at her. But there wasn′t anything, not even a pebble on the floor.
Staring at her, my chest still heaving from my fright, I really hated her then. She had made a total fool of me. There I had been, screaming like a baby.
I knew she′d never let me live it down.
″The look on your face!″ she exclaimed when she finally stopped laughing. ″I wish I had a camera.″
I was too angry to reply. I just growled at her.
I pulled the little mummy hand from my back pocket and began rolling it around in my hand. I always fiddled with that hand when I was upset. It usually helped to calm me.
But now I felt as if I′d never calm down.
″I told you I′d found an empty mummy case yesterday,″ she said, brushing the hair back off her face. ″Didn′t you remember?″
I growled again.
I felt like a total dork.
First I′d fallen for her dad′s stupid mummy costume. And now this.
Silently to myself I vowed to pay her back. If it was the last thing I ever did.
She was still chuckling about her big-deal joke. ″The look on your face,″ she said again, shaking her head. Rubbing it in.
″You wouldn′t like it if I scared you,″ I muttered angrily.
″You couldn′t scare me,″ she replied. ″I don′t scare so easy.″
That was the best comeback I could think of. Not very clever, I know. But I was too angry to be clever.
I was imagining myself picking Sari up and tossing her back into the mummy case, pulling down the lid, and locking it—when I heard footsteps approaching in the tunnel.
Glancing over at Sari, I saw her expression change. She heard them, too.
A few seconds later, Uncle Ben burst into the small room. I could see immediately, even in the dim light, that he was really angry.
″I thought I could trust you two,″ he said, talking through gritted teeth.
″Dad—″ Sari started.
But he cut her off sharply. ″I trusted you not to wander off without telling me. Do you know how easy it is to get lost in this place? Lost forever?″
″Dad,″ Sari started again. ″I was just showing Gabe this room I discovered yesterday. We were going to come right back. Really.″
″There are hundreds of tunnels,″ Uncle Ben said heatedly, ignoring Sari′s explanation. ″Maybe thousands. Many of them have never been explored. No one has ever been in this section of the pyramid before. We have no idea what dangers there are. You two can′t just wander off by yourselves. Do you know how frantic I was when I turned around and you were gone?″
″Sorry,″ Sari and I both said in unison.
″Let′s go,″ Uncle Ben said, gesturing to the door with his flashlight. ″Your pyramid visit is over for today.″
We followed him into the tunnel. I felt really bad. Not only had I fallen for Sari′s stupid joke, but I′d made my favorite uncle really angry.
Sari always gets me into trouble, I thought bitterly. Since we were little kids.
Now she was walking ahead of me, arm in arm with her dad, telling him something, her face close to his ear. Suddenly they both burst out laughing and turned back to look at me.
I could feel my face getting hot.
I knew what she′d told him.
She′d told him about hiding in the mummy case and making me scream like a scared baby. And now they were both chuckling about what a jerk I was.
″Merry Christmas to you, too!″ I called bitterly.
And that made them laugh even harder.
We spent the night back in the hotel in Cairo. I beat Sari in two straight games of Scrabble, but it didn′t make me feel any better.
She kept complaining that she had only vowels, and so the games weren′t fair. Finally, I put my Scrabble set back in my room, and we sat and stared at the TV.
The next morning, we had breakfast in the room. I ordered pancakes, but they didn′t taste like any pancakes I′d ever eaten. They were tough and grainy, as if they were made of cowhide or something.
″What are we doing today?″ Sari asked Uncle Ben, who was still yawning and stretching after two cups of black coffee.
″I have an appointment at the Cairo Museum,″ he told us, glancing at his wristwatch. ″It′s just a couple of blocks away. I thought you two might like to wander around the museum while I have my meeting.″
″Ooh, thrills and chills,″ Sari«aid sarcastically. She slurped up another spoonful of Frosted Flakes.
The little Frosted Flakes box had Arabic writing all over it, and Tony the Tiger was saying something in Arabic. I wanted to save it and take it home to show my friends. But I knew Sari would make fun of me if I asked her for it, so I didn′t.
″The museum has an interesting mummy collection, Gabe,″ Uncle Ben said to me. He tried to pour himself a third cup of coffee, but the pot was empty. ″You′ll like it.″
″Unless they climb out of their cases,″ Sari said.
Lame. Really lame.
I stuck my tongue out at her. She tossed a wet Frosted Flake across the table at me.
″When are my mom and dad getting back?″ I asked Uncle Ben. I suddenly realized I missed them.
He started to answer, but the phone rang. He walked into the bedroom and picked it up. It was an old-fashioned black telephone with a dial instead of buttons. As he talked, his face filled with concern.
″Change of plans,″ he said a few seconds later, hanging up the receiver and coming back into the living room.
″What′s the matter, Daddy?″ Sari asked, shoving her cereal bowl away.
″It′s very strange,″ he replied, scratching the back of his head. ″Two of my workers came down sick last night. Some kind of mysterious illness.″ His expression became thoughtful, worried. ″They took them to a hospital here in Cairo.″
He started to gather up his wallet and some other belongings. ″I think I′d better get over there right away,″ he said.
″But what about Gabe and me?″ Sari asked, glancing at me.
″I′ll only be gone an hour or so,″ her dad replied. ″Stay here in the room, okay?″
″In the room?″ Sari cried, making it sound like a punishment.
″Well, okay. You can go down to the lobby, if you want. But don′t leave the hotel.″
A few minutes later, he pulled on his tan safari jacket, checked one last time to make sure he had his wallet and keys, and hurried out the door.
Sari and I stared at each other glumly. ″What do you want to do?″ I asked, poking the cold, uneaten pancakes on my plate with a fork.
Sari shrugged. ″Is it hot in here?″
I nodded. ″Yeah. It′s about a hundred and twenty.″
″We have to get out of here,″ she said, standing up and stretching.
″You mean go down to the lobby?″ I asked, still poking the pancakes, pulling them into pieces with the fork.
″No. I mean get out of here,″ she replied. She walked over to the mirror in the entranceway and began brushing her straight, black hair.
″But Uncle Ben said—″ I started.
″We won′t go far,″ she said, and then quickly added, ″if you′re afraid.″
I made a face at her. I don′t think she saw me. She was busy admiring herself in the mirror.
″Okay,″ I told her. ″We could go to the museum. Your dad said it was just a block away.″
I was determined not to be the wimp anymore. If she wanted to disobey her dad and go out, fine with me. From now on, I decided, I′ll be the macho guy. No repeats of yesterday—ever again.
″The museum?″ She made a face. ″Well . . . okay,″ she said, turning to look at me. ″We′re twelve, after all. It′s not like we′re babies. We can go out if we want.″
″Yes, we can,″ I said. ″I′ll write Uncle Ben a note and tell him where we′re going, in case he gets back before we do.″ I went over to the desk and picked up a pen and a small pad of paper.
″If you′re afraid, Gabey, we can just walk around the block,″ she said in a teasing voice, staring at me, waiting to see how I′d react.
″No way,″ I said. ″We′re going to the museum. Unless you′re afraid.″
″No way,″ she said, imitating me.
″And don′t call me Gabey,″ I added.
″Gabey, Gabey, Gabey,″ she muttered, just to be annoying.
I wrote the note to Uncle Ben. Then we took the elevator down to the lobby. We asked a young Woman behind the desk where the Cairo Museum was. She said to turn right outside the hotel and walk two blocks.
Sari hesitated as we stepped out into the bright sunshine. ″You sure you′re up for this?″
″What could go wrong?″ I replied.
″Let′s go. This way,″ I said, shielding my eyes from the bright sunlight with my hand.
″It′s so hot,″ Sari complained.
The street was crowded and noisy. I couldn′t hear anything over the honking of car horns.
Drivers here lean on their horns the minute they start up their cars, and they don′t stop honking till they arrive at their destinations.
Sari and I stayed close together, making our way through the crush of people on the sidewalk. All kinds of people passed by.
There were men in American-style business suits walking alongside men who appeared to be wearing loose-fitting white pajamas.
We saw women who would look right at home on any street in America, wearing colorful leggings and stylish skirts and slacks. Women in jeans. Followed by women dressed in long, flowing black dresses, their faces covered by heavy, black veils.
″This sure doesn′t look like back home!″ I exclaimed, shouting over the blare of car horns.
I was so fascinated by all the interesting-looking people crowding the narrow sidewalk that I forgot to look at the buildings. Before I knew it, we were standing in front of the museum, a tall, stone structure looming above the street behind steeply sloping steps.
We climbed the steps and entered the revolving door of the museum.
″Wow, it′s so quiet in here!″ I exclaimed, whispering. It was nice to get away from the honking horns, the crowded sidewalks, and shouting people.
″Why do you think they honk their horns so much?″ Sari asked, holding her ears.
″Just a custom, I guess,″ I replied.
We stopped and looked around.
We were standing in the center of an enormous open lobby. Tall marble stairways rose up on the far left and far right. Twin white columns framed a wide doorway that led straight back. An enormous mural across the wall to the right showed an aerial view of the pyramids and the Nile. We stood in the middle of the floor, admiring the mural for a while. Then we made our way to the back wall and asked a woman at the information desk for the mummy room. She flashed us a nice smile and told us in perfect English to take the stairs to the right.
Our sneakers thudded loudly over the shiny marble floor. The stairway seemed to go up forever. ″This is like mountain climbing,″ I complained, halfway up.
″Race you to the top,″ Sari said, grinning, and took off before I had a chance to reply.
Of course she beat me by about ten steps.
I waited for her to call me ″slowpoke″ or ″snail face″ or something. But she had already turned to see what lay ahead of us.
A dark, high-ceilinged room seemed to stretch on forever. A glass case stood centered in the entryway. Inside was a detailed construction of wood and clay.
I went up close to take a good look. The construction showed thousands of workers dragging enormous blocks of limestone across the sand toward a partially built pyramid.
In the room behind the display I could see huge stone statues, large mummy cases, displays of glass and pottery, and case after case of artifacts and relics.
″I think this is the place!″ I exclaimed happily, rushing over to the first display case.
″Ooh, what′s that? Some kind of giant dog?″ Sari asked, pointing to an enormous statue against the wall.
The creature appeared to have a fierce dog′s head and a lion′s body. Its eyes stared straight ahead, and it seemed ready to pounce on anyone who came near it.
″They put creatures like that in front of tombs,″ I told Sari. ″You know. To protect the place. Scare away grave robbers.″
″Like guard dogs,″ Sari said, stepping up close to the ancient sculpture.
″Hey—there′s a mummy in this case!″ I exclaimed, leaning over an ancient stone coffin. ″Look!″
Still staring back at the enormous sculpture, Sari walked up beside me. ″Yep. It′s a mummy, okay,″ she said, unimpressed. I guess she′s seen a lot more of them than me.
″It′s so small,″ I said, staring at the yellowed linen wrapped so tightly around the skinny head and body.
″Our ancestors were shrimps,″ Sari replied. ″Think it was a man or a woman?″