Saqqara, Egypt, 1888, and in the booby-trapped tomb of an ancient sorcerer, Rom, a young Egyptologist, makes the discovery of a lifetime: five coffins and an eerie, oversized sarcophagus. But the expedition seems cursed, for after unearthing the mummies, all but Rom die horribly. He faithfully returns to America with his disturbing cargo, continuing by train to Los Angeles, home of his reclusive sponsor. When the train is hijacked by murderous banditos in the Arizona desert, who steal the mummies and flee over the border, Rom – with his benefactor’s rebellious daughter, an orphaned Chinese busboy, and a cold-blooded gunslinger – must ride into Mexico to bring the malevolent mummies back. If only mummies were their biggest problem…
File Under: Fantasy
|Product dimensions:||4.16(w) x 6.88(h) x 1.17(d)|
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New Year's Eve, 1919 Manhattan, New York City
For someone who has spent the better part of the last four decades digging, burrowing like a scarab, day and night it seemed, into mountains of dry, golden trickling, windswept tombs, I have never gotten comfortable with the stuff. Indeed, the sight of dunes often causes me a great explosion of nervous trembling. I must force my mind elsewhere. An excess of thought, my wife would say, as she often does. You think too much, Rom.
I am certain she is correct.
After an unfortunate childhood incident with a top-heavy traveling trunk, I will admit to more than a touch of claustrophobia, but the idea of being buried alive – in sand particularly – has haunted my dreams these last few weeks. Strangely, I wake some mornings, gasping, and taste crystalline grit on my lips. Haunted my dreams once more would be closer to the facts. I have suffered nightmares of smothering sands in the past, triggered by the actual experience of nearly drowning and witnessing others drown in waterless seas, the whirlpools and crushing waves of granular yellow death all around. I cannot help but think those long-ago events in the Sonoran Desert are at the core.
I received a letter at the beginning of last week.
Fine, creamy paper. Signs of travel evident on the creased packet. Rain had fallen upon it, but my hazy name and address remained readable. It could have been from anyone, anywhere. But somehow, I knew who wrote it. And with equal certitude I apprehended what news the pages inside would convey. I put off reading the letter as long as I could – two nights (You think too much ...) – and then I swept it from the nightstand.
I regret to be the one who must tell you ...
I stopped reading.
To my students, colleagues, and acquaintances I am Dr Romulus Hugo Hardy, Egyptologist, employed by the Montague P Waterston Institute for Singular Antiquities of New York City. The institute is a private research library and ancient history museum. Finest of its kind in the world, despite the unsavory rumors of its origins ... all true by the way and then some, oh, the stories I could add ...
Only my oldest friends call me Rom.
I regret to be the one who must tell you the great man is among us no more. He has gone to the stars. That was his wish, he confided, as I sat him up on his horse only two evenings ago, and we walked around the corral. Our world is more desolate for his having left it. I remind myself the bottomless grief I feel at this moment too shall pass. At least he did not suffer. I happily took away his pain during these final twilit days. My medical training proved worthy of the years I spent in study if only to accomplish this task. The opium tinctures made him sleepy yet inclined to conversation. We talked about old times! About Mexico, and the "bandaged bastards" as he still called them. To the end he slept with loaded pistols hanging from the bedpost, saying he saw the raggedy, gauze-bound corpses lurching forward in his dreams. Going through his night chest, I discovered a newspaper cutting of Miss Evangeline I had never seen before. Does an art song recital in San Francisco ring any bells? It was sweet of him to keep it for so long. Would you not agree? I hope this subject is not too tender to broach. I am aware your last parting was not on the best of terms, and in recent years no communication passed between you, the great rift only widening. Yet history – beginning with our dangerous ride south and the ill-fated Mexico expedition! – will always bind you together. So, I was wondering if ...
I could not read another word.
The onrush of emotions was too strong. They trampled me, left me dazed. With them came memories like a parade of spirits marching before my eyes. I decided to go for a walk. The street life of Manhattan wields the power to distract even my most troubled state of mind. Not so this day. Through a flurry of snow, I gazed vacantly into shop windows. I saw every person on the street, including myself, doubled in ghostly reflections.
We are all transient.
This life is but a dream we dream together.
Some dreams are better left undreamt. I speak of living terrors that most people would never believe. But I believe. Though I am a scholar, a man of science, and a skeptic by nature, I cannot entertain doubts on this subject.
For I have witnessed them with my own eyes.
When I looked up I saw I was at the Institute. Bodies follow habits. My legs took me where they did six mornings a week. Dark hallways greeted me on this holiday afternoon. I locked the front door behind me and climbed three flights of stairs to my office and its adjoining state-of-the-art laboratory. I have come to prefer the lab over the field, choosing to toil in the stuffiness of classrooms rather than the dank and ruinous graveyard of ancient civilizations.
But this predilection was not always the case.
In my youth, I yearned for exotic travel.
One place called to me above all others: Egypt. Land of the pharaohs. The Great Sphinx of Giza. Khufu's Pyramid. And the Book of the Dead.
If I had been a farmer like my father, and loved the land the way he did, then I would have missed out on many wondrous adventures, and the curses that have accompanied them, and were, some might speculate, their price.
I have no regrets.
A clot of shadows inhabited the lab, and I did nothing to banish them. Work was far from my intention during this unplanned visit. I opened the shutters beside my desk; in dull steel daylight, I crouched and built a small fire in the fireplace. I felt old and cold and I wanted a whisky. These Prohibition advocates hope to make Methodists of us all. Soon they will have their law. Thank heavens I live in New York City. I keep a bottle hidden in the cabinet behind my personal collection of ushabti. Mummiform figurines – my favorites are those made from chiseled stone or faience whose aquamarine glazes are splendid to contemplate while sipping Kentucky bourbon. I set four of the funerary statuettes on my desk top. They were the size of tin soldiers I played with as a child. I uncorked the bottle and filled a cut-crystal glass.
My desk remains barren when I am not working at it.
I balanced the glass in my lap.
The four figures stood alone on a mahogany plateau. I could almost imagine they were the four of us lost in the Sonoran – or the Gila Desert, if you prefer. Death advanced from every direction.
Four seekers in deep over our heads ...
We knew nothing. The tip of the tip of the iceberg was all we saw. (Mixing talk of deserts and icebergs – I could blame the snow. Or the cursed sand still in my blood.)
I drained the glass. Then went to the cabinet and poured another, bringing the bottle along. I set it beside the leg of the chair.
The electric winds of memory lifted the hairs off my collar. These stirrings of the past were strong enough to make me feel physical sensations. The blazing Mexican heat slapped my face red (though it might have been the whisky). I breathed alkaline dust. My eyes squinted at the forge of a molten sun. I could swear I was traveling back in time, merging with my younger self. How did we get there? How did I survive? What catalyst, what driver, took hold and propelled me as if I had no free will, not then, and not now?
Egypt was how I got to Mexico.CHAPTER 2
The Waterston Expedition
Summer, 1886 University Hall Library, Northwestern University, Chicago
The word is like magic itself. Egypt. The letters look scrambled, a puzzle waiting to be solved. Who doesn't like a puzzle? What young man isn't convinced he's the one to crack it? I was no different. Ripe for an adventure, I wanted life to start. Nothing had ever happened to me and I was slowly becoming convinced that nothing ever would.
"Hardy, your mail."
A letter came flying over the top of my study carrel, landing in my lap.
"Thank you, Carlson. You deliver with speed if not precision."
"Speed's better." And Carlson was gone around the corner.
An Egyptologist without a wealthy sponsor is a lonely man indeed. I had been such a man until that day. I tore into the letter. I didn't know it yet, but I had received my first correspondence from Montague Pythagoras Waterston of Los Angeles, California.
He wrote that he had heard "promising things" about me from one of my old University of Chicago professors (he did not mention any names) and had read a scholarly paper I penned entitled Magic and Mummified Kings. He quite liked it. I liked it too, and the praise made me glow. He offered to pay for my very first expedition – near the Valley of Kings, no less – for the purpose of unearthing yet undiscovered tombs. I could not believe it. The man had never even met me and here he was opening his bag of gold for my expenses. I found later that he had much gold at his disposal (he owned several copper, silver, and gold mines in California and the western territories); also, unknown to me, he had made such offers to other young Egyptologists, and their excursions had ended in catastrophic failure and even death. All I knew at the time was he would pay my way. He only required that I keep him informed about every step of my project, and that any antiquities I might recover would become his sole property, to which I must surrender any claim, legal or otherwise. I also had to promise extreme discretion.
I had big dreams for my future, but my future had lagged in its arrival. Who can fault a person for chasing their dreams, even recklessly, when at first they seem to appear?
Without a second thought I wrote back and accepted the terms of his offer.
A shadow flickered above me.
"Carlson? Is that you?"
"Who else passes through the dullest aisle of the known universe?"
"Not me, not any more. I'm going to Egypt on an expedition. I leave this dreary little cubbyhole to you and the library mice. I am on my way to becoming a legend. Make a note of it in your journal. Someday you'll tell your children you delivered Rom Hardy's mail."
"Crack a window, man. You're delirious."
"If I am, then that's fine with me. See you in a year or so. I have to start packing."
"Beware the hyenas and malaria," Carlson said. I saw a hand waving.
Again, I was alone.
Summer, 1886 Cairo, Egypt (and environs)
Shall I say how I felt?
Like a boy transported to the land of his fantasies.
From the moment of my arrival I had to keep reminding myself I was really in Egypt and not dreaming. To see for the first time with my own eyes the silt shores of the Nile lined with spiky-leafed palm trees and dhows, sailing up and down the river, their lateens spread like the pectoral fins of giant flying fish. Over the water, I smelled fresh animal dung and smoldering cook fires. The low mud walls and squat buildings huddled under a sky of powder blue enormity dusted gold at the horizon. The sun above the delta blazed unlike the sun in my homeland; its piercing whiteness seared like the eye of eternity. Ashore, I sought shade among the sycamores. For a while that was how I moved, tree to tree, in my dark suit and derby. The streets of Cairo boiled with a cacophony of alien noise. Coffeehouses crowded with shisha-smoking men and their smoking stares. Everything appeared to me too big, too loud. Too much. My senses overloaded. I could not take it all in. Yet more and more came at me. Like a sleepwalker, I floated between worlds. But I was too excited to sleep. Too excited even to think! I wandered, outwardly blank and numbed but feeling very, very alive. I loved it so dearly, in fact, that I feared if I closed my eyes it might all disappear. The jet black night offered a bit of relief from my mania. I retired to my lodging and waited, prone but awake, restless for first light. The next days were going to be no less stimulating.
How much more did I love the sights from the Pyramid road!
And to know I was not there as a mere traveler. My life's work was truly beginning. I absorbed more in a week than I had in years of study. Though I might yearn to, I could not indulge my leisure like a tourist. I was a scientist on a timetable.
Inside Egypt, I sailed south to visit the megaliths at Karnak and ultimately to Luxor, where I set to work. I attempted to make contact with local guides, unfortunately with little success for my efforts and much discouragement. Yes, I found men willing to guide me into the burying desert, but none struck me as capable and trustworthy.
It was while I rested my feet at an outdoor café table that I met my future foreman, Hakim. I was bent over at the task of loosening my shoelaces, and when I sat up, there he was standing across from me and smiling warmly, a steaming pot of mint tea and two cups in his hands.
"May I join you, sir?"
"Certainly, you may. What I mean is, please do."
I glanced around and noticed several empty tables.
He filled the cups, sat down, and pushed one cup toward me. His brow furrowed for a moment as I hesitated. "Do men not drink tea in America?"
"No, we do."
"Enjoy then, sir. This café makes the second best tea in Luxor."
"Who makes the best?"
"I do, sir, and my wife agrees it is the finest she has ever tasted."
I sipped the tea. Indeed, it was delicious as he claimed, and it struck me that drinking a hot beverage in the heat did not make one hotter but rather equalized with the environment.
"How did you know I am American? Is it my accent?"
"No, sir, and although we have only just met I must confess that it is not by accident. I have heard that an American in a derby hat has been asking for guides in the cafés. So, I came here to drink tea and wait. My name is Hakim, and I am the finest guide in Luxor."
Clearly a man of admirable bearing, he proceeded to tell me a long list of desert excavations which he had taken a part in or led. I did not doubt him, nor could I check his references, given my lack of contacts. We talked more over a second pot of tea. I was going to have to make a leap of faith based on what my father the farmer called "gut feelings." I wasn't exactly buying pigs here. But I hoped I had inherited my father's good intuition. My life was going to depend on it.
Hakim possessed a round jovial face and unusually large eyes, almond-hued, sympathetic and feminine in their cast: a gift from his mother, he said.
"Have you led many expeditions?" Hakim asked me.
"This will be my first in Egypt," I said, beaming.
"Ah, so where else have you dirtied your hands in the sands of time?"
I looked squarely into his almond eyes as I drained the dregs of my cup.
"Nowhere," I said.
Hakim was nodding and smiling as if I had told him a joke. Then the smile faded.
"I have read a great deal about your country and its history," I added quickly. "I know it as well as if I had been born on the shores of the Nile. My scholarly background is impeccable."
"Reading is good," he said.
He picked up the teapot to refill our cups but found it empty.
"I only need a chance to prove myself." My fists clenched under the table. I leaned forward as the words raced out of my mouth. "I know what to do. My sponsor, Mr Waterston, has confidence in my potential to achieve astounding things."
"A wise fellow, no doubt. His name circulates among certain men of my acquaintance. He has a lot of cash to spread around. I hope that is not impolite to say. You know him well?"
"Reasonably well, I'd say." In the heat of the café, I stretched the truth and found it to be awfully elastic. "The two of us have grown closer recently ... much closer than ever before."
Hakim considered my exaggerations. His infectious smile returned.
"You will hire me then?" he asked.
"Absolutely," I said. "I believe you have the job. You earned it. We both did!"
Hakim drummed the table with his big calloused hands and let out a hearty laugh to accompany the racket. Men in the café looked over in alarm.
"Bless you, sir. My wife blesses you. My children, all of them, they bless you."
That was how I made my first Egyptian friend.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fury from the Tomb"
Copyright © 2018 S. A. Sidor.
Excerpted by permission of Watkins Media Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was such a pleasant surprise: a pulpy homage that doesn't get bagged down by trying to sound too much like what's come before and instead offers a well-written story with diverse cast of characters you care about and inventive settings. My only wish was for a bit more puzzle solving to balance out the action scenes but I would definitely check out a sequel. Super fun and highly recommended!