“Are you scared?”
Mrs Dalby faced her daughter and looked deep into her eyes. “I’m not going to lie to you Cleo. We might be in danger. Now, if you want, you can make your way back. You can the have the rest of the small candle. I wouldn’t think any less of you if you did.”
Cleo stared back and stuck out her chin. “Dad wouldn’t chicken out, so neither will I.” She gulped, lowered her head and sniffed.
“You still miss him a lot don’t you?”
“So do I. Come on. He wouldn’t want us to be sad would he?”
“He would have loved to be here right now. He was at his best when there was a challenge.”
Cleo smiled and cleared her throat. “Yeah, and I bet that he wouldn’t have even needed that piece of stone with the rest of the hieroglyphs on. He would have worked it out all by himself!”
“Your father was good, but not that good.”
“Come on mum, let’s go. I’m okay.”
“Good. Now, the door must be just ahead. Down that very dark, very narrow passage. Take hold of my hand,” Mrs Dalby said and grasped onto her daughter’s shaky fingers. Cleo pulled her hand away.
“Mother! I am not a baby!”
“All right, alright. Sorry. Just keep close then.”
Cleo bent low and followed her mother cautiously down the pitch-black shaft. It became so narrow and low, that they had to sink to their hands and knees and squeeze themselves through. The air inside grew thinner the further down they crawled, and Cleo let out a yelp when their small flame, starved of oxygen, went out.
“Don’t panic. I know I’ve got some matches in here, somewhere.”
Cleo heard her mother fumble in her bag. She looked ahead and blinked as ray of light appeared. “It's alright mum, we won’t need any. I can see a light in the distance. Hooray! We must be nearly there.”
“A light? That can’t be right. If anything, it should be darker,” Mrs Dalby said and rose slowly.
The light became brighter and as it did a gust of warm air rushed past them. Cleo stepped in front of her mother and listened. Words, not unlike the ones she heard before, sifted into her ears. “I can hear voices.”
“Again? Don’t let it get to you I think it must be a side affect from the bout of meningitis you caught last year. Your gran and I thought you’d die. I don’t know what I’d have done if you did.”
Cleo turned to her mother. Despite the dimness she saw a redness on her mother’s lids and wanted to hug her, but now was most definitely not the time. “No, they’re not inside my head. Listen.”
Mrs Dalby leant forward and her eyes became wide. Then her face darkened and she clenched her fingers into fists. “No, no, no. This won’t do. Someone has beaten us to it.”
“Froggin’ hell. What a waste of time this has been.”
“Again, please do not use that word, and this has not been a waste of time. It’s not over yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look, I’m…we, are being paid quite a lot of money to bring these mummies to the British Museum. I’ve never failed Curator Blench yet, and I’m not going to now.”
Cleo smiled at the look of determination on her mother’s face. She gave her a friendly punch in the forearm and said, “Come on mum, let’s make dad proud. Let’s go and get those mummies.”
“Ah, now, not so fast. We don’t know who is down there. They might be looters, ransacking the place. Taking the things they think will fetch the best prices, like gold and precious jewels. The mummies may mean nothing to them other than something to be thrown on the fire. To people like that, mummies are only good for one thing, kindling.”
“All the more reason to get them then, right?”
“Right. To those in the know, the mummies of Imhotep and Hor, are very valuable indeed.”
“Some say they hold the key to access the secrets of the afterlife. In Egyptian mythology.”
Cleo put her hand over her mouth and mumbled through her fingers, “The key lies within.”
She dropped her hand away. “The key lies within. That’s what I heard just before we entered this tunnel. Mum, we have so got to get those mummies.”
“Okay, whilst I am somewhat taken aback by what you have just said, I agree. However, before you race down that corridor, I will go and you will stay here.”
“What? No way…”
Mrs Dalby put her hand up and Cleo stopped talking. “There will be no argument. I nearly lost you a year ago. I have no intention of repeating that horrible time. Now, promise me that you’ll run back the way we came if I...if I don’t come back in five minutes.”
Cleo smiled. “You’ll come back mum, I know you will.”
“Here, take the matches, just in case. Remember, five minutes,” Mrs Dalby said and drew Cleo to her. After a long and somewhat painful hug that left her daughter out of breath, Mrs Dalby threw her rucksack over her shoulder, turned and inched her way down what remained of the tunnel. Cleo watched her mother creep down the dark corridor towards the small slit of light. She became smaller and smaller the nearer she got to the hidden chamber until all Cleo could see of her mother was a flickering shadow that disappeared.
Cleo began to count, “One, two three...” At one thousand and seventy two, she stopped. All was quiet. “Mum? Mum?” There was no answer. “Mum!”
A single gunshot ripped through the silence and Cleo froze on the spot. The bright light from the secret room went out, and she found herself alone, afraid and in total darkness. Time hung heavy in the stillness that engulfed her. Cleo wanted to run but her legs had turned to stone. She wanted to strike the match and light the candle her mother had given her, but her arms hung like lead weights against her thighs. A scream was welling up inside, ready to break free and shatter the awful hush.
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