The Curse of the Pharaoh's Tomb
A short story set in ancient Egypt
Welcome to Rosy’s reading room, a time to find somewhere quiet, put your feet up, and unwind on a Sunday afternoon with a short story written by me for you. But before we get to the story, here’s a quick update on what I am up to.
I am currently away on a short break in North Wales in a spectacularly beautiful place called Morfa Nefyn. The rugged coastline, long sandy beaches, and quaint village setting are restful and calming. It is a thoroughly charming place for a break.
Last night we went to a beach barbecue in support of the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution):
It is a charity and is independent of the government - less than 1% of funding comes from government sources. Their lifesaving service depends on the kindness of its supporters - 92% of their total income comes from donations and the remaining 8% comes from income sources such as trading and investments.
I find it incredible that such an important task as saving lives at sea is made up of wonderful volunteers who risk their lives to save others and I take my hat off to them. It is a truly amazing institution.
Tomorrow our friend is taking us out on his fishing boat when we hope to catch some pollock or sea bass and sadly it’s a little too early in the season to hook any mackerel.
On Tuesday the weather is promising to be glorious and we have an early tee time booked at Nefyn Golf Club and I cannot wait to play as the course is absolutely breathtaking.
So, on with the short story.
The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Tomb
The arid, dusty floor of the tomb was soft beneath Laura’s canvas shoes.
After crawling through the tight passageway to the burial chamber and standing upright, she was surprised at how small the chamber was. She compared it to the size of her bedroom in their small terraced house in London. The only thing in the chamber was a stone sarcophagus. The tomb smelt musty.
“Wow! Mum, isn’t this fantastic?” her twelve-year-old gushed. Suki was studying Egyptology at school and had always wanted to visit the pyramids.
“Yes,” Laura responded dreamily, her head tilted back as she took in every aspect of the chamber. It felt eerie to be alone inside the pyramid with just Suki for company. And the sarcophagus. As if drawn to it like a magnet, the two of them wondered if it would be alright to touch the sacred tomb.
Suki’s face suddenly clouded over. “Mum! Don’t!” she shouted in a very serious voice as Laura’s outstretched hand hovered over the sarcophagus. “You know what happened to Howard Carter, don’t you?”
“Oh, that’s just…”
“What?” Suki probed, raising her eyebrows and giving her mother a challenging look. “It’s a fact that he died soon after opening Tutankhamun’s tomb.”
“He contracted blood poisoning, which he could have caught anywhere,” Laura retorted.
“Well, in school we all think he died because he disturbed the Pharaoh’s tomb. So, please don’t touch the sarcophagus.”
Laura knew better than to defy her daughter. Besides, she didn’t want to tempt fate.
They both stood for a few minutes, taking in the enormity of where they were, revelling in the fact that they had finally achieved their dream. They had not only visited the pyramids but they were actually standing inside one. It was Laura who eventually broke the spell.
“Come on. We’d better go and find Dad.”
Suki smiled at the mention of her Dad. “I wonder if he’s still on that camel or whether he fell off!”
“Don’t say that! He could hurt himself and I don’t fancy wasting our holiday waiting around in an Egyptian hospital.”
Right on cue their young guide, Hassan, appeared at the entrance of the tomb.
“Ready, Ma’am?” he asked, a cheeky grin on his face. He sauntered over to the sarcophagus and before Laura or Suki could stop him, he hopped on top and pulled a half-smoked cigarette from his kaftan pocket. Swinging his sandaled feet up onto the tomb, he pulled out a lighter and lit up.
“You can’t smoke in here!” Suki admonished. “And I don’t think you should be sitting on the sarcophagus either!” Her voice was high-pitched and taut. She stood close to her mother as if seeking reassurance.
“She’s right, Hassan. I don’t think it’s a good idea. We’d better go. Come on.”
“Okey-dokey,” he quipped, mimicking an English saying he had heard from the tourists. He snuffed out the cigarette butt with his fingers and stuffed it back into his pocket.
A few minutes later, after inching their way awkwardly back down the tight passageway with wooden strips embedded into it, they emerged into the blistering heat and scrambled in their bags for their sunglasses. Laura checked that Suki was wearing her sunhat and looked at her watch. They had agreed to meet David back here, but he was nowhere to be seen.
A throng of tourists mingled with camels and young boys selling trinkets; the heat was almost unbearable. Laura realised why the Arabs wore long, flowing cotton thobes and ghutras to shade their head and neck. She passed a water bottle from her bag to Suki and watched as she drank thirstily before passing it back.
“There he is!” Suki yelled excitedly.
A wave of relief washed over Laura as she saw David waving in the distance, striding towards them. He was wearing chinos and a long-sleeved blue linen shirt. He was carrying his straw Fedora hat and reaching into his pocket.
“What do you fancy doing now, Suki?” Laura asked.
The youngster drew a picture in the sand with her foot.
Suki smiled up at her mother.
“Ah. I’m supposed to understand hieroglyphics now, am I?” They both laughed.
“Did you enjoy the tomb?” David asked, wiping his brow with a handkerchief and smiling broadly. “Let’s get out of this damned heat. I’m melting. You can tell me all about it later.”
The three of them marched off, Indian file towards the road and as they hurried along, David was hailing a taxi. Miraculously, a beaten up, dirty old Mercedes pulled up at the kerb to greet them.
“Mena House Hotel”, David instructed. “Shukraan”. [“Thank you.”] He sat in the front to make sure the driver didn’t take the long route back. Laura and Suki clambered into the back seat.
The air-conditioning in the cab was icy cool and a revelation to the appearance of the car from the outside. The relief from the stifling heat was most welcome and Laura would have paid the driver double for the luxury of the cool interior. She sat back and closed her eyes as the car sped along.
Suddenly, the taxi screeched to a halt and a camel with a young boy on the back plodded across the road. The driver bellowed something in Arabic out through the window before quickly winding it back up again to stop the heat pervading the cool interior. The boy shouted something back and gesticulated, but they couldn’t hear what he said.
“Mum. Wasn’t that Hassan?” Suki asked.
By the time Laura opened her eyes, the boy had disappeared among a crowd of tourists.
As the cab drew up outside the hotel, David handed the driver the fare with a generous tip.
“Shukraan, Habibi”. [“Thank you, my friend.”]
“Shukraan jazilaan”, [“Thank you very much.”] the driver responded, smiling as he drove away. The British were not usually that generous with their tips.
The bell boy at the hotel entrance greeted the family like long lost friends, even though they had only been at the hotel for a couple of days.
“Good afternoon, sir. Very hot, today, sir. Very hot.” The young man was dressed immaculately in black pantaloons, a white blouson shirt and a purple waistcoat with a matching bell-boy hat. He had the most beautiful smile and he opened the door quickly and gracefully, ushering his guests inside to the marble foyer, with its imposing pillars and impressive views across to the pyramids at Giza.
“Would you like a drink, girls?” David asked, not waiting for them to answer but instead striding off towards the bar. Laura and Suki trailed behind.
“One watermelon juice, a pint of Stella and…” he turned to Laura.
“Oh, I’ll have a half of Stella, please.”
David didn’t need to repeat his wife’s order. The barman had heard and nodded in acknowledgment; the staff were first-class.
“Take a seat, please, sir, ma’am. I will bring the drinks to your table.”
Suki chose the colourful majlis-style sofas nearest to the bar and her parents sank gratefully into the soft cushions. The air-conditioning was set at a perfect temperature.
Mustafa bought the drinks over almost immediately and proceeded to set them out on the brass oval table in front of them, remembering which drink was for whom.
“Did you enjoy your trip today?” he asked.
Suki beamed and told him all about the tomb with the sarcophagus and how she and her Mum had climbed up the narrow passageway, which they didn’t realise would be so small and the reason why her Dad had decided not to go with them, because he thought he might get stuck.
Mustafa smiled warmly at the young girl, “So, you visited the Great Pyramid?”
“Yes!”, Suki said, her dark eyes gleaming. “It was amazing!”
“I hope you didn’t touch the sarcophagus. It is sacred,” he said, his face clouding over.
“No, of course not”, Laura interjected.
The waiter bowed politely before returning to his duties at the bar.
Laura made a funny face at Suki, who understood and sipped her juice obediently.
Suddenly, there was a commotion at the entrance to the hotel. A man was being helped in by two of the staff. He looked as though he were in shock.
Laura tried to shield Suki from the drama but she managed to peek under her mother’s arm.
“It’s probably sunstroke,” Laura said, gently pulling Suki around to stop her gawping at the man.
They finished their drinks and made their way across to the elevators, avoiding the fracas in the foyer. As they were waiting for the elevator to arrive, David told Laura to go up to their room.
“I’m going to Reception to make sure our booking for the felucca trip tomorrow is all confirmed.”
Laura smiled at him; she loved the way he organised everything so beautifully. It was probably the reason why all of their holidays ran so smoothly and they always had such a fantastic time. He was such a lovely husband and a great dad.
Back in their suite, Laura sent Suki to take a shower to cool off and said she would follow. As she waited for her daughter in the lounge area, she sat on the couch admiring the fantastic view across to the pyramids and thought how amazing they were.
David arrived a few minutes later looking very concerned.
“What’s wrong?” Laura asked, getting up to greet up.
“Did you go into that tomb today? The one in the Great Pyramid with the sarcophagus in it?” he demanded.
Laura blew out her cheeks. “Well, we did go into the tomb but we didn’t touch the sarcophagus if that’s what you’re asking. Why?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“David? “What is it?” she asked, her voice full of concern.
“Well, the man they carried in just now was driving a car and apparently he hit a camel, and the young lad riding the camel was killed. The staff were shocked. Apparently, he was a bit of a character and was well-liked by the tourists. His name was Hassan”.
The colour drained from Laura’s face and she felt her knees buckle beneath her.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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