“And here we are,” Evelyn declared, throwing the doors open wide. She stepped over the threshold, a blissful sigh escaping her.
The entirety of Denmark’s National Museum lay ahead, open and inviting, fully lit despite the late afternoon hour. It wasn’t her beloved British Museum, of course—but then, nothing was. It was still a museum, a place of history and learning, and that meant it was home. She wrapped her arms around herself, tipping her head back, letting her eyes drift closed. A dreamy smile slipped across her lips.
“Is it just me, or does it smell musty in here?”
And right on cue, there was Rick breaking the spell. Evelyn turned, hands on her hips, leveling a glare at him.
Or trying. It was damned difficult to keep it up for more than a second or two, when he stood there tall and stately, bearing a powerful frame that any ancient king might have envied, all topped off with those blue eyes and that unruly hair.
“It is not musty.” Evelyn stepped back over to him, taking his hand and tugging him further inside. “That’s just the smell of history.”
“If you say so,” he said, but gave her a grin, one of the many in his repertoire that let her know he was teasing. “Pretty nice place, actually. How many strings did you pull to convince them to let us in after hours?”
“Oh, not many. Just called in a favor or two.” Evelyn removed her coat, tossing it across the empty visitor’s center desk. “It’s amazing how many doors open once one finally becomes a Bembridge scholar.”
“And no one deserves it more.” Rick laid his coat alongside hers, then leaned in, pressing a kiss to her temple. “Happy anniversary, Evy.”
She beamed. Just her and Rick, alone in a museum together for as long as they liked. A perfect way to celebrate their first full year of marriage. “Same to you, darling.”
He pulled back, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “Do I even need to ask which wing of the museum you want to hit first?”
“Of course not.” Evelyn grinned. “Antiquities, here we come.”
She hadn’t meant to steer them in the direction of the mummy display, necessarily. But it was still bound to happen. She was a student of ancient history, after all. Ancient people came with the territory.
“Well, these aren’t technically mummies,” she heard herself saying, even as she sensed Rick’s steps slowing beside her. “Not in the Egyptian sense, anyway. These are bog bodies. Naturally preserved rather than artificially.”
“Uh huh,” he said. “But still…mummies.”
Evelyn tried not to roll her eyes. “You don’t have to look, if you don’t want,” she said. “But I’m going to have a peek. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, after all. Or so they say.”
“Who’s ‘they?’” Rick asked dryly. “Would they happen to be the same people who say things like, ‘no harm ever came from reading a book?’”
“Oh, hush, you.” Evelyn threw a grin over her shoulder, already standing in front of the first body’s display case.
It was a relief, really. After the…incident with Imhotep, she’d worried about the effects it might have on her psyche. Would coming within an inch of being a reanimated corpse’s sacrificial lamb put a damper on her passion for history? She couldn’t very well continue on in the field if she balked every time she came face to face with human remains.
But if there was one quality she possessed in spades, it was determination. Imhotep may have nearly killed her—her, and Rick, and Jonathan, and the whole world besides—but they’d defeated him. She wasn’t about to give him a foothold into her life now that he was dead. Again.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, peering into the display. “Look at the quality of the preservation. It’s immaculate. Look, this fellow has been dead thousands of years, yet you can even see the stubble still on his chin. Nearly as thick as yours when we first found you in that Cairo prison,” she added, shooting her husband a sly look.
“Hey!” He wrinkled his nose. “I’ve never looked as bad as that guy.”
Evelyn grinned, pulling her journal free from her bag and smoothing a hand down its lustrous surface. It was an anniversary gift from Rick, bound in leather as smooth as water on a windless day. Pieces of amber had been worked into the surface, winding across the cover in a simple but lovely pattern, golden and glittering as they caught the light.
“You may think he looks ‘bad,’” she said, turning to a blank page and scribbling down notes. “But like I said, the preservation is really quite remarkable. And to think it’s all due to the peat in the bogs. It makes me wonder what the Egyptians would have thought, if they could have seen these bodies. Would they have compared notes, do you suppose?”
“I mean, Egypt is a desert.” Rick shrugged. “Didn’t the sun and sand do the job just as well?”
“Egypt’s environment helped with the preservation, of course,” Evelyn said. “But there was far more to it than that. The removal of the organs, of course—with the exception of the heart, which they left in place as they believed it was the center of all thought and emotion, and thus necessary for the afterlife. And then the bodies were packed with natron, which is a naturally occurring salt—”
“Oh, yeah. And then the whole…brain through the nose thing.” Rick waved his hand in front of his face, grimacing. “Sorry I asked.”
Naturally, he would remember that part. Evelyn snickered, moving among the bog bodies on display. She flipped a page in her journal, jotting down more notes.
When she came to the exhibit’s final body, she came up short, drawing a sharp breath and clutching the journal to her chest. Without looking she reached back toward Rick, her hand waving like an impatient windmill.
“Egtved Girl,” she murmured, almost reverently. “I heard about this discovery when they found her, back in 1921. Such a fascinating find, the sort of thing I daydreamed about back in school. Incredible to actually see her in person.”
At Rick’s chuckle, she looked over her shoulder. “What are you laughing at?”
“Nothing,” he said. Still laughing. That irreverent, good-for-nothing, lovable bastard. “Just how enthusiastic you get about dead bodies. It might be creepy if it wasn’t so…”
Evelyn crossed her arms, trying her best to suppress a smile. “If it wasn’t so what?”
Rick’s laughter faded, but there was a softness in his eyes, at the corners of his mouth. “Just…so you. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Oh, Rick.” Evelyn tilted her head, smiling. “You certainly know how to ruin a good indignant moment.”
He grinned. “What I’m here for. Ruiner of moments and deliverer of one-liners.”
“Hmm.” Evelyn took a step forward, waggling her eyebrows. “I can think of one or two other things you’re good for.”
She got a mock pout for her trouble. “Just one or two?”
Evelyn laughed, fitting neatly in the circle of his arms. “Maybe a few more. We can find out once we’re back at the hotel.”
“Now we’re talking,” Rick said, and Evelyn didn’t miss the way his pupils dilated. Heat dashed through her chest, and she indulged in a delicious little shiver before pulling herself back to the present.
“But we’re not quite done here yet,” she said brightly, sliding her hand down Rick’s arm and tugging him backward. “I’m just going to take a few notes on Egtved Girl, and then we can go see the more gaudy pieces you like so much.”
“Anything to get away from the mummies,” Rick said. “Although, you know, it’s a lot more fun to have treasure than it is to stare at it in a museum.”
Evelyn glanced up from her journal, pursing her lips at him. “What you call ‘treasure,’ I call ‘artifacts of priceless historical value.’”
“Either way,” Rick said, “you have to admit some gold and gems would look pretty nice in our living room.”
“I’m just saying, there’s no one here but us. Not even any security guards.”
“All right, all right,” he relented, eyes twinkling at her. “You win. Even I’m not the kind of guy who would steal from a museum.”
“I should certainly hope not.” Evelyn leveled him with her sternest look.
“…At least not any more,” he finished.
Evelyn took care to tuck her journal safely back in her bag, then threw her hands in the air. “You are hopeless, Mr. O’Connell.”
He caught her hand in his, threading their fingers together. “Takes one to know one, Mrs. Carnahan-O’Connell.”
“Well. I suppose you have me there.” Difficult to argue, with the soft light catching first her wedding ring, then his, nestled side by side. Squeezing his hand, she released a long, slow breath, contentment settling over her like the warmth of the sun. It was the sort of moment she wished she could capture and keep forever, cherished and pristine, like the artifacts eternally ensconced behind their museum displays. Just her and Rick, together, surrounded by the beauty of antiquity.
It was perfect.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, a flicker of movement.
She drew a sharp breath, but Rick was already in motion, dropping to a defensive stance, one arm lifted to shield her as the other drew his pistol. She’d tutted at him earlier for wearing his holster—
Really, Rick, we’re just going to a museum. Do you need to bring the pistols?
Better safe than sorry. Besides, I feel naked without ‘em.
Naked? Oh, well, in that case…
Hey, Evy, my eyes are up here—
Better safe than sorry, indeed. Evelyn backed up a pace, then another, her steps in tandem with Rick’s. She reached into her bag, drawing out her journal with exquisite care. Its heavy, leather-bound weight was now less an instrument of knowledge, more a shield. Or perhaps a club.
Standing before them, advancing slowly but steadily, was Egtved Girl. Very much not dead.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Rick muttered. He cocked the pistol.
“Rick, wait!” Evelyn’s free arm shot up to seize his wrist. “Don’t shoot her if you can avoid it. She is an irreplaceable part of this country’s history—”
Rick gave her an incredulous look. “It’s an undead mummy. Have you forgotten what happened last time we ran into one of these things?”
“No, of course not, but—oh dear.”
To their left, a display case creaked, groaned, and finally shrieked as it was removed from its hinges. The bestubbled bog body stumbled forward, lifting a hand to rub at his interrupted beard, then stared at his fingertips as though seeing them for the first time.
Beside him, another case lurched open. And another.
Rick drew his second pistol. “Can I start shooting yet?”
“Just—let me think.” Evelyn worried her lower lip between her teeth. The bog bodies hadn’t made any sudden moves, but they weren’t slowing down, either. “Imhotep came back to life and caused all that ruckus because he was cursed.”
“So these guys must be cursed, too,” Rick said. His voice was grim, and his finger twitched against the pistol’s trigger.
“Possibly, but it’s not as clear-cut as it was with Imhotep.” At the front of the pack, Egtved Girl cocked her head, taking another step forward. Evelyn could swear she looked almost inquisitive. “Archaeologists aren’t certain why bodies were left in bogs, but many believe they were human sacrifices. Why would they be cursed if they were meant to be offered up to the gods?”
“I’m sure that’s all really fascinating, but these guys woke up somehow.” Rick hip-checked a jewelry display, steadied himself, and backed up further. “How do we kill ‘em again?”
“Look!” Evelyn brandished a finger at the row of display cases. “Not all of the bodies are awake. Why did some come back to life and others didn’t?”
“You know you’re just asking for the rest of them to wake up, right?” Rick threw a glance over his shoulder. “We’d better start thinking fast, because we’re going to hit the wall in a few seconds.”
“All right. All right.” Evelyn flipped open the journal, rifling through the pages. No matter the situation, the press of paper against her fingertips always cleared her head. “Wait…”
“If you’re going to have an epiphany, now would be a really great time!” Rick cocked his second pistol, the noise sudden and sharp in the almost-deserted museum.
“The ones that woke up,” Evelyn said, her breath running away from her, heart pounding in her ears. “They’re the ones I wrote about in the journal. I didn’t take any notes on the ones that are still dead.”
Their backs were almost up against the wall. “You’re telling me,” Rick said, “that you have the power to bring mummies back to life just by writing about them?”
“But that can’t be it.” Evelyn flipped through the journal, movements turning frantic. “I’ve taken notes and written countless papers and articles about all sorts of different mummies. If that were it, the whole world would be crawling with undead.”
“So it has to be—” Evelyn came up short, wide eyes fixing on Rick. “This journal. Where did you get it?”
“What? I dunno, some store back in London.” Rick stared down at the journal like it was a cobra. “Are you saying out of all the anniversary gifts I could’ve got you, I managed to pick out a cursed journal?”
“It’s the only explanation coming to mind.” Evelyn’s head jerked up, eyes fixing on the bodies. Egtved Girl had stopped mere feet away, her string skirt rustling about her legs. She reached out a hand, bronze bracelets clinking, and spoke in an ancient tongue.
It sounded like a question.
“I think she wants the journal?” Evelyn whispered.
“Oh hell no.” Rick stretched out both pistols. “If that’s what brought them back to life, safest thing would be to burn it. See a trash can anywhere?”
“Burn a book? Richard O’Connell!” Evelyn clutched the journal to her chest. “Have you forgotten that I am a librarian?”
“You got any better ideas?!”
Before Evelyn could reply, Egtved Girl took a step forward, arm still outstretched. Her fingertips, ancient and weathered, brushed against the journal’s cover.
“Oh,” Evelyn breathed.
“Oh?” Rick’s voice pitched up. “‘Oh’ what?”
“The amber,” Evelyn said. “The amber studded in the cover. It’s real, isn’t it?”
“It had better be, for what I paid for the damn thing,” Rick said.
“I think that’s it.” A smile broke across Evelyn’s face. “Amber has been regarded as a precious material stretching back to ancient times. And it’s likely millennia old, so who knows what kind of magic it’s picked up along the years?”
Egtved Girl spoke again, her lilting, youthful voice an anachronism to her sunken face and rattling bones. Her fingers dug against the journal’s cover.
“Here,” Evelyn said, the words spilling out despite the fact that, logically, there was no way the ancient girl could understand her. Then again, logic had long since taken a back seat in these situations. “I’ll help you. You can have the amber, but I’m keeping the journal. I don’t want to lose my notes, you understand. How does that sound?”
As she pried the amber free and laid it in Egtved Girl’s palm, the rest of the undead clustered around, murmuring in their own language. One by one, they touched the stone, their voices turning reverent.
Then Egtved Girl turned, her fingers closing around her treasure. She made her way back toward the coffin nestled in her display case, her back straight, shoulders held high. The rest of the bodies trailed behind her, following suit, resettling in their resting places.
As though drawn by a magnet, Evelyn stepped forward. She watched as Egtved Girl crawled back inside her case, closed her eyes, pressed the amber to her chest beneath her collarbone. Her grip relaxed as her body went still, a peaceful expression settling on her face.
And the museum was silent.
“…Huh,” Rick finally said. “That was some quick thinking. Nice work.”
Evelyn turned, beaming softly at him over her shoulder. “Thank you.”
“If it’s all the same, though?” Rick said. “I kinda think now’s a good time to head back to the hotel.”
Evelyn laughed, took his outstretched hand. “No argument there. Do you suppose this sort of thing will happen every year, on our anniversary? I mean, when you consider how we met…”
She couldn’t help but giggle at Rick’s pained expression.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Next year, we’ll go somewhere nice and warm—”
“Peru?” Evelyn’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “Chile?”
“Someplace where there are no mummies.”
“Mm,” Evelyn hummed. “You know that could be easier said than done, right? You’d be surprised how many cultures preserved their dead.”
Rick let out a long-suffering sigh. “On the other hand, maybe there’s something to be said for staying in good old London.” He paused. “…There are no mummies in England, right?”
Evelyn grinned. “Perhaps for our next anniversary,” she said, leaning up to kiss Rick’s cheek, “we can go digging and find out.”