Fort Brydon, Cairo, October 1922
Jonathan sat at the bar in the officer’s mess, a bottle of scotch untouched at his elbow, staring glumly down at the key in his hands. Some puzzle box it had turned out to be. He had thought, when he swiped it from O’Connell, that it was an odd curio, probably New Kingdom, and that Evie might like it. He hadn’t felt bad about taking it off of the American, who had been bellowing in a really rather shocking Arabic gutter patois and so preoccupied with fighting three fellows at once that he hadn’t even noticed Jonathan brushing past him. Contrary to popular belief, Jonathan was not in the habit of petty thievery, but O’Connell had been playing with the relic before brawling and Jonathan hadn’t been exactly sober himself. That Rick had turned out to be a genuinely decent sort whom Jonathan suspected was in love with his sister was pure luck. But the key had brought them nothing but trouble.
I know all the silly blather about the city being protected by the Curse of the Mummy nonsense , Evie had said to Dr. Bey--was it only two weeks ago? Three? It seemed an age. God, Jonathan hated it when silly blather turned out to be true. Hamunaptra being real was one thing: they could have spent months, years, excavating, and it would have been a career-making dig. Uncomfortable nights camping in the desert, firefights with marauders, long, hot days in rubble-strewn tombs Jonathan could handle. Walking, talking, ancient corpses was entirely outside of his purview.
But there was nothing for it now. If Evie said they were staying to fight, then they were staying to fight. It was the Carnahan Way. And God bless Rick O’Connell, he actually thought he could change her mind. Jonathan smirked to himself. It was obvious that O’Connell had fallen for Evie. The man made calf-eyes whenever he looked at her. Jonathan had never seen any man hang so heavily on Evie’s words or go so far out of his way to make sure that she was comfortable. Not that she had particularly noticed. Poor kid; she was unused to positive male attention. The boys they had grown up with had either ignored her as a half-breed or viewed her as a passing dalliance for the same reason; others viewed her intelligence with chagrin and alarm. The first time a man had told Evelyn that he could never marry “a girl like her” had been when she was sixteen. She had written to Jonathan at Oxford about it and he had wanted to punch through a wall.
“Never change,” he had written back. “Never make yourself smaller to make someone else feel big.”
Then the War had come and killed all of the men, and Evie had buried herself in history and not looked back.
Well, Jonathan thought, Rick O’Connell would either love her or realize that he was a coward and run away like the rest, and leave them to deal with the mummy alone. Jonathan spun the key idly on the countertop, wondering which option O’Connell would choose. He was inclined to think that O’Connell would stay. He was a good man, likeable, even if he was a little rough around the edges. And he was a heroic type--how he hadn’t died a miserable death during the War was really beyond Jonathan. All of the heroic types he had served with had only made it home in a box. Others were only Known to God, buried in the Flanders mud. Jonathan knew that he was no hero. He hadn't wanted to be on the Front and he didn't want to fight the mummy now. But what one wanted was never really considered in the grand scheme of things. Events happened, a mummy's curse was unleashed on the world, and one simply got on with the business of defeating it. Jonathan knew that, and he knew that O'Connell did, too.
A soft box landed on his ear. Jonathan started and looked around. O’Connell had come up behind him, his face set. He gestured over his shoulder at Winston Havelock. Hurriedly, Jonathan shoved the key into his breast pocket and reached for the bottle of scotch.
“--hasn’t been a single challenge worthy of a man like me,” Winston was saying.
O’Connell yanked a bar stool out and sat on it. “Yeah, we all got our little problems today, don’t we, Winston?”
He looked exasperated and Jonathan suppressed a grin as he poured O’Connell a drink. That he had lost the argument with Evie was clear; Jonathan had figured he would. He poured himself out a measure of scotch, amused.
“I just wish I could have chucked it in with the others and gone down in flame and glory instead of sitting around here--”
“--rotting of boredom and booze,” Rick muttered with him.
“Cheers,” Winston finished, taking the glass from Jonathan’s hand and drinking. Jonathan sighed. Nothing was safe from Winston when he was on a bender. He smacked their backs a little too enthusiastically and shambled away.
“Tell me,” Rick said, hesitating with glass in hand, “Has your sister always been so…?”
“Oh yes. Always,” Jonathan replied ruefully, topping himself up.
O’Connell sighed. “She won’t go.”
“No.” Jonathan knocked his drink back. “She’s strong-minded, our Evie.”
“She says we have to go back and kill it,” O’Connell said, his voice surprisingly bleak. “But we can’t kill it. I tried.”
Jonathan shrugged. “Well, if anyone can find a way to put down an undead mummy, it’ll be Evie.” He looked sideways at O’Connell, who was frowning at the shot glass cradled in his hands. “You’re not leaving, then?”
“I don’t see how I can,” O’Connell replied. “You can’t do this alone, even if she is a one-woman force of nature.”
It was, perhaps, the best and most accurate description of Evie that Jonathan had ever heard, and it pleased him that O’Connell said it with admiration, not contempt. Exasperated admiration, it was true, but nonetheless. For a few moments they sat in companionable silence, nursing their drinks.
“How do you know Captain Havelock?” Jonathan asked at last.
“What? Oh, Winston. I stayed with him at the airfield a bit when I first came back to Cairo. We’d both lost our garrisons and were kind of at a loss. He found me a job and loaned me some money to try to get back on my feet. He’s a good man.” O’Connell drank and slapped his glass down on the counter. “How do you know him?”
Good question. He was an old friend of the family was one answer, as was he always corners me at parties and tells me how much he wishes he was dead was another. It was...difficult to like Winston Havelock sometimes. Heaven only knew that Jonathan knew how it felt to wish one had died with one’s friends. Still, he found Winston’s chronic death wishes irritating. They had survived the War. Didn’t they have a responsibility to live well for those who had not?
“We frequent the same bars,” he finally said, and O’Connell nodded.
“Sounds like Winston,” he said and fell silent, fiddling with his shot glass.
“Probably the best place to start is the library,” O’Connell said at last, and Jonathan looked at him in surprise. “What? Evelyn’s a librarian, isn’t she?”
“Yes,” Jonathan said, “but she, uh, made rather a hash of the museum library before we left.”
O’Connell shook his head. “Well, we have to start somewhere. I suppose we should go and find her.”
“One more round, first,” Jonathan said, “To stiffen the sinews and all that.”
O’Connell opened his mouth to reply, but then a strident cowboy voice rang out behind them before he could speak.
“Well, we’re all packed up, but the damn boat doesn’t leave until tomorrow.”
Idiot , Jonathan thought. If Henderson had the sense that God gave a goose he would have remembered that Egypt had a perfectly serviceable railway with an hourly service to the port up at Alexandria. It would be so easy to take Daniels and Burns and flee instead of sitting around here, drinking. Jonathan knew that he ought to feel more pity for the poor sods, but he couldn’t muster any.
“Tails set firmly between your legs, I see,” he said.
“Yeah, you can talk, you don’t have some sacred walking corpse after you,” Henderson snapped.
That was true, thank God. At least the “sacred walking corpse” was somewhere out in the desert, far from here. Jonathan hadn’t seen hide nor hair of it on his nightly patrols as they fled back to Cairo. Perhaps they were safe in the city. Maybe the mummy would be frightened off by modernity.
“So, uh, how’s your friend?” O’Connell asked Daniels, who had come to lean on his other side.
Damn the man; he was always asking the decent sort of questions. Jonathan poured out drinks in recompense and slid them along to Henderson and Daniels. They did look haggard.
Daniels drank and sighed. “He had his eyes and his tongue ripped out. How would you be?”
There was no answer to that. Even trying to think of one sent Jonathan back to the medical tent after being shot. He had lain on his stomach with a pillow wrapped around his ears, trying not to hear the gurgle of men drowning of their own shredded lungs, the screams of men missing limbs. Jonathan pushed the memories away, scowling. Better not to think of that. Daniels put his empty glass down and walked away. They turned to watch him go.
“Don’t mind him,” Henderson said wearily. “He’s upset, that’s all. He’s known Bernie since they were kids.”
“That’s rough,” O’Connell murmured. He nudged his glass towards Jonathan. “One more round, and then we’ve got work to do.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?” Henderson asked, and nodded as Jonathan passed him back his glass.
“We’re going to the library,” Jonathan replied. “At the Museum of Antiquities.”
“Miss Carnahan is looking for ideas on how to kill this thing,” O’Connell added.
Henderson looked from one to the other, his eyebrows raised. “Well,” he said at last. “Good for her.” He raised his glass in a toast. “Good luck, boys.”
They clinked glasses and drank. Jonathan gagged; the scotch had gone thick, metallic; he spat it out, as did every man in the bar.
“Sweet Jesus!” Henderson gasped, coughing. “It tasted just like--”
The glass fell from O’Connell’s hand and shattered on the floor. His eyes were trained on the fountain in the middle of the room. Jonathan saw it at the same time: the water was red and thick and unctuous.
“Blood,” O’Connell finished.
It’s written that if a victim of the hom dai should ever arise, he would bring with him the ten plagues of Egypt . Jonathan went cold, his stomach turning.
“‘And the rivers and waters of Egypt ran red, and were as blood’,” he breathed.
O’Connell’s face had gone white under his tan. He locked horrified eyes with Jonathan.
Author's Note: many World War One memorials were dedicated to the unknown soldiers on battlefields, who were in too many pieces to be identified and sent home for burial. Grim, but true. Thanks for reading! I hope you like the story. Please let me know what you think in the comments!