After making sure the moose and caribou actually made it around the back entrance, Larry decided to make quick stops at each exhibit on his way to the front. He'd never be able to clean up the mess in time, but he wasn't about to let another exhibit get injured or lead Dr. McPhee to believe one was damaged. To his relief there didn't appear to be any issues. It seemed Ahkmenrah really knew how to use his tablet. And speaking of the tablet, Larry realized he should stop by the Egyptian exhibit, in case the pharaoh needed help getting back in his sarcophagus.
Larry mentally winced. Now that the adrenaline worn off, the loud banging and screaming was less menacing and more . . . alarming. He knew now that the pharaoh wasn't evil; was the complete opposite, actually. From the moment Larry released him, the Egyptian was all smiles and eager to help. The complete opposite of how Larry would react in that situation. And given the amount of dust he expelled from his mouth . . . how long had he been in there?
The thought made Larry queasy, but he shook his head to clear it. Nope, not tonight—or rather, this morning. Larry was stressed enough as it was. His mind didn't need to go down that depressing route.
And so, Larry rounded the corner with a large, friendly smile on his face and strode down the exhibit room hall. His cheerful smile fell at Ahkmenrah's stiff figure. He was standing with his back to Larry, hands clenched at his side and trembling with tension. His crown and cloak had been removed, so Larry could see the way his bare back heaved with rapid, uneven breaths.
Unsure of how to proceed, Larry cleared his throat.
Ahkmenrah jumped away from the sarcophagus as if it had burned him. He then snapped his attention to Larry like a child caught doing something he shouldn't. It would have been comical if the circumstances were different.
"Oh, m-my apologies, Guardian of Brooklyn," Ahkmenrah said. He straightened his posture and adjusted the askew jeweled collar. "I . . it's nearing dawn and I should . . ." His eyes darted back toward the sarcophagus as if it would attack him any second. “I suppose you’re here to ensure I put my bandages back on?”
Larry shook his head. “Nah, I don’t think we need to bother with that. Seems like too much of a hassle having to put them on every morning and take them off each night.”
“You speak as if I will be free to move about again,” Ahkmenrah said slowly.
“Well . . . yeah. Why should you be locked up? And, look—I’m so sorry I didn’t free you two nights ago. I just assumed Cecil and the others were right but well, now I see they’re completely wrong about you—”
“No it’s—you’re quite all right, Guardian of Brooklyn. Those men led you astray and I know you had what was best for the museum at heart.” His tone was light and calm, but Larry was pleased to see Ahkmenrah’s entire face begin to beam with pure delight. He looked so young and full of life, making Larry want to be around him because it was so infectious.
Too bad this wouldn’t last.
Larry checked his watch. “Well, I suppose this is good-bye then.” He stepped forward and held out his hand.
Ahkmenrah chuckled and gripped his hand, grasping Larry’s forearm with his other hand. “Good-bye until tonight. I shall look forward to learning more about you, Nicky, and what has changed in the outside world since I was at Cambridge.”
“Yeah, about that . . .” Larry cringed. “This is more of a good-bye for real. The museum is kind of trashed and I’m already in trouble with Dr. McPhee. Chances are I’ll be fired as soon as he comes in.”
The hands gripping his tensed and Ahkmenrah’s smile froze. “Oh . . . I see. So there will be another night guard tonight. Perhaps if I had used the tablet better, and had the other exhibits return faster and assist with cleaning . . .” he mumbled.
“Oh no—it’s not your fault at all. Honestly, I’m pretty sure some of them would have ended up making more of a mess if they tried to help. There’s not really anything that could have stopped this.”
Silence passed between them as Ahkmenrah seemed to be involved in some internal debate. After a moment, he squared his shoulders and his expression was carefully transformed into a neutral one. “If that is to be so, then good-bye Larry Daley, Guardian of Brooklyn. I regret that we had only this night to get to know one another. I wish you luck in your future job.”
With that he released Larry’s hand and stiffly climbed into the sarcophagus. He sat down and it looked like he was steeling himself to go swimming in a shark-infested pool rather than an intricate coffin. What changed? Was he mad at Larry for leaving?
The image of Ahkmenrah screaming inside the sarcophagus flashed in his mind and Larry’s sluggish, sleep-deprived brain finally caught up.
“Hey!” He reached out and stopped the lid from closing completely. Ahkmenrah gazed up at him in confusion and Larry tried to ignore the way the lid was trembling. “Hey uh—just because I won’t be here doesn’t mean you won’t be let out, you know? I’ll be sure to let the new night guard know not to lock you in and if McPhee won’t let me talk to them Teddy will make sure.”
Ahkmenrah gave him that smile Erica gave all too often—the one that said I’m-pretty-sure-you’re-lying-but-I’ll-be-nice-and-pretend-I-don’t-notice. And while Larry knew that Ahkmenrah had no reason to believe him, he was more than a little fed up with that look.
“Look, I’m not lying, okay? I promise you won’t be locked up again and I mean it. I won’t go back on my word.”
“Larry . . . please. There’s only so much time until sunrise and I can’t . . . I don’t wish for you o-or anyone to see me when I’m . . . when the tablet stops working. Good-bye.” With that he slammed the lid shut, leaving Larry with barely enough time to keep his fingers from getting pinched.
Larry could only stand there a minute, staring at the sarcophagus in shock. Ahkmenrah truly believed he was going to be locked up. The thought made Larry feel ill all of the sudden. He turned to slowly make his way out of there.
He’d barely made it four steps before his ears picked up a muted sound from the direction of the sarcophagus. It sounded suspiciously like a muffled sob, and Larry quickly tore out of the room, hell-bent on speaking to Teddy before he turned back to wax.
Of one thing he was sure—Larry was prepared to break into the museum tonight if he had to. He couldn’t let Ahkmenrah down.
That night, Larry strode into the museum with his heart fuller than it had felt in years. McPhee had given him back his job! It seemed the exhibits escaping was the best thing that could have happened to him, because the news coverage brought in a flood of people all day. No way McPhee could have fired him for that! Despite how difficult and peculiar a man he was, Larry knew he cared about the museum a great deal.
So now, with his job intact, Larry decided that tonight there’d be a party. He had Nicky hide in the office once again with a bunch of things Larry picked up before work. His son was busy putting up the last of the decorations before everyone woke up, and Larry would join him as soon as he could. First, he had to make sure he was there when Ahkmenrah woke up. A promise was a promise.
He reached the Egyptian display with a few minutes to spare. Larry drummed his fingers on the sarcophagus and stared at the tablet. His mind wandered for a bit, mulling over what he had researched earlier that day. At first he wanted to look into Ahkmenrah himself, but changed his mind and looked into a more pressing matter, specifically regarding the pharaoh’s earlier behavior. What he found was disconcerting to say the least, but Larry was determined to help fix it.
Only that was a problem for another night. Tonight, the party and showing Ahkmenrah he was serious were all that mattered. Larry’s gaze wandered and eventually settled on a plague on the far wall. He had been too busy to bother reading it before, so Larry stuck his hands in his jacket and meandered over.
Tomb discovered in 1938 . . . artifacts and body examined at Cambridge University . . . brought to the Museum of Natural History in 1952 . . .
Wait—Larry re-read the first half of the inscription. Tomb discovered . . . artifacts and body . . . body . . . Larry’s mouth dropped as it finally clicked. Did that mean . . . was he really—
Larry trudged over to the sarcophagus as if in a trance. In hindsight it all made sense, but he hadn’t fully . . . With trembling fingers, Larry lifted the lid to the sarcophagus ever so slightly.
Gaping up at him was a sunken face with empty eye sockets and grey, leathery skin stretched like jerky over brittle bone, and yellow teeth protruding above the jaw. Larry dropped the lid as he leapt backward with a shriek. He covered his mouth and breathed deeply to fight the instinct to hurl.
Oh god—Ahkmenrah was real! He was a real live mummy! Larry felt foolish, because to some degree he already knew this, but for whatever reason he hadn’t fully processed the fact until now. Not that the other exhibits weren’t real because in a sense they were, but . . . Ahkmenrah was the actual deal. That was a real person that came back to life each and every night.
And now, knowing that it was a real person that spent the past fifty-some odd years trapped inside, banging and screaming to be let out . . . it made Larry all the more grateful he chose to research what he did. It was obvious now that he had a lot of work ahead of him.
His thoughts were interrupted by the golden glow of the tablet. Larry rushed over to the sarcophagus and waited until he heard a deep inhale before wrenching the lid open. “Rise and shine!”
Ahkmenrah instinctively raised his arms. “Wh-wha’?” He lowered them and blinked groggily, reminded Larry so much of Nicky it was almost eerie.
“Sunset—the tablet—time to wake up, Ahk!” It took a few seconds, but eventually Ahkmenrah gaped at Larry with an incredulous look.
“Larry, you’ve returned! But I thought you said you’d be fired?”
“Turns out the footprints, sightings, and cave drawings left by everyone got enough attention that the museum was packed all day long.” Larry helped Ahkmenrah to his feet and smirked. “So it seems you guys are stuck with me.”
Ahkemnrah was beaming. “This is wonderful news!” Without warning, he threw his arms out and enveloped Larry in a quick hug.
“All right, now get your stuff on, we’re going to have a little party. Nicky’s finishing up the decorations and wanted to ride Rexy again.”
“Nicky is here?” If possible, Ahkmenrah’s smile grew. “Just a moment.” The young pharaoh practically bounded over to where his crown and cloak were stored and Larry couldn’t help but laugh. He was acting like Nicky on a sugar high. How old was he, anyway? Oh well, that question could be easily solved with an internet search. Now didn’t seem the time to ask.
Later that night, Larry took a break from the festivities to observe from the second floor. Everyone was in high spirits, and Larry marveled at how lucky he was to have such an incredible job. A flash of gold caught his eye and Larry laughed. Ahkemnrah was running from group to group like he couldn’t stand still for longer than three seconds. Where he got all that energy, Larry had no idea. None of the exhibits were able to eat, and Larry remembered how relieved he was at learning that. Having to feed everyone each night would leave him broke.
Rexy and Nicky soon came into view, and Larry smiled. “It’s getting late,” he called out. “You ready to go home?”
Nicky shook his head. “No way!” Rexy then took after Jed and Octavius and Larry let out a sigh of contentment.
He wouldn’t trade this job for anything.