Dead Man’s Book

From the Personal Journal of Abigaëlle Charest
Spring, 1860

I have just arrived at a new archaeological dig in Memphis, Egypt that Auguste Mariette opened up. Dorian Reynaud, the site's patron from the Louvre, hired me on as translator and archivist for a new discovery by his foreman, Henri Chevalier.

We finally moved enough rock out a small tunnel we can crawl through. This lead to a small chamber with walls covered in vibrant hieroglyphs, along with two broken sarcophagi without mummies, some empty chests, and shattered canopic jars.

I was translating the hieroglyphs when someone shouted that they found something buried in the refuse. Everyone else rushed to a large chest that contained two scrolls and some jewelry.

Morgan McKinley, the scholar from America, announced, "Seems there are some spoils left behind after all."

Dorian said, "This will be easy enough to take out. Is there anything else? Abigaëlle, what do the walls say?"

A chill ran down my spine as I read the writing on the wall. "It's a curse!"

They all laughed at that. "The only curse, ma petite, is that the tomb is empty, except for that chest," Henri said.

I continued, "It says that 'the precious ones must not leave else a pox shall befall those who remove them'. The rest has been eroded away, but that much is perfectly clear."

Then came a rumble from above as dirt and rocks began to shift and fall. A hot, dusty wind blew in from the tunnel which threatened to extinguish our lamps and made it difficult to breathe.

"We must get out of here now," Dorian shouted. "Abi, you first!"

Despite my desire to read more of the wall, I covered my face and wriggled my way to safety. I shouted back into the tomb many times. Hearing no response, I grabbed a pick and some baskets and dug a larger hole.

I then heard Dorian calling after me -- from outside of the tomb. "Abi, what are you doing?"

"Dorian! How did you escape?"

"What? We have all been in camp for hours. Some debris landed on you when the tomb shifted because of our digging. We pulled you out and brought you to camp. Do you not remember?"

"Non! I remember leaving and waiting for you to follow. I certainly do not remember us all going back to camp!"

"It sounds like you have a concussion. Come with me."

Surely he was mad, but I followed him just the same back to my tent. Others came by, making sure I was well. I did feel a little dizzy so I laid down on my cot.

Henri came in and covered me with my blankets. A silver charm fell out of his shirt, dangling on a leather cord around his neck.

"Is that an ankh? Where did that come from?" I asked, noticing the amethyst mounted on it as it swayed like a pendulum.

Then Morgan came over to check on me. He laid the back of his hand to my forehead to check for a fever. The gold ring he wore felt cool, but the ruby mounted in it felt oddly warm. "She has a fever, Dorian. I hope that doctor gets here soon."

Dorian agreed, "Get some rest, Abi. We'll talk about it all in the morning. I will need your help deciphering those scrolls soon." I was quite exhausted after that and I fell asleep rather quickly.

 

I didn't sleep very long, so I made my way to Dorian's tent. He wasn't upset to see me out of bed. Au contraire, he seemed relieved. "Couldn't sleep either, I see. A doctor will be here tomorrow and he can see to you then. Since you are here, you should see these scrolls."

"Those should not be here."

"The Curse of the Pharaohs? Really, Abigaëlle? If there was a curse on that tomb, it didn't stop whoever raided it before us, and it hasn't affected us, either. Don't blame that bump to your head on such things. We should have bolstered the entrance better before we went in, that's all."

I couldn't argue with that. "So, what of these scrolls then?"

"They are what the locals call 'Kitab-al-Mayyit', or roughly translated, a 'dead man's book'. However, while one starts with the traditional Hymn to Ra and the usual praise to Osiris for safe passage in the underworld, the other begins with praise to Thoth. What I need you to do is make copies. Don't trouble yourself with translating them as we can do that later." He handed me some blank rolls of papyrus and the original scrolls.

I took the scrolls back to my tent and made quick work of the transcription. Exhausted from the effort, I blew out my lamp and collapsed into my cot.

 

I awoke to the most terrible screams coming from Henri's tent! Before I went inside, I heard a horrible hissing sound. I peeled back the flap to find him in his cot covered in snakes, with a large cobra around his neck choking him!

I shouted for others to come quick! The hissing stopped as soon as they approached. The doctor ran up and excused himself to look inside. I warned them all that there were snakes in there, but the doctor went inside and found Henri dead.

He examined the leather cord that held the ankh around his neck. It appeared he was strangled by that cording, yet it should have snapped if it were used as a garrote.

The doctor then told me, "Mademoiselle, back to bed with you, and I shall come check on you post haste."

 

When I got back to my tent, I found Henrie floating there. His whole body seemed to be an ethereal green. I must be going mad! He stared at me with vacant eyes and said, "I am Setna. You must return the elder scroll to Gebtu."

Confused and scared by this vision of a dead man claiming to be someone else, I asked, "Gebtu? Do you mean Coptos? We are nowhere near there."

"You disturbed a hut-ka where the scrolls have laid in wait. One is my scroll, but the other was removed from its home. Others will die if you do not return it."

I looked around my tent for the scrolls. They were not on my desk where I left them. I panicked, but before I could say anything to the phantom, Dorian and the doctor came into my tent.

As they let in the sunlight, Henri vanished. The doctor confirmed that I had a concussion and said that I should stay in bed and get plenty of rest.

When the doctor left, I pulled Dorian aside and asked, "Where are the scrolls?"

"Ah, don't worry. They are perfectly safe in my tent."

"We have to put them back, Dorian."

"Is this more talk of a curse, Abi?"

"Yes, look at what happened to Henri! He was strangled by snakes and..."

"No, there were no snakes. A tragedy to be sure, but there are no curses. Get some rest," he insisted and left me alone. I was not visited again by the phantom.

 

I awoke later to the sound of drunk Frenchmen. I followed the cacophony to the fire pit. Dorian finished his beer and said, "We saved you some food, Abi. Come by my tent when you are done eating. I'm having difficulty deciphering the Thoth scroll."

While I ate my meal, everyone else went to bed. On my way to see Dorian, I passed by Morgan's tent, which looked... wet. As I got closer, I saw water pouring out from the tent like a flood. To my horror I found Morgan vomiting up water like a fountain!

I began screaming at the top of my lungs! Everyone came running to the commotion. When they found me, they tried to calm me down, until I finally yelled, "Morgan is dead!"

The doctor rushed in first, and as he did, I noticed everything was dry! I shouted, "There was water everywhere, like the Nile itself had erupted from him!"

The doctor looked at me with pity and exhaustion, "There is no water here. It looks like he drank too much beer and vomited, but was so intoxicated that he choked. That's all, Abigaëlle." To Dorian he whispered, "Take her to her tent. I'll be there momentarily with something to calm her down."

Dorian took my arm gently and guided me back to my tent with some hesitation. I spat, "He drowned, Dorian. I saw it! That scroll you can't read is cursed. It has to go back to Coptos!"

"Even if I was willing to return the scrolls, based solely on your hysterical ravings, I wouldn't take them all the way to Coptos. We don't have jurisdiction there for any digs. What's down there, anyway?"

"I don't know, but Setna told me..."

"Who's Setna?"

"He's a phantom that looked like Henri. He told me the 'elder scroll' must be returned."

"Or what, Abi?"

"Or everyone will die."

The doctor interrupted us then and came in with his black bag. Before I knew what was happening, he injected me with morphine. It worked quickly.

 

I woke up the next day in a panic. I was convinced that someone else was going to die. I had a nightmare full of scorpions and crocodiles.

I went to speak to Dorian, but when I couldn't find him, I feared the worst. I found the doctor, who scolded me for being out of bed. I convinced him to tell me that Dorian was at the docks preparing a boat for us.

Before I could go after him, however, Dorian returned and seemed surprised to see me awake. He then led me into his tent and asked, "How are you feeling today?"

"I had a horrible dream and I'm still quite shaken from it."

"You can tell me all about it on our way to Coptos. Please help me gather up everything."

I put the scrolls in the chest with the silver ankh then asked, "What about the ruby ring, and why the change of heart?"

"We can't get the ring off of Morgan's hand. Out of respect for his body, we are not going to remove it. When he gets home in America, he should be desiccated enough that the ring should fall off on its own. As for why I have changed my mind, I did some research on Setna. He was Prince Setna, one of Rameses the Second's many, many sons. There's a legend that says he stole a powerful scroll from Coptos called the Book of Djehuti. There are too many coincidences and frankly I grow tired of them all. I want you to accompany me to Coptos. The rest of the crew will stay here."

 

It was on our slow journey up the Nile that Dorian confided something else to me. "I don't know how to tell you this, but you haven't been yourself lately."

"I know," I apologized. "I'm not the kind to get worked up about such things, but --"

"You tried to kill me last night," he interrupted.

"Impossible, I was sedated. I could have done no such thing, nor would I."

"I think you were possessed by the ka of Setna. You were surrounded by a swarm of scorpions and I think you were trying to get the scrolls back. I feared for my life and during my efforts to avoid the scorpions I knocked over my beer. When it had washed the copied scrolls clean, the scorpions left and you passed out."

I had no idea. I don't remember that at all. I hope we can put all of these nights of horror behind us as we make our way to Coptos.

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