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Past Publication: Couldn’t Beat Howard

Couldn’t Beat Howard

The moment had finally come. It had been ten years since I began this expedition and now the crowning achievement of my career was to be realized. I  could hardly wait as the pot-bellied Arab hammered at the seal of the tomb.

One crack appeared and then another. The man’s fat hand twisted and turned the chisel, muttering curses under his breath. With one defining whack, he broke the seal. The slab was heaved away.

Air that had not been tainted by the outside for nearly three millenniums slowly seeped out. I pushed aside these men and placed one foot into the tomb. I gagged at the musty air and held a cloth to my mouth.

The Arab who had broken the seal handed me a light. After thanking him for his dedication, I ventured further into the tomb’s first room. Empty. I studied the walls of the tomb. They were not decorated. There were no other slabs or seals leading to deeper parts of the tomb.

What treachery was this? Where was Akhenaten’s tomb? And what had I stumbled upon?

The Arabians and few English fellows who were brave enough to join my search months ago shouted at my back, curious as to what our team had found. I could not in good conscience turn around and tell these men, my friends, that this search was for naught. But what other choice did I have? I could not deny my failure, for how could I conceal such a lie?

I slowly turned to face their eager faces. Those closest to the entrance scanned the barren room. Their eyes struggled against the weakening flame to see if anything lurked inside. Realization dawned on them once they saw the disappointment in my face. The others still touched by the desert sun had yet to learn the truth.

“There is nothing here,” I shouted.

The pot-bellied Arab, who still stood by the entrance, said in his native language, “Not even another sealed slab? Or a hidden passage?”

I shook my head. One of the Englishman, whom we called Jonathan, asked what the Arab had said. My answer was, “He asked if there were any hidden passages. As I said, there is nothing. Nothing but four gray walls, a gray ceiling, and a sandy floor.”

“We came all this way for nothing!” Jonathan shouted.

“Keep your voice down. This is disappointing enough,” I said.

“I will not. You promised us a tomb. You promised us Akhenaten’s tomb! And all we found was, well, whatever that is!”

“Jonathan, please.”

“No! You shall not silence me. I left my country home in Derbyshire for this? What a waste!”

A few told Jonathan to keep quiet. He shrugged off their insults and demands.

“I am leaving!” Jonathan shouted, slashing the air in front of him with his hand.

“Alone?” I asked.

“How else? I am certain that you and most of these other fools will continue on a wild goose chase for the next quarter of a century. These devoted puppies of yours can follow you to the ends of the earth, but I am going back to mine in England!” Jonathan whirled around and began to march over to a camel, stumbling every now and again.

Knowing the dangers of the desert, we began to shout after him pleading with him to stay. The Englishmen said that he would miss out on the adventure of the lifetime. The Arabs said that he would get lost in a sandstorm. I shouted out apologies. Nothing stalled his progress. At least until the earth swallowed him whole.

We all stood in amazement as Jonathan’s form sunk right into the sand. There was no plausible explanation for this phenomena. There was no reason for such a vanishing act. Unless, he stumbled into something.

The Arabs began to shout that it was a deserved punishment sent from Allah himself. The Englishmen shouted in unison, “What the deuces is happening?”

It was not Allah, nor was there a reason to blame the devil. What happened was wholly natural. There was only one explanation for that slight melodrama, and it seemed as if I was the only member of the group to have put two and two together.

As I ran to the spot that Jonathan had disappeared, warnings were thrown at my back. I ignored every one of them. Every Arab and Englishman. Every theory of mysticism and godly intervention.

I neared a hole in the desert sand. Curses and profanity rose from the pit. I approached cautiously, so as to not join Jonathan’s number. Peering in, I saw him sitting on a stony surface. His left hand rubbed his nose. This human reaction caused the halfwit to smear blood all over his face. In all honesty, he deserved a broken nose.

However, that is not what demanded my attention. Right behind Jonathan’s crumpled figure was a painting. A painting that covered the entire wall. A painting that was adorned with hieroglyphs and colors. A painting of Akhenaten’s slouched form, rounded belly, and effeminate features sitting on a throne with the hands of Aten’s rays touching his face.

Looking away from the mural on the wall, I hurled an insult at Jonathan, “Serves you right, you bloody halftwit!”

Still clutching his nose, blood dripping through his fingers, he countered with, “I would not be in this damnble mess if it were not for your dull sense of direction!”

“Or your hot-blooded nature!”

Jonathan shrugged, as if he could not deny the comment. His gaze broke from my eyes and scanned his surroundings. He furrowed his brows and asked, “Where the devil am I?”

I sighed and recollected my complacent demeanor. Taking charge of the situation, as any natural born leader is destined to do, I instructed, “Look around the pit. That is, if it is a pit. However, I believe we might have discovered a tomb. Perhaps you are not as useless as you appear to be.”

Before Jonathan could spit out an insult of equal measure, I turned my attention to the group behind me. The fat Arab had already guessed my unspoken commands. He waddled over with a rope ladder and a doctor by the name of Hubert scurried after him, carrying bandages and ointments.

The Arab came to my side and lowered the ladder into the hole. Hubert descended into the pit with the agility of a squirrel. In his native tongue, the fat Arab said, “We shall care for the Englishman. The others in the group are too afraid to approach, so they shall remain in the camp. I assume you would like to explore, well, whatever this is.” He motioned towards the entrance of the pit.

“You have assumed correctly. I shall need a candle to test the air. Then, I may use proper lighting if there is nothing dangerous.”

The Arab nodded in agreement. He returned to the camp to fetch all that I had asked for. In the meantime, Jonathan’s protests and yelps of pain rose from the pit. A deliciously evil smile crossed my lips. Allah and the devil might not have delivered Jonathan into what I suspected was a tomb, but God certainly did use him as an instrument for this discovery.

I crawled down the rope ladder. As the doctor treated Johnathan’s nose, he flashed a look filled with pure disdain in my direction. The temptation to stick out my tongue like a five-year-old boy was very strong, but I had to remind myself that I was the leader of an archaeological expedition. I could not act like a child.

I struck a match and lit a candle to test the air. Confirming my suspicions that the air did not contaminate anything hazardous, I called for proper lighting. The fat Arab gave me as I requested.

I immediately went to the mural I had spotted earlier. Studying the relaxed pose of the human figures and the hint of realism in the artwork’s objects, I was certain that there was a connection to Akhenaten. After deciphering a few lines of hieroglyphics, I was even more determined to explore every inch of what Johnathan had stumbled into.

Abandoning the mural, I began to scan the other walls. All were decorated with murals of similar technique. A tinge of excitement trickled into my soul.

As Johnathan whimpered in the middle of what was a room, not a ditch as I said earlier for the purpose of technicalities, I noticed a pitch black corner. Shining my light on that region of the room, I found the doorway to a passage.

Making my way to the passageway, I thanked my lucky stars. I was certain that I had found Akhenaten’s tomb. A superstitious part of me held my tongue in check. Boasting could lead to a jinx.

The passage was narrow. The walls were decorated with scenes of Pharaoh Akhenaten on his journey through the afterlife. Only fate could tell if his ka, or his soul, made it to the Hall of the Forty Judges. I did not care if his soul made it to an Egyptian afterlife, the molten depths of hell, or Nirvana. All I wanted was to explore what had taken years of my life to find.

Navigating through winding passages and running into a few dead ends, I quickly came to a few treasure rooms. Various chariots of different sizes and proportions took up much of the spaces. Golden thrones inlaid with lapis luzi, emeralds, ebony, ivory, and numerous other precious gems lined against the walls. Chests exquisitely crafted by dead master artisans were filled with precious treasures. Chairs, beds, and tables made from woods and metals were cluttered about. Here and there laid blue crowns, nemes headdresses, and double crowns. Necklaces and scarabs were scattered about the various treasures. Statues and statuettes of the pharaoh hunting, with his children, and of him sitting watched me as I passed.

I could cry from the beauty these treasure’s possessed. I could cry from joy of my discovery. I could cry just recalling these memories. However, as I walked from room to room, all I could do was contain my excitement. My first objective was to find his mummy.

After pacing about for hours, I finally found what I lusted after. The coffin of Akhenaten. Hieroglyphs were inscribed in the lustrous gold. Once translated, the ancient writing depicted spells, curses, and warnings. Precious stones and metals were inlaid in the coffin. The pharaoh’s likeness showed that of a man with a narrow face, almond eyes, feminine lips, and a long nose.

I slowly approached the coffin, as if I were coming upon the lost Ark of the Covenant. To be perfectly honest, this discovery was even better. I ran my fingers over the likeness of the pharaoh, thinking of how long I had waited for this surreal moment.

After a slight retreat from my daze, I pushed the lid of the coffin with a supernatural strength. Taking the light, I shined it on the inside of the coffin. Empty. No mummy. Not even the trace of a wrapping, scarab, or resin.

My face turned red. My hands twitched. My body quaked. My nerves nearly snapped. My discovery was ruined! Howard Carter was to laugh in my face, for he had found a completely undisturbed tomb a few years prior. I, on the other hand, was close to bottling perfection but it all blew up in my face because the mummy was not there! The only explanation was that tomb robbers must have stolen the mummy centuries ago. Blast and damnation!

***

As it would turn out, my discovery was much appreciated by Egyptologists from around the globe. After all, I had found the tomb of the father of Tutankhamun’s father. My only regret was not finding the mummy. I was so close to finding a perfectly preserved tomb, but I had failed. Since I could not boast of the perfect discovery like Howard Carter, his name ended up in the history books. His legend shadowed my success.

As to the mummy of Akhenaten, it has yet to be found. To this day, I sit in my London townhouse puzzling over charts, maps, books, translations, and documents. One day I will find the blasted body. Even in my old age, I will beat the odds and find Akhenaten’s withering corpse!

By Katherine Givens

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