The torchlight danced back and forth, chasing the ghoulish shadows up the walls, over the ceiling, pursuing them across the floor; never quite catching them, never banishing them. The acolyte paused to check her crude map. The impotent torch for all the shadows it kept at bay, revealed precious little in the labyrinthine halls of the crypt. All directions looked the same, but there was danger in making that mistake in observation. Each path led to a different cruel death, save for one, and even that made no promise of seeing the gentle surface and the welcome touch of the sun’s rays again. Hissing a curse at the trickster shadows, the acolyte reexamined the map. The burial chamber was her destination, and time was running out.
With a swoop of the torch, she renewed the arc of light, forcing the encroaching shadows back at arms length. They were always reaching out, never touching, as long as the torch stay lit. That was something the acolyte did not intend to stick around to find out. She clutched the leather bag that hung over her shoulder tighter, remembering her quest. The urgency, the necessary risks, the reward for completion all made her swell with pride, kept her feet choosing the right steps, avoiding the flat stone slaps on the floor that seemed safe and inviting. Her gut warned of these tricks as well. Her gut warned her that to step on these inviting stone slaps was to lose your guts on the end of a poisoned spear, meet your grisly end on a trap well sprung; all players thanked for their participation. She listened to her gut, and therefore kept her guts, took the right steps to avoid a misstep.
The acolyte’s mixture of great care and courage swirled into the right combination and the outcome was success. The leather soles of her boots set foot on the threshold of the burial chamber. She allowed herself the indulgence of a deep breath, exhale, and the briefest of smiles. Now she had only to return the item that was safely tucked into her leather satchel and curse would be lifted. At least that is what the village elders had predicted. The acolyte hoped that this was true. She had never asked for the curse, never done a thing to bring the darkness down upon her village. It had been ignorant scavengers, common thieves in the village had plotted and stolen from the grand tomb. Their foolishness had brought upon the village a curse so wicked that the nightmares of children imagine no less horrific than what men could not slay with their swords. The acolyte never asked for the curse that wasted her village, stole changed them one by one. The strongest of men, the most fetching of maidens, dried out at the slightest touch of the foul curse. When the curse could do no more, the air of the village was a haze of choking rot, the movement merely shambling dead, the acolyte fled, fled to the kingdom, to the elders who had warned of this curse. If only the foolish thieves had listened.
She begged the elders to teach her, teach her, teach her how to reverse the foul of the curse. She pleaded for the fountains to take back the barren sand and return the sweet chill of their once soothing water. The elders pondered the girl’s request, and told her there was a way. To end the curse, she would have to return to the burial chamber, that which did not belong to the village. To do so, she would have to devote her life to the crypt, become an acolyte; learn the ways in preserving the halls in those that preserve the dead. With little to no second thought, she urgently agreed, eagerly ready to pledge her life to the service of death. If she could banish the grey flesh of parchment from her village, pinch the pink cheeks of the children as they played again, it would all be worth it.
Now that she was so close to completing her quest, she could hear the sounds of the water pumping lavishly in the village fountain. The sound of the memory has clarity, it feels cool, just like yesterday. The acolyte opens, the leather satchel and checks one last time before firmly grabbing the edges of the sarcophagus lid. She grunts and drags it to one side, stone on stone, gritty, underground in tone.
Inside is the mummified husk of the Great Emperor, at rest in horrifying grace, resplendent with flesh pulled back against garish teeth, empty sockets, and a husk of a body. Hissing another curse, this time at her own reluctance, the acolyte pulls forth a lavish silken sash from the weather beaten leather satchel. Its quality in texture knows no equal, befit only to be worn by a Great Emperor, its theft worthy of an all-devouring curse; that which does not belong to you…
Having returned the Great Emperor’s silken sash, and undoing the foolish act of the village damning thieves, the acolyte backed away from the ajar sarcophagus. She lacked the strength to close the lid, whether it was physical or spiritual, that is unknown. She had done what the elder had asked, returned that which did not belong to her. Now all she had to do was return, return to the surface, return the warmth of the sun, the rays of light, the sound of that fountain, just like yesterday.
As she stepped back over the threshold, back into the corridor, she thought she heard the faintest rasp. It sounded like a rasp, a rattle, a… breath. When she heard it gain, she turned, her gut told her to run, unfortunately she stepped on the safe looking stone slab on the floor, springing the trap, and therefore losing her guts.
2500 years later…
“And how is it that grave robbing results in an entire village being cursed by a powerful mummy that transforms all of them into shambling dead, to wander forever as their fate?”
“I told you, it wasn’t just grave robbing. It was the desecration of a sacred tomb, the tomb of a Great Emperor, one guarded by powerful wards, and ancient rituals.”
“Okay, if you say so, but I’d sure like to know how you know so much about this ancient Egyptian mummy curse stuff, yet can’t go a week without snagging your stockings on the filing cabinets in the office?”
“Because the pantyhose companies are in on the conspiracy, and manufacture demand. And those cabinets are jagged. My poor legs don’t stand a chance. As for the Egyptian stuff, I don’t. That’s why you’re here, because you can read hieroglyphics.”
“And here I thought you liked seeing me in a tuxedo.”
“About as much as you like seeing me in this shimmery black cocktail dress, and my Saturday night sheer black pantyhose.”
“Wait, is that sarcasm? Because for the record I do like seeing you in tiny black cocktail dresses with hypnotizing sequins, and if those lucky nylons are reserved for the long trip up your legs on Saturdays only then I have an announcement to make. As of right now, everyday is officially now Saturday. May your legs and those pantyhose be joined in union, a match made in heaven, till death do them part.”
“Are you done being weird, Danny?” asked Dawn with a raised eyebrow, and a good-natured grin.
“What? I’m just saying,” replied Danny with a shrug. “If all things have a destiny, then for pantyhose, it’s the legs of Dawn Meadows,”
“I’m afraid I don’t quite hold the same sentiment Danny. Perhaps being forced to wear them in 90-degree heat has caused me to rethink their practicality, and we don’t get too attached. They expire long before I do,”
“Better than the other way around,” mused Danny.
“Can we PLEASE get back the hieroglyphics,” groaned Dawn.
“Right, that’s my specialty, you stick with the stockings,”
“Okay! Okay! Are those support hose? You seem a little uptight tonight.”
Dawn just folded her arms and glared this time.
“Okay, seriously I’m done. Let me see what these hieroglyphics read. For the record though, I should re-mention that O’Neil is going to be furious that you’re digging up dirt on the guy who’s donating a hefty sum to the museum tonight. I’m pretty sure that O’Neil did not pay $1,500 for each of our plates at tonight’s dinner just so that we could pin the tail on the donkey. The donkey being Dr. Mitch Clayton. Granted the creep did go away to the big house for 10 long years after being vanquished by high school super sleuth, Dawn Meadows. Still, at $1500 a plate, on a night in the guy’s honor, it could be considered bad taste,” rambled Danny Breslin, adjusting his lopsided bow tie.
“He murdered people, Danny! He systematically collected homeless people, killed them for their body parts to build… to build some kind of monster!” Dawn burst out with it a little too forcefully, shuddering. It was a horrific case, and one that she had tackled at the tender age of 16, while still attending the Ivy Ridge Prep Academy. She knew that her chosen career path was not going to be rose lined walk way, but it took a curve into underground labyrinth so early on, she felt like she was staring over the edge into the darkness. She wondered if she had the balance to keep from careening over that dangerous edge, falling end over end into the void.
“But you got him, exposed him to the world as the monster he was, and put him away for 10 years in prison. Truth and Justice served, isn’t that the Meadows way?” reassured Danny, seeing that faraway look in Dawn’s luminous green eyes.
“10 years is not enough for the crimes he committed,” grumbled Dawn, with an appreciative tiny smile toward Danny’s gesture to keep her mood light.
“Well, nobody ever said Justice was fair. Good behavior, a silver tongue, and friends in all the right places seemed to make 10 the magic number for adequate time served to society for good old Dr Mitch Clayton.”
“Well, he’s going to go away a lot longer than 10 years this time. This phony fundraiser event he’s hosting for the museum is just a front. He’s here to get to the Grand Emperor’s crypt and steal the silken sash from the legends of the curse.”
“Right, and how do you plan on stopping him from doing this. Call me crazy, but after going to prison for a decade on evidence presented by the overly inquisitive mind of a teenage girl, I’m pretty sure confronting him is in your health’s best interest.”
“You’re right, Danny. For once I totally agree with you,”
“Yes, which is why I’m going to have to steal the Grand Emperor’s silken sash first.”
“Exactly. Wait, what?” Danny could not believe what he was hearing, but he knew better than to argue when Dawn got that look in her eye. “Can I just suggest that we NOT tell Mr. O’Neil what we’re doing then?”
20 minutes later, Danny had decoded the hieroglyphics and opened the previously sealed crypt. 75 years prior, after an expedition that was plagued by every disaster short of complete failure, the Grand Emperor’s Tomb was discovered by archaeologists and then painstakingly recreated here at the museum using the majority of the original tomb’s contents, carefully transported half way around the world, and through journals, scripture, and eye witness accounts, reconstructed the tomb in the exact likeness as it had been 2500 years ago. Such a feat should have filled the museum’s coffers with a fountain of coins, from travelers all over the world, but accident after accident plagued the tomb and long before the museum could ever call it a hit, sealed it up tight, and did everything but forget about it.
The world in fact forgot about it, until Dr. Mitch Clayton came upon it in the tireless research he spent his free time consumed with. As it so happened, prison cleared his usual busy schedule for a convenient 10 years, and for all the inadequacies of the prison library, it did reveal the fantastical story of the Grand Emperor’s Tomb, the legend of the silken sash, and hints of things far too good not to be true; Hints of ways to augment one’s life. That meddling trust fund brat might have foiled his creation of the monster, but she would not stop him from extending his life 10 fold. It would more than cover the years she had stolen from him, and give him plenty of time to plan the perfect revenge.
The thudding sound of rope sounded back up after a few tense moments. It was a ways down, but the rope did hit bottom, so the good news was, there was a bottom! Dawn grabbed the rope with her delicate white hands, wrapping her long slender fingers around tightly, then followed suit with her long hose clad legs.
“Hang on a second, Dawn. Some of this hieroglyphics is newer than the rest. I’m having a more difficult time translating it. It seems to be in a slightly different dialect, more modern form maybe?”
“You work on that, I’ll be back up with the sash in no time,” came Dawn’s reply from halfway down the rope.
Turning, Danny saw Dawn’s heels kicked carelessly off at the edge of the tomb opening. “Dawn you forgot your shoes!”
“I didn’t forget them, Danny! I left them there on purpose. I don’t know how dark it will be down here, and I don’t want to try prancing around in high heels in the dark. I’d no sooner sprain my ankle and then I’m as good as food for the rats down here!”
The image of poor Dawn whimpering as she nursed a sprained ankle, while being surrounded by an army of hungry rats waiting to devour her was too much to bear.
“Drat it!” came a feminine cry up the rope.
“What is it?” called Danny. “Are you surrounded by hungry rats?”
“No… at least, I don’ think I am,” she replied, warily peering around for any vermin intent on making a meal of her. “I must have snagged my nylons on the rope climbing down. I’ve got a nasty run!”
Danny breathed a sigh of relief. On a list of things most deadly, snagged pantyhose were not very high, though in the case of Dawn Meadows, they seemed to prove quite the exception.
With an indignant mutter, Dawn peered around the crypt for a suitable place to change her ruined nylons for a fresh emergency pair she carried for just such occasions. The irony searching for a suitable place for a girl to change her hosiery in a place filled with so much death was not lost on the nosey reporter. When nothing better or less decrepit offered itself up than a large broken and toppled pillar, Dawn resigned herself to sitting on it with a grump and a wrinkled nose.
She peeled the ruined nylons off her legs, revealing the smooth white skin beneath. She flicked away the flimsy garment with a haughty remark. They had served their purpose, and now they were trash. Gingerly taking care not to ruin the fresh pair on the danger of toe nails, Dawn carefully navigates her little digits into the silky encasing, and proceeded to work them up her endlessly long slender legs, inch by inch, a silky smooth, sheer barely black coating. So distracted was she by this daily ritual, that she failed to notice the beginnings a looming shadow forming behind her, growing larger, coming closer. It was when the shadow was nearly upon her, when she heard what sounded like a rasp, a rattle… a breath! Just as she finished the awkward squirming dance of stretching the pantyhose up over her hips and bottom, smoothing the waistband over her flat tummy, smoothing out the hem of her shimmery black cocktail dress, she turned in startled surprise at the sound.
If the sound caused her startled surprise, the sight of the horrific rotting mummy reaching its withered hands out to touch her young pink flesh was without question, pandemonium. Dawn took one look at the glowing orange eyes, the filthy bandages that barely concealed the rotting death beneath, the skin pulled back against grisly teeth, coupled with the rattling wheeze that passed for its breath, and she leapt up from the broken column with all the motivation she needed.
She ran with all the speed her legs could muster. The thumping sound of the mummy meant he was in hot pursuit, and surprisingly fast for an old guy! Reaching the rope in the dim light, Dawn fought to calm herself, and get her hands around it, calm herself and begin to climb. “Danny! Oh Danny, the mummy is after me! He’s going to get me!”
“I’m counting on it,” came the sinister reply.
“Danny!?” cried Dawn as she frantically fought her way up the rope. It was so much harder going up with arms as skinny as hers.
“I’m afraid Danny had to step away, but I’m sure that I can be of assistance,” returned the ominous voice of Dr. Mitch Clayton.
“Dr Clayton!? What have you done with Danny!?” cried Dawn, holding tight to the rope, safe above the long reaching grasp of the mummy’s rotting fingers for the moment as she fought to wrap her own mind around this turn of events.
“Relax my dear, he’s merely unconscious. I’d be more worried about you. After all, you can’t just hang around all day,” he laughed and gave the rope a violent shake. The cruel act caught an already scatterbrained Dawn off guard and despite her best attempts, her slender fingers lacked the strength to keep hold of the jolted rope. With a high-pitched scream, she lost her precious grip as she prepared to fall into the waiting grasp of the mummy. Instead of the putrid embrace of the undead, Dawn felt instead a strange sensation of slow motion bobbing, like a worm on a fishing hook must feel, only it was the toe seam of her pantyhose snagged on an outcropping rock in the wall. All her weight bobbed upside down on the support of a snagged reinforced toe of her pantyhose. Thank GOODNESS she just changed into a fresh pair!
“HELP!!!” whimpered Dawn, as she dangled precariously upside down. On one end she bobbed limited time strength of the snagged reinforced toe of her trusty pantyhose, on the other, her long blonde hair swayed mere inches out of the grasp of deadly mummy, and in the middle she fought the humiliation of having her short cocktail dress flipping up around her hips, revealing the pantyhose up to her tummy, and even worse, the white panties with cute little hearts she wore underneath!!!
“Aren’t you a little old to be wearing those?” chuckled Clayton. Dawn’s face burned with humiliation despite her peril. Of all people to see her like this, why did it have to be one of the world’s most evil villains?
“Please, Dr Clayton… I need your help. I don’t think this reinforced toe is going to hold my weight much longer. The mummy is going to get me!” Dawn was begging before she realized it.
“Precisely my dear. The mummy thinks you stole its precious treasure, and is taking its revenge. All you need to do is return it, and the curse will be lifted.”
“But I didn’t steal the silken sash! I don’t have…” but then it dawned on Dawn.
“How you passed off a cheap pair of drugstore pantyhose for a priceless silken sash worthy only of a Great Emperor is beyond me. What can I say, after 2500 years, his eyes aren’t as good as they used to be,” chuckled Clayton.
“You’ll never get away with this!” cried Dawn, feeling dizzy with all the blood drained to her head, one hand trying hold her skirt over her modesty, the other trying to keep her long blonde hair from waving into the grasping mummy’s fingers.
“Quite the opposite. I already have. While you provided the initial distraction with the encounter of the mummy, I was already in the crypt stealing the true silken sash. You’re unfortunate ‘mistaken identity’ or ‘wardrobe malfunction’ merely was a convenient distraction, allowing my escape, and unfortunately for you, you’re untimely end.”
“Please don’t leave me here! I can feel the threads in my toe giving out! Please rescue me!” Dawn begged for all she was worth.
“I knew you would beg in the end. You’re the same snot nosed brat you were when you were 16. A sniveling coward to the end! Thanks for 10 years in prison, consider this the payback!”
“Noooo!!!” Dawn cried as the final desperate threads of her stretched nylon toe gave out, dropping her with an agonizing smack to the earthen floor of the crypt. The wind was blown far from her lungs, and she was certain she had broken several bones. As fascinating as that was, she did not have time to analyze the facts, feel sorry for her poor bones, or even figure out where it hurt, because the mummy was looming over her instantly. He reached down and gnarled a rotting hand deep into her long flowing blonde hair. With an impossibly strong yank from such a withered form, poor Dawn was lifted off the ground by the very lovely hair atop her head. The pain was instantaneous, a universe of stars exploded before her eyes. If her breath were back yet, she would have been wailing until the walls of the crypt were filled to capacity with her cries. Instead, she feebly kicked her legs back and forth, stocking feet desperately trying to find purchase and ease the fire in her blonde scalp!
Her pathetic attempts to pry the mummy’s iron clad fingers from being knotted in her luxurious hair, and feeble kicks in the air did nothing to save her. She looked into the vacant glowing orange eyes of the mummy with her saucer greens and knew that she was a goner.
“You want my pantyhose, fella? If you put me down, I promise I’ll take them off, you can have them, if you’ll only just let me leave. Please!” Dawn tried one last ditched attempt at reasoning with the undead king. The urgency in her pleading heightened as she felt an odd sensation begin in her toes. It was something almost gravelly, and dry, a feeling of a thirst unquenchable, and then a tightening, a dry and brittle tightening. It began in her precious toes, moving up her long curved calves, around her dainty knees, and up the long supple path of her slender thighs, around the hump of her hips, and crawling up the flat of her tummy. Dawn looked down in horror, and could feel rather than see that from the ribs down, her body had dried out to a brittle dusty husk. All the pink tenderness of her legs beneath her silk stockings was shriveled up. She whimpered as the curse claimed her bucking ribcage and swarmed over her soft pink breasts like a pestilence. The grace of her neck, and definition of her fine chin, the moistness of her ruby lips, and the pinkness in her soft cheeks, the green in her terrified eyes, all her girlish beauty withered away in an instant as the curse ravaged her youth, leaving a gray and brown husk behind. Her once vibrant green eyes, were a sickly dull solid yellow, sightless. The last thing to turn was her luxurious soft blonde hair snarled tightly in the vengeful mummy’s fist. Starting from her scalp, it dried out, became brittle, lost its luster, and faded in color.
As the curse finished its course, the mummy relaxed its iron grip on Dawn’s now straw like hair. She dropped uncertain at first on her withered stocking feet and brittle and wrinkled stocking clad legs. She stumbled around aimlessly. Whatever she was, she was no longer Dawn Meadows. She would wander forever, that was her fate. She was a guardian of the mummy’s crypt.