A place for horror or darker stories, mostly written for 'Screams!!!'
| The Sarcophagus
I was just about to put the dough into the oven, for, to me, there's nothing like fresh bread. It was all heated up ready, the dough in the pan, when the phone rang.
"Carla, I've got something you must see."
"Harry? Is that you?" We had spent a lot of time at university together, but then our lives had taken very different paths. While he qualified as an entomologist, I turned to the study of viruses. "I haven't heard from you for at least a decade."
"No, it's a real shame our paths don't cross more often." Harry did sound genuinely regretful for a moment, before the urgency took over again. "Can you get to the Egyptology Museum?"
"When? Why? It's never been one of my interests. I left the mummies and stuff to Craig."
"It's Craig that called me. He wants us both to meet him there, says he has found something that might be of interest to both of us."
"Okay... I can't imagine what. When are you heading over there?"
"Right away. I was hoping you could do so, too."
I looked longingly at the loaf pan that was waiting to be put in the oven. With the current pandemic spiraling out of control again it was rare for me to have any time off. I could say no, but Harry sounded so full of enthusiasm, and while Craig and I were not likely to have much to say to each other my curiosity had been aroused.
Sighing heavily I turned back to the phone. "I'll be there in half an hour," I said.
When I arrived at the museum both Harry and Craig were waiting for me just inside the entrance. "Hi, Carla, glad you could make it," Craig said, then turned and headed off, leaving us to follow him.
He was leading us away from the main part of the museum, towards the rooms that were closed to the public. We went into one room, and Craig handed out some protective clothing for us to put on.
"This is what I'm used to," I said, putting my mask in place and pulling on the protective gloves.
"I can well imagine. And it's not often that our three fields merge," Craig explained, "but we have a recent arrival that might hold some answers."
"Go on," urged Harry.
"We've recently taken delivery of a new sarcophagus, and initial investigations suggest that there might be a bug in there, along with the mummy."
"Really! So that's what I'm here for," Harry said. "Lead the way. I'm dying to see what you've found."
"Hang on a minute," I said, holding back. "What does this have to do with me?"
"Covid," Craig said.
"Covid? As in the coronavirus?"
"Exactly. A preliminary investigation suggests that this Egyptian died from something similar. With the insect being buried with the corpse, there is the outside possibility that it might contain some possible solutions."
To be honest, I was tired of all the possibilities that had presented themselves, only to later prove to be no good in helping us get a grip on the virus. Yes, I was definitely jaded, but I couldn't turn away. What if it did hold the answer and I ignored it?
"To be honest, Craig, I don't hold out much hope, but now that I'm here I'll certainly take some samples."
"Is the bug alive?" Harry asked.
"No, our nearest guess puts it at six thousand years old. But we have some great images of it. So far we have not attempted to remove it, knowing how fragile it is likely to be."
We gathered around the photos. They were like x-ray shots, only instead of being taken through flesh, these had been taken through stone. The sarcophagus itself was unusually plain. Whoever was buried inside there had not been deemed important enough to get any carvings, sculptures or paint. No wonder it had taken so long for it to be discovered, for it more resembled a slab used for building than a coffin.
"There, I see it." Harry pointed towards a dark blob that to my eyes did not resemble anything, but to his clearly meant a lot. "Some kind of beetle... but look at the size of it. It's huge!"
"Would you care to remove it?" Craig asked, carefully levering the lid up.
I don't know what I expected to see. The mummy did not look very impressive, to be honest. The wrappings had entirely disintegrated in many places, leaving a glimpse of the bones beneath them. I watched Harry carefully extract the bug, and place it gently onto the bench that stood beside the stone coffin.
"I'll just need to take a tiny scraping," I said.
"Be careful, Carla. This might not hold the answers that you are looking for, but it certainly is an undiscovered bug."
I looked around me. Not knowing what I was about to see I had not come prepared. There had to be something here that I could use to take a sample. Just as I spotted the needle, I heard bot Craig and Harry shout out. Turning, I saw the tail of what could only be a rat disappearing into a hole in the wall.
The bug had vanished. Six thousand years it had survived, and now, in modern times, it had been wiped out in minutes. Harry was beside himself, but at least he had some evidence to work on from the images. Me, I had nothing, no data at all.
"Could I take a sample from the mummy?" I asked.
Craig slammed the lid down. "No. You can't. I'm sorry to have wasted your time."
And so I went home. The idea grew in my head that the rat had stolen the answer; that it had devoured our one sole chance to defeat the virus. But there was nothing I could do, not any more, so instead I relit the oven and proceeded to bake my bread.