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The cursed scarab, p.1
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       The Cursed Scarab, p.1

           Suzanne Weyn
 
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The Cursed Scarab


  For lovers of the creepy, strange, and mystifying.

  Contents

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Introduction

  1

  2

  3

  4

  5

  6

  7

  8

  9

  10

  11

  12

  13

  14

  15

  16

  17

  18

  19

  20

  21

  22

  23

  24

  About the Author

  Hauntings

  Also Available

  Copyright

  Welcome. You have arrived at the Haunted Museum. It’s a place where dreams are made — bad dreams! Ghostly phantasms float by. When you least expect it, a hand grabs your throat. An old music box plays a tune you’d rather forget. A painting you are viewing is also viewing you.

  I opened the Haunted Museum many, many years ago. And I’ve been adding to its special displays for longer than I can recall.

  Some say the museum has become a worldwide chain — just an entertaining fraud for the amusement of tourists.

  Others see something more mysterious, more sinister within its walls.

  Either way, no one escapes unaffected by what they find within the museum. The items that touch your hands will come back to touch your life in a most terrifying manner.

  Take, for instance, the case of Taylor Mason, who has always wondered what it would be like to be an ancient Egyptian princess. But she needs to be careful what she wishes for. When she comes into possession of an ancient artifact, she unleashes a terrifying evil into the world.

  Happy Haunting,

  Belladonna Bloodstone

  Founder and Head Curator

  THE HAUNTED MUSEUM

  I DON’T KNOW how a cheesy place like the Haunted Museum ever got hold of such valuable treasures,” Taylor Mason’s father griped as they stood in line outside the Haunted Museum. “I can’t believe we have to come here to see them.”

  “What’s wrong with here?” Taylor asked. She didn’t share her dad’s dismay. This was her first time at the Haunted Museum and she was thrilled to be there. She looked ahead at the banner outside the large brick building and smiled. NEW DISCOVERY! THE LOST TREASURES OF NEFERTITI!

  “These artifacts should be at a real museum with proper security,” her father said, his voice taking on that familiar tone he used when he began a lecture. Professor Mason taught classes on ancient Egypt at the nearby university. The Masons’ home was full of books about ancient Egypt, many of them written by him. Any surface that wasn’t a bookshelf held Egyptian artifacts or models of famous sites or landmarks.

  Mrs. Mason, Taylor’s mom, was also interested in the history of Egypt. She had written a play about Queen Nefertiti, wife of the pharaoh Akhenaten. A local theater group had even done a performance of it. The county newspaper had given it a great review, calling the play “a thrilling look into a lost world.”

  The fact that ancient Egypt was a huge part of the Mason family’s life was fine by Taylor. She thought it was all extremely interesting, from the beautiful art to the incredible buildings, and wished she could have lived in the times of the pharaohs. Sometimes she daydreamed about being an ancient Egyptian princess.

  Taylor even blew her dark hair straight and wore it in a blunt cut to her chin, in the style of ancient Egypt. If she was feeling brave, she’d tie a thin gold cord across her long bangs and wear white to really highlight the Egyptian look.

  Some kids in school made fun of her for dressing up when it wasn’t Halloween, but her good friends called her Queen Cleo, after the ancient Queen Cleopatra, even when she wore jeans and a plain T-shirt. They understood it was a look that came out of her true interest in Egyptian culture and not just a show, so they thought it was cool.

  But today, since seventh grade had just ended for summer vacation, Taylor was free to attend the exhibit as soon as it opened. Unfortunately, it seemed like a lot of people had the same idea, and she and her dad stood in a long line of families and groups of teenagers.

  A tall boy with a blond crew cut stood in front of Taylor in line. He had on a black T-shirt covered with the symbols of ancient Egyptian writing. Hieroglyphics.

  As they moved forward, Taylor was so busy looking at the symbols, trying to figure out what each one meant, that she accidently stepped on the back of his sneaker. The boy whirled to face her. Behind his black-framed glasses, his eyes were a piercing blue.

  “Sorry,” Taylor murmured, embarrassed.

  He didn’t seem angry but he wasn’t smiling, either. “Nice haircut,” he said. “Very Egyptian.”

  Taylor squinted at him, uncertain. Was he making fun of her? “Thanks,” Taylor said cautiously. “I like your T-shirt.”

  The boy held out the hem to gaze down at it. “It spells my name — Jason — in hieroglyphics.”

  “That’s cool,” Taylor said. “Where did you find it?”

  “Online,” he replied. “I’m always browsing the ancient Egypt sites. I’m kind of an expert on it.”

  “Really,” Taylor said, more as a comment than a question. He certainly seemed to think a lot of himself. Jason smiled a tiny bit and nodded, then turned back around.

  “You’ve made a new friend,” Professor Mason remarked.

  Taylor scowled at her father. Jason had ears — he could hear! “Dad, shhhh!” she whispered.

  “Sorry,” her father said more quietly.

  Jason was not a new friend! She barely knew him. Besides that, Taylor didn’t even particularly like his self-impressed manner. Kind of an expert! Really?!

  “Hey, look at that photo.” Professor Mason pointed to the doorway. “Isn’t she something?”

  The banner by the main entrance featured a picture of the famous head and shoulders statue of Queen Nefertiti carved by the ancient Egyptian sculptor Thutmose. The bust showed her adorned by the well-known conelike crown. The heavy-lidded, dark, almond-shaped eyes were rimmed in black kohl. Her long neck stretched forward regally, drawing the viewer’s eye to the many levels of her wide necklace of semiprecious stones.

  From reading about the royal queen, Taylor knew that the name Nefertiti meant “the beautiful one has come.” To Taylor she was more than lovely. Everything about Nefertiti was magical and glamorous. The queen embodied all that was intriguing and mysterious about ancient Egypt. Taylor could hardly believe that soon she would be viewing objects that the intriguing queen had actually touched with her own hands.

  As the line moved forward, Taylor noticed security guards in identical black pants, white shirts, and black sport jackets stationed all around the sidewalk outside the building. Stone-faced behind the mirrored lenses of their sunglasses, they balanced on the balls of their feet, pivoting this way and that.

  “There are security guards here,” Taylor told her dad, recalling his concerns about the artifacts. “Lots of them.”

  He scanned the area and nodded. “Well, that’s good, at least.”

  “How valuable is this stuff, anyway?” Taylor asked her father.

  “A treasure thought to be lost to the world, newly discovered, and of the size I’ve heard it described?” Professor Mason said. “Any of the pieces would be priceless, just for having been among the treasure of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.”

  Taylor was even more impatient to see the collection, but the line didn’t seem to be moving at all.

  “Will you be all right here for a moment?” her dad asked, nodding toward the restroom.

  “Sure,” Taylor said, “but if this line moves and you’re not back, I’m going to see the t
reasure without you!”

  As her father walked away, Jason turned back to Taylor. “You know, the value of the treasure isn’t why it’s here at the Haunted Museum.”

  “Oh? Why, then?” Taylor asked.

  Jason looked at her with a grin. “Because it’s haunted!”

  “Oh sure!” Taylor said. “Totally haunted.” She knew they were at the Haunted Museum, but she’d never believed in the supernatural. She was just there to see Nefertiti’s treasure.

  “It’s more like cursed than haunted,” Jason went on.

  “Every other treasure found in Egypt is ‘cursed,’ ” Taylor said.

  “Yeah, but this one in particular,” Jason said. “Smenkhkare was this wizard sort of guy, and he ruled with Akhenaten toward the end of his reign. Nefertiti’s treasure was stolen and Smenkhkare put a curse on whoever stole it.”

  “Did Smenkhkare’s curse work?” Taylor asked.

  Jason shrugged. “Probably. All I know is what they said on the Haunted Museum website. That the treasures of Nefertiti are among the most mysterious and strange Egyptian collections ever uncovered.”

  “That assumes you believe in ancient curses at all,” Professor Mason said, stepping back into his place in line next to Taylor.

  “Of course not,” Taylor said. She knew it was superstition, and it wasn’t like her dad had been cursed in all his years in the field.

  “I totally believe in ancient curses,” Jason replied with conviction. “It’s been proven. They’re real.”

  THE LINE began moving and soon they were in the front lobby of the Haunted Museum. It was dark with swirling smoke. Jason turned back to Taylor. “Don’t worry. It’s just dry ice,” he said.

  Taylor rolled her eyes and nodded. Of course it was! It annoyed her that he thought she was so dumb.

  “This place is kind of lame,” Taylor murmured to her father as an electronic skeleton dressed to be the pirate Long John Silver rose from its coffin and shook its sword at passersby.

  “It is,” her father agreed. “I don’t know how a tourist trap ever acquired these treasures. Let’s just see them and go.”

  They came to a sign with an arrow that read: THIS WAY TO THE THREE-HEADED COW. “Aww, can’t we at least see the cow before we leave?” Taylor asked with a big fake grin.

  Her father chuckled. “Let’s focus on the Lost Treasures for now,” he said. “They’ve been hidden away for thousands of years, and I’m dying to see them.”

  Finally, they came to a long, beautifully lit room full of glass cases, where the treasures were displayed. Two mummies stood in their sarcophagi against the far wall. A larger-than-life poster depicting Nefertiti hung over some writing. Taylor and Professor Mason went over to read it. Jason tagged along with them as though he was now part of their group, and Taylor wasn’t sure whether she wanted to keep talking to him or for him to go away.

  Together they read the information about how Nefertiti’s husband, the pharaoh Akhenaten, had done away with the old Egyptian gods: Horus, Anubis, Isis, etc. He’d started a new religion that worshipped Aten, the sun.

  Some Egyptians took to the new sun worship. But others were angered by it and wanted the old ways back. Some of them believed that the source of all Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s power was contained in the treasure they kept locked away in one of their temples; if they could take or destroy the treasure, the rulers would fall from power and the old gods would return. One night the temple was broken into and all the most valuable treasure was stolen. Only now, thousands of years later, had the treasure been uncovered, hidden deep in Egypt in a bat-filled cave.

  “Why would the Egyptian government ever let this treasure be displayed here so fast?” Professor Mason asked in amazement. “It doesn’t look as if there’s been time to evaluate or even catalog the find.”

  “Belladonna Bloodstone has many friends around the world.” Turning toward the person who had just spoken, Taylor observed a petite woman who gave off a powerful energy. Her raven hair was pulled back tightly in a twist that highlighted a face of sharp angles. Her dark eyes sparkled. She was dressed in a black suit, and her arms jangled with many silver bangles.

  “Are you Belladonna Bloodstone?” Taylor guessed.

  “The owner of the Haunted Museum?” Jason added.

  “I am,” she replied with an accent Taylor couldn’t identify.

  “How did you ever get ahold of these priceless treasures?” Professor Mason inquired.

  Belladonna Bloodstone grinned. “The head curator of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, a man named Dr. Bey, is a friend of mine. I took care of a little matter for him once, and he owed me a favor.”

  “Well, this is some favor!” Professor Mason marveled.

  Belladonna Bloodstone smiled mysteriously. “The treasure will be returned to Egypt after a month, and is now under the utmost security, I assure you,” she said, nodding toward the guards. “Enjoy yourselves, but be very careful to do as the signs say.”

  “What signs?” Jason asked.

  Belladonna Bloodstone laughed. “What signs?! You mean you haven’t noticed them?” she asked. She spread her arms to indicate the walls around them. Signs that read DO NOT TOUCH hung everywhere.

  “Oh, but of course,” Professor Mason said. “No daughter of mine would try to handle antiquities without proper training.”

  “Good. It’s very important. No matter what happens, do not touch anything.” Smiling, Belladonna Bloodstone backed up and disappeared into the crowd viewing the treasures.

  Taylor and Jason walked together ahead of Professor Mason as they made their way through the exhibit. Both of them were so fascinated by the objects that they hardly spoke. Beside the gold and stone pieces, there were jewel-encrusted statues carved from ebony. Taylor especially liked a statue of a big-eared, short-coated cat with emerald eyes.

  Taylor leaned close when she noticed a large round object. The shape of a big insect was carved into the blue stone. Taylor knew that it was a scarab, a common image in Egyptian art.

  “They really loved the dung beetle,” Jason commented.

  “A what kind of beetle?” Taylor asked. She’d never really thought about it before.

  “Yeah. A dung beetle,” Jason confirmed. “Since these guys worshipped Aten, the sun god, they liked the round dung balls the beetles rolled up. The beetles laid their eggs in the dung balls.”

  “Ew!” Taylor said, wrinkling her nose. She leaned in closer to the case. “Now I see it,” she said. “Those marks are the wings, all folded up close to the body. And there’s the head and the pincers at the top.”

  “Exactly,” Jason said in that superior, smug way that was really starting to annoy her.

  “This one is much larger than the scarabs I’ve seen,” she said as Jason bent close beside her.

  “Stop!” someone shouted.

  Taylor lifted her head quickly at the sound of the voice. At first she thought she and Jason were being scolded for leaning so close to the case.

  But then she saw what was really happening.

  A guard was struggling with a man dressed all in black. His eyes were shaded with dark sunglasses and a knit cap covered his head. He flailed his arms and writhed in the guard’s grip.

  Other members of the security team approached to help but as they neared the thief, he broke free and ran.

  Another guard tackled the robber, and the two of them tumbled backward into the glass case holding the scarab.

  Taylor and Jason leaped backward as the case overturned, smashing to the ground. Shards of glass scattered everywhere and the case’s contents slid in all directions.

  Alarms blared. Museum visitors hurried away, frightened.

  The man in black crawled free from under the guard to lunge for the blue scarab beside Taylor’s foot.

  On impulse, Taylor snapped up the scarab before he could get it.

  In the next second, three guards piled onto the man, pinning him to the floor.

  “Stand
back everyone!” cried a man who seemed to be in charge of security. “We’ve been waiting for you to show up, Valdry,” he said, stooping to talk to the man on the floor.

  “I’ve done nothing. You can’t hold me,” the man shouted angrily, his voice revealing a French accent.

  “Done nothing?!” the head guard scoffed. He snatched the dark glasses from Valdry’s face.

  Valdry cringed and shielded his eyes. “I have an eye condition. I must have my glasses.”

  “You call this nothing!” the guard asked as he handed the sunglasses back to Valdry. “You tried to take this scarab from the archaeologists who uncovered it back in Egypt. When that failed you came here to try to steal it. We’ve been watching you for weeks.”

  As the guards pulled Valdry to his feet, Taylor gazed at the blue scarab she held. Only then did she realize it vibrated, and the sensation was becoming stronger with every passing second. The tingle ran up her arm and traveled into her shoulder, up her neck, and into the back of her skull.

  What was happening? The room was swirling … and then the Haunted Museum, and everyone and everything around Taylor, melted away.

  TAYLOR STOOD at the opening of a cave, looking out onto a rolling, dune-filled desert. Narrowing her eyes into slits to block the blinding sun, Taylor felt strangely at home in this place.

  She realized that she still held the scarab, and lifted it so that the round blue beetle appeared to blot out the sun’s yellow, glowing disc. When viewed in that way, the scarab was exactly the size of the sun in the sky.

  Squinting up at the burning yellow orb, she felt the scarab grow warmer in her hand. A tingling sensation emanated from the blue stone. It ran up her arm until the pins-and-needles feeling engulfed her limb. Part of her wanted to drop the scarab, to make the strange feeling go away. Yet somehow she knew not to do that.

  Her mission was too urgent for her to give up now.

  How did she know? Taylor wasn’t sure. There seemed to be two people alive in her body. There was Taylor, who didn’t understand what was happening — and someone else was present as well. The other person had been in this desert many times and knew full well what she needed to do.

 
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