Disclaimers: Any similarities to Mel and Janice are well, you guessed it. Those characters are the property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal/Studios USA. There is no copyright infringement intended in any way, shape or form. Not that anyone would ever possibly want to but just to cover all bases, this story cannot be used or sold for profit in any way.
Notes: Much thanks to Steph for inviting me to write again and to T for the wonderfully fast beta reading and help.
More Notes: Those of you who know something about the subject, please ignore my occasional stretch of the imagination with some of the facts. However, the Papyrus of Ani does exist and it is indeed a marvelous document. If you would like to write to me, please do at Idryth@aol.com.
Holding her hat, proudly displaying the bullet hole it had inadvertently picked up in her last adventure in the hand not holding the door knob, the blonde archaeologist stood ready. A whip on her belt by her left hand and a revolver by her right completed the look of utter confidence and competence.
Ready to do what was about to make itself known. Because a well ingrained part of her nature, which tended to infuriate some, exasperate others and endear her to yet another, albeit much smaller, group, was about to make a comeback after several months of behaving itself. You see, as many knew, making a grand entrance was something that this woman knew how to do and do quite well.
And thus, she grabbed the door knob and prepared to throw the door open wide as she took a huge breath of air. Indeed, the very breath of air which was going to be used to yell about the terrible job she had to demean herself for. In fact, this exclamation alone was one that many who had known her for years would say was not an unusual event.
Even more normal, they would note, was her current state, which could only be described as filthy. Her clothes acted as dirt sifters when she walked, even now leaving a trail of fine dust along the well worn carpet. Her boots were scuffed and obviously hadn't seen the good end of a cleaning in quite some time and every inch of visible sun - tanned skin was full of scratches and smudges of the same dirt, you hoped, that coated the floor.
Still, it mattered not, because she had something to say and by whatever Gods she lived by, she was going to say it. It was, therefore, an extremely difficult feat for her to almost swallow her tongue and catch the door the instant after attempting to free it from its worldly trappings.
But, indeed, she did hold her tongue and did stop the door from crashing open and it was only one thing that caused her to do so. One very tall, dark haired, bespectacled "thing" who was currently fast asleep with her head on the table. Spread out carefully before her were a myriad of books and what appeared to be two ancient scrolls with slightly tattered edges, standing out in brightly colored lettering.
Watching with anxious eyes for any sign that she may have disturbed the figure, Janice could only detect a slight snore. The snore being one of the very few things that could be held against Mel Pappas, her partner in crime, or rather lack thereof, for the past several months.
Softly, Janice turned and closed the door, then tiptoed her way quietly towards the sleeping woman. For her ability to make that grand entrance, the blonde could also be amazingly quiet and soft - footed when she needed to be. She most definitely felt she needed to be right now.
Cautiously, she tossed her hat off to the side and onto a chair. She approached Mel and then paused when the other woman seemed to stir. Wavering between progress and retreat for a few moments, she finally made a decision and moved forward once again, closer to the young woman.
With the softest of touches, she shook the other woman's shoulder very gently and whispered, "Mel." There was no answer and so she tried again. "Melinda, you have to wake up."
A soft groan emanated from the figure and then a grunting sound that could have been mistaken for just about anything.
Shaking Mel a little harder, she tried again, "Melinda, you need to get some real sleep in a bed, you're going to be so very sore. Come on, wake up." Fluttering eyelashes caught Janice's attention somewhat; the startling blue eyes that peeked out shortly after captured her attention completely, as they always did.
What was unusual, and more than somewhat alarming, to the blonde archaeologist was the florid pink flush that started at the other woman's high cheekbones, continued to her forehead, then her nose and even the tips of her ears, and then continued to presumed parts beyond what she could see. "Mel, what is it? Are you sick?"
Janice's hand shot out and she laid the back of her fingers against Mel's forehead, her own forehead crunching somewhat at the unexpected natural temperature that translated through her skin.
Mel, not known for the speed of waking up, blinked in consternation and then pulled back somewhat. "What?" she croaked and then cleared her throat to try again. "What's going on?" Cocking her head, she tried to focus and then started to feel around the table for her glasses.
Automatically, Janice reached across the books and picked up the glasses, using both hands to put them in place on Mel's face and being rewarded with a large smile she never seemed to be able to get enough of. "You fell asleep at the table again."
"Oh," Mel replied sheepishly and then perked up noticeably. "It was just that I was in such an interesting part of this translation!" Turning back to the table, she instantly picked up the scroll, handling it with extreme care. "Look, Janice!" she insisted, her southern U.S. accent coming through much stronger in her excitement.
Janice didn't bother to stop her grin at the excitement or Mel's accent as she moved into a better position to see what was spurring Mel's animation. It had been some time since they'd first met and Mel's accent had gentled from a somewhat annoying nervous twang to a lilt that, paired with her southern bred manner, could melt the hardest heart in seconds.
Luckily for Janice, Mel hadn't noticed the grin. Instead, she was searching out the exact phrase she had found earlier. "See!" she exclaimed, pointing at a line for Janice to look at, "They're pages from another Book of the Dead!"
Janice was instantly transfixed on Mel. "It can't be? Where are these from?"
"They came from the tomb you were excavating this week. Remember, you told me that you found them and thought they might be interesting?"
"But, I looked at the first few and they weren't this!" Janice began to read out loud, "Homage to thee, Osiris, Lord of ... is this all time?"
"Eternity," Mel replied quickly. "You were right, the first few scrolls were household goods. But, I know you, Janice. You have a nose for this, so I kept going and these were at the bottom of the stack."
Looking over another of the pages without touching, Janice began to translate once more, the excitement growing inside with each word, "I am with Horus on the day of the robing of the statue of Osiris, opening the caverns for the washing of the still of heart, and unbolting the opening of the Seshit shrine...."
Mel couldn't stop the smile from appearing on her face as a reflection of the one on Janice's. "Remember, Janice, this is a tomb from the eighteenth dynasty. It fits perfectly with another Papyrus of Ani. It's very similar but not exact, see the word changes here and here?" Mel pointed to specific parts of the scroll to emphasize her point.
"I can't believe it, Mel." Janice stood back, momentarily stunned at the implications of such a treasure. "I found them under a stash of broken pottery and since they were so well preserved, I thought you might find them interesting."
"The university will be so excited, maybe we can get you another dig from the Lady Budge Research Fellowship if we find more!"
"Mel, if we did, it's your find. Maybe we can find you a proper place for your talents to be recognized finally. You deserve more than a crummy hotel room in the middle of nowhere."
"Janice, this is our find and I'm perfectly happy here in the middle of nowhere with you." Pushing her glasses slightly further up her nose, Mel glanced up slightly nervously. "Are you happy, Janice?"
Janice was drawn out of her foray into what a find another Book of the Dead would be by the odd tone in her friend's voice. Looking into Mel's eyes, she felt everything she had been worked up about just minutes earlier fade away as if nothing else mattered. "Of course I'm happy, Mel. We're a great team."
"Yes," Mel replied, a soft smile on her face. "That we are."
"One problem," stated the blonde.
"Finding more pages?"
"Yep!" Janice began to pace to the other side of the room and back. "I got you all of the pages that were there. The chances are the pages were in one of the jars and never even seen when several were dropped in the entrance way."
"But, what if... "
"Hold on, Mel. We may be jumping too far ahead here. The tomb was robbed several times in antiquity and then excavated about eighty years ago. The chances of there being anything else are slim to none, you know that, right?"
Watching the hope fade from the other woman's eyes by the second, Mel spoke up. "Let's go find out."
Blinking, Janice said, "What?"
"Let's go see!"
"Mel, it's going to be dark soon. I worked most of the daylight today cleaning out the rest of the entrance way of the tomb. No more scrolls, no more pottery. Nothing."
Mel stood up, instantly towering over her diminutive friend. "Janice Covington, you are no quitter. As my grandmother used to say, Nothing ventured, nothing gained!"
"Mel, I'll look tomorrow, in the daylight. You need to sleep and there might not be anything there at all."
"Now is good, Janice. Just let me change into something so that I can help you and you get the flashlights."
"No buts, Janice! We're going! It'll be an adventure."
Janice stood in the middle of the room as Mel stepped behind the wooden screen and began to hum to herself as she changed. Shaking her head and muttering about pushy Southern broads, the grin on her face belying her words, Janice rummaged through her heavy duty cloth bag. Quickly, she found the chunky black flashlights that could easily be used as a dangerous object. Straightening, she jumped at the sensation of warm breath against her ear.
"Ready?" Mel asked quietly, standing next to Janice.
Swallowing, Janice turned to see an amazingly stylish and yet totally functional for digging Mel standing next to her. "Ye... Yes. Are you sure..."
Placing her finger softly against Janice's lips, Mel interrupted, "Yes, we need to do this and what better time than now to be sure? I don't want anyone else finding the other scrolls."
"Assuming there are any," Janice replied, trying to ignore the tingling in her lips, as she put the flashlights and some other essentials in her backpack.
"I have a good feeling about this, Janice. We're going to find something, you just wait and see."
- - - - -
It had taken a bit of fast talking and a small bribe to get the rickety truck the archaeologists sometimes used from the garage, but it had worked. The two women now stood before the entrance to the tomb, a full moon making the flashlights unnecessary for the first part of their trip.
"It's beautiful," Mel commented, her eyes taking in the difference moonlight provided to the eyes. The rugged cliffs that formed the walls of the Valley of Kings became less severe and more the stuff of legends.
Allowing her softer side to emerge for a moment, Janice returned, "That it is, Melinda. That it is."
As Janice began to climb down the ladder, Mel spoke up, "I like that, you know."
Looking up from her perched position, Janice queried, "Like what?"
"When you call me, Melinda. It's nice."
"Ah, well... er..." Janice uttered as she climbed down the ladder, grateful for the shadows that hid her blush.
Following Janice, Mel simply smiled to herself and concentrated on navigating the rungs.
"I guess it's good they don't think there's anything here worth taking now and don't have guards," Janice commented as she turned to the entrance and unlocked the padlock that probably wouldn't have stopped a determined child.
Cringing at the sound the gate made when opened, Janice turned before entering the crude tunnel. "We can still go back, you know."
Typically, Mel replied, "We're here and let's see what we can find. Just think of how happy Professor Polstenn will be if we find the rest. You may finally get the recognition you deserve from academia."
A little abashed, Janice answered, "I did sort of blow up my last dig, you know."
"For good reason! You saved the world!" Mel insisted.
"I'm not sure they think that, Mel."
"I know it and so will the world one day, don't you worry, Janice."
Switching on her flashlight, Janice shook her head slightly and walked into the darkness, the beam of light tight before her. After walking about fifteen feet, she stopped. "The broken pottery was here, you can still see the marks I used for measurement in the sand. See?"
Mel bent down and carefully looked over the area, not at all disappointed at the fact that nothing could possibly be hidden there since she was aware of how careful Janice was. She moved the light from her flashlight around the walls close by and then down towards the actual entrance to the tomb. Determined, she walked to the huge stone blocks that had guarded the entrance for thousands of years, ducked her head and walked through.
So caught up in looking around, Janice had to perform a miracle of contortion to avoid slamming into Mel once they were both beyond the gateway. "Geez, Mel, could've warned me or something."
"I thought I heard something," Mel replied.
"Probably rats, bats or one of the feral cats," Janice replied in a sing song voice.
"Cute, Janice. Real cute."
"It probably is, but let me lead the way anyway, okay? It's got a few potholes and I don't want you turning one of those pretty ankles."
It took Mel a few moments to grasp what Janice had said, but when she did, she decided to ask the burning question, "You think I have pretty ankles?" And then braced herself against the wall so that she could extend her leg to view the body part in question in the bright light of the flashlight.
Stumbling slightly, Janice realized her error and also realized there was no way out but the truth. "Well sure, of course you do. Everyone thinks so."
Blinking, Mel watched Janice round the corner into what she assumed was one of the smaller antechambers. "Everyone thinks so?" She rushed after the archaeologist and stopped dead at the sight of the beautiful paintings and text on the walls. "My heavens."
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Janice said and then continued without waiting for an answer and very glad of the reprieve, "We think this was for one of the children, but it was empty except for some more broken pottery. After this room, all of the walls are completely covered like this and in better shape, it's amazing to think they're thousands of years old."
"I really should get out of my books and into these tombs more often, look at this." Mel happily started translating the hieroglyphics on the wall. "Look, here it talks about Osiris and Isis and..."
"Mel, how about you come back tomorrow with me and you can look at these to your heart's content?"
"Look at the detail, Janice. It's as if they were just done yesterday. The colors are so vibrant and ... " Mel let out a sigh. "The scrolls are amazing, but the time it must have taken to do this. I forget that sometimes."
Shaking herself out of her reverie, Mel turned to her friend. "You promise I can come back tomorrow?"
"All right then, let's..."
Janice looked away from her own perusal of the walls at Mel's pause and over to the other woman. "What is it?"
"Why, it's just strange."
Moving closer, Janice asked, "What is?"
"Well, do you see this part right here?" Mel pointed out a part of the hieroglyphics. "It's almost exactly what was on one of the scrolls. See? It reads, 'The uttermost parts of the ground bow before thee, and the limits of the heavens entreat thee with supplications when they see thee.'"
Taking a moment, Janice translated the section in her mind. "Yes?"
"But this part after, it doesn't fit. 'The stone parts before thee and glorifies thee with secrets and pleasures of the greatest heights.' But then it continues as it does in the script, about the holy ones and all. Why would they do that?"
"Someone taking liberties?" Janice replied, her heart not in the argument because of her knowledge of ancient Egypt and the reverence they had for their gods.
"With the gods, Janice?"
"Yeah, I know. Maybe it was on the original scroll and not repeated on the final version that we saw?"
Bending over to view it more carefully, Mel spoke again, "And this section, it's complete before this patch of wall and then the next section starts fresh over here. Why leave this gap?"
Kicking herself for being annoyed at being given one of the less important tombs and not paying more attention, Janice also moved closer to view the section in question. "You're right. Maybe you should be the archaeologist for a while, Mel, and I'll translate."
Grimacing slightly at the knowledge that it was her own insistence that Janice be hired to help on the digs before she would consider the translating position, Mel sighed softly to herself. "Stop that, Janice Covington. You're the best archaeologist there is and you know it. You found the Xena scrolls!"
"And lost 'em," Janice replied morosely.
"We'll find them again. You just wait and see," Mel countered brightly. "Now, what do you think about this?"
Janice's gaze followed Mel's pointed finger, after a second she crouched down before it as something caught her attention. "Look at this. It looks as if this part has been smoothed over, doesn't it?"
"Why, yes, it does. Why would they do that?"
Gently, Janice reached out with one finger and pressed against the section in question, feeling it move ever so slightly. "Hm," she mused and pushed a little harder.
Mel stepped back and shined her light directly where Janice was pressing, smiling slightly at the change of mood.
"A little to the right, Mel." Janice paused for a second until the main focus of the beam moved to where she had indicated. "Look ... right here. Cracks." Before Mel could move, Janice spoke again, "You know, they have found some hidden caches in the walls when excavating. Deir El Bahiri had several."
"Can you see anything?" Mel queried.
Working the stone and plaster very carefully to not damage anything, Janice finally got to a point where she could easily see where the particular section of wall had definitely been changed at some point. Using her pen knife, she prized the block of stone away from the wall.
Even though it was agonizingly slow, Mel was fascinated by what was happening. Even she understood that there were no guarantees, but she felt as if this was something that would turn out right in the end. She was sure of it.
Finally, Janice had the stone block in her hands and she worked it away from the wall, easing it down to the ground. Picking up her flashlight once more, she shone the light into the small hole and then leaned back for Mel to see. "Look, Mel."
Eagerly, Mel looked inside and then breathed, "A wooden box?"
"They put all sorts of things in boxes. Might just be dinner."
"Why would they put dinner in the wall, Janice?"
"Well, I don't know that one, sweetheart, and we probably should wait until morning..."
"But?" Mel questioned.
"But, we're here and it's here and ..."
"It might be the rest of the Book, Janice."
"Remember, might be dinner too," Janice countered, even as she grabbed a sketch pad from her backpack and began to sketch the area.
A short while later, the fastidious archaeologist in Janice was as satisfied as it could be, and she put on her gloves, before reaching inside the small space to finally touch the wooden box. Ensuring she had a hold of the item, she took her time retrieving it from the location it had been hidden for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Mel glanced back towards the depths of the tomb when a slight breath of wind stirred the sand, and then turned back to watch with barely suppressed excitement as Janice placed the box on a cloth they had previously laid out. Then the other woman picked up her sketch pad again and sketched the box quickly, the lines becoming an extremely accurate representation in hardly any time. "You're so good at that."
Absentmindedly, Janice replied, "You have to be quick. Sometimes things fall apart once they're taken out of the sealed place they were in." Pointing with a pencil at one of the joins of the box, she continued, "Look there, it's got some damage already. Probably from insects."
Mel leaned in again and noticed there was indeed damage, something she hadn't seen in her initial excitement. "And inside?"
"We won't know until it's opened, Mel."
"Well, I think it's going to be just fine."
After finishing her examination and sketch, Janice dug into her bag again and pulled out a brush. Gingerly, she swept accumulated dust and debris from the box and looked it over. It appeared to be made from Mahogany and was inlaid with ivory and possibly some gemstones. The latches gave the impression that they were likely made of gold.
In dimensions, Janice noted on her sketch, it appeared to be approximately fourteen and one quarter inch wide and sixteen and one eighth inches tall. The depth was almost five and a half inches, leaving the blonde to wonder about the size of the book, should the box contain other pages.
Some Papyrus of Ani had been almost eighty feet long when the scrolls were laid together, the Papyrus of Hunefer almost nineteen feet long. A box that size wouldn't contain anything close to those lengths and it was a fact that usually the papyrus scrolls were found in large rolls stitched together.
Pushing aside her disappointment, Janice finally spoke up, "Okay, let's see if I can get this open without breaking anything, but ..."
"It isn't going to be the scrolls is it?"
"I'm sorry, I don't think so. They're usually bound together and rolled in bundles."
"That's all right," Mel said, "It's fun just working with you to find something."
"That it is. That it is. Let's see what's in here."
With a slow hand and meticulous touch, Janice opened the box, somewhat surprised at how easily it opened. Under a layer of some type of cloth that had mostly disintegrated to dust lay a few pieces of what appeared to be jewelry.
Janice completed another sketch and then cleared off the pieces, one or two were obviously made from gold but they were quite small. A find still, as was the box, but not something that would get them a dig of their own somewhere.
Suppressing a sigh, Janice spoke again, "We'll have to take this with us and bring it back tomorrow to show to Polstenn. He should be happy, the tomb wasn't supposed to have anything left in it."
"I'm sorry, Janice."
Puzzled, Janice answered, "For what?"
"I just thought you would appreciate the job and that it would lead to something else," Mel answered, folding her long frame to the ground across from Janice. "I suppose I was selfish, wanting you to be here too. But, I really did think you'd find something and we'd get out of here together."
"I did want to be here, Mel. This," Janice traced her hand in the air to indicate the tomb, "This is in my blood. The Xena Scrolls are my driving force, but this is my bedrock. Without this, without these finds... what would I be? A professor in some stuffy small university somewhere?"
Mel smiled softly. "I don't see that."
"No, this and places like it are where I need to be and you're my partner, Mel, so better yet." With that, Janice carefully closed the box again, leaving it on the floor for the moment and stood up, holding a hand out to Mel to help her up as well.
Mel reached up to grab the hand, and was surprised when she almost pulled Janice off her feet. "What on earth?" she wanted to know but Janice had already removed her hand and was moving to the wall.
"Look, Mel. There's something else in here."
"What?" Mel was already on her knees again, trying to see.
Janice eased a bundle from the cavity and placed it on the cloth that had been used for the box. She could already feel her heart begin to race with the sight of red and yellow borders at the top and bottom of what surely was papyrus scrolls wrapped with a belt of cloth. With a care that could have touched a butterfly's wings and done no damage, she removed the fragments of cloth and unrolled part of the scroll to confirm her thoughts.
"Janice, it's the rest of the..."
Mel's exclamation was stopped by a soft moan that began somewhere in the depths of the tomb and seemed to grow as it went on. With a gust of wind that made them cover their faces, as it blew some of the dust and sand around, it was gone and both women were left to look at each other.
"Completely natural," Janice spoke up, finally.
"I'm sure it is," Mel replied, "But can we take this back to the room anyway?"
"I hate to remove it, but maybe that's best. I can look at it better there anyway and you can verify it's the same set of scrolls."
Emptying out the meager contents of her backpack, Janice shoved the various items in her multitude of pockets and held open the backpack. "Can you put the scrolls in here?"
"You bet," Mel replied, warily holding the bundle and fitting it into the backpack. When finished, she stood up, "Shall I take the box?"
"Yep, that'd be great, Mel," Janice answered, her mood suddenly much brighter than earlier in the day.
The women began to move towards the doorway, their precious cargo carefully held in their arms when, in the blink of an eye, their flashlights winked out. Both women stopped instantly and shook their flashlights.
"Janice, do you have more batteries?"
"They were fresh two days ago and haven't been used since then. My spares are in the room."
"Can we just move along the wall?"
About to reply, Janice was cut off when she heard an odd shuffling noise from further inside the tomb.
"Bats," Janice interrupted in a whisper.
"Then why are you whispering?"
"Don't want to scare them," Janice responded, trying for a reasonable response and putting her flashlight in her pocket to reach for her gun.
Suddenly, another gust of wind came from the tomb, this time strong enough to pelt the two women with dust and tiny rocks. The gust was accompanied by a moan of larger proportions.
"I know." Janice thought quickly, "It's probably some odd wind that only comes at night or something."
Not at all sure of her explanation, but willing to run with it if Mel did, Janice hefted her gun and whispered, "Stay behind me."
"I thought it was just a wind?" came the natural response.
"Well, just in case it isn't," Janice countered. "I'll get us to the archway of the main tunnel, I think I can remember where the biggest rocks and holes are. Can you follow?" She almost dropped her bundle when a warm hand descended on her shoulder.
"Sorry," Mel offered.
"Just wasn't sure about those bats, you know I don't like 'em in my hair."
"Right, of course," Mel reasonably responded, keeping the hand exactly where it was to help keep her close to the other woman.
As Janice took her first step, the shuffling noise began again. It seemed to echo around them in halting steps, as if whatever was causing the sound was seriously in need of help.
"Yes?" the archaeologist breathed, not at all surprised that Mel had a question.
"What if it's someone who needs help?"
"Then they'd say so," Janice answered, sliding another foot forward.
"But what if they can't?"
"It's just bats, cats or rats, Mel. We're the only people here."
As Janice finished, another moan began, accompanied by a puff of air that barely stirred the dust but brought a rather fetid odor with it.
"And is that bats, cats or rats, Janice?" Mel asked, trying to bury her nose in her shoulder.
Shamefully glad to have shuffled her way to the doorway to the tunnel, Janice didn't bother to reply to the question. "Come on, go in front of me. Just keep your shoulder against the wall and you should be fine."
"What about you?"
Again not surprised, Janice spoke once more, "Don't worry about me, I'll be fine. Just go and be careful with the box."
"I'm not leaving without you, Janice Covington."
"That's good, darlin', because I'm not staying," Janice retorted.
The shuffling noise seemed to get closer, as if something was making its way from the nether regions of the tomb and finding its way to the light.
"Janice," Mel breathed, "What could it be?"
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio."
"Than are dreamt of in my philosophy?" Mel worried.
Bravely, Janice responded, "It's fine, just keep moving."
"I'm moving, I'm moving!"
After what seemed like several hours, but was likely not more than a minute or two, Mel spoke around the now constant soft moans. "Janice, shouldn't we be out by now?"
Shuffling another step or two, Mel stopped when she realized Janice hadn't answered. "Janice?"
When the hairs on the back of her neck had started to rise, Janice had turned to look back into the darkness and was transfixed by what she saw. Two beads of red light, somehow fixed in the air very slowly moving closer and closer towards the two women. Realizing she was being spoken to, Janice croaked, "Bats?"
Aware that her heart rate had suddenly doubled at what she too now saw, Mel couldn't stop the, "Oh my," which trickled from her lips.
Backing up, Janice started as she pressed against the box cradled in Mel's arms and then pushed back slightly. "Go, go, go!"
"Right," Mel agreed, backing up and then turning once more, her steps suddenly much surer in the dark. "Come on, Janice."
Too shaken to notice the change in tone of Mel's voice, Janice followed as closely as she could until they both finally saw the moonlight bathing the entrance to the tomb and the ladder out. Risking another glance back, she was shocked at how much closer the "thing" seemed to be. "Hurry, Mel, hurry."
"Almost there. We'll be fine."
Keeping her thoughts to herself, Janice just shook her head in the dark and turned again to concentrate on the exit. Trying not to think about what was behind them wasn't working, therefore concentrating on what was ahead seemed a much better idea.
The closer they got to the entrance to the tomb, the stronger the moans became and the louder the shuffling sounds. Both women increased their speed as much as they were able.
Just as Mel breached the line to the entrance of the tomb, the strongest surge of wind yet hit them, violently pushing Mel towards ladder. She twisted her body to avoid the ladder and hit the wall with her shoulder.
Janice followed, somehow managing to clear the entrance way just as she felt a slight tug on the back of her jacket. Pulling free, she too was hit with the wall of air and stumbled to her knees, still holding her package.
With quite a lot of trepidation, both women turned to look back at the tomb. Only to see the deepest darkness facing them, no sounds, no wind, nothing but what should be there.
"Are you all right, Janice?" Mel asked, somewhat dazed at what had just occurred.
"Right as rain, Mel. Right as rain," Janice answered, even as she didn't mention the incongruous fact that on a warm Egyptian evening she could see her breath clouding before her.
"Wha ... what was that thing?"
"I... " Janice started to reply as a scrabbling noise suddenly came from inside the tomb. Quickly standing, she turned to Mel. "Put the box down and get out of here. Get out of here now!"
"I'm not lea..." Before she could finish her sentence, a streak of black shot from the tomb entrance way and hit the ladder with a wild clatter.
"What the hell?" Janice said, bringing her gun to shoot at whatever was threatening them and barely stopped when she heard Mel yell.
Lessening the pressure on the trigger, Janice realized why Mel had yelled and noticed, with an offhand thought, that Mel's flashlight was now working and shining on a black cat which was now doing its level best to climb up the rickety ladder. "A cat? It was a damned cat?"
Closing her eyes in relief, Mel leaned back against the wall and let out a deep sigh. "Thank the lord."
"I should shoot that damned thing, just for giving us a heart attack."
"You did say it was bats, rats or cats, Janice."
"Who knew, Mel. Who knew."
The two women proceeded to get themselves and their bundles safely up the ladder and into the warmer air. So intent were they on what they were doing, that neither noticed the fluttering strips of linen that fell from the back of Janice's clothing and drifted back down into the tomb entrance.