The creatures scattered, squealing like startled swine.


Norman backed a step, sighing in relief. That should buy them a bit more time. “Can you get the rifle working?”

“I don’t know. There’s a shell jammed tighter than shit. I can’t jimmy it free.” Ralph shook his head as he stared at the flames. “Our only hope is that the others see the fire and come investigate.”

“But they won’t know the fire means we’re in trouble. What if we tried screaming for help?”

Ralph glanced back, hopelessness in his expression. He shook his head. “Wouldn’t do us any good. The acoustics in this place will only bounce the noise all around.” Ralph glanced to Norman. “But I’m open to any other bright ideas.”

Norman chewed his lower lip, turning in a slow circle, looking for some answer among the scattered pottery and tokens of the dead. “I think I do have a bright idea,” he exclaimed, passing his torch to Ralph, then fishing through the camera bag slung across his back. He hefted out the flash unit and held it up. “A really bright idea!”

“What are you thinking?”

Norman waved away the question. “I need to get to that window slit.” He pointed to a narrow gap in the brickwork near the ceiling. It was much too small for the beasts to get through, but it would suit his needs fine. “I need a boost. How strong are you?”

Ralph frowned. “I could lift four of your scrawny asses.”

“One scrawny ass will do.” Norman settled his camera bag on the floor. “Gimme a knee up.”

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Crouching, Ralph helped Norman climb from knee to shoulder.

“Now up,” Norman said, kneeling atop Ralph’s shoulders and balancing with one hand braced on Ralph’s head.

With an explosive exhalation, Ralph heaved straight up, shoving Norman toward the high roof. Once his feet were steady, he hissed at Norman, “Hurry up with whatever you’re doing.”

Norman pulled up to the window’s sill and peered outside. The view stretched all the way to the gold statue. Perfect.

“Hurry!” Ralph said from below.

Norman felt his balance shift under him. He grabbed the window’s edge to keep from falling. “Steady there, big boy!”

“Get going! You’re not as light as you look.”

“Are you saying I’m fat?” Norman said with feigned offense.

“Enough wisecracks already. You’re not funny!”

Norman grumbled, “Everyone’s a critic.” He freed his flash from his vest pocket. Holding the flash up, he triggered the bright light in quick bursts—three short, followed by three long flashes, ending again with three short. Then Norman waited a few seconds and repeated the signal.

The incandescent light was blinding as it reflected off the surrounding tomb walls. Norman squeezed out one more sequence of signals, then switched off the lamp, conserving the bulb. It would have to do.

With a final glance at the gold statue so tantalizingly close, Norman dropped back.

“What were you doing?” Ralph asked as Norman awkwardly hopped from his perch. Ralph rubbed his bruised shoulders.

“Making a 911 call.” Norman pushed his flash unit back into his pack. “An old-fashioned S.O.S.”

Ralph glanced up at the hole. “Smart,” he mumbled.

“You’re welcome,” Norman answered, proud of his ingenuity. He straightened, slinging his camera bag over his shoulder. “Now if only someone spotted my signal.”

Norman suddenly felt something squirm in his hair. He ducked and batted at it; his wrist hit something solid. Squeaking with shock, Norman rolled to the side and spun around.

One of the creatures continued to paw at him through the open window near the roof, its arm stretched toward him. Norman backed away. A leering face, wide with teeth, appeared upside down at the opening and growled at them. It seemed Norman’s clever ploy had attracted someone—unfortunately not who he had hoped.

“Shit!” Norman whispered.

Overhead, scratching and scraping sounds began to echo from the rooftop. It sounded like a hundred crows scrabbling up there. In the back corner, one of the slab sections of the stone roof suddenly shifted an inch with a cracking grind of granite.

Both Norman and Ralph spun in horror to stare at the gap in the slabs. “They’re forcing their way in!” Ralph groaned.

“How fucking strong are they?”

“With enough of ‘em, they could probably tear this place apart.”

The scrape of claws and the ominous grind of stone reverberated through the high, narrow chamber.

Norman stepped away, then glanced toward their only exit. Flames from the burning mummy blocked the doorway. They were trapped in a snare of their own making.

“Me and my bright ideas,” he moaned.

Maggie was the first to spot the strobe of Norman’s flash. “Over there!” she yelled, drawing the attention of Sam and Denal. “Sweet Jesus, they’re alive.” She had noticed a red glow a moment ago among the maze of tombs. At first, she wasn’t sure it was them. Now she knew!

Sam sidled next to her. He had been circling the statue’s base, searching, too. “Where?”

As answer, a second series of flashes exploded through the necropolis. It was not far, just past the end of one of the avenues that spoked away from the central plaza. “They must be in trouble,” Sam said.

“What do you mean?” Maggie asked, her jubilation waning to worry.

“That’s old Morse code. An S.O.S. signal.”

Maggie stared toward the dark necropolis. “What are we going to do?”

Sam glanced at her. “I have to try and help them.” The flare of flashing light blazed again, then died away. “They must be pinned down.”

Denal spoke up, raising his torch a bit higher. “I go, too.”

“And I sure as hell am not staying here alone,” Maggie said. “Let’s go.” She started toward the avenue that led most directly toward the trapped students. A hand pulled her back.

“No,” Sam said, “you and Denal stay here.”

Maggie swung around, shaking out of his grip. “Like bloody hell! I’m not puttin’ up with any of your chauvinistic bullshit, Sam.”

“And I’m not asking you to. If I get the others free, we’re gonna be running like scared rabbits with a pack of wolves on our heels. We’re gonna need a hole to hide in.” Sam stepped back to the statue. He raised his rifle and tapped its butt against the gold ankle. A dull clang reverberated up the leg.

“It’s hollow,” Maggie said, amazed.

“And a good place to hide,” Sam said. “When I was circling around, I found a doorway on the far side. In the left heel of the idol.” Sam reached to his waist and slipped out the gold dagger. He held its hilt out toward Maggie. “I need you to pick that lock before I get back with the others.”

Maggie accepted the dagger and the responsibility. “My da’ was once a thief in his youth… here’s hoping there’s a genetic predisposition.”

Sam smiled at her. “I always suspected there was something criminal about you.”

She returned his smile. “I’ll get the bloody door open. You just bring back the others.” She held out her torch. “And be careful.”

He stepped closer to accept the flaming brand. In the torchlight, she could see the intensity smoldering in his blue eyes. Grabbing the torch, he let his hand linger on hers. “You, too,” he said, his voice a touch huskier. He hesitated another breath.

Maggie raised her face toward him. For a moment, she thought he was going to kiss her, but then he stepped away.

“I’d better get going.”

She nodded. Somewhere deep inside her, in a place that seldom stirred, she felt disappointment and turned slightly to keep from betraying her feelings. “Don’t you do anythin’ stupid,” she implored.

Denal spoke up from a pace away. “I see no more flashes. They stop.”

Sam swung around… whatever tenuous moment they had shared faded away like scattered embers. He studied the spread of the necropolis. “That can’t be a good sign,” he said quietly.

“Hurry, Sam.”

Nodding, the Texan raised his rifle toward the cavern roof. “Cover your ears.”

She and Denal did so, but even with their palms clamped tight to the sides of their heads, the rifle blast was deafening.

After the ringing died away, Sam lowered the rifle. “Hopefully, that’ll let them know the cavalry is coming.”

Maggie frowned as Sam started down the avenue.

And will let the creatures know, too, she thought dourly.

“That had to be Sam!” Ralph said. “He must have seen your signal!”

Norman eyed the gap in the slabs overhead. After the single rifle blast, pale fingers had returned to tug and push on the granite, widening the space another inch. Black eyes stared in at the trapped pair. Norman jabbed his torch at the faces, but to little effect. The roof was too high. They simply backed away, then quickly returned.

“Sam won’t make it here in time,” Norman mumbled. “Not unless we find some way to chase these roof rats away.”

Ralph turned from the doorway. “I may have an idea.”

Norman watched as Ralph shrugged the ammo belt from his shoulder. “With the rifle jammed, we won’t need this any longer.” He held up the strap of leather with over twenty intact shells still on it, then stepped toward the entrance.

Norman began to get an inkling of Ralph’s plan. “That might just work.”

“And it might blast a way out of here for us, too.” Ralph tossed the belt into the flames. In half a heartbeat, the shells began exploding like popcorn on a skillet, sputtering and cracking. Outside, ricochets pinged off the neighboring tomb walls. The mummy underneath the belt was riddled to shreds, and bits of it were scattered across the stone.

Overhead, beasts fled in a squealing rush from the noise and the cascade of flaming debris. Norman stepped nearer the gap to be sure they had actually fled. He raised his torch high toward the crevice in the roof. It was empty. No more peering faces or scrabbling fingers. He grinned. “It’s working—”

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