Pulp Horror Unearthed: The Mummy’s Curse (BEYOND #1, Nov 1950)
Fame was Eric Thorwald’s god, and there was a lone person who stood in his way to the attainment of the degree of fame in the archaeological world which he sought. That person was Cass Lyman, the man who supplied the funds for Thorwald’s excavations. Lyman’s inherited wealth enabled him to buy almost anything he wished, with little effort on his own part. Through the labor of Thorwald’s hands and mind, he sought to buy that one thing which Thorwald desired most for himself.
A nicely worded, but legally unmistakable clause in their contract indicated that Lyman was to receive credit for most of what Eric Thorwald accomplished.
Thorwald studied the thin, delicate features of the mummified priestess for a moment. Then his gaze centered on the rectangular golden ornament fastened over her bosom.
There had been nothing really unusual about the exquisitely tooled golden asp at its center, for the sacred serpent of Egypt is found everywhere in the art of the Pharaohs. But when, recognizing the great value of the ornament, he had followed his natural impulse and began fingering it to examine it more closely, something entirely unprecedented had happened.
A tiny catch had been released, and in response, a slender spring of oiled wire had leaped, with the quickness of thought, from the asp’s mouth. By some miraculous chance, the two forking needles at the end of the spring had slipped between the fingers of one of his hands, without piercing the skin. If it had—well—Eric Thorwald had a fairly certain idea about what would have been his fate.
The tongue of the asp still protruded from its mouth. Cautiously Thorwald clutched the spring just below the point where the needles were fastened. Little beads of sweat broke out on his forehead when he noted the keenness of those slender points of hardened bronze, and the thin, harmless-looking coating of lusterless green substance that covered them. In Thorwald’s mind, there was a conviction that it was some deadly concoction prepared by a clever chemist in a temple laboratory of ancient Egypt.
“I’m satisfied, mummy,” Thorwald whispered. “That is the way Cass Lyman will die!”
Thorwald wrote a brief message for Lyman. Then he left the tent and sought out Said among the tents of the workman. In a few minutes, a truck was hurrying down the shadowy gorge toward Luxor in the Nile Valley ten miles away.
“Now for the remainder of what we must do,” Thorwald muttered when he was again alone with the mummy.
The mummy’s breastplate bore a cartouche, or hieroglyphic royal name, which Thorwald recognized as belonging to one or several of the thirteen Ramessid kings of the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties. Those ancient rulers each had such a host of names and titles that it was not always easy to keep them straight.
The breastplate was fastened to the mummy wrappings by means of a delicately wrought golden pin, the upper portion of which was fashioned in the form of the scarab of sacred beetle. It also bore an almost microscopic Ramessid cartouche.
Thorwald immediately saw the great value of the bit of jewelry. He has a similar though far less precious pin in his possession, which he knew he could substitute for this one with perfect impunity. No need to let the Cairo Museum take possession of it—as it certainly would do—backed up as it was by the law of Egypt regarding the distribution of antiques.
Donning a pair of gloves, he made the change quickly, being careful to rub incriminating fingerprints from the pin which he substituted for the more valuable one. Then, coolly, he set to work on his more important task.
He took out his jackknife and wrapped a corner of his handkerchief about its blade. With the blade thus padded, so that it would leave no telltale scratches on the metal, he began to work the spiral spring, coil by coil, back into the golden asp’s mouth. It was a nerve-racking ordeal, but at last it was accomplished. The poisoned needles disappeared into the maw of the serpent, and the clawlike catch held the asp’s tongue in place.
Later when the truck returned from Luxor, Thorwald was cool and collected and ready to act his part perfectly.
Said was at the wheel, beside him was the short, paunchy figure of Cass Lyman, and squeezed in the edge of the seat was another man. Thorwald gave a little inward start. He had not expected a third person. But no, it would make no difference.
“Hello, Thorwald!” Lyman greeted with a kind of barking joviality. “Came as quickly as I could to see for myself just how good our luck has been.” Lyman pointed to the stranger beside him.
“This is Mahmud Abudi,” Lyman offered informally. “Mr. Abudi didn’t come along with me solely because he’s interested in archeology. You see he’s connected with the Secret Service of Egyptian police, and part of his business is to prevent fortune Egyptologists from smuggling valuable antiques out of the country.”
Thorwald’s heart missed a beat on learning that this was a Secret Service man, but he quickly reassured himself. It was all the better that he should have such a witness to Lyman’s death. It would save many painful explanations. Fate was indeed on his side.
“And now,” Lyman cut in, “let’s have a look at the mummy you found, Thorwald. You say you haven’t examined it at all yet?”
“Well,” Thorwald said with a brief laugh, “I did lift the lid a little to peep in. Curiosity got the better of me to that extent. But I thought it best to wait until you had arrived here before I did anything further.”
The three men entered Thorwald’s tent, and there the archaeological excavator witnessed the clever murder he had planned. Nothing went wrong, and he enjoyed every bit of the little drama, or almost every bit.
He gloated inwardly over the gurgling exclamation of surprise and pleasure which Lyman gave at the sight of the golden bauble on the mummy’s bosom. Equally pleasant was Lyman’s greed and automatic gesture to finger the golden instrument of death.
Then the trigger was sprung, and with a vicious, twanging sound, the golden asp struck! The powerful spring drove the poisoned needles deep into Cass Lyman’s shoulder.
With a horrid shriek, he leaped back, his features contorted into a grin of mingled fear, surprise, and mortal agony. Then he stiffened, toppled; his blackening lips quivered, and he fell to the ground.
As was to be expected, Mahmud Abudi remained cool. With Thorwald, he leaped to Lyman’s side, and together, they stretched his stiffening body on the floor of the tent.
“In the name of reason, what has happened?” Thorwald demanded, seemingly regaining possession of himself. “What can we do for him?”
Mahmud Abudi’s ear was at Lyman’s heart. He straightened and smiled faintly. “There is nothing we can do for him,” he said slowly. “He is dead!”
Mahmud Abudi arose and strode to the mummy case, where the spring of the serpent’s tongue still vibrated. He examined the golden pectoral briefly.
“The dark science of ancient Egypt seems to be responsible,” he said. “It is a device evidently intended to work the undoing of tomb robbers. Rather strange. I have heard of such infernal machines, but I never saw one before. Of course, Mr. Thorwald, in situations like this is it necessary to make the most complete investigation possible. My presence here is very opportune. You say that no one touched anything in this coffin?” Mahmud Abudi questioned.
“Certainly not,” Thorwald replied. “As I said, I peeped in, that was all. And I assure you that my men aren’t allowed any liberties in my tent.”
The Egyptian detective was looking at the mummy. “This is very queer, Mr. Thorwald,” he stated. “Look!” His fat forefinger was pointing toward the lapis lazuli scarab of the pin which Thorwald had substituted for the pin of gold that had originally supported the golden pectoral on the mummy’s bosom.
Thorwald smiled. “What is queer?” he questioned, in a perfect imitation of mild interest.
“See!” Mahmud Abudi replied. “This scarab pin bears the cartouche, User-Ma-Ra-Mer-Amen, one of the numerous names of the Pharaoh who is now known as Ramses III—while the breastplate bears the cartouche, Sotep-En-Ra-Mer-Amen, or Ramses II. Between the reigns of the two, lies a gap of fifty-three years! Odd, don’t you think, that a priestess, who was obviously buried at least half a century before Ramses III ascended the throne, should wear an amulet bearing his cartouche?
“I think I understand, Mr. Thorwald. Even an expert can make such a trifling, and not easily noticed, mistake. These ancient monarchs had so many titles—it can be difficult to remember them all correctly. But, I must remind you that, in Egypt, murder is a crime punishable by death!”
Thorwald’s jaw tightened. “Is this an accusation?” he demanded levelly.
Mahmud Abudi shrugged. “Well, without a doubt the coffin was opened since it was removed from the tomb. Only you could have opened it. Oriental courts do not mince matters as Western juries do so often. Clearly, you substituted this scarab pin for another probably much more valuable—one which you desired for yourself.
“In making the change, which required that you touch the breastplate repeatedly, you could not have remained unaware of its sinister purpose. There can be but one conclusion: That you wilfully plotted the death of your employer, Cass Lyman!
“The evidence is against you. Except for that trifling error of dates, you committed the perfect crime—invoking the dark wisdom of Ancient Egypt and assisting it with your own cleverness. Only you were careless. Just one small anachronism. How trivial!” Mahmud Abudi’s tone was mocking.
Thorwald’s mind had suddenly become a trifle hazy. He was caught! If only he could shoot his way out of this… his hand was creeping toward his hip pocket.
“Stop!” Mahmud Abudi commanded. His first bulged in his coat pocket, and there was something angular and menacing clutched in that fist.
Thorwald’s arms dropped to his sides. “All right,” he said. He knew he was doomed by the curse of the mummified priestess for trying to rob her coffin.
An hour later a truck started out across the desert, headed for Luxor. In addition to an Egyptian detective and a young Egyptian driver, it bore a canvas-covered corpse, the coffin and body of an ancient priestess, and a sullen man. A man who watched the staring enamel and turquoise eyes of the mummy case before him and wondered in hazy fashion about the strange tricks of human destiny.
This short story was published in BEYOND #1, by Ace Comics, Nov 1950. The original is in the Public Domain.
This re-transcribed version has revisions and is NOT in the Public Domain.
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