A Litte Egypt (Yin-Yang!)

by David Perlmutter

Tess Bloch shook the long hair on her head from the glasses on her twelve year old face, looked at the piece of paper she had just been handed, and groaned in a way that was easily audible.

“You have got to be kidding!” she said.

“I am not!” said Raymond Chan, opposite her in the editor’s chair of the Gordon, the creatively named newspaper run by the students of Gordon Korman Middle School, where Tess was both reporter and student.

Tess groaned again, glaring at the paper—and the name etched there—with dread. Laura Block. Tess could hardly conceal her discontent from a less than sympathetic Raymond.

“Come on, Tess!” Raymond said. “This is a prime assignment! Just the kind of thing you’ve been bugging me about for weeks! How often does it happen that a real life, fully preserved Egyptian mummy comes around to a little tank town like this? You should be grateful for the opportunity!”

“I am, Ray!” said Tess, fully aware of the graveness in her editorial voice. “But do I have to keep getting paired up with Larry? Isn’t it possible that we could get another photographer for the paper?”

Laura Block—familiarly known as “Larry” was the bane of Tess’ existence—or at least she was at this time in Tess’s life. She was, after all, the complete opposite of the scholarly, bookish, high-achieving Tess. Tall, thin, and angular—unlike the short and slightly pudgy Tess—Larry was a tomboy par excellence, excelling at every sport or game at Korman that did not involve a brain (as Tess pointed out to others when Larry was not around). But where our purposes are concerned, she was an excellent photographer, noted for always—always—getting the shots that were needed, regardless of the obstacles in her path. This was where Larry and Tess came to a parting of the ways, since Larry was not above risking her life—and Tess’, for that matter—in pursuit of the ever-elusive “perfect shot”.

There were other things that bothered Tess about Larry besides her boyish manner, nickname and dress. For one, her common use of the word “dude” to refer to all people alike, grated on Tess’ nerves, and her constant and regular consumption of Coca-Cola. Ultimately, Tess’ sentiments towards Larry ranged from mild dislike to intense hatred, depending on the day and circumstances.

Regardless of the circumstances, Tess knew her options were limited, as she would have done anything—including working with Laura “Tomboy” Block—just to get her name in print.

“No, Tess, we can’t get another photographer for the paper,” he said pointedly. “We can’t! You and Larry are going to have to deal with one another.”

Tess allowed a frustrated groan to escape from between her clenched teeth. “All it amounts to is me babysitting her while she gets drunk on Coke and takes a shot with her flimsy digital camera while risking both of our lives in the process!” Noticing Raymond’s less-than-amused face she added more peaceably, “I swear, if she makes me balance her on my shoulders so she can get one of her ‘perfect shots’ one more time…”

Raymond held his hand up to silence her. He wasn’t about to entertain any more arguments as he had far too much work to do.
“If you don’t like it, you can resign,” he said with a shrug. “Simple as that. But you have to learn to deal with Larry if you want to keep getting your name in print. Understand?”
“Fine,” snapped Tess compliantly. “But you just wait until she wrangles that assistant editor job she wants Mr. Pixley to give her, and then you’ll be sorry!”

She stalked out of the room, flipping her hair defiantly. Then with a defeated sigh, she headed out of Korman Middle School and down the block, towards Larry’s house.

* * *

“LARRY! Darn it, Block, I demand that you open this door at once!”

Tess was banging on the door of the Block house, in an attempt to get Larry to reveal herself. At long last, a tall and lantern jawed girl, with flaming orange hair that formed a sun-like backdrop to her head, peered out at her curiously. It was Larry, and she was dressed in her favorite sports t-shirt and blue jeans, a flagrant violation of femininity in comparison to Tess’ more conservative white blouse and blue skirt. As always, Larry had a glassy, caffeine-induced stare in her large, amber eyes, which no doubt had been sharpened by the open bottle of Coke she was holding in her hand.

Dude!” she said coolly. “What’s up?”

“We have another assignment,” Tess snapped, passionlessly. “We’ve got to go look up the mummy exhibit at the museum. I didn’t want you, but, Raymond insisted I take you along. So come on!”

“You mean that dead Egyptian dude?” Larry said. “Cool! Can’t say I’ve ever seen one of those before!”

Tess gritted her teeth. It was hard for her to believe that the two of them were the same age.
“It’s more than just a dead Egyptian guy, Larry. Ahmin-Ra was one of the most distinguished scholars in ancient Egypt! He was the personal instructor to King Tutankhamen himself! This is a big event for the town, so you better behave yourself!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“You know what I mean.”

With an indifferent sigh, Larry acquiesced to Tess’ less-than-cordial invitation, and headed towards the museum, Coke in hand.

* * *
The museum, located not a few blocks from Korman, was full of people, all waiting for their chance to catch a glimpse of the mysterious mummy. The mummy was displayed in all of its glory in the cavernous exterior of a golden and jewel-laden sarcophagus, so freshly cleaned and restored that one could hardly imagine its original intention was to be kept, forever, buried beneath the sands of Egypt. Standing upright, in the center of the sarcophagus, was the mummy itself. Swathed completely in white wrappings, it was an impressively preserved physical specimen whose presence was so utterly bewitching, it appeared to be alive. But that, of course, was impossible.

Tess and Larry moved with the rest of the crowd into the area where the mummy was displayed, ooh’d and aah’d along with the crowd, and then stepped out of the line to the back of the room. Or, rather, Larry pulled Tess impatiently out of the line along with her. Tess angrily jerked her arm out of Larry’s grasp.
“What the heck are you doing?” Tess spat. “I hardly got a chance to see the dead thing! How am I supposed to write something decent about it with that shoddy of a glance?”
“Dude,” said Larry calmly, interrupting Tess’ ranting, “I need to get a good shot of it for the story. And I can hardly see above everyone’s heads!”

Don’t you dare,” Tess whispered harshly. “Just don’t you DARE make me break my back for the sake of your dumb shots!”
“It’s for your benefit, too, Tess! You do the story, and I do the pictures. That’s how it works, right? You don’t think that I…”
“I know what you want, you wannabe!” Tess said passionately, “You want to show me up so that you can become assistant editor!” Her face was flustered with anger.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed you wrangling for the job, too, dude!” Larry shot back.

“Fine!” Tess huffed, “Let’s just get this over with, and leave it at that! Fat chance you’ll get the assistant editor job anyway with your brains,” Tess added haughtily, smiling cruelly and exposing every one of her perfectly white teeth.

Larry rolled her eyes at the Prissy Queen. “Whatever, dude.”
Despite her protestations, as the patrons began slowly fading away from the mummy exhibit, Tess got down on her knees and Larry climbed up on to her back to take a picture of the hypnotizing mummy. Little did either notice the sign in the back of the room which clearly noted that there was to be no flash photography inside the exhibit. Larry brought her digital camera up to her face, put her fingers on either end of its metal casing, and pressed the button to take the picture.

As soon as the beam of light reflected on the exhibit’s glass casing, the mummy’s eyes opened wide as if it had been waken from a long, restless sleep.
It was alive.
* * *
Larry was stunned. She didn’t scream, but she was paralyzed with fear, and she slowly she stepped back from the exhibit, unable to tear her eyes away from the now not-so-dead mummy.

“Did you get it?” Tess asked, dusting off her knees. It was then that she noticed what was happening. And when she did, she let out a blood-curdling scream.

Larry shook her head in disbelief. “This can’t be happening, dude. Mummies are dead people.”
Tess was practically hysterical. She was looking about desperately for an escape route.

It was then that Larry noticed the sign. The flash from my camera must’ve woken him somehow, she reasoned, but how? She remembered hearing stories about cursed mummies who would rise from the dead and do all sorts of mischief. She thought then that maybe this mummy was one of those—a cursed mummy, destined to do another’s evil bidding.
“Don’t just stand there, run for it!” she screamed, and with all her might, she grabbed a hold of the stupefied Tess, just as the foul-smelling creature had reached out one of his undead hands…

* * *

The mummy began to follow them, at a slow, deliberate gait, gaining speed with each step. It gave no heed to the doors and walls, crashing through them as if they were mere paper, as Tess and Larry raced in panic out of the museum and through the streets of the town.
We can’t run forever, Larry thought, panting breathlessly. Then suddenly, she thought of a plan.

“Dude, stop running!” she demanded.

“Are you crazy? That mummy dude is going to kill us if we don’t keep running!” Tess screeched.

“We don’t need to!” Larry said, grabbing hold of Tess, using all of her boyish strength to slow her down. “I know how to stop it! Head for the forest! What we need is there!”
Without waiting another moment, the two girls swiftly made their way into the grand grove of trees surrounding their hometown. The mummy, naturally, followed them, but at a much slower pace, giving the girls enough time to put their plan into action.

“What—are—you—doing?” asked Tess breathlessly.

At that particular moment, Larry was wrestling with a rather large tree limb. “I’m tearing down this tree limb.”
“Yeah, I can see that, but why the heck are you tearing down tree limbs when that shambling pile of bandages is chasing us?” Tess demanded angrily.

“Simple!” answered Larry as she snapped the branch off of the tree. “That ‘pile of bandages,’ as you put it, will make some nice fodder, don’t you think, if we rub these two sticks together and make a fire.”
For once, Tess was left dumbfounded. “Wow, Larry, that’s…genius.”

And with that, the two began frantically rubbing the sticks together, just as the mummy made his slow, menacing appearance. After what seemed like hours, a small band of flames emerged on the bottom branch. It rapidly spread to both pieces of wood, lighting in an orange and yellow blaze.
“Quick! Throw it!” Larry screamed, tossing her branch just as she caught a whiff of the mummy’s foul-smelling breath.
With a precision that even Larry the athlete seemed to admire, Tess threw her burning branch at the ever-encroaching menace. Both brances hit the mummy’s chest and feet, the flames rapidly licking the sides of its body, igniting the paper into a swift blaze. In moments, where a mummy had once stood, a small pile of ashes remained.

“Wow,” Tess said in surprise, “How did you know to do that?”
“You should try reading sometime,” Larry said mockingly, “It would do you wonders.”

* * *

While the two girls had gone through quite a harrowing ordeal, that following Monday, everything was back to normal. Tess, who was no longer threatened by an undead mummy, had regained her hatred towards Larry and had recounted the tale to her popular friends as if she were the heroin.

“And then I lit the thing on fire while Larry stood there and watched! If it hadn’t been for me, she’d be a goner for sure.” This statement was usually followed by a series of laughs and jeers from Tess’ avid listeners.

Still, it didn’t bother Larry much. What she had was way better than a stupid story. She smiled to herself as she printed off the final pages of their article: “And Who Says Mummy’s Can’t Talk?” By tomorrow morning, everyone in the school would see it; the picture of Tess, that is, hair askew and makeup running, as she ran for her life from an old, dusty mummy, who was lumbering slowly behind her. This would be the shot that would make Laura Block—familiarly known as Larry—the assistant editor of the Gordon newspaper, and would make Tess the least popular girl at Gordon Korman Middle School.

© 2010 David Perlmutter. All rights reserved.

About the Author & Artist

David Perlmutter resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba and has been previously published by Kalkion.com as well as Etheral Tales.

Georges Barbier (1882 - 1932) was one of the great French illustrators of the early 20th century. His first exhibition was held in 1911 and shortly thereafter, he rose to the forefront of his profession with commissions to design theatre and ballet costumes, to illustrate books, and to produce haute couture fashion illustrations. Barbier led a group from the Ecole des Beaux Arts who were nicknamed by Vogue "The Knights of the Bracelet"—a tribute to their fashionable and flamboyant mannerisms and style of dress. His work appeared regularly in L'Illustration magazine.