- THE MYSTERY BENEATH MIDVILLE MUSEUM
- When the school bus finally grounded to a halt outside the Midville Museum, Mallory Gilmartin stared out the window frowning. The uneasiness that had begun soon after they left Cedar Creek now swept over her in great waves. She turned to tell her friend Kyle Johnson about it, but glassy-eyed and eager, Kyle’s only concern was getting into the museum as fast as he could.
Mallory remembered how shy Kyle had been when she, her mother, and brother first moved to the quaint rural town of Cedar Creek, Virginia, but since then he had become her best friend. And now, although they were on a supposed fun field trip to the nearby town of Midville, Mallory could not shake the feeling that something was not quite right about the two story grey stone building standing in the distance.
“Now, students,” she heard Mrs. Abigail Romano their eighth grade teacher command from the front, “I want you to depart the bus in an orderly manner and wait in line on the sidewalk until I give the order to move.” The dumpy, pear-shaped woman kept strict military order whenever her students were out on field trips and today was no exception.
“Let’s go!” Kyle yelled at Mallory. He jumped to his feet, grabbed his book bag and squeezed into the crowded aisle.
Having decided to make the best of what was obviously going to be a boring field trip, Mallory stood to follow.
“Don’t forget,” Mrs. Romano called cheerily once they were all lined up outside, “today’s trip to the Egyptian Exhibit will be your history assignment for the week. I expect everyone to take lots of notes.”
A collective groan sounded behind her. “And remember to send Joyce Danner’s mother a thank-you note for making today’s event possible,” Mrs. Romano continued as they set off. “We would not be here were it not for her kind efforts.”
Joyce Danner, a short doe-eyed girl near the front of the line, did not react to the mention of her name. She simply stared ahead, stoic and blank as the class moved up the long flight of steps leading into the grim looking building.
“What’s up with her?” Mallory whispered to Kyle. She had noticed Joyce’s detached manner.
Still focused on nothing more than getting into the museum, Kyle shrugged. “Dunno.”
Mallory’s eyes narrowed. Joyce was a member of the Cedar Creek Junior High’s elite Fabulous Four; a group of girls who tried to get Mallory to join their cliquey circle on her first day there. Unfortunately, by turning down theirinvitation, Mallory had committed an unforgivable sin in the minds of the somewhat spiteful Fabulous Four, and ever since, they had been relentless in trying to discover new ways to make her life miserable.
When the class entered the museum’s foyer Mrs. Romano hurried over to the information booth. To one side loomed an enormous replica of an ancient Egyptian tomb fronted by fake stone pillars covered in mysterious looking hieroglyphics. Muted shades of amber and gold gave the impression that a hot desert sun was setting on an ancient burial crypt filled with kingly treasures.
As if he had been waiting for the group’s arrival, a scholarly man with a wide smile hurried across the floor toward them. A tall severe-looking woman dressed in a long white toga scooted along beside him.
“Mrs. Romano, I presume?” the man said coming to a stop and reaching out to shake her hand. “My name is Silas Jarman, Head Curator here at Midville Museum.” Glancing in the direction of the tomb entrance he lowered his voice as if reluctant to disturb the desert gloom. “I’m so glad you and your class could make it to our establishment today.”
“We would like to thank you for giving us this wonderful opportunity,” Mrs. Romano gushed. “And we’re delighted to be here. Isn’t that right, students?”
A collective “yes” echoed through the foyer. It seemed the students were unconcerned about disturbing the desert gloom.
“It’s taken us over four years to get permission from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for this display,” Mr. Jarman said proudly, waving his hand in the direction of the exhibit. “It’s on loan to us until–” He broke off realizing he had not introduced the toga-clad woman standing patiently beside him.
“Oh, dear, where are my manners. This is Miss Eleanor Snodgrass. She’s one of our docents and will be your guide for the tour this afternoon.”
At his introduction, Miss Snodgrass tugged a black Egyptian-style wig onto her head and turned to address the students. “Please feel free to ask questions as I lead you through the exhibit,” she said with icy disdain. Then with little more than an annoyed sniff she spun on her thick-heeled shoes and strode toward the tomb entrance.
Mrs. Romano and the class followed, but as Mallory hastened through the monumental gateway, she was assailed by an overpowering smell of dust and mold. It left her with the strange feeling she had just stepped into a real underground tomb. Once through the entrance they passed columns of life-sized carved granite warriors and headed for the Egyptian wing. Miss Snodgrass then pointed out the ancient pottery shards and bronze vases in the lighted glass display cases. Overcome with the sudden increase in hot humid air, Mallory loosened her jacket, but soon bored with the docent’s non-stop prattle about Egypt’s musical instruments and odd-shaped oil lamps, she eventually wandered away.
Miss Snodgrass’s dry, toneless voice followed. “Most of these items you see here today were discovered in royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.”
At the mention of the Valley of the Kings, Mallory felt a chill run down her neck. Annoyed at the museum’s change in temperature, she buttoned up her coat again and rejoined the class as they followed Miss Snodgrass, oohing and aahing at all the displayed objects.
“Now I’m going to show you the highlight of our exhibit,” she suddenly informed the class. With no further explanation she turned and made a beeline toward a small dimly lit room. After everyone had squeezed inside, Mallory looked around to see that the walls were softly painted with images of ancient Egyptian court life.
“This is what is called a sarcophagus,” Miss Snodgrass said, pointing to a large alabaster container. Then, in an odd display of emotion, the docent’s voice went breathless and reverent. “It was found in one of the royal tombs and contained three wooden coffins, one inside the other.” She pointed to a brightly painted wooden coffin sitting roped off near the sarcophagus. “This is the smallest coffin, the one in which they found the body.”
Everyone moved closer to peruse the mummy lying inside wrapped in an age-yellowed linen shroud. “You mean that’s a real Pharaoh?” a student asked.
“It’s a real mummy, but not a Pharaoh,” explained Miss Snodgrass. “According to the hieroglyphics written on the outside of the coffin, it’s the body of a young female temple singer called a muse.”
“A muse is the name usually given to a woman who performs sacred music,” Mrs. Romano added with a smile.
“Yes, well,” continued the docent after a stiff lipped pause, “even more curious to Egyptologists is why this singer, who was not related to any of the royal families, was given such an elaborate burial by a prince of this dynasty.”
The room fell silent as everyone continued to stare curiously into the coffin.
“Didn’t they also refer to some singers as chantresses?” Kyle looked up to ask.
Miss Snodgrass turned to him, surprised. “Why, yes, they did.”
Chalk one up for Kyle, Mallory thought as she loosened her jacket. The heat had returned.
“Please make a note, students, that hieroglyphs is a Greek word meaning Sacred Carvings,” Miss Romano said. “It was one of the written languages used in ancient Egypt.”
Miss Snodgrass sniffed indifferently and waited until she had everyone’s attention again. “This particular mummy was, among other things, a harp player,” she said. “And we know this because of the drawings on the outside of the sarcophagus. Musicians of that time also played flutes, bells, drums and castanets.”
The lid to the wooden coffin stood propped up against the sarcophagus and Mallory walked over to stare fascinated at the brightly painted female face carved upon it. The muse wore a dark wig and a neck collar encrusted with precious stones. Her deep blue eyes, outlined in heavy black kohl, stared back expressionless. “You’re saying that mummy is the actual singer?” Mallory asked.
Miss Snodgrass nodded and pointed to a nearby photo showing the three original coffins. At that moment a gust of chilly air swept around Mallory.
“I wish they’d make up their mind with that darn air conditioning,” she mumbled, turning to Kyle who joined her at that moment. “First I’m burning up, then I’m freezing.”
Kyle shook his head, puzzled. “The temperature feels fine to me. You must be coming down with something.” He left to study the statue of a long-eared dog sitting on a wooden shrine.
“That’s the jackal god Anubis,” Miss Romano called out, noting Kyle’s interest. “The Egyptians believed he was one of the gods who ruled the Underworld. Isn’t that correct, Miss Snodgrass?”
The docent nodded but looked annoyed.
Uncomfortable in the small airless room with its dank moldy odor, Mallory decided to move on. But when she turned to leave she came face-to-face with a coppery-skinned man dressed in a white linen wrap and leather-thonged sandals. Light bounced from his bronze helmet as he stepped forward, his face fierce and anxious. Saying nothing, he lifted his arm and pointed to the sarcophagus.
“Yeah, I saw it already,” Mallory mumbled. She tried to bypass him, but he determinedly sidestepped her each time. Finally she darted under his arm and dashed from the room.
“Did you see that creepy-looking guard?” she asked Kyle when he joined her a moment later. “It was like he didn’t want me to leave that room.”
Kyle glanced around, but there was no sign of anyone. “How do you know he was a guard?”
“He acted like a guard,” Mallory snorted, still irritated at the man’s aggressiveness. “Plus he was wearing a costume like all the other people working here.”
The class joined them at that moment and because their tour was nearing itsend, Mrs. Romano gave everyone permission to wander around on their own. “And don’t forget,” she reminded them, “take lots of notes because we’ll be discussing our trip in class tomorrow.”
Twenty minutes later, the students were lined up back in the foyer ready to march out the door and down to their bus. Suddenly to everyone’s surprise the floor began to shudder. Within seconds the jolting grew stronger and objects toppled from the display tables. Eleanor Snodgrass lurched from the tomb entrance tugging confusedly at her wig, her eyes wide in panic as a loud roar echoed through the museum.
“What’s happening!” someone screamed.
“Make it stop!”
But the shaking grew even more violent.
Silas Jarman, the Head Curator, staggered into the foyer his face pale with shock. He teetered forward shouting, “Get down everyone! We’re having an earthquake!”