Cleo Dalby and the Curse of the Chaos Mummies

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Today I thought I would post a snippet from my middle grade Ancient Egyptian-themed book Cleo Dalby and the Curse of the Chaos Mummies. It’s full of good and evil gods and goddesses, nasty beasts and a battle of life and death to save the world – of course. I plan to send it to some publishers. I am still in the editing stage so any feedback would be noted, and very welcome.

A brief synopsis:

Feisty twelve-year-old Cleo Dalby and her archaeologist mother, find the remains of Imhotep and Hor in the Red pyramid, Dashur, only to discover that not only are the mummies cursed but Cleo is too – with the soul of Seth the god of chaos. When the mummies are stolen by the master criminal Erica Van Clutch, the curse is unleashed along with Seth, who wants to destroy the world. It is up to Cleo and her friends to journey to Duat, ancient Egypt’s afterlife, to find the Book of the Dead to summon Ma-at the goddess of order so that she can destroy Seth.

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 Excerpt from Chapter One – We Are Not Alone

Darkness pushed against Cleo Dalby’s arms and legs as she struggled to make her way through the narrow chamber of the pyramid. Hands outstretched before her, she slid her feet forward, straining to hear something, anything. But every sound, even the skid-slap of her sandals on the stone floor, became lost in the gloom. On Cleo walked, deeper into the world of corpses.

A sigh drifted towards her. It seemed to gather a friend as it neared, and soon the sad laments of two disembodied voices surrounded her. The whispering drifted in and out of her ears like tired moths trapped inside a lampshade.

“We, the dead, quietly rest, hands on chest, faces tilted up to catch a ray of sunlight.”

“But this far below the ground, there is only blackness and the weight of stone.”

“We, the dead, no longer know who we are. Memories fade and melt into our hollow skulls.”

“We, the dead, sometimes whisper to each other.”

“Husks of words from dried up lips that stick to the cold walls, waiting for the living to listen.”

Cleo touched the limestone with her fingertips.

“We, the dead, can feel a presence.”

A breath of ancient brushed past her cheek. She shivered and rubbed her naked arms. The chill slapped onto her legs and spread upwards leaving pimples of stiff-haired unease on her sunburnt flesh. She gulped. “Hello? Is anyone there? My name is Cleo.”

“Is it she?”

“The chosen one?”

“Listen to our warning, child, or torments and madness will shadow your every move.”

“Leave, before evil takes your soul.”

The voices ceased.

There was a smell of rot so strong, she nearly vomited. “What the frog?” The stink disappeared. Cleo shook the torch gripped in her hand. “Stupid froggin’ thing. Work.” She patted it against her palm. “Work.” Something touched her shoulder and Cleo jumped.

“There you are. I thought I’d lost you.”

“Mum, don’t creep up on me like that.”

“I can’t very well do anything else, can I? It’s darker than a black hole in here.”

“I know. I can’t see a froggin’ thing.”

“What do you expect? We are half way down a pyramid. And don’t say, ‘froggin’ I know what it means.”

A sound like the noise from a beehive buzzed inside her head. She put her fingers into her ears and wiggled them until it ceased. “Are you sure we’re the only ones here?”

“Apart from the mummies? Yes.”

“I thought I heard someone say something.” Cleo reached behind her and grabbed her mother’s hand as a gasp swept across their faces. “What was that?”

“I don’t know, I can’t see anything.”

“Sorry, it’s my fault the torch won’t work. I didn’t change the batteries. Although, Mum, if you’d brought wind-up ones we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault?”

A throaty groan billowed past their open mouths.

“Ah! That horrible sound again.” Cleo swivelled round, buried her head into her mother’s chest and waited for the hideous moaning to go away. The gurgling, growling continued despite the comforting warmth from her mother’s body.

“Why won’t it stop?”

“It has.”

“No, it hasn’t. Can’t you hear it?”

“It’s my stomach.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I’m hungry, we missed breakfast because you slept in.”

“Sorry,” Cleo said and felt her eyes begin to sting.

“Don’t sniffle. Come on, we can’t let some stale air frighten us away. That’s what they want.”

“That’s what who want?” Cleo pulled away from her mother’s tight grip.

“The architects who built the pyramids were clever. They used all sorts of booby traps to scare looters away. All this noise and freezing wind is a just a ploy to put us off the scent. Come on, let’s carry on.” Mrs Dalby tugged at Cleo’s sleeve.

“Okay, but can you light a match at least? I really can’t see where I’m going.”

“There aren’t many left. In the rush to get here I didn’t pack everything.”

“Some holiday this is.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Cleo brushed her curly brown hair behind her ears and sighed. “It’s not really a proper holiday ‘cause you were already here as a specialist advisor on that American dig thing.”

“You mean the unearthing of King Senebkay in the ancient city of Abydos.  True, technically I am working, but we are, you know, spending time together.”

“Like a proper family.”

“Yes, except…”

“Dad’s not here.”

“No, he isn’t.” There was a wobble in Mrs Dalby’s voice and Cleo quickly changed the subject.

“Good job Curator Blench gave you that tip off about this pyramid. Now we can finish the job you and Dad started.”

There was a long pause.

“Right then, shall we carry on?”

“’Suppose so. Mum, this is our first expedition together.”

“Yes, it is. Are you okay with that?”

“Yeah, I think it’s awesome.”

“Good. Anyway, we should save the candles since we don’t have many. We’re going to need all the light we can when we find the hidden chamber. So, for now, you’ll just have to put your hands out and feel your way like me.”

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You can lean more about my work here: www.oddlybooks.com

Thanks for reading.

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How should I publish my middle-grade novel?

I finished writing my middle-grade action adventure novel set in London and Duat – the land of the dead in ancient Egyptian religion. The title so far is Cleo Dalby and the curse of the Chaos Mummies. It had several other titles, but this one seems to suit the tone and genre of the book.

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It has been beta tested, edited quite a bit. Beta read again, edited again and again and again… I think it is ready to be let out into the big, wide world.

So, what do I next?

Should I try traditional publishing, agent etc? Or, should I self-publish?

I know the pros and cons of both kinds of publishing having been published by a small publishing house and self-published. Both have their good points and bad. I have heard that it is very difficult to sell children’s or middle-grade books if you self-publish. I don’t know how true that is, but I have heard it said by quite a few authors.

Now that I am a self-published author, I like it. I have control over all aspects of marketing and editorial decisions. A thing I did not have when under contract. I am inclined towards self-publishing this book for those reasons.

However, I may just send it out to a few well-chosen agents that have enough authority and respect within the publishing world, to possibly get me signed to a major publishing house. Why? Because I am unsure of how my book will sell. Most books written for children under the age of fourteen are bought by parents for their children. After speaking to a lot of parents, they said they hardly ever, if ever, bought a book by a self-published author. This may not be true of every adult who buys books for young people.

Am I talking myself into traditional publishing here?

I’m somewhat confused.

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Any thoughts, comments, suggestions, and advice would be gratefully received.

I have posted an extract from the book.

No cover as yet. This will have to do.

2012-09-18 at 10-05-20 (1)

 

Cleo Dalby and the Curse of the Chaos Mummies

 If you were twelve-years-old and possessed by evil, what would you do?

Curses, chaos, mummies, gods and the fight to save mankind.

Chapter 1

We Are Not Alone

Darkness pushed against Cleo Dalby’s arms and legs as she struggled to make her way through the narrow chamber. Hands outstretched before her, she slid her feet forward, straining to hear something, anything. But every sound, even the skid-slap of her sandals on the stone floor, became lost in the gloom. On Cleo walked slow and tentative, deeper into the world of corpses.

A sigh, long and weary-filled drifted towards her. It seemed to gather friends as it neared, and soon the sad laments of dozens of disembodied voices surrounded her. The moans continued, drifting in and out of her ears like tired moths trapped inside a lampshade. She tried to struggle on, but the wails tugged at her ankles, forcing her to stop and listen to the muffled chatter that swirled and scuttled inside her head.

“We, the dead, abide here. Quietly resting, hands on chest, faces tilted up to catch a ray of sunlight.”

“A futile gesture. For this far below the ground, there is only blackness and the weight of stone.”

“We, the dead, lie still, poised in readiness for our resurrection.”

“What a wait we’ve had. So many years spent lying in a state of half-remembered promises and expectations, grown dull with the passing of each century.”

“We, the dead, no longer know who we are. Memories fade and melt into our hollow skulls.”

“We, the dead, sometimes whisper to each other.”

“Husks of words from dried up lips that stick to the cold walls, waiting for the living to listen.”

Cleo touched the limestone with her fingertips and thought she heard a murmuring of souls.

“We, the dead, can feel a presence.”

A breath of ancient brushed past her cheek. She shivered and rubbed her naked arms. The chill slapped onto her legs and spread upwards leaving pimples of stiff-haired unease on her sunburnt flesh. She gulped and said into the blackness, “Hello? Is anyone there? My name is Cleo.”

“Found out!”

“Not Yet.”

“No.”

The voices ceased.

She called again, but no answer came. There was a smell of rot so strong that Cleo nearly vomited. It disappeared and she felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She stood tall, shrugged, and said, “The dark is just an absence of light,” then shook the torch that was gripped in her hand. “Stupid, froggin’ thing. Work.” She patted it against her palm. “Work.” Something touched her shoulder and Cleo jumped.

You can read a longer extract on my website under the heading Cleo Dalby:

http://www.nicolamcdonagh.com

 

 

 

 

Writing Tips From Neil Gaiman

I’ve just finished writing a middle-grade action adventure book, working title – Revenge upon the Mummy Snatcher – yes, I know, not a great title.

2012-09-18 at 10-05-20 (1)Anyway, I gave it to a number of Beta readers and have had some really constructive feedback. However, sometimes, one or two readers went beyond the requirements of pointing out flaws in character, plot, dialogue etc, and sent me full-on editing with occasional re-writes they have done themselves.

Whilst I appreciate their effort and thank them profusely, it left me in a quandary, because they have given me completely opposite views/pointers on my work, leaving me somewhat confused.

My head was in such a whirl that I almost gave up on the novel until I came across Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules of writing. Number 5 resonated with me immediately, as did number 8.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/09/28/neil-gaiman-8-rules-of-writing/

Thank you, Neil Gaiman, you have rescued my befuddled brain and set me back on course with my book.

Just need a better title.

Here are the first 500 words  from Revenge upon the Mummy Snatcher:

Chapter 1: We Are Not Alone

Darkness pushed against Cleo Dalby’s arms and legs as she struggled to make her way through the narrow chamber. Hands outstretched before her, she slid her feet forward, straining to hear something, anything. But every sound, even the skid-slap of her sandals on the stone floor, became lost in the gloom. On Cleo walked slow and tentative, deeper into the world of corpses.

A sigh, long and weary-filled drifted towards her. It seemed to gather friends as it neared, and soon the sad laments of dozens of disembodied voices surrounded her. The moans continued, drifting in and out of her ears like tired moths trapped inside a lampshade. She tried to struggle on, but the wails tugged at her ankles, forcing her to stop and listen to the muffled chatter that swirled and scuttled inside her head.

“We, the dead, abide here. Quietly resting, hands on chest, faces tilted up to catch a ray of sunlight.”

“A futile gesture. For this far below the ground, there is only blackness and the weight of stone.”

“We, the dead, lie still, poised in readiness for our resurrection.”

“What a wait we’ve had. So many years spent lying in a state of half-remembered promises and expectations, grown dull with the passing of each century.”

“We, the dead, no longer know who we are. Memories fade and melt into our hollow skulls.”

“We, the dead, sometimes whisper to each other.”

“Husks of words from dried up lips that stick to the cold walls, waiting for the living to listen.”

Cleo touched the limestone with her fingertips and thought she heard a murmuring of souls.

“We, the dead, can feel a presence.”

A breath of ancient brushed past her cheek. She shivered and rubbed her naked arms. The chill slapped onto her legs and spread upwards leaving pimples of stiff-hair unease on her sunburnt flesh. She gulped and said into the blackness, “Hello? Is anyone there? My name is Cleo.”

“Found out!”

“Not Yet.”

“No.”

The voices ceased.

She called again, but no answer came. There was a smell of rot so strong that Cleo nearly vomited. It disappeared and she felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She stood tall, shrugged, and said, “The dark is just an absence of light,” then shook the torch that was gripped in her hand. “Stupid, froggin’ thing. Work.” She patted it against her palm. “Work.” Something touched her shoulder and Cleo jumped.

“I thought I’d lost you.”

“Mum, don’t creep up on me like that.”

“I can’t very well do anything else, can I? It’s darker than a black hole in here.”

“I know. I can’t see a froggin’ thing.”

“What do you expect? We are half way down a pyramid. And don’t say ‘froggin’ I know what it really means.”

Cleo mouthed the word again, and then once more, just because she could.

If you enjoyed the extract, you might like to have a look at  my YA Dystopian/Sci-fi Adventure series – The Song of Forgetfulness – here:

http://www.thesongofforgetfulness.com/

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Using a foreign language in children’s novels

In the book I’ve just finished – Marauders of the Missing Mummies – I have a section that takes place in a bazaar located somewhere in Egypt. Now, in order to add some credibility and interest to the dialogue, I decided that one of the stall holders, pertinent to the plot, would converse in French as it seems it is the language spoken by many Egyptians today. I’m not fluent in French. In fact, the last time I was in France and conversed in the lingo, I just about managed to make myself understood by the locals. That was nearly twenty years ago. So you can imagine how rusty my grasp of French grammar is.  I have posted the section here to ask those of you who do speak French, if what I have written makes sense. So, please, if anyone out there reads this, could you set me straight and let me know how I can improve. Thanks! new cover for marauders Here is the extract:

“Don’t go over to her. Wait, no. Erica,” Hannah said and ran after Van Clutch as she marched to where the old woman sat. “You can’t even speak Egyptian.” She tugged on Van Clutch’s sleeve. Erica pulled her arm away and gave Hannah a raised eyebrow look.

“No, but I do speak French. And I suspect, that she does to. It is by far the most commonly used language in these parts.” Erica flared her nostrils and turned to the seated woman. “Bonjour, Madam. Je m’appelle Erica Van Clutch.”

The gnarled-faced female licked her yellow chipped front teeth and spat something green onto the floor beside Erica’s feet. “Je m’appelle Ramia.”

“Prophetess. How fitting,” Van Clutch said and Ramia grinned. “I’m going to question her about the Dalby child. Dites-moi ce que vous savez de la petite fille.”

“Je ne te dirai rien. Sorcière.”

“What did she say?”

“What I expected. She won’t spill. Oh and she thinks I am a witch. Do not snicker. See, now you’ve loosened your sinuses again. Wipe your nose before the mucus forms another bubble.”

Kush ran the back of her hand across her face and sniffed. Erica spoke to Ramia. She stared into the brown eyes of the old woman and said, “Si vous ne me dites pas au sujet de la fille, je jetterai un charme sur vous.”

“What?”

“Sshhhh, Kush I’m trying to intimidate her by utilising her fear of me. I’m suggesting that I will cast a spell on her if she doesn’t reveal all. Now hush and let me do my thing.” Van Clutch closed her eyes, pressed her hands together in a prayer-like pose and tilted her head to the heavens. She partly opened her lips and began to whisper meaningless words in a growly whisper. “Unmanondium. Cliventinium. Postargrindum. Dractilvarus. Plantricula. Verbotivis.’ She snapped open her eyes and glared at Ramia.

“Wow, Erica, I didn’t know you knew Latin. What have you done? What terrible spell have you cast upon that poor old lady?”

“Dammit, Kush, keep quiet. I’m trying to intimidate with made up Latin words. Now I’ve lost the flow and can’t think of any more. And cease using my first name. I need to maintain credibility here.”

“Oh, right, sorry.”

“Shhhh!” Van Clutch gasped and thrust her clenched fingers to the sky. “Revoltinum. Bletherinus. Mumbojumbis!” She clapped seven times, lowered her arms and pointed at Ramia. “Je vous maudis avec des ébullitions et le mal de tête.”

“She doesn’t look very scared. What spell did you cast?”

“I cursed her with boils and headaches.”

“Oh, poor thing. That’s terrible.”

“You do realise that I can’t actually put a spell on her. I am not a witch.”

“That’s what Sadika calls you behind your back.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh, nothing. Look, Van Clutch, the old woman, she’s getting up. She looks really angry.”

“Les dieux vous dévoreront,” Ramia said and stood. She waved her hands in front of Erica’s face. “Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

A strong breeze skipped and swirled through the dusty street. Cigarette butts, bits of paper and half eaten sandwiches danced and fluttered around Erica’s knees and thighs. She brushed the debris away and titled her head towards the sky. Black clouds rumbled overhead and the sun escaped behind them causing darkness to fall. The busy thoroughfare hushed and people stood still. Ramia snarled and lifted her arms high. A flash of lightning and an ear-splitting bang of thunder echoed around the wide avenue. Erica stood tall and unflinching when raindrops as big as fists splashed down causing shoppers and trades folk to scuttle for shelter. Kush put her fingers in her ears and hid behind Van Clutch. Ramia glared at Erica and said in a husky growl, “Les dieux vous dévoreront.” A savage wind whipped against the shins of Kush and Van Clutch. “Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

“Oh do stop saying that the gods will eat me, Ramia. They will not.”

“Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

“Les dieux ne me dévoreront pas. Oh this is just ridiculous. Kush, do you have any money?” she said to a trembling Hanna. “Kush!” Erica turned and took hold of Hanna’s forearms. She pulled them down from where they were pressed against her face and said, “Pull yourself together. Good. Now, do you have any money?”

Kush blinked and swallowed. “A bit.”

“How much?”

“Thirty quid.”

“Hand it over. I’ve had enough of Ramia and her rants.” Erica held out her hand and Kush rummaged around in her trouser pocket. She pulled out a bundle of notes and handed them to Van Clutch. Another thunderclap and flash of lightening burst above their heads and Erica shook hers as she watched Kush crouch on the ground and tremble with fear. She tutted, turned to Ramia, who was standing with her arms open to the heavens and said, “Ce qui vous savent la fille?” Then she waved the money in front of the woman’s wild eyes. “Ah, now I have your attention. The girl, what do you know?”

Ramia snatched the money and thrust it down the front of her blouse. The clouds rumbled away and the wind dropped. Erica folded her arms. “Ce qui vous savent?”

Ramia snorted and picked up a small woollen ibis. She turned it over and revealed a zip that ran from the toy’s bottom right up to its neck. She nodded an all-knowing nod, adding a wink and pushed it against Erica’s chest. “A l’intérieur,” she said and mimed looking into an invisible bag.

“Oh, it’s inside this. Excellent,” Erica said, took the bird and opened the zip. She pulled out a rolled up piece of paper and unravelled it. “Mentioned by name too. Well, well, it says here that the Dalby girl is the host. Marvelous.” She threw the knitted animal over her shoulder and stood over Kush. “Get up, you whimpering fool. Time to go.”

Kush rose slowly and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Are we safe?”

“We are, Kush my dear. However, the young Dalby is not.” Erica grinned, screwed up the paper, shoved it into her mouth and swallowed. “There now, all done.”

“Why did you do that?”

“That raving old woman called upon the gods to devour me, well, I have eaten them instead. This missive scrawled in the words of the gods and written in blood, gave away a secret about the Dalby brat. These words are powerful. They could have destroyed me if I had read on, but I did not. I have turned the tables. Now I possess their power,” Van Clutch said and raised her head to the cloudless sky.

Happy Halloween – to celebrate a snippet from ‘Marauders of the Missing Mummies’

I have just finished writing my children’s book Marauders of the Missing Mummies. Phew! It still needs tweaking and the like, but it is done. So I thought I’d post the first few paragraphs as a taster. If anyone wants to give any feedback, that would be so very helpful. What do you think about the cover? It needs work, but is it in the right direction?

Hope you enjoy it and Happy Halloween.

new cover for marauders

Chapter 1: We Are Not Alone

Darkness pushed against Cleo Dalby’s arms and legs as she struggled to make her way through the narrow chamber. Hands outstretched before her, she slid her feet forward, straining to hear something, anything. But every sound, even the skid-slap of her sandals on the stone floor, became lost in the gloom. On Cleo walked slow and tentative. Deeper into the world of corpses.

A sigh, long and weary-filled drifted towards her. A sound so sad that Cleo had to cover her ears with her hands. But it was no use. The moans and low murmurs continued, floating around her like tired moths. She tried to struggle on, but the wails tugged at her legs and she stopped. Intrigued by the muffled chatter, she dropped her hands and listened. Voices low and raspy swirled and scuttled inside her head.

“We, the dead, abide here. Quietly resting, hands on chest, faces tilted up to catch a ray of sunlight.”

“A futile gesture. For this far below the ground, there is only blackness and the weight of stone.”

“We, the dead, lie still, poised in readiness for our resurrection.”

“ Ah, what a wait we’ve had; so many years spent lying in a state of half remembered promises and expectations, grown dull with the passing of each century.”

“We, the dead, no longer know who we are. Memories fade and melt into our hollow skulls.”

“We, the dead, sometimes whisper to each other.”

“Husks of words from dried up lips that stick to the cold walls, waiting for the living to listen.”

Cleo touched the limestone with her fingertips, and thought she heard a murmuring of souls.

“We, the dead, can feel a presence.”

A breath of ancient brushed past her cheek. She shivered and rubbed her naked arms. The chill slapped onto her legs and spread upwards leaving pimples of stiff-hair unease on her sunburnt flesh. She gulped and said into the blackness, “Hello? Is anyone there? My name is Cleo.”

“Found out!”

“Not Yet.”

“No.”

The voices ceased.

She called again, but no answer came. There was a smell of rot so strong that Cleo nearly vomited, but it disappeared and she felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She stood tall, shrugged, and said, “The dark is just an absence of light.” She shook the torch that was gripped in her hand. “Stupid, froggin’ thing. Work.” She patted it against her palm. “Work.” Something touched her shoulder and Cleo jumped.

“I thought I’d lost you.”

“Mother, don’t creep up on me like that.”

“I can’t very well do anything else, can I? It’s darker than a black hole in here.”

“I know. I can’t see a froggin’ thing.”

“What do you expect? We are half way down a pyramid. And don’t say ‘froggin’’ I know what it really means.”

Cleo mouthed the word again, and then once more, just because she could. A small sound like the noise from an un-tuned radio station buzzed through her ears. She put her fingers into her lugholes and wiggled them until the static din ceased. “Are you sure we are the only ones in here?”

“Apart from the mummies? Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, nothing, I thought that…”

“What?”

“You didn’t just walk past me and say something, did you?”

“No, I crept up behind you, remember?”

“Weird. I thought I heard someone say something.”

There was a long pause and Cleo reached behind her. She felt her mother’s hand and grabbed onto it. Her palms were sweaty and hot and she felt a tightening in her chest. A gasp, not form her own throat, swept across her forehead and down her neck. She squeezed her mother’s fingers and felt her mother squeeze back.

“What was that?”

“I don’t know Cleo, but it wasn’t a breeze from a window. Okay, we need light and quick.”

“Sorry.”

“Now is not the time.”

“But it’s my fault the torch won’t work. I didn’t change the batteries, sorry. Of course, if you’d brought wind-up torches instead of battery operated ones, then we wouldn’t be in this mess, would we, mum?”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault?”

A throaty groan billowed past their open mouths. Cleo swivelled round, buried her head into her mother’s chest and waited for the horrible noise to go away. It did not. She felt familiar arms wrap around her and press her close. But despite the comforting warmth from her mother’s body, the gurgling, growling continued. Growing louder until her ears almost hurt. “Why won’t it stop?”

“It has.”

“No it hasn’t. Can’t you hear it?”

“That’s my stomach.”

“What? Your stomach?”

“Yes. Because you slept in, again, we missed breakfast.”

“Oh, right, sorry.”

“Don’t sniffle. Come on, we can’t let some stale air that we’ve disturbed frighten us away. That’s what they want.”

“That’s what who want?” Cleo said and pulled away from her mother’s tight grip.

“The architects who built the pyramids. They were clever. They used all sorts of booby traps to scare looters away. All this noise and freezing wind, it’s a just a ploy to put us of the scent. Come on, let’s carry on.”

“Okay, but can you light a match at least? I really can’t see where I’m going.”

“Actually, there aren’t many left. We should save them. We’re going to need all the light we can when we find the hidden chamber and get inside the room. So, for now, you’ll just have to feel your way like me.”

Cleo ran her fingers over the wall and felt the uneven stone. It was dry and cool and smooth to the touch. Almost like skin. “Do you think anyone else knows about this hidden corridor?”

“I hope not. It took me almost a year to find out it existed.”

“So, there’s no one going to miss us and come looking?”

“Don’t worry, the guide didn’t notice us latch on to his tour, and I’m pretty certain that he didn’t notice us slip away.”

“Oh. And that’s a good thing?”

“Of course it is. Less chatter my girl and more moving. I don’t know about you, but I find this place somewhat scary.”

“I’m pretty creeped out.”

“Do you want to go back? You can if you want to?”

“No. I’m no quitter.”

“Well said.”

Cleo skimmed her feet along the rubble-strewn floor and continued to make her way forward. A wriggly thing landed on her bare forearm. She yelped and stumbled over something large and hard. “Ouch!”

“What’s the matter? Are you okay? Answer me!”

“I’ve bashed my froggin’ foot on something. It really hurts.” Cleo bent down and rubbed her big toe.

“You scared me when you called out. I thought…”

“What? That something dead had come to get me? A zombie mummy angry and mean because we dared to enter its domain,” Cleo said in a boomy voice, and then even louder, “Moohaha!” She expected a response, but when none came she coughed. “Stupid froggin’ pyramid. Should have some kind of lighting. They always do in the films.”

“Well, this isn’t a film and you should be more careful where you walk. I told you that there would be all sorts of things lying on the floor. And, I told you to wear walking boots, not those pink sandals. And stop saying ‘froggin’.”

Cleo screwed up her eyes and sucked air between her teeth. Her big toe throbbed and she struggled to keep back tears. But the pain was nothing compared to the agony of admitting that her mother was right. “I think it might be broken.”

“Can you move it?”

Cleo clenched her toes. “Ow! Yes, I can move it, but it hurts.”

“Well, it’s not broken, probably just a bit bruised. You’ll be fine. So, are you so terribly injured that you can’t go on? Because, if you can’t, you’ll have to stay here or go back up until I find the hidden chamber, all by myself. So, getting all the credit.”

Cleo shook her head. Then, realising that such a gesture in pitch darkness would be a waste of time, replied in haste, “No, I can walk.”

“ Are you sure? I don’t want you lagging behind and getting lost.”

“I won’t.”

“I don’t know. I shouldn’t have let you talk me into allowing you to come.”

“But, you said we were a team. You know, like you and dad used to be.”

Cleo felt the silence cover her like a blanket. Then the touch of her mothers hand on her arm. “Well, if you can walk, let’s carry on.”

“I think I need a plaster.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll strike a match,” Mrs Dalby did and the place exploded in a tiny glow from the burning stick of wood. “You’re not crying are you?”

Cleo wiped her nose. “No, I’m just sniffing.”

The smell of sulphur tickled her nose and in the flickering light, Cleo saw her mother crouch on the floor and rummage around in a rucksack. She pulled out a candle and lit it. Cleo smiled and her mother did too. “I’m sorry. I get carried away when I’m on an expedition and I’m not used to having a child…I mean, I’m used to being with your father. I wanted this to be a proper holiday, but after the phone call. Well, it felt like old times and you said that I should get back on the saddle.”

“I didn’t. I said that you should find the missing mummies because dad would have wanted you to. Plus, they are giving us a shed load of money.”

“You are your father’s daughter all right. Come here, let me have a look at that toe of yours.”

Cleo stuck her foot out and Mrs Dalby held the candle close to it. As her mother probed her flesh for signs of bruising or cuts, Cleo tried to see what it was that had tripped her in the gloom. “There is a cut under your toenail, so you’d best have a plaster to avoid infection. Who knows what kind of bacteria lurks amongst this ancient dust and sand. Now keep still while I put one on. Cleo, I said keep still. Stop wriggling.”

“There it is!” Cleo shouted.

“What?”

“The thing I tripped on.”

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