The invitation said 7:00pm sharp and she had no intention of being late. Margaret had never been to an unwrapping party before, but the ones she’d heard about sounded positively gruesome and wildly exciting. Her father wouldn’t approve of her going out alone, but he was away on business and therefore not in a position to stop her. She wouldn’t be the only unaccompanied female at the gathering, so there was no shame in attending as far as she was concerned.
She pinned her hat in place, made sure it was secure, then popping the invitation into her purse hurried out into the chill evening air. As she hastened down the street, she wondered what it would be like to gaze upon the visage of a long dead Egyptian High Priest of Amun-Re. Her friends, who had been to one or two of these things, said that most of these mummies were in such a state they were nothing but jumbled piles of rags and the odd bone with bits of dried flesh still clinging to it, but occasionally the body was so well preserved you could tell what they would have looked like in life. To be one of the first to look at the face of a man or woman who had lived over four thousand years ago sent delicious shivers down her spine.
As she hurried around the corner, she collided with a young gentleman and dropped her purse. He gallantly caught her in his arms and righted her before she too ended up on the floor.
“My apologies,” he said in a thick foreign accent, and bent to pick up her belongings. “Are you hurt?” He straightened until he towered above her and she had to tilt back her head to look at him.
Margaret was transfixed. The man’s reddish brown hair reached his shoulders, but beneath it she glimpsed a golden earring. His skin was darkly tanned and spoke of a life spent in sunnier climes. His high cheekbones could only belong to someone of noble bearing, and his deep brown eyes were almost hypnotic. Though he was dressed in the style of an English gentleman, Margaret felt sure she was staring at a foreign prince.
She realised he was waiting for her answer and somehow conveyed that she was uninjured, though her words did not seem to make sense as she uttered them. The man smiled none-the-less, showing immaculate white teeth and setting Margaret’s heart aflutter.
“Forgive me, I too am in a hurry,” he said, holding out her purse and the invitation which had fallen from it. “Enjoy your – unwrapping party.”
She thought he frowned a little as he read the words, but it was hardly surprising. He’d doubtless never heard of such a thing. She gratefully accepted her belongings, and he took her hand and touched it to his lips. He wore a large gold ring on the first finger of the hand that held hers. It caught the light from a nearby gas lamp and Margaret was intrigued by the carved symbols on the stone at its centre, an oval shaped polished garnet.
Then before she could thank him he was gone, leaving nothing but the scent of cedarwood cologne hanging in the air.
Henry Cranston’s parlour was hung with black velvet drapes and his impressive collection of Egyptian artefacts was crammed onto every available surface. Margaret had been the last to arrive, four minutes past the appointed time, but as their host had not yet put in an appearance, it didn’t matter. Chairs were set in a crescent before the imposing centrepiece that was to serve as the evening’s entertainment – the ancient hand-painted sarcophagus of the High Priest.
The butler took Margaret’s invitation, and her coat and a maid offered her a drink. She accepted the small glass of sherry and was rather glad of its warmth and calming effect on her jangled nerves. Her fingers still trembled as she thought of the handsome stranger. It was most unlikely that she would ever meet him again and would never know who he was or where he was dashing off to.
Whilst the group awaited their host they examined Cranston’s collection, talking in whispers as though they were attending a wake, which is precisely how it appeared with the coffin at the front of the room. Twenty minutes passed and still Cranston had not appeared. People were becoming restless. The butler excused himself for the third time and went in search of his master.
When he returned, pale faced, his composure somewhat ruffled, it was clear something was wrong.
“I’m very sorry,” he said. “But I’m afraid Dr Cranston cannot be found.”
There was a moment’s silence as the guests assimilated the announcement. Colonel March was the first to speak.
“Can’t be found, man? What on earth do you mean?”
“I mean, Sir that he is not in the house.”
“How bothersome,” said one lady. “Does that mean we aren’t going to have the unwrapping after all?”
The butler, floundering, shook his head, but was saved from any further embarrassment by another gentleman who stepped into the centre of the room.
“Nonsense, my dear. I too am a doctor and am well qualified to perform the unwrapping. We will go ahead without Dr Cranston.”
The group, now seated, watched intently as Dr Blair – as he had introduced himself, removed the previously loosened lid of the sarcophagus and with the help of volunteers from among the guests lifted the mummified corpse from its resting place. With the body on the table he worked at the linen wrapping, snipping away with a pair of shears with no regard to the antiquity of the fabric.
“Let us discover what treasures this man was given to help him on his journey to the afterlife,” he bellowed, yanking away another swathe of material.
The chink of metal falling onto the table caught him by surprise. There was a gasp from the audience, but the doctor picked up the object and glared at it in disbelief.
“This can’t be right,” he mumbled. “It’s a pair of cuff links.”
He handed them to the young man sitting nearest him, who dutifully nodded his agreement and held them up for all to see.
“They have the eye of Horus on each one,” he said, trying to be helpful.
Working more slowly, the doctor peeled back several more layers of linen and exclaimed again as a circular, gold object came into view, laid over the heart of the deceased.
“A pocket watch? Is this some kind of joke? You there,” he shouted at the butler fidgeting by the parlour door. “Go tell your master his amusement at our expense must end this instant.”
The butler, eyes wide and visibly shaken, rushed from the room.
In the meantime, Dr Blair continued, tearing away the wrappings in a state of agitation until he reached the very last layer of linen. Whilst the other women clutched at the hands of the gentlemen beside them, Margaret leaned forward for a better view. There was a collective intake of breath as the face beneath was revealed.
Margaret’s friends had been right. You could indeed tell what the corpse had looked like in life, but this was no four thousand year old mummy – here was the corpse of their missing host.
The body had been drained of all blood. His skin clung to the bones and the sunken flesh of his face left him with high, protruding cheekbones. But his expression was the worst. His mouth was open, caught in death with the scream still on his lips. His deep blue eyes stared out at Margaret as though frozen in a hypnotic trance.
Dangling from one earlobe was a golden earring, a cross with a rounded loop at the top. Margaret’s hand flew to her mouth, for she recognised it at once. She tiptoed towards the coffin and as she leaned over it, she caught a whiff of cedarwood. Four thousand years had not dulled the scent of the timber and as she circled the casket, her eyes were drawn to the owner’s cartouche. An image she had not seen from her seat at the opposite end of the table. Inside the garnet coloured oval were the same symbols she had glimpsed on the handsome stranger’s ring.
Nel Ashley is the author of Black Feather and Immortal, the second book in the Black Feather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Dandelion Time, a time slip romance novel.
You can also connect with Nel on Facebook
One thought on “The Unwrapping Party”
Pingback: A Real Mummy Unwrapping | Nel Ashley – Indie Author