Life and the Grave

By Sanguine

Episode 9.7

Part Two

 

When the next morning finally rolled around, MacGyver was one of the first to arrive at the dig site. Only two others had beat him to the punch. Dr. Anbar was already meticulously dusting a clay figure with delicate brushes, and Nick—occupied by a Walkman’s headphones—seemed to be patrolling the excavation site. The head of security offered MacGyver a slight half-wave as the troubleshooter approached. Half-waving back, Mac made a beeline for the Egyptologist.

“Morning, Doctor,” MacGyver called with a smile.

Anbar returned the smile as he looked up. “You’re early, I see! Very good. Are you ready to take a look at the antechamber of the tomb?”

“You bet I am!”

“Too bad! You must help me with this first.” Anbar laughed and waved MacGyver over to his workspace, which was essentially a wooden crate beneath a sturdy tent.

"While I work on this shabti, I need you to take these brushes and start working on cleaning up those pottery shards. And be gentle.”

“Don’t worry, I will,” MacGyver promised, picking up the brushes and carefully wiping away centuries of encrusted sand and dirt from the reddish pottery. “What exactly are these things, anyway? They don’t look like any pot I’ve ever seen.”

Anbar glanced up from the shabti to smile at his new friend again. “They’re called execration texts. They’re common enough, but it’s a very uniquely Egyptian custom.”

“How so?” MacGyver asked, always curious about other people and other cultures.

“The ancients believed that names held great power. A name defines who you are, and so they could be used to bless or to curse. One of the things that the Egyptians of this time period would do is write down the names of evil things or enemies onto clay tablets or pottery, and then they would smash it. Can you guess why?”

MacGyver thought it over for a moment before answering, “To get rid of the evil?”

Anbar beamed. “That’s right.”

By then, other workers had begun to fall in and start up the daily activities of excavation. MacGyver glanced at them periodically as he worked alongside Dr. Anbar. Everyone seemed to be wrapped up in their work, totally carried away by the excitement of unearthing new pieces of history. …Except for Nick, who was still just as surly-looking as he had been the day before. Mac shrugged. History isn’t quite for everyone.

“Come with me,” Anbar said, dusting off his hands. “It’s time that I show you what we’ve uncovered so far of Vizier Inpuhotep’s tomb.”

Eagerly, MacGyver set down his brushes and pottery shards and followed the Egyptologist.

The excavators had unearthed a large rectangular pit beneath the ground. Months of painstaking work had uncovered a significant portion of a medium-sized, flat-roofed stone structure buried beneath the earth. A short stepladder descended into the pit, and as he followed Anbar, MacGyver could see a narrow sandstone entryway that led into the actual tomb. MacGyver couldn’t help unleashing his inner anthropologist a bit; he loved seeing how other people, even far back in history, lived their lives. And the idea of seeing this monument from the inside, having the chance to step where people from thousands of years ago had once stood, was just plain exciting.

The inside of the stone tomb was cool and dry, quite a bit cooler than the desert outside, which was already starting to bake in the morning sun. The subterranean room that he’d stepped into was square with beautifully decorated walls. Frescoes and paintings, preserved by the dry air, brought to life various scenes depicting the Egyptian gods. The floor seemed to be made of some type of brick, and each brick was carved with hieroglyphs. Two sarcophagi rested side by side in the center of the room. Most of the artifacts were shattered, and the sparse furnishings made it obvious that grave robbers had beaten the archaeologists to the tomb, likely by centuries.

MacGyver lost his train of thought when he realized that Dr. Anbar was speaking to him.

“...and both are empty, of course. We checked those first. It’s likely that the robbers looted the bodies along with everything else. But MacGyver, if my research is correct, then they would have been mere servants anyway, or less important relatives. The real vizier and his wife are likely buried in a chamber deeper inside the tomb. I’m telling you, this must be just the antechamber, set up to fool the robbers. Just an antechamber! It must be!”

“If you believe it, then I believe you,” MacGyver replied. “What can you tell me about these wall paintings? Maybe they can give us a hint.”

Anbar brightened at MacGyver’s question. “Well, naturally, the largest of them is an admonition against grave robbers. Actually, the scribes seem to have written out a very lengthy and elaborate curse describing all the blood that will be shed if anyone enters the tomb. But most of the paintings are just about the vizier and his life... Although several of them depict him with Wepwawet and Anubis, too.”

“Wepwawet? I’ve never heard of that one.”

Anbar nodded. “He was a wolf god, worshipped primarily in the Upper Kingdom, and he was often called ‘the opener of the ways.’ In fact, Asyut was once named Lycopolis by the Greeks in his honor. In the murals, you can distinguish him from his father Anubis by the colors. Anubis is painted in black, and Wepwawet is white or gray.”

MacGyver paced the floor, looking at all of the murals. One on the back wall, above the vizier’s sarcophagus, depicted a man traveling down a staircase while the gray-headed wolf god looked down from above. “Opener of the ways, huh?” He knelt and tapped one of the bricks on the floor. “And all these hieroglyphs inscribed on the floor—what are these?”

“Names of the gods, mostly. It’s quite an unusual feature. None of us have seen names inscribed on the floors before in burial chambers. It’s very exciting.”

“Is there one with your wolf god’s name on it?”

“Yes, I believe there is. One moment—I saw it here not long ago. I think it was—yes, here it is!” Wincing a bit from a pain in his knee, the Egyptologist stooped down and ran his hands over an inscribed brick in the far right corner of the antechamber. Someone had touched this brick recently; all the sand and dust surrounding it had been swept away, leaving the inscription clearly visible. But MacGyver doubted that the last person to come along had done what he was about to do.

MacGyver knelt beside Anbar and pressed down firmly on the brick with his palms, trying to apply as much pressure as he could. His efforts were rewarded when the brick sank into the floor with a loud scrape. A rumble echoed within the walls as ancient mechanisms moved and a small circular section of the wall behind the sarcophagi rolled to the side, revealing a trapdoor. MacGyver released a breath that he didn’t know he’d been holding. “My guess is that putting pressure on this brick shifted a pole or a stone or something underneath us, and that must have shifted something else inside the walls that allowed that panel to slide away.”

“This is—this is astounding! I-I can’t believe that we actually found it!” Dr. Anbar cried. “Thank you for uncovering this for me, MacGyver. For all of us, really. I should’ve seen it sooner! It seems so simple now. I had gotten so convinced that sand was the key to it all that I had blinded myself to other solutions.”

MacGyver grinned. “Don’t worry about that right now, Doctor. Right now, we’ve got a tomb to explore! Do you have a flashlight handy?”

“No—we’ll have to get the others. Terrence! Terrence! Jennifer! Come quickly! Come! MacGyver found it! He found the door! I told you there would be a door! I told you!”

While Anbar was rallying the other excavation personnel, MacGyver peered into the new entrance, trying to get a glimpse into the darkness. Now that he looked at it, he realized that it wasn't a trapdoor so much as a very small hatch. He could definitely see the first two steps of a narrow stone staircase, but apart from that, all was darkness. He glanced up when he heard the running footsteps flying towards the unearthed mastaba. Every archaeologist, along with Nick the security chief, flooded into the antechamber with the troubleshooter and the Egyptologist.

“I’ve got a torch,” Terrence said, face splitting into a huge grin when he saw the door beside MacGyver. “I can’t wait to go in there and look around!”

“MacGyver should be the first to enter,” Dr. Anbar said solemnly. “He discovered the entryway, so he should get the honor of being the first man inside.”

Nick shrugged as he shone his flashlight around in the opening. “I doubt if there’s anything in there.”

“Ah, c’mon, Nick. Don’t tell me you’re not at least a little excited by this,” MacGyver said.

“I’ll be excited when everybody makes it out of this excavation thing with no accidents so I can go home to Santa Barbara and get paid,” Nick replied. “But I guess the whole hidden tunnel thing is kinda neat.”

“You should go in with us, Nick,” piped up Jennifer from behind Dr. Anbar. “Maybe it’ll give you a better appreciation for what we archaeologists actually do.”

Nick shrugged. “I doubt it, but…well, I guess somebody’s gotta hold the flashlight, right?”

MacGyver grinned. He recognized a guy feigning indifference when he saw one, and he knew that the entire group—including the security guard—had to be just as excited about exploring as he was.

“Enough talking. Let’s go in and check it out!” Terrence said, passing his flashlight to MacGyver. “You first, like the good doctor said.”

MacGyver smiled. “Good thing I don’t believe in ancient curses.” Shining the light down the narrow stairs, he took the first step into the darkness of the tomb.

And he screamed.

Terrence jumped, banging his head on the stone ceiling and cursing loudly. The others gasped and looked on with expressions of shock—until MacGyver flashed them a grin.

“Sorry,” Mac said with a laugh, “I couldn’t resist. A little tomb-exploring humor.”
“Next time, keep the humor to yourself. You nearly gave the old man a heart attack!” Nick complained.

“Me?” Dr. Anbar replied indignantly. “You looked like you’d seen a ghost!”

“I’m just the security guard, all right? They didn’t teach me how to deal with mummies and ancient curses at the police academy.”

“Everything’s fine,” MacGyver assured them. “It was just a joke, that’s all. All right, here I go.” He stepped down the stairs to the mud-brick floor and looked around, shining the yellow-white beam of the flashlight in all directions. Nick, the only other person with a light, stood beside him and helped illuminate the area. They had emerged from the staircase into a large room, empty except for some kind of stone altar and a large stone slab decorated with a painting and several hieroglyphs.

“This must be the chapel,” Anbar said from his place in the middle of the staircase, frozen in his tracks as he looked on into the room with wonder, oblivious to the impatient horde of archaeologists waiting on the steps behind him. “This is where the funeral ceremonies would have been held, and the stela on that altar represents Inpuhotep and his family in the afterlife.”

“Hey, check this out,” Nick said, shining his flashlight on the wall near the altar. “It’s a fake door, just painted on.”

“It’s meant to allow the spirits of the deceased to move in and out of the room,” Terrence explained, reaching out to touch the painted doorframe.

MacGyver moved forward for a closer look, and he smiled as he heard Anbar’s eager footsteps shuffling behind them—slowly shuffling, but as fast as the elderly Egyptologist could go. He had just turned to face the staircase and was about to offer to help when abruptly, a stone slab dropped down from a hidden slot in the ceiling, landing at the bottom of the staircase with a loud crash and blocking the rest of the group from view.

Immediately, MacGyver jumped towards the stone, with Terrence and Nick hot on his heels. “Dr. Anbar!” he called. “Can you hear us? Is everything all right?”

“Yes!” Anbar shouted back, the voices of the others audible in the background. “We can hear you fine, and all of us are unharmed. Is everyone all right on your side?”

“Yes, but I’m not sure how to get back to you. Is there another way out?”

“Probably, but you’ll have to find it. There’s no way to know where it could be—if another route even exists at all. I’m so sorry, MacGyver! We must have somehow activated the trap, but I have no idea what we could have done to set it off!”

MacGyver shrugged reflexively, forgetting for a moment that the Egyptologist couldn’t see the gesture. “There’s no telling. Everything in here is centuries old. It’s possible that the trap just triggered spontaneously at exactly the wrong moment.” A sort of lingering burn twitched in the back of MacGyver's mind; he sensed danger. What were the odds that a stone which had remained in place for hundreds of years would suddenly fall into the doorway at the exact moment of the tomb's rediscovery? How could that possibly be an accident?

But then again, his rational mind argued, what else could it be?

“Don’t worry, Doctor,” Terrence added, “we’ll find a way out!”

“Until then, we’ll work to find a way to move this stone,” said Anbar. “Good luck to you!”

“Thanks,” MacGyver replied as he surveyed the room with his flashlight again. “We’re probably going to need it.”

“Oh, my God, it's the curse. The curse is real,” Nick whispered, breath coming in shallow gasps that echoed off the brick walls. “Oh, my God, I’m gonna die in here. I should never have taken this job. I only wanted a little extra cash because I’m still paying off my loans, but I never expected that I was gonna die in some dead guy’s tomb in Egypt. Oh, my God.”

“Just calm down, Nick. We’ll be fine,” Terrence said.

“No, we won’t. There are probably all kinds of snakes and scorpions and God only knows what else in here, and if that big rock thing that closed off the door just triggered on its own just because it’s old, then what else in here could go off at any moment? Huh? Huh? Answer that! And what about oxygen? Are we gonna run out of air in here?”

“Not a chance!” MacGyver answered, hoping that he sounded reassuring. “The ancient Egyptians always built air shafts into their tombs. That way, the builders and artisans could work on the inside without dying. Now, Terrence is right—we’re going to be fine and we’re going to make it out of here, but only if we stay calm. Take deep breaths, okay?”

“Okay,” Nick said, his nodding made visible by the glow of his flashlight. “Deep breaths. Right. I can do that. I’m a cop. I can do that.”

MacGyver returned the nod encouragingly. “Very good, Nick, you’re doing great. Now, let’s just think about this for a second. This mastaba isn’t very big, right?”

“Right, and most mastabas of this type wouldn’t have very many rooms,” Terrence replied.

“That’s good,” Mac said. “That should make it easier for us to find the exit. We’ll find the door that leads out of this room—the one for people, not spirits—and we’ll check each area until we find our way out.”

Terrence chuckled. “You make it sound so simple.”

MacGyver grinned in the near-darkness. “Most problems are simple if you just take the time to think them through.”

“Yeah, well, I hate to rain on everybody’s parade, but how exactly are we going to keep track of where we’ve been?” Nick said. “Our visibility is less than great, and didn’t these guys build false exits and stuff? What if we get lost and end up going in circles?”

“He has a point,” Terrence admitted.

“Hang on. I’ve got an idea,” MacGyver said, tugging off one of his shoelaces.

“What’s he doing?” Terrence asked. “His torch is going all over the place. I can’t tell what’s going on.”

MacGyver screwed his eyes shut as Nick shone a light right into his face. “I’m taking off my shoelace.”

Terrence frowned in confusion. “What for?”

“To give us a way to mark where we’ve been going. I’ll cut the shoelace into pieces with my knife, and I’ll tape them down to the floor every few feet as we travel. That way, we’ll have a trail of breadcrumbs to lead us back here if anything goes wrong. Even if our flashlights run out of battery along the way, we’ll still be able feel for the shoelaces to find our way around.”

Nick raised an eyebrow. “You have tape?”

In response, MacGyver pulled a flattened roll of duct tape from his back pocket. “Looks like I’ve still got about half a roll left.” He grinned. “Never leave home without it.”

“Who are you?” Nick said. “Seriously, who are you?”

“Just a troubleshooter, that’s all.” With a shrug, he cut off the first section of shoelace and taped it to the floor. “C’mon, let’s get going. Maybe we can make it out of here in time for dinner.”

Finding the doorway was easy, but deciding which way to go after that was not.
“Right or left?” Nick asked, aiming his light first in one direction, then the other. Either way, the beam illuminated nothing; the light merely trailed off into fuzzy darkness.

“Flip a coin?” Terrence suggested. “Or maybe we should split up.”

MacGyver shook his head slowly. “Splitting up in here is a bad idea. If we’re separated and one of us gets hurt, we might never find each other.”

“I say we go right,” Nick said.

Terrence chuckled. “That settles it. We’re going left.”

“Hey!” Nick protested. “Don’t think that you can push me around just because I’m not some Oxford-graduate bone-digger like you! I’m only here to keep you guys safe.”

“We don’t really need you,” Terrence pointed out. “There’s nothing that we need protection from. You’re just a precaution that the Phoenix Foundation wanted to have. It’s nice to have you along, but completely unnecessary.”

MacGyver shook his head. “Listen, I understand both sides of this argument, I really do. But now is not the time. We need to get going if we want to get out of here.”

“All right, then, Troubleshooter,” Terrence said. “Which way are we going?”

Mac sighed and looked down both dark passages, pitch black in either direction, with no hints as to where they should go. “Pick a number between one and seven.”

“One.”

MacGyver glanced at the security guard next. “Nick?”

The guard blinked. “Seven. Why?”

MacGyver nodded at the hallway. “The number was six. We’re going right.”

Tentatively, he stepped forward into the shadows, his two companions close behind. After a few moments, they reached a brick wall. “Dead end.”

“What do we do now?” Nick whispered. “Turn around and go back?”

In the dim light, Terrence rolled his eyes. “Of course we go back. We can’t very well go forward, can we? I told you we should’ve gone left. And why are you whispering?”

“I don’t know, but I can’t stop,” Nick replied, voice still hushed.

“This isn’t a bad thing,” MacGyver said. “Now we know which way not to go. We’ve eliminated a possibility, and that’s good. When we get back to the spot where we turned right, I’ll mark the floor with an X so we’ll know not to come back this way.”

“Good idea,” Terrence said. “Here, Nick, lemme see the light. I’ll get started down the left side while MacGyver marks the spot.”

Mutely, Nick passed the flashlight to Terrence, watching as the tall man stepped down the corridor.

MacGyver glanced up at the security guard while he taped an X onto the bricks. “You don’t have to stand so close to me, you know. I’m not going anywhere without you.”

“Are you kidding me? You’re the best chance I have of getting out of here in one piece. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

The two of them walked side by side as they began to catch up with Terrence. Mac shook his head slightly. “That’s not necessarily true. Besides, this is just an old mausoleum, essentially. There may be a few more booby traps in here, but the odds are that nothing’s going to happen as long as we don’t panic and we keep our eyes open.”

"What about the curse? Anbar said there was a curse. H-he said so from the beginning, when they first opened up that entryway. The curse says that blood will be spilled, Anbar said so. They laughed about it, but... I don't know."

"There's no such thing as curses," MacGyver insisted. "Everything in here is man-made, and we'll find out way out of it. You'll see."

“Hey! I’ve found another door!” Terrence called from a few yards away.

“That's great!” MacGyver said. “Wait for us!” He could see the beam of the archaeologist’s light up ahead as they grew closer.

Terrence reached out, opened a well-preserved wooden door, and stepped inside.
A split second later, his body dropped to the floor, the flashlight rolling lazily over the bricks from his limp hand.

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