The Mummy Effect

Road Trip Rendezvous, Book 4

Egypt, Valley of the Kings. 

Fifteen years earlier…

“Who is my father?”

The oil lanterns, their flames dancing in the stillness, burned short, casting flickering shadows against the ancient, weathered walls of the tomb of Ramses IV. The stale air hung heavy with the scent of dirt and musty decay.

Nothing met sixteen-year-old Harrison Standish’s question except the sound of a shovel. Its metal blade scooped sand, a hollow noise that echoed his internal turmoil.

The professional archaeologists, volunteer dig workers, and eager college students long since retreated to the safety of their quarters at the university compound, leaving only him and his mother, Diana, to continue their search in the eerie stillness of the night.

They were searching for the lost grave of Ramses’ oldest daughter, Kiya, and her lover, Solen, a Minoan scribe sold into slavery to the Egyptians. According to the ancient legend, her father's right-hand man, Nebamun, separated the couple. The Egyptian title of vizier was a significant position, next in line under the pharaoh himself. Such a man might elevate to king, often by marrying into the royal family.

In exchange for his loyal service, Ramses promised Nebamun Kiya’s hand in marriage, a promise that would seal their alliance and secure Nebamun's future. Still, when he found his bride-to-be in Solen’s arms, he flew into a fit of mad rage and poisoned the lovers, ending their young, vibrant lives in an instant.

Nebamun buried them in separate tombs, each with one-half of a magical brooch, in an attempt to avoid the curse Solen cast upon him with his dying breath. Egyptian mythology stated if the two rings of the amulet came together again, Solen and Kiya would be reunited in the Underworld, and Nebamun’s descendants would be forever damned.

For months, Diana had been working from dawn until midnight. Immersed, she fixated on her goal—finding the ancient lovers and reuniting them. She glanced over at Harrison, her icy blue eyes shining with a feverish light, and her lips cracked and dry from the arid environment.

He pushed his wire-frame glasses up on the bridge of his nose and held his breath. Would she answer him this time?

She did not speak. Instead, her jaw tightened, and she returned her attention to her task, squatting on the ground, sifting through sand ounce by ounce, running it through a flour sifter, not missing a single grain. His mother, the perfectionist.

“Was my father Egyptian? Is that where my coloring comes from?” He threaded his fingers through his dark curls and waited.

Scrape, scoop.

“Mother?” He stretched out the toe of his work boot and messed up the sandy piles she’d stacked.

She jerked her head up this his face and glowered. “Your father was an asshole.”

"Does this asshole have a name?"

Diana scowled, perturbed by his questions. “You’re better off not knowing him.”

“What about Adam’s father?” Harrison asked, referring to his half-brother, eleven months younger.

“What about him?”

“How come he gets to spend time with his dad?”

His mother groaned, rocked back on her heels, and lifted a dirt-stained hand to brush a lock of blonde hair from her forehead. “Tom Grayfield insisted on being part of your brother's life.”

“My father didn’t insist on the same?” Rhetorical question. The absence of a loving father was explanation enough, but he couldn't leave it alone.

“No, because your father was already married and had a son, although I didn’t realize it when I met him.” The bitterness in Diana’s voice echoed throughout the cloistered chamber. "He blindsided me with the news when I told him about my pregnancy."

“Oh.”

He swallowed the ugly information, and it stung like hot gall. He was the product of an affair. Illegitimate. A bastard, and he had another child. A boy he liked better than Harrison. Disappointment weighted Harrison’s shoulders into a sluggish slump. Straightening his legs, he rose and dusted his hands against his pants, his fingers shaking.

His mother’s tone softened a bit. “You’ve got to trust me on this. For your own well-being, please stop asking questions.”

“I need to learn who he is.”

“Why? Why can't you ever leave well enough alone?” Her voice turned plaintive. "You always have to pick at things."

“Everyone deserves to find out where they come from,” he said.

“Does this have something to do with your little friend Jessica?" Her eyes narrowed to suspicious slits. "Are her snobby parents refusing to let you date her because your heritage is unknown?”

His face flushed hot, blistering his hairline, and he fisted his hands. His mother nailed the truth like a bow and arrow targeting a bullseye.

“I must be right,” Mom scoffed. “You’re blushing.”

He did not reply. Too angry, too frustrated, too confused to talk. He sucked his fears deep inside his lungs, held them down with his indrawn breath, and stared a hole through his mother. He couldn’t believe she withheld such vital information from him for so long.

“I deserve to meet him. I’m sixteen now, and I'm a man for all intent and purpose.”

“Okay.” She relented after an extended pause. “I’ll tell you this much. Your father comes from noble blood, and he holds a high-ranking position in the Egyptian government, but that's all I'll say.”

Harrison exhaled his complicated emotions, as drained as if he sprinted fifty miles without stopping and just as empty.

“Did you love my father?” he asked.

Diana snorted and rolled her eyes. “Love is for suckers. What you’re experiencing with your little girlfriend is nothing more than raging hormones and teenage angst. Take my advice and forget about that girl. Concentrate on your work and your schooling. Science will free your mind, not passion.”

His mother sliced open his head, peered inside his brain, and voiced his greatest fear out loud. He loved Jessica with an intensity that scared him, but he didn’t like out-of-control feelings. Emotions clouded a man’s reason, and he thought of himself as a reasonable person, a rational human being, but his heart refused to stay silent. Something unexpected in him rebelled against logic, something wild, scary, and exhilarating.

“You’re wrong. I love her, and she loves me." He hated that his voice quivered. "We'll be together forever.”

Diana shook her head, her greying ponytail bouncing, and inhaled a weary sigh. “My poor, naive boy, you have no idea what you're talking about.”

“I don't understand. If you don’t believe in kismet, then why have you spent your entire life searching for Kiya and Solen to prove the legend of the misbegotten lovers is true?”

“Is that what you think we’ve been doing?” One eyebrow jumped up high on her forehead in surprise, and harsh laughter shot from her mouth.

He shrugged. “What else?”

“Harrison, all these years, I’ve been trying to disprove the fable. It's twaddle.”

He frowned. For as long as he could remember, his mother had been consumed by the romantic story, and he thought she believed in love but just hadn't found it for herself yet. He was so mistaken about her motives.

“Haven’t you been listening to a word I've spoken?” Diana clicked her tongue. “There is no such thing as soul mates. No twin flames. No magic fairy-tale."

"Mom," he said, distraught by her knife-blade words.

"Nothing will save you. It’s all bullshit concocted to entertain the masses. The sooner you accept that, the better. Once we find Solen and Kiya and join the two pieces of their amulet together, nothing will happen, I promise you.”

He blinked at her, incredulous. His world tilted out of control. “You dragged Adam and me to Egypt when we could have a normal life, staying in one place, making friends, and all to prove nothing?”

“Yes! Now you understand.”

“Nihilism. How Nietzsche of you, Mother.”

“Don’t smart mouth me.”

“Why not? Intelligence is the only quality you value.” Harrison pivoted on his heel and stalked toward the exit.

“Where are you going?”

“Back to the campus. To find Jessica and tell her how much I love her, because I’m not bitter like you. I do believe in the legend, and I put my faith in love.”

“Don’t do it, Harrison. It’s a mistake!”

But he kept marching.

Tonight, he would take a chance. He would give her the promise ring in his pocket. He bought it three weeks ago, waiting for the courage to speak what was in his heart.

In the illumination from the fat yellow full moon high in the velvet-black sky, he rode his bicycle into town. His stomach was in his throat. He wanted this. He did, he did. He wasn't afraid anymore.

I love you, Jess.

Thirty minutes later, he pedaled through the gates of the university, his pulse pounding in his ears. He parked his bike in front of the girls’ dormitory.

He intended to sneak to the side of the building and throw pebbles at her window to wake her up, the way guys did in romantic comedies.

Harrison stuck his hand in his pocket and fisted his fingers around the delicate promise ring. The sharp edges of the small diamond gave him courage. He wouldn't internalize his mother's negativity--wouldn't let her bad attitude fester and grow inside of him.

Jessica.

He started across the veranda, but then he spied a couple locked in a passionate embrace on the porch swing. He shuffled to the right, giving them a space, but a familiar scent caught his attention and stopped him in mid-step. Cherry blossom cologne. Jessica’s signature fragrance.

He froze, rooted to the spot, to that horrible moment and stared while the young lovers kissed.

They must have sensed his presence because they raised their heads, and in the bright moonlight, he witnessed the thing he most did not want to see. His Jessica clutched in the arms of another boy. And not any random guy, but his half-brother.

The emotions were too much to handle—betrayal, anger, disappointment, bitterness. He shut off his feelings, closed down his love and stalked away.

“Harrison, wait!” Adam said, running after him. “It’s not what you think.”

Ha! He kept walking, outdistancing his sibling, breathing hard, his heart shattering into a billion splintered shards.

At that moment, he realized his hand was still clenched on the promise ring. What a stupid fool he’d been. With a curse, he pulled the damnable thing from his pocket and flung it into the darkness.

His mother had been right all along.

Love was for suckers.