They crept up the dark drive, the spook, the witch and the vampire. The old house was set back from the road, and only the gleam of a street lamp, shining fitfully through the storm-tossed branches, illuminated their way.
"Do we have to?" muttered Clyde. "I wanna go home." He tripped over the duvet cover which enveloped him from head to foot. He'd cut eyeholes in the front and slits so he could get his hands out, and the effect was quite spooky, if you overlooked the 'Bart Simpson ' pattern.
"Shurrup!" snarled Jordan. "We'll finish when I say. This one has it coming. He wouldn't let me have my ball back once, miserable old git."
Replacing his fangs and pulling the Dracula mask over his face, he strode to the door, lifted the knocker and brought it down with a noise like thunder. Nothing happened. The house stayed dark.
"Perhaps he's not in?" whispered Kayleigh.
"He never goes out." Jordan banged on the door again, and this time was rewarded by a faint light through the frosted glass panel, and the sound of bolts being pulled back. The door opened.
"Who is it?" a voice creaked.
"Trick or treat!" yelled Jordan, pushing forward, so that the old man was forced to take a step back.
"But - but it's not Hallowe'en yet," he quavered, "not till tomorrow night."
"Yeah, well, we're starting early. Like, we got a proposition for you." Jordan took another step, the other two crowding in behind.
"Wait," the old man protested. "You can't come in here."
But they were in. The old bloke was a pushover, looked like he'd fall over if you stared at him hard enough. Jordan's eyes flicked over the thick carpets and antique furniture, and the carved figurines of men with the heads of animals. Not short of a bob or two either.
"Please, mister, can we use your toilet?" Kayleigh gazed up at him. "I really really need to go."
"Well, er - "
"Thanks ever so." She darted past, followed by Clyde.
"No, come back, you can't - " The old man turned to follow.
Jordan seized his arm. "What you do, see, is you pay us, then we put the word around. None of the other kids will bother you. You'll have a nice quiet Hallowe'en, no trouble at all."
"I never have any trouble.” He looked round frantically. “Where have they gone?"
Jordan tightened his grip, although touching the old man gave him the creeps. Old! He looked more like he'd been dead ten years, and he smelled like something dug up.
"Always a first time. Now for you, I'll do a special rate. How about a fiver? Each."
"Fifteen pounds? But that's outrageous. Let me go. Get out of my house, all of you, before I call the police!"
From one of the doors leading from the hallway there came a terrified scream, a crash, then a wail like a thousand banshee in unison; a noise so dreadful that the hair rose on Jordan's head. Kayleigh screamed in sympathy, while Clyde erupted from the doorway, his sheet bundled up to his chest, and tore through the hall, out of the door and down the drive. Jordan's nerve broke. His scheme forgotten, he ran, closely followed by Kayleigh. Neither stopped till they had caught Clyde up by the shops.
"What was that?' gasped Jordan.
"Dunno." A sly smile crossed Clyde's face. "I got something though."
"Show you later. Let's get into town. I want a burger, I'm starving."
They huddled in a corner of McDonalds. By now they looked relatively normal. The costumes were in a bag under the table and Kayleigh had washed off her witch make-up in the Ladies, though she was still a bit green.
"How much did we get?" she asked.
Jordan was counting the takings. "Forty-one, forty three ... forty-three pounds sixty-seven pence, one bag jelly babies, five toffees and a Mars Bar."
"Bags me the Mars Bar," said Clyde. "It was my idea."
"We share," said Jordan. "What did you nick from that last place?"
Clyde reached into the bag and brought out a stone jar, carved all over with strange signs and pictures.
"Them's Egyptian," said Kayleigh. "We did them in Year Seven."
Jordan turned it over thoughtfully, shook it, then tried to unscrew the lid, which wouldn't budge. "Must be worth something," he said at last.
Castor Blight, ex-professor of Egyptology and once-famous archaeologist, surveyed his wrecked study. His desk lay overturned, his papers scattered. He dropped to his knees and began to search, at first with confidence, then in increasing disquiet. At last he sat back on his heels, and groaned.
"It's gone. Gone! All those years of work brought to nothing. Were they real children, or devils sent by Anubis to frustrate my hopes? And the invocation - I cannot find it. If that falls into the wrong hands - ah, Bastet, what are we going to do?"
The large Abyssinian cat sitting on the sofa paused to give him a thoughtful look, then resumed washing its face.
Jordan pointed to the scrap of paper in Clyde's hand. "What's that you got?"
"It was on the desk, I was looking at it when that bloody cat - "
"A cat? Is that all it was?
"You didn't see it! It was gynormous, look what it did to me." Clyde showed a long scratch down his arm.
"What's it say?" Kayleigh snatched the paper. "Oh, more Egyptian. There's some proper writing underneath though Pra ... pra senit herat-netir ... perhaps it's a spell. Pra senit herat-netir," she intoned.
"Pra senit herat-netir," echoed Clyde in sepulchral tones.
The ground heaved beneath them, and the lights flickered.
"Oo-er," gasped Kayleigh. "It worked!"
"Earthquake," said Jordan. "Get them sometimes. Bet it'll be on the news." He stuffed the remains of his burger into his mouth. "I'm going home. See you tomorrow - we can do some real Trick-or Treating."
"Yeah - but Jordan - " Clyde began, "how do we stop the other kids going to where we were tonight ... "
Jordan gave him a look of withering scorn. "Don't be stupid. We only said we'd stop them - we don't have to actually do it!"
"What about the jar?
"I'll take care of that. I'll need to think where we can flog it. See ya!"
Thick night shrouded the ancient town of Downmarket. McDonalds in Market Street stood locked and dark. Yet something moved within. The floor was no longer flat. It bulged, heaving itself up into a mound before the counter. Then it split ....
The next day was Hallowe'en. As dusk fell the streets were infested with ghosties and ghoulies and long leggetty beasties. Not to mention the things that went bump (and crack, bang, wheeeee) in the night. Doorbells were rung, money demanded by small devils. In many cases the demonic infants were driven away in tears, by irate pensioners who insisted they had paid quite enough last night, thank you very much. Which led on occasion to altercations with the infants’ parents or minders, at least one of which ended in court.
While in the bushes surrounding the churchyard, something stirred.
Jordan, Kayleigh and Clyde were out again, demanding money with menaces. They avoided the streets they had done the previous night, obviously. The pickings were not as good, too much competition.
"I've had enough," said Kayleigh. "I'm bored. Let's go to McDonalds."
"Haven't you heard? It's shut," said Clyde.
"It got broke into last night. It was on the news," said Jordan. "Someone dug a big hole in the floor."
"What were they after?" said Clyde. "Frozen nuggets?"
"Dunno. Nothing down there, they said, only foundations. Weird, innit?"
"Let's go round yours then" said Kayleigh, "and play Tomb Robbers."
Through the night it strode, unspeaking, heedless of the twittering hordes which surrounded it. The ghosts and witches, vampires and skeletons avoided it. It was altogether too realistic. Small children screamed as it lurched out of the dark, and ran crying back to their mummies. More rapidly than usual, the streets emptied. It did not notice. It was only aware of an aching emptiness inside, an emptiness that had to be filled, somehow. Something drew it, blindly, away from the houses and gardens, towards a road where strange, dazzling lights sped up and down.
"Bloody hell, what was that?"
"Did you hit it?"
"It came straight out at me - are you all right, mate?"
"Jesus! Looks like you've been in an accident already. Okay, up you get."
"Shouldn't we take him to hospital?"
"I think he's escaped from one, the way he's all bandaged up. Yeah, better get him checked over."
"But they'll ask questions. We'll be there all night."
"Okay, we'll dump him in A&E then."
Hallowe'en was a busy night at the hospital, so no-one took much notice of the figure enveloped in bandages sitting quietly in the corner. By the time anyone thought to check on it, it had gone. A little later, a nurse walking down an empty corridor heard something behind her. She turned, and screamed, but there was no-one to hear.
Later someone followed a trail of bloodspots and found the body. She was lying on a pile of dirty bandages, and her uniform was missing.
Castor Blight stared at the story in the Evening News. His hands were trembling so much he could barely hold the paper. 'Maniac loose in Downmarket' said the headline.
"It's happening," he whispered. "She is awake. Those children, they must have spoken the Invocation. What can have possessed them? What am I going to do? Bastet, help me."
His cat was lying on the desk in the sphinx position. She stared at him, eyes narrowed.
"That's right," she said. "you get yourself in a mess and expect me to sort it out. If you remember, I thought this whole thing was a bad idea from the start."
"All I wanted was to see my lovely Neferu once more. But now - how can I restore her to full life without her Canopic Jar?"
"It’s no wonder she’s a bit peeved, waking up to find you've lost her innards."
"Those wretched brats! Where can they be?" moaned Castor. "Dear Bastet, kind Bastet, you're a goddess - can't you do something? Before she kills someone else? She doesn't mean any harm, it's just her nature."
Bastet sighed. "It's a real pain sometimes, being a goddess. People expect miracles. All right. Downmarket's a grotty place, but it doesn't deserve this. I'll ask around."
Clyde and Kayleigh were in their usual corner of McDonalds. The floor had already been repaired, only an oval of slighter brighter tiles showing where the hole had been. Bastet marched in, tail up, and leapt onto the bench beside them. Clyde stared.
"It's that bloody cat. Here, scat! Gerroutovit!"
"I am not a 'bloody cat'. I am Bastet."
"Well, you said it, not us," muttered Clyde.
"'Ave you slipped something in my coke, Clyde Crawley?" squeaked Kayleigh. "Only, that cat's talking to me."
"I repeat, I am not a cat, I am the great goddess Bastet. So stop gawping, girl, and show a bit of respect. It's not every day you get to speak to a goddess. Now, where is it?"
"W-where's what?" quavered Kayleigh.
"The Canopic Jar of course. The one you stole the other night."
A woman in a overall wandered up. "That your cat? Animals aren't allowed."
"My good woman, I am allowed everywhere. Go away."
The woman drift back behind the counter, frowning. After a minute she decided that nothing had happened.
"So, have you got it?"
"Not on us," said Clyde. "Jordan took it. He said he knew a man ... "
"Then we must find him at once. She is dormant during daylight, but the night is already approaching."
"I'll try his mobile. Oh shit," said Kayleigh, "he's not switched on. What's the panic, anyway?"
"You ridiculous infants, have you any idea what you've done?" Bastet twitched the end of her tale in exasperation. "I suppose you spoke the Invocation?"
"You mean, the words on that funny bit of paper?" Clyde frowned. "So?"
"You have Awoken the Mummy."
"You mean, like in the film? All bandaged up and everything? Hey, wicked!"
Bastet ignored him. "Even now she lies hidden, waiting for night to fall, so she may seek out her prey. Your friend is in great danger."
"But why is she after Jordan?" asked Kayleigh.
"Because he has the jar, of course. It contains her heart. Plus her liver, kidneys and most of her lower intestine. Without her organs she is only half alive. She will do anything kill anyone, to get it back. So, where will he be? At home?"
"Nah, he never goes there, 'cept to sleep," said Clyde.
"He might be in Poundshop, nicking stuff," offered Kayleigh.
"Then to Poundshop we must go. And pray we are not too late."
In the basement of the Co-op department store, what was left of the Hallowe'en display had been taken down . All the plastic pumpkins and witch's broomsticks, the masks and the costumes, were now stacked in a corner of the toy department, under a sign saying 'Everything Half Price'. No-one came near. No-one noticed that an extra item had added itself to the heap. Only one small child ventured close enough to spot something that sent her running, shrieking "Mummy! Mummy!"
Outside, night was falling. The last customers departed, followed by the staff. Everywhere lay silent, shrouded in darkness. Then, in the corner, something stirred. The pile of monster masks parted and the mummy appeared, scattering rubber bats and furry toy spiders. Without its bandages it could have been mistaken for human, until you looked closely. It lurched its way stiff-legged towards the lift. On reaching the ground floor it made straight for Ladieswear. The racks of dresses first attracted its attention. Discarding the nurse's uniform stolen the night before, which was now dirty and blood-spattered, it selected a dress and pulled it on. The material hung on its skinny frame like a tent. It tried another. This one was a better fit. It surveyed itself in the mirror, and did a twirl, before drifting over to the wig counter.
Upstairs in the staff room Bert the security man finished his mug of tea, buttoned up his jacket, picked up his torch and set out on his round. As he reached the ground floor he paused, feeling the hairs rise on his neck. Something was - wrong. Clutching his torch he swung the beam around. There! For a moment he froze, then advanced towards the slender female with the long dark hair.
As he reached out to grab, it turned.
He screamed. His torch dropped from nerveless fingers, as hands like iron claws fastened round his throat. His last sight was the hideous face, looming over him, leather skin stretched tight over the skull . . .
Leaving the corpse where it lay, the mummy glided to the front entrance. One blow from its fist shattered the glass panel of the door. It passed through the hole and disappeared into the night.
Clyde and Kayleigh sat side by side on a worn leather sofa in Professor Blight's study. After they had drawn a blank in Poundshop, Boots and HMV, Bastet had insisted on bringing them here, saying they would be safer. They watched with interest as the professor paced up and down, alternately wringing his hands and tearing his hair.
"My poor Neferu! Lost in this ghastly town. How will she find her way to me?" He rounded on the two children. "It's all your fault, you horrible brats. I should leave you to your fate. Why should I care if she tears your living hearts from your vile bodies?"
"It's her own heart she needs, not anyone else's," Bastet reminded him.
"I've texted Jordan," said Clyde. "He should be here anytime now.”
"Will she be all right, once she gets her heart back?" asked Kayleigh.
"Difficult to say," said Bastet. "She was a walking horror when she was alive, and I can't see that three thousand years in the tomb will have improved her much. In my opinion, this whole thing was a mistake from the start."
"But I love her!"
Clyde stared at the professor, open-mouthed. "You're in love with someone who's been dead three thousand years? That's - that's sick."
"I think it's romantic," said Kayleigh. "But what I don't understand is, how did she get herself buried under McDonalds?"
"Ah, 'tis a long story." Professor Blight ceased his pacing and sat down at his desk. "Many years ago, when I was young and foolish, I went to Egypt, where I excavated the tomb of the priestess Neferu. I discovered her sarcophagus, intact. Her portrait was on the lid. She was so beautiful, I fell in love. But before I could arrange for her to be shipped home, she was stolen!
"I dedicated my life to searching for her. I never gave up. At last, I traced her to England, and to Downmarket, where she had been bought by a local collector of antiquities.. He cannot have appreciated her as I did. He did not look after her properly. Damp got in, and as time passed it became apparent that she had, as they say, ‘gone off’; it became necessary to rebury her. So he arranged with a friend, who was building a cinema at the time, to inter her in the foundations. Then they knocked down the cinema and built a McDonalds instead. Imagine the humiliation - she who had lain in the Valley of the Kings became part of the foundations of a burger bar! But I will restore her to her former glory."
"Assuming we can find her," said Bastet.
Jordan had not had a good day. He'd been caught be Mr Perkins the Head of Year as he'd tried to bunk off that afternoon, and had to endure an hour of "Citizenship Studies' before he could escape. Which meant he'd missed the bloke he'd hoped to unload the Egyptian jar onto. And to cap it all, every shop he'd gone into, some security prat had followed him everywhere, breathing down his neck.
He shifted his bag from one shoulder to the other. Bloody jar weighed a ton, he'd half a mind to dump it. Seemed a shame though, after lugging it around all day. He deserved something for his trouble. Funny thing, he felt as if he was still being followed. He turned round, but the dark street was deserted.
Twiddle-de-dee, twiddle-de-dee - he nearly jumped out of his skin as his mobile signalled an incoming message. ‘C U old gits place URGENT’ it said. What was Clyde doing over there? Only one way to find out - but it was a fair distance. Quickest way would be cut across the park, if he dared risk it. Muggers paradise - he should know, he'd done his bit. At the end of the street he looked back again. A flicker of movement - did someone just dodge out of sight? He walked faster.
The park was deserted, save for a lone jogger disappearing into the mist. All the dog walkers had gone home to their teas and telly. Jordan set out across the grass, feeling exposed and vulnerable. As he approached the bandstand he looked behind him. A figure had entered the park. Someone on their way home, he told himself.
Halfway across the rugby pitch he risked another glance over his shoulder. It was still following, and had drawn nearer. He began to run. He toiled up the slope leading to the far entrance, then put on a burst of speed as he reached flat ground. This carried him through park gate, where he slowed, panting. The figure was no longer in sight.
He dropped back to a walk, slightly ashamed of his panic. Nearly there now. He could feel the shape of the jar through the bag on his back. Perhaps the old git would pay to get it back? Something made him turn, in time to see - it - emerging from the park. For a moment he stood, frozen. There was something horrible, unnatural, in the way it walked; stiff-legged, with its arms stretched out. He ran again, this time flat out, his breath rasping in his throat. It ran too, a glance back showed it gaining on him. He started to wish he hadn't skived off sport so much, but here was the house at last. He sped up the drive and flung himself at the door, feeling as he did so an icy clutch at his throat, and the foetid breath of the grave in his nostrils -
The door opened.
"Now, now, Neferu," a voice said, "that really won't be necessary."
Jordan had joined Kayleigh and Clyde on the sofa. He was recovering from his ordeal, though still somewhat pale. Blight had taken the Mummy and its Canopic Jar into his inner sanctum. They could hear his voice raised in incantation, and the occasional curl of coloured smoke oozed under the door.
"D'you think he knows what he's doing?" asked Kayleigh.
Bastet was washing her behind. She put her leg down. "Probably not," she said. "Humans seldom do."
The chanting in the next room reached a crescendo, which was followed by silence. The door opened and Castor Blight stood on the threshold, beaming with pride and delight.
"May I present - Neferu, Princess of Thebes!"
Four pairs of eyes stared at the revamped mummy. She had certainly improved. Gone was the skeletal form, the leathery skin, the lipless mouth and the sewn-up eyelids. Now she looked positively sexy. She surveyed them with disdain.
"These are my slaves, yes? They will do, for the moment. As for you, old man, you are no longer needed. Go away and die somewhere."
"But - but - " Castor spluttered. "I spent my life in your service. I brought you back from the dead. Don't I even get one kiss?"
"Oh, very well."
Taking his face between her hands, lifting him till he stood on tiptoe, she pressed her lips to his. His arms flailed and, as she released him, he sank lifeless to the floor.
"Weak heart, I think. Too bad. Now,” she pointed to Jordan. "You, slave! What place is this?"
"And who is the King of Downmarket?"
"Hasn't got one."
"Queen, then? No? All to the good, it will save me the trouble of disposing of them." She wandered over to where Bastet sat on the desk. "Oo's a priddy ickle puddy tat?"
"Mmrrrow," said Bastet, rolling on her back to have her tummy scratched.
"Tomorrow, you will conduct me to the Royal Palace of Downmarket. Kneel slaves, before you new ruler, and adore me, saying, ‘Hail Neferu, Mighty Queen’."
"She's nuts," whispered Kayleigh. "Better do as she says."
"Downmarket tomorrow,” cried the mummy, “then the world!"
"I can't take much more of this." Jordan collapsed onto a chair in the kitchen. "I'm knackered."
It was the next morning. They had been up half the night. Neferu had insisted on being shown all over the house. Castor Blight had been a great collector of Egyptian antiquities, and she wanted to inspect every one. Then she made them get up again at dawn, to rearrange the furniture and bury the professor in the back garden.
"Yeah, it's a bit much." agreed Clyde. "Who does she think she is?"
"The Queen of Downmarket, unfortunately," said Bastet.
"You're a goddess, can't you do summat? And what," went on Jordan, "was all that 'puddy tat' stuff?"
"I thought it best to conceal my true nature. If she thinks me but an ordinary moggy, she will be off her guard."
The door opened and Kayleigh came in, looking harassed. "Have we any ass’s milk? She wants a bath."
"There's some semi-skimmed in the fridge, she won't know the difference. No," Bastet continued, "we must humour her for the moment."
"I don't think you are a goddess," said Clyde. "You've never done anything goddessy. I think you're just a talking cat."
"Yes, why can't you send her back where she came from?" said Jordan.
"It's not that simple!" Bastet's tail started to twitch. "I have no power over her unless she believes in me, and she won't believe - "
"Till she sees the power," finished Kayleigh. "Yeah, that's a bummer." An angry bellow of "Slave!" floated down the stairs. "Oh shit, gotta go." She grabbed the milk and fled.
"We must bide our time," said Bastet. "Something will turn up."
Neferu stood on the doorstep, clad now in the full regalia of a Pharaoh, including the false beard. She carried a flail and a sistrum, the symbols of Royal authority.
"Where is my chariot?" she demanded.
Castor Blight's Ford Capri convertible, with Jordan at the wheel, slid round the side of the house and stopped at the front door.
"Can he drive that thing?" muttered Bastet.
"Jordan? Course he can," said Clyde. "He's been nicking cars since he was ten."
Kayleigh helped Neferu into the back seat and got in beside her, while Clyde got into the front. "Hey, aren't you coming?"
"I'm going to look for reinforcements," said Bastet. "Try to keep her from killing any more people. See you in town."
Saturday was market day in Downmarket. The streets were packed. Jordan drove slowly down Market Street, while Neferu sat bolt upright in the back, occasionally waving in a regal manner to the bemused populace. Some people, assuming it to be a charity stunt of some kind, began to throw coins into the car.
"See! The people pay me tribute," cried Neferu, delighted.
Clyde swiped a plastic bucket from a nearby hardware stall and walked beside the car, shaking it, and shouting "Support the Cat's Home, feed our poor pussies!" Money flooded in.
By the time they had reached the entrance to the shopping precinct the crowd was so thick it was impossible to drive further. Neferu got out of the car.
"People of Downmarket," she cried. "Behold you new Queen. Serve me well, and I will reward you. I will bring you abundant rain, I will make your armies victorious over Broadbottom, and Littlenobbe, yea, even Nether Riding. Your streets will run with oil and your alleyways with honey. Praise me!"
This drew a round of applause (and some mutterings of "What's she on?"). Most people assumed it was some sort of advertising campaign, and stuck around hoping for free samples.
"Now, lead me to my palace."
Neferu carved a way through the crowd by ignoring it, leaving people to get out of her way or be trampled. The children scurried to keep up.
"Here, you Queenship." Jordan flung open the door of McDonalds. Neferu stalked inside and stopped, horrified. The place was, as usual on a Saturday morning, heaving. Every seat was taken, and hordes of small children ran around between the tables.
"Who allowed this rabble into my sacred precincts? Begone, peasants!"
She began to lay about her with the flail and sistrum, sweeping food from the tables. Terrified customers ducked under the tables.
"Oi! What d'you think you're doing?" yelled the manager.
"You dare to stand against me, worm? I am Neferu, Queen of Heaven and Earth. I will have you thrown to the crocodiles. I call upon the gods to cleanse this place, I call upon Isis and Osiris, upon Amun, upon Hathor and Bastet - "
There was a noise like thunder, the door opened and in rode Bastet on a mountain bike. A changed, a terrifying Bastet - no longer a cat, but a cat-headed woman. She dismounted in the sudden silence, and looked around at the devastation. Behind her crowded an army of cats.
"You called?" she purred.
Neferu dropped to her knees with a thud. "Great Bastet!"
"Ah, you know me now? Your 'puddy tat'?" Her whiskers bristled with indignation. "The cheek of it!"
"But how was I to know? Dear goddess, forgive me . . . " snivelled Neferu.
"Luckily for you, I am a merciful deity. I could have my cats tear you to
pieces . . . "
" . . . but I think the best thing would be to send you back where you came from."
"But I hate the Afterlife! It’s so boring down there."
"Tough. You’re not wanted here, that's for certain."
"But I like it here! Please, I'll be good, I will, really."
"Sorry. You shouldn't have behaved in such a ridiculous way. Queen of Downmarket, indeed! Back to the tomb with you. An senit herat-netir!"
A crack appeared in the floor, at the spot where Neferu crouched, her arms raised in supplication.
Swiftly it grew to become a gaping chasm. With a last, piteous wail, Neferu disappeared into the depths. The gap closed behind her with a snap."
"Right," said Bastet. "as you were, everyone. Show's over."
Jordan, Clyde and Kayleigh were left standing with their mouths hanging open.
"You've changed," said Kayleigh.
"When she called on me as a goddess, I was able to resume my true form. Like it?"
The customers in McDonalds had gone back to their burgers and milk shakes. The scene was no different from a normal Saturday, if a little more subdued. And apart from the fact that the place was knee deep in cats. Everyone was carefully not looking at Bastet.
"I'll have a double cheeseburger and large fries," she said.